Twitch picks: choosing games to play on stream

One of the hardest parts of maintaining a Twitch channel is deciding on games to stream. There are so many factors to consider: the sort of titles your audience likes, the releases which are popular with viewers right now and what you actually want to play.

My other-half and I have been streaming together for around five years now and, if you disregard the audio issues which seem to plague every new streamer at the beginning of their journey, I’d say that choosing the right games has been the biggest difficulty for us. Participating in GameBlast marathon streams for SpecialEffect has given us the perfect opportunity to gain some experience though and our 50-day challenge for the event earlier this year was an interesting learning curve.

Our goal was to stream every day for at least an hour from 05 January to 23 February 2020, to raise funds and awareness for this awesome charity. That meant an awful lot of planning and having to decide which releases would be featured in our extended schedule. After 50 days, over 136 hours of streaming and more than 40 games, we met our objective and managed to raise £600 for SpecialEffect – and came to the realisation that some titles were far better for being played live on Twitch than others.

The most popular session during our challenge turned out to be the evening we spent with Detroit: Become Human. Some of the friends who joined us in chat had already completed it themselves and wanted to see how my story would differ from their own; while those who hadn’t tried it yet were eager to join in by giving their opinions when it came to making choices for the characters. It helped that the plot inspired some pretty strong emotions and those displayed on stream were all genuine reactions (sorry for the swearing).

The choice element could explain why Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure proved to be successful too. A tabletop-RPG title like this – which relies heavily imagination because it doesn’t show the action – really shouldn’t work but allowing the audience to get involved by making taking turns to make decisions enhanced their participation in the stream. The fact that this got our character killed several times during the session made it more hilarious and it was a fun, shared experience with friends.

These shared games result in some of the more memorable streams and Contradiction: Spot the Liar! provided one such session. Viewers joined in with this full-motion video (FMV) title by helping us figure out the location that should be investigated next, which non-player characters (NPCs) shouldn’t be trusted and ultimately who the murderer was. There was also plenty of discussion around the actors involved and how good their performances were; we all fell in love with protagonist Detective Jenks and his expressive eyebrows, played by Rupert Booth.

Moving away from narrative-based releases for a moment, we’ve found that games based around levels or quests also work well for us on Twitch. Taking a break between each section gives you the chance to talk to friends who have joined you in chat, stretch your legs or grab a cup of tea and sneaky biscuit. A good example is Neon Drive: it’s not the sort of thing we’d usually play but it was well-received during our 50-day challenge, with Pete and I swapping the controller between levels so we were both fully involved.

Diablo III is another title made for streaming because you can stop between battles without losing track of the gameplay – but be prepared to receive advice from viewers who are more experienced at it than you. It was a game we started just for fun but then stopped when we realised we were frustrating some of our audience by not playing it ‘seriously’ enough. We’ve had similar experiences with multiplayers such as The Elder Scrolls Online and Sea of Thieves, where people have popped up in chat to tell us how to play ‘properly’.

I love story-based games but, as much those mentioned above have been successful, they don’t always work well on Twitch. The final episode of Kentucky Route Zero was released during the 50-day challenge and I’d been waiting for a long time to play it but it was just far too slow for the stream. I also made the mistake of choosing to play Ether One at 04:00 in the morning during a previous GameBlast marathon: it’s a great game but there was a real danger of me falling asleep because there wasn’t enough action to keep me awake.

Perhaps the worst titles you can choose to play though are those you’re not enjoying. Streaming is meant to be fun and there’s nothing worse than having to sit game which makes it feel like a chore; it’s not fun for you and it certainly isn’t fun for your audience. My least favourite session during our charity streams this year was the evening with Felix the Reaper because the controls were horrible and I just couldn’t get to grips with them. So we made the best decision we could: turn it off and start playing Grand Theft Auto: V at our viewers’ request instead.

So you see, choosing games to feature on your Twitch channel can be a bit of a minefield, but there’s a bit of advice I can give you which will solve all your problems. Forget about playing releases which are popular or cool because chasing followers isn’t going to get you anywhere fast. Instead, focus on playing something you’re actually going to enjoy. Some of the best streams I’ve watched are those where the streamer is genuinely excited about a new game or are playing something older and are willing to share their experience with it.

This is definitely something Pete and I will keep in mind when we return to streaming later this month after taking a break. In the past, we’ve spent far too long stressing over which games are suitable for the Later Level channel and have even made the mistake of choosing things which seem like a good fit over our own enjoyment. From now on, we’re going to stream when we’re feeling motivated to do so – and we’re going to play titles which we’re truly looking forward to getting stuck into.

Hopefully, if we’re having fun, then our friends in chat will too.

Beautiful Desolation: big decisions, little choice

As I’ve written before, I always feel under pressure to obtain good the endings in video games. Many gamers dislike linear storylines because they’re given no opportunity to affect the outcome; but for me, they provide comfort in knowing I can’t make a wrong choice.

That’s not to say I can’t enjoy releases based around branching narratives though. For example, I finally managed to complete Detroit: Become Human a couple of months ago and loved both its characters and plot – despite feeling very stressed at certain points and uttering a few rude words during our streams. It wouldn’t have been the same game at all without big decisions that felt like life-and-death situations and knowing there was a risk of having at least one of your protagonists die before reaching the end credits.

The good thing about Detroit was that through its pace, the storyline delivered enough information to make the player feel as though their choices were based on knowledge. You might not know what the consequences of your decisions would ultimately be, but you had enough detail to be able to think them through rather than simply ‘picking an option’. This led to some very interesting conversations in Twitch chat as we discussed what we should do, what the outcome would be and how non-player characters would react to us as a result.

It was a completely different experience playing Beautiful Desolation a few weeks later. This should have been a release I thoroughly liked given its science-fiction setting and isometric point-and-click gameplay; and it had been made by a developer whose previous work had been great. I’d been impressed by STASIS after backing the Kickstarter campaign for The Brotherhood’s first project in November 2013, and so had jumped on board with a pledge when they announced their second campaign for Beautiful Desolation in January 2017.

The title opens on Mark Leslie and his fiancé Charlize in Cape Town during a rainstorm, on their way to rescue his older brother Don from whatever trouble he has now managed to get himself into. A huge flash of light and violent shockwave causes their car to run off the road as a weird triangular structure appears in the sky. Fast forward ten-years and we find out that Charlize sadly didn’t survive the accident; and Mark now wants to make it on board the mysterious Penrose to find out what it’s really all about as a method of dealing with his grief.

He’s able to reach the artefact with the help of Don and a helicopter – but after being cornered by its security system, they’re thrown far into the future with a dog-like robot companion called Pooch. Human civilsation as we know it is long gone and in its place are societies formed of machines and strange hybrids who worship frightening gods. Mark’s surroundings now hold echoes of a desolate part and glimpses of an even darker future; can he unravel the secrets of this new world and find a way home for his pack?

Beautiful Desolation’s highlight is without a doubt its artwork. The developer used photogrammetry to take hundreds of photographs of scenes and objects before generating 3D-models and textures from them, so every screen has a real piece of Africa in it. The result is a game which is stunning and looking closely at the locations visited reveals tiny details such as rabbits hopping through the grass, mist rising from overgrown ruins and flowers swaying in the breeze. I’m not sure I’ve played a video game which has felt so alive before.

This does come at a cost though: at times I struggled to see the items I was looking for or pinpoint interactive objects because there was just too much happening on screen. It got a it overwhelming as the game progressed and the story became more complicated. A certain level of detail can help draw you into a digital world and immerse the player in it’s narrative, but too much and you find yourself constantly jolted out of it each time you have to move a little closer to your monitor to progress.

Speaking of the story, Beautiful Desolation works slightly differently from traditional point-and-clicks and is more like an RPG in some ways. You take on missions and many of these can be progressed simultaneously instead of one at a time so the narrative doesn’t really come together until the final section. Once again, it can feel overwhelming because there’s just so much you can do at once. A quest-log would have been very handy for keeping track of what still needs to be completed and for whom, especially after periods away from your keyboard.

Because my immersion in this future Africa kept being broken due to screen repositioning and losing track of my objective, I felt unprepared when choices arose. And they weren’t small choices either: these were the kind of decisions where your action meant the prosperity of one race and complete annihilation of another. This was the climax in each of the five areas and, after failing to take in enough information to figure out which society I sided with on the first couple of occasions, I gave up and started picking at random.

This wasn’t right. The decisions in Detroit felt important and I wanted to pick the option which seemed as though it would be best for the protagonists; but here, I wasn’t given enough knowledge to really care. You should at least feel some sort of guilt when picking which a race has to die but the choices in Beautiful Desolation felt too binary, too one-or-the-other without any moral grey in the middle. On top of this they didn’t appear to have much of an effect on the ending so I didn’t get that emotional punch from the consequences of my actions.

If decisions in video games don’t carry any weight, is there any point in including them? Is a selection which has no impact and the illusion of choice any different from a linear storyline which doesn’t pretend to be anything else? For me personally, I’d rather know which kind of experience I’m getting into upfront. Give me a narrative that the developer wants to share so I can join them in their journey; or make that journey more personal to me and let me have a say in which destination we’re heading for.

Beautiful Desolation was by no means a bad game and it wouldn’t stop me from backing future crowdfunding campaigns by The Brotherhood. I’d just rather the decision-making was taken out of my hands so I can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Same old story: video games and replayability

Last month I asked readers how they felt about character-switching in video games. Do you enjoy seeing a digital world through the eyes of multiple protagonists? After playing The Little Acre and changing characters every five minutes, I was reminded of exactly why I don’t.

This month I’ve got another question for you: do you immediately replay releases you’ve just completed to make different choices or see other endings? The reason I ask is because of an article I came across on the gamesindustry.biz website recently with the headline: In the past, YouTubers were very problematic… Suddenly they became our allies. This was about a discussion between Quantic Dream founder David Cage and Hazelight Studios founder Josef Fares at the Gamelab conference in July 2019.

They talked about the impact of platforms such as Twitch and YouTube on games which hang on a strong narrative. A number of developers have stated in the past that too many people will simply watch a release online rather than experience it for themselves; once they know how the story turns out, they no longer feel the need to play. I can’t deny I’ve never done this. There have been a few titles where I’m not so sure about the gameplay but have been interested in the plot, and so I’ve found a video (my version of watching a film).

The struggle to create a narrative game people want to play rather than watch was tackled in different ways by Hazelight Studios and Quantic Dream. The former took a linear story path in A Way Out, but its unique cooperative gameplay had an appeal which caused players to want to try it for themselves This was the case for myself and my other-half: we’d watched a chapter on Twitch before agreeing we should purchase the title. The ending may not have been what we wanted but it was an enjoyable experience overall.

Quantic Dream went in a different direction and created a narrative that couldn’t be easily captured in video form. Their solution was to focus on the situations players faced in Detroit: Become Human and provide choices where the audience was split at least 70/30 in their decision. It meant that although YouTubers and streamers could show one version of the title’s outcomes, they were unable to show them all; so viewers wanted to find out for themselves what would happen if other choices had been made.

Speaking of branches, players are given access to a ‘flowchart’ in Detroit which not only shows the decisions they made but the paths not taken too. This was a change from their previous releases where those alternative paths had remained hidden. Cage said: “Maybe that was not a good decision. Maybe hiding everything from the player is not a good thing. Detroit was a better compromise, because it was about showing part of what you missed, and that played a major role in the success of the game.”

EGX, expo, event, video games, Kim, Detroit: Become Human

He attributes this and the branches throughout his project as the reason why around 78% of players finished it, rather than the 25% to 30% that’s usual for most video games. He also said: “It’s the story. People want to know what’s going to happen next, and a story can achieve this for you. What’s interesting on Detroit is that we managed to make people replay, so they could see all of the different branches – which is quite rare in a narrative game. We achieved this because we showed all of the branches and the variations of the story.”

But if you discount those that can be completed in under an hour, I can’t recall a time I’ve ever replayed a game immediately after finishing it. The version of the narrative I’ve just witnessed is my story and I’m happy with that; I’ve never felt the need to go back and change it, even if I got the ‘bad’ ending. I might reload the last save-point if it’s right near the end and won’t take too much time or effort to see the alternate outcome, but it doesn’t feel right to use my free hours to restart a story when there are so many new ones to jump into.

Saying that though, I haven’t yet gotten around to playing Detroit so it’s always possible the branching flowchart could change my mind. I had the opportunity to try a demo at EGX in September 2017, purchased it soon after its release in May 2018 and installed the game on my PlayStation, but it’s still waiting there for me. Perhaps this is a good excuse to schedule another stream: let’s get something organised for this month, and see live on air whether I’m tempted by the prospect of entering into another playthrough.

In the meantime, over to you: do you immediately replay video games? If so, what elements of a title encourage you to do this? Let us know in the comments below, or in your own post if you’re inspired to write.

On the fourth day of Blogmas

Our choir of gaming Christmas carollers is back again for the second day of Blogmas, where creative conductor Athena from AmbiGaming is leading us in a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas – but with a video game twist. Check out her blog to see what she’s written for her fourth answer, and keep your eyes peeled for all of the other bloggers out there taking part.

Yesterday we looked at ten reasons that will make us play a video game. With the choir clearing their throats and warming up in the background, let’s see what the subject of today’s verse is:

On the fourth day of Blogmas, the gamers said to me:
What are your 12 favourite gaming memories?
Tell us 11 games you love!
What are ten reasons you’d play a game?
Give us nine games on your to-play list!

Due in 2019: Draugen

The thought of there soon being another narrative-driven game by Red Thread Games fills me with excitement, although it’s bound to be quite different from the Dreamfall series. Players will find themselves unravelling a mystery which goes back decades but questioning the protagonist’s sanity at the same time: can we trust everything he sees and hears? I first found out about Draugen at Rezzed in 2013 during a developer session, so I’ve been waiting for this one for a while.

Already out: Detroit: Become Human

Not everyone is a fan of Quantic Dream and their releases have a polarising effect on both the community and critics alike. Personally though, I’ve loved their games since completing Fahrenheit in 2005 and couldn’t wait to try the demo of Detroit: Become Human at EGX last year. Adult life has meant it’s taken me a while to get around to playing the full release however, but I know what I’m now going to be doing this Christmas after purchasing it last week. Stream incoming!

Due in 2019: In the Valley of the Gods

It was Cameron from Dragon In The Castle who suggested I try Firewatch in 2017 and what a great recommendation that turned out to be. I’m now looking forward to Campo Santo’s next release set in Egypt, In the Valley of the Gods. Players step into the role of an explorer and filmmaker who, along with their old partner, has travelled to the middle of the desert in the hopes of making a seemingly-impossible discover and an incredible film.

Already out: Fallout

Although an overload of news about Fallout 76 recently has totally put me off for the moment, at some point during 2019 I really do need to make a start on the series – from the beginning. I have a weird gaming habit whereby I’m unable to play a title in a franchise unless I’ve played all previous instalments, even if they’re now unavailable or absolutely terrible. Some kind bloggers have told me that I’ll probably be able to get the GOG version of the original game working on my PC so I’ll give it a try.

Due in 2019: Observation

Stories Untold turned out to be one of my favourite games of 2017 thanks to a recommendation from Bradley from Cheap Boss Attack so, as is the case for many of the entries on today’s list, I’ve got my eye on the developer’s next release. The idea of uncovering what happened to Dr Emma Fisher and her crew through the lens of the space station’s artificial intelligence (AI) sounds intriguing – and there are bound to be a few surprises if No Code’s previous title is anything to go by.

Already out: The Secret World

The Secret World should be a game I’ve already fallen in love with as it’s made by the same developer of one of my favourite titles. Unfortunately though, I’ve tried several times and can’t seem to get to grips with it: there’s just something about it which turns me into a button-mashing mess. Next year will be the year that I overcome that though. With the combat system getting a redesign for the Secret World Legends relaunch in 2017, perhaps this time I’ll succeed.

Due in 2019: Someday You’ll Return

I played J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars during a lazy week off work and thought I’d found a new entry for my favourites list. Unfortunately though a game-breaking bug struck and I haven’t been able to continue (if anyone happens to have a save file, please do get in touch!). This hasn’t put me off looking forward to CBE Software’s upcoming release however: psychological horror Someday You’ll Return looks as creepy as hell and it has already been added to my wishlist.

Already out: The Shapeshifting Detective

I’m partial to a full-motion video (FMV) game every once in a while and I picked up The Infectious Madness of Dr Dekker back in January. Getting the text parser to recognise some of the entered questions was a little frustrating at times but I got sucked into the story and trying to figure out what was really happening. Wales Interactive is now back with another release, The Shapeshifting Detective, a supernatural murder-mystery which sounds right up my street.

Due in 2019: The Occupation

I had the opportunity to try White Paper Games’ The Occupation at Rezzed last year and wasn’t only me who ended up enjoying this politically-driven narrative title. My stepson first asked if he could have the headphones so he could hear the sound; then decided to sit on my lap so he could see better; and eventually ended up taking over the keyboard completely. Who knows, when the full title is released early next year I might actually have the opportunity to play it for myself.

It’s time for the choir to take a short break so we’ll be back for the fifth day of Blogmas tomorrow, with the video game characters we love. In the meantime, why not tell us about the games you’re looking forward to next year in the comments below?

UK Blog Awards, UKBA19, logo, voteHello there! If you like what you see in this post, why not take a moment to vote for Later Levels in the UK Blog Awards 2019?
Doing so will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Ones for the wishlist

2017 was a mixed bag for both gaming and life. A lot of us wanted to hide when the UK voted for Brexit, Donald Trump became President of the US and gaming controversies continued; but we were shown things weren’t entirely bad when people from all over the world came together in the name of equality, and we were treated to new and amazing video game experiences.

Here’s hoping 2018 continues in that positive vein and the next 12 months are filled with light and awesome games. As part of the Liebster Award nomination, Thero159 from A Reluctant Hero asked us which titles we’re most hyped for this year so let’s stay positive and look ahead to what we’ve got coming up. Thank you to this lovely blogger for selecting Later Levels – this post is dedicated to you!

A Way Out

Leo and Vincent don’t know each other, but they’ll need to find a way to work together no matter the situation in order to break out of prison. I adored Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons so I’m really looking forward to this game by its creators; and I love the fact it’s a couch co-op designed to be played together with a friend. This is definitely one I’ll be roping the other-half into playing with me (although I don’t think it will take much persuasion).

Detroit: Become Human

Not everyone is a fan of Quantic Dream’s games but I’ve eagerly awaited their releases since first playing Fahrenheit in 2005. I got the chance to play a Detroit: Become Human demo at last year’s EGX event and have been excited about it since. There has been some controversy surrounding the title already, so it will be interesting to see how its themes will be handled in this story about androids and what it means to be human.

Lake Ridden

Here’s another game I got to try out at EGX in 2017, which is being created by former Mojang and Paradox developers. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to the horrors genre but give me a supernatural adventure with puzzles and an atmospheric plot and I’m right there. If you liked The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or What Remains of Edith Finch, I get the impression you’re going to like this one.

Praey for the Gods

I really enjoyed Shadow of the Colossus (see below) so it was hard to resist backing Praey for the Gods on Kickstarter when the project appeared on the crowdfunding platform in July 2016. You’ll play as a lone hero sent to the edge of a dying world to discover the mystery of a never-ending winter, and will have to face immense battles with giants where you can climb your foes.

Shadow of the Colossus Remake

Following on from Praey for the Gods, here’s a title which is cited as one of its influences: Shadow of the Colossus was originally released in 2005 and is now getting a remake. I’m really looking forward to getting the opportunity to play this game with my other-half and stepson; they’ve never experienced it before, and I have a feeling they’re going to end up loving it as much as I do.

The Gardens Between

It was the art-style that initially drew me to this title as it brought to mind a cross between The Witness and Oxenfree. And when I found out it was a puzzler in which you travel back and forwards in time to reveal a story about friendship, childhood and growing up, it got added to my wishlist straight away. I get the feeling this is going to be one of those unassuming little games which actually turns out to be something pretty special.

Trüberbrook

Another game which I backed on Kickstarter, this point-and-click adventure has a distinct visual style: all scenery is built by hand and real lighting is used to simulate different times of day and weather conditions. It’s a sci-fi mystery inspired by Twin Peaks, The X-Files and Stranger Things, and players will step into the shoes of Hans Tannhauser to find out what’s going down in the town and save the world.

Vampyr

Dr Jonathan Reid is a newly-turned vampyr. As a doctor, he must find a cure to save London’s flu-ravaged citizens; but as a member of the undead, he’s cursed to feed on those he vowed to heal. That conflict of interests sounds incredibly interesting and I can’t wait to play this game. It was delayed from November 2017 due to a technical issue which has now been resolved, so let’s hope we’re able to get our hands on it very soon.

We Happy Few

This one has been on my wishlist for absolutely ages but I’ve resisted the temptation to purchase it in its Early Access status so I can play it in its finished form. It’s now finally due for release in the spring. It’s a game full of paranoia and survival set in a dystopian English city in 1964: can you blend in with its drug-addled inhabitants, most of whom don’t take kindly to people who won’t abide by their not-so-normal rules?

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

This is a recent addition to my wishlist after reading several posts by bloggers, and is a game about folktales. Players take on the role of the personification of folklore after losing a poker game with the wrong entity and it’s now their responsibility to pass these stories from place to place. Each character is penned by a different writerso the title’s content is influenced by their individual interests.

Thank you once again to Thero159 for the nomination! Which games are you looking forward to in 2018?

EGX 2017: Detroit: Become Human

Not everyone is a fan of the Quantic Dream games. Many criticise them for incoherent storylines and bad characters, along with limited interactivity and too many quick-time events (QTEs); and founder David Cage is often called out for being a poor writer who’d rather make a move than a video game.

Personally though, I love their games and have eagerly awaited their releases ever since playing Fahrenheit in 2005. Heavy Rain was an interactive drama that turned out to be an exhilarating experience and I was immediately sucked into Jodie and Aiden’s world in Beyond: Two Souls. I’ve not yet played Quantic Dream’s first title, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, but it’s on my wishlist and I’ll hopefully tick it off very soon.

That’s why Detroit: Become Human was the initial game added to my to-play list when I found out what was going to be exhibited at this year’s EGX event. After dragging my other-half through the doors of the Birmingham NEC and telling him we could do whatever he wanted afterwards, we made our way through the hall and joined an hour-long queue of people eager to get their hands on the title.

I’d thought that perhaps the Detroit stand would simply consist of a presentation behind a screen – as seemed to be favoured by the bigger developers at last year’s show – but I needn’t have worried. Attendees were able to get their hands on the demo displayed at E3 back in June and it was ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. Sorry about the capitals but yes, I was that excited about it.

Set in the near future where androids have been invented and are changing the fabric of society, the plot centres around three characters. Kara escapes the factory where she was made to explore her newfound sentience; Connor is responsible for hunting down deviant androids like her; and Markus devotes himself to releasing other machines from servitude. Quantic Dream’s website explains that the game focuses on what it means to be human, and what it would be like to ‘be in the shoes of a machine discovering our world and their own emotions’.

The demo gave us the opportunity to play as Connor as he enters a hostage negotiation scene where young Emma has been taken by a deviant android named Daniel. He now has hold of her on the ledge of her family’s apartment building and has already caused several casualties; and it’s up to you to prevent the situation from escalating and save the girl’s life. However, her mother isn’t too pleased that a machine was sent instead of a human.

As with the developer’s releases, every choice counts. If you choose to try and understand what happened by examining the apartment, a number representing your chance of success increases. For example, looking at a saucepan boiling over in the kitchen reveals that the family were just about to sit down to dinner; and investigating music coming from headphones in Emma’s bedroom shows that she didn’t hear her kidnapper’s gunfire.

You can also examine certain clues more closely to create reconstructions. If you take a look at the android’s victims, you’ll sadly come across Emma’s father John who appears to have been shot. Analysing his body enables you to rewind time and discover that he was holding something when he was attacked – and the nearby tablet he dropped displays an advert for a new android, possibly Daniel’s replacement.

EGX, expo, event, video games, Detroit: Become Human

I’m pleased to say I managed to save Emma during my playthrough of the demo but unfortunately the android wasn’t so lucky. I made Connor rush forward to pull her to safety as Daniel’s prepared to jump – although this also saw me hurtling over side of the building with him. The player next to me reached a different ending whereby the kidnapper released the girl but was then shot by a sniper, causing him to accuse Connor of being a liar.

There’s no official release date for Detroit: Become Human although it’s looking as though the game will be published next year. I really hope so, because I can’t want to get my hands on this one.