The Mental Illness Story We Deserve – Night in the Woods

Oh my goodness Night in the Woods was really something.

Night in the Woods is a simple story game and almost-platformer about Mae Borovski when she comes home after quitting college. She returns to her childhood home of Possum Springs, to the place and the people she’d left behind. Why did she quit school? Why is everyone so hostile toward her? Why does she have dreams of giant animals in the woods?

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I liked Oxenfree too much to have anything to say on it.

Usually when I have a lot to write about a game or whatever I’m reviewing, it’s because some aspect of it either blew my mind or disappointed me. People are interested in what I have to say after I played Oxenfree, but it’s hard because Oxenfree is a very solid, respectable game. I recommend it to people looking for a small, good story, but that’s about all I’ve got.

I loved the characters. I love their interactions. I loved the effects of the dialogue on events. Oxenfree was a linear story with relationships that changed. All of the characters were frustrating teenage brats. It was wonderful.

I feel a little strange writing a review of a game without having a pedestal and a pointing stick to outline every little thing in it that blew my mind, or I hated. Oxenfree effectively used established expectations in games to create something good. It’s a solid story that used its mechanics in an interesting way. It’s a good way to show simply how these things can all be harnessed and used well.

However, it didn’t do anything that I believed was revolutionary. And while that may sound like an insult, I don’t mean it as one. Not every single game needs to revolutionize anything. I will play and enjoy every single Telltale Game, regardless of whether or not it gives me something new. Oxenfree is a good game, and that’s just fine. Give me more of this sort of ghost story. Give me more light interaction games. Give me more.

Play Oxenfree for a good ghost story with meaty characters. Enjoy it for that. And please, Night School, give me more.

4/5, highly recommended to people who like things that are good.

Post-GDC 2017 Thoughts & Personal Enlightenment

Every time I manage to go to GDC I have the time of my life.

This year I attended the conference as an attendee of the Amplifying New Voices program, which was an honour to be accepted to and may have been the best thing to happen to me over the week. I worked with industry veterans who were thrilled to lay themselves out and provide us with everything that they could in order to diversify games. I feel like, even since GDC 2015, the conference has become more colourful and effective at welcoming PoC, women, and people of gender and sexual diversities. There are many growing pains in the industry that reflect the growing pains of the culture around us, but I think that we’ve made some progress. Let’s keep moving forward!

I can’t even begin to talk about all of the amazing things I experienced this year, but it did help me to decide what to do with myself in my career. I realize now that I’ve lacked focus. While my passion has always been games, the work I’ve done hasn’t always reflected as much. While my blog is been about games and discussing them, my life choices have not always done the same.

In 2016 I submitted a lot of job applications toward game companies for illustration and writing work. At the same time I spent a lot of energy and consideration applying for comics jobs and anthology submissions. At the end of the year I was declined work for what would have been a lucrative game writing job, which led to me having a minor crisis about what I’m doing with my life.

I think my dilemma was in seeing how webcomposites like Those Without Shadows were typically understood as being webcomics. That may have been the case because of those authors’ networks being webcomic networks. This has resulted in me trying to get work in anthologies and comics with few credentials aside from my fanwork. I don’t have much income, so I’d just apply for anything. In retrospect this took a lot of time and energy away from more relevant jobs and my personal projects.

This is something I’m not going to do anymore.

This doesn’t mean my comic career is over, I’m just going to take heart behind the support networks that I’ve recieved in the game industry. I will no longer work hard on applications to anthologies for comics that I haven’t been explicitly invited to. (Fancomics and zines are still on the table though, because I love them.)

I feel good about taking this new direction. I hope you are all looking forward to it, too!

Leisure and Suspence Don’t Mix – √Letter

Root Letter by Kadokawa Games is a game that sparked my interest after I saw ads for it on twitter. It is one of few visual novel mystery games that has an official localization, which excites me. As you probably know by now, I love a good story, and I’m interested in visual novels as an art form. So, I contacted the PQube marketing department and asked for a review copy (thank you very much!).

So far I am 2 for 2 out of games I’ve requested for review that I haven’t liked and I feel really terrible about it. So I’m going to try to keep this brief.

Anime Tourism

There is a mystery visual novel game localized as Higurashi When They Cry (ひぐらしのなく頃に / When the Cicadas Cry). It was a big hit in Japan and adapted into an anime, which you’re more likely to know about. Higurashi takes place in a sleepy village in the countryside called Hinamizawa. Higurashi is a mystery/horror story, and so the things that happen in Hinamizawa are pretty terrible. Higurashi turns this little village in the country into an eerie, and sinister place. Regardless of that, the town that Hinamizawa was based on – Shirakawa-go – receives many tourists.

Anime tourism is real and if you ever thought to yourself “I would love to spend my money on a game that makes me want to visit somewhere in real life to spend more money”, you might be interested in Root Letter. The game takes place in Matsue, and I suspect there was some funding by the Shimane tourism board that made that happen. This sort of… ‘product placement’ or whatever isn’t something that I usually let bother me, except when it causes other elements to suffer.

Leisure and Suspence Don’t Mix

The plot of Root Letter is the story of a guy who finds a letter by his old penpal where she confesses she was involved in a murder, so you go to Shimane to look into it. The stakes are high, and there’s no way to know if your old penpal is even alive. Is she dead? Did she kill someone? Would you like to take a leisurely boat ride to tour Lake Shinji? YES let’s have a lovely stroll while we contemplate a possible murder. You have no choice in the matter.

Higurashi has a story to tell that uses its setting to the fullest, crafting an atmosphere that makes even a sunny countryside feel dangerous. It sets up the right conventions of mystery and horror that causes Silent Hill fans to feel a thrill when going down a foggy street.

Root Letter is far too preoccupied with painting Matsue in a beautiful light to use the setting to build any suspence. The mystery is entirely carried on the shoulders of the characters involved. Once you encounter someone who you need to question about your penpal, you’ve had such a lovely day around town that it’s easy to forget what the hell you were doing. Or, in my case, you’re so bored of not doing mystery stuff that you go back to bed.

There’s a way to make a story that uses it’s environment, and Root Letter is trying so hard to overcompensate and make you want to visit Matsue, that it tarnishes overall experience.

If you want to read a good mystery that takes advantage of it’s setting, just read Higurashi.

Firewatch: 6 Times Delilah Ran

I’ve been catching up on my games from 2016 before I go to GDC at the end of February. I just got through Firewatch which ran on my sad laptop at about 4fps, but I pushed through for Delilah. I’d do it again for Delilah.

Firewatch is played from the perspective of Henry, a 40-something married man whose wife is wasting away with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He takes a job in a park in Colorado where he is stationed in a tower on the lookout for forest fires. His only company is a voice on the radio – his supervisor, Delilah.

This is not a review. I assume most of you who are more on the ball than me have already played it. I’m just going to talk about Delilah’s character arc and motivations, so beware of spoilers below.

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Please Play LISA

So I lost my life this week to LISA. It is my very favorite thing when this happens to me when I play a game. I don’t think I’d heard about it before this week, so I purchased it when it was on sale.

If you follow me and you agree with my opinions on stuff, please play LISA. It’s about toxic masculinity, sexual abuse and drug abuse in the post-apocalypse. It’ll take about 12 hours of your time, not including the very important DLC: LISA the joyful. You’ll laugh a lot. You’ll cry a lot. You’ll pay the price for trying to protect the last woman alive.

What is LISA?

Okay here’s the story:

The apocalypse happened. It was an event they refer to as “The Flash”. The main character, Brad, survives around his small squad of childhood friends. He finds a child – a girl, possibly the last girl alive – and swears that he will take care of her to make up for past mistakes.

They do their best to raise her, but the girl – Buddy – is curious and anxious being kept contained. In time, their home is attacked and she’s taken away. Brad then does what any father would do a la Taken except in the rapey post-apocalypse: he goes to find her.

How does it play?

LISA is like a side-scrolling RPG platformer. There are jump/movement mechanics that often make zones into tiny puzzles themselves. The battle system is reminiscent of Earthbound, but with a lot of unique elements like combo mechanics.

One of LISA’s heavily marketed features is perma-death. The post-apocalypse is a terrible place where you have to pay the price. Characters are knocked out when their HP reaches zero in battle, but other situations will get them killed for good. Certain special moves will take them out permanently, but most of the time it’s scripted events that put your treasured NPC’s lives at risk.

NPC ally death doesn’t have story repercussions, aside from leaving you to level up new randos that you might not like as much. Save often.

Spoiler-Free Praise

LISA is inspired by the P.D. James novel Children of Men. (The movie is pretty good too, if you’re interested.) It takes the concept of low-fertility dystopia from A Handmaid’s Tale and looks at it from a separate perspective – the men’s perspective. LISA goes a step further and leaves the concept of fertility behind to fall into a James Tiptree Jr. style feminist horror. There is no evidence to say that anything killed the women in LISA except for men.

I can’t say too much about the complex gender politics without spoiling things, so I might save that for another blog post.

LISA also explores – using character permadeath and other mechanics – a sense of player agency. I can’t help but compare how these elements play out to other games like Undertale and my treasured OFF.

LISA never blames you for how the events unfold. Instead, it instills a constant sense of moral confusion where your hands are tied, but you struggle with Brad to decipher if you’re doing the right thing. Even at the end of it all, it never points fingers at the player. Everything in the end works toward a sense of storytelling rather than meta-narrative commentary. (It seems like a strange thing to praise, but I could make a whole other post about player agency as narrative.)

In Conclusion…

Please play LISA.

Please play LISA.

Please play LISA.

Let’s go to GDC 2017!

HELLO EVERYONE

I’m just going to leave a list of publications I’ve made this year if you’d like to support me! I’d love to go to GDC again, so any funding help you could provide would help me very much.

Also it feels good that I can see what I got done this year.




The Last Nine Years
PDF | Hardcopy

This was a project between me and my pal cephiedvariable over 2015-2016. We released it on PDF in February, and started mailing out the book in April.

It’s an Otacon/Snake Metal Gear Solid Fancomic. 108 pages.


Costume Fairy Adventures
Order here

Costume Fairy Adventures - Core Rulebook

I did a LOT of art for Costume Fairy Adventures, mostly over the course of 2015. You can get PDFs and print-on-demand copies on DriveThruRPG!



In Defense of Fandom
PDF

A small zine I made for TCAF this year, when there was some hubbub about artists making money on fan work at conventions. I had stuff to say about that.


Those Without Shadows

Minerva regards the viewer, a finger over her lips to quiet you.

Well, that’s a work-in-progress. Read it for free!


Snapback by Christian DeWolf
Order here

Snapback icon

Christian did a whole lot of coding for TWS over the summer, so in repayment I illustrated his book about Go. It’s very funny. Christian is very funny.


 

Playerprophet’s 2016 Sketchbook
PDF

Here’s a collection of the stuff I’ve been working on this year! Little snippets of the big things, but with all of the high-res images I’ve worked on for prints, commissions, and funsies. Please take a look!


Playerprophet’s 2016 Sketchbook 18+ EDITION

This is probably going to happen soon. Keep an eye on twitter for an 18+ patreon too!



Here are a few other ways you might also be interested in supporting me. Thank you all so much for your time and readership.

 Gumroad | Storenvy | Redbubble
Patreon | Kofi | Commissions

I will also happily review your game/comic/whatever!

The Last Guardian – Game of the Year please

If it’s not game of the year I guess I’ll have to play some other games.

I don’t want to talk too long about The Last Guardian. I do want to waste a little time on the storytelling, so I’ll get the gripes out of the way:

I agree with some of the typical criticisms. The camera was annoying, but it was the beast from an old system that was tried and true for Team ICO. In the future I’m sure they’ll try different ways of doing things. It doesn’t make the game unplayable to me. Let’s stop talking about it.

It appears that major criticisms of the game are polarized on Trico’s animal behavior. Your companion is a creature that doesn’t understand your language, although Trico is very intelligent otherwise. If you hate animals, especially cute ones that you’re working together with to get out of danger, I’d take a pass on The Last Guardian.

My major criticism is that there was too much old man narration. His puzzle tips were helpful, but I sometimes felt like he was spoon-feeding the story to the player. In fact, I bet that it was something they were forced to put in. Shadow of the Collossus had very, very little dialogue. Team ICO is good at telling a story without using words, but maybe gamers don’t have the patience to put it together over several playthroughs. I wonder if The Last Guardian suffered for being a triple-A game.

Sitting at my desk now, thinking about my experience with The Last Guardian, I feel a little overwhelmed. Team Ico is to games what Studio Ghibli is to film. Animated feature films have an older and more complex stake in the greater art world, but The Last Guardian features many aspects that Miyazaki incorporates into his own works. The Last Guardian and other Team Ico games hang tenaciously onto a sense of wonder and exploration. I believe anyone could pick up a system and learn how to communicate with Trico, if given the tools. They’re surrounded by a land that is wonderful, dangerous, and mysterious. What Ghibli has that Team Ico doesn’t is lengthy dialogue.

When I was playing, a friend of mine, Rachel, was also playing. When I finished it, she asked me, excited, what I’d thought of the plot.

I couldn’t think of what to say. It felt to me that the way The Last Guardian was built, proceeded, and came together at the finale.

The plot was clear, but the story was the play. It does, absolutely, tell a story, but The Last Guardian is even more interested in giving you stories to tell. Your adventures with Trico are yours, because you sat down and picked up your controller and engaged with it. The Last Guardian was about teamwork with an unlikely friend in order to flee to safety. The game doesn’t need to explain that much to you with words (although it does).

If you’re confused by anything in The Last Guardian, that’s okay. Take a break. Put it away. Next time you have the time, play it again, and your depth of understanding will increase. You’ll learn more, every time, and put the pieces together on your own. This is what the game wants from you, and it’s okay.

In fact, I’d say it’s great.

TWS Hiatus Questions – On Games!

Those Without Shadows, Hiatus Questions episode 2!

Why do you use games along with art and writing as your storytelling medium?

Whenever you meet someone who writes, it’s always interesting to ask why they write. Not as in some spiritual dreamy answer, but what inspired them to start writing. You’ll find that the medium in which they like to work is often (but not always) the medium that originally inspired them.

I am a person who learned to love storytelling with video games. Like your average millenial I didn’t think this through to consider programming as an employable goal. I didn’t want to make games, I wanted to write stories. This is one of the reasons TWS has the format it does.

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TWS: Hiatus Questions – On History and Evolution

[Those Without Shadows HIATUS QUESTIONS: episode #1!]


[Why are the animals reptilian?]

All of the animals in TWS that are non-sentient are either based on bugs, fish, reptiles or amphibians! This is because the world is young, and evolution hasn’t had much time to change things.

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