Your wit’s got to be twice as sharp as your sword

“Swordfighting is kinda like making love. It’s not always what you do, but what you say.” Anyone who’s played The Secret of Monkey Island is likely to recognise this smooth line from Captain Smirk and be familiar with insult-swordfighting.

For May’s EXP Share collaboration, DanamesX over at Tales from the Backlog is asking everyone to share a gaming-related thing that they’re good at or proud of. For example, are you great at identifying voice-actors without looking at the credits, do you hold a record for a speedrun or have you 100% completed a video game series? It’s none of these things for me – but what I can do is remember every insult response from the first Monkey Island release.

As Smirk himself continues: “Any fool pirate can swing a sharp piece of metal around and hope to cut something but the pros, they know just when to cut their opponent with an insult, one that catches ‘em off guard. You see, kid, your wit’s got to be twice as sharp as your sword.” Wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood must complete the Three Trials to fulfil his dream of becoming a buccaneer, one of which is to defeat the mighty Sword Master – but as his mentor teaches him, it’s more than just how you handle your weapon.

Our hero must track down opponents on the roads of Mêlée Island and challenge them to a duel to improve his skills. Sometimes they’ll shout an insult he has never heard before and so he’s forced to reply with a poor ‘I am rubber, you are glue’ before losing ground. It’s not necessarily a negative thing though: it means he now has a new line to test out on his next rival and, if they manage to respond successfully, he can add another move to his insult-swordfighting repertoire.

These lines are legendary among adventure gamers. The most well-known is ‘You fight like a dairy farmer’ because it’s one of the first Guybrush learns, but other favourites include ‘I’ve spoken with apes more polite than you’ and ‘People fall at my feet when they see me coming’. Throw one at a true Monkey Island fan and they’ll immediately counter with the correct retort: ‘How appropriate, you fight like a cow’, ‘I’m glad to hear you attended your family reunion’ and ‘Even before they smell your breath?’.

The reason I love the insult-swordfighting mechanic so much is because of how well it fits into both the Monkey Island world and adventure genre as a whole. It’s believable to see pirates duelling on the roads of an island somewhere in the Caribbean and the lines used perfectly sum up the humour that runs through the entire series. It’s such a great way of adding a touch of excitement to a point-and-click without resorting to a horrible action sequence or tedious minigame.

The Secret of Monkey Island, video games, Guybrush, insult-swordfighting, pirates

LucasArts captured the cerebral nature of an adventure game along with the thrill of a classic movie battle while letting us express our inner swashbucklers. The formula is mixed up later in the game when Guybrush is finally good enough to take on the Sword Master; you can’t just use the lines and responses you’ve already heard in the same way and instead must consider what would be the best comeback to her challenges. ‘How appropriate, you fight like a cow’ becomes the flawless retort for ‘I will milk every drop of blood from your body’.

The mechanic makes a reappearance in The Curse of the Monkey Island but with a twist. As explained by Rene Rottingham after he boards Guybrush’s ship: “On the sea we fight it a little differently. On the sea, all your insults have to rhyme. So when I say ‘Every enemy I’ve met, I’ve annihilated!’, you say ‘With your breath, I’m sure they all suffocated.’” It also appears in Escape from Monkey Island – but our hero is utterly defeated when he doesn’t understand his opponent’s Australian-themed insults.

Regular Later Levels’ visitors will already be aware of just how much The Secret of Monkey Island means to me and how it introduced me to adventure games as a kid. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve played since then, most recently for its 30th anniversary in October last year, but I’ve spent enough time on the roads of Mêlée to be able to know right insult response off by heart. I’m not sure any other mechanic in a point-and-click has captured the attention of gamers as much or been so suited to its setting.

If you’d like to brush up on your skills, head over to the online insult-swordfighting game created by Karza. And by the way: soon you’ll be wearing my sword like a shish-kabob!

Gaming facts FTW

For April’s EXP Share, the awesome DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog has invited the community to highlight trivia about their favourite video games. Is there an interesting gaming fact you’d like to share?

For my own post for the event, I had trouble deciding on just one so I decided to do something different and put together a little quiz. Below is a series of 50 questions, each from a different year in gaming history from 1972 to 2021, so why not grab a cup of coffee and see how much you know? Regular readers and visitors to our Twitch streams are likely to recognise the titles that Pete and I are fond of – good luck!

1972: Who created Pong?
 Allan Alcorn 
1973: What was the first commercial maze game?
1974: Which home game console was reissued for released in the UK?
 Magnavox Odyssey 
1975: dnd was the first video game to include what?
 A boss 
1976: What was the first text adventure ever released?
 Colossal Cave Adventure 
1977: What is the starting location in Zork I?
 West of House 
1978: What was Space Invaders originally titled?
 Space Monsters 
1979: What was the first handheld console to use interchangeable cartridges?
1980: The idea of eating a power pill to give Pac-Man super strength came from which cartoon?
1981: What is the career of the hero in Donkey Kong?
1982: Which 8-bit home computer was released and became one of the best-selling of all time?
 Commodore 64 
1983: Which video game is cited as a major contributing factor to the video game crash?
 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 
1984: The famous Tetris song is an arrangement of which Russian folk tune?
1985: How many targets are there in each round of Duck Hunt?
1986: Which was the first LucasArts’ adventure game?
 Labyrinth: The Computer Game 
1987: Solid Snake is based on which film character?
 Snake Plissken 
1988: Which animals can you assume the form of in Altered Beast?
 Wolf, dragon, bear and tiger 
1989: How much money do you need to collect for the best ending in DuckTales?
1990: What is the correct reponse to ‘You fight like a dairy farmer’?
 How appropriate, you fight like a cow 
1991: What was Sonic the Hedgehog’s original name?
 Mr Needlemouse 
1992: Which Guinness World Record is held by Alone in the Dark?
 First 3D survivial horror 
1993: Where is Atrus trapped in Myst?
1994: How many titles were released worldwide for the PlayStation?
1995: Which famous expo was first held in 1995?
 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 
1996: Who is the best-selling video game heroine?
 Lara Croft 
1997: Which cities are featured in the first Grand Theft Auto game?
 Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City 
1998: Which organisation does Manny work for in Year 1 of Grim Fandango?
 Department of Death (DoD) 
1999: What are the names of the contrasting worlds featured in The Longest Journey?
 Arcadia and Stark 
2000: Omikron: The Nomad Soul featured a cameo by which musician?
 David Bowie 
2001: Which wrestler helped Bill Gates reveal the original Xbox?
 The Rock 
2002: What are the first creatures you’re taught to round up in Herdy Gerdy?
2003: How many animal species are there to take photographs of in Beyond Good & Evil?
2004: Eating which snack is considered an act of evil in Fable?
 Crunchy chicks 
2005: What did Raz ride to escape the circus in Psychonauts?
 World’s Smallest Pony 
2006: Which comedy-drama series set on Wisteria Lane was turned into a life-simulation game?
 Desperate Housewives 
2007: The Witcher is based on a series of novels by which author?
 Andrzej Sapkowski 
2008: What is the name of the brand of vending machines in BioShock?
 Circus of Value 
2009: In Uncharted 2, Drake is approached by Harry and Chloe to help steal an oil lamp connected to who?
 Marco Polo 
2010: What is Ethan’s motel number in Heavy Rain?
2011: Paarthurnax’s voice-actor in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also voiced which other video game character?
2012: What was the first video game soundtrack to ever be nominated for a Grammy Award?
2013: Which personality voiced the narrator for Thomas Was Alone?
 Danny Wallace 
2014: How much did Amazon buy Twitch for?
 $970 million 
2015: How many database video clips can you unlock in Her Story?
2016: Which pet can be found in several locations during Firewatch?
2017: What colour are Aloy’s eyes?
2018: Which model of android was Connor in Detroit: Become Human?
2019: What connection to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can be found in The Division 2?
 Radical Pizza box and nunchucks 
2020: Which radio station do Poe and Munro work for?
 Radio August 
2021: What’s the name of the pub featured in The Dark Side of the Moon?
 The Crown 

#MaybeInMarch 2021: Machinarium

Hot on the heels of #LoveYourBacklog comes #MaybeInMarch. Last month, Ellen from Ace Asunder and I encouraged bloggers everywhere to talk about their video game libraries, and now we’re challenging you to play the game that’s been waiting on it the longest.

For the first event in March 2019, I managed to complete LIMBO and was left scratching my head after coming up with a few theories about its ending. This was followed by Thomas Was Alone in 2020 which I didn’t fare so well with: I ended up putting the title to one side after around four hours because I’d had enough. Although I have a few entries from the genre on my in my Steam library, I don’t often pick up or regularly play platformers because they’re just not my cup of tea.

Realising I wouldn’t have to attempt yet another one this this year’s #MaybeInMarch was therefore something of a relief. There was still a choice to be made though as the releases which had been waiting for me the longest this time around were part of a bundle I’d purchased back in July 2013. Would I go for Dragon’s Lair, The Cave, Papa & Yo, Machinarium, Still Life, Still Life 2 or The Path? After some deliberation, I decided to try Amanita Design’s 2009 point-and-click Machinarium.

This wasn’t the first time I’d played it however, as I’d previously got a taste while hanging out with friend-of-the-blog Phil at his apartment one weekend eight years ago. We’d started Machinarium on his iPad but didn’t manage to finish it before I had to leave, so I bought it for myself shortly afterwards. You know what it’s like though; it’s far too easy to get distracted by other games, and one which has never been touched before is always more appealing than one which has already been started.

The story centres on sweet-looking robot Josef after he is dumped on a scrapheap outside his city. After managing to put himself back together and get inside again, he discovers that the Black Cap Brotherhood bullies have kidnapped his girlfriend and are planning to blow up the central tower. It’s up to our hero to put a stop to their dastardly scheme, get rid of the evil gang, rescue the head of the city and fly off into the sunset with his lady, while helping the other robots he meets along the way. That’s just the nice kind of guy he is.

The release’s highlight is its artwork. Everything was drawn by right-handed artist Adolf Lachman using his left so the world wouldn’t look too perfect. This style along with the cut-out animation, a technique were parts of a character’s body are painted separately before being animated frame-by-frame, give both the city and its inhabitants an awful lot of character. Picking up Machinarium again after so many years felt like being warmly welcomed back to place I’d visited a long time ago.

Machinarium, video game, robots, speech bubbles, sewers, drains

The fact that the entire story is told without words is testament to how well the game is designed. Forget sitting through the long dialogues and conversation trees you may expect from the adventure genre; speech bubbles are used to convey the characters’ thoughts and this provides plenty of opportunity for humour. Leave Josef alone for too long and you’ll catch him reminiscing about a previous time with his girlfriend, such as their date at an oil container or when she gave him a birthday cake.

As for the puzzles, the protagonist can extend and shrink his body in size to get to objects and locations initially out of reach – but although this sounds like a central mechanic, it only makes an appearance in several challenges and feels as though it could have featured more frequently. Saying that though, there’s a nice mix of both inventory and environmental conundrums so there’s no chance to get bored, and the solutions for these are never illogical despite usually requiring some thinking.

Some puzzles would likely have been more intuitive if I’d been using a touchscreen to play Machinarium rather than a mouse, but I wouldn’t say that any of them are bad. My solitary gripe with the entire game was that hotspots only became active if Josef was standing right next to them. It’s easy to take it to mean ‘no’ when you click on something on the opposite side of the screen and the robot shakes his head, when he’ll actually do what you’re asking him to if you tell him to walk over there first.

I managed to complete the title in one stream session thanks to some kind little nudges in the right direction from Phil and DavieVanPeer in Twitch chat. It’s the best #MaybeInMarch game I’ve experienced so far and not only because it wasn’t ‘yet another platformer’ this year. LIMBO may have had us thinking about its conclusion and Thomas Was Alone’s narrator elicited some giggles with his humour, but Machinarium was far more endearing that my last two experiences.

Would I say it’s the best point-and-click I’d ever played though? It’s good but I don’t think I’d go that far. The robot-saves-city story just isn’t deep enough for me because it’s the narrative aspect of gaming that I enjoy the most, even though I did have fun during my six-and-a-half hours with the game. It’s still worth picking up if you’re a fan of the genre who hasn’t tried it yet however, because there’s just something incredibly charming about Josef and the world he lives in.

As mentioned above, Machinarium was my pick from several for the current #MaybeInMarch. It was a tough choice between this and Dragon’s Lair because they were both games I’d had some previous experience with despite not completing. I installed the latter last night before drafting this post and, if my short attempt is anything to go by, it’s still as difficult as I remember it being. Perhaps it will make an appearance in an upcoming stream so you can see how bad I am at quick-time events (QTEs).

So what’s in store for the next #MaybeInMarch? I’ll have another choice to make next year, but at least I already know it isn’t a platformer!

Plot-twists, instant deaths and naked missions

What has been the event within a video game that has shocked you the most and left you reeling? Maybe it was a major plot-twist, the death of one of your favourite characters or a gameplay element that seemed to come out of nowhere.

This is the subject of the latest EXP Share, a monthly collaboration hosted by DanamesX over at Tales from the Backlog to encourage everyone in the community to share their experiences. Here’s the question: “Share a story where an event in a game, television show, movie or book left you in shock and your reaction to it.” I always turn to video games when I have free time so most of the following anecdotes are to do with gaming, but I’ve thrown in a couple about other media for a bit of fun.

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. If you haven’t yet experienced the game, television show or book, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

Video game: Final Fantasy XIII

As part of last year’s game-swap series, I was challenged to play this title by Ellen from Ace Asunder back in September. I’ve never been a fan of turn-based combat so I knew it was going to be difficult for me but I didn’t realise the sheer frustration I’d feel with the last boss. After its health drops below 80%, there’s a possibility it could use its Instant Death power – and getting unfairly hit by this several times at 03:00 in the morning meant I was ready to rage. I’m not sure I’ll ever pick up another Final Fantasy game.

Video game: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The game-swap before the one in the paragraph was with Athena from AmbiGaming and she challenged me to complete my first Metal Gear Solid title. I now have a lot of thoughts about the series in general, especially its depiction of women, but the strangest moment was when Raiden was captured and stripped naked. Seeing the protagonist perform attacks which had him doing somersault kicks – while firmly holding his crotch to keep his dignity intact – was perhaps one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in a game.

Video game: SOMA

This was a release which left me thinking about its story long after I played it in September 2018. I think it’s very cleverly written: all the clues about what’s going to happen at its conclusion are there all along but it’s so easy to overlook them and focus on your pursuit for escape. The questions it asks the player, such as what it really means to be human and how you would feel if you found out you were a copy of yourself, are far scarier than any monster hiding in the dark corridors of PATHOS-II.

Video game: The Eyes of Ara

My other-half and I decided to pick up this title after completing Quern – Undying Thoughts and being in the mood for another similar game. It started off well and we enjoyed the puzzles-within-puzzles, even if we weren’t overly concerned about finding all the various collectibles. That was until we reached the final section and raged when we realised the blue orbs weren’t optional. A note for developers: never trick your players into believing that an object is a collectible when it’s not, because it’s really not fun.

Television show: Behind Her Eyes

It’s rare that Pete and I watch television, but this was a mini-series we watched last month after finding ourselves with a free evening and picking the first thing that came up on Netflix. Although he wasn’t overly keen on the thriller storyline which suddenly turned supernatural, I really enjoyed it and loved the twist at the end. My allegiance kept switching between David and Adele all the way through because I couldn’t work out who the real villain was; so Rob’s body-switch and then Louise’s subsequent death caught me completely off-guard.

Book: Pet Sematary

I used to read a lot of horror novels when I was far too young for them and Pet Sematary by Stephen King will always be the one I remember the most. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so scared by a book since and I can still recall the feeling of clammy palms while forcing myself to turn the pages. Being rather attached to my pet at the time, I was both fascinated and horrified about what happened to Church in the story, and the thought of a zombie-cat lurking around the house was terrifying.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for another interesting subject this month! If you fancy joining in with March’s EXP Share, you have another week until the deadline and can find all the details in this post.

#MaybeInMarch 2021: the backlog love continues

February was all about showing your video game backlog some attention. #LoveYourBacklog Month encouraged everyone to share their love for their pile of video games – something which is a sign of just show much we love our hobby, rather than a source of guilt.

The backlog appreciation isn’t over just yet as we have more planned for the next few weeks. Ellen from Ace Asunder and I asked bloggers to nominate unplayed or unfinished titles in five categories last month, including the one that had spent the most time in their library. So how about now trying to complete it for #MaybeInMarch? It might seem a daunting prospect at first, but you’ll have a bunch of other bloggers doing the same and you can find out which game I’ll be attempting myself later in this post.

This event is open to everyone regardless of whether they participated in February’s #LoveYourBacklog event or not. It also doesn’t need to be focused on your Steam library, although that’s what I chose to do to make things simpler for myself. If you’d like to use this platform too and aren’t sure how to find out which game has been waiting in your library the longest: click on your name in the top-right hand corner of the window, go to Account details and then click on View licenses and product key activations.

#MaybeInMarch is more than just about ticking a title off your list, however. Like last month’s event, it’s a way of celebrating the awesome releases which make up your library and showing that a backlog of any size isn’t a reason for guilt. A pile of games is a sign of how much you love your hobby along with the variety we have available to us nowadays – and the bigger your mountain, the more likely it is you’ll have something you play whatever mood you’re in.

My nominated game for the first #MaybeInMarch in 2019 was LIMBO by Playdead, which I managed to complete and come up with some theories about the ending. This was followed by Thomas Was Alone by Mike Bithell in 2020 but I decided to give up after four hours because it wasn’t something I was enjoying. That’s the beauty of this event: it gives us a chance to try a title we might have forgotten about, perhaps a genre we wouldn’t normally play, and inspires plenty of discussion while we’re doing it.

When I checked my Steam account while writing my #LoveYourBacklog post, I realised that the game which had spent the longest on my backlog this time around wasn’t one but several. The following were purchased as a bundle in July 2013 and still haven’t been played: Dragon’s Lair, The Cave, Papa & Yo, Machinarium, Still Life, Still Life 2 and The Path. I’ve finally decided which one to nominate for this year – although I would have been happy with any of them because it’s not another platformer!

My #MaybeInMarch nomination for 2021 is Machinarium by Amanita Design. Playing some of it with friend-of-the-blog Phil while hanging out at his house one weekend inspired me to buy the title for myself eight years ago, but I think I got distracted by other titles and didn’t go on to install it. This point-and-click tells the story of a robot who has been exiled to the scrap-heap and must get back into the city to rescue his robot-girlfriend, save the head of the city and defeat the bad guys from the Black Cap Brotherhood.

I’m planning to stream Machinarium this month and then publish a post in a few weeks’ time to share my thoughts on the game. Ellen and I are looking forward to reading all about your #MaybeInMarch nominations too, and will be sharing everybody’s posts on Twitter.

My blogging-friends and the games we’ve shared

Valentine’s Day is the celebration of love – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that feeling must be romantic. Love can encompass all sorts of relationships, from family members to good friends, from people you’ve met through blogging to your cat.

This is recognised by DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog in February’s EXP Share event. The subject for this month is ‘Share a story that involves someone special to you’ and as he points out himself, this can be ‘a significant other, older or younger sibling, parent, close friend, your Twitch chat, the voices in the wall or your pet’. I’ve decided to give a shout-out to the people who have been keeping me sane during the lockdown and share some of the video games we have in common.

Ellen from Ace Asunder

As covered in my post for the #CreativeChristmasCollab, the awesome Ellen is now someone I speak to every day and share hundreds of cat memes with. Our friendship was tested when we participated in a game-swap last year and she made me play Final Fantasy XIII in return for Her Story. I’m just joking: after over 50 hours of gameplay, getting hit with instant death attacks by the final boss several times and a 03:00 finish, I’m still talking to her. And that’s even though she doesn’t like full-motion video (FMV) heroes Poe and Munro.

GD from Gaming Diaries

When I decided to revisit a nostalgic game as part of our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 last year, GD was one of the only people who supported my decision. Sure, Herdy Gerdy is an old PlayStation 2 title that not many people have heard of and won’t be to everybody’s tastes: there’s no action or explosions but there are plenty of cute little animals. It’s funny how it’s now become a running joke in our Twitch chat and GD champions the return of Herdy Gerdy while everybody else groans.

Luke from Hundstrasse

Luke and I have known each for ages through the blogging community, but we finally met in person for the first time at the Rezzed expo in 2018 where we watched a talk by Tim Schafer. When COVID-19 put a stop to our plans for meeting up at the London Gaming Market in March last year, we decided to do a game-swap by post and this saw me working my way through crazy platformer Whiplash. This game sums up Luke’s sense of humour: random, hilarious and absolutely perfect.

Teri-Mae from Sheikah Plate

Although Teri-Mae and I met through blogging, it’s pretty rare that we talk about video games nowadays. We’re more likely to discuss politics, world events, social commentary and baking. Saying that though, I’ve recently been trying to persuade her to give The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a go after she decided to pick up something different and play Uncharted. Hopefully we’ll soon find Teri-Mae sneaking through Tamriel as a Khajit, going undetected and stealing all the sweet-rolls.

Kevin from The Lawful Geek

I’ve known Kevin since I started blogging in 2013 and he finally convinced Pete and I to try our first tabletop RPG towards the end of 2019. A year later and we’re still surviving in Shadowrun thanks to the support of fellow players Kat, Ozzy and Diane. Head over to the The Lawful Geek on Twitch every other Thursday to find out how we’re getting on – and you can also join Kevin there for an evening with special guests in support of GameBlast21 from 20:00 GMT this Saturday.

Friend-of-the-blog Phil

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve known Phil for over 15 years. We first met when I started working at our current workplace in London and now he’s making himself known on Twitch (although we still haven’t managed to convince him to start up his own blog yet). Our shared love of FMV games started when we had the chance to meet Her Story creator Sam Barlow at an expo in 2015 and he streamed it shortly afterwards, and now we both keep an eye out on Steam for upcoming releases in the genre.

My stepson, Ethan

He used to be so cute and then he turned into a teenager… still, at least he realises how good the classics are. Ethan and I have shared many gaming memories over the years but my most recent one is us playing The Secret of Monkey Island together for its 30th anniversary. He spent the first hour or so of the stream talking in a Russian accent (I have no idea why) and no doubt he’ll return for another one soon. Unfortunately I can’t tell you which voice it will be next time though.

My husband, Pete

One of the questions Pete asking me during our first conversation was who my favourite Street Fighter character was. Since then we’ve played plenty of video games together and I have fond memories of us huddled together over a laptop in my small flat when we first met. The one we probably spent the longest on was The Witness; he even went to the trouble of making a physical board and pieces that replicated some of the puzzles in the title so we could solve as many of them as possible. There’s nobody else I’d rather be tackling these challenges with.

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog for a heart-warming subject this month. If you’re interested in joining in with February’s EXP Share, you have another week until the deadline and can find all the details in this post.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 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.)