Do walkthroughs make you a bad gamer?

I’m always surprised when I remember the classic point-and-clicks I played as a kid growing up in the 1990s. The fact I managed to complete what are now considered ‘difficult’ puzzles without the help of a walkthrough is hard to believe.

The internet wasn’t so widely available back then and not everybody had access to a modem in their home, so it wasn’t as simple as opening a web-browser on your computer when you were stuck. You had other options but they weren’t as instant. You could wait for one of the monthly gaming magazines to include a guide; listen out for hints from friends at school (while pretending not to need their advice); or you could persuade you parents to let you call the costly helpline number listed in the back of the video game manual.

The latter was something I had to do with Shivers, a horror-adventure which still scares me even now. There was one puzzle I couldn’t figure out the solution for – I believe it was the Chinese Checkers in the Funeral Rites room, although my memory is a little hazy – and I begged my dad to allow me to use the telephone because it was the only thing stopping me from completing the game. After handing over a rather large amount of pocket-money to pay for the call, I managed to get through that challenge with the guidance provided and see the end-credits roll.

Game design has improved dramatically in the past three decades, with titles now better leading the player to where they need to go in terms of both location and answer. Some even include hint-systems that gently nudge you in right direction or tell you the direct solution when you’re lost. But the nature of the adventure genre means its puzzles can seem mysterious and illogical; so is it ok to reach for a walkthrough when you’re not sure what to do, or does this let both you and the game down?

Let’s be honest here: I do use walkthroughs now, both when I’m playing games for myself and when Pete and I are streaming on Twitch. The latter is particularly true when it comes to adventures, even though it’s my strongest genre. It’s important to show your viewers some consideration and, although they may find watching you struggle over a puzzle entertaining for the first 15 minutes, there’s a good chance they won’t be laughing if you’re still facing the same challenge an hour later.

We’re fortunate in that we’ve found a great bunch of streaming-friends over the past few months who enjoy these narrative-focused games as much as we do. Usually, at least one of them has already completed the title we’re trying to work through so we can often rely on their gentle guidance rather than a full-blown guide if we get stuck. There’s also the added bonus of this making it feel as though we’re hanging out with friends in real-life, everyone piled on the sofa while trying to figure out the solution to the next puzzle.

Could advice like this and the guidance contained in walkthroughs negatively impact the experience in some way though? This was a question I asked myself after completing Quern – Undying Thoughts on stream recently. While I’m very grateful for the help we received from everyone in chat, I’m almost certain we wouldn’t have resorted to using such advice if there hadn’t been the pressure of people watching us. It may also have made the title feel more like playing Myst for the first time all over again.

I also wonder whether my reaction to its ending would have been different if Quern had been one I’d tackled privately. Would I have been more disappointed in its short conclusion and final decision if I’d put in all the work needed to solve the puzzles myself? Or would the achievement of making it to the credits without the aid of a walkthrough, regardless of how many hours it took, be enough to make me look at the ending more favourably due to the sense of accomplishment?

Before writing this post, I checked out a few forums to see how others feel and it seems a lot of gamers consider the use of guides to be a bad thing. The most frequent comment I came across was something about it being pointless to ‘buy a game and then let someone else play it for you’. Most of the people who’d joined in with those conversations only admitted to turning to a walkthrough when they were completely stuck, or if they’d already completed a first playthrough and wanted to quickly see the content they’d missed.

Some even went so far as to call walkthroughs ‘cheating’ and say that using one makes you a ‘fake gamer’. Here’s a quote from an article I came across: “Referring back to the walkthrough too often can easily spoil the creation that’s gone into the game, and takes away from the freedom of exploring the land. It also destroys some of the self-satisfaction of working through the challenges yourself (as really, you’re only cheating yourself out of a sense of accomplishment).”

Elder Scrolls, The Elder Scrolls V, book, video game, strategy guide, pages, words

Does this mean that turning to a friend who’s already completed the game and asking for advice when you’re stuck make you a cheater? And are the people who purchase the official strategy guide to go along with a release bad gamers? And what about those who watch longplay videos on YouTube or live-streams on Twitch? I’m curious to know where the distinction lies (and why we’re still having the tired discussion of what constitutes a ‘real gamer’).

I don’t actually believe the majority of people on those forums. Think about it: on one hand, we’ve got this large group of gamers who say they pride themselves on overcoming difficult challenges within video games using only their individual intelligence and skill. But on the other, walkthrough sites and game-specific wikis are some of the biggest websites on the internet. And according to Wikipedia, over 56,000 guides for 21,639 unique games had been contributed to GameFAQs – and that was nine years ago in 2012.

I believe most gamers use walkthroughs more often than they care to admit or are even aware of. It’s just too easy nowadays to open a web-browser, do a quick search and pull up a guide when you’re struggling. We don’t have the attention-span or free time to be able to plug away at the same problem for days like we used to when we were kids in the 1990s. Instead of fighting against the same puzzle for hours, you can have the solution in front of you in a couple of clicks.

Personally, I think the most important part of gaming is having fun. Some members of the community get off on challenging themselves and that means not using any kind of advice to complete a game; they consider it a disservice to the developer and their gamer-pride if they pick up a walkthrough. Others don’t find the slightest pleasure in this kind of frustration and instead prefer to concentrate on moving forward within a release. However you choose to play, it’s all good as long as you’re enjoying it.

Hands, video game, controller, gamepad

I don’t see the problem with using a walkthrough though – whether that’s looking at one occasionally for a hint, using one to uncover secrets you may have missed the first time around or following whole thing straight through. Whatever floats your boat. If turning to a guide means I’m more likely to finish a game and then be able to appreciate what the developer was trying to achieve with their work, regardless of the fact I didn’t get to the end of it unaided, then that can only be a good thing in my mind.

How do you feel about walkthroughs, and do you use them? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion.

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Scary games: only kidding

Imagine you were playing a horror game and suddenly, a child walks into the room and asks what’s happening in the story. You hit the pause button and consider your answer. How would you explain it you them without lying, but without frightening the hell out of them either?

This was posed to bloggers by the awesome Quietschisto from RNG as part of his Sunshine Blogger Award nominations at the end of September (sorry for taking so long to respond). It’s just the sort of question that suits me because I’m happy to watch someone else play a horror but I’m too easily scared to be able to do so myself. I’ve got some experience in this area too: when my stepson was seven-years old, he walked in on us playing BioShock and it gave him nightmares for a week.

Because I don’t search out titles from the genre regularly, most of those included on today’s list are releases my other-half completed while I was sat next to him on the sofa, bravely peeking out from behind a cushion. Let’s see how well I do at trying to describe their narratives in a way which would make sense to a child – and pretend we’d actually realised Ethan was standing in the doorway and had been quicker to press the pause button during that BioShock incident (I still feel bad).

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. So if you haven’t yet played the games listed and intend to at some point, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

Alien: Isolation

A lady goes looking for her mummy after she went missing on a space station. She flies all the way up to the stars and there’s a big, bad alien waiting for her! She tries to get it off the space station but the robot workers there turn nasty and want to stop her. Then she finds out that an evil company wants to buy the alien and its babies, but there’s a big explosion when she gets into a fight with one of their people. She tries to escape on a smaller spaceship but one of the aliens makes it out with her so she has to push them both out into space! Someone eventually finds the lady and she makes it back home, but she doesn’t find her missing mummy. So it’s actually a very sad story.

Blair Witch

A man who used to be a policeman goes into the forest with his brave dog Bullet to search for a missing boy. He feels very guilty because he shot the boy’s brother when he was trying to steal something, so the man wants to find the boy more than anything in the world. But he can hear things whispering in the trees and so he gets very scared, then monsters made from leaves appear and the witch makes him go down into the basement of her old house. Bullet tries to stop him because he’s such a good boy, and what happens to the man depends on what he does. But all you need to know is that the brave dog doesn’t get hurt and he makes it home, where his warm basket and plenty of treats are waiting.

Project Zero

A girl has to go to an abandoned mansion after her brother goes missing there. So she explores all the rooms and finds out that someone has cast a spell to keep horrible ghosts from another world from coming into our world. But the spell went wrong and now all the ghosts have escaped! It’s ok though, because the girl has her magic camera with her and the ghosts don’t like having their picture taken at all – they’re so scared of it that they run away when she tries to take a selfie with them. She manages to find her brother and together they cast the spell properly, so the mansion is made safe once again and the ghosts are all sent back home. So it has a happy ending and it isn’t that scary at all.

Shivers

A crazy professor decided to build a strange museum in America so he could show off all the weird things he found in countries across the world to people who wanted to buy tickets to see them. But he disappeared before it was finished and nobody knows where he went! So you go to the museum because you really want to know what happened. You find out that many years before you got there, two teenagers managed to get into the building and opened a set of pots that contained ghosts. Because you’re so big and brave, you manage to put all the ghosts back into their prisons, and you cause a big explosion before you leave so you know the horrible ghosts can never leave again.

SOMA

A man needs to have a brain scan after he is hurt in a bad car accident. But when he wakes up, he has travelled back in time to a place that’s like a space station but underwater and the world has been hit by an asteroid! There are lots of computers there that think they’re human, and they ask the man to help them upload their brains onto a hard-disk and fire it into space so they can escape. He tells them he will do this and he finds a huge cannon that will do the trick. Just before he pushes the button to send it out of the water and up into the stars though, the man decides that he would like to join the computers so he puts his brain on the hard-disk too. When he wakes up again, he is in a world that looks like paradise so he has a big party with all the computers.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

A man goes into an old house because he’s looking for his missing wife, but the family that live there have been turned into zombies! It’s ok though, because a lady calls him on his mobile phone and says they’re going to make a special medicine together which can turn them back into people. While they look for the medicine, the man finds out that it’s a little girl who has been making the zombies because she’s lonely and wants the man and his wife to be her mummy and daddy. The man tries to save her because he feels sorry for her, but then she reveals that she is actually a bad monster who’s trying to trick him! So he contacts the army and they capture the monster, and the man escapes with his wife and the lady that called him.

Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches

When your friends want to take their daughter on holiday to cheer her up, you go to their home in Wales to look after their farm while they’re away. A strange voice tells you about something that happened there a very long time ago: a heroic king and evil wizard got into an argument and fought a huge battle. The wizard’s ghost still lives at the farm and is very angry bout losing, so it’s up to you to calm him down again. You take his shopping list – which is full of weird stuff like a piggybank and chocolate fountain – and search the farm until you find them all. Once you deliver his shopping, the wizard decides that he can now go to sleep so the house is safe enough for your friends and their daughter to come back.

Until Dawn

A group of selfish teenagers decide to have a big party at a lodge on top of a snowy mountain. The person who actually lives there isn’t happy about this at all because he just wants some peace so he can forget about all the sad things that have happened to him. He decides to teach the kids a lesson and asks some friendly creatures who live on the mountain to help him scare them away so they leave. But one of the teenagers has done a very stupid thing: they left the gas oven on so it causes a massive explosion! Police come in helicopters to rescue everybody but it’s import to remember the moral of this story: never have big parties that disturb an adult’s peace, and never leave the oven on.



How did I do? Hopefully I managed to convince you that these horror games aren’t really that scary and some of them even contain useful life lessons – such as not going into abandoned mansions to search for missing family members. If you fancy attempting to explain video game plots to a child, give it a go!

Shivers: remembering the fear and nostalgia

Back in January I introduced my blogger-friends to Herdy-Gerdy during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast. It’s not one that many people heard of, but I enjoyed it when I picked it up for my PlayStation 2 in 2002 because it was so different to anything else out at the time.

I seem to have a knack for finding titles that go under the radar. A few weeks ago I decided to play Shivers on stream one weekend and it was the first time most of the friends who joined us in chat had heard of it. This horror-themed adventure was released on PC in 1995 by Sierra Online and was a deviation from their earlier titles, for which it received both praise and criticism. Some called a sleeper hit while others referred to it as an unoriginal Myst clone at the other end of the scale.

It was a game I came across in the same place as so many others during my early teenage years: the gaming stall at our local market, during a trip there to pick up something to see me through the summer holidays. Point-and-clicks were all I played back then so I can understand why its box caught my eye. What I still can’t remember though is the reason why I bought it; I was as much of a coward back then as I am now when it comes to horror titles so it seems strange I’d buy one with the tagline ‘What darkness conceals, terror reveals’.

Shivers’ story starts when our teenaged protagonist is dared by their friends to spend the night in the grounds of Professor Windlenot’s Museum of the Strange and Unusual. Unfortunately they’re not alone because several years before, two ‘nerds’ had broken in and accidentally released ten Ixupi from a set of ancient vessels. These evil spirits were left lurking in elements such as sand, metal and wood, and are intent on sucking the life-force out of anyone they come into contact with. Can you survive the night and find out what happened to the Professor?

The game was installed the following week when my parents left me at home alone one evening and I invited a small group of friends over to keep me company. As we solved puzzles to get further into the museum, everyone tried to keep their cool – but we all let out a scream the first time we encountered one of the Ixupi at the underground river and it attacked us. It was then quickly laughed off because the game was obviously ‘stupid’ (you know how it is with teenagers).

The first thing I did after my friends left that night was to go around the house with the pet dog Max in tow and turn on a light in every single room. I remember the skin prickling on the back of my neck each time I heard an unexpected sound and my overactive imagination telling me there was someone there with me. I was grateful when my parents and brother arrived home a couple of hours later, even if my dad did tell me off about the lights and for wasting electricity.

Shivers, video game, ghost, spirit, water, Ixupi, river, boat

It’s often the strangest things that scare you and what frightens one person won’t affect another in the slightest. I’ve been creeped out when entering dark rooms in the Greenbriars’ house in Gone Home; on edge with Sirrus and Achenar in Myst despite them being trapped in linking books; and shocked by the unexpected foes found in the mines in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. In-your-face frights are scary and will certainly leave you screaming, but it’s usually the more subtle things which stay in your uneasy mind afterwards.

After playing Project Zero on Twitch at the end of September and being disappointed by how little it frightened us, my other-half and I decided to seek out some other horror releases in the lead up to Halloween. For some reason I was inspired to replay Shivers and I didn’t think it would be a problem: although I hadn’t touched it since the summer of 1996, I’d seen some videos of playthroughs and found it laughable that something as silly-looking as an Ixupi could have scared me as much as it did back then.

I was wrong. The level of nervousness I felt on stream, along with the tensed shoulders, increased heartbeat and sweaty palms, was surprising. I realised there was nothing to be frightened of – I’d already completed the game once before and I knew to expect nothing worse than a cartoon ghost jumping out of an item – but it really did feel like being a teenager all over again. At certain points I was afraid to enter a new room and freaked out whenever I heard the Ixupi theme in the background.

It was the soundtrack which did it. There were several themes which immediately made me anxious back in the day and hearing them now brought all those feelings rushing back. Listening to the The Theatre and The Secret Hall made me feel on edge despite the bright lights and company of the stream, and it’s no wonder: music can be a powerful tool when it comes to nostalgia. Many studies have documented the ability of songs to bring to mind previous events and emotions.

I haven’t returned to Shivers since that night and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to bring myself to do so. There’s a part of me that wants to complete it once again and prove to myself I can conquer those teenage fears – but there’s another which just keeps repeating ‘no’. It does seem silly, especially since I know what happens in the story and that there’s really not much in the game to be scared of, but the level of anxiety I experienced during our stream is enough to put me off for the time being.

One good thing did come out of it though. We had the pleasure of meeting Darkshoxx who was kind enough to give us plenty of advice on the puzzles in chat, as well as introduce me to a community of Shivers speedrunners. I had no idea that such a group of people were out there and it’s lovely to know I’m not alone in remembering Sierra Online’s game. I’ve been watching a lot of his streams lately and it’s been so interesting seeing how he attempts to complete it as quickly as possible.

Is there a title that still scares you even though you know there’s nothing to be frightened of? Shivers is likely to always cast that spell over me… but one day, I’ll be brave enough to capture those Ixupi again.

Creeped out: spookiest video game moments

As discussed in my Question of the Month response last week, it’s often the strangest things that scare us. We all have those gaming moments that have stuck with us, the memory of which only surfaces during the dark of night, scratching at the corner of our brains and making our hair stand on end…

In honour of Halloween and all things eerie, Brandon over at That Green Dude posed a question to the community recently: what is your spookiest video game moment? Below is the list of my own, which includes a few expected horror titles; but there are also a few less obvious releases that may just surprise you.

Warning: some spoilers are included below so if you haven’t played a title, you may wish to skip forward to the next entry!

1993: Myst

Myst, video game, Achenar, bedroom, Mechanical Age, tiles, poison, cage, torture chamber

Since receiving my keys from the Kickstarter campaign, I’ve been working my way through the Myst games recently. Replaying the original not only reminded me how much I loved it but also how much Sirrus and Achenar made my skin crawl. Reaching the Mechanical Age and finding their bedrooms revealed more about the brothers but it was Achenar’s space that I found particularly disturbing when I was younger: a hidden door to a secret torture chamber exposes an electric chair, bottles of poison and even a rotting head. These siblings are twisted.

1995: Shivers

Shivers, video game, ghost, spirit, water, Ixupi, river, boat

This was the title I chose for my Halloween QotM answer recently. It looks somewhat laughable now but as a teenager with an overactive imagination, left with a small group of friends alone one day, our first encounter with the evil Water Ixupi while navigating our boat on the underground river into Professor Windlenot’s Museum of the Strange and Unusual brought us all out in screams. Although we laughed it off, that night I went around our house turning every single light on and was extremely relieved once my parents arrived home.

1996: Resident Evil

Resident Evil, video game, dogs, window, hallway, corridor, broken glass

The original Resident Evil has appeared on numerous lists across the internet this Halloween, including Bandicoot Warrior’s own QotM response. It was the first real horror I played as a teenager and the bit I’ll always remember is the scene that sticks with most gamers: that moment when the mutant dogs come crashing through the window, splintering the glass and snapping at your heels. As well as genuinely terrifying the hell out of me and taking a few years off my life, it showed that horror games can be just as frightening as films.

1998: Sanitarium

Sanitarium, video game, Innocent Abandoned, statue, angel, man, child

This point-and-click isn’t exactly a horror, but its atmosphere is incredibly unsettling and I remember feeling constantly on edge while playing it. As if putting the player into the bandages of a man who wakes up in a derelict asylum with no memory of how he got there wasn’t creepy enough, the Innocent Abandoned scene with its ruined playground full of horribly-disfigured children who keep talking about ‘Mother’ is unnerving. The backwards clock and haunting music just add to the sense that everything is ‘off’ and you need to get out of there as soon as possible.

2008: Dead Space

Dead Space, video game, necromorph, alien, blood, spacesuit, astronaut, gun

Come on, admit it: you screamed too when that first ‘dead’ necromorph jumped up and started attacking you on board the Ishimura. After reading Fitzy’s recent post about Dead Space over on Game Time, I know I’m not the only one who started cautiously approaching the corpses throughout the dark corridors from that point onwards. I love the way Dead Space manages to capture a perfect feeling of dread, isolation and claustrophobia, and it’s the title that started my fondness for space sci-fi. As Fitzy said: “Once bitten, twitchy and paranoid forever.”

2015: STASIS

STASIS, video game, man, John, surgery, spine, blood, computer

Time for another space science-fiction now: how would you feel if you had to perform dangerous surgery on yourself while still awake, in order to remove a chip that’s wrapped around your spine? Utterly petrified, that’s how. This particular scene in STASIS had me squirming in my seat and looking away because it’s very uncomfortable to watch. It’s gory but not overly gratuitous –well-handled in terms of both timing and how it fits in with the title’s storyline – but it’s some pretty-messed-up-stuff that will stick with you.

2015: SOMA

SOMA, video game, chair, robot, body

SOMA leaves the player questioning what it is that makes us human through a storyline about scanning human intelligence. Say the body you’re currently in is failing and you’re offered the opportunity to be copied into a new one. Which version of you then takes precedence? Should the old version be terminated? If both copies should be allowed to live, how do you come to terms with there being multiple versions of yourself in the same space? And how would you feel if you found out you were the copy? These thoughts are far scarier than any blood and gore.

2017: Stories Untold

Stories Untold, video game, House Abandon, text adventure, monitor, lamp, desk, keyboard

When I played text adventures as a kid, there was always that feeling that if you looked up from the screen you’d start to see elements of the game in the real world. This is exactly what Stories Untold recreates. I had to resist the urge to look over my shoulder as I played through The House Abandon episode and found it difficult to stop myself expecting my phone to ring when the handset does in-game. For a simple and unassuming release, it creates an awful lot of atmosphere through a number of very clever moments that I won’t spoil by saying more.

So there you have it: eight moments from both horror games and other genres that left me spooked. Let us know which gaming scenes sent a shiver down your spine in the comments below.

Shivers down your spine (a QotM answer)

October’s Question of the Month is brought to you by Ian from A Geeky Gal: long-time blogger, video game player, anime watcher and all round lovely lady. To find out more about him and his site, as well as how you can get involved, take a look at this post.

It’s often the strangest things that scare you, and what frightens one person won’t affect another in the slightest. This has been proven by October’s QotM thanks to some curious responses: rather than give typical blood-splattered horror answers, many people have mentioned releases outside this expected genre when talking about the video games which have made the hairs stand up on the back of their necks.

I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve been creeped out when entering dark rooms in the Greenbriars’ house in Gone Home; on edge while dealing with Sirrus and Achenar in Myst despite them being safely trapped away in Linking Books; and shocked by the unexpected foes found in the mines of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. In-your-face frights are scary and will certainly have you screaming, but it’s often those more subtle things which will stay in your mind afterwards and haunt your dreams…

After convincing my parents I had far too much coursework to go to a family party, I’d been left home alone one evening in the mid-90s. But rather than getting out the books, I invited a small group of friends over to keep me company and we ended up playing a video game after they saw the stack of boxes piled up next to the CRT monitor. I’d visited the gaming stall at our local market just a few days before to pick up something to see me through the summer holidays, so now was a good time to start it.

We huddled around the screen to see where this adventure would take us, the sun slowly setting through the window turning the room gradually darker. Shivers‘ story started when our teenaged character was dared by their friends to spend the night in the grounds of Professor Windlenot’s Museum of the Strange and Unusual. The fact that the place was considered to be haunted ever since its creator’s mysterious disappearance 15 years earlier wasn’t a deterrent, and after solving a few puzzles we found ourselves standing inside the grand building.

Unfortunately for us however, we weren’t alone. In 1980 two ‘nerds’ had broken into the museum themselves and accidentally released ten Ixupi from a set of ancient ceramic vessels from the Moche Valley. These evil spirits were lurking within chemical elements such as sand, metal, wood and electricity, and were intent of sucking the Ka (life-force) out of anyone they came into contact with. You can probably now figure out what happened to the Professor and the nerds…

As we solved puzzles to get further into the building, everyone in my own group was trying to keep their cool. We had to hunt down each vessel and its corresponding cover then use them to trap the correct Ixupi before sunrise, without them lashing out and stealing away our limited amount of Ka. We all let out a scream the first time we encountered one of the spirits at the underground river and it attacked us – before trying to cover it off and laugh it off because the game was ‘stupid’. You know how it is with teenagers.

Shivers, video game, ghost, spirit, water, Ixupi, river, boat

The first thing I did after my friends left for the night was go around the house with the family dog in tow and turn on the light in every single room. The skin prickled on the back of my neck each time I heard an unexpected sound and my overactive imagination was certain there was somebody there with me. I sat in the living room freaking out and was kind of grateful when my parents and younger brother arrived home, even if my dad did tell me off about the lights and for wasting electricity.

When I watch videos of Shivers now, I find it laughable I could find something as silly-looking so scary back then. But the story played on my mind and I found excuses to not be left alone for a long time after that summer evening. Even now as an adult I have a recurring dream every once in a while, where I’m searching for something unknown through a large building full of hundreds of rooms while something is stalking me… could it be the Ixupi?

Just one question: who on earth thought it would be a good idea to imprison evil life-sucking spirits inside some incredibly-delicate and extremely-breakable vases?