Pendragon Campfire Tale

Mildred and the Mountain

Alas I was not selected but I had great fun writing this for inkle studio’s Pendragon Jam. The challenge was to write a short and lightly-interactive campfire story for their upcoming game, Pendragon.

Full spec here.

It was a great excuse to finally dabble with ink as well, having previously used inklewriter. I like.

Play my entry here: “Mildred and the Mountain”

The competition required a quick turnaround, so I didn’t think about what I was making too much beyond adhering to the spec. And I’m also not an expert on Arthurian legend. There are some things in hindsight I’m not totally happy with, but generally I like what I produced—so I also added it to my Interactive page for posterity!

Image credit

1917 and the Power of Gamic Techniques

1917 is an incredible film, and one that seems to have done very well critically and commercially. But on emerging from the cinema, the thing that struck me most about it was how much it felt like a video game.

It’s presented as one long, virtually-interrupted third-person tracking shot—just like the kind of game cameras we’ve been accustomed to since the first Tomb Raider in 1996; and something surely now perfected in modern cinematic games like Hellblade and the new God of War. It’s highly-immersive, just like most games. As you follow the protagonist through the entire film, you naturally search the environment for narrative clues, interacting with the scenes much like you would in a game. You’re trying to piece together the story from the fragments you observe—fragments placed there by savvy filmmakers behaving more like level designers! The only difference is that you’re not in control of the camera, nor the protagonists movement. And this narrative is clearly a hero’s journey, something game narrative design is particularly adept at—perhaps the persistent following of the protagonist lends itself to this.

I think 1917 could have so easily been a game—and as game developer I think that’s the biggest complement I can pay it.

Continue reading

198X—A Game for the Jilted Generation

(2019, video game, Steam)

Also available now on GOG.com and PS4. I think coming soon to Xbox One and Switch.

(This post had been sat unfinished since the summer, so I finally dusted it off. It’s too long and rambling really, and could use much more tightening up and restructuring if it was to be an actual review or essay—but I think the gushing length and flow captures how much I loved the game in those magic moments.)

This game has really blown my mind. It began back in May when I first found out about it and watched the incredible trailer.

Here’s what I’ve already talked about in a gushing Twitter thread and even more gushing Steam review.

I recorded my entire first playthrough on Steam as well, in two parts across two successive evenings. Later I also played on PS4 once it was released, making a stream video per game.

Now the game is over for me, I’d like to add some additional thoughts, and develop thoughts further that I touched on above.

Continue reading

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

(2018, film, Amazon Prime)

This shows how to do a really good kids film. Okay maybe this is a little tropey, but you share the POV of the child, you’ve lost your parents, and you get to go live with your cool uncle in a big house, eat cookies for dinner, and go to bed whenever you want. Okay there are school bullies, but there’s a whole magical world to discover at home. It really drew me in, even as an adult, in the way Harry Potter just takes you to another world.

It was dark and occasionally spooky, though obviously never ventured beyond what’s acceptable for a young audience. For an adult though I found it just lovely, inventive, and witty throughout—presumably drawing much from a strong novel. It had memorable scenes that I know if I’d seen this when I was a kid, would have stuck with me the rest of my life, the way scenes from films like The Goonies and The Neverending Story have. It also had a meaningful (if superficial) connection to one of the world wars, though I couldn’t pinpoint which from memory; but this certainly allowed some sympathy for the villain.

To top it off it was acted with panache and total commitment by the strong cast.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

(2019, movie, cinema)

I enjoyed this one. I can’t remember too much of X-Men: Apocalypse other than it didn’t do it for me (as a fan of that story from the cartoon as well), but this movie was much stronger. Great character moments, and great acting and tormented nuance from the lead as Jean, along with beautiful phoenix special effects.

Continue reading

Good Omens

(2019, TV show, Amazon Prime)

Just watched episode 4 and I’m really enjoying this. The series was a little slow at first, but now I’m really into all the characters, with more being introduced all the time. It splices the strands, so you’re anticipating the characters coming together and it’s great to see when they do.

The two leads are excellent and really play to their characters’ strengths (and weaknesses); the setting is satirical, outlandish, weird and superbly inventive, straight from the minds of the two awesome writers that created it, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Episode 4 had everything: drama and action and I even found myself laughing out loud several times at the behaviour of these characters I’ve come to know and love. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

(In contrast, I’ve struggled to get into American Gods even by season 2 (Amazon’s other big series based on a Neil Gaiman book); another wild and inventive show, but it seems much slower, and has not hooked me like Good Omens.)

#LoveIndies 2019

I just blitzed some reviews out for the #loveindies dev hour (or more like four hours for slow-old me), part of this year’s #loveindies game dev celebration!

Check out my Steam reviews posted 8 June to see what I said. Games reviewed, in no particular order:

  1. Sorcery! Parts 1 and 2
  2. Shadowhand
  3. Wargroove
  4. What Remains of Edith Finch
  5. Frostpunk
  6. Maia
  7. Stardew Valley
  8. We Were Here
  9. Super Hexagon
  10. Tick Tock: A Tale for Two
  11. Eczema Angel Orifice
  12. Heaven’s Vault
  13. Wheels of Aurelia

I hope to review more games (and other things) as I experience them at all times of the year. But I think #loveindies is cool to create a focal point, and get good exposure for indie developers, of which I am also one.

The Bounty

(1984, film, DVD)

Watched on DVD which my mum lent us. Probably not watched since I was a kid. I’d had my interest piqued for this in recent years when there was a chapter on the real story on one of my Open Uni modules, which we unfortunately skipped over due to a semester adjustment; though I eagerly watched some of the clips, which were dissected in the film guidance notes. E.g. how the crane shot used when Bligh arrives at the admiralty makes him look small, given he’s going into a hearing. Interesting stuff.

Continue reading

Walking Simulators or First-Person Explorers (FPEs) and Genres

Walking simulators are one of my favourite gaming genres, if not the favourite. Narrative has long been the most enjoyable part of games for me, the reward for grinding through often-difficult gameplay. I recall the hard combat of the first Mass Effect, with repeated mission failures; but I persisted because I wanted more conversations with my companions, and wanted to see the next part of the story.

(Though with the more streamlined and enjoyable combat of the following games in the series, it was certainly less of a chore; I can’t deny the adrenaline rush of an action-packed combat encounter, where you feel in total control. I’m thinking Mass Effect 2‘s Overlord DLC in particular, with my Shepard ducking into cover, sliding over a crate, sniping a bad guy dead in a single shot, then dramatically reloading—all to that epic combat music.)

In many games I also explore the environment at a steady pace if they allow. KOTOR had a huge influence on me, my first BioWare game, and one of the strongest memories I have is walking around the Dantooine marshlands admiring the hills, the river, the sunset. I even used the save game system as a kind of photo mode, since it created a small thumbnail of what I was looking at when the game saved; I had tons of save snapshots taken at memorable locations.

So it’s easy to see why I like walking simulators. They strip away “regular” gameplay and give 100 per cent exploration and story. Narrative is sometimes derided as the “fluff” around the gameplay, but for me I have often thought of it the other way around. Of course, games with strong mechanics and narrative should be designed so these work well together, and nothing should be considered fluff. But I do like that there are these pure narrative-only games.

Continue reading