The video games that define me

We all have at least one video game which defines us. It’s understandable that this could be the first we ever played although this isn’t always the case. Other releases might also make our lists thanks to their narrative, protagonists, or just because they’re a whole lot of fun.

After being tagged in a tweet from Alex Sigsworth at the beginning of April, this was a subject I ended up thinking about for a few weeks before hitting the keys on my laptop. Which four titles would make my defining list and why? Some I knew immediately, while others I had to think harder about to make sure I picked those that felt as though they’d had a lasting impact on me as a gamer. Join me as we take a brief journey through my gaming history and look at the releases which define me.

1990: The Secret of Monkey Island

The fact this game has appeared in today’s post will come as no surprise at all to regular readers. It wasn’t the first I ever played, because my family had a Commodore 64 and NES before I was given my Amiga 500 by my parents for Christmas, but it’s one that’s had the most lasting effect on my gaming habits. You can read the full story here if you’re interested. Suffice to say, The Secret of Monkey Island was what kickstarted my love for video games and made me an adventure fan for the thirty years following.

I might play other types of releases nowadays but it’s point-and-clicks that I regularly return to. I’ve always adored stories and there’s just something about the way the narrative is so inextricably linked with the gameplay in these titles that makes me adore them as much as I do. Although some may feel that the adventure genre is a relic of the past and the only thing keeping it alive now is nostalgia, for me it’s still evolving and adding new elements – just look at Unavowed, Stories Untold or The Red Strings Club as great examples from recent years.

2004: Fable

If the entry above made me fall in love with video games initially, Fable was the one which reminded me of that after being made to feel as though gaming wasn’t a suitable hobby for a young woman for several years. It’s thanks to a friend turning up at my apartment with an Xbox and a copy of the game that I finally realised I didn’t care what anybody else thought about what I did. After turning on the power and getting lost in the world of Albion for a few hours, I had the revelation that this was what I’d been missing out on.

The thing that fascinated me most about Fable was the sense of character development as it was the first time I’d seen anything with such an important alignment mechanic. I spent the entire game trying to make my Hero as good as possible and that’s still something I do today; the paragon route is always more appealing and I find being an evil protagonist difficult. It’s Fable II which is my favourite in the series as it took what I adored about the first game and made it even better, and this is something I hope happens again with Fable IV.

2011: To The Moon

I was pretty late to the independent scene and To The Moon was one of the first indie releases I ever played. It hit me hard. The gameplay might be limited and not to everybody’s taste, but that story: I really did cry at the end. It made me see that video games don’t have to be about action and explosions, or puzzle-solving and humour in the case of point-and-clicks. Narratives can be more than just simple tales about saving princesses and they have the power to make you feel some pretty strong emotions.

Since then I’ve preferred indie games because their developers have the freedom and creativity to experiment, and they give me the kind of unique stories I want to experience. I’ve played very few big-budget releases since beginning to blog in 2013 and don’t see that changing right now. The third instalment in the To The Moon series is due to be released at some point this year and you can expect a marathon stream of all the titles when that time comes – along with a few tears on Twitch.

2019: Eastshade

Eastshade is the latest release to earn its place on my list of favourite games. I fell in love with it very quickly because it’s such a lovely take on the RPG genre: imagine playing something like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but where the pressure of any kind of combat is removed, so the exploration and conversation elements are enhanced as a result. It’s a simple and beautiful concept that managed to have a huge impact on me and I was genuinely upset to leave the title when the end credits rolled.

I want more games like this. Ones which take an established genre and then provide something new and unexpected; give you something you didn’t realise you were missing; and offer players a space to relax and clear their mind. Eastshade is possibly the most calming gaming experience I’ve ever had and one I won’t forget. The developer has said they have no plans to make a sequel which is a little sad but if this is what they can do with the RPG genre, I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Two years ago, I wondered whether defining titles were going to become a thing of the past. What effect do short attention spans and endless distractions have on video games? Could failure to reach the ending cutscenes and those associated moments of realisation mean an end to gamers experiencing a release which sets them off on their future digital path? I still don’t know the answer to these questions but maybe they’re ones I’ll put to my stepson when he’s in his early twenties to see how he responds.

In the meantime, I’m curious to see which game will make it onto my favourites list next and perhaps become a title which defines me personally. And what about you: which four releases would you choose?

Good games for non-gamers

With the UK now into its fifth week of the coronavirus lockdown, many of us are turning to our video games for entertainment. But what if there’s someone in your household who hasn’t picked up a controller in years, or even ever, and they need a little convincing?

There are plenty of releases out there to appeal to someone who has limited experience and now is a great time to point them in the right direction. Get them on side and the rest of this isolation period could be spent gaming! The releases on today’s list are great gateway games to help ease someone into our hobby, and this post is dedicated to the lovely Larissa from Games (and Other Bits) who very kindly tagged Later Levels for a Real Neat Blog Award last month.

Coloring Pixels

If the non-gamer in your life has an artistic nature, then Coloring Pixels by ToastieLabs could be something that appeals to them. It’s also great for a gamer who’s looking for a form of digital stress relief (just what we need in these uncertain times). Think colouring-by-numbers: you simply choose an image you’d like to complete, pick a colour and then start clicking away on the pixels tagged with its associated number. You can see my attempt at filling in 40,000 squares to create ‘Ocean View’ in the video playlist opposite.

Eastshade

Eastshade by Eastshade Studios made it onto my favourites list as soon as I finished it in April last year. Think of a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but without the combat: somewhere you can explore without fear of being attacked, where there are secrets and interesting characters to discover, and plenty of gorgeous artwork to see. It’s an excellent title for anyone who may not yet be experienced to tackle RPG combat mechanics and who knows, it might even get them wanting to try The Witcher or Horizon Zero Dawn next.

Journey

Some people may be opposed to video games because they think they’re all about violence and competition, but Journey by thatgamecompany could be just the thing to convince them otherwise. It was on one of the first titles I played with my stepson and I’d highly recommend it for non-gamers. The controls are easy to learn, there’s no combat and the other players you meet in-game can only communicate with you through musical chimes. When Ethan realised the other characters were real players, he was keen to interact with and help them.

Life is Strange

I finally completed DONTNOD Entertainment’s darling last month and, although Life is Strange wasn’t for me, I can see how it’s a good release for non-gamers who love movies and good stories. Everyone has been through those teenage experiences so its characters are relatable (regardless of any supernatural abilities); and the time-travelling element makes for a few simple puzzles which could inspire players to go on and try more from the adventure genre. There’s also a whole host of other walking simulators to play if they enjoy it.

Little Inferno

I’ve returned to Tomorrow Corporation’s Little Inferno several times over the years because it’s fun and has a lovely message underneath its cartoony exterior. You’re given a ‘Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace’ and must burn items for money, which can then be used to purchase new objects from mail-order catalogues. There’s no scoring system or time penalties which means you’re able to freely experiment in order to find all 99 combinations. This could be a good choice for anyone who likes completing puzzles.

Overcooked

This has to be one of the most enjoyable yet frustrating releases ever published. Overcooked by Ghost Town Games is regularly pulled out at our family gatherings and everyone, even those who don’t usually play video games, want to have a go. It’s a good one for making non-gamers feel as though they’re working together as part of a team and plenty of communication between members is required to fulfil orders correctly and on time. There’s always someone who does nothing except spin around with the fire extinguisher, though.

That’s You!

That’s You! by Wish Studios is another title that frequently ends up getting played at our family gatherings because it’s just so hilarious. It’s kind of like The Jackbox Party Pack games in humour but here, team members take selfies which are then used to answer challenges to find out how well they know each other. During the later stages you’ll find yourself drawing on the photographs so things can get a little risqué if only adults are participating – this is exactly what happened when we streamed it for GameBlast18.

The Room

Do you know a non-gamer who enjoys escape rooms? Then get a copy of The Room by Fireproof Games for them because they’re going to love it. You’re presented with a series of boxes and must solve puzzles in order to unlock them, uncovering a story about their mysterious creator and an element with strange powers along the way. There’s such a sense of achievement when you reach the end. We played the latest release in the series, The Room VR: A Dark Matter, recently and really hope the developer treats us to another instalment very soon.

Thank you once again to Larissa from Games (and Other Bits) for her kind nomination! Hopefully this list will inspire the non-gamer in your life to grab a controller and become your player two. What have you been playing with your friends and family during the lockdown, and do you have any additions for today’s list?

Super Happy Love Award: positivity and video games

Each blogging award is truly valued. To show my appreciation, I’ll usually devote an entire post to one of the questions posed by the nominator rather than answer the entire set. This gives me the chance to write a unique article and dedicate it to them to properly thank them.

But every now and again, an award comes along where it feels right to not do this and instead follow the rules to the letter. This is the case with the Super Happy Love Award received from Emily at Monsterlady’s Diary recently (thanks so much!). Following the nomination track backwards reveals it was a tag created to heal the internet: as shared by Pinkie from Pinkie’s Paradise, we should give love to those who deserve it and praise the individuals who have done something important for us.

There’s so much going on in the world right now and we could all use a little more positivity. It’s an important message so that’s why I’m going to stick to the guidelines and not be a rebel for once. Here we go…

The rules

Super Happy Love Award

  • Thank the person who tagged you
  • Share the original post
  • Display the logo in your response post and share the rules
  • Answer at least two of the following six prompts
  • Tag six bloggers for the Super Happy Love Award
  • In addition, everyone who leaves a lovely comment on your response post is also nominated to help keep the positivity going

  • Prompt 1: tell us about a person you love

    Zelda, cat, laptop, cuteThere’s only one person who has my heart completely. They make me smile whenever they walk into a room; we have interesting conversations every day; and they show me affection to let me know they want me around. You know who it is: our cat Zelda. She’s never far away and is usually trying to sit on my keyboard while I blog, when she’s not appearing in our streams and stealing the show. I guess my husband Pete and stepson Ethan are alright too, because they make me laugh with their stupid songs and give me chocolate.

    Prompt 2: write something about a fandom or a franchise you love

    Video games, bozes, shelf, row, adventuresThere’s nothing else I could write about for this answer other than the adventure genre of video games. I guess you could say that Later Levels is one big love-letter to them; I’ve been playing since discovering The Secret of Monkey Island as a kid and point-and-clicks will always have a special place in my heart. I know that many will say the genre is on its way out, but storytelling is such an important part of being ‘human’ that it won’t ever die completely and will simply continue to evolve. Long live the adventure game!

    Prompt 3: tell us something about a character you love

    Tales from Monkey Island, video game, skull, MurrayMurray from the Monkey Island series may have had his body blown to pieces by a cannon but did he let it hold him back? No. Many would have been crushed by this tragic accident but my favourite skull turned it into the opportunity he’d been waiting for: to become a demonic overlord and conquer the land of the living. Despite his reduced state, he still considers himself to be an object of pure evil and dreams of spreading chaos throughout the Caribbean – showing that sometimes all you need to get you places is a positive mental attitude.

    Prompt 4: tell us something about a piece of music you love

    To The Moon, video game, dancing, sky, lighthouse, starsI adore the To The Moon series and get tears in my eyes whenever I hear Everything’s Alright by Laura Shigihara. The words beautifully encapsulate how difficult it can be to explain to someone just how much you love them, and how if you have that special person next to you then everything is going to be ok. The third instalment in the series, The Imposter Factory, is due to be released later this year and I can’t wait to play it; expect a marathon stream of all the titles (and a few Twitch tears) when that happens.

    Prompt 5: show us why you love a piece of media so much

    Eastshade, video game, countryside, mountains, hot-air balloon, easel, canvas, paintingI played Eastshade a year ago and it’s now one of my favourite games, thanks to the way it tackles the RPG genre. When you look at the individual parts of a painting in real life, it’s easy to notice some tiny imperfections but look at that piece of art from afar to take in its entirety, and it’s amazing; that’s just how I feel about this release. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a peaceful and relaxing gaming experience which lasted over 15 hours, and would highly recommend it to anyone who needs to escape for a little while.

    Prompt 6: write something about yourself that you love

    Later Levels, Kim, Pete, faces, smiling, GameBlast19, SpecialEffect, streamThis prompt is the hardest because it’s far easier to write something positive about those you love than yourself. I thought long and hard about an answer, but still couldn’t come up with one. It turns out I’m still figuring ‘me’ out and you know what? That’s ok. It shows that there’s still room to grow and improve regardless where you are in your life, and there are always new things to discover at any age. That means there’s more to look forward to in the future – including many video games.

    The tags

    These six awesome people have kept me sane during the UK lockdown over the past month. I’d like to thank them for the conversations, streams and memes, and for putting up with Pete’s singing!

  • Solarayo from Ace Asunder
  • Luke from Hundstrasse
  • Jett from In Third Person
  • Dan from nowisgames.com
  • Teri-Mae from Sheikah Plate
  • The Gaming Diaries

  • And that’s the Super Happy Love Award done! Thanks once again to Emily from Monsterlady’s Diary for the nomination, and to everyone in the WordPress community for supporting each other during these difficult times. Let’s continue that positivity and get through this together.

    Gamers’ Guide to Isolation: inside but outside

    After the government’s address to the nation at the end of March, people all over the UK have been confined to their homes with the instruction to leave as little as possible. We’ve now been inside for over three weeks and I bet more than a few of us are climbing the walls.

    Fear not though: with the help of my lovely blogger-friends, I’ll be bringing you the Gamers’ Guide to Isolation this week. This is going to be split into three sections over the next few days and will feature a range of video games to help you handle different factors of the quarantine. From titles to play while you’re pretending to work from home to releases that will make you feel as though you’re not going through this alone, hopefully you’ll find something here to pass the time.

    Today we’re going to start with games to make you feel as you’re outdoors even though you’re inside. The Prime Minister may have told us that we’re allowed out for exercise once a day, but most of us would love to spend far longer out in the fresh air. So why not check out the following titles suggested by some awesome bloggers to make you feel as though you’re hiking through the mountains, walking through the forest or going for a bike-ride?

    Cities: Skylines

    Suggested by Luke from Hundstrasse

    “On the face of it Cities: Skylines doesn’t have the characteristics of a game that should make you feel as though you’re outdoors, but sitting here trying to think of first-person titles set in vast sprawling countryside or third-person adventures in beautiful sun-drenched vistas, my mind kept coming back to Cities: Skylines. A rather well executed SimCity-type game, it’s all about zoning, managing financial incentives, and building a good public transport system, but it’s also a game that sits the player floating in the air above their own beautifully detailed metropolis. Zoomed out, at high altitudes, you can hear the wind rushing past you, but with a spin of the scroll-wheel you can be at ground level watching cars go by on a busy street, or jump over to a leafy suburb away from the traffic noise to watch citizens meander through a manicured park. For me, this ‘model village’ of a world gives me the the outdoor experience as a floating entity above my creation, breathing that virtual air vicariously through my digital citizens.”

    Eastshade

    Suggested by Kim from Later Levels

    “Give Eastshade a try if you’re looking for something relaxing to play. You can grab your bike and go for a ride through the pink trees of the Blushwood Forest; take a stroll across the sunny Tifmoor Bluffs; or hitch a ride in a balloon to the peaks of the Restless Reach. And if you spot a view you’d like to capture, pull out your canvas and paint a picture. This is one of my favourite games because it’s such a beautiful take on the RPG genre, accompanied by lovely artwork and soundtrack.”

    Firewatch

    Suggested by Quietschisto from RNG

    “When I think about the great outdoors, mountains instantly spring to my mind. What better game to pick than the hiking simulator – Firewatch. In this game, you play as Henry, who tries to run away from his problems by taking an isolated job in the Yellowstone National Park. Beautiful, cel-shaded environments, excellent voice-acting, and you always keep the mandatory distance of 1km between people. What’s not to love about it?

    “If you want a bit more gameplay than just walking around, you could also try The Witness. The landscapes are not quite as impressive (still, their minimalistic design is beautiful in its own) and there’s no story to speak of, but the puzzles will more than make up for all of that. Remember to pause whenever your brain starts smoking!”

    Grand Theft Auto V

    Suggested by Alex Sigsworth

    “The environments of Grand Theft Auto V are amongst the most realistic ever. The cities are full of NPCs who have their own unique dialogue that builds the impression of a whole world beyond the player. Even the sound of the player character’s steps changes with the slightest difference in surface. Just taking a walk to the pier is an impressive experience. Everywhere I go reminds of me real places I’ve been. Exploring with no objective can pass hours on its own. There’s no place I wish were more real than Southern San Andreas. Apparently, it has a narrative too.”

    Horizon Zero Dawn

    Suggested by Solarayo from Ace Asunder

    “People can be so damn cruel… She may be hated by her people, but I know I instantly fell in love with Aloy the starring shero of Horizon Zero Dawn. Let’s just say I connected a little too closely with her bullied outcast problems. Social distancing is even worse when it’s the kind forced on you buy a bunch of jerks who refuse to accept you for being you. Ahem. Anyway, who doesn’t love forests and nature in all of its pristine glory? The beautiful wilds of this game are simply lovely to explore, while you figure out why the heck wild robot dinosaurs are running amok in a primitive human world.”

    Ori and the Will of the Wisps

    Suggested by Dale from UnCapt

    Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a game that infuses itself within nature. With its beautiful aesthetics and soundtrack, one can’t help but feel envious for Ori who gets to run through the forest. Especially whilst you are locked inside! Whilst maybe not making you feel outside, it does give you an appreciation for the forest and all who dwell there. Plus the sounds and visuals of the game help to draw you closer to nature, in a way that brings the outside to your home.”

    theHunter: Call of the Wild

    Suggested by Dan from nowisgames.com

    “The escapism available with this game is incredible; the environments, the freakin’ sound of the wind, the overall serenity. This is like nothing I’ve experienced before. Tracking animals through the wilderness becomes a tense game of cat-and-mouse, culminating in a single shot, in some cases after an hour of tracking. Sounds incredibly dull, but when you’re slowly creeping through the forest tracking that deer, something primal happens and you’re transported away from the real world around you, even just for a little while.”

    Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection

    Suggested by The Gaming Diaries

    “One of the games that I have spent the most time in recently is Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection. I may be inside but in this I can run around a zoo, see animals from all parts of the world, drive through the zoo in a buggy that you can call and just comes flying towards you… and all this with other people milling about, taking in the sights and sounds. No matter how dull the day is outside the window, in this game you have a bright zoo and sunny skies to keep your spirits up. It makes you feel as though you are outside in a place which in this game brings many joyful moments. I’ve had baby animals born, released animals into the wild, taken photos of chimps that are desperate to avoid the camera. Despite the fact I am playing alone in my home, I feel like I’m out in the world trying to do something and I’m learning some things as I go. It’s a bright world at the zoo and it’s brilliant to be outside in it.”

    Hopefully these suggestions will give you some inspiration for video games to check out while you’re in isolation. If you have any further recommendations, please do leave them in the comments below – and come back on Wednesday for titles you can sneakily play while you’re working from home. Look after yourselves, everybody!

    Self-care ideas from video games

    Pushing forward with the main quest and levelling up, while getting distracted by side-missions and non-player characters (NPCs) along the way. Am I talking about an RPG or real-life here? Things can get hectic in both worlds and it’s important to take time out for yourself.

    Self-care is any activity done to take care of your mental, emotional and physical health. Many people confuse it with being ‘selfish’ but it’s far from it; looking after ourselves in all aspects of our lives means we have more energy and spirit to give to others. It’s about making purposeful efforts and doing so can cut back on stress and worry. Video games can be a great source of inspiration when it comes self-care activities, and here are six ideas I’ve picked up.

    The Elder Scrolls Online: read a book

    video game, The Elder Scrolls Online, Argonian, female, lizard, woman, book, reading, libraryReading isn’t only a good way to expand your horizons and increase your understanding, it’s also a relaxing activity that allows you to stop for a moment and take some time out for yourself. Even the most serious adventures realise how important it is to take a break from hard questing every once in a while to leaf through a few pages of an ancient tome. If you’re not a ‘book’ kind of person, why not try a visual novel instead? Grab your book or laptop, a warm drink, and curl up for an hour to get lost in a good story.

    Eastshade: be creative

    Eastshade, video game, countryside, mountains, hot-air balloon, easel, canvas, paintingEastshade has to be the loveliest game I’ve experienced so far this year, perhaps ever. Playing it may be a form of self-care in itself but it also teaches players about the simple pleasure of making something. Be it cooking, sculpting, painting like the protagonist here or anything else creative, giving yourself such an outlet can provide the space needed to take a mental break as well as producing something that makes others think, feel or smile. My own creative channel is blogging and I’m thankful for the opportunities it has provided.

    Proteus: go for a walk

    Proteus, video game, countryside, seaside, trees, sky, grass, waterAs my stepson told me recently after returning from a visit to the local woods with my parents: “Walking through the forest really de-stresses me.” You never know what wildlife you’re going to come across as you enter the trees, and you’re never sure which creatures you’re going to see in the procedurally-generated Proteus. Being outside in the fresh-air and surrounded by nature has a way of calming your mind; there’s something meditative about focusing on the rhythm of your footsteps and the birdsong around you.

    Kind Words: write it down

    Kind Words, video game, bedroom, letter, writing, desk, bed, windowWhen I have too much going on in my head and in beginning to feel overwhelmed, I pick up my diary and write everything down in a list. It feels as though I can breathe again afterwards and focus on what’s important. Other people keep journals, others write poems, others send letters. Although the basis of Kind Words is sending those letters on to a stranger and possibly receiving words of encouragement or advice in return, that’s not always the important aspect: sometimes just getting it out and on paper can be enough.

    Night in the Woods: hang out with your friends

    Night in the Woods, video game, Mae, cat, Bea, crocodile, Gregg, fox, Angus, bear, living room, sofa, hanging outOne of the things I liked most about Night in the Woods was its depiction of friendship. It’s not always smooth-sailing and there are bumps in the road with any relationship; but good friends will always be there for you. Sometimes forgetting about what’s happening and just being silly together for an hour or two – squirting people with water at the shopping mall, eating bad pizza at the local diner or hanging out at a mate’s house for example – can be the best medicine in the world. A close friend can help with the following activity too.

    Mass Effect: talk about it

    Mass Effect, video game, conversation, FemShep, woman, Commander Shepard, Garrus, alienIf there’s something on your mind – like a powerful mechanical race trying to take over the universe, for example – one of the best things you can do is head down into the cargo bay and share it with your crew. They’ll be a source of valuable support and advice, and show that you don’t have to go through anything alone. Talking isn’t only a great self-care activity in times of trouble. It can also help you develop your character, as well as find out more about the thoughts and feelings of those individuals who have your back.

    And that list brings us to our final self-care activity suggestion: play video games. Certain titles have been developed to help players manage stress and anxiety, but even playing other games can have beneficial effects. As Teri Mae from Sheikah Plate wrote: “[Playing a game] allows me to be in control of my entire situation. If I want to explore in that direction, I can. I get to control where I go, when I accomplish tasks, how long it’ll take, and how to approach an enemy. This, for someone who feels like their life is spiralling, is a positive experience and helps me feel a little more inner peace and calm.”

    What self-care lessons have you picked up from video games, and which titles do you turn to when you need some time out?

    Beginner’s guide to indie (2019): part two

    It’s time for the second part of my updated beginner’s guide to indie and, if you didn’t find something that tickles your fancy in part one on Monday, then hopefully we’ll manage to put that right today. Once again, a big thank you to Dan from nowisgames.com for suggesting I write a follow-up to the original series created around two years ago.

    As mentioned in my previous post, it’s pretty obvious from the content here on Later Levels that I tend to favour the adventure genre or titles with strong narratives. The following list is therefore focused on these types of video games – but even if they’re not usually the kind of thing you’d play, I’d encourage you to check them out because they’re well worth a look. Hopefully everyone will find something that piques their interest. Without further ado, let’s round off 2019’s guide!

    2018: Unavowed

    Wadjet Eye Games takes what we love about point-and-clicks and throws in some new elements to refresh the genre for the modern day in Unavowed – and it totally works. You can choose your past career, which influences how you tackle certain situations and solve puzzles; and a party system allows you to select two members from your group whenever you go out to investigate a supernatural situation. The developer always displays a real talent for creating characters who stick in your head long after you’ve completed a title.

    2018: Coloring Pixels

    Feeling stressed or anxious? Then head over to Steam and download Coloring Pixels by ToastieLabs as soon as possible. Some may not consider it to be a ‘real’ video game but it’s definitely one of the most relaxing releases I’ve ever experienced. It’s a title you can chill out with when you’re not in the mood for taking down villains or saving the world, something to keep your hands busy while your brain winds down. And if the free version doesn’t offer you enough clicking calm, you can download additional colouring books.

    2018: The Gardens Between

    The Gardens Between by The Voxel Agents is proof that a video game doesn’t need to tell an epic story, contain dramatic battles or feature hundreds of hours of content to have an impact on the player. It tells a much more personal tale about friendship through a series of puzzles; and it left a mark on me because there were many things I realised long after playing which gave it a deeper meaning. It may be a short title that can be finished in around three hours, but it’s absolutely perfect just the way it is.

    2019: What Never Was

    If you’re trying to save your money in the run-up to Christmas, What Never Was by Acke Hallgren is one of the best free titles you can download from Steam. Gamers who love things like Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch will find plenty to appeal here and you’ll be crying out for more by the time you reach the end of this short experience. The good news is that the developer has confirmed they’re working on a second chapter – and if it’s as excellent as the first, this is going to be an amazing series.

    2019: Eastshade

    Imagine playing a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim but with no combat; somewhere you can explore without fear of getting attacked, where there are secrets and interesting characters to discover, and where you frequently pull back from the screen to admire the view. That’s exactly what Eastshade by Eastshade Studios is and it has been added to my all-time favourites list after playing it earlier this year. Everything about this title – the artwork, the music, the story – is beautiful. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    2019: Guard Duty

    If you like the classic point-and-click adventures and love Simon the Sorcerer in particular, then Guard Duty by Sick Chicken Studios will be one for you. There’s something nostalgic about it which makes you feel as though you’re stepping back to the early 1990s despite it featuring a streamlined interface to bring it up to date. It’s a very unassuming title with pixel-graphics and a light-hearted nature. But these factors actually hide a very touching plot with a great message and you’ll be feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by the final credits.

    2019: Ord.

    I picked up Ord. by Mujo Games on a whim one evening after it appeared in my Steam recommendations and made me curious. Two hours later, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a release of tiny text adventures: each scene consists of only three words and those you choose affect the outcome. Only one story about defeating an evil wizard was available back in August when I played it, but a big update in August means that three more tales are now available for your enjoyment. I’ll therefore be revisiting this game in the near future.

    2019: Flotsam (early access)

    When my other-half and I saw Flotsam by Pajama Llama Games at Rezzed in 2017, it really caught our attention despite not being the sort of thing we’d usually play. We were therefore pleased to see the developer back at EGX last year and ended up buying the title after visiting their stand at EGX last month. It’s easy to tell while playing it that the game is still in early access as there are a few quirks that need to be ironed out, and the developer is working on adding further content. It’s definitely one to keep on your radar though.



    Hopefully you’ve found an indie release among the 16 I’ve included in this updated guide that has inspired you to give them a try. If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments below and give me a few more to add to my wishlist!