Save point: a review of 2019

Tomorrow is the final day of 2019. It’s a time for taking stock, looking back over our achievements and being proud of our efforts. It’s also the perfect opportunity to consider where we want to go in the future and decide on a new direction for the next decade.

Although I’ve vaguely thought about resolutions and goals for the blog at the start of each year, it’s not something I’ve ever really taken that seriously; and I was nervous when I first came up with the idea of publishing an end-of-year review. But then I realised: sharing this information wouldn’t only help me grow as a blogger, it might be useful to others out there too. So let this be the start of a new tradition. Read on to find out how Later Levels did in 2019 and consider how this could potentially shape the site in 2020.

An overview of 2019
Traffic:

  • Views:   21,696
  • Visitors:   11,032
  • Likes:   4,867
  • Comments:   3,347
  • Best day:   23 March 2019
  • Posts:

  • Total published:   200 posts
  • Most popular:   Gamers blog party: summer 2019 invitation
  • Most liked:   Gamers blog party: summer 2019 invitation
  • Most discussed:   Gamers blog party: summer 2019 invitation
  • My favourite:   Not getting it: video games, sex and bad research
  • Gaming:

  • Played:   56 games
  • Completed:   44 games
  • Reviewed:   18 games
  • Kickstarted:   6 projects
  • My favourite of 2019:   Eastshade
  • Achievements:

  • Raised £612.14 for SpecialEffect as part of GameBlast19
  • Awarded ‘Best Blogger’ in the Normal Happenings’ Blog Awards 2019
  • Awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in the UK Blog Awards 2019
  • Completed the Blaugust 2019 challenge and posted every day for a month
  • Met Chris, TriformTrinity, Dan and Quietschisto in person

  • Views, visitors, likes and comments

    While 2019 saw a higher number of views on average per month (1,831) compared to both 2017 and 2018, the trend overall is decreasing. The decline is most noticeable from August onward and this correlates to a real-life event: I started a career change in the summer and have had less time for blogging as a result. I’ve been unable to interact with other blogs as much as I’ve done in previous years so this could go some way towards explaining the drop.

    Conversely though, the number of unique visitors, likes and comments is actually increasing. So Later Levels may not be getting as many views as it once was but those people who do visit are more willing to interact and get involved in discussion, which is positive. For 2019 we’ve seen an average of 31 readers, 14 likes and nine comments each day – and although these numbers may be small, I think they’re pretty good for three posts a week.

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    Best days and times

    Wednesday mornings have been the most popular times for Later Levels visits in past years, so I was a little surprised to see that change to 06:00 on Mondays for 2019. However, I think I know the cause: blog parties. These have been taking place on Mondays, and a record number of posts and comments were shared at the summer event. This may have skewed the statistics somewhat and so the figures may not be truly reflective.

    So why was Saturday, 23 March 2019 the most popular date? No posts were published on this day so it’s strange; and although there were a few big blogging events for the site that month, they all occurred well before or after this date. The best I can come up looking at the WordPress statistics is that a particular visitor from the UK checked out an awful lot of posts from that day – although I’m unable to say who they were and what they were looking for.

    Popular posts

    It’s no surprise that the blog party posts performed the most successfully during 2019. I’ve been running these events since March 2017 and they’ve remained popular throughout the past three years, and it’s great to see new bloggers participating in each one. The parties are currently taking place in March, June, September and December, which explains the spikes that appear in the graphs shown in the first section above.

    It’s pleasing to see that seven out of the top ten posts for this year are the result of collaborations. I do wonder however what the future for such projects holds; take a look at this post over on Adventure Rules which excellently sums up the situation. As for the search terms, perhaps I should consider writing more articles about tattoos because related phrases appeared more than once. There are no rude terms to share this year but maybe we’ll get lucky in 2020.

    Friends and commenters

    The WordPress statistics show an average of 17 comments and 24 likes were left for each post published during 2019. The lovely people mentioned in the tweet opposite deserve a round of applause: between them they left a total of 179 comments so we clearly had a lot to talk about. It’s awesome that I’ve had the chance to meet one of them in real life this year – Quietschisto from RNG – and it has been a pleasure working with Gao Li on the GIFs for our GameBlast20 streams.

    As well as getting to know more people within the community, perhaps the length of posts also has something to do with the increase in the number of comments left this year. The average article length is now 827 words compared to around 30 less in 2017 – that’s almost half a paragraph. Perhaps it’s a sign of having more to discuss; or maybe it’s that I’ve grown more comfortable in my writing skin over the past couple of years.

    So there you have it: a round-up of Later Levels’ performance over the last 12 months. But what does this mean for 2020? Come back on Wednesday for a post sharing my blogging goals for the coming year and in the meantime, have a very happy New Year’s Eve tomorrow.   🎉

    Save point: December 2019

    Welcome to December’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 almost behind us and a new shiny year ahead, let’s have a quick recap of recent events.


    Blog life
    Followers:

  • WordPress:   1,258
  • Twitter:   553
  • Facebook:   62
  • Instagram:   178
  • Twitch:   79
  • Posts:

  • Total published:   14 posts
  • Most popular:   Gamers blog party: winter 2019 invitation
  • Most liked:   Gamers blog party: winter 2019 invitation
  • Most discussed:   Gamers blog party: winter 2019 invitation
  • My favourite:   My perfect video game
  • Traffic:

  • Views:   1,445
  • Visitors:   727
  • Likes:   319
  • Comments:   372
  • Best day:   16 December 2019
  • Other posts worth checking out:

  • The Reality of Virtual Reality Games by Escape Reality Through Games
  • Too Much Content by Will from Geek Sleep Rinse Repeat
  • Navigating Resident Evil by Luke from Hundstrasse
  • A Twenty-Five Year Adventure by Krista from LeeksEverywhere
  • Bringing Videogames to the Classroom by Dale from UnCapt
  • Another year of blogging is almost done and Later Levels is now three years old. During that time I’ve never really considered goals for the site before, but a recent post about how blogging has changed the way I look at video games – and the fact that everybody is starting to talk about New Year resolutions – got me thinking. There’ll be an end-of-year review tomorrow sharing how Later Levels performed throughout 2019, followed by a post about new goals on Wednesday.

    I won’t give too much away right now but I will say that I’ve had some ideas for new things I’d like to try. First up will be #BloggerTalk, a new weekly event which will aim to get us all talking about our writing challenges and hopefully meeting some new blogger friends. More about that on Thursday! I’m also pleased to announce that the blog parties will continue during 2020 and you can find the dates for next year here. A big thank you to everyone who attended the winter party earlier this month: 27 posts were shared and a lot of fun was had.

    Gaming life
    Games played:

  • Shadowhand (videos)
  • She Sees Red (review / videos)
  • The Moment of Silence (review)
  • Toonstruck (videos)
  • We Happy Few
  • Backed on Kickstarter:

  • Nothing this month
  • JustGiving, LaterLevels, GameBlast20, SpecialEffect

    Things are getting frantic in the Later Levels’ household because our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 will begin on Sunday, 05 January 2020! Before we start though, I must give my thanks to a few people. My other-half Pete has put a lot of work into our set-up for the event; and the awesome Gao Li from Gao Li Occasionally Reviews has created to this with some excellent GIFs that I can’t wait to use. And much love to Ellen from Livid Lightning: we have our first donation and are already at 5% of our fundraising total for SpecialEffect!

    There’ll be a post early in January explaining how you can vote for the games you’d like to see us play during our 24-hour marathon on 22-22 February 2020, so keep your eyes peeled. Testing for the streams has given me an excuse to play video games despite all the Christmas madness. For some reason a love a bit of full-motion video at this time of year and the gritty She Sees Red scratched that FMV itch; Toonstruck envoked a lovely sense of point-and-click nostalgia; and I finally managed to complete Shadowhand. No more solitaire for a while please!

    Real life

    Why is it that at least one person in the family always gets ill over Christmas? My stepson Ethan has been suffering from a chest infection recently, Pete has had a bad cold and I spent most of Christmas morning huddled in the bathroom with a stomach bug. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to these self-care ideas and made sure we had some of these video game medicines handy. Thankfully all of us are on the mend and it didn’t stop us from getting into the festive spirit!

    Being a split-parent-family means we don’t get to have Christmas with the kid on the normal date so our celebrations start this evening. One of Ethan’s gifts is an ‘escape room in a box’ and no doubt we’ll end up playing that together tomorrow, so look out for a possible review next month; and even though virtual reality isn’t for me, it’s become tradition to rope everyone into playing on the PlayStation VR so we’ll be taking it with us when we visit family on Saturday and Sunday. If you’re free tonight at 20:00 GMT, why not join us over on Twitch for a few rounds of Quiplash?

    Coming up
    Events:

  • 05-31 January: GameBlast20: the 50-day challenge
  • Every Thursday: #BloggerTalk
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more!
  • Posts planned:

  • Blogging goals for 2020
  • A little something for my wedding anniversary
  • IT geeks in video games
  • A response to NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog
  • A collaboration by bloggers who stream
  • 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!

    Christmas kisses and birthday wishes: 2019

    It’s Christmas! Time for curling up with that new video game from Santa, hunting through Steam for bargains, and having one hand on the controller while the other is in the chocolate box. Who knows, you might even be able to rope your mum into a game once she’s had a sherry or two.

    I’d like to take this festive opportunity to wish everyone out there a very merry Christmas and happy New Year before we all get caught up in the madness of the day. I hope you have a lovely day and find everything you wished for waiting for you under the tree; and that 2020 is the year when all your dreams come true. May it be filled with happiness, love, laughter and even more great video games.

    It’s a double celebration here at Later Levels as today is the blog’s third birthday. The last three years have been such an incredible experience filled with so many opportunities and highlights, but most special of all are the talented bloggers I’ve met along the way. I’m now privileged to call some of them friends in real life and they’re some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the chance to know.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart and, once again, merry Christmas.

    Kim ❤️


    PS: remember I asked you guys to bring along festive tunes to the winter blog party a couple of weeks ago? Enjoy!



    Your video game medicine cabinet

    Christmas is never a good time to fall ill. When the house is covered in the remains of wrapping paper, the cat is threatening to eat the turkey, the table still needs to be laid and your parents are due to arrive at any moment, the last thing you need is to feel under the weather.

    But although we try to look after ourselves during this busy period, there’s always the chance of picking up a winter bug – or having a headache after a few too many glasses of mulled wine the night before. Never fear though because video games have the answer as always! Join me as we search the digital world to pull together the contents for your first-aid cupboard and help you get through the festive season. Although you might end up feeling slightly worse, considering some of the following questionable medicines…

    Alcoholic drinks

    The Elder Scrolls Online, video game, tankard, inn, drink, woman, barmanCut yourself while making dinner and don’t have any bandages in the house? Then head to your liquor cabinet for that bottle of wine you were saving for your next dinner party and down it in one. It seems to work for video game characters at least: they make their way to the nearest inn, get friendly with the bar-keep and are back on the road at 100% again after a few tankards of mead. In reality you’ll probably end up with a pounding headache – but at least it’ll make you forget all about the cut which started this situation.

    Chicken

    Castlevania, video game, meat, wall chicken. stairs, bricks, whip, knightChicken seems to be the perfect thing to eat when you’re feeling in bad health. Take games like Streets of Rage and Castlevania for example: grab a drumstick left on a newspaper stand or wing hidden in the wall for safe-keeping by a kind citizen, and you’ll be back to your old self in no time. Maybe. There’s always the possibility of getting food-poisoning from eating poultry stored in an unsanitary environment – but who wants to risk cooking when there’s a danger of cutting yourself and having to resort to alcohol? Safety first.

    Hearts

    The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild, video game, Link, heart, containerHearts are one of the most iconic items in video games and they’re legendary for a reason. Just look at Link: here simply touches them to absorb their healing powers and his health is replenished immediately. If only it were that straightforward – and clean – in real-life. First, you’re going to have to find somewhere to store all those still-beating hearts because I’m not sure your medicine cabinet will keep them fresh. And then you’re going to have to grab one in both hands, take a big breath and then go in for a bite. Yum.

    Herbs

    Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, warrior, woman, Aloy, plants, herbsVideo game characters make self-medication seem easy (I’m looking at you, Aloy). All you need to do is munch on a handful of those weird herbs you’ve spent the last hour collecting and you’ll be feeling right as rain again in a few minutes! This is another one I’m not sure is going to work as well in real life though. If the bitter taste of chewing on some unknown leaves wasn’t enough to put you off, there’s always the fact that the plant might not actually be digestible for humans – and you know what that means.

    Mushrooms

    Super Mario Bros., video game, Mario, mushroom, blocksWell they work for Mario, don’t they? Consuming a mushroom has all sorts of beneficial effects according to his series: you might increase your life, grow in size or gain incredible powers. Of course, the plumber does end up with a headache after bashing all those bricks to source the magical fungi, so he unwisely has to resort to some of the other medicines on this list. And in real life there’s every chance you could find yourself on a really bad hallucinogenic trip – or in hospital, having your stomach emptied.

    Painkillers

    Max Payne, video game, man, cupboard, bottle, painkillers“Finally,” I hear you cry, “Something sensible for my first-aid kit!” Well, now that depends entirely on what’s wrong with you. Max Payne can stagger into a bathroom and pop a bottle of painkillers to enable him to keep going after taking a few rounds of bullets to the chest. But in real life it’s probably best to stick you taking them when you’ve got something as minor as a headache; your pain might fade for a while but it’s almost certain you’re going to bleed out. Stick to calling an ambulance for those more serious injuries.

    Hopefully these medicines will leave you feeling as though you can take on the final boss single-handedly… although, to be honest, you’re probably better off sticking to bed-rest, plenty of hot tea and maybe some video games. Whatever ails you, I hope you feel better soon!

    My perfect video game

    What makes the perfect video game? It’s a difficult question because there’s no single right answer. Everyone has their own favourite genre, gameplay mechanic, art-style and narrative direction – so what makes a title amazing to one player is going to turn another off.

    mckliz from McKenna Talks About Games gave her nominees the chance to ponder this while sharing a Sunshine Blogger Award earlier this month, after asking what a release designed by them would be like. I have a feeling that elements from Celeste or The Legend of Zelda releases might feature in her own response to her question! This post is dedicated to this blogger and covers the elements that would make up my own perfect game and, if it’s ever made, you can be sure I’ll be following her tips for the perfect night-in while playing it.

    Genre

    The Secret of Monkey Island, video game, ghost, pirates, LeChuck, Guybrush Threepwood, root beer, grog machine, Stan's Previously Owned Vessels, boatyardI don’t think there’s any doubt which genre my video game is going to fall under. Everyone who regularly visits Later Levels will know I’m all about adventures so this release is definitely going to be a point-and-click! They encompass everything I love most about gaming: great characters, an amazing storyline which goes through plenty of twists, and gameplay where you have to use your brain in order to progress. Now let’s dig into those elements a bit further to find out what the player is getting themselves into…

    Protagonist

    Although some people prefer to play as a character who’s totally different to themselves, I like strong female protagonists who aren’t afraid to speak their mind. Think Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn, Zoë from the Dreamfall games and Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. ‘Strong’ doesn’t necessarily mean perfect though; each have their flaws and weaknesses, and their vulnerabilities are shown during their storylines. Give me someone who’s relatable and worthy of looking up to regardless of their background.

    Story

    The Red Strings Club, video game, bar, woman, Larissa, bartender, Donovan, android, AkaraMy favourite stories are usually those grounded in reality but where something is a little ‘off’. They start with an inciting incident in the real-world, either during the present day or near future, and it soon becomes apparent its cause is something very unusual: a parallel universe, time-travel or rogue artificial intelligence (AI) for example. There would be lots of secrets to uncover so you’d be left guessing all the way through, but there would be no pesky plot-holes left open by the time the end-credits rolled.

    Gameplay

    I have have to stay true to my roots: the gameplay for my release would take the form of a traditional point-and-click. I’d do away with verbs but stick to dialogue trees, inventory combinations and plenty of puzzles; and each would be carefully implemented to be a narrative channel rather than an artificial game-lengthener. There would be no character-switching so the player could get to know one protagonist fully, and after enough content to keep you going for a month you wouldn’t want to leave their world when the end credits rolled.

    Visual style

    Cognition, An Erica Reed Thriller, Erica Reed, FBI, face, gunThis is perhaps the toughest element to decide on because there are a few visual styles which appeal to me. You can’t beat a bit of photo-realism to help bring you into a title’s world but there’s something about 2D pixelated art which makes me want to jump into an adventure. However, for this release I think I’m going to go for something like that used in Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. There’s something about that comic-book style that I think would really suit the type of storyline and protagonist I’m going for.

    Audio style

    A lot of adventures made in the classic style forgo voice-acting and instead use display text. But I think it adds something special if done well, so let’s get in someone like Sarah Grayson – who did a superb job of voicing Samantha Greenbriar in Gone Home. The soundtrack therefore needs to be something subtle enough to not drown out her work, but with the ability to effectively highlight the current feeling through the game. Is it also possible to add in an 80s-inspired track somewhere, like on a radio in the background?

    Replayability

    Gone Home, video game, photograph, dark room, handsThis is a one-and-done kind of video game. Many players are keen on non-linear storylines and meaningful decisions, but these mechanics can result in perfect ending pressure and are rather anxiety-inducing when you’re a perfectionist! Knowing your decisions won’t have any unintended negative effects because you’re ultimately going to arrive at the same end point as everyone else can be liberating. All you need to do is sit back, drive the game forward at your own pace and enjoy the plot as the developer intended to tell it.

    Title

    One of the things I struggle with most when it comes to blogging is finding a good title for posts I’ve written. It’s therefore understandable that coming up with a name for my game is just as difficult, so I turned to my friends for their suggestions. The one I like best comes courtesy of Phil and is Call of Data. It nicely alludes to a career change I went through this summer, and seems would be fitting for a storyline where dangerous technology and AI were involved somewhere.

    A huge thank you to mckliz for very kindly nominating Later Levels for the Sunshine Blogger Award – and to any developer reading this post who’d like to make the game above for me! Now, what would your own perfect video game be like?

    She Sees Red: from Russia with blood

    Full-motion video (FMV) games can be divisive: you either love or hate them. In the 1990s they offered a glimpse into the future with the use of real-life actors and high visual fidelity. But sadly they failed to live up to the promise, and we’ve now come to associate these titles with terrible performances and limited interactivity.

    Personally though, I rather like FMV games. There’s something weirdly charming about them that makes me want to overlook their quirks and instead focus with a degree of affection. From older releases such as Tender Loving Care and The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Story, to more recent ones like The Bunker and The Shapeshifting Detective, their limitations mean they’re never the highest rated games – but they contain the stuff that guilty pleasures are made of.

    After receiving an email about mature interactive thriller She Sees Red recently, I reached out to Luis from Novy PR and he kindly provided me with a review key for Rhinotales’ project. It promised ‘top-notch production values and visual storytelling’ through professional writing, acting, lighting and editing – and sounded promising. Could this be the FMV release we’ve all been waiting for, one which turns opinions of the genre around and finally delivers on all those promises made in the nineties?

    The plot takes place in a popular nightclub in Russia, where several people have been murdered. A lone detective heads to the location after receiving an anonymous tip-off and follows every clue to track down the cunning criminal. But why is it that he keeps leaving plenty of evidence for her to find? And why is the nightclub owner so resistant to progressing the investigation? Nothing is as it seems in She Sees Red and you’ll need several playthroughs to figure out the whole story.

    An ending can be reached in around 30 minutes and the whole game can be completed in under two hours, so this is one you can get through in a single sitting. The gameplay itself is pretty light – you simply make a decision between two options at several points and the plot advances accordingly – but I’d like to point out here that the plot itself isn’t. The FMV scenes can be rather brutal with violence and other adult themes, so don’t go into it looking for a nice story or with children nearby.

    If you’re happy to play a game with limited gameplay and a graphic storyline, you can look forward to some clever writing. Narrative elements which don’t seem to make sense at the beginning are explained in your first ending and subsequent attempt, and there are a few interesting plot twists to uncover along the way. Thank goodness I’d turned on the ‘mature’ notice for the Later Levels’ Twitch channel though: we uncovered two of the four endings during our session and both of them involved bloodshed.

    So why didn’t we go back in to discover the other two conclusions? Well, there didn’t appear to be a way to skip the scenes we’d already watched and we didn’t want to see them again after a third playthrough. However, I discovered a message from Rhinotales on the She Sees Red Steam page the following day which announced the inclusion of a skip feature in the pause menu back in September. Unfortunately this wasn’t obvious while playing, and I think I would have continued if I’d known about the option.

    Instead, we turned to YouTube to check out the other endings. The silver-lining of not playing them for myself was that it gave me an opportunity to sit back and appreciate the work of the actors; Veronika Plyashkevich was great as the detective and Boris Polunin was the perfect choice for the nightclub owner. While some of their lines may be a little over-the-top, they deliver them in a way which makes the situation seem almost believable and Plyashkevich has an excellent knowing smile.

    It’s no wonder Luis recommended that She Sees Red is played in Russian with English subtitles: I’m afraid to say the dub is pretty poor. There’s a certain scene involving a death that has to be one of the most overacted scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a video game, and I’m not sure the male actor could have uttered any more dying groans. I’m glad I played the recommended version because there’s a chance the quality of the dub would have taken my attention away from the storyline.

    I’m also sorry to report that I experienced several crashes while playing this title on PC. They seemed to occur very soon after making a choice and while the first wasn’t game-breaking, the others that followed required me to reboot and restart the stream. We’d then be sent back to the decision point just before the one we’d most recently witnessed, meaning that the same scene had to be repeated. The skip function would have come in handy in this instances if we’d been aware of it.

    She Sees Red,  video game, woman, detective

    She Sees Red faces a tough battle. It’s better than other FMV games I’ve played, with higher production values and a storyline more serious than the B-movie horror plots we usually see. Sadly though, it doesn’t provide enough interactivity to mark a new start for the genre; but at the same time it’s too decent to have that so-bad-it’s-good factor many classic FMV fans will be looking for. I’d therefore save it for when you’re in the mood for watching a gritty detective film with an interesting twist.

    Rhinotales are looking for options for their next game: do they go for another thriller with bigger and better features, or do they try a horror? Take a look at their movie director’s old work and see what you think. I’ll be watching with interest.