Save point: July 2020

Welcome to July’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds up all the happenings here at Later Levels in case you missed anything. With the days hotting up and the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK gradually easing, let’s have a quick recap of recent events.

Blog life
Followers:

  • WordPress:   1,492
  • Twitter:   607
  • Facebook:   86
  • Instagram:   211
  • Twitch:   146
  • Posts:

  • Total published:   19 posts
  • Most popular:   Not turned on: sexual content on Steam
  • Most liked:   Twitch tips: advice for new streamers
  • Most discussed:   Lockdown gaming: when a hobby stops being fun
  • My favourite:   Point-and-clunky: bad adventure elements
  • Traffic:

  • Views:   3,011
  • Visitors:   1,377
  • Likes:   384
  • Comments:   153
  • Best day:   Mondays
  • Other posts worth checking out:

  • The Legends of Twitch by Ellen from Ace Asunder
  • Ruining Your Favourite Pokémon – Season Fin by Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes
  • Video Game Characters Who Wear Masks by Jett from In Third Person
  • A Thank You Post For Content Creators by Dan from nowisgames.com
  • Top 5: Memorable Real-Life Locations in Games by cary from Virtual Bastion
  • Thank you so much to everyone who joined us for The Great Blog Crawl 2020 virtual pub this month, and congratulations to Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes for being this year’s winner! I’d also like to give massive shoutouts to Ellen from Ace Asunder, my partner-in-crime for the event; Quietschisto from RNG for his awesome cocktail tutorial videos; and DeiSophia from Virtual Visions for kindly donating several game keys for giveaways. Ellen and I had so much fun putting the quiz together and would love to do it again in 2021 – we’ve already had ideas about how we can get more blogs involved so watch this space for more news soon.

    The virtual pub marked our return to Twitch after a six-week break and was the grand finale in a short series of posts about streaming. If you’re someone who’s looking for advice on how to get started, a viewer who wants to find more great channels to follow or a streamer who just can’t decide to what to play on your next stream, they’re worth checking out. As for future Later Levels’ streams, we may not be sticking to a strict schedule from now on but we’ll be on air a few times a week – and I can promise you there’ll be plenty more #KaraokePete. Keep taking clips of his songs and there may even be a charity album in time for GameBlast21 next February.

    Gaming life
    Games played:

  • A Case of Distrust
  • Disco Elysium
  • El Tango de la Muerte
  • Eliza
  • Event[0]
  • Fable
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
  • Satisfactory
  • The Almost Gone
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • Games previewed and reviewed:

  • Answer Knot
  • Burn Me Twice
  • Burning Daylight
  • Metaphobia
  • Off-Peak
  • The Mirror Lied
  • The Supper
  • Whateverland
  • Working up the motivation to play and enjoy video games has become more difficult recently but I feel like I’m slowly starting to get back into the swing of things. I managed to knock some entries off my backlog after finally playing several free games on Steam – although more titles were added back onto it after summer sale purchases. These included stylish detective adventure A Case of Distrust, cerebral RPG Disco Elysium and isometric puzzler The Almost Gone. I also backed point-and-click Whateverland on Kickstarter after playing through the prologue at the end of June.

    My recent time with games in the adventure genre made me realise that, even though I’ve always adored it, it contains some elements which are rather clunky and that we could all do without. It also made me see just how unreliable Steam’s recommendations can be sometimes. After playing through Burning Daylight last month, I had a whole bunch of soft-porn titles in my discovery queue thanks to the plaform’s ‘sexual content’ tag. Some of these games look absolutely terrible so I think I’ll stick to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for now, as part of my game-swap deal with Athena from AmbiGaming who completed Fable recently.

    Real life

    July has been another tough month. My work department was recently put into a redundancy situation and the way the notifications were handled caused a huge amount of stress, with employees having to stare at their inboxes for over three hours to see if they received a you’re-at-risk email. I’m thankful that my position is safe for the time being at least, but two colleagues I’m very close to may now have to leave and I feel so sad for them both. I’m not sure I could have got through those days without some good friends by my side; I’m so grateful for all their kind words and support. They could be video game heroes because they’re that awesome.

    Hopefully August will bring more positivity and I’m trying to look forward to the events we’ve got lined up. Teri-Mae from Sheikah Plate told me about a lovely bakery she knows in Whitstable so my other-half and I are planning to take a trip there this weekend. There may also be an extended stream and some more Metal Gear Solid 2 action when we get home, if we don’t eat too many pastries during the day. After a Treasure Trails walk with my stepson recently, we’ve got a few more treasure hunts around Essex scheduled in so I might write a review at some point. And who knows: perhaps we’ll get in a few barbecues and G&Ts too, if the weather stays warm.

    Coming up
    Events:

  • 01-30 August: The Great JRPG Character Face-Off
  • 01-30 August: Blaugust Promptapalooza
  • 01-30 August: Summer Game Fest
  • 06 August: Shadowrun stream
  • 07-09 August: Mysterium 2020
  • 20 August: Shadowrun stream
  • 27-29 August: gamescom 2020
  • Every Thursday: #BloggerTalk
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more!
  • Posts planned:

  • My first tabletop RPG experience
  • A response to a blogging award from Frostilyte
  • A discussion of the questions raised by Eliza
  • Video games of their time
  • Off-topic: child-free by choice
  • 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!

    #BloggerTalk: 30 July 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:

    What’s the biggest blogging challenge you’re facing right now?


    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.

    Friends who would be video game heroes

    Tomorrow is International Friendship Day. It’s a chance for us to appreciate the positive effect our friends have had on our lives and show them how thankful we are, as well as participate in activities which bring people from all different backgrounds together.

    Let’s face it: we’ve needed our mates and their support more than ever over the past four months. The COVID-19 lockdown has been tough and meant we were unable to see each other in person for a long time, but friendships stayed strong thanks to virtual pub quizzes via Zoom and memes via WhatsApp. New relationships have been formed too through the power of the internet, with many people – including bloggers – reaching out to find others in similar positions and with related interests.

    Video games have been there for us too. When the world has started to feel like too much, we’ve reached for the controller and lost ourselves in a digital land. It’s not a way of ignoring what’s going on in real-life, as many non-gamers believe; it’s more a method of giving our brains a break for an hour or two so we can come back to the challenges we’re facing with renewed energy. Video games teach us that regardless of how big the obstacles seem, we’re able to overcome them if we stay strong and work together.

    Today’s post is dedicated to several amazing people who have been there for me through the lockdown. I may have originally met most of them through blogging, but they’re now much more than just people-I-know-from-the-internet; they’re friends I speak to on a regular basis outside of our hobby, and ones have lifted me up over the past several months. They share many great qualities with some much-loved gaming characters and they’ll always be heroes in my eyes.

    Luke from Hundstrasse

    Sam & Max, Hit the Road, rabbit, dog, detectives, Sam, MaxI love having conversations with Luke. He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting but not only that: he has a way of always throwing something random into the discussion and you can’t help but laugh. It’s just what you need on those days when life is getting a little too serious. We’re employed in similar environments so it’s nice to have someone to talk to about work stuff who ‘just gets it’ – plus he also sends me cute photographs of his dog Rufus and octopus emojis.

    If Luke were a video game character, he’d be Sam from Sam & Max. He possesses knowledge about a whole range of subjects and I get the impression he’s able to stay calm in serious situations; but underneath that cool exterior lies an awesome sense of humour and someone who looks out for his friends.

    Teri-Mae from Sheikah Plate

    Whenever I’ve needed moral support, reassurance or baking advice, Teri-Mae has been there with positive messages every day during the lockdown and even before that. We’ve chatted about all sorts of different subjects, from family matters to world politics to gaming, and I know we’d meet up regularly if she lived here in the UK. Even though she has been working so hard throughout the pandemic to keep everyone safe, she always checks in on me to make sure I’m looking after myself and staying upbeat.

    If Teri-Mae were a video game character, she’d be Toriel from Undertale. She has a very kind heart, wanting to look after everyone and guide them towards the right path, and sometimes I don’t think she realises how powerful she is. There’s also the fact that she knows how to make a good pie!

    Ellen from Ace Asunder

    I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know Ellen this year and she’s now a good friend who I speak to every day. As well as sending each other an awful lot of memes either about cats or the state of the world, occasionally we’re able to have more serious conversations and even be organised enough to put on events like the Great Blog Crawl. She wears her heart on her sleeve and will always give you an honest opinion when you need one; this girl is far stronger than she feels she is sometimes and capable of so much.

    If Ellen were a video game character, she’d be Vella Tartine from Broken Age. She has more resilience than she realises she does and she’ll call out injustice whenever she sees it. Both ladies are also prone to asking ‘why can’t we just kill the damn thing’ when confronted with an enemy.

    Phil

    Night in the Woods, video game, Mae, cat, Bea, crocodile, Gregg, fox, Angus, bear, living room, sofa, hanging outPhil and I met at our place of employment over 15 years ago and we’ve put up with each other since. It’s great having someone at work you’re able to be silly with; when meetings and conference calls get too much, I can always rely on him to be close by with a funny cat video or pun to pick me back up. We’ve managed to achieve to a lot together in the time we’ve known each other and have also done some stupid stuff too – like that thing with the feedback box in the library, which we’ll now say no more about.

    If Phil were a video game character, he’d be Gregg Lee from Night in the Woods. He’s the person I can cause mischief with and we have some really weird discussions that nobody else would understand. He cares about his friends and sometimes worries that he’s not good enough for them, which is ridiculous!

    Pete

    Uncharted 4, A Thief's End, Nathan, Elena, man, woman, kissI have no idea where I’d be without Pete. He has been a shining star during a time which has proven to be incredibly testing: he’s serious when he needs to be, downright silly when I’m being far too serious myself, and I know he’s going to be there for me no matter what lies ahead. He just makes me feel safe whenever he’s nearby and he always has my best interests at heart. I might have to put up with his singing and constant obsession with new technology, but there’s no way I’d change him.

    If Pete were a video game character, he’d be Nathan Drake from Uncharted. We both have different views on this character: he thinks Nate is a dashing hero who’s there to save the day, while I think he’s an idiot who thinks he’s wittier than he is. My other-half is a combination of both – and that’s why he’s perfect.

    If there are any bloggers you’d like to say thank you to, why not give them a shoutout in a post and explain which video game character they’d be? Have a good International Friendship Day tomorrow and may your day be full of wonderful people.

    Lockdown gaming: when a hobby stops being fun

    How many hours have you sunk into video games since the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in the UK? With a lot of people finding themselves with more free time over the past few months, many have turned to hobbies such as gaming to fill those extra hours.

    I was certainly one of them at the beginning of the isolation period. Working from home meant that instead of devoting four hours to a commute into London each day, I could instead use them for other things such as picking up a controller. I managed to complete 15 games during April and May with entries being knocked off my backlog a couple of times each week; and I tried a number of demos thanks to the increase in digital expos, which kept the number of items on my Steam wishlist topped up.

    Video games gave me a sense of productivity back then. When my usual routine had been screwed up thanks to the pandemic, and working days seemed to be a never-ending stream of conference calls where much was said but little was achieved, they provided a way to feel as though I’d accomplished something. The worlds they presented were full of chaos and disorder, yet it was in my power to bring them back within control with each quest fulfilled and level completed.

    But then came June and something inside me shifted. I’d now spent over two months of my life almost completely online and the desire to be in front of a screen diminished with each passing hour. I began concentrating on pastimes outside of gaming such as cross-stitching and jigsaw-puzzling, and eventually I decided to take a break from streaming too. The progress I’d made on reducing my backlog came to a standstill and I can count the number of games I’ve finished since then on one hand.

    The problem was that gaming during the lockdown had started to feel like a second job. My new routine was to get up at 06:00, go for a socially-distanced walk and connect to my work laptop an hour later; slog through emails, instant messages and video calls before logging off at around 16:00; then hit the sofa and grab the controller after dinner and showers were done. Heading to bed not long after 22:00 meant I was ready to do the exact same thing again the following day.

    Gaming became something I did just to pass the time during the pandemic rather than something I enjoyed, and the fact there wasn’t much I wanted to play didn’t help. The new releases coming out didn’t hold much interest or received less than glowing reviews. Upcoming titles I’d been looking forward to and had either backed on Kickstarter or added to my wishlist were delayed by several months. And although the games I picked up during the Steam summer sale were ones I’d wanted, I didn’t feel any motivation to install them.

    generic

    That doesn’t bode well for a video game blogger, does it? There are only so many times you can write about the titles from your childhood or top-ten lists without starting to like a fraud, and the worry that I wouldn’t have anything new to say niggled away at the back of my mind. It turned into a horrible cycle. I was convinced I needed to play games so I’d have something to write about, even if I wasn’t enjoying them; but the more I forced myself to do that, the less I wanted to play.

    It was the decision to take some time away from Twitch which helped me move past this. Removing myself for a while made me realise that the most important thing about streaming was getting fun out of it, and achieving that meant only playing games I was interested in. So why shouldn’t it be the same for blogging and gaming in general? One evening I decided I wasn’t going to reach for the controller as I usually did because I really wasn’t in the mood and you know what? The blog didn’t fall apart.

    Sure, I’m still worried there’s going to come a point where I’ll have nothing new to write about. And yes, I’m still in a slump where new games aren’t grabbing my attention and those I’m really looking forward too are still under development. Despite the rise in digital expos, the cancellation of physical events such as EGX Rezzed and MCM Comic Con has left me without some of the usual stuff I’d cover throughout the summer and my upcoming schedule is looking rather more empty than it has done in the past.

    But hobbies are nothing if they’re no longer fun, and the blog will always be here for me even if the number of posts I’m able to publish each week eventually decreases. We’re going through an unprecedented time right now and that gives us the opportunity to look at things from new perspectives and offer fresh insights – as well the chance to take a step back and assess where we’re going. It’s also proven how the people you meet online can turn into good friends in real life who are there to support you when you need some reassurance.

    It’s time to stop picking up the controller after logging off from work because it feels like a second job, and start doing it because I want to lose myself in a video game. That’s going to mean searching out more from the genres I love and no longer feeling guilty about switching off a title if it’s not doing it for me. Give me more adventures, interesting stories, detective mysteries and full-motion video (FMV) games. (I can hear everyone who joined us for the stream of Dark Nights with Poe and Munro groaning right now.)

    Whatever you’re trying to achieve through gaming, blogging and streaming, make sure that one of your priorities is to enjoy yourself. I think we all deserve a little bit of fun right now.

    Not turned on: sexual content on Steam

    Last month, I admitted I had a problem. The situation was getting to the point where it was becoming unbearable and I couldn’t keep sticking my head in the sand any longer. It was finally time to admit to myself that I needed to seek help from the professionals.

    I’m talking about my Steam wishlist. A few weeks ago it contained over 100 games and, instead of being somewhere useful to keep track of upcoming releases I was interested in checking out, it had become a place which was almost unmanageable. I was adding titles to my catalogue more quickly than they were being removed so its size had expanded at a steady rate in recent years, and I was worried that this increase was just going to keep continuing.

    Steam, recommendations, video games

    So I took control of the matter – and asked the experts within the community for their advice. After publishing a post sharing the contents of my wishlist, I received lots of comments from blogger-friends with their tips on the games that should be removed and the ones which were definitely worth playing. Alongside this I decided to start tackling some of the shorter titles I’d shortlisted once I realised that several of them were free and could be completed in around an hour.

    One such release was Burning Daylight, a game which had been added to my wishlist on 20 April 2019 after my other-half had seen an article about it and thought it would be something I’d enjoy. And even though it was only 40-minutes long, I was impressed; it contained a lot of potential for a student project and I loved the way the atmosphere made the player feel as though something was incredibly wrong. Its story about society’s obsession with technology and not wanting to see the world for what it truly is was also very timely.

    Fast-forward to the following week and I found myself sitting in front of my PC, confused. For some reason, whenever I’d opened Steam to check my discovery queue in the days previous, every other suggestion was one which contained plenty of scantily-clad women with bad hair, poor shoe choices and gravity-defying breasts. I couldn’t work out what was going on; why had the platform decided that I might be interested in this poorly-made digital soft-pornography all of a sudden?

    Then I saw the information on the right-hand side of the screen which explained why these recommendations were relevant to me: ‘Similar to games you’ve played: Burning Daylight.’ The game had been tagged with the ‘sexual content’ and ‘nudity’ categories thanks to one short scene. You must guide your character through the red-light district in town where the outline of strippers can be seen in windows, and you pass a couple who are being rather friendly up against a large waste bin in the background.

    Burning Daylight, video game, headset, virtual reality, club, strippers, windows

    I’m not fond of sexual content in video games. This was something we’d discussed during a Save Point stream a while back and I was surprised to hear that many of the friends who joined is in chat felt the same. I’m struggling to formulate my reason into words but I think it’s something to do with such content being mostly unnecessary; I’ve been gaming for over 30 years now and in that time have seen a lot of releases where women are depicted as prizes and sex is used as a reward.

    That’s not to say it can’t be done well when the developers put in the effort. Some titles have managed to effectively incorporate a sex scene so it’s an integral part of their story and shows the connection between two characters, rather than something that’s thrown in to titillate. Poor animation can make such sections feel incredibly awkward though and it seems nobody is a fan of sexy quick-time events (QTEs), so the whole thing needs to be very tastefully managed.

    But cheap soft-porn games like those I was now being suggested by Steam? No, thank you. If they’re the sort of releases which float your boat then more power to you. But personally I can think of few things less of a turn-on than completely ridiculous story set-ups, impossibly-proportioned women dressed in nasty PVC outfits, robotic sexual movements and creepy dudes with raised eyebrows. And a note for anyone who hasn’t yet realised: the female nipple doesn’t really do that in real life.

    They did give my other-half and I a good giggle for an hour or so though. After commenting to Pete about all the mature recommendations popping up in my discovery queue (and him wondering what the hell I’d been up to), we ended up falling down a rabbit hole and laughing hysterically at the Steam pages we came across. There were also a few games which made us feel very uncomfortable however, such as a 2020 release with a female protagonist where you have to ‘get her home unmolested’ when she’s left alone in the middle of nowhere with strangers.

    All this because I’d spent less than an hour with Burning Daylight, a cyberpunk walking simulator that features a very brief background sex scene in which the main character isn’t even involved. Although the ‘Adult Only Sexual Content’ option was already deselected on my Steam account, soft-porn games were still able to make it into my discovery queue recommendations. It seems difficult to be able to fully block them without it having a negative effect on other titles you’d legitimately be interested in.

    For example, tell the platform you want to exclude releases with the ‘sexual content’ or ‘nudity’ tags and you wouldn’t see Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Cyberpunk 2077 and Vampyr. These are large RPGs with detailed narratives, and are far removed from the titles which all seem to have names that are a variation of Hot Virtual Reality Girls along with flimsy storylines which must have been written in less than five minutes. Another note for those unaware: you can’t cure a terminal disease by having sex.

    In a post published in May 2018, I mentioned how the recommendations given to me by Steam were very hit-and-miss. Things have improved in the past two years and the suggestions are more aligned to the sort of games I want to play – hence the reason why my wishlist was getting so large. But there still seems to be a problem with categorisation. Is it that additional tags are needed to identify different types of sexual content? Or is it that the way the existing ones are being assigned to releases isn’t working?

    I’m not sure what the answer is. But what I do know is that I won’t be buying My Cute Roommate or Being a DIK anytime soon.

    #BloggerTalk: 23 July 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:

    if you could have one tool to help you achieve your blogging goals, what would it be?
    (Let’s assume money is no object!)


    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.