Until Dawn: community choice stream

Playing Until Dawn with the help of those watching was a highlight of our GameBlast19 stream in February. We decided to schedule another stream for Halloween after receiving requests from blogger-friends to continue our playthrough – and that spooky time is now here.

If you don’t fancy trick-or-treating and the thought of playing a horror game on your own leaves the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end, why not head over to Twitch and join us from 20:00 GMT for a couple of hours. We’ll be streaming Until Dawn each evening through to Sunday and we need your help in making the ‘best’ decisions to keep our characters alive. Who will be the first to meet their doom? Will the Wendigos take them all down? Will I pass the controller to Pete while I hide behind a cushion? Let’s find out.

We’ll then be tackling Supermassive Games’ next title The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan for GameBlast20 if we’re brave enough after thus experience. Our challenge will see us playing video games for at least an hour each day for 50 days straight from Sunday, 05 January 2020, before ending that period with a 24-hour marathon session from Saturday, 22 February 2020. Further details will be coming next week, and in the meantime you can check out the link to our dedicated GameBlast20 page in the menu at the top of the screen.

To all you ghouls, ghosts, spooks and spectres, we wish you a very happy Halloween.   👻



God of War: my love for the Leviathan

God of War has received all sorts of praise and accolades over the past couple of months. Much of this has been for the quality of story and relationship between Kratos and his son. What seems to have gone under the radar is how well designed the Leviathan Axe is.

It all comes down to ‘feel’. Take DOOM’s shotgun and BFG 9000, the web-swinging in Spider-Man 2 and the movement in Mario 64 – they all just ‘feel’ right. Shots are satisfying, swinging is spot on and the jumps are precise.

God of War, video game, Kratos, god, warrior, Leviathan Axe

The Leviathan Axe is right up there with them.

Swings are slow enough to be powerful but fast enough so that you never feel you’re lagging in battle or leaving yourself open to enemies unnecessarily. Powers can be upgraded with runes and special cores but where the axe really shines is in the throw and recall. Kratos can launch the thing with one hand or two, and the game does a great job in communicating the effort he puts into each heave. More than that, the sound of it whooshing through the air, pinging off a metal surface or embedding in a plank of wood is just as it should be.

The best moments, however, are saved for when he recalls the axe. Willing it back to his palm, the weapon flies through the air, taking the most direct route it can. It travels through enemies, smashes pots and always meets Kratos’ outstretched arm with a small thud and gentle vibration of the controller. It’s perfect.

Hand- and-axe work in joyous harmony in these moments. Even in the midst of combat the animations allow for him to catch and immediately swing. Later upgrades even unlock an alley-oop move where Kratos leaps, catches and swings down onto whatever is in front of him.

God of War, video game, Kratos, god, warrior, Leviathan Axe

The final piece in the jigsaw is the horseshoe-shaped hook that sits at the back of every piece of chest armour Kratos can acquire. On his back and between the shoulder blades, it serves as the way of carrying the axe around when no in his grip. It moves convincingly when empty and Kratos clips the weapon into it (where handle meets axe-head) with a well thought and natural movement of his arm. Not once did it just appear there. Every time Kratos deliberately hooked it into place, whether standing still, walking or sprinting, if the axe started in his hand he went through the action of stowing it on his back.

Who needs the Blades of Chaos, eh?

Creative Christmas: festive gaming memories

It’s day two of the Creative Christmas collaboration, where a group of bloggers are joining forces to tackle 12 video-game-related questions all based around a loose festive storyline. Following on from yesterday’s entry about a gift for someone special, the next we’re facing is:

You’re wrapping presents while listening to cheesy festive tunes, and start to reminisce about holidays past. What’s your favourite Christmas gaming memory?


My answer

A lot of Later Levels visitors will know how much the Monkey Island series means to me. I’ve written about the reasons for this on several occasions: I first played The Secret of Monkey Island after receiving an Amiga 500 for Christmas as a nine-year old back in the very early 1990s, and have loved adventure games (and had a crush on Guybrush Threepwood) ever since.

This isn’t the festive memory I’d like to write about today though. The one I have in mind to share is a lot more recent and is something that happened around a year after meeting my stepson for the first time. This boy has taught me a lot over the past four years, including the fact that perhaps the theme tune to The LEGO Movie Videogame holds more wisdom than it first seems.

For Christmas in 2015, I decided to surprise the Pete and Ethan with a PlayStation 4. I’d been doing my best to put them off for months beforehand so my plan wasn’t spoiled but the lads were making things tough: for example, while out shopping one weekend, my other-half pointed out an advert outside a shop showing Minecraft on the console. It was an incredibly sneaky move and one which sent my stepson into ‘if we had a PlayStation’ overdrive.

Fortunately, I managed to keep the gift a secret until the big day and couldn’t wait to see their reactions. Ethan dived into his stocking with eight-year-old enthusiasm and eventually reached a thin, rectangular present. He discovered LittleBigPlanet 3 upon opening it and was a little confused: “I’ve always wanted to play this game! But it says it’s for PlayStation and we don’t have one…”

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, Ethan

The look on his face when he realised what was going on was priceless; I wish I’d taken a photograph. We spent the majority of the holidays playing video games, with friends and family popping up on Twitch while my stepson was streaming so they could say hello. It’s usually the NES or PlayStation 2 that people name when asked what their favourite console is but I think mine would now have to be the PS4.

I’m guessing we’ll get a similar reaction this year when Ethan finds out that members of our families have clubbed together to get him a PlayStation VR (shhh). But this time, I’ll be ready with the camera.

Other answers

🎁   Thero159 from A Reluctant Hero
👪   Joey from AlunaRL
🎅   Athena from AmbiGaming
❤   ClanGeek
🦌   Morgan from Fistful of Glitter
🎄   Luna from GamersUnitedGG Blog
🦃   Nathan from Hurricane thought process
🎮   LightningEllen from LightningEllen’s Release
👗   Log 1932
🤞   NekoJonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog
🎉   Dan and Jon from nowisgames.com
🎁   Chris from OverThinker Y
👪   Austin from Reaper Interactive
🎅   Retro Redress
❤   Brandon from That Green Dude
🦌   The Dragon’s Tea Party
🎄   The Gaming Diaries
🦃   Kevin from The Mental Attic
🎮   The Optimistic Gamer
👗   The Shameful Narcissist Speaks
🤞   Daniel from True Video Games

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: You receive a call from Santa, as the elves desperately need a hand in the workshop getting all the toys ready. Which video game character would you recruit to help out?

Creative Christmas: a gift for someone special

Today is the start of the Creative Christmas collaboration, where a group of bloggers are joining forces to tackle 12 video-game-related questions all based around a loose festive storyline. The first we’re going up against is:

You need to choose a gift for someone special and go online to check out the video game item catalogue. Who is this person and what present would you select for them?


My answer

My other-half and stepson gave me The Last Guardian as a gift for Christmas last year. Neither of them had played ICO or The Shadow of the Colossus but they knew much I adored both of these games, along with how excited I was about Fumita Uedo’s latest title. It would have been something I’d have picked up for myself once the festive madness had died down so receiving it early was a lovely surprise.

Although there are a number of issues with this release, it’s one of the most touching and thoughtful I’ve played. Yes, it can be extremely annoying when you need Trico’s help to reach a ledge and all he wants to do is clean his feathers or play with a nearby chain; but at the same time, it’s moments like this which help create one of the most believable bonds between a human and animal within a video game.

Pete and Ethan were around to see me play the majority of The Last Guardian and became as absorbed in it as I did. As I made it to the end and we watched the final cutscene one weekend, I couldn’t help but brush away a tear as I thanked them once again for their present. My stepson then told us how much he was going to miss Trico and jokingly asked if we could get one as a pet.

How amazing would it be if it was possible to give him the opportunity to meet a creature like that in real life? Not necessarily to keep one as a pet (as explained in this post) – I dread to think about where we’d put him or how much the weekly food bill would cost, and I don’t think our cats would appreciate it very much. But the chance to see a Trico in the flesh, while Ethan’s ten-year old head still believes in magic and mystery.

Obviously that’s never going to happen but it’s a nice thought nonetheless. I can only imagine how excited my stepson would be and how many photographs he’d want us to take. So there’s my answer for the first Creative Christmas question: I’d love to be able to get my family tickets to visit a Trico out in the wild.

Other answers

🎅   Athena from AmbiGaming
❤   ClanGeek
🦌   Morgan from Fistful of Glitter
🎄   Luna from GamersUnitedGG Blog
🦃   Nathan from Hurricane thought process
🎮   LightningEllen from LightningEllen’s Release
🤞   NekoJonez from NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog
🎁   Chris from OverThinker Y
🎅   Retro Redress
❤   Brandon from That Green Dude
🦌   The Dragon’s Tea Party
🎄   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: You’re wrapping presents while listening to cheesy festive tunes, and start to reminisce about holidays past. What’s your favourite Christmas gaming memory?

Beautiful Desolation: mapping out the future

In January I backed the Kickstarter campaign for Beautiful Desolation before I’d even finished watching the promotional video. I’d been a backer for The Brotherhood’s first project in November 2013, isometric science-fiction adventure STASIS, and so I didn’t need to see the end of the sales pitch by Chris Bischoff to know it would be something special.

This point-and-click is set in a post-apocalyptic future after the Penrose monolith appeared without warning in the sky in 1980. Governments laid claim to this impossibly-shaped structure, assembling an investigation team to learn more about its origin and purpose; they were able to reverse-engineer the technology discovered and this accelerated our understanding of physics, materials and computing by centuries. Mankind hurtled forward on an alternative historical trajectory and the world rejoiced – but discovered at the heart of the Penrose, a terminal revealed an unencrypted line of text: “I WILL FIX THIS. MARK LESLIE.”

Beautiful Desolation, video game, map, aerial, mountains, clouds

Last week I received one of the regular updates on the project, this time on the subject of its maps and they’re stunning – take a look at one of them opposite. The developer advised that a major inspiration in their design was bringing back the excitement of exploring the original Fallout’s map, and theirs provides a ‘tangible link’ to everywhere you’re able to explore in the game’s post-apocalyptic world. Bischoff wrote: “Geography and history will entwine to reflect in the environments and their march through time. Working on the histories of the different areas and how they’ve grown out of this ruined world, is both exciting and challenging.”

Maps are often something we take for granted in video games. We use them to get our bearings, figure out which way to go next, perhaps even fast-travel to our intended destination – but it’s rare that we take a step back and just admire them. They clearly take a lot of planning in order to work properly and I get the impression that more effort goes into them than us non-developer types could imagine. Not only are they functional, but they’re a treat for the eyes too.

One person who has picked up on this is Dimlicht from Game Cartography whose blog showcases some of the most gorgeous in-game maps. Her latest post is on Horizon Zero Dawn and if you’ve read anything I’ve written recently, it’s pretty obvious I’m wrapped up in this title. She wrote: “At first glance just an ordinary in-game map, nothing really special about it. But up close it turns out to be a surprisingly detailed aerial photo-ish kind of map. Did I already mention how beautiful this game is!?”

Horizon Zero Dawn, video game, map, aerial, mountains, clouds

And she’s absolutely right. Zooming into the atlas reveals all kinds of details such as rocky outcrops, curious structures and abandoned buildings, while the clouds seem to float across the surface. A number of times I’ve been on my way to the next quest, only to stop to check direction and then get distracted by something intriguing on the map. It could go some way towards explaining why I’m almost 80 hours into the title and only two-thirds of the way through the main storyline; but on the plus-side, I’ve discovered some excellent modifications in this way.

The next time you’re playing a video game, take a moment to admire its map and all of the hard work that went into creating it. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road can take you there.

Aloy: because she’s worth it

Video games often require the player to go with logic which at first seems a little… well, flimsy. For example, Lara Croft may be the first person to enter an ancient tomb in years but will find a machine gun upgrade lying in the rubble. Go figure.

That however pale in comparison when you compare it to a more recent one. A fact so completely beyond belief that if you think about it for too long, there’s a very real danger the fabric of the entire universe will disintegrate around us and video games will be a thing of the past. What am I talking about?

Aloy’s hair in Horizon Zero Dawn.

This girl can rappel down the world’s tallest mountain and slide into a patch of tall grass as soon as she hits the dirt. She can go head-to-head with Thunderjaws, Rockbreakers and Deathbringers without even breaking a sweat or a fingernail. 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 she knows she’s worth it. With a few grey hairs starting to show, a desperate need for straighteners on a daily basis and an aversion to even the slightest damp day, mine makes me look as if I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards in comparison.

I should hate her, really despise that makeup- that-looks-like-no-makeup thing she has going on and her ability to come out of any scenario with an immaculate appearance. But I just can’t; her attitude and independence make her one of the most likeable characters I’ve ever had the opportunity to step into the shoes of. Her physical beauty isn’t something she nurtures and she pulls up anyone who doubts her skill due to her age or gender. She tells men that her ‘eyes are up here’, questions the right of the matriarchs to take power simply because they’ve had children, and pulls apart any traditions that don’t make sense. She’s simply awesome.

Aloy’s red tresses were the work of Johan Lithvall, character artist at Starbreeze Studios. He said on the ArtStation website:

It was a fun challenge to learn the intricacy of game hair development and work with my colleagues in code, rigging and shading to realize our 100k triangles in-game hair for Aloy to be fully dynamic, driven by 50 splines at 3-5 ms whilst maintaining a stable 30fps on a PS4 system.

Take a look at the images on the site – I love the way the protagonist is perfect-but-not-perfect, with flyaway hairs escaping from her braids and the style not entirely symmetrical.

Khinjarsi recently published a post on Upon Completion entitled All the Small Things which notes that it’s the smaller details in video games which ‘make us laugh, make us cry or bring us that little bit closer to our characters’. There are a number of such elements in Horizon Zero Dawn that elevate it to being one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever experienced. Aloy’s hair ruffles when the wind catches it, and she hunches over and hugs herself when she’s battered by the rain. The mechanical beasts limp and spark when they’re wounded, and the way interact with their herd is almost magical. And have you seen the tree ants? You need to see the tree ants.

In a recent patch, developer Guerrilla Games included an update for the title’s photo mode and I’ve been making the most of the new filters, poses and facial expressions. Soak up Aloy’s model-like beauty below – because she’s worth it.

Horizon Zero Dawn photo gallery

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