Followup to hit Until Dawn announced by Supermassive Games

I didn’t get around to sharing what I was most excited about from E3, which happened a month ago now. Fuck me, what happened to 2017?

So, Supermassive Games, developer of my 2015 Game of the Year, is releasing a new choose-your-own-adventure game, Hidden Agenda. Unlike Until Dawn, Hidden Agenda offers a multi-player mode, where friends vote for specific actions via their phones. While serial-killer plots have been done to death, Until Dawn offered a cool take on horror tropes, and I’m hoping Hidden Agenda will do the same for psychological thrillers.

Supermassive also announced The Inpatient, a prequel to Until Dawn. It’s set 60 years before the events of Until Dawn, in the Blackwood Sanitarium. The game will only be for Playstation VR, which might, maybe, make me take the plunge to a VR setup. I’m going to wait for some trusted reviews first. The whole stealth gameplay and hiding in lockers thing . . . I’m not sure about that. Outlast didn’t do it for me.

Both Hidden Agenda and The Inpatient should be out at the end of the year.

SOS: The Ultimate Escape offers disappointing avatar options

The big hit of the week in gaming has been the alpha test of battle royale multiplayer  SOS: The Ultimate Escape.

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Under the overarching narrative of a reality game show – with the audience voting for their fan favorites – players pick an avatar and compete to be one of three survivors to grab a relic and make it to the helo to be lifted off a monster-infested island. Rounds last 30 minutes, and the play is fast and – thanks to humans being humans – unpredictable.

The game looks great and I can’t wait for it to go to general release. The thing I’m mightily disappointed in is the avatar options.



You can play around with customizeable hair shade and length to individualize your avatar within pretty limited parameters.



Of course there are more caucasian males than any other option, but at least there’s an asian man and a black man (this is literally how low the bar is in gaming representation – I’m grateful there’s a grand total of two non-white options.) There is an option for a heavier male build. You’ll notice, however, there’s zero option to be a woman of color, or to be a woman of the same age as some of the male avatars.

Update: there is one older caucasian woman option.

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Yes, it’s an alpha build. But gamers are diverse, and we’ve been asking for avatars that reflect this for a mighty long time.

My hope is when Outpost Games take this to beta release they listen to us.


Update 5 July: here’s a pic of all the basic avatar options, linked to in the comments by Elizabeth, who may or may not be from Outcast Games. Maybe she’s just a salty fan of the game. Hell, I’m a fan of the game and I didn’t even get into the alpha.

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Lighting levels make the pic damn near useless, but I’ve squinted a lot, and I still don’t think I can see any black women.

The “missing black woman formation” is in itself problematic, but is still a useful basic check for diversity.

I’ll update as more info comes to light (heh, see what I did there?)

Pyjamarama is underappreciated.


While other 80s games like Donkey Kong ended up spawning a 200+ game franchise and iconic characters that have become Halloween costume staples, Pyjamarama (1984) hero Wally Week languishes utterly unknown.

Question mark box and Mario, photo by ultrakickgirl on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

And yet Pyjamarama was the better game. It’s a direct ancestor of modern games like Outlast.

In Pyjamarama Wally is asleep and needs to wind his alarm clock so he can wake up on time in the morning, get to work, and not lose his job (sure, no 80s proto-neoliberalist fears reflected here). Finding the key (spoiler: it’s on the moon) involves realizing you need to slide the pound coin into the change machine to get a penny, which will unlock the toilet* where you’ll find the hammer you need to break the glass on the fire extinguisher which you need to get past the fire and  . . . . .

On your way through all this you had to avoid Wally-eating Venus flytraps, ghosts, animated roast chickens, flying double-headed axes, and assorted other things out to do you harm. The graphics were state of the art at the time, and these guys were inventing game design which we still use today.

Remember, no online walkthroughs in 1984, because no world wide web. If you got stuck you could write in to a magazine like Computer and Video Games with a question and hope they published your letter in a few months, and that a reader would write back with the solution for you in another few months. This is the reason I never finished a single one of the Level 9 Computing’s text adventure games. It tooks weeks of experimenting to find the right solution to a next step. Games were a committment: an investment in time and effort.

Goddamn Return to Eden. I never even got across the river. I curse this game.

I do like gaming a hell of a lot more now. I like being able to find a solution to my stuckness inside of 60 seconds, but I also adore the sheer beauty of modern games. But maybe they’ve made me a little less persistent.

You can play Pyjamarama in a ZX Spectrum emulator online here, for free, right now.** And appreciate the times when this was as good as gaming got.


*This is because in British Empire countries, when you needed to use the bathroom you’d say, “I’m going to spend a penny.” My great-grandmother always said, “I’m going to see a man about a dog” which left me wondering why she saw so many men about dogs and yet never went ahead and bought a puppy. Now I just wonder why she needed to announce to everyone why she was leaving the living room. Could you not just . . .go?

** And if you get stuck, the walkthrough is here.

Music Monday: Aloy’s Theme, and Horizon Zero Dawn first impressions

My body clock is utterly horked. I stayed up all night playing Horizon Zero Dawn, slept briefly, played more HZD, slept through the afternoon, now I’m about to eat some kind of combined breakfast/dinner dealie and play all night again. You’re gonna laugh: I’m only 10% of the way through the game. But my carrying capacity is maxxed out, and small animals throughout the land have learned to fear me. No rat is safe.

Fuck the main quest. Tonight I’ll be combing ruins again to find remnants of the Before times. Wanna know when I fell in love? When I found a text detailing Schott V. Frost, in which the Supreme Court “granted corporations the right to run for and hold political office through proxy candidates.” Hahaha, we all would have said thirty years ago. Now, I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t happen.

One text is about New Zealand, and I HAD ALL THE SQUEES! (Devs, please note, you meant to say “Hokinga Mai” – welcome back/welcome return – not “Haere Mai” – welcome.)

When I saw the first trailer I said it looked like Far Cry Primal: Mecha Edition. And it is Far Cry Primal Mecha Edition. But it’s so much fun.

Things I like about the game:

The tendrils of melody as I wander and hunt.

When you kill an animal because you need to craft stylish accessories from its corpse, you no longer have to search the long grass for three hours to find it (helloooo Far Cry 3), because a marker pops up at its location.

Colored markers indicate uncommon/rare items. If you’re hanging out for a boar bone you can litter the woodland with boar corpses and not waste time searching them, because their  marker is white. You’re looking for a green or blue marker. Go ahead, shoot that goose across the river. White marker? Nah, nothing you need there. Don’t bother swimming over to get it.

Large-scale machine slaughter. It’s so satisfying to lurk in the long grass, lure Watchers to me, and impale them in a single thrust of my mighty spear. There’s erotic subtext going on there, don’t tell me there isn’t.

Tallnecks. Climbing a Tallneck is 10,000 times better than climbing a radio tower. The ground shakes as they walk by. They’re impossibly beautiful. They feel real.

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The ruins. Oh, the ruins *happy sigh*. God, they’re gorgeous. Burn it all, bring down the world, let me wander through unspoiled wilderness, beside trout-filled streams, to poke through the husks of churches and office blocks.

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The whole soundtrack, which is here on YT, and also on Spotify.

Things I don’t like about the game:

Variable-ratio positive reinforcement. When you kill machines, or animals, sometimes you get rare and uncommon items. But not all the time. This is classical operant conditioning, and is why I decide to play for 10 minutes – just to upgrade my backpack to level four – and five hours later I’m a drooling, dehydrated mess. The devs added this feature because variable rewards are cracky. And when you get a rare item, there’s this sound. Oh, that sound. It’s brief, quiet, and satisfying, a kind of electronic sliiiide-thunk, like part of your soul is slipping into place. I have killed foxes just to hear the sliiiide-thunk. I hate myself.

Aloy. I keep wanting to type Ayla, from the Clan of the Cave Bear series. Also I think her name is supposed to remind us of Alloy, and how two together are stronger than one. Anyway, she holds her arms out too far from her body and it looks dumb. Also she keeps repeating stock phrases as I force her to wander the wilderness collecting tat so I can craft more tat. “A useful little plant . . . and bitter!” “This was easier when I was a kid.” “So much for being careful.” The first time is cute, but it’s constant. Now it’s nails down a blackboard. And you play as her. There’s no getting away from it.

The tribe’s called The Nora. Every time someone says the name I hear “bloody Nora.

Aloy literally says the line, “Who says I’m like other Nora?”

The aim assist with arrows. I’m playing on medium difficulty. I hope this goes away on hard, but currently it’s almost impossible to miss my target. I’ve seen an arrow get pulled off flight by 25 degrees in the last foot to embed itself in the carcass of a bunny. Dude, I know I missed. My ego is not so fragile that you have to cheat on my behalf.

Combat against humans. This is introduced poorly. You train against machines and then suddenly you’re in the middle of a battle with multiple waves of *redacted because spoilers*. It’s trial by fire, man!

The devs fridged  a character to give Aloy motivation for the rest of the game. She got to say a few lines, befriend Aloy, and then die horribly.

Killing Striders.

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They’re horses. You can override their code and ride them. Sure, they’re metal, but they’re horses. When you whistle they clop-clop right over to you with their big inquisitive heads, and then you lunge out of hiding, spear them in the heart, and their huge bodies sag to the ground with a last, sad snort. In the initial stages you have to kill Striders to get enough metal shards to make progress.I hate killing them.

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I have no problem killing Watchers: they look like velociraptors, wheee.

Static side quest characters. Right at the beginning I helped some dude who’d hurt his leg, and saved his daughter for him. Days later he, his daughter, and his bum leg are still in exactly the same place by the river.

A big problem:

The guy hearing voices bashed someone’s skull in with a rock someone because the voices told him to. Of course he did. Devs, it’s not the 1950s. This kind of characterization of mental health issues is not OK. It’s not like he even has more personality than this. He’s the guy who hears voices and who bashed a man’s head in. That’s literally all we can ever know about him.

Even worse problem:

In a grievously horrible developer decision the Nora warriors are called ‘braves’. This is cultural appropriation, and their response to having this pointed out to them show they gave it zero consideration. Just call them warriors.

Overall recommendation:

The long list of things I don’t like make it seem I don’t like the game as a whole. Incorrect. I love it. It’s gooood, buy eeeeet.

My inclination is to do nothing but play this for a week until I beat it and can rest. It’s the only way I know to stop myself obsessing.

Gaming With Lou

One of my favorite YouTubers, Gaming With Lou, just started a new series playing through indie game Estranged, in which “a lone fisherman . .  is stranded on a mysterious island during a violent storm. Explore the rich environments and meet the curious inhabitants of the island as you find a way back to the mainland.”

She has a tiny channel (66 subs) and it would be great to get some extra support for her on this series, because it’s slightly more of a horror than I expected, and Lou hates horror games, and confession: I persuaded Lou to play this. If you also like relaxing while watching Let’s Plays, check Lou out (language can be mildly NSFW – one of the reasons I love her.)

Video game nostalgia: Finding solitude

In a recent post on the excellent gaming blog Feebles Plays, Feebles640 shared memories of playing Tomb Raider as a kid: a family-bonding experience with a good slice of hero worship and fantasy fulfillment thrown in.

The post was interesting to me because my experience is the opposite: I will always associate gaming with the transition from shared social experiences to an individual experience.

As a kid, “games” meant board games. Specifically Monopoly, Scrabble, Equable (like Scrabble but with maths),  Ludo, backgammon, chess, dominoes, cribbage, and Mah-Jong. I longed for exciting newfangled American games like The Game of Life and Careers, but these were considered common by my grandmother, so we didn’t own them (no-one clings to propriety like a working class family trying to fake middle class). We played games together at the dining room table, all the time, certainly more than once a week. It was a normal way to pass the evenings.

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I could only dream of a spinny wheel instead of dice

My grandmother worked as a receptionist in the management office of a  downtown Auckland shopping mall. In 1976 she brought home a huge treat from the very first shipment of generic Atari knock-offs: a heavy console the size of two shoeboxes plastered in dark fake-wood vinyl laminate, with two cylindrical controllers with rotating knobs on top. This was Pong.

(skip forward to 9:03 for hot and heavy Pong action)

The TV had no ports, of course. My grandfather had to unscrew the aerial cable to attach the console – via an RCA connection and an adaptor – to  our 10″ black and white Panasonic. It played two-player Pong, and single player squash/handball, and what was allegedly a clay pigeon shooting simulator, only the ‘guns’ were not available in New Zealand.

Pong was not that captivating, but I was hooked. Sadly, I didn’t get to play that often. I had three other humans to play with – my grandparents and my mom – but no one had the same fortitude for the game I did, plus when the game was on we couldn’t watch TV. There was – of course – only the one TV in the house.

Television was a shared experience too. More than shared by my family, it was shared by the entire country. TV was what one discussed at school the next day, what adults talked about at work. There were two channels in New Zealand: TV One and “the other channel” – TV2. Both were government run. One played the news and documentaries. Two played soap operas, dramas, and truly dreary ‘comedies‘ featuring racism and homophobia.

If I wanted to watch a show I had to negotiate with an adult who invariably preferred something involving Britain and coal miners’ strikes.

Sunday nights meant home-made hamburgers and A Dog’s Show; possibly the only prime-time TV show of dogs herding sheep that has ever existed. It was such an important show we were allowed to eat “on our knees” so we could watch TV during dinner.

But then in 1981 I saved months’ worth of pocket money and worked odd jobs to buy a handheld Pac-Man knockoff: Grandstand Mini-Munchman. It cost $19.95, which is $80 in today’s terms. That was a lot for a kid back then. It was worth it.


I fucking loved this game. It was the first time in my life I was able to be at home, yet still alone in my head: my first non-communal domestic experience.

I shared a bedroom with my mom. We had one living room in the house where we all sat in the evenings. I watched the same TV as my family, read the same books and newspapers, we went to the same movies together, visited the same places. Weekends meant “going for a drive” aka sitting in the car for three hours on hot vinyl seats while we drove to some picturesque spot, looked out the car windows, and then drove back home. I was never allowed to just be. But silly hand-held Mini-Munchman was mine. No-one else could play at the same time. No-one could watch me play. Even though I was in the same room with my family, it was a blessed solitary experience.

For Xmas 1981 my mom bought me a Galaxy II.

The graphics were really just monochromatic, but colored plastic overlays gave the impression of multi-colored aliens. Another kid in my class brought one to school. He earned detention, but the teacher let him off if he loaned the game to him overnight.

I think my family might have moved to ban me from the living room at this point. No human could listen to that noise all day without the help of some serious pharmaceuticals. Or hard liquor.

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In 1982 I got a Commodore Vic-20 – hello Thermonuclear War Game – followed by an Amstrad CPC464 in 1984 (which, incredibly, I used right up until my first Windows PC in 1991).

Finally I could go from writing out BASIC programs on my grandfather’s IBM Selectric typewriter to actually doing the real thing. In 1986 I got my own bedroom, plus we got a second television. I had physical space to withdraw to and do my own thing. And my thing was computers, gaming, and books.

My grandmother, particularly, must have missed me as I withdrew from my family. New Zealand was slow to change. Born in the Depression, in an era that necessitated family closeness, she would never have dreamed culture would evolve so much that children would go their own way, would reject the path laid out for them.

I think I’ve been escaping into computers and video games ever since. Like books, they got me through some tough times.

And now screens bring us together. My friends around the world are my community, even when I can only dream of the day I finally visit and give them hugs and Jaffas. Plus I get to talk to everyone reading this blog, for which I am immensely grateful. Love and thanks to you all.



The stunning No Man’s Sky soundtrack

One brilliant thing has come out of No Man’s Sky: the glorious cinematic soundtrack by 65daysofstatic.

It’s great for writing to. Buy it.

The game itself, on the other hand, is even more disappointing than I’d feared. The ‘procedurally generated’ worlds of No Man’s Sky offer 18 trillion pretty but meaningless backgrounds for nothing much at all to happen across.

You encounter animals clearly assembled from a stock base of body parts and behaviors, and you can feed them, but you can’t tame a herd or make a friend to take it exploring with you across the galaxies. The worlds are visually interesting, but they’re not designed on a human scale. There’s no tiny intimate secrets to be uncovered. No carefully crafted moments of visual gorgeousness so sublime they take my breath away, a la Far Cry 3.

There’s a lot of player reviews of No Man’s Sky which are far more enthusiastic (the critics, not so much), so I’m willing to accept it’s me, not the game. But look at this landscape. Isn’t it fascinating? Tree roots, or geologic formations? What’s the ecosystem that has evolved around these?

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To the game, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is shooting shit into glassine fragments, harvesting the elements for a half-dozen different kinds of fuel, and moving on to the next planet, the next satellite station, the next trader, the next – faster – ship, over and over and over again.

Like The Jimquisition says, No Man’s Sky effectively portrays the loneliness of space by providing so little for the player to do that it’s tempting to flush one’s self out of an airlock just to break the tedium.”

The ending is Sisyphean.

Technically, the game is a great feat. In effect it’s an indie game, and kudos to Hello Games for taking such a huge step forward. The thing about first steps? They’re unsteady and do no more than move us from point A to point B. The games to come, that build on this, will be amazing. Imagine an MMO with billions of world (trillions is too many), where you can encounter anyone – a microcosm of the internet itself. Image a world colonized by Reddit, the m/m romance world (speedos compulsory), or a planet that is just yours and yours alone, to explore over a virtual lifetime. It will happen, and Hello Games will have helped take us there, and I’m already grateful to them for that.

Yeah, that music, though. I’ll be listening to it all day.