Monthly Archives: September 2016

From The Armchair: Twin Peaks Revisited

ArmchairWhat ho, chums! This week I was excited to read about the new game Virginia – or rather to read a tiny bit about it and then completely avoid reading any more for fear of spoilers (it appears that the game relies heavily on keeping its surprises hidden). Yes, Virginia is yet another must-buy indie game to add to the many notable recent releases, such as Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and The Witness. We truly are spoiled for choice when it comes to quality indie titles these days…

Anyway, the Eurogamer review of Virginia compared the game to Twin Peaks, that wonderful early-90s TV show helmed by David Lynch:

Intuition. Intuition is an interesting one. It’s everywhere in the kind of TV fiction tradition that Virginia belongs to, but it’s nowhere in most narrative video games where every player must be treated as a generic entity to be prodded through the gauntlet with tips, rewards, and brisk, formative punishments, like a sort of space chimp. It’s a reminder that most narrative games do not have the ambition to do any justice at all to one central character – the player. (And if they do, they generally fumble it.)

And yet look what intuition gives you when you get it right. It gives you Dale Bartholomew Cooper, FBI Special Agent on a dangerous mission to Twin Peaks. He’s a figure that looms over Virginia, much as Twin Peaks itself looms over Virginia’s town of Kingdom. And yet it can be hard to pinpoint why this is exactly. There’s the agency, of course, and the investigation at hand and the coffee in diners and the occasional glimpses of the artfully inexplicable. But there’s something deeper: that world that runs on intuition rather than reason, and wrapped up inside that world a wonderful and refreshing absence of ironic distance.

This is what people always get wrong about David Lynch. He’s witty, perhaps, but he’s never ironic, and he’s never removed himself from the center of things to mock and smirk from the wings. He means it, every bit of it, and his strange world is all the more frightening because it does not seem to be strange to him. What would it be like to be inside that head, eh? And what sort of reticule might allow you to make the best of what you saw in there?

Or, to put it in other words, Virginia is a marvel crammed into a neat two-hour running time, and you must play it.

I came to Twin Peaks fairly late on, after I’d seen several of David Lynch’s films, and I was amazed by how ahead of its time it was. Well, perhaps ahead of its time is the wrong phrase – there’s very little like it out there even now. The mix of the mundane and the downright weird, the humour weaved into an overarching theme of terrifying malevolence, the characters so far along the scale of quirkiness to be almost caricatures… It’s simply brilliant. Watch it, if you haven’t already.

A damn fine cup of coffee.

A damn fine cup of coffee.

Anyway, reading this reference to Twin Peaks inspired me to take a break from planet exploration and dive back into Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut, a PS3 game that’s heavily influenced by David Lynch’s show. And I mean HEAVILY influenced, right down to the coffee and the Log Lady (although here she’s got a pot).

In some ways, it’s a hard game to love. ‘Rough around the edges’ is too kind a way to describe it – it basically looks like a PS2 game, with production values so low you can see the joins held together with sticky tape. Driving around town is a good example – the cars have a top speed of about 50 mph, and once you reach it, you’re treated to an engine-sound loop that evokes an asthmatic lawnmower, cycling endlessly over and over. And the handling is simply atrocious, like fighting a supermarket trolley with a bent wheel.

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But if you can look past things like this, the game is an absolute gem – especially if you’re a Twin Peaks fan. The writer and director, SWERY, has meticulously recreated the TV show with recognizable but different-enough-so-they-don’t-sue characters and locations, and exploring it all is a joy. The dialogue is deliciously bizarre, especially the interminable monologues about Hollywood B movies from Dale Cooper stand-in Agent Francis York Morgan.

And speaking of B movies, Deadly Premonition is one of the last of a dying breed of ‘B games’. This type of ‘middle-budget game’ was everywhere back in the PS1 and PS2 days, with cheap and cheerful titles like Destroy All Humans! doing pretty well. But since the PS3 era we’ve seen the rise of the console indie scene, which has split the market between AAA titles and low-budget, super-cheap indie games. This has killed the market for mid-price games stone cold dead. Games like Dark Void and Dark Sector, both of which I enjoyed despite their flaws, simply wouldn’t get made now.

Still, at least the spark of originality is burning brightly in the indie scene. And we have a new love letter to Twin Peaks in the form of Virginia. It’s just a shame that the constraints of indie budgets mean this particular letter is necessarily short – by comparison, Deadly Premonition is more like a love encyclopaedia.

“Do you feel it, Zach? My coffee warned me about it.”

Click the link to buy Twin Peaks or Deadly Premonition on Amazon, and we get a little cash. Ta!

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Quick Offload: chuck another T-Bone on the barbie

t-boneI’ve made no secret of my completely out-of-control love for 2014’s Watch Dogs. I think it’s tops. The art, the social commentary, the meta-ness of it all – just thinking about it makes me want to invade virtual Chicago’s privacy all over again.

And you know what? I even quite liked Aiden Pearce. He was brooding, sure, but understandably so. We all get the shits when we’ve have a bad day at work – well try being sort of responsible for the death of your niece. Yeah. You’d be rocking in the corner while the sound of daytime TV plays in the background, quite frankly. Heartless pricks.

But if I had to pick, I’d say the game’s expansion Bad Blood is the best that game got. Not just because it was a sampler of all the best things about Watch Dogs with peak-ier peaks. Not just because its writing makes Aiden Pearce into something of a demigod, which is hilarious. But because Pearce associate and cTOS old boy Raymond “T-Bone” Kenny is a bloody fantastic character. Sure he may look like a complete and utter twat, but once you get past the dreads and the septum piercing, there’s a lot to love about the hippie x hacker.

And I’ll admit that I had a bit of an EXO fan-girl moment when T-Bone makes an appearance in the latest story trailer for Watch Dogs 2. “You’re talking to Blume public enemy number one, son”. Shivers, mate. Shivers.

Now fingers and hobbit-like toes crossed Aiden Pearce makes an appearance.

 

Quick Offloads are short posts when we need to get things off of our chests but – quite honestly – can’t be arsed writing War and Peace. But please, feel free to write War and Peace in the comments below. We’d like that.

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Spiffing Reads: Castlevania, Underrated Females and Minor Text Fixes

This week on Spiffing Reads, we begin with an eye-opening behind-the-scenes look at a certain 3D vampire series.

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“We got caught in a s***storm” (Eurogamer)

This interview with the developers of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is fascinating. It’s interesting to hear how the two LoS games were by far the most successful Castlevania games in terms of sales, even though LoS 2 underwhelmed reviewers. Also interesting to hear the developers’ reactions to those poor reviews, and how much of a shock it was. Oh, and the boss’s evasive reaction to being asked about where the funding is coming from for their next project spoke volumes… A studio stretched too far? After all, self-publishing is a big gamble.

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Five most underrated female characters in videogames (Very Very Gaming)

I highly enjoyed this post, especially as I hadn’t even heard of half of the video-game females listed here. It also gave me a hankering to track down the game D, as it sounds batshit mental.

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Nintendo raises the banner for premium mobile gaming (GamesIndustry.biz)

The author labels Nintendo’ as a “latecomer to a battle that was lost some time ago” in terms of the companies plans to use premium prices rather than adopt the free-to-play model. But if any company can do it, Nintendo can. And things aren’t as clear-cut as they seem – Nintendo also seem to be embracing in-app purchases, according to some.

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Pokémon Go fans are hungry for some more minor text fixes (Polygon)

I love me a meme, and this cracked me up. After Niantic frustrated everyone by dragging their heels when it came to fixing the game’s many technical issues, instead offering up update after update with only ‘minor text fixes’, the Pokemon Go community has taken the phrase to heart. The reddit forum even translates ‘edited’ to ‘minor text fixes’.

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Luigi’s Miiverse Has Become A Shitposter’s Paradise In 2016 (Kotaku UK)

Thanks to Very Very Gaming for bringing this one to my attention last week. The normally innocuous Miiverse has something very odd happening on the New Super Luigi U page, where people seem to have gathered to post random nonsense.

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10 VINTAGE GERMAN ATARI ADS EXPLAINED (Digitiser 2000)

And finally, something to get your grin muscles working. “The boy on the right suspects that there is something going on between his girlfriend and his father, but lacks the strength of character to confront them directly.”


Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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Quick Offload: I Can’t Stop Playing No Man’s Sky

Seriously. I just can’t put the damn thing down.

There’s always just one more ridge to look over, just one more animal to scan, just one more planet to explore. It’s one of the most addictive games I’ve played in a long while.

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I’ll start out with a plan in mind: say, I want to find some platinum to craft a health upgrade. But while I’m hunting for that, I come across a massive chunk of gold, so I stop to mine that. Then I’ll spot another gold chunk, so I’ll mine that too. Now I’m wondering how much gold there is in the area, so I shoot off into a cave to look for more, and before I know it I’ve spent 15 minutes just wandering the cave networks to see where they go. Then I pop out miles away from my spaceship, and happen to spot a question mark hovering over a nearby lake. So I dive down to take a look, and I find an abandoned building. But on my way back to the surface I spot some fish I’ve never seen before, so I stop to scan them. Then I realise I only need two more animals to complete the set on the planet, so I scan around for some more as I walk back to my spaceship. But my search comes up fruitless, so I decide to climb back into my spaceship and head up to a space station to sell all the gold I’ve farmed. But as I head into space I’m ambushed by space pirates, and my ship is destroyed. I respawn in the space station, and luckily I have the gold in my exosuit, so it’s not lost. While I’m selling the gold, I notice that the selling price of Dynamic Resonators is double the galactic average, so I head into the docking bay to buy up all the resonators I can from pilots who are coming to land. Then I sell them for a huge profit, and after doing this a few times, I have enough to buy a new ship. I wait around for a particularly cool-looking ship to arrive with more slots than my old one, and eventually one that looks like the Vipers from Battlestar Galactica turns up. So I buy it, and it has a more-powerful hyperdrive, and then I’m thinking about which star system to explore next…

And in the meantime, I still haven’t got any platinum. But I’m just having far too much fun exploring to care.


Quick Offloads are short posts when we need to get things off of our chests but don’t necessarily want to waste too many words on them. But please add your words in the comments below.

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Spiffing Reads: Sonic’s Tweets, Biased Game Journalists and Link’s Awakening

Just a trio of articles on Spiffing Reads this week, kicking off with a comeback from Sonic in an unlikely quarter.

How Sonic the Hedgehog’s weirdo Twitter account could bring him back from the brink (Polygon)

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Most corporate Twitter accounts are harmlessly banal, and the same was true of the official Sonic the Hedgehog account – until Aaron Webber took over. Now Sonic’s famed ‘attitude’ is very much in evidence, and we get plenty of cheeky digs at other games and companies, such as this zinger on the disappointing launch of Mighty No. 9: “Congrats on the launch, ! It’s better than nothing.” Yowch.

It’s interesting to draw back the curtain on corporate social media and see the attention to detail and sheer strategy that goes into every post. Long gone are the days when a social media manager was just someone doubling up on their day job and firing off the odd tweet.

HOW BIASED ARE GAMES JOURNALISTS? – by Mr Biffo (Digitiser 2000)

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Answer: just as biased as everyone else. Mr Biffo has given several takes on this subject in the past, but it’s always fascinating to read his well-formed opinions. Certainly games journalists aren’t any more biased than regular journalists or film critics – but perhaps video game fans are more vocal than most. Well, some are, at least.

Link’s Awakening: Rendering the opening cutscene (KZone)

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This is a fascinating look at all the coding tricks that went into making that impressive cut scene that begins The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy. Man, they worked that little grey box hard to pull this off. I’ll admit to getting lost in the technical details about halfway through, but I can appreciate the skill that went into this.


Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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Review: Gunman Clive

gunman-cliveIt’s a great name, isn’t it? I can’t think of many video-game heroes with the name Clive, although there should definitely be more. In fact, the only famous Clives I can think of are Clive Anderson and Clive James. But where are all the young Clives? ARE there any young Clives?

And now I’m thinking about a video game starring Clive James. It would see him questing about the Outback meeting B-list celebrities and gently mocking them as he delivers satirical monologues. It would be called Clive James on Video Games in honour of his long-running ITV television show Clive James on Television, and it would feature appearances by Dame Edna Everage, Keith Floyd and Margarita Pracatan. It would be beautiful.

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Gunman Clive is not that game. But it is beautiful nonetheless.

It’s basically Mega Man but in the Old West, although that description doesn’t really do it justice. It starts off with the usual cowboys shooting from behind wooden crates, but quickly escalates to the point where you’re fending off bomb-dropping pelicans and giant robots. It’s charmingly bonkers.

The game is the work of one man, Bertil Hörberg, who worked on the excellent Bionic Commando Rearmed – and we even get a cheeky nod to that game with one of the bosses. It’s pretty short – you could probably finish the whole thing in an hour – but it only costs a couple of quid, and there’s a really special character to unlock at the end.

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These 2D platformer-y things usually aren’t my cup of tea, but Gunman Clive just nails the controls and level design so well that it became a joy to play. Dying causes you to start again at the beginning of the level, but the levels are so short that it doesn’t cause frustration, and the difficulty curve is spot on. The art style, too, is wonderful, all sepia tones and sketchbook lines that look great in motion.

Yet despite creating a little gem of a game, Hörberg seems to be fairly humble about his achievement. In the gameplay trailer, he describes the game as “a generic oldschool sidescroller” with “weird artsy-looking 3D graphics” and “lots of brown”.

For the record, Bertil, I love brown. More please.

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Spiffing Reads: Metroid Prime, Steve Jobs and the Dreamcast Barber

This week on Spiffing Reads, we start off with a mid-life crisis.

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Pokémon Go, mid-life crisis and me, by Ellie Gibson (Eurogamer)

“I will be 40 next year, and I am in the midst of a mid-life crisis. How do I know this? It’s not because my idea of a party is staying in with a good Merlot and my complimentary copy of Waitrose Weekend. It’s not because I sometimes put Radio 6 Music on extra loud, in the hope my cool young neighbours will think I’m still a hep cat. And it’s not because I have multiple sexual fantasies about being trapped in a lift with the tall one out of the Making A Murderer lawyers. Although all these things are true.”

“No, my friends, it’s much worse than that. The other day, I bought a Pokémon Go T-shirt.”

To be fair, it IS a cool T-shirt.

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Six Novels That Could Become Great Video Games (Kotaku UK)

If nothing else, this article has now expanded my ‘to read’ list considerably. I’d love to see a game based on the City Watch Discworld novels. And Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks sounds mightily intriguing.

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After More Than a Year of Searching, Fans Have Found the Elusive Dreamcast Barber (Kotaku UK)

Remember that old Dreamcast advert where a group of barbers compete at shaving heads in an attempt to sell the world on online gaming? Well, this guy decided to track down the guy from the ad, and ended up finding out all sorts of interesting stuff along the way…

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Metroid Prime director on making the game, Nintendo’s influence, leaving Retro (Nintendo Everything)

This is actually a news story on a Game Informer podcast where they spoke to Mark Pacini, who was a key figure in the creation of Metroid Prime. The most interesting titbit is that Nintendo pushed for the scanning system to be included in that game, but Retro Studios were initially resistant, seeing it as more of an action game. How different it could have been…

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A TRIBUTE TO STEVE JOBS (Digitiser 2000)

And finally, this made me chuckle far, far too much.


Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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