Save point: June 2020

Welcome to June’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds up all the happenings here at Later Levels in case you missed anything. With several digital expos and another blog party now behind us, let’s have a quick recap of recent events.

Blog life
Followers:

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  • Total published:   16 posts
  • Most popular:   Gamers’ blog party: summer 2020 invitation
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  • Most discussed:   Gamers’ blog party: summer 2020 invitation
  • My favourite:   Coming of age: gaming with my stepson
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  • Best day:   Mondays
  • Other posts worth checking out:

  • You’re An Adult Geek And That’s OKAY by John from 101 Militia Gaming
  • Do you still buy physical games? by A Most Agreeable Pastime
  • When We Played With Power by Cameron from Dragon In The Castle
  • Indie Variety Hour: Summer Gaming Festival by Frostilyte Writes
  • 21 Years of life, 12 Years of games by Ian de Villiers
  • June wasn’t the best month for the blog. Solarayo from Ace Asunder and I made the difficult decision to postpone The Great Blog Crawl as it didn’t feel right to celebrate when sad events were taking place in America. Then my motivation for both blogging and video games took a massive hit as I struggled to work up the same level of enthusiasm for them. Not even the increase in the number of gaming expos this summer was helping; I just didn’t feel excited about getting the chance to play demos for upcoming games or finding out about the PlayStation 5.

    What I realised was that I’d spent so much time in front of a screen since the COVID-19 lockdown began here in the UK in March, I was completely digitally drained. The situation at work had exacerbated the issue (more about that later) and all I wanted to do in the evenings was switch off. Although I had a few posts I’d already drafted so I was able to stick to my normal blogging schedule, my other-half and I decided it would be best to take several weeks out of streaming to give ourselves a break.

    June wasn’t all bad though. It was fun to respond to a Real Neat Blog Award from Hylian-Hobbit over at Hobbits of Hyrule. The summer 2020 blog party in the middle of the month saw 26 posts shared and over 125 comments left; and my piece about Murray from the Monkey Island series for The Characters That Define Us collaboration hosted by Normal Happenings. Thanks to a suggestion from Pete, I’m now working on a series about bloggers-who-stream for July and my motivation is slowly starting to come back.

    Gaming life
    Games played:

  • A Short Hike
  • Answer Knot
  • Burn Me Twice
  • Burning Daylight
  • Dry Drowning
  • INFRA
  • Metaphobia
  • Off-Peak
  • The Mirror Lied
  • The Supper
  • To The Moon
  • Whateverland prologue
  • Demos from the Steam Game Festival
  • Games reviewed and previewed:

  • To The Moon
  • Demos from the Steam Game Festival
  • I’ve recently been seeking out other forms of entertainment in my desire to get away from screens this month. This has been perfect for a giant cross-stitch (although I’m still nowhere near being finished) and I’ve also learnt how to make bread by hand, but it hasn’t been so good for video games. The title I’ve been concentrating on during June was To The Moon for the play-along event hosted by Naithin from Time to Loot – and yes, despite all my preparation, the story hit me hard yet again and I found myself in tears.

    So what are all those games listed in the box above then? After realising I had far too many titles on my Steam wishlist, I decided to so something about it and started by playing those which were short and free. Watch out for a round-up post about those on Wednesday. Last week, the summer edition of the Steam Game Festival gave me the chance to try loads of demos and I loved The Wild at Heart by Moonlight Kids; and I backed the Kickstarter campaign for Whateverland by Caligari Games.

    Congratulations to Kevin from The Lawful Geek, who hit Twitch Affiliate status this month! This happened during one of our fortnightly Shadowrun sessions over on his channel and it was great seeing his reaction when he received the notification. Speaking of reactions, if you want to see what caused Pete and I to pull those expressions opposite, go check out the VODs. The last couple of game sessions have been rather eventful and things are starting to get real for our characters… we’ve now received a wetworks contract which will put us in an extremely difficult position during the next episode!

    Real life

    Work has been completely crazy this month. The need for IT has increased hugely while everyone is working remotely and now several massive projects have been added to the workload, along with having to learn the skills necessary to complete them. The recent news that the company is now also ‘starting to consider headcount’ as part of their plan to recover after the lockdown hasn’t helped my nerves at all: I’m the junior in the team so if anyone is going, there’s a good chance it’s going to be me.

    I’m pretty good at dealing with stress but when it gets to a certain level, my wellbeing suffers. The positive thing is that I’ve learnt to recognise the signs over the years and Pete is aware of them so we both know when I need to take a break. Although I still feel a little on edge, the break in June has helped and I’m taking it one day at a time. We’ve both missed streaming and are planning a gradual return to Twitch, with our attention turning to the new date for The Great Blog Crawl 2020 virtual pub on Saturday, 18 July 2020.

    My stepson turned 13 this month and I’m having a hard time figuring out how he grew up so fast. Gone are the days when he used to wake me up early in the morning to teach me how to play The LEGO Movie Videogame; now it’s all about Overwatch with friends and Dungeons & Dragons. The easing of the lockdown rules meant we could finally see our parents again and the timing was perfect, because it meant we could all get together for a barbecue for Ethan’s birthday, my dad’s birthday and Father’s Day.

    Coming up
    Events:

  • 01-12: The Great Blog Crawl 2020 quiz
  • 01-31: Summer Game Fest
  • 09: Shadowrun stream
  • 18: The Great Blog Crawl 2020 virtual pub
  • 19: London Gaming Market
  • 23: Shadowrun stream
  • Every Thursday: #BloggerTalk
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more!
  • Posts planned:

  • Free and easy: more no-cost games on Steam
  • Whateverland preview, Kickstarter now live
  • A two-week series about bloggers who stream
  • My thoughts on Metal Gear Solid 2 for AmbiGaming
  • Something for the International Day of Friendship
  • And now over to you guys: what have you been up to lately, and what have you got planned for the coming month? Is there anything the community can help with or get involved in? Let everybody know in the comments below so we can show our support. Thanks for reading!

    To The Moon: a community play-along, part four

    Following last Friday’s post, we’re back with part three of the To The Moon play-along. Everyone is invited to join this community event hosted by Naithin from Time to Loot: simply play the game and then participate in conversations based around several questions after each section.

    Whereas the last three weeks have been about To The Moon itself, this time we’re talking about the downloadable content (DLC): Sigmund Minisode 1 and 2. This is a bit of a treat for me because I’ve never gotten around to playing them despite Freebird Games’ project being one of the video games which define me. I now consider myself fully prepared to replay sequel Finding Paradise followed by third instalment Imposter Factory when it’s released later this year – and answer Naithin’s final questions too.

    If you haven’t yet played To The Moon and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are major spoilers in the following paragraphs which may mar your enjoyment of the game.

    Many of us weren’t entirely comfortable with the concept of what Sigmund Corp does. What did you think about getting a look behind the curtain as it were, and seeing some of the responses of the employees?

    As mentioned in my first post for the play-along, I remember being unnerved by the thought of changing someone’s memories when I first played To The Moon back in March 2013. It didn’t feel entirely appropriate to overwrite their recollections with ones which weren’t real regardless of how genuine they believed them to be. Progressing through the story and finally understanding why Johnny Wyles wanted to travel to the moon may have made me asses my initial opinion, but it’s a concept which has always sat slightly uncomfortably.

    I can understand why people would pay for their services if Sigmund Corp were a real business; being able to make their customers believe they’d achieved their ultimate goal in life would receive a lot of interest and be worth an awful lot of money. I can also see why employees would want to work for them. Several times throughout the main game, doctors Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts express how they want to make their clients happy and it’s clear their colleagues feel the same when you see them gathered in the minisodes.

    Does that make it right though? Earlier this month I said that I’m not sure this question has a definitive answer and I still think that’s the case. On one hand, Sigmund Corp is granting wishes and making their customers’ final moments the happiest they could be; but on the other, how would it make their loved-ones feel to know they’d changed their history together? And is the person we are as a result of our experiences have no meaning if they’re all wiped away? Who knows, maybe we’ll find out in Imposter Factory.

    What do you think is happening at the end of Sigmund Minisode 2? Speculate wildly!

    About halfway through the minisode, Eva returns to the office and speaks to Traci on her mobile from the company car. Just as she says she’s on her way to her house, the doctor suddenly sees a copy of herself in front of the vehicle and is startled. Meanwhile inside the building, Neil is conducting some sort of strange experiment with one of the headsets used to get inside patients’ memories and causes a power outage. We then see Eva exit the elevator to meet Neil (and his mop) before the group of characters is shown together in the lounge.

    My theory is that this isn’t actually happening. It’s a memory and not only that: it’s a changed memory. The second Eva is the one who’s pictured at the end of the DLC wearing a headset in what looks like a living-room. She travelled into this recollection to appear on the road and make original Eva go back inside the office to find Neil. If this hadn’t happened, she would have left her partner to spend Christmas alone while she went on to her sister’s place and wouldn’t have seen that he’d had turned the power off and on in the basement.

    This could be significant as it’s a clue for future Eva that Neil was secretly working on something he didn’t want anyone else to know about. Perhaps she discovers the technology he creates later on in the series and it helps her in some way. There’s also the fact that with her partner now attending the gathering in the lounge, he brought the ambient sound maker with him and recorded the sounds there – just what someone would need to remind them of that night, kind of similar to how the roadkill smell worked on Johnny in To The Moon even though he was unconscious.

    So who’s memories is it that Eva is digging into? It must be Neil’s. Consider the painkillers he hid in the car in the first episode and the fact that a small portion of his health was gone during the squirrel battle scene. There’s also the calls he tries to make to his parents where he’s unable to speak. I won’t say anything here about what happens in Finding Paradise but there are a lot of clues pointing to something damaging Neil’s health – I do have some ideas about this, but you’ll have to wait for the next play-along!

    Thanks so much to Naithin from Time to Loot for hosting this event and to Freebird Games for creating such a great title. To The Moon remains one of my favourite video games and having the opportunity to discuss it in more detail, with people who both love the series already and have just discovered it, has been wonderful. I can’t wait for Imposter Factory to be released the end of this year so we can find out what happens to the doctor duo and finally see what all these cliffhangers mean.

    To quote Eva: ‘The ending isn’t any more important than any of the moments leading to it.’

    #BloggerTalk: 25 June 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:

    Do you have any advice for a blogger who’s looking to grow their site?


    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.

    Steam Game Festival Summer 2020 Edition: a round-up

    With gaming expos being impossible this year due to COVID-19, we’ve seen an increase in the number of digital events. I might be feeling drained by them but I’ve got to admit: it’s nice being able to try a game in the comfort of your own home away from a noisy exhibition hall.

    Following the cancellation of GDC’s Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs and more, Valve decided to showcase more than 40 demos planned for the events during the Steam Game Festival back in April. It returned again last week with the Summer 2020 Edition and gave players the opportunity to check out over 900 games for themselves. Although I didn’t have time to play all of them, I did manage to check out several which looked interesting – and here are my thoughts.

    A Space for the Unbound

    The prologue for A Space for the Unbound by Mojiken Studio came onto my radar after a discussion with another blogger about their projects and those published by Toge Productions. Having already played A Raven Monologue for a post about free titles in July 2018 and the demo for When The Past Was Around for the spring 2020 Steam Game Festival, I really wanted to like it – but I didn’t. I’m afraid to say that I caught myself nodding off a couple of times during my half-hour playthrough so I don’t think I’ll be picking up the full game.

    LOVE

    The demo for LOVE by Rocketship Park may have lasted less than ten minutes, but it was very sweet and resulted in the title being added to my wishlist. Players get to know the inhabitants of an apartment block by rotating its floors to solve puzzles and see moments from their past and present. I get the impression that this is going to be one of those quieter games a lot of people will miss out on, but those who come across it will find something which tugs at their heartstrings and has an emotional impact.

    Mutropolis

    Point-and-clicks with science-fiction storylines always appeal to me so it was no wonder I tried out Mutropolis by Pirita Studio. Although it’s nowhere near as dark as some of the other games of its type, the demo was enjoyable and the puzzles contained within were logical. The title takes place far in the future when Henry Dijon and a team of archaeologists leave Mars to visit an abandoned Earth and dig up lost treasures. Things go well and they make an amazing discovery – but then Henry’s professor is kidnapped and it all starts to get a bit weird.

    Nine Noir Lives

    A comedy noir adventure featuring a cat detective? The description for Nine Noir Lives by Silvernode Studios sounded awesome and I loved the feline title art, but I’m sorry to say the game didn’t live up to the expectations they’d set. My main issue with it was that there was just far to much dialogue where the player was required to passively listen; it was over 15 minutes before I was able to make my first real move and I was beginning to get bored. I made it to the end of the demo but I don’t think I’ll be purchasing the full title.

    One Dreamer

    I like games which feature interesting mechanics and if the prologue is anything to go by, One Dreamer by Gareth Ffoulkes is going to be included on that list. You can look at the code of objects found in the environment and change their variables to get around obstacles; so update ‘enabled’ to ‘true’ to open a closed roller door or switch files to get a goose honking like a cat and wearing a top-hat. It seems like there’s going to be quite a touching story underneath this pseudocode too so sign me up.

    Papetura

    Papetura by Petums is a point-and-click which immediately reminded me of the releases by Amanita Design thanks to its charming characters. It’s absolutely gorgeous and this can be attributed to the fact that it’s handcrafted: making the game entirely out of paper gives it a really unique look. This was another short demo coming in at under ten minutes, but it was enough to get a taste and make me keen to join Pape on his adventure to stop the dark and flaming monsters from burning down his world later this year.

    Sail Forth

    Although I ultimately didn’t get along with the game, my favourite thing about Sea of Thieves was the exploration. That’s why Sail Forth by David Evans Games jumped out at me: this procedural adventure would give me the ability to explore the waters without having to put up with players who just wanted to kill me. The demo was a little janky and it’s clear the project is still being worked on, but it gave a good enough idea of what the team is trying to achieve and the type of mechanics they’re building into their release.

    The Wild at Heart

    My favourite demo from the Steam Game Festival this time around. The Wild at Heart by Moonlight Kids was a wildcard (no pun intended) as I picked it randomly thanks to its artwork – and I was left impressed, with another title added to my wishlist. It’s similar in gameplay to Overlord and Pikmin, and its story about two kids finding a mysterious realm within a forest is charming. I may have encountered a bug during the demo which prevented me from finishing it (the developer is working on fixing it) but I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

    Did you manage to check out any of the demos during the Steam Game Festival last week? If so, were there any that you really enjoyed and will you be looking out for them in the upcoming summer sale?

    PlayStation 5: waiting for the hype to blow over

    On the evening of 11 June 2020, Sony took to YouTube and Twitch to reveal the PlayStation 5 to the world after much speculation. Millions of viewers turned in to find out about its new look, what was hidden under the hood and the titles they’ll be able to play on it.

    Did I join in with the friends and bloggers who were watching? No, I didn’t. My other-half and I were taking part in our group’s fortnightly Shadowrun RPG session over on The Lawful Geek’s Twitch channel at the time of the presentation. Several big plot events happened during that game so we were fully wrapped up in trying to figure out how we were going to get out of the situation our characters now found themselves in. Was I bothered about missing the big PS5 reveal though? No, not in the slightest.

    The current generation of consoles were announced in early 2013 and I remember being caught up in the excitement back then. I think recently starting blogging added to the feeling; I’d just found a community of likeminded people who were all eager to see the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and I got swept up in it with them. I stayed up late to see the reveal events, published several posts about them, ranted about always-online and backwards-compatibility – and watched everyone else do the same.

    It felt like history repeating when I woke up the morning after our Shadowrun session. I switched on my laptop, logged into WordPress and saw that almost every post in the reader was about PlayStation 5 or the games announced for it. A quick glance at Twitter showed loads of tweets by people who hated the new console’s look and just as many by those who loved it. And the professional gaming websites were getting in on the action too, publishing as many articles as they could to bring in the views.

    ‘All the details about the new PlayStation 5 revealed!’ shouted a random blog post. ‘Let the console wars commence!’ cried the first tweet in my feed. ‘PS5 Reveal Event: Everything Announced at the Show’, a well-known website promised to share. If you thought you could escape by turning to the main news outlets to find out what else was happening in the world, you were wrong: even the UK broadsheets were jumping on the bandwagon and throwing out some articles of their own.

    The older I get, the less I’m able to tolerate hype. I first became aware of this two years ago when I got incredibly sick of seeing an endless stream of content about the upcoming Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2. The huge amount of promotion surrounding a release seems to directly correlate to my lack of enthusiasm for picking it up, and this has caused me to not play some of the biggest series. Hell, it took me five years to complete Life is Strange and I suspect the hype around it negatively affected my opinion of the game.

    I just can’t bring myself to see the consoles as anything other than just another bit of hardware nowadays. I can immediately think of several friends who are going to tell me off for saying that – and are also going to remind me that I should be looking forward to the better titles I’ll be able to play on a shiny new PlayStation 5 soon. But the truth is, I don’t particularly care. If the hardware I currently own can still run the games I personally want to play, regardless of how old it is, then I’m really not bothered about owning the latest equipment.

    And those games tend to be made by independent developers far more frequently than big studios. They’ve never let the complications of new consoles stop them from getting their creative ideas out there; and hardware obstacles have even caused them to become more creative sometimes. I remember it dawning on Sony and Microsoft just how popular indie titles were shortly after their reveals back in 2013 and suddenly deciding they wanted to get smaller teams on board.

    But this is just personal preference and I understand that everyone has their own individual gaming tastes. If you’re excited by all the news about the PlayStation 5 and the big-budget releases coming for it, then I’m genuinely excited for you. Let’s face it: anyone who knows my other-half will be aware much he loves new technology and gadgets. It therefore won’t be too long before a new console appears in our living-room, so I’ve got to show a small amount of enthusiasm at least.

    Maybe it’s the lockdown getting to me. My motivation levels have taken a dip since it started here in the UK at the end of March and as was evident in my post about digital expos last week, it has been a struggle to work up enthusiasm for much recently. Perhaps I just need to dig out a few indie games, hide myself away with them, and wait for the hype to blow over.

    To The Moon: a community play-along, part three

    Following last Friday’s post, we’re back with part three of the To The Moon play-along. Everyone is invited to join this community event hosted by Naithin from Time to Loot: simply play the game and then participate in conversations based around several questions after each section.

    The third set of discussion points have been published so it’s time to see what we all thought of Act 3. I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve completed To The Moon on multiple occasions and it’s one of the video games which define me, so does that familiarity mean its ending has lost some of its impact? You’ll have to read on to find out and I’ll cover some of my thoughts on the story’s conclusion in the answers below. One thing is guaranteed though: there’s going to be plenty of emotion along with a few spoilers.

    If you haven’t yet played To The Moon and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are major spoilers in the following paragraphs which will mar your enjoyment of the game.

    Question 11: it seems that after the accident, Johnny lost his identity to his mother and became a replacement-Joey. Does it change how you feel about Johnny as compared to your Act 1 impressions?

    As mentioned in my first post, it’s certainly true that Johnny can come across as cold or superficial thanks to some of his decisions in the first act of the game. Back then he revealed to friend Nick that part of his reason for being interested in River was because he wanted to be different and ‘something more’. I said that he should be cut some slack because he was a teenager at the time; most of us went through similar feelings during that awkward period of our lives, and many bad teenage choices can be forgiven.

    But I’m not sure my understanding of Johnny’s desire to be unique has been as clear as it is now, and I think this is the result of reading the thoughts of others taking part in the play-along. The protagonist wanted to break out of the mould his mother had created for him in her grief – although he couldn’t properly explain this wish, due to the memory-fading effects of the beta blockers given to him after his twin-brother’s accident. He had no recollection of the event and yet it went on to shape his personality and relationship with River at a deep level. It’s just so sad.

    Question 12: Eva and Neil have a verbal sparring match on their differing views about the contract versus what would make Johnny happier. Do you sympathise with one view over the other here?

    To The Moon, video game, boy, Johnny, River, girl, night, sky, starsTalk about being caught between a rock and a hard place. The choice given to the doctors at this point wasn’t an easy one to make. Do they stick to the contract they’ve been assigned and remove a loved one from their unconscious patient’s memories, knowing that this isn’t really what he’d want? Or do they screw the paperwork and do what they needed to do to make him happy, and face the possibility of court hearings because they went against their legal obligations? It’s no wonder the duo got into an argument during this section.

    I’ve always tended to side with Eva because she comes across as being more understanding than Neil, but he scored some major points here. He’d always scoffed at any mention of emotion or affection up until this point but now he was displaying something deeper. When he realised what his partner was about to do, he said: ‘#@%& the contract! I didn’t take this job to make him miserable.’ I couldn’t help but side with him despite being aware of the consequences, and it’s clear there are a few things Neil is trying to hide (not least the painkillers from Act 2).

    Question 13: throughout that same exchange, Eva asks Neil to trust her. He clearly didn’t. Did you?

    To The Moon, video game, school, Eva, Neil, doctors, trustI definitely didn’t trust her during this section when I first played To The Moon. Eva comes across as being an extremely logical analyser and any new player could be forgiven for thinking she was going to simply erase River. The pressure of the situation and Johnny’s impending moment of death make it difficult to truly understand what she’s revealing when she says: ‘I’m only risking losing River because I believe in her.’ I’m not sure the doctor’s friendship or even working relationship would have survived if she hadn’t managed to pull off the result.

    Question 14: Eva says: ‘He can always find another River, but he’ll only ever have one brother.’ Do you agree? What about this in the context of overwritten memories as opposed to life as it was?

    To The Moon, video game, NASA, Eva, Neil, River, JohnnyThis is possibly the question I’ve found the hardest to answer during the play-along event. Maybe that’s because I’m a romantic at heart and believe there’s a soul mate somewhere out there for everybody. The whole reason why Johnny wanted to go to the moon was because of River, regardless of him being unable to remember their first meeting; so having to risk her to make that wish happen seems not only counterintuitive but slightly wrong. As Neil said to Eva: ‘If that means removing River, then what’s the point?!’

    Joey may have been saved in the new reality created by the doctors and the protagonist might have then been able to spend a lifetime with his twin-brother, but his recollection of all those real experiences with his wife would have been entirely forgotten if she’d been erased. I can only admire Eva for having so much faith in River and Johnny and believing there was a chance for them to still end up together after she was moved. To quote Neil once more: ‘It could’ve gone very badly, y’know.’

    Question 15: any final thoughts?

    There’s a good reason why my other-half and stepson say that To The Moon is ‘the crying game’. I honestly believed I wouldn’t cry this time because I’ve played it so much and could prepare myself for the emotions; hell, I even thought I’d be capable of streaming it. But now I’m glad the stream didn’t work out and I had to finish the playthrough by myself because, as soon as it to the part with the song Everything’s Alright, I sobbed my heart out. And then just as I’d composed myself, I did it again at the end when Johnny held hands with River in the rocket.

    I just can’t help myself. This game inspires strong emotions and I love the way so many small plot elements – things which don’t seem important initially and are just there to add colour to the world – actually play a far bigger part in Johnny and River’s story. Having a wish to go to a place inspired by someone you love dearly, only to face having to lose that person in order to make that wish come true; it has to be one of the saddest stories. And yet To The Moon ends up being one of the most bittersweet.

    Have you played To The Moon and if so, what did you think of it? The game may be over but the play-along continues, as we’ll now be playing Sigmund Minisode 1 and 2 and there’ll be another post in the series coming next Friday. There’s still time to take part if you haven’t already signed up: all the details you need are in this article on Time to Loot.