Editorial: February 2019

Welcome to February’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds-up all the happenings here at Later Levels along with the games we’ve been playing. The past few weeks have been filled with love for our backlogs, so let’s find out what’s been going on.

Statistics:

Followers:

  • WordPress: 930
  • Twitter: 440
  • Facebook: 56
  • Instagram: 151
  • Twitch: 58
  • Posts:

  • Published: 18 posts
  • Most viewed: #LoveYourBacklog Week 2019
  • Most liked: #LoveYourBacklog Week 2019
  • Most commented on: #LoveYourBacklog Week 2019
  • My favourite: Insomnia: male and pale
  • Games played:

  • A Way Out
  • Captain Disaster
  • Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Triology
  • Hellblade
  • J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars
  • Overcooked!
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • The Secret of Monkey Island (watch the video here)
  • What Never Was
  • Blogger highlights:

  • A Couple of Couch Co-Op Games by Game Time
  • GameBlast19: What To Expect by GO South-West
  • Boston Uprising Macaroons by Sheikah Plate
  • The Never Ending Game by Christine from simpleek
  • Marketers are Making You Addicted to Dragons by SindrElf
  • Blog life:

    #LoveYourBacklog, Backlogged and proud of it, 200+ games

    Forget Valentine’s Day and Cupid: the most romantic event to take place in February was #LoveYourBacklog Week with LightningEllen over at Livid Lightning! This was our attempt to encourage everyone to appreciate their ever-growing pile of video games rather than feel ashamed by it. We asked bloggers to write a post all about their backlogs; and for next month, we’ll be tackling the title that’s been waiting for us the longest for #MaybeinMarch. Keep your eyes peeled for more information soon on the Livid Lightning site.

    I’m also in the process of cooking up something new with Chris from OverThinker Y. We’re still not entirely sure where it’s heading yet but it’s a project which will see us combine our skills: his talent for narrative and character development, and my love for flowcharts and formulas. There’ll be more news as soon as we’ve made progress but in the meantime, why not take a look at the Side-quests page to find out what else is going on? If you’ve got a collaboration you’d like to see added to the list, get in touch!

    Real life:

    Since moving into our house two years ago, we’ve not really touched the garden and it’s now a complete mess. We contacted a company to help us with it at the start of the year but progress has been hindered by a rogue designer: despite giving them our budget upfront, they produced a design which would cost more than triple that figure to create. We’ve since sacked them and will now be doing as much of the work and project management ourselves as possible – which means less time for video games, but a nice garden to use come the summer months.

    This year’s Time to Talk Day took place on 07 February 2019 and I opened the Later Levels’ doors to anyone who wanted to chat. It enabled me to have some important conversations but Katie from The Gaming Diaries made a very good point in a tweet: “#TimetoTalkDay is great but that also needs to continue outside today. All throughout the year people need this.” There’s a great community here and so much support. If we can just keep encouraging everyone to have open conversations about mental health, we can make a difference.

    Gaming life:

    My highlight of February was of course GameBlast19, an annual gaming marathon for SpecialEffect. Pete and I managed to keep the Later Levels Twitch channel on air for 24-hours (click here for video evidence) and as with every event, we learnt some very valuable lessons. Two fantastic things came out of our efforts: £612.14 was raised for the charity with the help of you amazing people and we were invited to become a Twitch Affiliate! Thank you so much to everyone who supported us, popped by to say hello in the chat, and made a donation – you’re simply awesome.

    After being contacted by the developer with a fix for a game-breaking bug, I finally managed to complete J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars and loved every minute of it. I’d highly recommend checking this one out if you like adventures like Myst, science-fiction and independent female protagonists. One I wasn’t so keen on unfortunately was Captain Disaster: Death has a Million Stomping Boots. I can see what the creator was trying to achieve with this point-and-click but I think it just misses the mark slightly because it’s inspired by certain classic games which aren’t entirely my cup of tea. Saying that though, it could well be worth playing if you’re a fan of Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

    Coming up:

    Events:

  • 01-28 March: Question of the Month
  • 09 March: #MaybeinMarch: LIMBO stream
  • 14 March: Tracking Shells: Our Mario Kart Memories
  • 17 March: London Gaming Market
  • 18 March: Spring 2019 blog party
  • Take a look at theSide-quests page for more
  • New posts:

  • Should we become a Twitch Affiliate?
  • Do you play video games when you’re ill?
  • The cutest animals in gaming
  • What’s better: video games or movies?
  • Suitable titles for tweenagers
  • And now over to you guys: what have you been up to lately, and what have you got planned for the coming month? Is there anything the community can help with or get involved in? Let everybody know in the comments below so we can show our support. Thanks for reading!

    GameBlast19: lessons learnt

    GameBlast19 has officially been completed. The weekend saw myself and my other-half playing video games for 24-hour straight in an annual event to raise as much funds and awareness as possible for the amazing SpecialEffect.

    I’ve now participated in the GameBlast marathon for five out of the six years it has been running, and every event has taught me something new – whether it be about streaming, gaming in general or event myself. I always write a round-up post sharing the lessons learnt each time to enable us to benefit from them the following year so, in normal Later Levels’ style, here’s an overview of our experience from GameBlast19.

    Lesson 1: you can never be prepared enough

    You can test as much as you can before a marathon but trust me: you’ll always experience a technical hitch on the day. In 2017 my capture card stopped pulling game sound into the stream; and in 2018, our new microphone decided to keep turning itself off every few hours. Despite weeks of testing for 2019’s event (including a couple of 12-hour sessions) we ended up having a minor problem with the webcam whereby it kept changing exposure every few seconds at the start of the stream.

    We managed to get it fixed quickly and without getting stressed about it. That’s what previous GameBlasts have taught me: there’s no point believing that nothing will go wrong and when it does, there’s no point panicking! Luke from Hundstrasse shared a great lesson during his February editorial and it was something I took advantage of this year. Having a pre-stream checklist enabled me to get the stream started on time and in a calm manner so when the webcam did play up, we were mentally-prepared to deal with it.

    Lesson 2: two is better than four, but four is better than two

    Other people have always joined us for previous GameBlasts so I was nervous whether Pete and I would be able to make it through the entire 24-hours by ourselves this year. What I learnt was that doing it with a team of two is no harder than a team of four – it’s just different. When there’s more of you, you feel as though to can lean on your teammates and it makes it easier to take a rest if you need to; but when you’re part of a couple, you feel more responsible to stay awake and it gives you the energy push on through.

    I’m extremely proud to say we made it to the end with no naps (the evidence can be found here). But I need to give a shout-out to Tim and Jake from GeekOut South-West: they decided to stream alongside us to their own channel, playing The Elder Scrolls Online for as long as it took their new characters to reach level 50. It meant we could pull their stream into ours whenever we needed a break for a good old stretch or another cup of caffeine, without leaving our viewers watching a still screen. Thanks so much guys – we owe you a few beers!

    Lesson 3: the more co-op games, the better

    We made a point this time of playing as many games as possible where both Pete and I could participate. First up there was Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, where we took turns every few deaths; Overcooked! gave us the opportunity to work together; and we both grabbed a controller for The Elder Scrolls Online. Having both of us involved in the gameplay as much as possible meant it kept our minds awake and as focused, making it easier to stay awake and get through to the end of the stream.

    Our favourite titles were A Way Out, which I’m sure we’ll end up streaming the rest of very soon, and Moss, a virtual-reality (VR) puzzle-platformer which turned out to be quite charming. The highlight of the event was having Khinjarsi from Upon Completion, Athena from AmbiGaming, LightningEllen from Livid Lightning and Luke help us make the ‘best’ choices in Until Dawn. As a result of that experience, we’re now going to do a special ‘community choice’ stream for Halloween later this year.

    Lesson 4: Hellblade is great but not right for streaming

    A number of friends and bloggers have been telling me to play Hellblade for some a while now so I was pleased when it won the vote to be a part of our GameBlast19 schedule. However, shortly after picking up the controller I realised that streaming the game wasn’t going to be the best way to experience it. That’s not because I thought it was bad or didn’t enjoy the three hours I spent with it; I simply saw it was a very intense title which would be better experienced alone.

    Alongside this, and as I chatted about on air, it usually takes me several hours to properly learn a new scheme. The controls here feel heavy and very deliberate: it’s not a game where you can mash the buttons and make it through the majority of the time. I need to play Hellblade when I’m not being watched and give it the attention it deserves, so I can finally discuss it properly with Athena, LightningEllen, and Ian from Adventure Rules (once it has been released on the Switch this spring).

    Lesson 5: streamers can’t live by Wotsits alone

    Aah Wotsits: they’re the food of the streaming gods. GameBlasts past have taught us you can never have too many packets of the orange snack available so every year we stock up. However, this time I was determined for us to not resort to crisps and chocolate alone because you end up crashing after consuming all that sugar and then feeling terrible. So although we did have several packs of Walkers’ finest, I also made sure we had something ‘proper’ to eat.

    Here’s a tip for any fellow streamers out there who are concerned about their diet during marathons. Get up a little earlier before the start of your event, chop up the ingredients needed for a stew and put them in containers in the fridge. Then take a quick break from your stream in the afternoon, chuck those ingredients in a pot on the hob, leave it for a few hours and voila: you have an effortless and stress-free dinner! I’ll definitely be doing this again for GameBlast20.

    Lesson 6: the WordPress community is still the best

    The amount of support we’ve been shown by the WordPress community this year has been absolutely amazing. We honestly didn’t think we’d reach our £500 target for SpecialEffect because it’s quite high for a team of only two; but with your help we managed to hit that goal and then go on to beat it by an additional 22%! A total of £612.14 is now going to the charity to help them continue their fantastic work in helping people with physical disabilities all over the UK to enjoy video games.

    A huge thank you to everyone who donated, watched the stream, sent tweets, shared Facebook posts and published blog posts too. We were truly humbled by all the support and couldn’t have done it without you. Much love too to the GeekOut South-West guys who had our backs through the entire event and kept us sane. Please consider this post as a virtual hug to every single one of you reading this because you’re simply awesome and we adore you.

    Bonus lesson: we need a new sofa

    Sitting on our current sofa for 24-hours made us realise we need a new one as quickly as possible. It’s now over a day since the end of the stream and I’m still not sure I’ve completely regained the feeling in my legs. We were looking for incentive to finally complete the decorating at home before GameBlast19 and now we finally have it: the sooner we finish the living room, the sooner we can throw out that old thing and get something more comfortable to curl up on.

    We can’t wait to do it all again for GameBlast20 next year. Thank you once again, from the bottom of our hearts.   ❤

    GameBlast19: we’re live!




    Join us as we take on 24-hours of gaming to raise as much funding and awareness as possible for SpecialEffect this weekend. This amazing UK-based charity puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games, through assessment and equipment modification.

    All donations received via our JustGiving page go directly to SpecialEffect and help them continue their wonderful work. Watch us play the games below on our Twitch channel, host us, share our press release, tweet about the event – we really appreciate any support you can give. Let’s do all we can to level the playing field for everyone!

    Date Time Genre Game
    Saturday,
    23 February 2019
    08:00 GMT Platformer Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
    11:00 GMT Community Overcooked!
    14:00 GMT Virtual reality Moss
    17:00 GMT Action Hellblade
    20:00 GMT Adventure A Way Out
    23:00 GMT Horror Until Dawn
    Sunday,
    24 February 2019
    02:00 GMT Shooter BioShock
    05:00 GMT RPG The Elder Scrolls Online
    08:00 GMT Stream ends Sleep


    GameBlast19: the countdown begins

    Here’s the latest on our plans for GameBlast19, an annual gaming marathon for SpecialEffect. This amazing charity puts fun and inclusion back into the lives of those with physical disabilities by helping them to play video games using a range of technology, making a positive impact on confidence and rehabilitation. Take a look at this update on the SpecialEffect website or click on the link to see all Later Levels’ posts about the event.


    Later Levels, Instragram, GameBlast, Wotsits, laptop

    The pace is picking up in the Later Levels household with only one day left to go until GameBlast19. If previous marathons have taught us anything, it’s that you can never have too many Wotsits close at hand; so we’ve bought more packets of the neon-orange-snack than two gamers could possibly eat in a weekend. They’ve also shown us there’s no such thing as too much testing so we’ve been triple-checking our kit over the past month to make sure the sound issues experienced in past years don’t come back to haunt us.

    During GameBlast17, my capture card stopped pulling game sound into the stream. Post-investigation revealed it really didn’t like hot-swaps so we took the decision to stick to PlayStation titles only for GameBlast18. However, our new microphone then decided to keep turning itself off after several hours of streaming – a problem our pre-event testing didn’t pick up because it hadn’t taken place over a long enough duration. We made it through both events with a couple of sneaky workarounds but we want better for GameBlast19!

    This time around we’ve gone all out, in terms of the amount and length of testing as well as equipment. A 12-hour stream of The Elder Scrolls Online and another of The Secret of Monkey Island earlier this month revealed a few minor issues but nothing that couldn’t be solved with several small tweaks. Our set-up is very much improved from least year and we’ve had fun playing around with a bunch of new kit recently:

  • A PlayStation 4 Pro to go alongside our existing console (which has meant Pete and I can play ESO together)
  • A new PC to replace my old beloved machine, which we’ll use to handle all of the streaming during the event
  • An additional microphone to improve sound quality (but that won’t mean you’ll be able to understand my Essex accent)
  • My new toy: a stream deck, set up with a bunch of animations, holding videos and a few other surprises for those watching
  • And finally, a GameBlast19 hoodie – because it’s important to stay warm and look cool while streaming

  • Overall the equipment has behaved and the only real problem highlighted by our test streams is just how physically demanding a 24-hour marathon can be. In previous years our dream-team has included Ben and Nathan but, due to a spouse’s birthday and newborn son, it’s going to be just Pete and I for GameBlast19. The community has helped choose some great video games for us to play however so hopefully the enjoyment and adrenaline (as well as copious amounts of caffeine) will see us through.

    We’ll be going live at 08:00 GMT tomorrow morning and are going to do our best to keep the Later Levels Twitch channel on air for 24-hours until 08:00 GMT on Sunday, 24 February 2019. You can take a look our schedule here to find out what we’re playing; and if you fancy joining in with any of the titles, get in touch and let us know. Say hello in the chat if you’ve got a spare moment and we may even play a special little animation or two just for you.

    All donations received via our JustGiving page go directly to SpecialEffect and help them continue their wonderful work. There are other ways in which you can show your support too: watch us on Twitch tomorrow, host the Later Levels channel, share our press release, tweet about GameBlast19. We really appreciate every little action, and are looking forward to doing our bit to helping the charity level the playing-field for everyone!

    Insomnia: male and pale

    My first time at the Insomnia Gaming Festival was I61 in August 2017. My stepson had an excellent time as he had the chance to see one of his favourite YouTubers back then, but my other-half and I were left feeling slightly uncomfortable.

    The entire hour that DanTDM was on stage was nothing but a merch-fest, with the constant plugs for tickets for his tour, his DVD, his book, his exclusive Insomnia t-shirts and stationery – and just how awesome all this stuff was – becoming draining.

    Insomnia63, video games, Fortnite

    Ethan wanted to go again because he’d enjoyed himself so much, so it was with some apprehension that we returned for I63 in August 2018. The thing that struck us this time was just how young all the ‘special guests’ were; the meet-and-greet stands we passed seemed to be manned by kids who were barely into their teens and should probably have been sorting out homework ready for a return to school the following month. There was also the fact that if you weren’t interested in playing Fortnite, there wasn’t an awful lot to do.

    Despite not liking battle-royale games, not being interested in any of the YouTubers there, and not particularly enjoying the six-hour round-trip to the NEC in Birmingham, it’s highly likely my stepkid would say yes when asked if he wanted to go to the next event in April. But I think we’ll be giving the upcoming I64 a miss after seeing Insomnia’s announcement about their lineup earlier this month, and I’m not sure we’ll be going back for at least a few years.

    On 03 February 2019, the following message appeared on the Facebook page: “FINAL YOUTUBER ANNOUNCEMENT! We are thrilled to announce our final YouTuber to appear at Insomnia this April will be DAGames! Are you just as excited as we are to welcome all these amazing YouTubers to the festival?!” In case you haven’t already seen the stars that make up the headline, let’s take a quick look at their stats and see if we can see any similarities.

    Name Age Sex Ethnic origin Subscribers
    Pyrocynical 21 Male White British 2.9M
    Syndicate 24 Male White British 9.9M
    NerdOut! Music Unable to confirm Male Unable to confirm 2.3M
    Dangthatsalongname 23 Male White British 505K
    ImAllexx 20 Male White British 1.2M
    James Marriott 21 Male White British 532K
    SeaPeeKay 26 Male White British 558K
    8-BitGaming 24 and 25 Male White British 1M
    DAGames 26 Male White American 1.3M

    All men and, for those I could confirm, all in their 20s and almost all white British. So the answer to Insomnia’s question above about whether I’m ‘excited to welcome all these amazing YouTubers to the festival’ is a definite no. Not only do I have no idea who any of these people are except for one (and that’s because he was involved in the CSGO Lotto scandal a couple of years back), there seems to be a distinct lack of stars who aren’t male or pale – and that’s just stale and one big fail.

    Right, enough of the bad rhymes and time to wonder if Insomnia has always had such a diversity issue. I can’t say I noticed this at the two events we attended, but we went to I61 solely for DanTDM and didn’t pay attention to any of the stars at I63. I tried to check past years’ lineups for a comparison but couldn’t find a definitive record; however, from the information available online, it does seem as if a lot of the headliners were young white males who had appeared at the event at least once previously.

    I know there will be some who read this post and think: “Yeah, but the most popular YouTubers are white men.” Firstly ‘no’, and secondly ‘so?’ Not that I watch any of them myself, but a quick Google search reveals a number of other creators with more followers than some of the stars included in that table above. And even if that wasn’t the case, Insomnia has a huge public presence and voice; it’s the perfect platform for promoting diversity within gaming and offering attendees the chance to see stars from all different backgrounds.

    Insomnia, video games, DanTDM

    There’ll also be some who read this post and think: “You don’t even go to Insomnia for the headliners so why are you bothering to write this?” I care because I have an 11-year old stepson who’s all about YouTube and has recently started coming to expos with us, as is the case for many other children of a similar age. Taking them to events where they only see young white men up on stage reinforces the incorrect idea that gaming is a male-dominated community and that you have to conform to make it big in the industry.

    As mentioned above, we’ve taken the decision to not attend I64 in April and it’s possible we won’t go back for several years. I’ve heard that the event can be fun if you get yourself a BYOC ticket and join in with the LAN party and camping, and it’s something my other-half is keen on doing at some point. However, as you have to be over 16 it’s not possible to bring Ethan right now; and it seems pretty mean to hand him over to one of the grandparents for the weekend while we go and have all the gaming fun without him.

    (He probably won’t want to come with us when he reaches age however, because what teenager wants to be seen dead with their parents? But considering the weekend would cost over £400 for the three of us – and that’s without travel or food – that might be a very good thing.)

    I’ll leave you now with a quote from the event’s website: “Insomnia Gaming Festival is a diverse and community-led event containing content that is relevant to gamers, millennials and fans of popular culture.” Yeah.

    Welcome Back, Pilot

    I have a strange relationship with battle-royale games. I love the concept of them and enjoy playing but once I’ve won a round I lose interest really quickly. In some part of my brain I see it as the point at which I ‘complete’ the game and lose the desire to go back for more.

    It might be because I was brought up on releases in the 80s and 90s where once you finished the game’s objective that was it. No online component, no DLC, no expansion packs, no nothing. What you bought is what you got.

    So what’s the endgame now? You win a round and then win some more I suppose. Grind for some cosmetic stuff (or pay for it if the mood takes you) and that’s it. I don’t entirely get it but millions of people do and that’s actually a very good thing. It means they play the games, pay the money and support developers and other staff across the industry. Cool.

    Needless to say I jumped into Apex Legends when it launched the other week and soon added a victory there to my PUBG, Fortnite and Blackout wins. As before, the desire to play it slowly left me but this time something was different. This time I had been inspired to play Titanfall 2 again.

    Why? Because when Respawn Entertainment developed Apex Legends they not only set it inside the Titanfall universe but used a very similar game engine. Movement is slow fluid, the shooting is spot on and the design impeccable, as the rave reviews for the Ping system will attest.

    Jumping back into Titanfall 2 has been a brilliant decision. I’d forgotten just how good it was. Apex Legends doesn’t have the double-jump, wall-running or giant mechs and I can see why. They wouldn’t work in that environment. In Titanfall 2 however, they’re amazing. Grappling up to a wall, dashing along it, jumping to another, shooting, sliding off and into your Titan is a fantastic feeling.

    The single-player campaign is a masterclass in design too. The way each level is structured is reminiscent of the best design Nintendo have used with Mario: start with a game mechanic, show player how to use it, make it progressively more complicated, end simply. In Titanfall those mechanics are everything from grappling, to wall running, to messing with time to just blowing stuff up with a huge Titan. It’s inspired.

    The multiplayer is superb too with multiple game types. My favourites are Attrition and Frontier Defence. The first is effectively a standard deathmatch and you start off just trying to take down other pilots. Simply bunny-hopping around won’t help you here, you’ve got to be alert to walls, grapples, zip lines and all sorts. There are also AI ground troops running around the battlefield too. Then as the round progresses, Titans start dropping in and you’ve got massive mechs to deal with also. That these machines can operate independently of the player means that you could have both Titan and pilot trying to kill you at the same time. By the end of each round it’s absolute chaos.

    Frontier Defence is horde mode by any other name and you team up with three others to face five waves of soldiers, robots and titans. It’s harder than it sounds but the five rounds are a perfect length, the two guys commentating are spot on and the level progression (player, titan and difficulty) is perfectly balanced.

    Multiplayer servers are pretty slim in terms of player numbers and I’ve seen them as low as 1,500 recently but also as high as 20,000 on Xbox in the last week or so. It’s the nature of a game that never got the mainstream traction it deserved in an already crowded market.

    I hope the success of Apex Legends continues for Respawn and allows them to build more in the Titanfall universe. Whether it’s a third game in the series, expanding the Apex Legends world to include mechs or something else I know it’ll be superb and worth a lot of play time.