Save point: November 2019

Welcome to November’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds-up all the happenings here at Later Levels in case you missed anything. With the past month being full of planning for both Christmas and GameBlast20, let’s have a quick recap recent events.

Blog life
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  • Total published:   14 posts
  • Most popular:   The kindness of bloggers
  • Most liked:   The kindness of bloggers
  • Most discussed:   Pour decisions: wine with video games
  • My favourite:   Beginner’s guide to indie (2019)
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  • Best day:   13 November 2019
  • Other posts worth checking out:

  • Indie Games To Play With Kids by Michelle from A Geek Girl’s Guide
  • Comfort Food Games by Nathan from Gaming Omnivore
  • GameBlast20: helping those in need by Gao Li Occasionally Reviews
  • Extra Life 2019 Campaign Post-Mortem by Jett from In Third Person
  • Drinks in Video Games: Grog from Monkey Island by RNG
  • I’ve had the pleasure of working with several blogger friends on collaborations this month and our efforts will be shared with the world shortly! First up, the results of The Point-and-Click Puzzle Pinnacle will be revealed by Quietschisto over on RNG on Saturday. Then in the following weeks you can expect my Charming and Open response for Ian from Adventure Rules along with a little project about virtual reality with Harry from Escape Reality Through Games. And finally, look out for Secret Blogging Santa on Christmas day as Ellen from Livid Lightning and I spread some festive cheer.

    After a conversation with Dan from nowisgames.com recently and with much reluctance, I gave WordPress’s block editor a go recently with a view to updating the Later Levels’ pages. It’s been a painful process as I much prefer working directly with the HTML but I wanted to get everything looking sparkly before the start of our GameBlast20 charity streams in early January. There’s even a new page for the event where you can find details about our schedule and how to make a donation to the awesome SpecialEffect – go check it out!

    Gaming life
    Games played:

  • Shadowhand (videos)
  • The Moment of Silence (videos)
  • The Outer Worlds (review)
  • Backed on Kickstarter:

  • Book of Travels (preview)
  • I’m a huge of the adventure genre so I was extremely excited to attend my first ever AdventureX conference in November. It may not have been what I was expecting but I had an excellent time and in some ways, I enjoyed it more than the expos we usually go to. Highlights included a talk by Dave Gilbert from Wadjet Eye Games that explained the importance of not giving up even when things don’t go to plan; and another by Ed Fear from Mediatonic Games that challenged the way I think about stereotypes. I can’t wait to go again next year.

    As for video games themselves though, I haven’t had much luck this month. The Outer Worlds didn’t grab me at all; I actually ended up falling asleep while my other-half was playing and I’m not keen on its lack of lockpicking mini-games, although I know many bloggers who like that they’ve been removed. Thankfully I came across the Kickstarter campaign for Book of Travels by Might and Delight however. This ‘serene online RPG’ looks like it’s going to be much more my kind of thing because I’m getting some serious Eastshade-vibes from its description.

    Real life

    Later Levels, Instagram, wine-tastingSo remember in my last editorial I said I’d be quiet this month as I’d been called for jury service? Well, after rescheduling around work and family commitments to make it happen, I received a phone call to tell me I’d been excused as too many jurors had been selected! It’s annoying that then had to rearrange the arrangements I’d already rearranged but in truth, it worked out for the best. It meant I could concentrate on training courses and, after a career change back in July, there’s still a lot I’ve got to learn.

    My other-half and I went to our first wine-tasting event a few weeks ago and we had a really good time. Yes, we left the venue rather tipsy after purchasing a crate of sparkling red vino that’s going to go down a treat over Christmas – but no regrets! While nursing a fuzzy head the following morning, I got to thinking about the video games that would go best with the wine we’d sampled and this resulted in an article about my pour decisions. We’d love to go to another event in the future so expect another pairing post if that happens.

    Coming up
    Events:

  • 01 December: Point-and-Click Puzzle Pinnacle
  • 09 December: The reality of virtual reality
  • 16 December: winter 2019 blog party
  • 25 December: Secret Blogging Santa
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more!
  • Posts planned:

  • Self-care ideas from games for this busy period
  • GameBlast20 update before the 50-day challenge
  • Big video game series I’ve given a miss
  • Bad stereotypes in The Moment of Silence
  • A blogging review of 2019
  • 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!

    Beginner’s guide to indie (2019): part two

    It’s time for the second part of my updated beginner’s guide to indie and, if you didn’t find something that tickles your fancy in part one on Monday, then hopefully we’ll manage to put that right today. Once again, a big thank you to Dan from nowisgames.com for suggesting I write a follow-up to the original series created around two years ago.

    As mentioned in my previous post, it’s pretty obvious from the content here on Later Levels that I tend to favour the adventure genre or titles with strong narratives. The following list is therefore focused on these types of video games – but even if they’re not usually the kind of thing you’d play, I’d encourage you to check them out because they’re well worth a look. Hopefully everyone will find something that piques their interest. Without further ado, let’s round off 2019’s guide!

    2018: Unavowed

    Wadjet Eye Games takes what we love about point-and-clicks and throws in some new elements to refresh the genre for the modern day in Unavowed – and it totally works. You can choose your past career, which influences how you tackle certain situations and solve puzzles; and a party system allows you to select two members from your group whenever you go out to investigate a supernatural situation. The developer always displays a real talent for creating characters who stick in your head long after you’ve completed a title.

    2018: Coloring Pixels

    Feeling stressed or anxious? Then head over to Steam and download Coloring Pixels by ToastieLabs as soon as possible. Some may not consider it to be a ‘real’ video game but it’s definitely one of the most relaxing releases I’ve ever experienced. It’s a title you can chill out with when you’re not in the mood for taking down villains or saving the world, something to keep your hands busy while your brain winds down. And if the free version doesn’t offer you enough clicking calm, you can download additional colouring books.

    2018: The Gardens Between

    The Gardens Between by The Voxel Agents is proof that a video game doesn’t need to tell an epic story, contain dramatic battles or feature hundreds of hours of content to have an impact on the player. It tells a much more personal tale about friendship through a series of puzzles; and it left a mark on me because there were many things I realised long after playing which gave it a deeper meaning. It may be a short title that can be finished in around three hours, but it’s absolutely perfect just the way it is.

    2019: What Never Was

    If you’re trying to save your money in the run-up to Christmas, What Never Was by Acke Hallgren is one of the best free titles you can download from Steam. Gamers who love things like Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch will find plenty to appeal here and you’ll be crying out for more by the time you reach the end of this short experience. The good news is that the developer has confirmed they’re working on a second chapter – and if it’s as excellent as the first, this is going to be an amazing series.

    2019: Eastshade

    Imagine playing a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but with no combat; somewhere you can explore without fear of getting attacked, where there are secrets and interesting characters to discover, and where you frequently pull back from the screen to admire the view. That’s exactly what Eastshade by Eastshade Studios is and it has been added to my all-time favourites list after playing it earlier this year. Everything about this title – the artwork, the music, the story – is beautiful. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    2019: Guard Duty

    If you like the classic point-and-click adventures and love Simon the Sorcerer in particular, then Guard Duty by Sick Chicken Studios will be one for you. There’s something nostalgic about it which makes you feel as though you’re stepping back to the early 1990s despite it featuring a streamlined interface to bring it up to date. It’s a very unassuming title with pixel-graphics and a light-hearted nature. But these factors actually hide a very touching plot with a great message and you’ll be feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by the final credits.

    2019: Ord.

    I picked up Ord. by Mujo Games on a whim one evening after it appeared in my Steam recommendations and made me curious. Two hours later, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a release of tiny text adventures: each scene consists of only three words and those you choose affect the outcome. Only one story about defeating an evil wizard was available back in August when I played it, but a big update in August means that three more tales are now available for your enjoyment. I’ll therefore be revisiting this game in the near future.

    2019: Flotsam (early access)

    When my other-half and I saw Flotsam by Pajama Llama Games at Rezzed in 2017, it really caught our attention despite not being the sort of thing we’d usually play. We were therefore pleased to see the developer back at EGX last year and ended up buying the title after visiting their stand at EGX last month. It’s easy to tell while playing it that the game is still in early access as there are a few quirks that need to be ironed out, and the developer is working on adding further content. It’s definitely one to keep on your radar though.



    Hopefully you’ve found an indie release among the 16 I’ve included in this updated guide that has inspired you to give them a try. If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments below and give me a few more to add to my wishlist!

    Beginner’s guide to indie (2019): part one

    Almost three years after starting Later Levels, I’m still a huge fan of indie video games. Independent developers aren’t afraid to take creative risks to bring us something new; and their smaller releases aren’t as daunting as tackling a large, big-budget experience.

    Two years ago, Dan from nowisgames.com asked for indie game suggestions and this resulted in a short series of ‘beginners guide’ posts. A recent ‘this time in 2017’ tweet then prompted him to ask whether I’d considered doing a follow-up – so I’m back once again thanks to Dan! I tend to favour adventures or titles with strong narratives and this will be obvious from the following list, but hopefully everyone will find something that piqued their interest. Let’s dig into the updated beginner’s guide to indie (part one).

    2014: J.U.L.I.A: Among the Stars

    Although it has a completely different setting and premise, I kept being reminded of playing Myst for the first time all over again when I began J.U.L.I.A: Among the Stars by CBE Software. It was that sensation of stepping into new worlds, and being confronted with strange contraptions and mysterious structures – albeit in the stars and through AI companions. The developer is currently working on their next title, Someday You’ll Return, and it’s one I’m eagerly awaiting the release of.

    2016: Kona

    James from Killer Robotics very kindly gave me a key for Kona by Parabole in October last year and, although this chilly walking simulator won’t be to everyone’s taste, I really enjoyed it. One of the reasons for this is the game’s narrator. This nameless voice has a wonderful personality about it and the script was written in such a way that you’re never quite sure whether he’s being solemn or joking in his observations. For a title that’s set in a blizzard with a theme of isolation, it lightens the mood when things start to get serious.

    2016: Maize

    It’s hard to explain what Maize is about for two reasons. Firstly, it’s difficult to hint at several plot points without spoiling the whole thing; and secondly, this title by Finish Line Games is just so weird. Trying to summarise the story here would make a lot of readers think it was probably best left in a dark corner of my library but I encourage you to give it a go if you’re a fan of the slightly bizarre. A game doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile, and Maize is proof that sometimes a bit of silliness can hit the spot.

    2017: Stories Untold

    If you loved text-adventures as a kid, you need to check out Stories Untold by No Code. It was recommended to me by Bradley from Cheap Boss Attack and ended up being my favourite game of 2017. The fear slowly rises as you make your way through four episodes and see connections until the hairs stand up on the back of your neck every time you’re asked to enter a new command. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling the game for future players except that the developer has crafted some very special, atmospheric moments.

    2017: Paradigm

    One of Paradigm’s highlights is its comedy but this is also the reason why some won’t enjoy it. 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 and can overlook how close-to-the-bone some of the gags are, there’s plenty of silliness here in Jacob Janerka’s release that will likely appeal to you – and the awesome Ellen from Livid Lightning agrees.

    2017: The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker

    Full-motion video (FMV) games are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. I’m in the former camp and have been lapping up the titles published by Wales Interactive over the past year. D’Avekki Studios’ The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker has been my favourite so far because its characters have a way of sucking you in: will you, a psychiatrist, be able to solve your predecessor’s murder and fix the chaos he left behind? Be careful, because the questions you ask your patients will determine their fate and your own.

    2017: Finding Paradise

    To The Moon was included in my original beginner’s guide and it’s one of my favourite games. I’ve played it multiple times because I love its emotional story; the ending still manages to inspire all the feels because it’s just so bittersweet. When Freebird Games released the follow-up, Finding Paradise, fellow fan Chris from OverThinker Y and I got together to have a long discussion about the series so far. The title contains some hints about what’s going to happen in the third instalment and I can’t wait!

    2018: The Red Strings Club

    Let’s finish off today’s list with one of my favourite games from 2018: The Red Strings Club. It’s a release that asks the player how far they’re willing to go to suppress the worst aspects of our personalities for the good of the population, and whether it’s worth sacrificing negative emotions such as sadness and anger. Do our feelings make us who we are, are we shaped by our suffering, and is happiness at the cost of free will ultimately worth it? Deconstructeam has given us an experience that questions who the real villain is.



    That’s it for today, so hopefully you’ve managed to find something new for your wishlist! For not if you haven’t though: I’ll be back on Wednesday with part two and eight more indie games worth checking out.

    Secret Blogging Santa: a community event

    Christmas will be here in just a few short weeks. It’s not only a great time of year for wrapping up warm, staying indoors, grabbing a tin of Quality Street and playing video games – it’s perfect for participating in a cosy community collaboration to get you in the festive mood.

    Ellen from Livid Lightning is your Secret Blogging Santa and I’m her little helper elf, and we’ve got just what you need to get your bells jingling. Sign up for this event and you’ll be randomly assigned another blogger to whom you’ll have to ‘gift’ an item from a video game. This needs to be done in the form of a blog post explaining why you chose that object and what makes their site special – and it means someone in the community will be doing the same for you, so we can all share our blogging love and feel fuzzy inside.

    Fancy joining in? Then here’s a quick overview of the guidelines:

  • Read the full details and get in touch with Ellen by Friday, 29 November 2019 using the contacts provided
  • Get ready to receive your assignment on Sunday, 01 December 2019
  • Be sure not to spoil the surprise by revealing the name to anyone!
  • Write a blog post that includes a bio about your recipient and links to some of their posts you enjoyed reading
  • Give everyone a description of your fictional gift and the reasons you chose it for them
  • Schedule your post to be published at any time on Wednesday, 25 December 2019 and look out for your own gift too
  • Check out the full gift list with links to each blog post on the Livid Lightning site in the new year

  • The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, Guybrush, lookout, pirate, Christmas, Santa

    Worried about signing up and then not being able to participate due to other festive commitments? Fear not, friends: each sign-up comes with our exclusive Livid Lightning Gift Insurance Coverage at no extra cost! If you’re unable to complete your blog post on time, simply contact Santa Ellen as soon as possible and your policy will kick in. With a little help from her elves, she’ll make sure Christmas happens by posting a gift for your assignment in your place so nobody has to miss out.

    The aim of this community collaboration is to lift us all and promote others blogs this Christmas. And who knows: you may even meet a new blogging buddy in the process. Let Ellen know if you’d like to join us for festive frolics next month – no need to write to the North Pole, just send her a message. We look forward to hearing from you!

    Locks, mini-games and The Outer Worlds

    My other-half had been eagerly awaiting the release of The Outer Worlds for weeks before it came out. All the talk online referring to it as Fallout 5 had reignited my stepson’s obsession, and the pair of them could frequently be found together discussing news about the game.

    I was the odd one out in our family. I may have had a vague curiosity about what Obsidian Entertainment’s RPG would be like but it was nowhere near the level shown by Pete and Ethan. Since the release of Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2 last year, I’ve become extremely aware of how hype around new big-budget titles reaches ridiculous heights; and even though the attention surrounding The Outer Worlds wasn’t as crazy, it was enough to put me off and make me steer clear of reading anything about the game.

    It didn’t stop me from watching Pete play it for a while though. When he asked if he could take over the living-room television one Saturday evening, I saw it as a good opportunity to get in some backseat-gaming while lounging on the sofa with a bar of chocolate. But although I could appreciate how pretty the game was, and how much effort the artists had put into its design, it just wasn’t holding my attention in the same way it did with my husband – I ended up dozing off after a couple of hours while he continued on.

    There was one thing I remember being surprised by before falling asleep however. Very early on in the title, Pete approached an abandoned box in the hope it contained something valuable to aid him on his journey. When putting it in focus, he was offered the opportunity to lockpick – but rather than being presented with the sort of mini-game we’ve all come to expect from RPGs when selecting to do so, the crate simply opened. No challenge, no pressure – just an open lid.

    Why had the developers made this decision? I came across an article published on Polygon recently that may hold the answer. As author Patricia Hernandez wrote last month: “The Outer Worlds seems to do everything in its power to remove friction from the experience, instead opting to get me back into the action as quickly and as smoothly as possible.” It’s all part of a ‘pragmatic philosophy’ built into the title’s design, so it isn’t weighed down with filler content to increase gameplay length unnecessarily.

    But removing lockpicking though, a standard part of most RPG releases? I wondered how players felt about mini-games for these situations and out of 14 responses to my tweet, they were a complete mix of opinions. Anthony from Videogame Crosstalk said: “Actually, ya! A quick break from the usual gameplay and makes it a bit more immersive, even if the minigame itself is unrealistic.” But Cameron from Dragon In The Castle felt the opposite and told me: “Not in the slightest. Fiddly bloody things.”

    So what it is that people don’t like about these mechanics? I think Rob from I Played The Game! may have hit on something when he said: “Like with so many mini-games, I like them until I’ve worked out how to ‘solve’ them. Then they’re just a chore you need to get through.” Katie from The Gaming Diaries said: “Depends on if I can do them!” And Shelby from Falcon Game Reviews even picked up on the inspiration for this post: “Honestly, while playing The Outer Worlds, I’ve grown to love not needing them.”

    I can understand these points and the decision to leave out the mini-games does fit in with that ‘pragmatic philosophy’ Hernandez referred to in the article mentioned above. The older we get, the more adult responsibilities come our way and these all result in a reduction in the number of spare hours we’re able to devote to gaming. When we do get a chance to play, we don’t want to spend it on a mechanic that seems unnecessarily – or even worse, one that lessens our enjoyment of the overall gaming experience.

    Personally though, I feel a little sad that the designers made the choice to not include lockpicking mini-games in The Outer Worlds. It’s one of the aspects I enjoy about The Elder Scrolls Online: those moments when you find a chest hidden from plain sight and have to complete the challenge before the timer runs out. It’s even more thrilling when you discover one that’s a ‘Master’ and another player is right behind you; can you get this difficult box open and claim the loot inside, or will you fail and give your follower the opportunity to jump in?

    It just feels strange that something as complex – and in certain respects, dangerous – in real-life as lockpicking can be reduced to a single button-press. The absence of a challenge you participate in seems to make the event less important somehow. Now, as described by Hernandez: “If you have a high enough stat, or if you have the right tools, you just press and hold a button for a couple of seconds and voila: you did the thing. That’s it. That’s the whole idea.”

    But then video games are a way of escaping reality, and busy players don’t want to spend their time fiddling with hair-pins. I’m still torn though. Have you played The Outer Worlds and how do you feel about its lack of lockpicking mini-games? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.

    Book of Travels: choose your own journey

    There may be a few more weeks to go before 2019 ends, but it’s a pretty safe bet what my game-of-the-year will be. Unless something comes along next month and absolutely blows me away, Eastshade by Eastshade Studios is the title which is now on my favourites list.

    It’s one of the most beautiful releases I’ve ever played, both in terms of feeling and artwork. Imagine picking up an open-world RPG where you can meet colourful characters, do your bit to help them and take in wonderful scenery but without any enemies or fighting to put you on guard. This lack of action won’t appeal to all gamers but for those looking for a calming experience, it means you can fully absorb its atmosphere and bask in Eastshade’s rosy glow.

    It was bittersweet when the end credits rolled because I just didn’t want to leave and I’ve been looking for a game with similar feels since. So when I received an email this month about the Kickstarter campaign for Book of Travels, it seemed like just the thing I’d been waiting for. Shelter and Meadow developer Might and Delight is advertising its new project as a ‘serene online RPG’, and there’s something about the description on the Steam page that makes me think of Eastshade.

    I’d normally begin posts like this with a description of the title’s storyline but Book of Travels is somewhat unique. As art director and co-founder Jakob Tuchten said himself in the promotional video, this is going to be a very different sort of MMORPG experience. It takes place in a world called Braided Shore inspired by classical fairytales and Eastern mythologies, and focuses on social roleplaying, exploration and non-linear narratives in a beautiful place with darkness at its edges.

    Players are encouraged to explore and find their own stories rather than having a plot forced upon them. You’ll encounter random events such as meeting a group of townsfolk, watching a flock of deer or striking up a conversation with a travelling merchant; and these will either require your immediate attention or inspire you to seek out particular places and leads. There’s no overarching goal and no real beginning or end so ultimately you’re in charge of shaping your journey.

    There are some traditional RPG elements however including crafting, trading and, unlike Eastshade, combat. You’ll also be able to create your own character and select their skills but what’s new here is that they’ll also be given a unique backstory and personality traits, making them a protagonist with real depth. During their journey they’ll learn how to use physical abilities, passive powers and Knotcraft: a means of communication but also a method of conjuring magical energies.

    Might and Delight are calling Book of Travels a ‘tiny multiplayer online’ (TMO) as they’re building a world with a lot of content, but with few players on each server. The aim of this is to make temporary alliances meaningful and turn your encounters into powerful experiences. You won’t miss out if you prefer to wander alone but the game is tailored to be exciting when travelling with a group of new-found friends, because the intention is to create a multiplayer culture based on collaboration rather than PvP.

    Your choices and interactions with the world and other players may have effects you wouldn’t usually see an in RPG. Events that are usually trivialised in such releases are instead made into strong emotional moments here. For example, witnessing a death will weigh more heavily on your character for each day that passes; but once you can visit the deceased’s resting place, your grief will transform into a new kind of energy that will spur you forward.

    At the time of writing, the campaign for Book of Travels is already 617% funded and six stretch goals have been met – and there’s still around a week left to go on the clock so there’s time to show your support! Head over to the Kickstarter page for more details and follow Might and Delight on Twitter to stay up-to-date on their progress.