Strangeland: mind, monsters and metaphors

Last year wasn’t a great one for me personally in terms of gaming. My wishlist was bursting at the seams with upcoming releases I’m looking forward to playing, but many were delayed due to COVID-19 and challenges faced with remote working.

Things are beginning to look up though. Not only are lockdown restrictions now easing in the UK, postponements in the gaming world are coming to an end too and I’ve been able to get my hands on some great games recently. The Dark Side of the Moon was a fun full-motion video (FMV) title with a science-fiction storyline and I can’t wait for the sequel; and Hitchhiker took me on a mysterious journey into the unknown which stayed with me for long after the credits rolled.

I jumped at the chance of a review key for Strangeland after being kindly contacted by Emily Morganti as I’ve enjoyed everything that Wadjet Eye Games has had a hand in creating or publishing. Adventure fans are likely to remember Wormwood Studios’ 2012 release Primordia, a well-received point-and-click set in a post-apocalyptic world where a robot wants to find out what happened to the humans. Now after ten years of work, we’re finally able to play its spiritual successor this month.

The story begins when you wake up on a rickety wooden bridge suspended in the sky with no memory of who you are or how you got there. In the distance is Strangeland, a nightmarish carnival filled with traps and riddles, where you witness a golden-haired woman fall down a bottomless well before you have a chance to save her. Somehow you know that until you destroy the Dark Thing lurking at the top of a towering rollercoaster, it will keep happening over and over again.

I don’t want to give too much away but it should be fairly obvious from this summary that it isn’t a game for children. As advised on its Steam page: “Strangeland deals with mature themes involving grief, mental illness, self-harm and self-destructiveness. It has some horrific but surreal imagery. Some players may find such content triggering.” While I wouldn’t necessarily say the title is scary, it certainly gives off a heavy atmosphere and there are some rather creepy moments.

For example: at one point you’ll find yourself trying to come up with a way to charm the eye out of a ten-legged teratoma, and at another you’ll have to discover the real name of a mermaid made by men. And lets not forget the ride to the edge of oblivion on the back of a giant cicada. Metaphors are liberally scattered through both the environments and conversations, and commentary is provided in an annotation mode for those interested hearing more about the references woven throughout the game.

Stramgeland, video game

Halfway through my playthrough, my other-half asked me whether I was enjoying Strangeland so far and I told him that I was because it reminded me of Sanitarium. It was therefore a nice surprise to come across an old post on the Steam news hub the following week, in which a member of Wormwood Studios discussed the game’s influences. They wrote: “We found inspiration in games like Sanitarium and Weird Dreams, shows and movies like The Prisoner and Eraserhead, religious and mythological works.”

A point-and-click is nothing without puzzles so let’s move on to those now. Like Primordia, those within Strangeland can be solved in several different ways and non-player characters (NPCs) remark on the actions you’ve decided to take. For example, one player might win a carnival game with good mouse skills and sharpshooting, while another might notice the electrical panel next to the machine and choose to make some changes to its engineering instead.

The carnival almost wraps back around onto itself as you progress and you’ll be placed in situations similar to those you’ve already experienced. For instance, early on you’ll have to figure a way around a vicious dog; then later, you’ll come across the beast again – but this time it has your face and you’ll need to tweak your previous solution. It’s an excellent way of reminding the player that unless the protagonist can break out of the cycle, they’re doomed to keep repeating the same fate.

There’s no fear of getting stuck though. You can use the payphone found at the entrance of the carnival to make a call to the operator – who sounds strangely like the protagonist – for a nudge in the right direction at any time up until the final section of the game. I made use of this feature twice and was pleased both times because, rather than being cryptic clues, the hints given were direct yet succinct. This meant I could move on without becoming frustrated or the storyline being spoiled.

It’s not only the puzzle structure which is reminiscent of Primordia; it’s the visual style too. The setting for both titles may be very different but the graphics show off the same retro-styled pixelated art in a muted palette. It’s easy to tell that Strangeland has been made by the same creators and you can see the influence of Wadjet Eye Games’ releases too. As mentioned above, there are a few creepy images featured during cutscenes but they aren’t overly gory and are more of a surreal nature.

This doesn’t mean that Strangeland is going to be a game for all adventure fans however, because I can see its subject matter deterring some players. I’d recommend being aware of the topics touched upon before starting and checking out the ‘mature content description’ on the Steam page. At no point are these handled in a gratuitous manner though, and many discoveries made by the protagonist are shared in metaphors so they’re somewhat open to individual interpretation.

What this title does brilliantly is present a cast of strange characters who speak in riddles. I usually don’t enjoy such conversations because I’m impatient and like straight answers; but there were enough clues given in each discussion to prevent frustration, yet enough obscurity to make every encounter feel mysterious and foreboding. At every moment during my five hours with Strangeland, I found myself wanting to progress to find out what had happened to the protagonist, yet fearful (in a good way) of where his journey would take him.

In their Steam news hub post, the developer wrote: “Strangeland began as a way for me to process the sadness I felt about [a personal situation]. What it means to watch the slow-motion destruction of someone you love, thinking you can save her, but not being able to.” That last line sums up the entire feeling of this release for me. You can feel that the teams’ personal stories have seeped into the storyline and it’s been a while since I experienced so much atmosphere within a point-and-click.

Strangeland is a game of mind, monsters and metaphors. It won’t be to everybody’s taste, but I can’t wait to see what Wormwood Studios come up with next.

LudoNarraCon 2021: Lake

What’s this: a post about a title from this year’s LudoNarraCon which isn’t focused on being a detective? While Murder Mystery Machine and Song of Farca were about gathering evidence and tracking down criminals, this one offers an entirely different experience.

I wasn’t entirely sure Gamious’ project was going to be for me though while checking out the Steam page during the event at the end of April. The screenshots for Lake were pretty enough and I liked the idea of there being ‘no right or wrong answers’; but the description made it seem as though it could be, well, a little boring. After watching the trailer however and enjoying the way the narrator made the whole thing sound like an American television show, I decided to give the demo a try.

The story takes place in 1986 and begins when 40-something Meredith Weiss, a successful software developer, leaves the big city and returns to her quiet hometown of Providence Oaks in Oregon. She’s there to fill in as the local mail carrier for her dad for two weeks so this is quite a change of pace. It’s up to you to decide who she talks to, along with who to befriend or even start a relationship with, and at the end of her stint she’ll have to make up her mind: return to her job in the city or stay in the town she grew up in?

The setting is instantly recognisable as small-town America even to players who don’t live in the country. The shops dotted around Providence Oak, such as the General Store and Mo’s Diner, and wooden-cladded houses instantly make you think of television shows such as Dawson’s Creek or Gilmore Girls. Throw in some 80s nostalgia and an atmosphere which reminded me of something like Firewatch, and you’ve pretty summed up that trailer I mentioned earlier.

Chapters in Lake come in the form of days and each morning starts with a chat with your colleague Frank at the post office. He has already kindly loaded the van so you jump in and check your map, then stop at various addresses along a circular route around the lake to drop off letters and parcels. During my hour with the demo, the most ‘shocking’ things that happened were the song changing on the radio and some birds flapping overhead as I drove around a corner.

In some ways, the title isn’t that different to an RPG because it gives you a reason to travel to locations, complete a task and then return to your base. It’s this for this reason that I couldn’t help thinking to myself: ‘This is like Grand Theft Auto but without the crime and violence.’ Funnily enough, lead writer Jos Bouman referred to Lake as ‘some sort of anti-GTA’ during an interview with The Escapist, saying: “We just want to have a game that makes the experience sincere and mature. And we don’t want macho bullshit.”

LudoNarraCon, Lake

It’s not just about delivering the post though. I struck up conversations with several interesting characters met during my day on the road and perhaps even started a few new friendships too. A parcel delivery to the video rental store resulted in owner Angie giving me a copy of The Postman Always Rings Twice; and there was a trip to Mr Mackey with sick cat Mortimer too. (Hopefully it’s just Meredith feeing him cupcakes again rather than something more serious.)

There are apparently around 20 people to meet and interact with, of different ages and backgrounds who, according to Bouman, ‘have made decisions or are about to make decisions in their life’. Not everyone is going to be friendly or happy though. The development team wanted to make a game which is true to life and so tried to include a whole range of personalities in their non-player characters (NPCs), all mixed up with moments of joy, humour and sincerity.

Your nights in Providence Oaks can vary depending on the relationships you build. I found myself in front of the television on my first evening and then watching that video borrowed from Angie on the next; and it seems as though you can decide to meet up with other people at different locations if you’ve made arrangements. This day-night cycle adds some variety to Lake and makes a nice change from delivering the mail, as well as giving the player a sense of progression.

Perhaps the best thing about Lake for me during the demo was just how well everything fits together. The 1986 setting is during a time before mobile phones and the technology which now pretty much rules every aspect of our lives; and a job as a mail carrier gives Meredith the perfect opportunity to meet so many people. It therefore means real conversations with people rather than emails and text messages, and the whole thing feels completely natural as a result.

Bouman said in The Escapist interview: “In Lake, one of the most important decisions you have to make in the end is – are you going to stay in the village and say goodbye to your career in the big city? Or are you going to decide that you want more out of life? You make decisions that feel best for you… There is no right or wrong ending.” Unfortunately I had to miss the end of the demo thanks to a family barbecue, but I’m eager to see more after completing through the first three days.

I remember playing Eastshade back in 2019 and not wanting to leave when I reached the end of the title. It was just such a calming experience: no violence, no chance of getting attacked in the woods, just a desire to get to know the people on the island and help them if I could. This is the same impression I got from the short time I’ve spent with Lake so far. I might not have thought it was going to be for me while reading the Steam page, but it was added to my wishlist immediately after the demo.

The game is due for release on PC this summer but, if you want to get your hands on it faster, it’s going to appear on Xbox a little earlier. Check out Gamious on Twitter for the latest details.

LudoNarraCon 2021: Song of Farca

Song of Farca first hit my radar during a previous Steam Game Festival. It was a demo I was keen to try out, being a detective game featuring a female protagonist, but unfortunately time got the better of me and I missed my chance before the end of the event.

Fortunately, Wooden Monkeys project made a reappearance at last month’s LudoNarraCon and so it was added to my priority list. And after completing the prologue around an hour later, it was added to my wishlist too. Although it felt more like a visual novel and less lifelike than the other detective title I’d checked out, Murder Mystery Machine, there was still enough investigation in the gameplay and intrigue in the narrative to make me sit up and pay attention.

The story takes place in the city of Farca, during a time where technology isn’t just a part of everyday life but has made some things impossible without it. IT corporations gradually gain more influence and have become a modern aristocracy which couldn’t care less about the law or mere mortals. The corrupt government and criminal organisations are still trying to resist the powerful corporations, but they know that their golden age is over and Farca entering a cyberpunk future.

Residents are left with no choice but to turn to private investigators to solve their problems. As detective Isabella Song, you must uncover the crimes that the police have turned a blind eye to due to pressure from the mafia. You’ll have the help of gadgets, a small army of drones and your intellect; and even being under house-arrest for becoming involved in a bar fight won’t stop you from doing your job. After all, it’s no problem for a hacker to get online and find what they need.

A client is already calling you with your first case at the start of the prologue. A prototype eTerrier was stolen from the CTO of ApportPlastik while it was being taken for a walk in a local park and his young daughter is now heartbroken. After finding out where the dog was last seen, you digitally head over to the location and do what you do best: hack into the security cameras to start your investigation, download as much information as you can and track down the criminals.

Several useful abilities are at your disposal. Accessing a camera allows you to interact with the objects within its view and jumping between them all will give you a complete top-down overview of an area. You might come across a drone or a cargo bot which will enable some movement within the location. There may also be computers or tablets to unlock, but you’ll need to first figure out a distraction if these items are being guarded by an employee or security guard.

For example: there’s a drone in the park but it’s blocked by two children who are misbehaving. Using the available cameras, you come across a fountain switch – what better way to attract the kids by turning on the water? This means the drone is then free to scan the area and turn on an alarm, alerting the guard and causing them to be drawn away from their office. Hacking into their computer there lets you access the CCTV footage and download the video so your investigation can continue.

This footage can be digitally enhanced through a simple visual puzzle to give you the face of a person, who can then be searched for on the internet and a profile created from the details uncovered. You can also see the plates of the van used to take the eTerrier, which can be analysed by your artificial intelligence (AI) Maurice to give you its current location. All of this information is added to your digital investigation board and it’s here that you can see all the links between the evidence.

Unlike the mind-map board in Murder Mystery Machine where it’s up to the player to make the connections, they’re automatically displayed for you. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any detective work involved though; sometimes you’ll need to call the people for whom you’ve gained contact numbers and see what you can get out of them. You might have to prove that they’re lying by showing them a particular item or make a conclusion based on what you already know to back them into a corner.

Your assumptions won’t always be correct however, and wrong answers could have consequences. You can only talk to people for as long as they wish to tolerate your presence and jumping to a wrong conclusion could result in them ending the conversation. Players will need to use their detective skills to rely on the facts and avoid falling for any lies told by the suspects, because your decisions will affect the course of the story and you’ll need to live with the outcome of your actions.

I’m not sure I sure much of this mechanic during the prologue but the Steam page advises that Isabella’s situation will become more complicated as the narrative progresses: “The stakes get higher, and the various plot strands come together to form a single story. The choices you make in investigations have important consequences to the plot. Do you convict the suspect that all the evidence is pointing to or dig deeper? What collateral damage will you leave behind you?”

While Murder Mystery Machine is a game based in reality, Song of Farca feels a little more story-based and futuristic; and where Isabella’s methods are reliant on technology rather than old-fashioned detective work, the gameplay feels more focused on the conversations you have with other characters. It’s still up to the player to lead the investigation though and find the evidence that will lead them to the correct suspect. It’s pleasing when you succeed in making a correct logical leap between clues or solve a visual puzzle.

Song of Farca is due to release this summer, so hopefully we won’t have long to wait to find out what Isabella has gotten herself involved in. Until then, give Wooden Monkeys a follow on Twitter to stay up-to-date on their progress.

LudoNarraCon 2021: Murder Mystery Machine

Regular Later Levels’ visitors will know I have a thing for detective games. Give me a storyline featuring a hardboiled investigator, hidden clues and devious crooks, along with gameplay where it’s up to the player to solve the crime and I’m there.

It’s therefore no surprise that Murder Mystery Machine was added to my wishlist immediately after coming across Blazing Griffin’s project on Steam in December 2019. Teasing a series of murders, disappearances and conspiracies, the trailer showed two protagonists trying to link them together. I’ve now had the opportunity to try a demo of the game for myself during LudoNarraCon at the end of April – and I can’t wait to get my sleuthing on during the full release.

Players join fresh-faced rookie Cassandra Clarke on her first day with the District Crime Agency (DCA) where she’s teamed with a reluctant burnt-out detective named Nate Huston. They’re sent to investigate the murder of a prominent politician which at first seems to be a botched robbery; but the evidence soon entwines them in a complex, interconnected series of crimes which are anything but an open-and-shut case. Will you be up to the challenge to discover the truth?

Justin Alae-Carew and Neil McPhillips from Blazing Griffin gave some insight into their game’s design during a livestream for LudoNarraCon. Because the company spans video game, film and television development and production, they wanted to combine these areas and create an interesting title which felt like a police drama you’d see on TV. The result is a ‘detective mystery puzzle game which combines a few genres in one’ and takes place across eight episodes made up of several scenes.

The demo features three scenes for a case and each of these follows a similar format. You start by speaking to the witnesses or suspects if any are present then comb the environment for clues, sometimes having to turn or zoom into the isometric view to get a better look from a different angle. Every piece of evidence found is placed on a mind-map board where it can be linked together, and connections made can give the detectives new ideas and dialogue options.

For example: you discover that the politician has a political rival so could a hit have been arranged? Talking to the secretary reveals she was told not to answer questions from the press and didn’t tell anyone else of his whereabouts. Linking these two pieces of information on the mind-map causes Cassandra to realise that this theory isn’t possible so it rules out the rival as a suspect; and a further conversation with the secretary as a result uncovers some useful information.

Murder Mystery Machine, video game, office, secretary, detectives, sofa, Cassandra, Nate

During their livestream, Alae-Carew and McPhillips shared that the game started out as a ‘procedural crime scene generator’ and then evolved into something else. They wanted to create a freeform title where players were given a lot of freedom to investigate, as many current detective releases streamline the gameplay too much or include puzzles not related to the investigation. Focusing on a detective’s skills including powers of logic and deduction, and a desire to include a narrative led to what is now Murder Mystery Machine.

The biggest challenge the development team faced from day one was working with people who were used to creating linear narratives for television: how do you emulate a TV or film approach to a story but give the player some control over it at the same time? The writers were trained to understand that you can never be entirely sure what the person in charge of the controls is going to do, and that you therefore need to write for all the different possibilities.

With a television show, it’s usually the case that the characters know more than the viewer or vice-versa; but with a video game, you somehow need to marry these two together so the player knows just as much as the protagonist. Scenes therefore had to be constructed in a way where information is uncovered in a careful fashion and too much isn’t revealed at once. You should never be able to solve a case before the game has given you, Cassandra and Nate all of the necessary pieces to do so.

Using the clues gathered and linked together on your mind-map board, you’re asked to answer questions about the who, what, why, where, when and how at the end of each scene. You can submit your evidence once you’re happy with your conclusions but be warned: you only get three attempts to get it right and missing any links reduces your detective score. I made a guess during the final scene without getting all of the deductions and had my grade decreased as a result.

Based on what was shared by Alae-Carew and McPhillips, it sounds as though there’s going to be an overarching story rather than just individual cases during Murder Mystery Machine. Some will be personal stories, such as how the protagonists progress and build their relationship, while something much larger is teased and will be revealed at the end of the season. The point out that they wanted to add a lot of depth: ‘Nobody is a straight-up criminal, but nobody is a saint either.’

Murder Mystery Machine is already available on Apple Arcade, and PC and console players will be able to get their hands on the game very soon to find out whether they have what it takes to be a detective. Check out Blazing Griffin on Twitter for further announcements.

Hitchhiker: a journey into the unknown

When sitting down to write a review, I usually begin by making a list of all the points I want to cover. They might be simple things such as the way the graphics reminded me of another release; or more complex subjects like story connections and meaning.

I’ve tried to do this with Hitchhiker several times now but it’s impossible. After completing Mad about Pandas’ latest release a couple days ago thanks to a review key from Plan of Attack, thoughts about how it made me feel and what I think it was trying to say are still swimming around in my head and they’re as hard to pin down as the narrative itself. It’s difficult to put into words but don’t take that as a bad thing: this has possibly been the most interesting gaming experience I’ve had in 2021 so far and I think it’s going to be with me for a while yet.

Hitchhiker is one of those titles where it’s difficult to go into detail without spoiling what makes it special. I tend to roll my eyes when I see that sentiment expressed in reviews because it always comes across like a cop-out, but this is definitely a game which needs to be played to be understood. You step into the shoes of a young man who hitches a ride with a different character in five episodes, before things turn mysterious when you realise they all know you in some way. More about that later.

At first, the title seems like a hitchhiking simulator where you can’t do much outside of conversation except examine a few objects inside the car and look out of the window. There are a few puzzles which need to be solved to progress: for example, at one point you’ll be guessing the answer to riddles posed by the radio DJ and then later, rewiring a light to get out of a tricky situation. Although they aren’t overly challenging, they do provide a nice, occasional break from the story.

But the story is where the power of Hitchhiker lies. You’re a young man with no memory of who you are and where you’re going, and the only thing for you to do is hitch a ride to hopefully reach your unknown destination. The first person you meet is a raisin farmer called Vern who’s happy to chat to you about his life. Over the course of the next 40-minutes however, it becomes clear that not everything is as seems and you start asking yourself whether you can trust this man and his words.

Why do you feel as though you recognise each of the characters but don’t remember them? And how do they know so much about you and who you really are? The next rides are just as intriguing as the first with Vern and, although it’s difficult to say who my favourite driver was, I found myself drawn to Sayed due to the backstory hinted at in conversation. Each of these people are curious in their own way with individual personalities, beliefs and desires that they may use to influence you.

Hitchhiker, video game, car, ride, man, Vern

I didn’t get the impression that the options selected during discussions with the characters did much to change the following dialogue, because each response was vague enough to answer any of the questions asked. This fits in wonderfully with Hitchhiker’s atmosphere though. It’s as if you’re aware the drivers are pulling the strings during these rides and, although they appear amiable on the surface, you can tell there’s something each of them is trying to hide from you.

An interlude during each ride gives some insight into their backstories. These are depicted in totally different visual styles from the Firewatch-like graphics of the main game: for example, one is told in black-and-white hand-drawn pictures while another is communicated through old View-Master images. I found this switch jarring at first but, once I understood that these stories-within-a-story were told from the other characters’ perspective, the style was perfect.

It’s design choices like this which make Hitchhiker feel something like a hallucination. It’s almost as if the other characters have stepped into your dream during the main narrative and you’ve visited theirs for a short spell in return during the interludes mentioned above. Other visual components such as guiding fireflies, moving mustard bottles and even tumbleweed balls with staring eyes add to the impression that not everything the protagonist witnesses or is told is the truth.

In certain sections of the game, it’s obvious that certain assets have been reused: scenery repeats outside the car window and the drivers all have the same way of fidgeting and checking out their surroundings. I couldn’t tell whether this was due to budget constraints or intentional design – but I’m going to go with the latter regardless because it worked. It seems to replicate that feeling of dreaming and noticing objects or people you recognise in situations or places where they don’t belong.

I must admit that I wasn’t sure what to make of Hitchhiker immediately after completing it. Several possible explanations are given for the protagonist’s memory loss and potential destination but pulling the threads of truth out of the narrative is challenging, and you constantly change your mind about what you believe during your playthrough. No definitive conclusion is given at the end of the game and this isn’t usually something I enjoy; I’d rather have all the answers handed to me than an open-ended story.

But it’s now a few days later and I’ve changed my mind yet again. Although I still haven’t deciphered everything and some questions remain unanswered, I think I’ve figured out most of what has happened to the protagonist – at least my version of what has happened to them. Giving a firm conclusion to Mad About Panda’s project would have removed some of that surreal feeling, and it’s thanks to some superb writing and voice-acting that I’m still thinking about it a week later.

While Hitchhiker won’t be to everybody’s tastes thanks to the way it tells its story, it’s a game I’d definitely recommend to fans of releases such as Kentucky Route Zero and Virginia. It took me on a journey into the unknown and it’s one I’m not going to forget for a while.

My introduction to speedrunning: right game, right time

Although I was aware of speedrunning thanks to dedicated sections at gaming expos and the GDQ marathons, it was never something I’d paid much attention to. This changed after a chance encounter in October when I happened to be playing the right game at the right time.

My other-half and I started chatting to Darkshoxx when he raided the Later Levels’ Twitch channel while we were streaming Shivers back then. Few people seem to have ever heard of this 1995 horror point-and-click whenever I mention it because it wasn’t one of Sierra Online’s most famous titles, but he was actually speedrunning it at the time. Darkshoxx told us that there was an entire community dedicated to doing the same thing and kindly sent me an invitation to an associated Discord server.

I was surprised to hear that people were speedrunning this game because there’s an element of randomness to it. Ten evil spirits called Ixupi must be recaptured in a vessel which corresponds to their element, the pots and lids for which are scattered in different locations around a museum each time a new playthrough begins. It was interesting reading the conversations between the server’s members and hearing about the techniques each of them used to achieve their fastest time.

Speedrunning still wasn’t something I’d considered trying myself even after being introduced to the group though. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy having to spend so long practicing with the same game, and the competitive side of gaming has never really appealed to me. I’ve written before about not usually doing replays because there are always so many new releases I’d like to start; and adult responsibilities mean I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to be able to play at a competitive level.

But things may be starting to change since a recent stream with Darkshoxx. My other-half and I have had the pleasure of getting to know him since that raid six months ago and we can now frequently be found hanging out in Twitch chat. When Pete decided to do a weekly ‘master-class’ where he’s joined by a friend as part of our GameBlast21 streams, the awesome Darkshoxx agreed to take part in a speedrun-themed session and guided him through several titles.

First up was Myst: Masterpiece Edition. Anyone who has completed a version of this classic adventure will know about the ‘twist’ at the end and how quickly you could finish the title if you only had all the pieces to the puzzle at the start, so it feels like the perfect game to speedrun. Pete’s first attempt took over 11-minutes but within an hour he’d managed to reduce this to less than 90-seconds – pretty amazing, but not as impressive as Darkshoxx’s own personal best (PB) of just over 44-seconds.

Next on the list was Zork I, the text-adventure first released in 1980. Pete wanted to do this title for the nostalgia as it’s one of his favourite games from his childhood but so much of the speedrun obviously depends on typing-speed and I think he found it rather stressful as a result. He only made one attempt but managed to enter more than 275 commands in 28-minutes; and was pleased with this, as it was much faster than the three-months it took him to complete the story back on his Commodore 64.

The final speedrun was DuckTales Remastered, perhaps the hardest one of the session as it wasn’t a game that Darkshoxx had ever tried to do himself and so some research was needed beforehand. Pete had played it during our 24-hour GameBlast21 marathon in February and at the time we’d joked about him speedrunning it, so here was his opportunity to turn that into a reality. He managed to beat the Transylvania level in just over nine-minutes and bag himself third-place on the leaderboard.

My other-half’s eyes lit up and I could tell he was genuinely enjoying himself while watching him through this master-class. Don’t get me wrong, we always have fun when we’re streaming and hanging out with friends online – but there was something about those speedruns which really grabbed his attention. It helped immensely that Darkshoxx was a great teacher, patient when he made mistakes and providing advice on what he could improve to reduce his times even further.

And I have to admit that Pete’s excitement and his continuing enthusiasm after the stream was kind of infectious. As he worked his way through Myst for the tenth time, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “I’d like to try this.” And despite sensing his stress as he typed the commands for Zork, it felt like something I could do too. As mentioned earlier in this post, I’d never been interested in speedrunning before that night but now it feels as though it’s something I might actually try for myself.

So why is that, considering I don’t enjoy replays or competition when it comes to gaming? I’m still not interested in competing against others but challenging yourself is always appealing. That’s the reason why I participate in events like StrideQuest: I want to find out just how far I can push myself and whether I’m able to improve on that achievement over time. I’m not bothered about whether my best is better than anyone else’s, only whether I can see improvement in myself.

There’s also the fact that the speedrunning community seems so welcoming. Pete and I watched Darkshoxx and Die4Ever2011 discuss a video of The 7th Guest by another speedrunner during one of his streams recently and there was absolutely no animosity at all; they simply wanted to know how he’d completed certain puzzles and whether his method was different to their own, rather than tear him down. Everyone we’ve met in the community so far has been genuinely lovely and supportive of each other’s efforts.

Darkshoxx is getting up to speed in a new job so once he’d has some time to settle in, we’ll get him back on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel for another speedrun session. And who knows: it might be me on the controls next time rather than Pete. Although the suggestion of The Secret of Monkey Island from Ellen from Ace Asunder is tempting, I’ve been told it’s rather difficult due to the swordfighting-insult section. Maybe I’ll start of with Myst and see how I get on.

After all, I wouldn’t want to Myst out on this opportunity… sorry, I couldn’t resist.