My Thoughts On: Euclidean

Rudimentary creature of blood and flesh. You touch my mind, fumbling in ignorance, incapable of understanding.

Euclidean is a wonderfully macabre little game that I came across on Steam recently that does something that a lot of other games attempt (but fail) to do. This game presents the otherworldly existential terror of Lovecraftian horror in a rather excellent set of ways:

  1. You are not a hero: You don’t win this game, really. You’re pretty much doomed from the very start and you’re barely clinging onto life in a ridiculously hostile environment.
  2. You don’t know where you are: The environments you find yourself in are strange, alien and unnerving. There is a constant haze surrounding everything, which you occasionally glimpse through pulses of energy that ripple through the landscape you’re floating through.
  3. You can die easily: Every nasty sounding creature swimming and writhing through the games levels are out to get you. You’re essentially a tiny little snack that doesn’t really matter at all.
  4. Everything is Alien: You have no idea what things are or whether or not they are something that will hurt you. All the monsters in the game look strange and otherworldly, and you’ll only ever get occasional glimpses of them as they phase in and out of your perception of reality. These creatures and objects hum and pulse with monstrous energy – they’re all weird and impossible to explain.

If you’re into existential terror and dread, I’d give this one a try. It’s a bit short though, so you’ll have to weigh up if you can spare the money for about half an hour of gameplay with weird and wonderful alien terrors.

 

My Thoughts On: The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle that may have topped my list of “The Most Meta and Self-Aware Games of All Time” (If I had such a list… which I don’t…) You may have seen me gushing about it on Twitter to the developers and getting ridiculously excited as I played it.

Needless to say expect spoilers as I talk about this game. If you’ve not played it yet, please go play it right now. You’ll enjoy it. You can get it on Steam right now in Early Access – but it’s pretty much feature complete right now other than language localisation.

The Magic Circle is the story of a game that has been so long in development that the creators have lost sight of the original idea, piss-poor planning has lead to an ever evolving piece of vapourware that will never be released. The player is trapped within the game, guided by an angry AI who is also trapped within the game.

The game itself is ridiculously self-aware and owns it. It looks at a tonne of different aspects of game development, even including a trip to a fictional parody of E3. The player can edit the games code to their advantage in order to cause chaos and bend the software to their whims.

Needless to say the game was absolutely beautiful and made excellent use of the black and white world with splashes of colour to bring out life. There was lots of places to explore (I’m not sure if I’ve collected and see everything as of yet – but I’m definitely close…) and the game really challenges you to think creatively to get access to the more difficult to reach items and locations.

The games voice acting is absolutely spot-on and really brings the characters to life. Its all excellent and the use of environmental storytelling, hidden files and audio-logs allows the player to piece together the history of The Magic Circle through exploration.

The story of the obsessive and somewhat egotistical game developer Ishmael really got to me on a whole bunch of different levels. His downfall towards the end of the game made me feel that suddenly I was the bad guy, destroying something that was his. Then again I completely understand how angry his fans were getting, I was the same with Molyneux and GODUS. Ish puts his whole soul into the game because it’s all he has, I tend to put all my spare time into my games because they’re part of me too – you’ll always notice that I’ll do a lot more game development when I’m upset or lonely because they’re how I cope with a bunch of different negative emotions. For me, game development has always filled the gaps that other things leave (for everything else, there’s bees…).

The game asked some pretty hard questions: at what point does a game become more the fans than the designers? Do the fans of a game deserve to control the future of a project they’re interested in, what gives them the right to get mad at a designers choices? Is it okay to tell the person who created something that it is no longer theirs to control? If a Kickstarter fails to pull off what it promises does that mean that the developers didn’t care enough, or did they care too much? How far can feature creep go before it becomes a major issue?

As a game developer I feel that my games are my own to work on, and although I’m a big fan of getting the public involved in decision making I like to think I’m the one who makes the final decision on anything – I’d be heartbroken if a project was suddenly commandeered by someone else because it wasn’t necessarily going the way they wanted it to. If suddenly tomorrow someone told me they were taking over Hashtag Dungeon because it was taking too long to come out I would probably have a mental breakdown.

There aren’t many games nowadays that really capture my attention as much as The Magic Circle. It was a humorous but thought provoking romp into the world of game development gone haywire. My only wish is that it had lasted longer, I would love to see a larger world with more puzzles, elements and plot-points to listen to and enjoy. Kudos to the developers for making a game that I can say I truly loved.

Go play it. Go and play it RIGHT NOW.

My Thoughts On: Jazzpunk

Jazzpunk Is Weird

Sean knocks back a glass of his new favourite cocktail Vodkacetamol as he attempts to recollect exactly what he just played for the last few hours. His brain throbs will a dull ache. He can recall colours and sounds but very little else. He remembers pigeons and spray cheese and liberal use of floating text. His hands shake violently as he attempts to glean meaning from the intangible nothingness around him. He has just played Jazzpunk.

That may well be the most hilariously surreal three hours of my life. I cannot remember ever having played a game that strange before (except maybe The Wonderful End Of The World). Whatever the designers are on at Necrophone Games please can I have some? I’d love to make something like this!

Jazzpunk is an exploration of the surreal side of cyberpunk – exploring the craziness of matrix-esque worlds and virtual reality. You play as a secret agent called Polyblank who is tasked with a bunch of random espionage missions including:

  • Shooting pigeons with some kind of degaussing ray gun.
  • Stealing important data and documents from Russians.
  • Poisoning a guy with fugu-fish.
  • Saving the day from a guy who has an accent similar to mine.
  • Playing a ‘Marriage’ version of Quake.

It’s weird. Really, really weird. But its also really, really funny and quite engrossing considering how strange it is. There’s a tonne of little side missions and hidden bonuses that you might miss if you don’t explore the whole world – I know for a fact I’ve not seen everything based on the lack of achievements I managed to grab on my first play through (apparently I need to go talk to some cardboard boxes or something?). One thing that really made me laugh were the small mini games which pepper the world that parody other games: pizza zombies, car beat-em-up games and wedding-based FPSs which all made me laugh out loud.

I also really want to point out how much I liked the art style of the game. The simple models coupled with cartoonish textures and that tell-tale Unity stock cartoon outline shader looked awesome. The music was also pretty good – whacky and over the top at almost every point. I loved it!

One thing I will say though is that the price counts against it – I’ve bought things for far less that have had much longer shelf life. It isn’t worth it if you’re looking for a long-burning game, but if you’re just up for a surreal romp into a world that will constantly surprise you… then go for it – just make sure to medicate properly first.

My Thoughts On: Continue?9876543210

Continue?9876543210 is a game that attempts to answer the question of what happens to a character in a game when they are deleted from memory.

I remember myself and Alex talking about making a game where you play as a pointer that has wandered off into memory somewhere so I was very interested to see what this game would be like. I was hoping for a Zelda-esque hack and slash game… instead it was a very artsy philosophical game filled with oodles of despair.

The game opens as another game finishes – one of several random characters is seen dying. Then a ‘Continue’ screen flashes up on the screen, it ticks slowly down to zero and then everything goes black. It appears though that the character you are controlling doesn’t want to die… at least not yet.

Continue? Screenshot

The character has to spend its last remaining moments in the memory of the system exploring strange artistic set pieces and hiding from the garbage collector. Each time you play the game there are six random levels for you to explore out of a total of eleven. These range from a wartime trench scene to a small haunted village filled with medieval NPCs. When inside a level you have to talk to NPCs and answer their questions in order to gain ‘prayer’ and ‘lightning’ which help you to stay alive.

Lightning helps the player move to another level by destroying obstacles. Prayer lets the player build houses in a town in order to hide from the garbage collector when it comes along to delete stuff. Both are vital to the players survival but no matter how much you get you will eventually die.

Continue? Enemy

The enemies in the game remind me of Stephen King’s langoliers. They’re vicious and hunt you down without remorse – after all you are just memory locations waiting to be cleaned up. The game ends when the player is finally deleted. The players score is defined by how ‘ready’ the character is to die when they finally meet their maker.

The game was apparently inspired by a drug-trip gone bad that left the designer in the middle of the Mexican desert. It seems to me to be all about survival, life and the inevitability of death. It made me think about my life so far and brought up a lot of emotions about death and how I feel about it.

My only issues with the game are the amount of flickering and loud noises that gave me a headache. I expected the game to have a pretentious air around it and it does – however the designer has attempted to combat against this by adding in some fun gameplay here and there. I’m also going to point out that the game is very confusing towards the start: a lot of things happen without much warning and they can really put you off playing.

If you want to try it out and see what you think it’s available on Steam right now.

My Thoughts On: The Stanley Parable Demo

That was perhaps the cleverest ‘demo’ I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.

To be frank I’m not entirely sure if I can classify it as a ‘demo’ in the normal sense of the word. The developers have created an entire mini story in order to bring you into the world of the Stanley Parable without giving away any of the actual game.

I love the premise behind the Stanley Parable: A critical look at traditional game tropes. The narrator specifically makes fun of a great deal of these during this demo. Everything is surprising as it takes what you know and flips it on its head. Non euclidean architecture that could rival even Antichamber was one of my favorite things in the demo.

I’ve been following the Stanley Parable for a good while now and I was most pleased to see that emotion booths are in fact there to be used in the game. It was an amusing nod to the Raphael trailer that myself and Alex have on loop during game jams.

I’m really happy that they’ve managed to invoke the same feelings of mischief that I felt during the original mod. I continued to want to fight the rules and do the exact opposite of what the narrator wanted – and his reaction to this never disappointed me.

All I can say is that the demo was great fun and I really am looking forward to playing the full game. I can’t wait to have my preconceptions of games challenged once again. And I’ve missed Stanley… he must be awfully lonely in his office, pressing buttons all day.

Also: I love that narrator’s voice… it’s smooth as butter.

My Thoughts On: A Machine For Pigs

I have a confession to make: I never finished the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Why? Because of several reasons:

  1. I was a great deal younger and therefore my ability to man the fuck up was severely hindered.
  2. I was playing the game in the dark and with my best friend Mark, who was also unable to man the fuck up. In fact his jumping and breathing down my neck made things worse for me.
  3. We saw the first gatherer and after jumping out of the chair and yanking the mouse out of its USB port decided we’d come back and play it again later.
  4. We never came back to play it again later.

But I did get around to watching Jesse Cox’s wonderful play-through of it. So I didn’t miss out on the story or anything like that. I respected the fear inducing pursuits of the monsters and the creepy warping of the insanity meter. I loved the large levels with multiple rooms and paths.. and I really hoped that they’d make a new one.

So when I heard The Chinese Room were making the new one my first thought was “I don’t know if it’ll be as scary… but it’ll be damn pretty.”  When I saw it had a steampunk Victorian vibe I was pretty excited (I have a distinct love for steampunk…)

I’ve played it through now from start to finish. So I’m going to list my thoughts on it below – I’ve separated them into good and bad points to make it easier for anyone who reads this:

Good Points

I really liked the story (despite having guessed where it was going very early on…) It was creepy, sickening and macabre – it was definitely what I wanted from an Amnesia game. I’ve been told by a few people that they don’t think the ties between this game and the original are strong enough – but I think the references to the original game were just right without being too annoyingly in your face. I liked how they dared to be perverse in their storytelling  when so many games don’t dare to get anywhere close to that. I was engaged by it from start to finish and I liked the ending a great deal.

The setting of the game was beautifully done. I wouldn’t have expected any less from The Chinese Room, though. They really brought grimy industrial London to life. The levels were sufficiently terrifying and I was constantly impressed by the attention to detail in their grand design.

Enemy design was wonderful… the pig men were gross and their effect on the lights always made me think twice before going down a small corridor. There was one particular enemy type close to the end that REALLY caused me to panic in utter terror.

I liked the removal of the insanity, oil and health meters – it allowed to me focus more on the world and the issues at hand instead of fumbling around inside an inventory. Come to think of it the lack of inventory in general really helped to immerse me deeper into the game.

Bad Points

It was too damn short… I was surprised how quickly I managed to plow through it. I was even taking regular Facebook and food breaks to ensure I didn’t die from a heart attack or something.

The really terrifying enemy type I mentioned earlier is only used right at the end of the game for a few encounters. This is a real shame because it was a damned good heavy hitter. Now I know that using it more might have made it lose its impact… but it seemed a shame that it came and went so quickly.

The levels in the game were far too linear… it lacked a great deal of the exploration that made the first Amnesia so interesting. This linearity made the puzzles exceptionally easy too as the solutions to problems were normally a room or two away instead of far on the other side of the level. Hiding from the pig men was something that I would only have to do in order to progress past a certain location instead of in the original Amnesia where they were an ever-present threat. I think this made the game less scary as I knew there was always bound to be an obvious way past the creatures because I needed to get to the area behind them.

Man pigs raping small children is never going to be okay. You hear me? Never.

This Little Piggy Had A Conclusion

A Machine For Pigs is a most excellent game, I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was genuinely terrifying at some moments and thats what I expected from the game. The story was most interesting and enthralling and was played out quite nicely through the use of notes and voice recorders. I would definitely say it lacks some of the things that made the original Amnesia so nerve-wrackingly terrifying but it does a good job of making you jump once in a while. It feels like a decent successor to the first and in an age where sequels never live up to the originals it does hold itself quite well. Nice work The Chinese Room… nice work indeed.