Editorial: March 2019

Welcome to March’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. Spring is finally here along with cute, newborn animals – so let’s find out what has been going on.

Statistics:

Followers:

  • WordPress: 957
  • Twitter: 447
  • Facebook: 56
  • Instagram: 155
  • Twitch: 60
  • Posts:

  • Published: 15 posts
  • Most viewed: Gamers blog party: spring 2019 invitation
  • Most liked: Gamers blog party: spring 2019 invitation
  • Most commented on: Gamers blog party: spring 2019
  • My favourite: It’s not what you play, it’s who you play it with
  • Games played:

  • A Way Out (watch the video here)
  • Eastshade (watch the video here)
  • Error: Human Not Found
  • LIMBO (read about it here)
  • Paradigm (read about it here)
  • Seventh Session
  • Blogger highlights:

  • This Sword is Degrading by Luke from Hundstrasse
  • Extra Life: More Than a Game by Jett from In Third Person
  • Tracking Shells by Matt from Normal Happenings
  • The Post Explaining Where We’ve Been by nowisgames.com
  • A Shout Out to NPCs by Megan from The Dragon’s Tea Party
  • Blog life:

    Normal Happenings, Blog Awards, Best Blogger, Later Levels, 2019

    March revealed a lovely surprise: I woke up one morning to discover several WordPress and Twitter notifications on my mobile phone, and then found out Later Levels had received the Best Blogger title in the Normal Happenings 2019 Blog Awards! I can’t tell you how humbled, chuffed and excited I am. Thank you so much to the amazing people who nominated the blog with some very kind words, to Matt for hosting the awards, and to everybody in the community for being as awesome as they are. It’s an absolute honour and a pleasure to be a member of this group.

    This, and a few problems with Facebook earlier this month, inspired me to think about the way I manage the site and the way post are oriented. As a result I did a little spring-cleaning around the place and have a few more ideas I’d like to start working on over the coming month. I’d love to hear your thoughts too: what would you like to see more of, what could be improved, would it be good if I finally stopped going on about Monkey Island? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below or get in touch with me directly.

    Real life:

    Hopefully this spring is the start of something new. A lack of motivation and enthusiasm recently made me take a couple of days out to do nothing but play video games and bake cakes, and this break made me realise that I need to take action. It’s unfair on both myself and those around me to keep feeling this way so I’m finally doing something about my long-term career and life changes I’ve been considering since January. I’ve been learning as much as I can this month and figuring out a new, brighter direction.

    I think my recent emotional dip started when our lovely cat Link passed away at the end of February. He was a very sociable animal – always wanting to be fussed over or to play, and usually appearing on stream whenever the camera was rolling – and so his unexpected absence has hit us all pretty hard. Zelda, our other cat, was a little confused at first but is now growing in confidence and I think she’s enjoying her dominance in the household. It’s good to see things becoming more settled… but I do miss the little furball.

    Gaming life:

    As mentioned above, I’ve been hiding out in video games recently and therefore completed more than I usually would. First was A Way Out, a cooperative my other-half and I started during GameBlast19 last month; unfortunately it didn’t end the way we wanted it to which left a bit of a sour taste. Far better was point-and-click Paradigm, a funny and somewhat offensive game that had me giggling for an entire afternoon. And I can’t forget about LIMBO, a game I finally played for #MaybeinMarch after leaving it on my backlog for five years.

    A couple of weeks ago we went back to the London Gaming Market and picked up a new (old) toy: a PlayStation 2, along with copies of Fahrenheit and ICO. We’re planning to purchase some more retro titles for the console so we can put on some nostalgic streams. Who knows, if we keep doing them regularly we may end up making Partner status on Twitch – although I still haven’t decided whether to sign up for the Affiliate program after receiving the invitation recently. Thanks to everyone who gave advice on that!

    Coming up:

    Events:

  • 01-25 April: Question of the Month
  • 02-14 April: London Games Festival
  • 04-06 April: Rezzed 2019
  • 12 April: UK Blog Awards 2019
  • 19-22 April: Insomnia64 (I won’t be going)
  • 22 April: ICO: Easter treats stream
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more
  • New posts:

  • Our photo gallery from Rezzed 2019
  • New indie projects to look forward to
  • My stepson’s obsession with Fallout 76
  • An Easter post all about chickens in video games
  • Painting pictures in Eastshade
  • 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!

    Paradigm: an unlikely hero

    Life is never as simple as video game. In the digital world there’s a solution to every problem and the tools you need to get it are within reach. In real life however there’s no mini-map or quest guide, so it’s impossible to tell what’s going to be thrown at you next.

    In the past I’ve written about how video games provide a way of coping with difficult situations. Far from being mindless entertainment and a bunch of meaningless pixels, they’re a channel to escape distractions and anxiety so you can have some time to think things over subconsciously. Having a virtual space to work through your feelings – even if it is artificial – can give you a sense of purpose and a feeling of release which helps you become strong enough to keep going.

    I turned to Paradigm earlier this month after a rough couple of weeks. It wasn’t a game I’d been interested in previously because it seemed a little too surreal for my tastes; but at a time when I was looking for something far removed from the real world so I could forget about everything for a while, it popped up on Steam’s front page just when I needed it. Ten hours later my problems may not have been resolved but I felt lighter and more capable of doing something about them.

    The title’s story begins when after Paradigm is ‘born’ at DUPA Genetics, a company who sells Prodigy Children to those who don’t want to leave their inheritance to the poor excuses that are their biological offspring. Something went wrong during his growing process and he was sadly left horribly mutated so, to save their reputation, DUPA dumped him in a nearby abandoned post-Neo-Soviet town. Left to fend for himself, he now lives in a nuclear plant with his computer John-3000.

    He doesn’t let his situation get him down though: he found solace in music and now wants to do nothing more than ‘make some phat beatsies’ and become the best electronic music artist the world has ever known. Unfortunately, the genetics company’s new head has other ideas. It’s up to Paradigm to step out of his comfort zone and save us all, going on an adventure involving all sorts of bizarre characters just so he can get back home and finish his EP.

    I’m a huge 80s fan, so it tickled me to see the Eastern European country of Krusz depicted in a style reminiscent of how people from the decade imagined the future would look. Large super computers with flashing lights, cassette tapes and space-age furniture decorate the environments. Even the menu and inventory screens are great: floppy discs are used to depict save files, and collected items appear in an area complete with LPs, VHS lines and retro sounds.

    Paradigm, video game, caravan, shop, computers for sale, dog

    Overall Paradigm plays like a traditional point-and-click with puzzles taking the form of conversation- or item-based challenges. None are particularly difficult but you can call on Paradigm’s Tumour (yes, really) if you need a bit a help; he’s always there in the top right-hand corner of the screen to offer ‘Tumour Sense’ and highlight any hotspots. You can also get him to give you the ‘live action dog tutorial’ over the regular tutorial – not particularly helpful but impossible to refuse.

    Occasionally the scene will start to morph around you and this usually an indicator of an upcoming minigame. The change in aesthetics will make you wonder if you’ve been thrown into a different genre entirely but Paradigm always stays true to its adventure roots. One of the most amusing is ‘Boosting Thugs’, a cartridge-based video game where you need to beat a drug-dealer’s high-score – but rather than beating said thugs with punches and kicks, you’ll instead need to increase their self-esteem with motivational responses.

    It may sound as if the player’s immersion suffers as the result of these changes in aesthetics and gameplay but it charmingly does the opposite: you’re too busy giggling at how you got into the situation and Paradigm’s reaction to it to notice any negative effects. As well as the minigames throughout the title you can also pull out your MegaBro Dupagen to play ‘Post Apoc Dating Sim’ at any point, where you can romance Tina the Toaster until she tells you she wants to toast your buns.

    It’s probably obvious from this post so far that one of Paradigm’s highlights is its characters. There’s John-3000, a sleazy computer with an Australian accent and Post-it note for a face; Doug, the beatboxing eggplant; and the Metal Messiah, a cult leader who’s actually a pug. And we can’t forget about DUPA Genetics head Olaf, a toupee-wearing sloth created by a diabetic scientist to vomit candy bars who wants to replace all entertainment with glam-metal and professional wrestling. Evil.

    Paradigm, video game, living room, television, monitor, console, drug dealer, vending machine, octopus

    My favourite however had to be Paradigm himself. Reluctant heroes can have a tendency to be thoroughly annoying (just take The Whispered World’s protagonist for example) but this one character who’s far from that. He has a positive outlook despite his situation and a self-deprecating sense of humour that got several laughs out of me. Now I just want to respond to everything anyone says to me with an ‘Aww yiss!’ or ‘Yeah boi!’ while mimicking his strong accent.

    Paradigm’s other highlight is its comedy but this could also be the very reason why some players won’t enjoy the title. There are plenty of jokes about drug use, addiction, deformities and other sensitive subjects so if any of those topics are likely to offend, I’d recommend finding another adventure. But if you’re a fan of the absurd who can overlook how close-to-the-bone some of the gags are, there’s plenty of silliness here that will likely appeal to you and I’d really recommend giving it a go.

    As I wrote during my post about Maize last year, sometimes a game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile: it can be just what you need in that moment and therefore end up meaning a lot. And that was exactly what Paradigm for me this month. It was surreal enough to transport me away from the real world and everything going on there, just for a short time, so I could give my head a break before going back into battle renewed.

    Paradigm may have been reluctant to save the world. But he certainly saved me.

    #MaybeinMarch: LIMBO

    Following on from #LoveYourBacklog Week with LightningEllen from Livid Lightning last month, I finally played LIMBO for #MaybeinMarch recently. This game had shockingly spent almost five years in my library since being added on 25 March 2013 so after leaving it in a dark corner for so long, it was time to grab the controller and do something about it.

    I originally had this article planned in my head as a retrospective review, but conversations with Gao Li from Gao Li Occasionally Reviews along with The Gaming Diaries changed that. These lovely people joined us on Twitch as my other-half and I worked our way through the shadowy world of LIMBO over a couple of Saturdays – and expressed just as much surprise when we reached the end. It’s safe to say that none of us really knew what to make of it (although The Gaming Diaries herself did come up with a pretty good explanation which I’ll share later).

    If you haven’t yet played LIMBO yourself and intend to do so, I’d highly recommend turning away now! The paragraphs below contain discussions about the game’s conclusion so you may wish to come back to this post another time.

    Here’s part of the plot description from Wikipedia, which we checked while the credits were rolling on the stream to make sure we hadn’t missed something: “On completion of the final puzzle, the boy is thrown through a pane of glass and back into the forest. After he wakes up and recovers from the pain and shock, he walks a short distance until he again encounters a girl, who, upon his approach, stands up, startled. At this point, the game abruptly ends.”

    One of the things I love about video games is having the opportunity to investigate unanswered questions and figure out what the developer was trying to communicate through their project. I’ve therefore been doing a bit of research into LIMBO’s conclusion since and have come across a number of interesting ideas… although all of them are somewhat depressing. This fits my conversations with Gao Li, where we both got the impression that whatever happened at the end of the title was likely not to be happy.

    In an interview with Gamasutra published on 24 February 2012, Playdead co-founder Arnt Jensen said: “I get a little upset when people say, ‘It was a stupid ending and I don’t know what was happening.’ All those people who enjoyed the open ending, that makes me happy, because it was supposed to be an open ending. What it means, I don’t want to talk about.” He did go on however to say that someone got ‘very close’ but has never provided an explanation – only that the girl shown in the last scene is the boy’s little sister.

    It’s pretty much accepted though that the protagonist is dead at the start of the game. The monochrome art-style and dread-filled atmosphere point to this and promotional material also states: “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters LIMBO.” Some further Wikipedia-checking reveals that Limbo is the ‘edge’ of hell and home to those who ‘die in original sin without being appointed to the Hell of the Damned’. This could include innocent children who aren’t deserving of Hell but who also aren’t worthy of heaven.

    A point of greater contention is regarding the status of the sister. Some claim that she is dead also based on swarms of flies which appear in locations on the menu screen and correspond to the placement of the characters in the final scene. In addition the ladder is somewhat frayed, the grass has become overgrown and several rungs have fallen off the tree, so many fans believe the siblings passed away after falling out of their treehouse. There is another theory worth covering here however!

    Just before LIMBO’s final scene, the boy crashes through what appears to be a huge pane of glass and this could symbolise a windscreen breaking – so did he and his sister die in a road accident? Partway through the title the environment shifts from a sinister forest to a more industrial setting, and some have declared this to be reminiscent of a car losing control or flipping over. This theory is a little abstract but does seem as though it could possibly be correct, so I’m not sure which I prefer.

    Here’s The Gaming Diaries’ interpretation: “The boy is stuck in Limbo and has to work his way through so all the deaths don’t really matter. I think the girl signifies the end. The boy has crossed the lengths of Limbo to meet her. This could be that she has joined the boy in Limbo and her entrance shocks him, or that she is the start and end for the boy. Either way this results in the end of the game. So Limbo is never ending, the boy can return to the start and go through it again. Or she signifies the true death for the boy and there is nothing after for him.”

    We discussed this theory during the stream and, while it did make seem to make sense at the time, several days of pondering afterwards led me to come up with an alternative. What if there was another explanation in which the siblings aren’t dead (sort of)? Here’s my own idea.

    LIMBO, video game, black and white, shadows, boy, girl, brother, sister, treehouse, tree, ladder

    The promotional material confirms that the boy entered Limbo – but doesn’t state from which direction. Rather than going there after his demise to meet his final end, what if he were going backwards from death to life? Maybe he and his sister were in some kind of accident (possibly a treehouse fall or car collision) and he’s working back from the end to get back to his sibling. The breaking glass and girl’s surprise in the final scene could signify a change in state: the boy has made it through all the trials of Limbo to return to the land of the living.

    So now over to you. Have you played LIMBO and if so, what’s your interpretation of the end? A huge thank you and big hug to the awesome LightningEllen for being my #LoveYourBacklog and #MaybeinMarch partner – who knows, maybe we’ll see you again next year for another event!

    London Gaming Market March 2019: a round-up

    Visiting the London Gaming Market always makes me feel like a child again. Seeing the rows and rows of boxes each containing a ticket to a magical world encourages that same sense of excitement, and it’s hard to not come away with at least one purchase.

    It takes place every four months at the Royal National Hotel in Russell Square and when we attended in July last year I was incredibly tempted to buy a PlayStation 2. Pete was sure however that he still had his original one in our loft somewhere so I found the willpower to temporarily restrain myself. Although we managed to find a box of games during our dusty search, our hunt for the console was sadly unsuccessful; so we returned to the Market last weekend to get ourselves some hardware.

    The event was slightly bigger than we’d previously seen, with additional stalls spilling out into an extra room at the back. There didn’t seem to be as many PC games available this time but there were hundreds of titles for the original PlayStation and its follow-up, along with those for the older Xbox consoles – perfect for what we were looking for. After doing a few rounds of the hall and seeing what was on offer, we made a purchase from Console Passion and happily walked away with our new (old) toy.

    That then gave us the perfect excuse to browse through all the game cases and I managed to pick up a couple of gems. First was Fahrenheit for £4; not everybody’s cup of tea I know, but I loved this title when I played it upon release and it’s just not not the same when now trying to play it on a PC. In addition, I also found a copy of ICO. It was a little expensive at £24 but it now means I’ve got the Team Ico collection, and can put it on my shelf next to Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian.

    Some advice for anyone thinking of attending the London Gaming Market: beware of unscrupulous dealers! While at one stall, I watched someone ask about a particular game and then be offered it at quite a high price because ‘it was the only one available’. After the attendee had parted with his money and left, the dealer reached under the table and replaced the title with another. If you’re not entirely trusting of the seller you’re speaking to or the prices they’re charging, hold onto your money and visit a different stall.

    Aside from that small negative, we had a fun afternoon and are looking forward to going back on 21 July 2019 to pick up further titles for our PlayStation 2. At the time of writing we haven’t yet had a chance to test the console but hopefully it will work – and if it does, we’ll likely stream some older games on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel in the very near future. If there’s anything you’d like to see in particular, let me know in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do!

    London Gaming Market March 2019 photo gallery

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    The cutest creatures in gaming

    Spring is finally here and it’s my favourite time of year. Easter is not far over the horizon too with its promise of family get-togethers and too-much-chocolate, as well as additional time to dedicate to video games over an extended weekend.

    These aren’t the only reasons why it’s my favourite season however. There’s another, fluffier element which puts spring on top: all the newborn animals which will soon be hopping about. From downy chicks and paddling ducklings, to bouncing lambs and fluttering butterflies, there’s plenty to get all gooey-eyed over during the next few months. Here’s a round-up of some of the cutest animals in video games in honour this time of year and all things adorable.

    The Dog from Fable

    I might be a cat person myself but even I can appreciate just how gorgeous the Dog from the Fable series is. After saving him from a bully at the start of the second title, he’ll loyally remain by your side through all sorts of battles and you can show him he’s a ‘good boy’ by petting him. His appearance will change in line with your Hero’s alignment, turning him into happy, friendly companion who looks like a yellow Labrador if you’re very good. Forget a sword – this is one Dog who’s definitely a Hero’s best friend.

    Chocobos from Final Fantasy

    Final Fantasy X, video game, Chocobo, bird, chickenAs mentioned in a recent post, I’ve played very little of the Final Fantasy series – but even I know what a Chocobo is. My favourite spring animal are fluffy chicks so this is an excellent entry for our list! They’re incredibly cute when young and grow up to be intelligent and friendly, helping characters on their journeys by allowing themselves to be ridden. They also demonstrate an ability to communicate with other sentient creatures and can be ferocious in combat; they’d be the perfect animal to take along on your daily commute to work.

    Vladdy from Maize

    Maize, video game, bear, Vladdy, robot, animatronicSo Vladdy might not technically be a ‘creature’ seeing as he’s a robot you make partway through Maize, but he’s still awesome because he’s always there to remind you how ridiculous everything is. He bears (pun intended) a striking resemblance to an animatronic toy from our childhoods but he isn’t as sickly-sweet; here’s a character who throws constant insults at you in his Russian accent while stomping around the room, squeaking as he goes. It turns out to be a beautiful love-hate relationship, and his grumpiness just makes him even more endearing.

    The Minions from Overlord

    Overlord, video game, town, Spree, Minions, goblins, beer, drinkingThis entry on our list is a lovable mix of naughty and nice: the Minions from Overlord get up to all sorts if mischief through the series but they’re weirdly cute while doing so. Sure, they’re a bit scaly with murderous intentions; like guzzling down beer before weeing everywhere; and want to eat the ‘sheepies’ and club the baby deals to death. But their zest for life and questionable fashion-sense make them strangely adorable despite all that, and their funny little sayings are bound to put a smile on anyone’s face.

    Slimes from Slime Rancher

    Slime Rancher, video game, Pink Slimes, blobs, cute, aliensSlimes are gelatinous bell-shaped aliens that live in the Far, Far Range and their permanently happy expressions and high-pitched voices make them one seriously adorable creature. They’re soft, squishy and very happy to be around people; plus their plorts (diamond-shaped items they produce after being fed) are used to manufacture everything from food products to household cleaners, therefore making them incredibly useful too. Don’t tell me you can look at that image and then not want to give them a cuddle.

    Trico from The Last Guardian

    The Last Guardian, video game, Trico, animal, beast, phoenix, griffin, boyAt the start of The Last Guardian, Trico can be a little intimidating: he’s absolutely huge, terribly distressed and not entirely pleased about your attention. Over the course of the game however he turns into a loyal companion who doesn’t leave your side. That makes him all the more cute; Trico might be far bigger than a lot of the other creatures on this list and doesn’t always do as he’s told, but it’s hard to resist those gorgeous eyes and playful nature as he plays like a kitten with objects in the environment.

    The cat from The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything

    The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything, TPAoE, cat pops up, cat, kitten, menu screenThe Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything not only has one of the longest names in gaming, it also has one of the quirkiest styles. Its cut-and-paste design and offbeat humour make it a delight to play if you have a few hours to spare. And even if you don’t, it’s still worth installing and loading up because there’s a nice little surprise waiting on the menu screen: click on the ‘cat pops up’ option and that’s exactly what happens. What’s even better is that that fluffy little kitten greets you for no reason other than to make you laugh.

    Pretty much any creature from Botanicula

    Botanicula, video game, creatures, tadpoles, plantsBotanicula is a funny little adventure game about five friends: tiny creatures who set out on an amazing journey to save the last seed from their home tree from horrible evil parasites. Amanita Design have such a way with characters and almost every single one in this title is has its own style of cuteness. Click on them and they’ll react in a variety of ways, from a humorous animation to a quirky human-made sound; and they manage to tell an entire story without saying a single word. Just go and play it.

    Now don’t tell me you didn’t say ‘Aw!’ at least once while reading through that list. If you know of any adorable creatures which should be added, please do let everyone know in the comments below!

    It’s not what you play, it’s who you play it with

    I’m writing this the day before Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 releases. At least for me and all the other season pass pre-orders. If you bought the Ultimate Edition, you could be playing now but if you only have the standard you have to wait another few days. Sad, but true.

    That’s a comment for another day. What I wanted to write about was a question Kim asked me recently: “Why don’t you write about how exited you are for The Division 2?” Relatively straightforward at first but the truth is, I’m not. I’ve dropped a load of money on a game I’m not hyped about at all.

    So why spend the money? Well, because Pete is beyond excited about the game.

    Every Tuesday night, Pete and I play games online, or at least try to as sometimes life gets in the way. I look forward to it each and every week and I’m always gutted if we can’t play. Over the years we’ve played all sorts including Destiny (both the original and 2), Rocket League, Strange Brigade and currently Fallout 76. We’ve also played The Division.

    Pete loves The Division. I’ve never known him be so passionate about any other game. He loves the setting, the look and most importantly the grind. Long after I was bored (and frustrated) with the bullet-sponge baddies, Pete was playing it on multiple systems and ranking up his characters to super powerful levels. He’s an absolute Division nut and his enthusiasm is infectious.

    I love seeing passion in people, I love being a part of their happiness and it’s games like The Division which give that. Am I looking forward to the actual game? Not really. Am I looking forward to playing it? As long as it’s with Pete, you bet your backside I am.