Editorial: September 2019

Welcome to September’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 autumn now upon us and the days getting darker, let’s take a look at recent events.


Statistics:

Followers:

  • WordPress: 1,174
  • Twitter: 530
  • Facebook: 61
  • Instagram: 174
  • Twitch: 76
  • Posts:

  • Published: 14 posts
  • Most viewed: Gamers blog party: autumn 2019 invitation
  • Most liked: Gamers blog party: autumn 2019 invitation
  • Most commented on: Gamers blog party: autumn 2019 invitation
  • My favourite: Sexualised characters: holding up a mirror to culture
  • Games played:

  • Blair Witch (video)
  • Coloring Pixels (review / video)
  • Ord. (video)
  • State of Mind (review / videos)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • The Uncertain: Last Quiet Day (videos)
  • Thimbleweed Park (videos)
  • Blogger highlights:

  • Was Free-To-Play Inevitable? by Tim from GeekOut UK
  • Gaming of the Dead by Luke from Hundstrasse
  • Ellen Page and the Power of One’s Platform by In Third Person
  • The Importance of Imaginary Idols by Ellen from Livid Lightning
  • Bayonetta and Embracing Femininity by Why We Play Games
  • Blog life:

    Bright Lights Evening Trail, HiddenCity, LondonIs there a version of blogging-burnout where you don’t burn completely but kind of smoulder a little? If so, I think that’s what I’ve been experiencing this month after Blaugust 2019 in August. Putting out a post a day is something I can see myself doing on a regular basis and my enthusiasm for writing dipped at the beginning of September. I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things however and have post ideas lined up for October thanks to some blogging friends, and a few of recent events perked up my motivation.

    First I had the pleasure of meeting Quietschisto from RNG in real-life after he visited London! We spent an evening on a treasure-hunt through the city from which we emerged victorious (more about that on Wednesday). Then I found out I’ll be volunteering for SpecialEffect at MCM Comic Con again in several weeks’ time, a great boost to our GameBlast20 plans. And finally I received blogging award nominations from Carla from Pop Culture Literary, Fed from Fed’s Life and Nathan from Gaming Omnivore. Thanks guys – response posts have been drafted and are coming very soon!

    Real life:

    Let’s face it: the world is in a pretty bad state right now. You can’t open a newspaper or look at the news-feed on your mobile phone without seeing politicians behaving in a disgusting manner, dire warnings of climate change or countries at war with themselves and each other. These things are slowly gnawing away at my mental wellbeing and I think they go some way towards explaining the dip in my enthusiasm this month. I know it’s important to look for the positive things in life but sometimes you want to pull the duvet over your head and hide.

    I’ve therefore been staying away from social media recently because there are so many negative opinions flying around right now – and to be quite frank, I can’t bear seeing some of the Brexit views expressed by friends and family members. I’ve also been looking for distractions. Coloring Pixels provided several hours of clicking calm; baking always relaxes me so I’ve been making batches of Sweetrolls; and regular training sessions for next year’s London 10K have been helping me to zone out.

    Gaming life:

    September’s blog party was a success thanks to its amazing attendees and I came away with not only a few more new sites to follow, but several video game recommendations too. I finally got around to starting Thimbleweed Park after chatting to Katie from Musings of a nitpicking girl; it’s one I’ve been putting off for a while for fear of being disappointed but so far I’m really enjoying it. It makes a nice change to enjoy an adventure title after having to deal with Kate Walker in Syberia recently!

    Blair Witch on the other hand wasn’t as good as my other-half and I were hoping – keep your eyes peeled for a post about that soon. Two hours in and it didn’t even manage to get one scream out of me. State of Mind was a pleasant surprise though; I don’t usually like the games by Daedalic Entertainment but I actually really enjoyed this story, although it won’t appeal to everyone. Next we have Observer lined up and I also need to try Overwatch to keep my stepson happy.

    Coming up:

    Events:

  • 01-05 October: Gayming Live 2019
  • 15 October: National Face Your Fears Day
  • 17-20 October: EGX 2019
  • 25-27 October: MCM Comic Con London
  • 31 October onwards: Until Dawn: community choice
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more
  • New posts:

  • Why I’m not enjoying Blair Witch
  • Do you feel pressure to get the best game endings?
  • Just say neigh: my phobia in video games
  • The video game mechanic I least enjoy
  • Scary-not-scary gaming moments
  • 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!

    State of Mind: Daedalic disaster?

    Although I love the adventure genre, I’m not a Daedalic Entertainment fan. There’s something about their games I can’t get my head around and the humour falls flat. I haven’t played a title by the developer since Silence last summer, when the promotional material failed to explain that it was a follow up to 2009’s The Whispered World and the storyline was spoiled as a result.

    It therefore probably seems strange that I was drawn to State of Mind at the Rezzed event in April 2018. Unfortunately the stand was busy every time I stopped by and I didn’t get the chance to try the demo there, but there was something about its futuristic low-poly world that intrigued me. The fact it was a release by Daedalic did put me off however and so it sat in my wishlist for over a year after being added – until I needed something new to play and received a Steam notification about a discount last month.

    Almost 12 hours later and I was pleasantly surprised. I’d finally found a Daedalic title I’d actually enjoyed. I considered this over the following week, trying to figure out why this was the first that had really appealed, and then I realised: it wasn’t like any other the developer’s earlier work. Instead of being a story about a fairytale, cartoonish and full of saccharine, State of Mind had a much grittier feel and a narrative where there were no entirely happy endings. And best of all, there was no humour to be lost in translation.

    Bias is a curious thing. No matter how much we try to remain unmoved by our preferences and past experience, it still has a funny way of creeping in there; even the most open-minded person will categorise in a way that influences their decision-making. I consider this post to be a simple discussion about a game I played recently rather than a ‘proper’ review. But if it was a critique, I’d likely be focusing on the way State of Mind kept me engrossed for an entire weekend and how it kept me guessing who the real villain was until the very end.

    A lot of other people don’t agree with that opinion though. A quick search on Steam at the time of writing reveals a ‘Mostly Positive’ rating at 71% along with a score of 69 on Metacritic. While looking for discussions about the game’s ending, I found numerous reviews giving it two or three stars out of five and commenting on bugs, confused narrative and limited challenge. For example, Lewis from A Most Agreeable Pastime called it ‘a reasonably interesting story that’s hamstrung by poor pacing and character development, and a glaring lack of things to actually do’.

    And you know what? I don’t disagree with him. It wouldn’t be unjustified to call State of Mind a walking simulator (although I hate that term) with a light sprinkling of puzzles on top. Most of the gameplay consists of traversing to one point of interest to another and having conversations where your choices don’t impact the title’s direction in any significant way; and when challenges do appear they’re not all that, well, challenging. There’s therefore little to keep you hanging on for more if the story isn’t gripping you.

    As for the narrative itself, it covers a wide range of futuristic subjects from social division to transhumanism. They’re fascinating individually but combining them all within the same video game means that none are given appropriate focus before we’re moved onto the next. The characters have to make huge leaps in logic in order to connect numerous subjects and sometimes it feels as though they’ve draw conclusions out of thin air. As a result, I found myself asking ‘But why though?’ several times throughout my time with the title.

    I therefore still have a number of outstanding questions – the reason why I was searching for discussions about the ending, as mentioned above – and their answers would probably make interesting games in their own right. It feels as though Daedalic attempted to do something similar to The Longest Journey series and give us a story about conspiracies, technology and control but sadly missed the mark slightly. Whereas Red Thread Games’ project gives you all the explanation you need, State of Mind leaves you hanging.

    So do those negatives make the opinion I gave earlier in this post less valid? I don’t think so, because I genuinely enjoyed it despite the release’s many shortcomings; but it’s certainly worth noting how bias could affect my view in some way. Previous experiences with the developer’s work haven’t been great and so this release, being so different in its nature, caught me off-guard. Was it that I enjoyed being surprised by the change in style and subject matter rather than State of Mind itself?

    And more importantly: does that even matter if I was entertained and this post is in no way meant to be a proper review? Whatever the answers to all these questions are, there’s one thing I’m sure of. I’m more excited to see what Daedalic does next than I’ve ever been before.

    Big-Up the Blitz: episode 3-and-a-bit

    Welcome back! Presumably you’ve just changed channels after watching the first half of the third episode of our unofficial commentary couch for 2019’s Blogger Blitz, but if not then please go and check that out now, because second halves don’t make much sense if you’ve not seen the first!

    Chris: Our first second-round match pitted Flameflash from Monk of Mists (with Tyrande and Malfurion) against Winst0lf from Winst0lf Portal (alongside Morgana and Ann)! The event this time was Hotel Hijinks, with the competitors doing their best to relax after a hard-fought first round – but, alas, their vindictive opponent from round one has trashed the place!
    Kim: Flameflash got off to a great start with a story about a visit to Binan Village. As mentioned earlier, it can be hard to judge a match when you aren’t familiar with the characters or their world – so points went to him for telling us all about the place and making inexperienced readers welcome there.
    Chris: Interestingly, he spoke ‘as himself’ in his post – as you say, he told us all about the landscape and its context, but did so in a conversational tone rather than presenting a story or other creation.
    Kim: Winst0lf changed things up with a ‘letters’ format which was really creative: he worked a description of what the hotel should have been like into the apology note, which then went on to explain the damage done. Despite their different formats, both competitors met the event compliance format – so the judges had to find something else to grade them on.
    Chris: Indeed – while Flameflash did tell us what makes Tyrande and Malfurion’s relationship remarkable, Winst0lf managed to gain favour by communicating his ship’s pairing with little touches, not wasting words but making their relationship part of each step of the narrative.
    Kim: They both performed excellently but it was Winst0lf who came out on top this round. His entry included a humour that appealed to the judges and won over the hearts of readers!
    Chris: You know, Winst0lf may have been perfectly compliant with the event requirements, but I think he’s managed to make his path all the way to the final mostly just by having an easy charm about his character interactions. Still, I thought Flameflash did a great job of explaining a world I know nothing about so that I could understand his entry; perhaps a bit too good, if anything, but then you never know what to focus on!
    Kim: And finally we come to the second semi-finals match between KT Martin from Wintendo64 (with Geralt of Rivia and Ciri) and Pix 1001 from Shoot the Rookie (with Itsuki Aoi and Yashiro Tsurugi). This match features something far more scary than video game monsters lurking in the shadows: a surprise request for babysitting duty. Our heroes can easily handle a final boss but can they deal with a rambunctious toddler alongside their Ship?
    Chris: I know I couldn’t. Both competitors here went for a storytelling style that removed the piece a little bit from the action: KT re-employed her ‘detailed plan outline’ format from round one, while Pix staged an interview with her characters. KT’s piece, then, focused on the hypothetical ‘here’s what we would do’, while Pix went for ‘here’s what we did’ – in both cases, we didn’t follow the chaos as it happened.
    Kim: That explains why the judges had a mixed reaction to both posts in terms of the first element, structure. In event compliance, Pix came out on top though: her more direct way of sharing interactions with the child and a touch of humour won them over.
    Chris: Finally, both competitors worked in a lot of great character stuff: Geralt and Ciri’s backstory came into play, adding flavour if not persuasive force, while Itsuki and Yashiro played off each other during their interactions about their humorous hijinks in the interview. In the end there was no real deciding factor for the judges, as both were great pieces that met the brief and had a lot of thought put in, so Pix emerged the victor on the basis of just being that little bit stronger in the judges’ minds.
    Kim: So that brings us to the end of the Blogger Blitz action so far! I think I need a sit down and a cup of tea… phew.
    Chris: It’s been an intense few weeks! Any overarching thoughts about how this year’s contest has shaped up, Kim?
    Kim: Well we’ve ended up with a couple of excellent finalists – so the competitors did a fantastic job with their posts, and the judges made some great decisions. The new scoring element has added an interesting element to this year’s event, and in some ways it has become more ‘analytical’; it’ll be interesting to see how this comes into play in the final. What’s on your mind, Chris?
    Chris: Well, I was just thinking that I’d have had a hard time being a judge this year, despite the increased clarity on criteria. Hopefully the knowledge on both sides helped the whole thing to go a bit more smoothly, with judges knowing what they were looking for and competitors too knowing what to expect in the judgements (and therefore what to focus on in their pieces), but I think I’d have found it difficult not to simply go for the one I thought was more awesome!
    Kim: Ah… you’re talking about… THE X-FACTOR!
    Chris: THE X FACTAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! Yup – my own judging tendencies, though I tried to look closely at the merits of each piece, were simply to pick the one that I enjoyed the most, and I think that’s a valid approach to judging as long as everyone’s clear on that. When there are spelled-out point categories, it hopefully makes it easier for competitors to anticipate what might go down well.
    Kim: The same as you’d have had a hard time being a judge, I think I would have had just as hard a time being a competitor! The added Ship factor this year certainly switched things up. Those taking part needed to consider a lot of elements in their entries – not only the scoring elements but also setting the scene, introducing their characters to readers who may not be familiar with them, and often throwing in some humour for good measure. The amount of effort they put in shone through in their posts.
    Chris: Oh yeah – we saw a lot of creativity coming through in every post, with each competitor managing to portray entire worlds with believable relationships, let alone tackling ludicrous problems in awesome fashion. Now, we know our final event, and indeed our two finalists’ entries are now live! Any final thoughts before the Blogger Blitz draws to its thrilling conclusion?
    Kim: NEEDS MORE X-FACTOR VOICE! Plus, the best of luck to both Pix and Winst0lf!
    Chris: Dang right, and our support goes out as always to our participants for putting on a great show, our judges for their contributions, and to our wonderful host Ian from Adventure Rules for the enormous amount of work he does behind the scenes to keep this most epic collaboration running.
    Kim: Thank you for joining us for a recap of the Blogger Blitz action so far! The final match results will be on Adventure Rules at the end of this week.
    Chris: Ian will most likely put together such a great results post! I for one am thrilled to see how the ultimate showdown between our Aoi-Yashiro and Ann-Morgana pairings unfolds, bringing the third Blitz to an epic end.
    Kim: A final thank you to Ian, the judges, the competitors and you – our fabulous readers. Who knows, maybe we’ll see you again for Blogger Blitz in 2020!


    Sexualised characters: holding up a mirror to culture

    It’s long been thought that the portrayals of people we see in the media have an impact on how we feel about our own bodies. Stick-thin models in magazines, beautiful actors in the movies and pretty people all over the internet are assumed to have a negative effect – but there has recently been some good news when it comes video games.

    According to a study by Stetson University and Fairleigh Dickinson University, games featuring sexualised protagonists may not have as much impact on us as once thought. Female participants were asked to play Tomb Raider Underworld or Tomb Raider (2013) at random before reporting on their self-objectification and body dissatisfaction. The results indicated that the former’s sexualised version of Lara Croft didn’t make players feel body shame – or at least as not as much as other types of objectification (more about that later).

    Tomb Raider, Underworld, woman, Lara Croft, ruins

    These findings don’t entirely surprise me. Female characters who are inappropriately dressed for the task at hand and whose boobs seem to defy all laws of nature may make me roll my eyes in exasperation. But I don’t feel they cause me to have any internal negative thoughts, because I’m aware they’re fictional: they exist only inside a video game and therefore don’t send a realistic message about women’s bodies. Why should I bother comparing myself?

    I wonder if the study’s participants feel the same way and whether the titles chosen had any effect on the results. There are other protagonists who are far more sexualised than Lara and most gamers are aware of her move towards a more realistic design over the years, so we tend to view her earlier days as a relic. In addition, the archaeologist was never simply about her looks; they’re not her only contribution to the Tomb Raider games and she can kick some serious butt, in either tiny shorts or cargo-pants.

    Regardless, some will look at the findings and surmise that we no longer need to concern ourselves with sexualised characters because they don’t negatively affect players. Other forms of objectification are more damaging, with the study citing ‘catcalling’ as an example – and again I’m not surprised by this. Feeling objectified as a result of something you’ve seen in the media is a thought you’ve arrived at independently. But catcalling is a real person confirming that notion in real time, and that’s far more hurtful.

    It’s not really that simple though, is it? Just because sexy protagonists don’t make us feel bad about ourselves doesn’t mean we should put up with seeing them in all of our games. Not everyone can be blond-haired, tan-skinned, big-boobed and tiny-waisted, and constantly seeing characters who embody that tired representation of beauty quickly gets boring. Games have come a long way in recent years but there’s still plenty of room for further diversity and giving us a whole range of heroes to spend time with.

    Tomb Raider, 2013, Lara Croft, woman, bow and arrow, deer

    It’s not about censoring, or feminism, or being offended by the sight of bouncing bosoms and pert butt-cheeks. If that’s what you want to see in your video games then knock yourself out – there are more than enough titles out there to interest you. It’s just good to be aware that being surrounded by a culture which constantly perpetuates a certain body-type as being perfect can impact how positively we feel about ourselves, and having access to media that only reflects that culture could reassert those values.

    As said by professor of psychology Chris Ferguson in an interview with Kotaku: “Media holds a mirror up to culture. And sometimes we don’t like the mirror. It must be dirty or smudged for it to look this way. But it really is more of a mirror.”

    Missing in Jericho: the search begins

    Detective films and books? They don’t do anything for me. But give me a video game with a detective storyline and I’m all over it. I love being able to dig around for information, put together the clues and figure out the villain behind the crime.

    This could explain why I enjoy escape rooms as much as I do. Since being introduced to them by Tim and Jake from GeekOut UK at the start of this year, I’ve now competed six and am the lookout for more. There’s something about being let loose to dig around in a strange room, not knowing what you’re going to find behind closed doors but being aware there’s a secret to discover that’s exciting – and the fact you have a time-limit to solve the puzzle just makes it even more thrilling.

    It’s therefore little wonder why the Kickstarter campaign for Missing in Jericho caught my eye last month. After finding out about it in a newsletter, I headed over to the page and backed it almost immediately when I saw the introduction: ‘An experience that will challenge you to become a real-life detective in your own investigation.’ Although some of the details about how it will work are still a little vague – and that just makes it even more intriguing – it seems as though it will further bridge the gap between reality and the digital.

    The story began when Alice disappeared without a trace after a disturbing post on her social media account. This leads you to the old mining town of Jericho, hidden from the outside world by forests and hills, where you can’t shake the feeling that she found something she wasn’t supposed to. Every solved riddle, new discovery and hard interrogation will lead you closer to the truth about her disappearance; but who do you trust? What choices will you make? And can you find Alice before it’s too late?

    Crime HQ is an online area where you’ll be able to access findings and material including crime-scene photographs and video footage to help your investigation. You won’t have to face it alone however because your AI partner-in-crime Mia will be there to lend a hand and she knows Jericho like the back of her digital hand. She’s able to help you interrogate suspects, get house warrants and dive into the police database, but any difficult decisions that need to be made are down to you alone.

    Don’t get too comfortable in Crime HQ though because Missing in Jericho will require players to travel to unexpected places in the far reaches of the internet. You’ll also have to trawl through social media accounts for clues and call suspicious numbers, using physical objects such as notebooks and printouts to make sure you don’t get lost in your enquiries. I love how the gameplay here isn’t confined to a screen alone and it seems as though it’s going to be a great cooperative title for bouncing ideas off a partner.

    As a reward for becoming a backer, I started to receive messages from creator Crimibox that contained details from the police and mysterious updates. The campaign is over so pledges are no longer being taken but for anyone who wants to get a taste of what Missing in Jericho is going to offer early next year, check out the free preview on the Kickstarter page. This only takes around 30 minutes to complete but you’ll be listening to strange voicemails, tracking down addresses and analysing photographs.

    The search for Alice is hopefully due to begin in January and I can’t wait to get my investigation on. Head over to Twitter and give Crimibox to stay up-to-date.

    Cooking up a Stormcloak

    Regular Later Levels visitors will be aware of my on-off obsession with The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). Since being introduced to the game, I’ve had regular bouts of playing it non-stop before calling it quits for several months – only to go back to the MMORPG a short time later.

    My addiction resurfaced again this year as a result of receiving a message from Tim at GeekOut UK asking me what ESO was like. After telling him it was Skyrim-but-with-other-people, he purchased the PC version and became hooked himself. He convinced his partner Jake to join him, then persuaded me and my other-half to move away from the PlayStation version, and now we can all be regularly found online chatting away in the guild chat. It’s the first time I’ve actually played for long enough to reach Champion points so the obsession isn’t going away.

    For Tim’s birthday it therefore made sense to surprise him with a copy of The Elder Scrolls: The Original Official Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. Pete and I had read a few reviews online and seen photographs that readers had posted of their attempts at the recipes, so we thought it might be something he’d enjoy. Our gift must have gone down well because it wasn’t long after that we received a picture of the Sweetrolls Tim and Jake had made – and they looked so good that I promptly ordered a copy for myself so I could get my bake on.

    The book itself is lovely and even if you’re not fond of cooking, it’s a nice purchase. Each chapter contains details about the food preferences of each culture in Tamriel along with notes on the celebrations of each region and the dishes made for these. Over 60 recipes are split between seven sections all the way from starters to desserts, with each being photographed in a typically Elder Scrolls setting. A single Sweetroll upon a metal plate is shown on a crate in a snowy setting with a sleeping bag in the background, for example.

    I recently tried the recipe myself and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Quietschisto from RNG had warned me the dishes featured within The Original Official Cookbook catered for a sweet-tooth and it could therefore be wise to reduce any sugary ingredients by around 20%. The Sweetrolls were the opposite however: quite light in texture and more bread-like than cake, and nowhere near as sweet as we expected them to be. My other-half has even asked me to add more honey when I make them next time!

    The recipes themselves are easy to follow but the instructions sometimes fall into too-vague territory. For example, being told to ‘cook until soft’ while making Goatherd’s Pie isn’t specific enough for me; I like to be given timings so I’ve got a guideline to base my cooking on. It’s also worth pointing out for those of you in the UK that all the measurements in the book are given in US cups rather than grams so you’ll need to so some converting.

    Saying that though, it’s not going to stop me from trying out the Oatmeal Raisin Shortbread. And I’ve had a request from my other-half to make the Orsimer Venison and Juniper Lamb Chops. Below are the photographs from my Sweetroll attempt – feel free to share your own in the comments if you have any!

    Sweetroll recipe photo gallery

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