Save point: January 2020

Welcome to January’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds up all the happenings here at Later Levels in case you missed anything. With a whole new year of gaming ahead, let’s have a quick recap of recent events.

Blog life
Followers:

  • WordPress:   1,291
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  • Twitch:   94
  • Posts:

  • Total published:   21 posts
  • Most popular:   Byte me: IT geeks in video games
  • Most liked:   Save point: goals for 2020
  • Most discussed:   The Support Role: there when you need it
  • My favourite:   What I’d like from Fable IV
  • Traffic:

  • Views:   1,553
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  • Likes:   408
  • Comments:   100
  • Top country:   UK
  • Other posts worth checking out:

  • Git Gud, Gid Mindful by Athena from AmbiGaming
  • Books that would make amazing games from Screen Streams
  • Gamer’s Guide to Glasgow 2020 by Pix 1001 from Shoot the Rookie
  • Mental Health in Video Games from This is art, not real life
  • Stay Ignorant from VideoGamesIMO
  • Last month I tried something I’ve never done before for Later Levels: an end-of-year review. It allowed me to figure out both what works and what I enjoy about blogging, and was really helpful when it came to deciding on a new direction for 2020. I’ve realised there’s more I want to do around collaborations, bringing new people into the community and helping bloggers learn from each other – and to reach those goals, I need to change the focus of joint projects and stop worrying so much about social media.

    Two new initiatives have been revealed so far, the first being #BloggerTalk. This event takes place on Twitter at 21:00 GMT on Thursdays and I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has joined in so far! The next new idea for 2020 is The Support Role, and Luke from Hundstrasse and I are hoping this Discord server becomes a place where bloggers can collaborate and share their experiences. And finally, let’s not forget about the #BloggersWhoStream collaboration this month: if you’re looking to get started streaming, check out these posts.

    Gaming life
    Games played:

  • Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (videos)
  • The Room (review / videos)
  • The Room Two (review / videos)
  • The Room Three (review / videos)
  • Plenty of games for GameBlast20 (videos)
  • Backed on Kickstarter:

  • Nothing this month
  • After months of planning, our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 started earlier this month! You can catch us live on Twitch every day for at least an hour up until Saturday, 22 February 2020, when we’ll be starting a 24-hour marathon stream at 08:00 GMT. Thank you so much to everyone who has donated and helped us hit over 22% of our fundraising target for SpecialEffect so far: this money goes directly to the charity so they can continue helping people with physical disabilities play video games. Watch out for a full update on Monday!

    I’ve started thinking about the games I’d like to play once the GameBlast event is over and there are plenty of upcoming indie titles waiting on my wishlist. The chances of them happening may be slim but I’d also love to see Fable IV released in 2020, along with the rights to the Monkey Island series being given back to Ron Gilbert! In the meantime, I’ve kept myself busy with a replay of The Room series and am eager for the fourth game to make it to PC. I also managed to restart Life is Strange during our 50-day challenge and I think I’m actually going to finish it this time.

    Real life

    A miracle has happened: I’m pleased to announce that Pete has managed to survive a whole year of marriage. We celebrated our first anniversary earlier this month in the restaurant we wed and will continue to game our way into year two, and I was inspired to look at weddings in video games. In other family news, it recently became clear that my stepson isn’t a little kid any more. He got his first ‘proper’ hairstyle, has started to use ‘products’ and went to his first real party recently. It won’t be long before we start having to vet girlfriends – but don’t worry, I’ve already warned him that they have to be gamers.

    A recent treasure hunt as part of a team-building event has reignited my love for escape rooms and the like, so I’ve been on the look-out for other experiences. We’ve bought ourselves what’s described as a ‘PC adventure game in a box’ by Kosmos Games along with an ‘escape puzzle’ by Ravensburger (thanks to Katie from Musings of a nitpicking girl for letting me know about these). Hopefully we’ll get stuck into these very soon and there may even be some reviews in February if we manage to finish them.

    Coming
    Events:

  • 01-23: 50-day challenge for GameBlast20
  • 10-16: #LoveYourBacklog Week 2020
  • 22-23: GameBlast20
  • Every Thursday: #BloggerTalk
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more!
  • Posts planned:

  • My journey with walking simulators
  • A post dedicated to my backlog
  • Something romantic for Valentine’s Day
  • New adventure game reviews
  • Lessons learnt from participating in GameBlast20
  • 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!

    We’re taking part in GameBlast20 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    #BloggerTalk: 30 January 2020

    #BloggerTalk takes place over on Twitter from 21:00 to 22:00 GMT on Thursdays. Each week, everyone is invited to give their thoughts on a specific question connected to blogging, writing and the community so we can all learn from each other’s knowledge and experience.

    For more information about how #BloggerTalk came to be and its aims, check out this post and feel free to get in touch. Without further ado, let’s take a look at today’s question and get the conversation going:

    Are you planning to attend any content-related events this year?


    If you’re a long-time blogger, perhaps you’d be willing to share some of your experience and help guide those who are new. And if you’ve just joined the community, welcome – you’re part of one of the best and most supportive groups out there. I look forward to seeing you on Twitter for #BloggerTalk.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast20 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    #BloggersWhoStream: going live

    Welcome to #BloggersWhoStream, a community event to kick off 2020 in collaboration with Luke from Hundstrasse. We’re inviting everyone to share their streaming experience regardless of how long they’ve been doing it, so we can all learn from our knowledge.

    My own experience started a year after setting up my original blog, when a small group of friends and I participated in the first GameBlast event for SpecialEffect in February 2014. After meeting my other-half in 2015 and finding out he was keen to give it a go, it’s now something we doing fairly often and we’ve taken part in the charity marathon every year since. Things often don’t go smoothly but that’s all part of the fun: every stream is a learning experience to be used to make the next episode better.

    The room

    GameBlast20, living room, PCAlthough we have a space set aside to be our dedicated gaming area, now our home is still undergoing renovations so it’s nowhere near ready yet. This means we’ve taken over our living room with our streaming kit – and it’s going to stay there until the end of February while we stream for GameBlast20. There are so many cables trailing throughout the house right now which is a bit of a pain, but it’s so much easier leaving it like this than having to set up again every night. Sorry to anyone who decides to visit us during the next month!

    The hardware

    Xenyx X1222USB, mixer, switches, dialsPete loves any excuse to buy new hardware so looking after this side of our streams gives him plenty of reasons. This year we’ve added a Behringer X122USB mixer and Elgato Key Light to our set-up, along with plenty of cable ties; and his favourite item so far is a Blackmagic DeckLink Quad HDMI capture card. Next up is a better switch and a second camera. He also created some great new artwork for GameBlast20 – more about that below.

    The software

    GameBlast20, Elgato, Stream DeckThe software side of our streams usually falls to me, although Pete likes to get involved. We’ve tried XSplit in the past but have been using Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) for a while because we find it does enough without over-complicating things. All of our scenes are tied to buttons on an Elgato Stream Deck and if you’re planning on streaming regularly, I’d recommend investing in one of these: I thought it was a bit of an extravagance when my other-half bought it but now I love it, because it makes running a steam so simple.

    The artwork

    GameBlast20, OBS, streaming, GIFWe’ve tried to improve upon the look of our stream for every GameBlast event and Pete has created some new artwork this year. This includes two main scenes, one focusing on the game being played and the other on the camera, each with a message ticker along the bottom of screen, along with a retro-looking intro. Another shout-out to the awesome Gao Li from Gao Li Occasionally Reviews too: this talented blogger produced a set of GIFs especially for us, including one of our cat Zelda falling asleep on a keyboard.

    Marathon stream advice

  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Planning for our GameBlast streams usually starts around six months beforehand, because there’s always more to organise than you realise.
  • There are always technical problems you don’t expect too. Test your set-up as much as possible but keep an open mind: something is bound to go wrong on the day so you’ve just got to roll with it!
  • Give plenty of consideration to what you’re going to play during an extended gaming session. Trust me: trying to work through a point-and-click at 04:00 in the morning after no sleep is not a good thing.
  • Also think about how you’re going to advertise your stream. You’ve put so much hard work into preparing it, and it would be a shame for nobody to be there to cheer you on while you’re on air!
  • Playing video games for an extended session may sound like fun but it can really take a lot out of you. Get plenty of sleep the week before, eat well and healthily on the day, and drink lots of water.

  • General streaming advice

    Later Levels, Kim, Pete, faces, smiling, GameBlast19, SpecialEffect, streamIf you’ve never streamed before and you find the prospect of going live on Twitch daunting, try playing a game you’re very familiar with first. Then add a mic after a couple of sessions, and a webcam after a few more: build up your stream gradually alongside your confidence. Remember to be yourself and have fun because if you’re enjoying it then your audience will too. And finally, if you need any support or want some advice from others within the community, consider joining The Support Role on Discord.

    The experts

    Speaking of the The Support Role, there are some fellow members from whom I’ve learnt a lot about streaming. Luke from Hundstrasse has a way of getting viewers involved in conversation and imparting knowledge about the game he’s playing; and Jett from In Third Person has given me plenty of advice when it comes to both technical set-up and feeling more confident about talking while on air. Watch other streamers who you admire and you’re sure to pick up tips.

    The future

    So what does the future hold for Later Levels in terms of streaming? Hopefully more of the same. We know we’re never going to have the most popular stream, or play the latest games, or be able to give up our day-jobs; but we enjoy what we do and that’s enough. We’ll continue to participant in the GameBlast event every year to raise funds and awareness for SpecialEffect – although I’m not sure how we’re going to top the 50-day challenge for the next one! If you have any ideas, please do leave them in the comments below.



    Are you a blogger who streams? Would you like to share your own experience, set-up and advice? Then get involved: check out this post over on Hundstrasse for all the details and publish your post by Saturday, 02 February 2020. In the words of Luke himself, we look forward to reading how everyone gets their gaming exploits on to the interweb!

    We’re taking part in GameBlast20 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    Life is Strange: the next episode

    In September 2017, I wrote a post shortly after playing the first episode of Life is Strange. The final paragraph started with the line: “I’m sure I’ll go back to [it] at some point in the future.” It may have taken me over two years to get there but with our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 underway, that time was earlier this month.

    I didn’t finish all the episodes in 2017 because it wasn’t what I wanted from a gaming experience at that moment. With a lot going on in the real world, after being at work all day I couldn’t face stepping back into Max’s shoes, dealing with all that teenage anxiety, and making decisions that would have long-lasting effects on other characters. Instead I wanted to get lost in a game where I could simply switch off, so I turned to the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games and became a detective.

    But let’s step back in time a little further: if the first episode of Life is Strange was released in January 2015, then why did it take me so long to finally get around to playing it? On paper it looks like exactly the kind of title I’d enjoy: ‘an award-winning and critically-acclaimed adventure game that allows the player to rewind time and affect the past, present and future’. Throw in a female protagonist too and I should have been all over it. Yet there was one reason that stopped me from picking it up for a couple of years…

    Its episodic nature.

    I understand the theory of why games released in this format can be a good thing for both developers and players. For the former, it’s a way of delivering chunks of your project to your audience far more quickly than it would be to wait until a title is ready in its entirety. You can use the money generated from the sale of one episode to fund the creation of the next; and once the season is completely finished, you can stick all the sections into a bundle and sell it as a special edition. It’s a win-win situation.

    There’s also the possibility of a better game. Developers are able to make a project over a longer period of time and, with feedback received from gamers after each episode, future instalments can be fine-tuned to open up the opportunity for higher review scores. And instead of releasing a full title and then having it fade in everyone’s mind a couple of weeks later – or months, if you’re lucky – every episode means new conversations on social media for players and continued attention for creators.

    The theory is great – but I’m not sure it actually works in practice. The idea of having to wait a year or sometimes longer for a game to be released from start to finish just doesn’t cut it nowadays. Digital distribution platforms such as Steam and the PlayStation Store offer players what seems like an endless list of titles, and ones which are perceived to be more complete than episodic releases. They come with the attractive benefit of being able to experience an entire game without hanging on for the next instalment.

    This is why I skipped Life is Strange four years ago. My original intention after the first episode was published was to wait until the final one was released in October 2015 to play it. But you know what it’s like when you’re a gamer with a backlog: other titles come out and catch your attention, meaning older ones possibly get forgotten about and end up languishing on your wishlist. The amount of hype surrounding DONTNOD Entertainment’s project also added to my lack of enthusiasm about playing it.

    But here I am, over four years later, finally convinced to give it a try. It’s thanks to suggestions from several blogger friends recently that I’m now picking up a controller and playing Life is Strange during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20. So far I’ve made it through first episode and am actually quite enjoying it, although that may be because I know what to expect this time and am preparing myself for the feels as a result. Who knows, I might even complete it this time and move on to Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

    But as for episodic releases: they’re not really for me. Give me a game I can play from start to finish and see through to a fulfilling conclusion, rather than a chunk of it that leaves me with a cliffhanger for the next month or so – because I won’t be waiting for the next episode.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast20 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    The Support Role: there when you need it

    New year, new blog. January is a month of change here on WordPress. New bloggers decide it’s time to start a site and are busy thinking about what their first post should be, while those who have been around for a while consider redesigns and a possible change in direction.

    Whether you’ve just started your blogging journey or have a few years’ experience under your belt, both situations can feel a little daunting. It can be more work than you realise and come with a steeper learning curve than expected. For new writers, there may be additional pressure from feeling as though you’re entering into a community where everybody already knows each other; and for established bloggers, there’s the battle to keep things fresh and avoid the dreaded writers’ block.

    Luke from Hundstrasse and I were chatting about these things late last year after we got into a conversation about how difficult it can be to get good blogging advice. The internet searches I’d run in the past pulled back plenty of responses to my questions – but seemed to be written by ‘SEO experts’ or gurus who could show you how to make money from your site. Neither were the kind of people we wanted to take guidance from. Where were the answers from people who were actually blogging – and not for profit, but for enjoyment?

    The Support Role, Discord, logo, icon, cross, healing, circle

    A month or so later and we decided to create The Support Role, a new Discord server where bloggers can come together to learn from each other. We want it to be a place where new bloggers could be introduced to other members of the community and those who have been here a while could possibly make new blogging friends. But not only that: we’re working on making it a group where questions can be asked, advice sought and opinions requested, and real answers are received from peers who know where you’re coming from.

    The server has only been active since the beginning of the year and so is still in its starting phase, but already we’ve had some very useful discussions. We’ve also added dedicated channels for streaming, video and podcasting advice for anyone who wants to dip their toes into other areas of content creation. There’s a place to share collaboration ideas if you’re looking for people who would be interested in getting involved in a joint-project, and somewhere for video game press releases if we come across anything interesting.

    It may seem strange that I decided to go in this direction with Luke after writing in October 2018 about finding the social aspect of blogging pretty difficult. Although I’m usually fine and can join in if I’m in a chat with a handful of friends, the anxiety starts to creep in when it gets to more than five people or so. But I said in my resolutions post that I wanted to more to get bloggers taking and share our experience, and the server – along with the weekly #BloggerTalk events – feel like a great place to start.

    This invitation to is open to everyone so please do stop by and make yourself at home. There are channels for chatting if you feel like talking about the games you’re playing at the moment or sharing your pet photographs; but if you’re more the quiet type, then the group is there wherever you need to ask a blogging question or get some advice. Use it how you see fit and however it’s going to help you make the most of your site.

    Thanks so much to Luke from Hundstrasse for being my partner-in-crime and getting the group off the ground. We look forward to seeing you over on The Support Role!

    We’re taking part in GameBlast20 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)


    #BloggerTalk: 23 January 2020

    #BloggerTalk takes place over on Twitter from 21:00 to 22:00 GMT on Thursdays. Each week, everyone is invited to give their thoughts on a specific question connected to blogging, writing and the community so we can all learn from each other’s knowledge and experience.

    For more information about how #BloggerTalk came to be and its aims, check out this post and feel free to get in touch. Without further ado, let’s take a look at today’s question and get the conversation going:

    Will you be planning a blogging collaboration at any point this year?


    If you’re a long-time blogger, perhaps you’d be willing to share some of your experience and help guide those who are new. And if you’ve just joined the community, welcome – you’re part of one of the best and most supportive groups out there. I look forward to seeing you on Twitter for #BloggerTalk.

    We’re taking part in GameBlast20 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
    Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
    (*Not guaranteed.)