Editorial: June 2019

Welcome to June’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. With the summer blog party and longest day of the year now behind us, let’s take a look at recent events.

Statistics:

Followers:

  • WordPress: 1,032
  • Twitter: 505
  • Facebook: 59
  • Instagram: 167
  • Twitch: 70
  • Posts:

  • Published: 12 posts
  • Most viewed: Gamers blog party: summer 2019 invitation
  • Most liked: Gamers blog party: summer 2019 invitation
  • Most commented on: Gamers blog party: summer 2019 invitation
  • My favourite: Living forever through video games
  • Games played:

  • ICO (video)
  • Lamplight City (videos)
  • Observation (videos)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • Blogger highlights:

  • The Annual Blogger Blitz Competition! by Adventure Rules
  • The Benefits of Nostalgic Thinking by Athena from AmbiGaming
  • Is digital Keanu really the future of games? by squareblind
  • Perfect Gamer Pressure by The Gaming Diaries
  • The Series That Got Me Into Gaming by Why We Play Games
  • Blog life:

    The summer 2019 blog party took place in the middle of June and I’m pleased to announce that all records were smashed: we received over 300 comments (this has now grown to over 450) and shared 36 awesome posts throughout the day! Keeping up with everything going on while trying to manage my day-job was pretty tricky so I may need to consider alternative formats for the next event on 16 September 2019. Fortunately my furry blogging assistant Zelda was on hand to make sure everything went smoothly – while trying to sit on my laptop and look cute.

    Last week I had the opportunity to meet the Niki from TriformTrinity in real-life when he came to the UK for a holiday and visited us in London! He’s not only a lovely guy but has so much knowledge about video games and other media stored in his brain, and I wish he was closer so we could have more conversations in person. Other June highlights included waking up one morning to discover that Later Levels had hit over 1,000 WordPress subscribers thanks you to amazing people; and I shared my contribution for the Video Game Literary Classics 101 collaboration hosted by Angie from Backlog Crusader.

    Real life:

    June was a celebratory month with birthdays for my stepson, mother-in-law and dad, along with Father’s Day all happening in the same two weeks. We got the whole family together for another escape room attempt which sadly stumped us (read my review here) before stuffing ourselves full of barbecued food expertly cooked by my brother. Strangely, nobody gave Ethan any birthday presents to do with Fallout this year despite his ongoing obsession with the series and he didn’t seem to notice; maybe the infatuation is waning?

    I’ll be starting my new role as a Database Platforms Engineer next week and am really looking forward to the career change! This month has been stressful because I’ve been trying to pull off a couple of big projects before leaving my current team; but finally being able to host an IT industry event and finishing a huge piece of work around the subject of ‘customer experience’ has been well worth the effort. I’ve got so much to learn for the new job and will have to complete a number of training courses while coordinating garden renovations at home, so the summer months are going to be extremely busy…

    Gaming life:

    What did you think of E3 2019? I made a point of watching Microsoft’s Xbox briefing in the hope we’d hear more about Fable 4 but sadly there was no such luck. I came away from the event feeling deflated, not just from there being no news about the series but because there was nothing which excited me. I’ve been stuck in a rut recently after getting sucked back into The Elder Scrolls Online, although a brief break with Observation was interesting. I need some recommendations for new games to check out so let me know what you’ve got.

    After purchasing a PlayStation 2 at the London Gaming Market in March, my other-half and I finally got around to streaming ICO. Playing something retro gave us a warm, nostalgic feeling so we’ll likely pick up a few more classic titles at the next market in July. The planning for our GameBlast20 marathon stream will start shortly and the experience has given us a few thoughts for the event; we’ve got an idea for something rather ambitious, so it’s going to be interesting to see if we can manage it. More details soon!

    Coming up:

    Events:

  • 03 July: Blogger Blitz competitor sign-ups
  • 05 July: The Darkside Detective: pixel hunting
  • 06 July: Twitch London Meetup
  • 21 July: London Gaming Market
  • 27 July: The Council: hidden agendas stream
  • 29 July: Blogger Blitz matches commence
  • 30 July: International Friendship Day
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more
  • New posts:

  • Is my anger holding back my blogging?
  • Essex: the birthplace of the MMORPG
  • What being ‘older’ gamers teaches us
  • Is there still such a thing as ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’?
  • A celebration of blogging friendship
  • 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!

    Badly switching things up with The Little Acre

    How do you feel about switching between characters in a single video game? Is it something you enjoy, because it gives you the chance to see a digital world through multiple eyes? Or would you prefer to stay with one protagonist throughout and get to know them fully?

    The reason I ask is because I recently played something which made me consider how this mechanic is used in more detail. During a week off work and in between too-many-hours of The Elder Scrolls Online, I returned to my preferred genre and completed a few adventures. Unforeseen Incidents, a title I’d first heard about at EGX Rezzed in 2018, proved to be a great dystopian story with a nice art-style; and I finally had the chance to play detective-drama Lamplight City in full after previewing it last year.

    EGX, expo, event, video games, developer session, Pewter Games Studio, Charles Cecil, chairs, microphones, presentation, screen

    I also tried The Little Acre, a release I found out about at EGX in 2016. There I’d attended a developer session with Charles Cecil from Revolution Games – the creator of the classic Broken Sword series – where he shared his belief that the genre’s mid-1990s slump was due to it failing to modernise. However, it’s now catching up again because developers are designing titles to include logical puzzles for the modern day, which no longer involve frustrating elements such as pixel-hunting or long dialogue trees.

    Whatever Cecil learnt from his observations on the genre, he clearly put it into effect during his time as Executive Producer for Pewter Games Studio. The Little Acre’s hand-drawn animations are great and occasionally you’ll come across one that immediately brings Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars to mind. In a post on the PlayStation blog, designer Kate Clavin explained how they spent ‘four years attempting to give every character, environment, movement and gesture as much life and personality as possible’.

    But while the animations are of a very high quality, I can’t help feeling they were perhaps the focus of the title to the detriment of everything else. Take that character-switching mechanic I talked about at the start of this post: at times it was employed to do nothing other than show off a cute little clip. When you ask the player to switch from unemployed engineer Aidan to his young daughter Lily to do nothing more than click to walk from one side of a scene to another before switching back again, something is definitely wrong.

    This game is very short for a point-and-click and I managed to get through The Little Acre in just over 90 minutes. After checking against a walkthrough afterwards, I discovered that a total of 19 character-switches took place throughout that period. I don’t enjoy the mechanic at the best of times, and that’s when it’s being used to further the narrative or gameplay; but a transfer between dad and daughter every five-minutes and ten-seconds on average must surely seem excessive to even a fan.

    This frequency had a negative effect on my immersion because not enough time was given to get to know either character and feel comfortable with them both. Glimpses of their personality flashed across the screen before control was switched to the other protagonist. By the time the end credits rolled I didn’t particularly cared what happened to them – and the fact that they’d made it back to their own world and managed to save it from a lonely creature in the process was all a bit ‘meh’ as a result.

    Personally, I feel that character-switching throws me out of the flow and brings me back to reality when I’m engrossed in a story. It’s difficult to think of a game where the mechanic worked for me but I can certainly name a few where it just didn’t at all. Going back to the Broken Sword series again, this is possibly one of the worse: I find George Stobbart and Nico collard to be incredibly annoying so having to play as both makes the experience even more challenging.

    Unfortunately The Little Acre just doesn’t hit the mark. Along with its excessive switches and short gameplay length, the puzzles don’t give the player any reason to have to stop and think because it’s all just far too easy. It would be a great entry to the point-and-click genre for young gamers because it’s very cute and family-friendly; but older players will be left wondering about several unexplained story elements and whether they actually cared enough to find out more.

    Give me one protagonist, an engrossing storyline with plenty of mystery, and puzzles that leave me scratching my head for a while. That’s what I want from an adventure game.

    Escape rooms: stepping up to the challenge

    I‘ve officially been bitten by the escape room bug. After completing my first one in January while visiting Tim, Jake and Joel in Bristol, I’ve since gone on to attempt three more around the south of the UK. This won’t come as much of a surprise given that I’m a big fan of adventure games.

    I’ve not been successful in getting out of every one in under an hour, but they’ve all been fun – in different ways and to varying degrees. There are definitely some elements help make a room stand out from all the others available and their owners need to consider several elements for a great experience: the background story, setting, props and how challenging the puzzles are. Here’s a round-up of the escape rooms I’ve attempted so far and whether they receive the Later Levels’ seal of approval.

    Bristol: Parallax by Locked In A Room

    Locked In A Room, team, lab coats, Kim, Joel, Jake, Pete, Tim, GeekOut South-West

    The best thing about this one was the story: the time-travelling super genius Professor Pottenger has been kidnapped by unknown assailants and it’s up to your team to enter their hideout and unravel this peculiar mystery! The other rooms I’ve done have all provided walkie-talkies for communication with your monitor but this one used a screen that could display messages. Simply wave your arms around when you get stuck and a nice cryptic clue will appear to guide you in the right direction.

    On the other hand though, the setting was a little lacking. More items were needed for the place to feel like a real living room (although I understand this could have caused some difficulty for the team moving around). But there was a nice backdrop for the photograph at the end and I can’t fault the staff at all because they were very friendly. This is one to check out if you’re in Bristol, and we’re going back for Locked In A Room’s Jungle experience with the GeekOut South-West guys in August.

    London: Biohazard Laboratory by Omescape

    Omescape, escape room, London

    When I found out we’d be doing this as part of a team-building exercise in March, I wasn’t happy at all. Omescape pitches its escape rooms on their website as being quite ‘sinister’ and the thought of trapped in a small, dark room with colleagues for an hour didn’t fill me with joy because I can get claustrophobic! Saying that though, it was nowhere near as scary as it was made out to be; there was only one scream from me and that was when something happened to cause an unexpected loud noise.

    However, I can’t recommend it. A word to sum up the experience was ‘lazy’: everything was run down and paper items that were too faded to read properly hadn’t been reprinted. The plug socket among the shower-room mosaic tiles in the section which was meant to be a ‘sewer’ totally ruined the effect. The staff didn’t open up on time, weren’t attentive, clearly weren’t watching us while we were inside and didn’t even forward the team photograph at the end. Avoid this one and save your money for another event.

    Essex: Pirate Plunder by Escape Live

    Escape Live, escape room, Pirate Plunder, Patricia, Pete, Kim, Ethan

    My other-half and I have birthdays in April so I booked this as I thought it would be a nice child-friendly event for the family. My stepson and mother-in-law had never done an escape room before and therefore entered with some trepidation, but both left saying how much great it was. The staff were awesome, particularly the guy that monitored us; he took the time to speak to Ethan and explain what would happen as he was a little nervous about the whole thing (because Pete had jokingly told him the room would fill with water).

    There are so many good things I can say about this one. The setting was brilliant and felt full of life; the backstory was interesting enough to keep the stepkid engrossed for an hour; and the puzzles fitted in well with both of those elements. The star of the show however was Tarquin. This ‘parrot’ kept us company in the room during our hour and would occasionally throw out little hints or tell us when we were heading in the wrong direction, to which we all shouted out ‘Thanks Tarquin!’. I’d highly recommend booking if you’re in the area.

    Essex: Dr Wilson’s Office by Escape Live

    Escape Live, Kim, Pete, Dr Wilson's Office

    We’d all enjoyed the Pirate Plunder experience so much that my other-half and I went back for one of Escape Live’s other rooms for a date night the following month – and we weren’t disappointed. What made it different from all the others I’ve tried so far is that we were actually locked in. At no time did we feel worried about this however; an emergency key was within reach on the wall by the door and we were constantly monitored through cameras.

    On that note, a big shout-out to games-master Kane! The way he delivered rhyming clues when we needed them was awesome and he was happy to chat to us about the room afterwards. The puzzles in this one was definitely harder than our previous visit, and the clock displayed on a screen with its constant ticking during the last 20-minutes added to the pressure. It’s clear the room isn’t a new as Pirate Plunder, but there were plenty of props to make it feel like a real detective’s office from the 1920s.

    Essex: Overthrone by Escape Basildon

    Escape Basildon, Overthrone, family, team, Kim, Pete, Ethan

    Father’s Day and my own dad’s birthday were on the same day this year, so what better way to celebrate it than with a family attempt at an escape room. This was the biggest team we’ve tried one in so far and, even though there was more than enough space for seven of us in Escape Basildon’s Overthrone experience, so many people made it more difficult. It was hard to keep track of who was looking at which clue when so I’d recommend going with a smaller group if you can!

    Unfortunately we didn’t make it out of this one within the hour time-limit, but our game master kindly let us continue for another few minutes until we’d solved the few puzzles. This room obviously isn’t as new as some of the others we’ve tried as it’s taken a bit of a beating in certain areas; and some of the items within it, such as plastic shields and vinyl decals on the walls let it down a bit. It was good for a family afternoon and we enjoyed the theme but sadly it doesn’t make it into the top three.

    So the winner at the moment is Pirate Plunder by Escape Live. But with Jungle by Locked In A Room scheduled for August, will it remain that way? If there are any escape rooms you’d like to recommend, please do leave the details in the comments below!

    The longest day for gaming

    Today is officially the longest day of the year. Here in London, the sun rose at 04:43 this morning and is due to set at 21:21 tonight. That gives us a total of 16 hours, 38 minutes and 20 seconds of daylight – so what better way to use it than cramming it full of video games?

    Unfortunately for most of us, we’ll be stuck at work and so there’s very little chance of that happening. Bosses seem to frown upon you skipping out of meetings to find a quiet room to play your Switch, for some reason. But what if you’d been prepared and had arranged to take the day off: which games would you be spending it with? Here’s a breakdown of my own longest day.

    04:43 to 05:00:

    Just enough minutes to make a cup of tea and gobble down some toast. If you’re going to do an extended gaming session, it’s a good idea to get some breakfast before you start.

    05:00 to 07:00:

    Time to warm up with The Elder Scrolls Online. After recently purchasing the PC version so my other-half and I could play with Tim and Jake from GeekOut South-West, we’ve become hooked all over again and reached just under 50 hours in our first week alone. This time I’ve gone for something completely different and am aiming for a tank build; in the past my characters have tended to focus on magic and healing. It’s a change I’m liking though, because I love being able to run into battle and feel like I’m immovable.

    07:00 to 10:00:

    At the time of writing I’m partway through Lamplight City and think I’ve only got a few hours left, so what better time to finish it. I tried the preview build back in August but it’s taken me a while to get around to playing the full version. If you like detective stories it’s definitely worth a go: certain gameplay elements are like L.A. Noire and going down the wrong line of questioning can close parts of your investigation or cause you to accuse the wrong person. It’s pretty ambitious for a point-and-click.

    10:00 to 13:00:

    Draugen has been on my radar since March 2014, when Red Thread Games shared the world premiere of its trailer during a developer session at EGX Rezzed. I adore the Dreamfall series (even though I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to finish Dreamfall Chapters) so the thought of playing another narrative-driven release from the team makes me excited. While investigating the disappearance of the protagonist’s sister in a remote village called Graavik, I’d made a quick sandwich to keep me going.

    13:00 to 15:00:

    Now for something completely different. Steam’s recommendations can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss but occasionally it does throw out something interesting. El Tango de la Muerte is a quirky little rhythm game where you have to learn the tango to win the heart of your loved-one. Inspired by the best Latin American soap operas and with a touch of melodramatic humour, I can see myself spending a couple of hours on the dancefloor and throwing a few shapes (digitally-speaking).

    15:00 to 21:00:

    Next up would be Observation. Stories Untold turned out to be one of my favourite games of 2017 so I’m looking forward to playing No Code’s latest release. The idea of uncovering what happened to Dr Emma Fisher and her crew through the lens of the space station’s artificial intelligence (AI) sounds intriguing – and there are bound to be a few surprises if the developer’s previous title is anything to go by. During these six hours of investigation, I’d also take delivery of a Chinese takeaway for dinner too.

    21:00 to 21:21:

    Maybe there’d be time to fit in a quick quest in The Elder Scrolls Online before the end of the day? I know what would happen though: my other-half, Tim and Jake would already be online and we’d end up playing for several hours.

    So there you have it: the video games I’d spend the longest day of the year with. Now how would you spend your own?

    Living forever through video games

    I’ve always preferred video games to films. The latter present a plot which can’t be changed but with the former, there’s always that feeling of being able to affect the outcome even if it’s just an illusion of choice. We may ultimately arrive at set-points determined by the developer but those choices we’re presented with along the way change it into our own story.

    Narrative in gaming has come on a long way since the days of rescuing princesses from castles. And we now have access to a wide range of protagonists which aren’t always the stereotypical white male hero, and it’s far easier to find one we can relate to and admire. Each character is fully developed with their own backstories, intentions, strengths and weaknesses, and the conflict they encounter drives the story forward in a way which makes the player care about their journey.

    Think of all the protagonists you’ve stepped into the shoes of in all your years of gaming; how many have there been? I’ve broken all the rules and battled mechanical beasts throughout Mother’s Heart as Aloy. Taken on zombie-ghost-pirates with nothing more than a bottle of root beer as Guybrush Threepwood. Struggled with depression and been helped by good friends (as well as getting up to mischief with them) as Mae Borowski. And that’s just the start of a very long list.

    I’ve been on adventures both big and small with so many digital people and although their story has become my own, it’s also become that for so many other gamers around the world. Thousands of other players have taken on the role of the same character and walked those same steps. Each of us may have experienced their tale in a different way, been affected by different elements or learnt different lessons from the encounter, but we’ve all felt what it’s like to be that protagonist and live in their world.

    Video games give us the chance to live multiple lives in hundreds of ways. One day you can be a Dragonborn, going up against Alduin and an army of flying beasts raised from the dead; the next you can inherit your grandfather’s old farm and spend your time peacefully tending to crops and livestock. You might vow to end the Reaper threat, sailing through the stars and visiting distant planets. Or you might decide to go home after being away from your family for a time and find out what’s happened to your sister.

    You could almost say that games can grant us a certain kind of ‘immortality’ when you think about it in this way. Although our time here is limited, the characters we’ve played as throughout our years never really die and their influence is felt in future releases and narratives, and even in the lessons they’ve taught each player. A protagonist’s tale becomes our own during those hours we spend alongside them; and as soon as another person picks up a controller, it becomes their story too.

    Of course, it’s possible that at some point a game may be forgotten or the servers might be switched off once popularity wanes. But each character is never truly gone. They will always remain a digital possibility somewhere, waiting for someone to relive their tale – and ours – once again.

    Gamers blog party: summer 2019 invitation

    Club Tropicana may have drinks, fun and sunshine but it’s missing one very important ingredient: you. It’s time for our latest blog party because there’s no better way to celebrate the summer, as well as meet some new blogging friends and read their amazing posts.

    The rules are simple:

    🎉   Arrive at the party: don’t be shy and stand in the corner – say hello and introduce yourself in the comments below! Give an introduction to your blog to welcome new readers and let us know what you’re all about.

    🎉   Present your gift: think about the posts you’ve written during the past three months and choose your favourite or one which was fun to write. Leave a link to it in your comment and explain why you’ve picked it.

    🎉   Get the conversation going: following on from Rendermonkee’s suggestion, it’s fancy-dress time! Change your profile picture to your favourite video game character, and tell us who you’ve come as and why.

    🎉   Mingle: grab yourself a drink, put on a party hat and get to know your fellow guests! Check back on the comments throughout the day to discover excellent sites and meet new bloggers.

    🎉   Party all day: the comments below will be open for 24-hours until 06:00 GMT on Tuesday, 18 June 2019 so you’ve got plenty of time to meet and greet. Plus your posts will be shared on the Later Levels’ social media channels!

    These blog party events are my way of giving something back to the amazing WordPress community and showing my appreciation for all of your support. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some lovely people and talented writers over the past two years; here’s a little thank you and a way of finding some awesome blogs you may not have come across already.

    The record number of posts shared in a single event still stands at 29 so can we beat that this time around? Enjoy – and excuse me while I turn the music up!