Bean There, Played That

Beans: The Coffee Shop Simulator was a Kickstarter project started in 2016. 298 backers pledged $5,602 to create this “sardonic simulation game about hipsters running a coffee shop.” I for one thank every single one of them because I absolutely adored this game.

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Made by 3 people in their spare time this is a freakishly fun and full tycoon style management sim, but with a twist of being genuinely humorous. You play as Ruby Acee who has been thrust into the coffee industry “grind” by the death of her Great Uncle. However she cannot claim the Coffeebottom fortune and become the true heir until she proves her worthiness against the other heir Rosellinia Coffeebottom. There are a slew of mini-bosses you fight as you battle way to the top of the coffee chain as well.

You have to start your business “from the grounds up” but don’t worry the game won’t “roast” you if you can’t make the best business. Ok, I swear I’ll stop but the game will not so if you hate puns you’ll want to stay far away from this punderful masterpiece. The game pulls no punches with dad jokes, you’ll be confused if it adopted you by the end of it. I love a good groan inducer though so this was one of my favorite things.

The idea of the game is to get customers….you know like a real shop. In order to do that you have to buy appliances, craft recipes, hire employees, and the usual read your customers minds to know what they want you to have in your shop. What that last one isn’t real? Oh well this is why I’m not in marketing.

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As you complete levels the difficulty gets harder and the customers get pickier. You have to be faster, and more caring but the jokes come faster so it’s worth it. This was a blast, and I finished it in two days. It’s short, but you lose yourself in it.

I don’t like management simulations as they make my stress spike. If I can’t handle my real life professional career how do you expect me to manage a virtual one effectively? This one didn’t do that though. I got sucked in and I stayed there. It had a couple bugs, the main one appearing when trying to book bands for your cafe. The buttons will sometimes just disappear, but who cares? These are minor bugs for a small indie game that is so fun. I’ve seen triple A titles with far far worse (looking at you Anthem.)

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If you love management sims, jokes, or both you’ll like this. GO GET IT. It’s such a fun and quirky little adventure. There was DLC mentioned by the devs for a while now that hasn’t come about, but I’m not too concerned. The game itself is enough, any DLC would just be icing on the cake which is what DLC should be.

Highly recommended. Here’s the steam link: https://store.steampowered.com/app/549240/Beans_The_Coffee_Shop_Simulator/

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5 Books I Loved

Typically I write a lot about games here, but that isn’t my only passion. I’ve been an avid reader all my life as well as a reader with fairly eclectic tastes. Tagged in many a Facebook and Twitter game to discuss your favorite books I’m often met with comments of “huh, never heard of that one.” So thought I would discuss 5 books that I loved reading in the past. These are in no particular ranking, they are just listed. If you made me rank them in order this list would probably never exist as I don’t know if I could pick one over the others. They’re like children that way.

You may begin judging me now…

The Fountainhead
by: Ayn Rand

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I regret nothing. There have been things I missed, but I ask no questions, because I have loved it, such as it has been, even the moments of emptiness, even the unanswered-and that I loved it, that is the unanswered in my life.”

The first literary success of Ayn Rand published in 1943. It follows the story of Howard Roark a rebel architect. Roark is dismissed from his school for not following the designs and traditions of others. He moves to New York to work for a disgraced architect named Henry Cameron. The story follows his journey to prove that you have to follow your own heart and visions rather than what is set in stone before you.

Now Jess you may be saying when did you become a hardcore capitalist? Well I didn’t, I swear my bank account can prove it. I simply love the writing style of Rand as evidenced by the quote above. I don’t like the Objectivist philosophy much nor do I like how all the characters are literally walking ideals but guess what? Nothing is perfect. It’s still a power punch to the soul and it really showcases how art should be made…for you, not someone else. Anybody who has ever made something creative might understand some of the things happening.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by: Jonathan Safran Foer

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It was one of the best days of my life, a day during which I lived my life and didn’t think about my life at all.”

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows 9 year old Oskar Schell whose father died during the World Trade Center attacks. He discovers a mysterious key and goes on a quest to discover the mysteries of his father’s death as well as the mysteries within himself.

Safran uses a mixed media approach in Extremely that I absolutely adored. It doesn’t feel contrived or gimmicky instead it is a way to help you visually engage and bring dramatic life to his characters. I can’t imagine any adaptation of the work quite capturing this same feel so I’ve stayed away from the Tom Hanks film based on it.

Jonathan Safran Foer has a way of writing that is unparalleled. When I read a book I love an author that can express an emotion I’m deeply familiar with but can’t express, that is Foer all over. Absolutely gut wrenching and a phenomenal read I plowed through this book in just a couple days. His other work “Everything is Illuminated” is equally stellar. Foer really knows how to express the human condition.

I hope one day to read all of his work but for the moment “Tree of Codes” and “Pocketbook” elude me due to price and rarity.

The Bell Jar
by: Sylvia Plath

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I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.

The story follows Esther Greenwood a college student and aspiring writer. It chronicles her life from relationships, jobs, failures, and her eventual mental decline.

The Bell Jar has some of the darkest themes of all of my favorite books and Esther is by no means a good person, a lot of extremely flawed and outdated views abound here but I think it’s worth trying. Of course Esther struggles to find herself and her place as any early 20 something does, but her disillusionment, which resonated from the author as well, is her touchstone for us all. It’s a magnificent but difficult read with some of the most quotable prose. Plath was and is a literary gem.

Apathy and Other Small Victories
by: Paul Neilan

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It’s like someone who prays every night saying God’s a good listener. Just because you’re talking to us doesn’t mean we’re listening. With me and God, you never really know.

Apathy and Other Small Victories is about Shane, a professional quitter. When he says that he doesn’t care, he means it. A woman is murdered and Shane is the only suspect, but he doesn’t worry about proving his innocence or fixing his terrible reputation. He sleeps in a bathroom stall, sleeps with his landlord’s wife, and steals salt shakers instead.

It’s a hilarious, but very dark humor read. It’s been awhile since I read this and there is probably a lot I have forgotten. I sadly no longer have my copy but I would pick it up again in a heartbeat. I remember I breezed through this book in 2 days laughing the whole way through. I guess you really can’t have manslaughter without the laughter.

The plot isn’t what you come to the book for, it’s the writing. There is a lot of risque material in it but the good outweighs the bad. Sadly this is the only book Paul Neilan has ever written.

The Book of Disquiet
by: Fernando Pessoa

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My past is everything I failed to be.”

Fernando Pessoa is a very strange case. He wrote under many different personalities, each a fully fledged person with backgrounds, likes and dislikes, as well as their own ideologies. The writing of each of them is shockingly distinct as well. The Book of Disquiet is a posthumous work of his from various writings and unpublished works that were found in a trunk after his death.

It’s hard to describe, it’s like reading a diary and a series of quotations from a nonexistent book all at once. It’s in short form paragraph style, but it tells so much. In some ways it works on levels that actual full novels simply can’t. I loved the insights that Pessoa shared, and this books is a gem. It has to be experienced for yourself.  As Pessoa himself says in it “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”

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What A Novel Idea

In the Novelist you play as a ghostly entity watching the Kaplans. The Kaplans are taking a vacation at their summer home, a phrase I couldn’t relate to less if I tried, but it isn’t really a vacation. Dan wants to work on his career as a Novelist (thanks for the spoiler title), his wife wants to work on her career as a painter, and their son Tommy needs to spend time working on his learning difficulties. They’ve got a lot of spirit, namely you watching them. Through a series of reading diary entries and reading their thoughts (don’t ask me how this works it isn’t explained) you learn what each individual member of the family wants and needs to be happy. The catch, you can only help two of the family members. Once finished you whisper your choices creepily into Dan’s ear while he sleeps and watch how your choices affect the family. Pretty weird right?

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You may be able to tell from my tone that I don’t care much for the Novelist. It suffers from the curse of unlikeable protagonist syndrome yet again. It’s an unhappy family simulator which is just what most of us call Thanksgiving. The game tells you the objective is to balance the family and try to heal it, but really it revolves around Dan. Dan hunkers down in his office each day to write his great novel, but there is one thing standing in his way…his family. The choices skew towards him, you whisper your choices to him, the diary entries typically revolve around what he’s doing to the family. It feels unfair to the other two characters. The biggest thing though….I hated Dan. He’s self absorbed, and puts his family as well as everyone else second to his success. This isn’t someone that will be happy with a balancing act.

I only cared about one character, the son. I mildly cared about Linda but even she had selfish issues. Tommy simply wants to study with his family and play. He’s lonely and his parents ignore him. The son is desperately trying to gain attention from 2 parents so helplessly caught up in their own bullshit that they can’t be bothered. it’s not a great feeling.

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Kids are a lot and are a massive time sink. I get that. However when your kid asks you to build one car for him to play in and between the two of you you can’t manage…on a vacation….for weeks? It smacks of seeming like a priority issue. Namely he isn’t your priority. Dan’s success seems the sole focus of the game and honestly I didn’t care. Why should I care about it? Where is the empathy that drives us to care about the choices we make? I wanted to save the family and to get them to love each other again but it feels like it comes down to their success or their family. Life is disappointing but I’d like to be the hopeless optimist that thinks you can try to find both.

There are two game modes, for my stream I played the free roam which allows you to really engage with the story and take your time. There is also a “Stealth” option that allows the family to see you. If you get caught it can spook a family member and cause an option to cease to exist.

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In the end a choice driven game has to make you care about the characters or the story. This didn’t draw me in. I helped Tommy and Dan but it was at the cost of Linda which made me feel like garbage. There’s a guilt when you make certain decisions and it often feels like it’s an unnecessary guilt. At the end of the day the gameplay felt slow, all 3 sections of the summer work the same way.  There is something missing and I hope someone whispers in Dan’s ear to help me figure out what it is. You can move on from the spirit realm without worrying what you missed in this one.

Pros:
-Nice art style
-Chill

Cons:
-Slow and not engaging
-Unlikeable characters
-Decisions felt skewed

4/10

 

 

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Beckett and Call

Where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” – Samuel Beckett

“It’s a box. Open it. Question everything.” This is how Beckett begins. Beckett is the game nobody seems to know about, but it is a visual novel point and click game that is a trip. A multimedia collage that forces you to question reality as well as existence. It’s like someone read a Samuel Beckett play while watching Eraserhead by David Lynch and just went for it.

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You play as a detective who is trying to track down a missing person named Peregrin. Their mother has called you in to investigate the disappearance, so you go from location to location looking for clues. Now I say play, this is not really a game. Much like some of the other games I have reviewed recently it is more of an interactive art installation. The mystery isn’t really even the heart of the game, it’s more of a mcguffin to get you to think about metaphysical issues. The world of Beckett is bleak and replete with odd characters that you meet along the way. Sound and visuals are extremely important to the experience, but the writing is what keeps you.

When I first played Beckett on stream I didn’t really know what to think. The first playthrough was so odd and disconcerting that I felt flabbergasted, but on closer inspection off stream I kinda like it. It’s a short game which is a good thing. Any longer and you would get bored, but at 2-3 hours it really feels like it is complete.

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There is little to no voice acting in the game. The game relies on sounds to evoke emotions, it’s a weird almost ASMR experience. People are not represented but boiled down to a single image, something like a bottlecap, a bug, or a toy soldier. Honestly the list goes on.

It takes away focus from solids and focus on more ephemeral concepts like life itself. It uses abstraction and surrealism to convey its message. If you look at it as a game, you will be disappointed. My first playthrough I definitely felt a little bit let down by the end, but if you focus on it more as interactive art piece you’ll probably enjoy it for its low price point. It’s a short story about one man’s journey portrayed as art.

It’s dark, introspective, and really interesting actually. You can find it here on Steam:
https://store.steampowered.com/app/588230/Beckett/

8/10

Pros:
-Interesting Story
-Good visuals
-Ambience
-Short and good price
Cons:
-Doesn’t really feel like a game
-A lot of characters don’t get fleshed out
-Some things left a little too up in the air

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Loud and Claire

Claire is a 2D psychological horror side-scroller. It’s as if Silent Hill and Outlast had a pixelated child together, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it is good. You play as none other than Claire, a young blond teen who is dozing gently in her mother’s hospital room. She decides “hey coffee, that’s a good idea” and leaves to get it only to end up in a hellish other world. Just a heads up, this is why I stay caffeinated all the time. Get behind me Satan. At this point trapped and alone she must make her way through the world in order to find her comatose mother. She has her trusty dog Anubis with her throughout the journey as well.

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This game wasn’t bad really, it was just boring. The map is massively sprawling, but the environments pretty much look the same since it is a 2D side-scroller so you can get lost pretty easily. I constantly had to check where I was on the map to just make sure I didn’t run into the same spots considering that  in Silent Hill fashion half of the doors and locations on the map cannot be accessed. Place needs a goddamn Cinnabon so I could orient myself easier.

On top of that it’s not very scary or tense. There is no combat but until end game you can easily walk or hide from the Rorschach ink blot blobs that pursue you. You have a sanity and health meter that is never really explained but certain inventory items can help one or both of these. These inventory items are scattered throughout and honestly not very well. I was often overstocked to the point I couldn’t pick up story items, but then in end game there is next to nothing. With no storage boxes it’s hard to keep track of what you need and don’t, there is also no way to simply discard something. You have to use an item in order to discard it. Which means that pills that decrease your sanity may seem like a good idea to use at one time to make room but ended up hurting me long term. The inventory system frustrated the hell out of me.

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The sanity system needed to goooooo as well. I was starting to have fun at one point exploring a school and once I found a room that just instantly killed me. No explanation. Just a death screen. This happens often when your sanity levels spike which is often in the end game. It just felt frustrating rather than a game mechanic that feels like it belongs there.

The game deals with lots of mental health issues but feels half done, half described. I didn’t feel like I cared about the story, in fact that’s how the whole game feels….unfulfilling. It feels like someone played a bunch of horror games and felt inspired but never really understood why those games worked. The game is short with a run time of 4-6 hours so it doesn’t feel like you waste too much time but I was unsatisfied.

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Psychological horror requires a deep investment from the player in the world and story for it to work. This seems to not understand that at all. Try it if you will but be warned it is a game that lacks substance. It can be fun in spots but the majority of your gameplay will be repetitious actions over and over.

4/10

Pros:
-Nice inspiration
-Can be fun at times but not often

Cons:
-Repetitious gameplay
-Confusing map
-Repetitious visuals
-Sanity mechanic is awful

 

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Schedule changes, and updates. Oh my!

Hey friendos,

Bit of an informal blog post for today. If you’re unfamiliar with my life story and merely want me as an anonymous voice in the void. I get that, there are days when I don’t want to deal with me either. However there are some life changes coming up for the next few months that warrant a change in scheduling so I’m filling you in.

Starting in April and going until August I’ll be going back to a full time day job. With this and streaming part time in the evening, also my lack of ability to grind my ass off, I know that I’m going to need to reduce the amount of blog posts from 2 to 1 a week. I’ll still be posting every Sunday but since my podcast releases on Wednesday, shameless plug incoming, I will only be posting on Sunday at 10:30 am.

I’m sorry if this is disappointing but it will ensure that the quality of the posts stays up to what I want and may allow me to get cracking on the YouTube stuff that has been milling around in my head for a bit. I’ve always wanted to be someone that can juggle 55 things at once and do all of them like Beyonce but I am sadly not that person. Which I’m starting to accept and work around.

If you’re curious about what else I do in my spare time in addition to blogging I of course stream most weekday evenings on Twitch, I try to maintain a Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday schedule (though life doesn’t always allow that) and I run a podcast with BlossomingSun.

If you’re interested in Twitch please feel free to follow me at twitch.tv/jessplayin and if you’re interested in the podcast here is the link for our first episode:

I can also be found on Twitter telling jokes a lot. Looking forward to doing a new blog every Sunday! We’ve got lots of new topics and games to discuss all the time. Hearts and shit, til next Sunday!

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God’s Basement and the curse of unlikeable protagonists

History is made at night, character is what you are in the dark.” – Lord John Whorfin

-this will be part review and part analysis, when I get into the analysis I will let you know so nothing is spoiled within the game-

Let me start by saying I love a good purgatory story, and I love a good protagonist with flaws. I’ll watch the living hell out of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is populated by the worst of the worst in mankind. That being said, I HATED the character in God’s Basement with the fiery passion of 10,000 suns. This is predominantly the reason why I am going to be giving this game such a low rating, but it has several other flaws we need to discuss. First, let me tell you a little about the story.

God’s basement is a story driven horror game where you play as James Young. The Young-est of the family (I had to). You wake up in the afterlife and a mysterious entity known only as the “Operator” begins to guide you through various sections of the game trying to bring clarity to your life as well as why you’re in purgatory. Imagine the Stanley Parable minus all the humor and you can imagine how the game plays out.

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I think the best way to break this down is to bullet point it into oblivion.

  1. Puzzles that aren’t puzzles
    There are several puzzles that you as a player have no effect on. They are simply triggered at some point. In order to figure out how to trigger these you have to use some obscure notes you have to figure out how not to interact with them or where to stand/zoom. This simply isn’t a puzzle by my standards. I want to feel like I have to put some thought, effort, or both in my horror game puzzles. As an old school Resident Evil player even something as simple as here is this poem that tells you what emblems to use, now collect and place them feels more interactive than what we get in this game.
  2. Intense staring and wandering
    I mention this a little above. The purpose of a lot of the game will be to read a note, notice that the word radio is used then go stare at a radio which will trigger something to progress the game. Man, this must be hell not purgatory I say to myself because I hate staring contests.
  3. The Operator repeats stuff too much
    If a narrator is the force to move the game along then they should be engaging. The Operator sounds like Ben Stein made a baby with Audrey Plaza in the amount of enthusiasm they have for their job. They also repeat the same bits of information OVER AND OVER. Literally telling us they’ll summarize the previous sections of the game for the player. This is unnecessary as the run time feels between 4-6 hours. I don’t need a recap for every section. I am aware of the tragic backstory of James. I began to feel like this part of the script had a word count. The following video is exactly how the Operator is in this game:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPJ36GIpAf0
     

  4. Sometimes I just felt trolled by the game
    Not only for all the reasons mentioned previously but small things made me feel like the game was trolling me. Neil Young is related to me in this without any sarcasm present. Do we really believe that nobody noticed the name of a major musician in this and thought of the endless jokes? It just felt off, something was not right throughout. Small complaint in comparison to the others but still.
  5. Loading Glitches
    There were multiple loading glitches. The game crashed when I originally started because I apparently clicked my mouse during loading. I was informed by my Twitch chat that this would cause it to cease working. Every time a new section would load I would see the dreaded “Not Responding” appear and would have to pray to the very deities that placed James in purgatory that they would allow me to see the rest without crashing. This is a common Unity problem so I can’t really blame the developer for it, it’s just a bit frustrating when streaming.
  6. DID I MENTION I HATE JAMES!
    Oh the big one, the one that takes the cake. The one where I cannot tell you exactly why I hate James without spoiling, but I will discuss this in more depth within the analysis. However I can say that James is one of the most self centered and entitled characters I’ve played in a long time.

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Now it isn’t all bad! This is the first game for Erebus, and they even point out they hope the experience is bearable. It was definitely that. I did in fact jump multiple times so kudos, you got me. The atmosphere and visuals are the best part of this game, and honestly if the story was just a little bit different I probably would’ve enjoyed it tremendously. What it ends up coming across as is a lesser version of Silent Hill 2 at the end of the day though.

That being said because it was a first effort and the visuals were good I would be willing to give another game a shot by the same developer. I hope they work on their character development though tremendously.

Pros:

-Great atmosphere
-Good use of Unity assets
-Good visuals

Cons:

-Terrible protagonist
-Operator character not great
-Puzzles don’t feel challenging

Now onto the reasons why I hate James, and why this game reallllyyyy doesn’t work for me, I will also be discussing Silent Hill 2 spoilers as comparison. If you want to experience this game on your own this is where I recommend you stop reading and go check it out on Steam here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/753930/Gods_Basement/

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God’s basement forces us to look at what makes a character irredeemable. I have zero sympathy for this character’s choices, that does not mean I have zero sympathy for the character. In order to understand what I’m talking about let’s give a brief rundown.

James Young’s grandparents had a massive car accident, his grandfather and sibling perished but his grandmother survived. As families do, blames were passed around and James parents said he wasn’t allowed to see his grandma. One day James’ parents were brutally murdered and James was placed in his grandma’s care. His grandma begins to get sick and goes crazy. She’s smashing plates, causing issues, and constantly talking about the “man in the radio” which is a voice she hears. So James is left to take care of her. He gets a day job, and takes care of her in the evening.

Sounds reasonable right? We all feel for him tremendously. The struggle of taking care of a loved one slowly fading from your eyes. Sacrificing your happiness for their happiness and well being even though you’re experiencing tremendous grief? Heck yeah. Welp here is where it turns.

James decides he doesn’t enjoy having to deal with her wandering around at night and having to watch her as much so he does what any normal person would do….board her up in her room. SAY WHAT NOW? He then proceeds to slowly realize that he doesn’t want to sacrifice anymore of his future for her and kills his grandmother. Now at this point we can still kinda see his viewpoint distantly, in the same way we saw James Sunderland’s viewpoint of ending his wife in Silent Hill 2. They’re not thinking clearly and never trust guys named James apparently.

However James Young slowly tortures his grandma. He pretends to be the man in the radio giving her instructions on how to slowly stab herself to death. On top of that he tells her that nobody will miss her adding a whole new level of cruelty to this already 7 layer cruel cake. Now the Operator reveals in purgatory that his grandmother killed his parents brutally in order to be with him, but it’s never really explicitly made clear that James is aware of this knowledge when he offs her. Also apparently good judgment runs short in this family.

This one extra piece of knowledge that James Young has would have made the severity of his crime more understandable, still heinous, but understandable. IF this is Erebus’ intention that he knows this piece of information and takes it into account that needs to be stated more explicitly because it fundamentally changes his redemption arc. Otherwise you have an irredeemable character who at the very end gets redemption for on apparent reason other than knowledge that wasn’t his own.

I’ve mentioned Silent Hill 2 in here already and this is what I’m gonna focus on, it works because Sunderland understands that he offed his wife for purely selfish reasons therefore he is undeserving of true redemption ever. It is about judgment and absolution showing that the monsters he saw on those streets of Silent Hill could never compare to him. Sunderland feels redeemable in this sense. We see and understand his pain, his flawed reasonings, his acceptance of the situation and his eternal guilt over it. Depending on which ending you receive his life can play out in various ways.

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James Young doesn’t have this realization. He walks out of purgatory with a slap on the wrist saying eh you were cruel and you did terrible things but don’t do it again okay! You can see nothing but Young going back to the same “I don’t want to be inconvenienced by others” attitude that he adopts throughout the whole game.

In order to make an unlikeable character likeable you have to do a few things. First off there should be a “Save the Cat” moment where our protagonist does something redeemable.

Silent Hill 2: This happens multiple times as Sunderland encounters various townspeople. Namely his saving Angela early in the game

God’s Basement: Nothing, the closest we can say is taking the job to help his grandma which he negates later on.

Secondly give them a villain to come up against.

Silent Hill 2: There are lots of monsters but the big baddie is Pyramid Head. The especially brilliant thing about all this is the fact they are all a representation of Sunderland’s character.

God’s Basement: At most the Grandma character’s spirit again though you simply feel for her at the end.

The problem with the game’s use of an unlikeable character is there is nothing that makes us want to like him! It’s a fine line and one that writer’s often end up crossing without even realizing but if you are going to create a character you want the audience to perceive as redeemable. Make them actually redeemable please or you end up with the curse of a jackass in your game. Nobody wants to play that or we would’ve had a Charles Bukowski game made by now.

Sources I read:

https://www.jessicabrody.com/2013/01/how-to-make-unlikable-characters-likable/

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Daniel Mullins: 4th Wall Breaker

Daniel Mullins is an up and coming indie game developer with two stellar titles under his belt. A twenty something living in Vancouver BC he used to be a programmer but switched to full time game design. What is most impressive is that he creates these games by himself except for his sound and music design which is mostly left to Jonah Senzel.

He participates frequently in game jams, and his game portfolio page is filled to the brim with these entries. The two games we’re going to discuss today are Pony Island and The Hex. These are the games that Mullins is known for, but they are also the ones I was able to play on my channel. I finished both in a matter of days not just because they’re short but also because I couldn’t stop myself. I adored them.

They are not only great in their style, but in their substance. Daniel Mullins does a thing that I love, he creates meta games where the game and its design is in the forefront. The man breaks through the fourth wall like he is the Kool Aid man.

Pony Island

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Pony Island is a game played within an arcade machine. You are an unnamed player controlling a pony (fancy that). The pony can move from left to right and hop over fences. Not the most dramatic or engaging game, like a video game version of the My Lovely Horse song in Father Ted.

It isn’t just about that though. As the game progresses you swiftly realize you’re trapped in the game by none other than the Devil himself. He’s trapped you in limbo to force you to play it, and no doubt he’s cheating. In order to beat the game and try to escape you have to begin to rewrite the game’s code to give yourself an advantage. This includes giving yourself a bigger jump ability and lasers, lots of lasers.

The game’s design becomes a primary focus here since often the puzzles are literally trying to change the “code” of the game in order to beat it. These can be a little abstract at time and were probably the part of the game that took the most time. They are fun though and the gameplay never feels repetitive. It’s a short game running around 2-4 hours for the main story, but it feels so full. It relies on uncertainty and unsettling game mechanics to suck you in. 

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I don’t want to go too deep into the plot because in order to do that it would spoil specifics. The game deserves to be experienced, not told to you. Just know that it is a meta mindf**k.

9.5/10

The Hex

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The Hex has the same kind of meta magic that means it is difficult to review without spoiling. 6 strangers meet up in an old tavern on a stormy night. The bartender receives a phone call saying that somebody within the bar will die before the evening is over.

Each stranger is from a different type of gaming genre. We have the tactical RPG soldier, the fighting game champ, the fantasy elf from the JRPG, on and on. You will travel through the backstories of the 6 strangers in the style of each of their video games.

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This is a story driven game, unlike Pony Island there are few puzzles and they are easily solvable. It’s a narrative journey, but it feels like 10 games packed into one because of all the genre changes. It felt the entire game like it was going in one direction and then it flips everything on its head.

I was so in love with this game and at the very end of my stream could not keep myself from literally shouting “this is the best game ever.” It is a game that again has to be experienced. Both work though through the fact that the player understands they are playing a game.

10/10

The 4th wall breaking?

Breaking the 4th wall in games isn’t new ground, games like Metal Gear Solid have been doing it for years. The term comes from the theater when actors would begin speaking directly to the audience thus breaking the “4th wall” of the stage. For games and books “breaking the 4th wall” typically means the characters becoming self aware that they are part of a game, or the player’s attention being called to the fact they are playing a game. Hideo Kojima often does this type of 4th wall breaking, for instance in P.T. players could only find one of a puzzle’s clues within the pause menu.

These types of meta choices are typically done for one of four reasons: to create comedy, to create intimacy with the audience, to inform and give exposition, or to unsettle the audience. (screencraft.org) Sometimes it can be a mixture of all these.

In the case of the above two games it is definitely a mixture of unsettling the audience, creating an intimacy with them, and showing them information they cannot see in other ways. While breaking the 4th wall was originally deemed a bad thing, it has since evolved into a chosen technique. In the world of the game it is used to not force the audience away but to make them question themselves so deeply they become a larger part of the process.

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In the world of the game “we believe that we are in power, and we assume that the computer or console has no personality or consciousness.” (Gamasutra) These games force us to look at how much control we really have, and force philosophical questions through this introductory question. Instead of unsettling the players and creating a division between them and the game, it in fact places them inside the game. They are now a part of it, and often with Mullins work the game designer is as well. We all feel like we are dwelling within a huge sphere.

I feel like Mullins is a modern day Bertolt Brecht. Brecht used to try to create what he termed an “alienation effect” whereby he would make something familiar seem strange for an audience. A simple pony arcade machine becomes the devil’s play tool forcing you to delve into programming. You have a simple concept turned on its head, it breaks your familiarity and forces you to evaluate situations in a different light. Often when we cease to be able to solve a problem we are told to “turn it on its head.” This is the same for larger questions we may not ponder regularly, new light can shine on many topics.

Mullins may be revisiting a tried and true technique but it definitely forges strong bonds with the audience. He shows yet again when wielded cautiously pointing out what someone is doing can have a very pleasing and engaging effect.

Sources:

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132475/a_circular_wall_reformulating_the_.php?print=1

https://screencraft.org/2016/03/31/4-reasons-why-screenwriters-should-break-the-fourth-wall/

https://beautifultrouble.org/theory/alienation-effect/

 

 

 

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Twitch Sings Beta

Twitch Sings is currently in closed beta testing. Streamers that have been chosen via invite can live stream the game and their audience can participate in voting during songs as well as integrated twitch alerts appearing on screen.

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It is created by Harmonix (creators of Rock Band and Guitar Hero) in conjunction with Twitch as a new live karaoke experience bringing streamers and their communities together. It is and will be available for PC currently and is set to be available for iOS and Android. Twitch sings feels like Singstar brought back to life which makes my inner child very happy. Featuring hundreds of songs from both mainstream and more niche artists you can embarrass yourself via the karaoke experience to your favs. Much like Singstar you try to maintain pitch via a bar reading on screen. Just like karaoke, lyrics will appear on screen for you to read. If you’re anything like me you’ll also learn you’ve been singing nearly every song wrong your entire life.

Twitch Sings allows you to customize an avatar or have a camera display you in game. You can also pick your stage, how much reverb you have, and other settings. Unlike previous singing games of the past the ability to customize everything really makes it feel like your own. Throughout the game you level up and earn XP, these points can be used to purchase items in game.

Viewers also get the ability to be part of the fun. They can vote on songs being played via polls and if you so choose have challenge polls during every song. Challenges range from “sing like a pirate” to “hold your nose.” They’re only during a portion of the song, and once completed the audience votes on how well you did. If you did well you get more XP.

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This is the most fun I’ve had at karaoke in awhile. It’s also a brilliant idea in general for Twitch because of the interactivity. Chat participants that show lots of love get to see their face on screen as “most excited.” Alerts like bits donated, subs, and emotes are displayed on screen as well.

Duets are also an amazing feature. You can pick any song and it will split the parts into sections you sing, sections someone else will sing, and sections you will sing together. Once uploaded anyone can take an “open duet” and sing with you. The original singer appears either as their avatar or themselves on the screen with you. The lyrics bar will tell you exactly what you need to sing and when. It’s such an interactive and fun way to play with your friends. I dueted a Beauty and the Beast song with a fellow Team Sin Squad CosplayDiver as pictured below.

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If you’re interested in upcoming songs and finding out when new songs are added (which is happening often) you’ll want to follow the Twitch Sings Twitter.

I played this game for 4 hours with my community and it felt like 30 minutes, I had an absolute blast. It feels like a night out at a karaoke bar with friends. The songs are great choices as well, though I’d love to see more songs from certain musicians. For instance the Beatles have a lot of songs and Bloodhound Gang has one. Adding more artists as it expands would be amazing.

I’m definitely going to continue playing and I look forward to the game being polished over time. Check it out if you can and keep an eye for when it goes live for everyone!

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Mortician Addams

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-played off stream-

Laundry Bear Games has created a love story to the “death positive movement” with A Mortician’s Tale. If you’ve never heard of “death positivity”, outside of Bones being so positive when he says “He’s dead, Jim” to Captain Kirk, it’s a social movement encouraging people to speak more openly about death. Ya know, put that fun back into funeral. It’s a way to make it more acceptable and to better understand what happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil.

It’s not really a game though, it’s more of an educational tool. The short length and very few game mechanics make it so.

You play as Charlie, a fresh mortician right out of school. She just started at Rose and Daughters a mom and pop run funeral home. You never leave the funeral home, in fact the game takes place in one of 3 locations throughout. At the start of a “day” you’ll check your email which is filled with both work and non-work related correspondence. Once you accept your job for the day you have to clean, prepare, and host a funeral for a client.

Everything has its routine, there is no deviation, and the game consistently gives you instructions on what to do. I loved the constant routine, it makes you sit with the subject matter and really think about it. The constant tutorial aspects though became frustrating and would pull me out of the experience. After the third time doing something I know that I need to scrub the body, put in the eye caps, etc. Just like at a real job. Which is a testament to how well Laundry Bear crafted the new employee atmosphere.

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Whatever object you’re supposed to tackle next will have a radioactive glow, it is always in the order listed above. Emails are interesting and informative about funeral life, but not so much about the character’s lives. This is really the only opportunity for us to learn about Charlie as well as her coworkers/friends as Charlie never speaks. We also never see the other characters in person. These interactions always seem a little two dimensional and forced though. There is a moment when Matthew, the hearse driver, recalls a story about his friend dying in an accident and how he dealt with that loss via email. Why would you email this? He supposedly frequents the funeral home in person so I feel like you would tell this story in person. It just feels off, and you never truly feel like you know the people in the game.

After finishing your emails you’ll accept a job from your director. Once you accept the job you’ll go over and prepare the body for either an open casket funeral or cremation. The tasks repeat and the game repeats what to do unnecessarily. When you’ve completed preparing the body you’ll have a funeral that you attend.

The funerals are supposed to give us insight and poignancy into the grief process as well as seeing those left behind. Unfortunately as a character that does not speak or interact with anyone they just felt odd to me. You’ll walk in, eavesdrop on a few conversations, pay your respects to the deceased then leave. It feels like Wedding Crashers except you’re the mortician.

The conversations can also be really strange. Like the one below:

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These interactions again fall under that forced feeling I had throughout. There is one instance where you have to prepare the body of a homeless man. As such nobody attends his funeral, but you hold one anyway out of respect. The visual of an urn in an empty room is supposed to be extremely impactful but it ended up making me wonder why you needed the spectacle. Couldn’t you have paid your respects without pointing out the fact nobody knew they had passed? It made me feel the opposite of what they were going for.

It started to feel as if taking out the characters and making it strict educational game about funeral work would have almost been better. morticians1

The sound design is minimal in this game which can add to the atmosphere, but its not great to listen to. I played the game for about 2 hours and eventually turned the music off and turned on my own. It sounded too much like elevator music to enjoy for an extended period of time. Some mellow classical might have been better suited to the mood.

The art design is where A Mortician’s Tale really shine. The art is minimal, but really visually engaging. Yes bodies aren’t accurate, that terrible bike accident victim looks exactly like the woman who passed away in her sleep, but it works. It takes away the gore of funeral work and focuses on the people, the death aspect. I think that suited it well. The mellow purples, grays, and other colors used make it seem somber but not sad. Angular lines make it a little disconcerting at times, but not uncomfortable. Everything is balanced. The thing lacking from the rest of the game.

Now I’ve been really harsh on this so I will say I think what they tried to do here is admirable. I also feel like as an educational tool I learned a lot, it just didn’t feel like a game. Or it felt like a game in the same way that Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing was, yes technically it’s a game but it’s mostly a device for learning. I’ve always been fascinated by subjects like these so I genuinely enjoyed my time with this game. Just be aware that if you’re wanting a high level of engagement you may not find it here.

If you’re curious the steam link is here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/578720/A_Morticians_Tale/

6.5/10

Pros:
-Great art
-Interesting information
-Short play time

Cons:
-Not enough game mechanics
-Repetitive instructions shown
-BG music is annoying
-Don’t really get to know characters

 

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