Question of the Month: October 2018 edition

It’s time for a new Question of the Month, one which will see us attempt to answer a quandary that has been puzzling the gaming community since they first realised that eating mushrooms could have unexpected benefits. But first let’s find out who won September’s challenge!


The winner

Last month, Ian from Adventure Rules asked: You’ve been tasked with making the Ultimate Video Game, but there’s a catch – you can only piece it together from parts of other releases. You can choose separate titles for visual design, sound design, storytelling, and gameplay. What four games would you use to make the Ultimate Video Game? He reviewed all the answers submitted in response and here’s his judgement:

“Yikes, talk about a difficult decision! There have been lots of good submissions, and I loved seeing the unique direction that all of the different bloggers considered. Some folks made their ultimate video game while others made everyone’s ultimate game – it’s been really interesting. I have it narrowed down to maybe two, so let me re-read them quickly and I’ll get back to you right away… Did I say two? I meant… like… five. This is really close, in my view, but I do think I can pick a winner.

“Okay, here we go. I am going to choose Brandon of That Green Dude. The game he proposed checks a lot of my boxes when it comes to things I’m interested in: investigating crimes, catching killers, and getting creeped out while doing it. He chose four games that work well together to accomplish that goal and I think his game would be a blast to play. If honourable mentions are a thing, HannieBee Games and Guardian Acorn both had great interpretations of my question, the former taking the four elements from games where that feature was the only good thing about it, and the latter remaking one of her four games using the elements from the other three. I thought those approaches were super clever and I enjoyed reading them a lot!”

Congratulations to Brandon and thank you to everyone who joined in with September’s question! Now let’s find out more about our latest star blogger along with the challenge they’ve set us for October 2018.

The blogger

Megan hails from a small town in Alabama but is currently living in St. Louis, Missouri in the United States. She’s been blogging for around five years now and I’d be very surprised if you haven’t stumbled upon her or A Geeky Gal yet: she’s one of the sweetest bloggers in the community and always has a positive word to say. Head on over to her site if you’re a fan of video games, anime, cosplay and other geeky interests because you’re bound to find something to pique your interest among the wide range of posts on offer.

Looking for a review of a television show or comic? Megan’s got you covered. Need help with a costume? Check out her advice for those discovering cosplay. Been hiding under a rock and need to know what’s been happening in the world of geekiness? Her round-up posts will bring you up-to-date in a flash. That’s not all however because there’s a more personal side to her blog too, and you’ll get an insight into her weight-loss journey, mental-health, and immigration journey with her husband from Ireland.

Megan has a pretty wide range of taste when it comes to video games and her preferred genres are RPGs, hack-and-slashes and survival-horrors. Don’t let the girly exterior fool you: this is one tough lady! Favourite titles include God of War, Kingdom Hearts, Fatal Frame 2, Silent Hill 2 and Animal Crossing – a few of which fit in nicely with this month’s question. In a break from video games, she’s been working her way through a 30-day anime challenge so take a look at A Geeky Gal to read through all of her answers so far.

The challenge

The question set for us by Megan is: In honour of Halloween, tell me what video game scared you the most. What is it about the elements, environments, music, or characters in the video game that scared you?

If you’d like to get involved, publish your answer to Megan’s question at a time that suits you before 28 October 2018 and leave us a link in the comments below. There are no rules on word-limit or format so you can be as creative as you like: write a post, record a video, create a drawing, or impress us with another unique idea.

Our star blogger will then choose their favourite entry and the winner will be announced at the beginning of November. Good luck to everyone who’d like to participate this month!

Games and ghosts: gaming urban legends

That time of year when the ghosts of the dead are said to return to our world will shortly be upon us: Halloween. In celebration of All Hallows’ Eve tomorrow, I’ve been bravely exploring the darkest and most sinister corners or the internet to bring you eight video game urban legends that will keep you wide awake tonight.

So put the controller down, turn the lights down low, pull the screen close and prepare to be spooked…

Berzerk

Berzerk is considered to be one of the greatest titles of the arcade-era and was one of the first games to use voice synthesis, an incredibly-expensive process back in 1980. It introduced the world to the demonic smiling face of Evil Otto, a bouncing villain who would chase the player down if they spent too much time lingering in a single panel of his maze.

It also holds the morbid honour of being the first video game to be linked to the death of a player. During 15 minutes of play in 1982, Peter Bukowski (sometimes reported as ‘Burkowski’) wrote his initials at least twice on the leaderboards screen but then turned, took four steps, dropped a quarter into a different machine and collapsed.

Unlike Polybius (see below), this tale is a fact and you can read about it online. The cause of death was ruled as a heart-attack but some say otherwise: they believe Evil Otto possessed the supernatural ability to influence life-threatening conditions and cause instant death to any intruder who failed to heed his warning…

Fallout 3

2008’s Fallout 3 contains several in-game radio stations, the most important one being Galaxy News Radio (GNR). Most players know that you can kill Three Dog and he’ll be replaced by technician Margaret; but what fewer know is that under certain circumstances, GNR will become a ‘numbers station’ and broadcast unusual coded messages.

You’ll hear a voice reading a series of numbers in a depressed-sounding voice, which are then followed by lengths of Morse code and the song I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire. Some say these messages are predictions of what will happen in the future after a player realised one referred to the passing of Gary Coleman, with the numbers relating to the date and time of his death.

You can find out more about the communications themselves on the snopes.com website. Bethesda has denied the claims several times and the Queen didn’t pass on 19 March 2014 so it looks like this story is an elaborate hoax; but we’ll know the truth for sure on 27 February 2023 if Britney Spears wins an Oscar. It may also be worth noting that the latest date on any of the Morse code messages is 01:27 on 06 July 2027…

Killswitch

Killswitch was supposedly created by Soviet gaming company Karvina Corporation in 1989, with only limited copies produced and proving very popular. The video game itself was a pioneer in the survival-horror genre: players had to choose between two characters, a shape-changing woman named Porto or an invisible demon named Ghast, and the goal was to navigate through an abandoned coal mine whilst battling monsters.

As it was hard to do this with a transparent character, most players chose to complete the title as the female protagonist. But there’s no proof that anyone ever managed to finish with either Porto or Ghast – because upon beating the game, all evidence of it would be erased from your hard drive. Karvina Corporation apparently made it in a way so it could only be experienced once and as very few copies were made, it faded into obscurity.

But in 2005 an unopened copy of Killswitch surfaced on eBay where it was promptly bought for $733,000 by a man from Japan named Yamamoto Ryuichi. He had planned to document his playthrough of the game on YouTube but the only video he ended up posting was of him staring at his computer screen and crying. This footage has too since vanished… or did it never really exist at all?

Pokémon Red

The release of Pokémon Red in Japan in 1996 supposedly corresponded to a huge spike in illness and suicides amongst children aged between seven and 12. Players succumbed after reaching Lavender Town, a haunted and ghost-filled area that’s home to the only cemetery within the series. The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated: for one of the video games to deal so directly death was unusual.

Red’s score was said to be the source of the suicidal tendencies and this was eventually dubbed ‘Lavender Town syndrome’. The music in the level was changed before the title was released outside of Japan and Nintendo have always claimed that this was because the high-pitched tones caused a strain on the Game Boy’s speakers. However, in 2010 someone who analysed the score revealed Unowns that spelled out ‘LEAVE NOW’.

In addition, the reported six-hundred-plus seizures that occurred after the Porygon episode of the series was aired is true, which makes this urban legend seem all the more plausible…

Polybius

According to legend, an arcade cabinet named Polybius appeared in several suburbs of Portland, Oregon in 1981. It proved to be very popular with lines forming around machines and players fighting over who would get their turn next; could this have something to do with the subliminal messages it supposedly contained? It’s said that the title induced psychological effects and many complained of amnesia and night terrors, but some sources claimed the side-effects were more severe with players experiencing suicidal tendencies.

As if that wasn’t frightening enough, an unnamed arcade owner apparently reported that men in black coats were seen collecting data from the machines. This led some to speculate that it wasn’t a video game but a CIA-type experiment, and the name of the company that produced it seems to back up this theory. ‘Sinneslöschen’ is the German word for ‘deletion of senses’: were they in fact a secret government organisation?

Around a month after its release, Polybius is said to have disappeared without a trace. A single machine has never been found and, while some have said they worked on the game and others have attempted to recreate it, nobody has ever been able to produce definitive proof it ever existed…

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Legend has it that there is a sinister mod to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that could potentially drive a player insane. File jvk1166z.esp was originally thought to be a virus as it would freeze and corrupt all save game files when loaded, but it was soon discovered that it would work when ran in DOSbox.

All the main characters were already dead when the player started. Staying in one spot for too long caused their health to deplete and if they died in this manner, a new character revealed himself: a man whose limbs were long and bent like a spiders’. They noticed that if they paid close attention they could see ‘the Assassin’ around corners or scurrying up walls for brief moments, but that wasn’t the only weird thing; characters left alive would come outside at night to stare up at the sky, and attempting to interact with them would cause them to only say ‘Watch the sky.’

A new dungeon was also discovered, inside of which was what started being referred to as the ‘hall of portraits’ as it was lined with pictures which were in fact photos from the player’s PC. At the end was a locked door and nobody has ever been able to prove they’ve opened it (although it was claimed it would do so upon some kind of celestial event). Some have alleged that after hours of trying to do so, they began to see the Assassin scuttling around in real life… As made up as this story seems, the scariest part is that the mod does in fact exist so download it at your own risk.

Twisted Metal: Harbor City

Since the first edition was released on the PlayStation in 1995, Twisted Metal has had a cult following. In 2003 Sony were set to develop a follow-up called Twisted Metal: Harbor City but only four levels were completed and the video game was never finished. In March 2005, the six founding members of the team died in a plane crash and the project was cancelled shortly afterwards.

Things turned surreal when a note appeared in the developer’s headquarters, pleading with them to let fans play the levels mentioned above. It was signed with the names of the six deceased team members and read: ‘We are disappointed to hear of your decision to keep the world from seeing the last of our work… We beg of you… Show them all what we have done… Show them our last earthly deeds… If you doubt our existence, look to The Dark Past for proof that we are who we say…’

The note is available to read online and The Dark Past refers to a documentary on the Twisted Metal: Head On disc, where groups of numbers appear onscreen and correspond to letters of the alphabet. The fact the message reads ‘Twisted Metal is coming on PS3’ when deciphered has led many to believe that this was nothing more than an elaborate piece of marketing… but could the note have been real and a message from beyond the grave?

World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft is still one of the most popular massively-multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) games, even 13 years after its release. It’s no surprise that hidden secrets and odd moments can be found when you consider how big its world is but one of the creepiest is the Children of Goldshire. In a normally empty house by the edge of a lake, a group of six kids form a pentagram formation when the game server’s clock hits 07:00.

Players have reported that when they stand in the centre of the group, they can hear strange noises such as banshee screams, crying, the voice of C’Thuan saying ‘You will die’ and an old woman laughing hysterically. Perhaps the strangest thing though is that when you enter the room, a track starts to play which isn’t found anywhere else within the game; and we all know how much Blizzard likes reusing its assets.

You can follow the group from Stormwind City to the house and they never once break their formation, and they aren’t part of any quest line. The developer has never released an official statement about the Children of Goldshire and their silence has caused many to claim the kids are some sort of doomsday cult; some believe they’re creating a code with their pentagram movement which is just waiting to be cracked…

Although I’ve tried to provide as many links as possible within this post in an attempt to provide some evidence, I think it’s fair to say that these urban legends are nothing more than stories to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. But still, you might want to unplug your PC or console before you go to bed this evening… just to be on the safe side…

Happy Halloween!   🎃

Conversation and critique: CAYNE

Nufafitc has been on the blogging scene for seven years now and so it’s highly likely you’ve already come across his Emotional Multimedia Ride site. I think I may have found someone who’s as big a fan of the adventure genre as I am: we’ve had a number of conversations about our favourite titles and what we’re looking forward to next.

After one such discussion, we thought it would be great to collaborate on a post and the following conversation is the result. We’d both played isometric horror-adventure STASIS already and loved and disliked it for different reasons; so how would we feel about The Brotherhood’s return to the grim world of the Groomlake in prequel CAYNE? We got together online to discuss our thoughts after playing the game and you can read on to find out more – watch out for spoilers if you haven’t yet played it yourself.

•••

nufafitc: Heya, I’m currently up for some review chat if you have time.

Kim: Let’s do this! Can I throw out a question to start us off?

nufafitc: Awesome, please do. I’ll check my screenshots and remember what I’ve actually played.

Kim: Can you remember how long ago it was that you played STASIS?

nufafitc: I wrote the review of STASIS in 2015 for the Halloween special. So yes, two years ago.

Kim: Ah, the same as me – I just checked and I think it was in October or November 2015. I didn’t realise it was so long ago!

nufafitc: Yes and I don’t remember much of it, except that it had some really good sound design.

Kim: Oh yeah, the sound was excellent! That bit when John did the operation on himself… *shudders*… How do you think that length of time affected your enjoyment of CAYNE?

nufafitc: I don’t think it has affected my enjoyment in any way. As a matter of fact, I guess I liked and disliked CAYNE for the same reasons as I found the original game interesting and problematic. Talking about gratuitous violence and bloodshed, I just remember picking up all sorts of body parts back then.

Kim: You said ‘gratuitous’… does that mean you thought that some of the scenes in STASIS were unnecessary?

nufafitc: Well, let’s just say that I found a lot of the gore and blood too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of horror movies and gory games. But yes, I found it too forced at times.

The thing about STASIS was that I felt it tried to be so controversial that it just used these scenes for controversy’s sake. Which was a shame, because the atmosphere was spot-on. It just tried to borrow so many things from sci-fi and horror movies (and games), that it lost its uniqueness.

Kim: I thought the operation scene was great and Ryan Cooper (John’s voice actor) did such a good job. But I do agree that there were a lot of ‘borrowed’ aspects to the game and they didn’t necessarily all work together. I remember getting to the end and thinking, ‘But what about this? And what about that?’

nufafitc: Yes, the voice acting was pretty good. I think technically it was a really great game. The main problem with the storytelling I had was that you had to browse through endless text in diaries and such.

Kim: That I didn’t mind too much… but the PDAs didn’t give as many answers as I would have liked. Mutated clones; a mysterious fungus; a giant insect queen; log files referring to ‘The Twins’… There was just so much and I got confused as to how it all fitted together. I know the developers said CAYNE would explain further, but I’m still not sure I understand entirely!

nufafitc: You’re right, it only gave hints at something bigger. I especially liked the final part with the BioShock-like museum where you learned about the man who did all these things for the greater good. But yes, let’s talk about CAYNE and whether it actually added to the experience or not.

Kim: I think for me, I would have enjoyed CAYNE more if I’d played it closer to the original game. There were so many elements to STASIS and trying to recall them all while playing CAYNE was difficult.

nufafitc: Well, that’s the problem with prequels, isn’t it? Ridley Scott is still trying to better his Alien movie and fails in understanding his own mythology.

It might have been interesting to see how this would have affected playing it. But to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered to go through STASIS again.

Kim: I enjoyed it… but I can’t say I’ve felt the urge to go back to it in the past two years. CAYNE made me remember how much I’d enjoyed STASIS, but also how confused it had made me! Ha ha ha

nufafitc: For me it was the same feeling two years ago: ‘What’s with all the blood, gore, swearing, and sick people?’ Speaking of ‘swearing’, I think this time they really exaggerated.

Kim: Yeah, I’d agree with that – there were a couple of points where the F-bomb shocked me because it was thrown in so casually!

nufafitc: Absolutely, and other words we might have to edit when this goes online!

Kim: And speaking of people: who was Hadley? When I started playing CAYNE, I thought she was connected to John somehow but that wasn’t the case!

nufafitc: Never heard of Hadley either. You’re asking the wrong person!

Kim: Oh good, I thought I’d missed something by not knowing who Hadley was.

nufafitc: Wasn’t it a bit misogynistic as well? I mean, some of the stuff people wrote and what some of the sickos said?

Kim: The language and tone were definitely… harsher… and it seemed a little out of place at some points. I mean, I didn’t find CAYNE as scary or as gory as STASIS; but then there were these parts where it felt like a PDA entry or conversation entry were thrown in for the shock factor. One thing is for certain though: I wouldn’t have wanted to work with the crew of that ship!

nufafitc: Ha ha yes, and getting pregnant was worst-case-scenario.

Kim: But to get pregnant by someone who was paid to do it? Ouch…!

nufafitc: On that note, what did you think about the main protagonist being a pregnant woman?
Was it something different or just for controversy?

Kim: At first it was a bit of a shock, because it’s not something you usually see in a protagonist! But then I liked the fact it was different and also that Hadley wasn’t entirely accepting of her pregnancy. Usually when pregnant women are depicted in media, it’s as the ‘joyful mother to be’.

nufafitc: I agree, that was quite an interesting concept, although… she moved quite fast and climbed a lot for a pregnant woman. I was fearing the worst – I mean, you know how slow adventure protagonists can move sometimes and I was like ‘Ah, please, where’s the skip-the-slow-pregnant-walk key?’ But I was pleasantly surprised about her speed, although again it would have been nice to double-click on exits.

Kim: Do you think if she had moved slower, it would have added to the horror factor?

nufafitc: It would definitely have added to my ‘losing patience’ factor. I think one could have used her state for some more interesting, tense scenes, although she was put through some sick stuff. Not Ellen Ripley stuff, but still…

Kim: That’s interesting – you think the developers could have used Hadley’s pregnancy to better effect? (This is turning into a bit of a weird conversation!)

nufafitc: Yes – as we already noticed, except for her belly and her insistence on not really wanting the child at first, she didn’t behave any differently.

Kim: Yes, that’s true. Her pregnancy only had an impact again at the end, during the twist…

nufafitc: We’re talking about a game full of sick people, larvae, blood and gore decorating the walls… it was only a matter of time until we hit that point in our conversation! It had its story moments but what about puzzles?

Kim: Hmm… mixed bag, from my point of view. What did you think?

nufafitc: I have mixed feelings about the puzzles in CAYNE. I thought there was too much backtracking and looking for items that can often be overlooked, something lots of point-and-clickers suffer from. Were they original? I don’t think so. Were they difficult? Not really. Did they fit the story? Mostly.

Kim: What did you think of the protein powder puzzle?

nufafitc: Ah, the oldest trick in the adventure book… like getting the key from the other side by using a newspaper.

Kim: Clichéd?

nufafitc: Yes, kinda. I think the solutions weren’t so hard, it was just finding the items in the environment.

Kim: That’s what I thought too. The puzzles made sense to me but some of the items didn’t.

nufafitc: Sometimes I already knew what to use but had to go through each screen and collect it. At least you weren’t carrying around more body parts. Although it wouldn’t have been too difficult, the place was littered with them.

Kim: But you were carrying around grub breast milk… ewww…

nufafitc: Aaaah, gee, thanks for reminding me. I completely forgot about that. And the way you got it… yuck.

Kim: Not to mention cutting open that big womb thing… talking about it now, you realise how gross it all was!

nufafitc: Seen that, been there, done that.

Kim: Just a day in the life of nufafitc (joking!).

nufafitc: Well Halloween is soon, so I have to do some research!

Kim: So how would you say CAYNE compared to the other games you’ve been playing for Halloween?

nufafitc: It was a filler but no killer. It wasn’t really scary to be honest, although the atmosphere was good; STASIS had more impressive scenes or at least some that had jump-scares. I think it’s like STASIS in that you kind of enjoy it in a twisted way but will ultimately forget it. I mean it’s for free and for that you can do much worse, as it has some good graphics, especially the cut-scenes, music, and nice voice-acting. The puzzles might not be the best, but they’re not bad either. The story and characters, well… okay.

Oh, I just found an interesting screenshot that made me smile because it hinted at better humour than in the dialogues. There’s this holographic tin of Jukka Cola and it says ‘WHO NEEDS SLEEP? JUKKA COLA. IT’S REFRESHING ADDICTIVE. May cause chronic insomnia, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, hallucinations, hypertension, gastrointestinal bleeding, peripheral neuropathy, cardiac dysrhythmia, congestive heart failure, toxic epidermal necrolysis, catastrophic haemorrhage and death.’ I think it’s a good example that there was some twisted humour that could have worked better to make fun of technology without using curse words.

Kim: Yeah, the Jukka Cola scene did give me a bit of a giggle! It was a light-hearted point in a game with a ‘heavy’ atmosphere, but the humour still retained a lot of darkness.

nufafitc: The next screenshot shows Hadley picking up a stripper pole and… yes, actually putting it in her inventory. Subtle adventure game mechanics…

Kim: Don’t you just hate that? ‘No, I can’t pick up that item because it’s too big.’ ‘Why yes, I’ll take that stripper pole.’

nufafitc: Well, she already had that baby to carry around so don’t ask me where she had room to put it. To answer your question: Yes, I think if a game tries to be realistic and atmospheric, then that’s rather silly. I also thought that Hadley’s comments were repetitive at times, like ‘That is nasty.’

Kim: I was expecting her to come out with ‘Like, totally!’ at some point. Ok, that was a bit harsh of me!

nufafitc: ‘Guys, come one, give me more of those bucketloads of swine blood and maybe throw in some maggots while you’re at it. I still have some clean spots left.’ That was harsh too, sorry!

Kim: But funny! So what we’re saying is that CAYNE was a good game considering it was free, but ultimately a little forgettable?

nufafitc: Yes, I think we can sum it up like that.

Kim: I have to say though, playing it reminded me how much I enjoy isometric adventures. You don’t see many of them nowadays. I don’t quite know what it is but the perspective adds something to the horror.

nufafitc: I think with the perspective you could actually zoom in and out, and that could be used more. Sanitarium, that was a really good game.

Kim: Oh Sanitarium was great – it was just so freaky!

nufafitc: And Sanitarium was quite original, even if puzzles were even more infuriating and controls were pretty bad. Still, I like replaying that game once in a while. Time for a Halloween special, maybe next year!

Kim: Yes, that’s something positive about CAYNE and STASIS – they’re good-looking games. Gorily good-looking, but still…

nufafitc: I’m looking forward to The Brotherhood’s next game. I mean they have the technology, they only need to refine their writing.

Kim: I backed STASIS so I’ve backed the Beautiful Desolation Kickstarter too. I like the fact the developers are going for something different this time, more sci-fi and less horror.

nufafitc: I think if they’d tone down on the violence, gore, and language, this could be a good game.

Kim: We’ll need to play that one when it comes out, and have a chat about it too!

nufafitc: Good last words I think, with the future chat review!

•••


So as discussed above: CAYNE is ultimately forgettable, but it’s a free title which offers a few hours of gorily good-looking graphics and creepy atmosphere so you can’t really go wrong. It’s something worth picking up this month – and something else worth doing at this spooky time of year is heading over to Emotional Multimedia Ride for nufafitc’s Halloween special.

This collaboration was a lot of fun to do so I’ve been thinking about the possibility of making it a series… if anyone would be interested in taking part in a conversation and critique post and have a suggestion for a game we could play, I’d love to hear from you!