More pointing-and-clicking wanted

When Jonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog nominated Later Levels for a Real Neat Blog Award, he asked bloggers to share which video game series they’d choose to revive. My pick: give the rights to Monkey Island back to Ron Gilbert so it can be restored to its former glory.

There’s always a high risk that a revived franchise will never live up to expectations, but this doesn’t stop me from wanting to see Guybrush Threepwood star in another point-and-click. Sure, it could be terrible and leave players disappointed – or it could be the best instalment in the series yet, and we’ll never know unless it’s made. Giving the intellectual property (IP) back to the original creators would mean that it could be developed by people who adore it as much as the fans do and who know what makes it so special.

Today’s post is a follow-on from that article back in January and is once again dedicated to Jonez as a thank you for another Real Neat Blog Award nomination last month. Let’s forget about Monkey Island for a moment (although that’s pretty difficult for me to do): which other games and series would I like to see brought back to life? I’ve concentrated on the adventure genre below to make answering the question slightly easier, plus there’s a bonus answer from my other-half which might surprise anybody who’s joined us for a Twitch stream.

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller

Cognition, An Erica Reed Thriller, Erica Reed, FBI, face, gunI love Cognition for two main reasons. First, it’s far gritter and has a darker storyline than what you’d usually expect from most point-and-clicks; and second, FBI Agent Erica Reed is one of my favourite female characters. There’s so much potential here for a sequel and it would be great to see where her potent powers take her next. Sadly though, Phoenix Online Studios haven’t released a title since 2014 and seem more interested in the publishing side of the business nowadays. Turning Cognition into a series therefore seems unlikely but a girl can dream.

Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today

Dead Synchronicity, Tomorrow Comes Today, video game, wasteland, man, boys, watch tower, apocalypseI backed Fictiorama Studios’ crowdfunding campaign for Dead Synchronicity in March 2014 and really enjoyed the title when it was released in April the following year. If you enjoy stories about dystopian futures and weird illnesses (ahem) then I’d recommend checking this one out – but prepare yourself for an ending where a sequel is teased but not delivered. Although the next instalment was announced in December 2016, reports of financial problems for publisher Daedalic Entertainment could mean we’ll be waiting a while for a follow-up.

The Gabriel Knight series

Gabriel Knights, Sins of the Fathers, 20th Anniversary Edition, video gamesGabriel Knight is one of the most sardonic, selfish and sexist protagonists within a point-and-click but for all his faults, it’s impossible not to be fond of him – particularly when he’s voiced by Tim Curry. The fact that the character is played by another voice-actor in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition was the main reason I didn’t on with the 2014 remake. Jane Jensen has voiced hopes of reviving the series with her company Pinkerton Road Studio over the years, but the website doesn’t seem to exist any longer and she’s more focused on writing fiction nowadays.

Kathy Rain

Kathy Rain, video game, female, girl, Kathy, cemeteryKathy Rain is a must-play for any adventure fans who enjoy atmospheric detective stories with a Twin Peaks vibe. Prepare yourself for a lot of questions though, because things take a turn for the weird towards the end and the hinted-at follow-up hasn’t arrived yet to give us the answers. Clifftop Games confirmed on Steam in January 2017 that it was likely they’d start working on a sequel following on from Whispers of a Machine (another point-and-click I’d recommend) but things have been quiet since it was released in April last year.

Moebius: Empire Rising

Every now and again, a title comes along that’s so bad you end up quite enjoying it. That’s how I felt about Moebius and I kind of want to see protagonist Malachi Rector return for another instalment just to see how annoying he can get. How many eyebrow-raises and sarcastic comments could we expect from him in a sequel? However, if Jane Jensen and Phoenix Online Studios do decide to get together for another project in the future: bump this guy into second place and concentrate on Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller first please!

Paradigm

Paradigm, video game, caravan, shop, computers for sale, dogReluctant heroes tend to be thoroughly irritating (I’m looking at you, Sadwick) but Paradigm is one character who’s far from that. He has a positive outlook despite his situation and a self-deprecating sense of humour, and I want to see him come back for another game along with Doug the beatboxing eggplant so I can laugh at their antics all over again. Unfortunately developer Jacob Janerka has said it will probably never happen though, although there’s the possibility of an animated series to look forward to. Aww yiss!

The Longest Journey series

Dreamfall, The Longest Journey, April Ryan, face, womanWe all have that one series we love but just can’t finish and for me it’s The Longest Journey by Red Thread Games. I might not have been able to complete Dreamfall Chapters yet because I don’t want the story to end, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing for another title. With the Kickstarter campaign for the game failing to reach a stretch goal and Ragnar Tørnquist saying ‘The Longest Journey Home will probably never happen’, it seems unlikely; but I’d love to find out what happened to April Ryan in the years between the first and second releases.

Pete’s choice: Maize

Maize, video game, bear, Vladdy, robot, animatronicAnyone who’s ever joined us for a stream will know how much my other-half enjoys anything involving plenty of ‘pew-pew’, but he’s hiding a dark secret: he also likes an adventure occasionally (gasp!). Maize was one such release and he chose it when I asked him which title he’d like to see a follow-up to. If you’re in the mood for a bit of silliness – along with a brilliant track about top-secret experiments – I’d highly recommend giving Finish Line Games’ project a go. I’m not sure how a sequel would work based on the ending, but I wouldn’t say no.

Bonus: Beneath a Steel Sky

Always wanted a sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky? Well you won’t have to wait too much longer, because Revolution Games are due to release their new title this year. I had the opportunity to play a demo of Beyond a Steel Sky at EGX in October (back when we could attend expos in person) and it was great. The puzzles were logical yet enjoyable, the environments looked lovely, and the voice-acting and music suited them perfectly. We’ve had to wait a very long time for a follow-up but it seems as though we’re finally going to get a worthy successor.

Thank you once again to Jonez for a very kind Real Neat Blog Award, and for giving me the chance to talk about all the adventures I’d love to see make a comeback. Now over to you: which sequels do you keep hoping for?

Adventures: not even their final form

Adventures: video games with amazing stories, colourful characters and challenging puzzles. The genre may have its flaws but it has also been one of the longest-running, giving birth to classics from Zork to Grim Fandango and attracting a following of fans across the world.

For any regular Later Levels visitors, it’s obvious I’m one of them and love a good point-and-click. They’re the titles I’ve continuously returned to for almost 30 years now, ever since finding The Secret of Monkey Island as a young child and realising that fantastic worlds full of extraordinary tales could be told so well through pixels. Even for all their moon-logic and backtracking, there’s just something special and captivating that lies within the puzzles and at the heart of an adventure.

Not everybody agrees with me on this however. Early last month I came across an article on the NewStatesman website entitled The rise and fall of the point-and-click adventure game, in which author Ed Jefferson gave a brief overview of the genre’s history. He rounded off the post by saying: “It’s hard to argue that the genre has much appeal beyond nostalgia at this point… Thanks for the memories, but it turns out that in 2018, maybe clicking on hats just isn’t enough anymore.”

Has the adventure really had its day? This statement surprised me greatly and it was a situation I’d never considered before. Sure, the genre had had it’s ups-and-downs over the years, going through a decline in the early 2000s when it couldn’t compete with louder releases before picking back up again in popularity thanks to crowdfunding platforms in 2012; but was it truly over? Jefferson’s divisive statement prompted me to ask the question on Twitter and see what others thought.

A few days later, an article was published on Rendermonkee’s Gaming Blog called The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Adventure Game. There was an audible sigh of relief when I read this and saw confirmation that there were others out there who still believed in the genre! As written by Rendermonkee themselves: “The adventure genre has undergone incredible hardship over a 20-year period, but I believe times have changed… The future of the adventure game is in very safe hands. Long live the adventure game.”

In a brief conversation with this blogger on Twitter last month, they said something which stuck with me: that the point-and-click isn’t dead. It has simply evolved into new forms, incorporating elements from other genres and changing its appearance depending on the angle of the light. In the same way those louder releases mentioned above have taken narrative design tips from adventures and improved their storytelling, my beloved genre has done the same in reverse and undergone a transformation.

The Red Strings Club, video game, bar, woman, Larissa, bartender, Donovan, android, Akara

There are so many new titles which have kept the heart of the adventure game while adding something new to it. Last year’s Unavowed retained everything we’d come to expect from a Wadjet Eye Games’ release but threw in some ingenious party mechanics. 2017’s Stories Untold recalled the feeling of playing an old-school text-adventure but gave it a twist to create a very unique experience. And The Red Strings Club – possibly my favourite release of 2018 – focused on moral questions asked through conversation and answered through mixing drinks.

There are some who will say that these aren’t strictly point-and-clicks – but wait, there are more examples. Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller from 2012 stays true to its genre’s roots but tells a gritty story which isn’t for children. 2016’s Kathy Rain is great for anyone who loves a Twin-Peaks-vibe and pixel artwork. If you’re looking for something lighter with more comedy, try Maize from the same year. And more recently, the upcoming Guard Duty pays tribute to the classics but gives us an adventure suitable for the modern day.

2019 is looking bright for the genre, and Rendermonkee’s post mentions several future titles which are now on my wishlist. Afterparty by Night School Studio, the developer of Oxenfree, is one of their four picks for the year; and Röki from Polygon Treehouse is showing plenty of promise for a debut title. Then there are the projects that made appearances at recent expos: 3 Minutes to Midnight by Scarecrow Studio and The Occupation by White Paper Games. How can you not get excited by all that adventure goodness?

It may be worth Jefferson playing these titles and finding out for himself what the genre has become. You see, pointing-and-clicking can be enough; but adventure games can also be so much more than that and haven’t yet reached their final form. To quote Rendermonkee once more: long live the adventure game.

Creative Christmas: borrowed outfit

The Creative Christmas collaboration is still going strong, and our group of bloggers is almost at the end of 12 video-game-related questions based around a festive storyline. After answering yesterday’s challenge about the perfect games for winter, here’s what we’re up against next:

You’ve been invited to a swanky New Year’s Eve party but have nothing suitable to wear! Which video game character do you call to ask if you can borrow an outfit?


My answer

Most video game characters are more concerned with saving the world than whether their shoes match their outfit perfectly. But certain protagonists have a sense of style to die for and really know how to work their attire on the digital catwalk. Perhaps they’ll be able to give me some sound fashion advice when it comes to creating an ensemble fit for a glamorous New Year’s Eve party.

However, it can be somewhat difficult as a female in the gaming world when it comes to costume choices. Barely-there bikinis, buttless-chaps and six-inch heels aren’t garments particularly suitable for winter; and some of the flimsy armour on display is just downright ludicrous. That being said though, there are a few characters I wouldn’t mind raiding the wardrobes of.

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, female, woman, character, warrior, mountain, view

Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn is right at the top of the list if we’re going for practicality: warm furs will protect against the cold December weather and flat footwear means no staggering in stilettos at midnight. She can take all that Mother’s Heart throws as her and her gorgeous, thick hair still looks as though she just stepped out of a L’Oreal advert. And damn, this is one girl who knows how to strike a pose.

The Curse of Monkey Island, video game, female, pirate, Elaine Marley, gun

If it’s a costume party we’re going to, there’s only one lady whose wardrobe is worthy enough: Elaine Marley from the Monkey Island series. A buccaneers’ outfit is a classic yet elegant choice for a fancy-dress event and the perfect excuse to drink grog all evening. This is a governess who isn’t afraid to kick some zombie ghost butt and keep wannabe pirates in check – and look absolutely fierce while doing so.

Broken Age, video game, Vella Tartine, female, bird, knife, flyring

But if it’s a classy event we’re attending, we’re better off turning to creative Vella Tartine from Broken Age. No, not for that hideous ballgown with ‘Up for Grabs’ emblazoned across the arse which she wore during the Maiden’s Feast; I’m talking that slinky little number she sliced it into when escaping from Mog Chothra! Pink may not be my colour but even I’d be happy to rock this look at a swanky cocktail party.

Dreamfall Chapters, video game, Storytime, female, Zoe Castillo

If the New Year’s Eve party is taking place in a trendy bar, maybe Zoë from The Longest Journey series could give us a hand when it comes to fashion. She sports several outfits through the games and always manages to look stylish but without trying too hard. I absolutely love her hair when she goes for a shorter style and would seriously consider getting something like this in real life myself…

Kathy Rain, video game, female, girl, Kathy, cemetery

Speaking of ‘real life’, maybe that’s the best option in this case: go for something similar to your own tastes so you feel comfortable. Kathy from Kathy Rain would be the person to help me out here because you can’t go wrong with jeans, a leather jacket and a pair of boots. Team with a t-shirt featuring your favourite video game and you’re ready to party the night away.

Other answers

🎁   Thero159 from A Reluctant Hero
🎅   Athena from AmbiGaming
🦌   Morgan from Fistful of Glitter
🎄   Luna from GamersUnitedGG Blog
🎮   LightningEllen from LightningEllen’s Release
🤞   NekoJonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog
🎉   Dan and Jon from nowisgames.com
🎁   Chris from OverThinker Y
🎅   Retro Redress
🎶   Pix1001 from Shoot the Rookie
❤   Brandon from That Green Dude
🎄   The Gaming Diaries
🦃   Kevin from The Mental Attic
👗   The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

The Creative Christmas collaboration is open to everyone and further details can be found in this post if you’d like to join in! Tomorrow’s question: Midnight eventually rolls around, which means it’s now time to pick a New Year gaming resolution to see you through the next 12 months. What’s your choice for 2018?

Open-world fatigue: indies to the rescue

During my editorial posts, I’ve mentioned how it’s been difficult to find time for gaming so far this year. My other-half and I have been undertaking some massive renovation work on our house at the same time as working longer hours; and our weekends are spent chasing after my ten-year old stepson and invariably getting up to some sort of mischief together.

It can therefore be a bit of an effort to work up the motivation to turn on the PlayStation or PC when we do have a spare hour in the evenings. We usually have good intentions but after being stuck at a desk or in meetings all day, it’s hard not to resist the call of a bowl of ice-cream on the sofa in front of some trashy television. However, there are only so many episodes of MasterChef or Dinner Date you can stomach (pun intended).

Last week I came across a post by Dylan over on PlayingWithThoughts entitled What Are Your Thoughts on Grinding? I started to leave a comment about how I’m ‘one of those old-schoolers who doesn’t mind the grind’ but it got me thinking: is there more to it than that? I realised then that the smaller battles or quests which make up grinding suit my current play-style, offering a short section of game that can fill an hour or so but still leave me feeling as if I’m making progress towards an end goal.

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, female, woman, character, warrior, mountain, view

That being said though, starting up a large RPG when you’re short on spare time can be an incredibly daunting experience. Take Horizon Zero Dawn for example; I thoroughly enjoyed it and fell in love with Aloy, but I’m tired after completing 21 main quests and numerous side missions. I think I’m suffering from a case of open-world fatigue and the thought of going into another title that’s going to take over 100 hours to complete isn’t entirely appealing right now.

That doesn’t mean I’m taking a break from gaming however. In fact, I’ve probably played more video games during the past month than I have done for a while – which may sound strange when you consider how busy life is right now. The answer came in the form of the Steam summer sale at the end of June, like a shining hero stepping out of the open-world fog and handing me the controller in my hour of need.

I’ve already made a start on the 13 games I purchased and so far, these smaller indie titles are fitting in well with our current routine. My other-half and I can get home from our respective offices after a long day at work knowing that even just sixty minutes of gaming will see us make good progress on a title. Although huge RPGs do have a certain appeal, there’s also something nice about being able to complete a game within several sittings and move onto the next one.

Here’s what we’ve managed to finish so far:

  • A Normal Lost Phone – We played a demo at last year’s EGX so I thought I’d give the full game a go. I wouldn’t have said it was anything particularly special, but it was ok; I think it struggles from trying to fit its subject matter into a title that lasts little more than an hour.
  • Mainlining – Another one we played a demo for, at the PC Gamer Weekender a couple of years ago. This one is worth a go if you’re into detective or hacking titles or just want to feel as if you’re a complete cyber-badass at taking down criminals while working for MI7.
  • The Dream Machine – I bought the first two episodes of this point-and-click on a whim because it had received positive reviews. While the puzzles weren’t overly challenging, the storyline was pretty good so I’ll probably buy the rest of the game at some point.
  • Human Resource Machine – I’d wanted this programming simulation for a while because I really enjoyed Little Inferno, one of the developer’s other releases. It’s a good one for anyone who’s interested in coding and likes puzzle games with plenty of challenge.
  • Yesterday – I never like to be completely negative but it was hard to find anything good here. Some of the puzzles are nonsensical, the storyline jumps about all over the place, and is so underwritten in areas that it’s completely unbelievable. I doubt I’ll play the rest of the series.
  • Kathy Rain – I loved the atmosphere in this adventure: it started off as a straight-forward detective story and then got all Twin Peaks. I’ll admit I didn’t entirely understand the plot towards the end but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope the developer will make a sequel at some point in the future.

  • Next up is Orwell. It’s an entry that had been sitting in my Steam wishlist for ages and after reading Tabitha’s thoughts on the game over on The Gaming Teacher last month, I finally decided to pick it up in the sale. Then after that I’ll probably tackle Virginia, a title that has been recommended to me by several bloggers I follow here on WordPress. Oh, and I’ve still got to make a start on Life is Strange too because I’m so late to the party.

    So if you’ve been suffering from open-world fatigue too: put down the controller, step away from the RPGs, and pull out that indie gem which has been sitting overlooked in your game library for way too long. You may not find yourself in a world so large or with so many quests to tackle; but you might find an experience which is still as fulfilling.