A Life Well GG’d

2080 hours. Doing 40 hours in each of the 52 weeks a year, it is roughly the amount of time someone will devote to a full-time job. A job that will at worst hopefully provide enough money to see them through the year, at best provide that but also be on a project they really care about that will hopefully pay off. Maybe they spent a year perfecting a wine bottle with a built in vibrator, who knows. 2080 hours is a lot of time to devote to something is what I’m getting at.

I have put 2274 hours into DOTA 2 in 4 years.

There’s a British comedy radio series called “That Mitchell & Webb Sound” which features a sketch where a 29 year old man dies and goes to heaven. Meeting St Peter at the pearly gates, he is told that in achieving his life’s work, the final result is 7,345 out of a possible 128,312. Confused, he asks for clarification to be told that this is the amount of times he “beat his computer at solitaire”. Miffed at this being seen as his life’s work, the man exasperatedly blurts out that it was just meant to be something to pass the time. St Peter responds with “Well, look on the bright side. It worked!”.

I’m not sure how I came to play so much to be faced with such a stark number, but thanks to the magic of video game stat tracking I can see exactly when I put those hours in.

dota2playtime

The bigger the blob, the more games played on that day. If it’s green, it means I won more than I lost, and vice versa for red. Some of those big blobs represent anywhere between 4 to 8 games played. Did I mention, a game of DOTA 2 is most often around 30 minutes to an hour, if not sometimes longer?

I can look at that graph, and though the games are mostly forgotten, by the concentration of blobs I can roughly put together the bad events in my life I was trying to numb myself to at the time. A death here, a girlfriend splitting up with me there, moving back in with my parents as I wasn’t paid for work at that bit.

In December 2015, my then girlfriend’s dad was very suddenly diagnosed with cancer. The bubbles get bigger as I don’t know how to help. The biggest red blob in January 2016, where I played 10 games in one day, is the day he died in the morning. I don’t remember doing that. Maybe it helped me cope with being powerless and seeing a person I loved in so much distress after such a life-shattering event.

My times in DOTA weren’t always lonely. Having moved to a town by myself whilst young, then moving back to my parents in the isolated countryside, I made all sorts of good friends whilst playing. Some who I’d never even get to meet in real life, were relaxing evening companions after a day working and saving my money rather than going out. These were odd-working, busy but isolated men and women from all around Europe. I could ask all the questions I wanted about Norwegian and Danish culture one evening, then another be taken through life as an atheist in Egypt. All whilst clicking little magic spells at icons and watching colourful explosions.

In the world of online gaming, the day someone stops showing up you don’t quite notice it at first, then a month down the line you might wonder what happened to that person. You could miss talking, but if they don’t come online again all you often have to go by is a first name and a gamer tag. Suddenly this year, all those fun friends I played with just stopped showing up online. Or they’d be playing new games, that weren’t really my jam.

It’s strange online when this happens. You don’t stop becoming friends with that person, yet it’s sort of like going to a pub when The Football is on and you don’t watch The Football, but all your friends there really want to watch The Football. There’s some conversation, sure, mostly though it’s hard to engage with people when the rest of them are talking and focusing on an experience you can’t see. When this happens during all the time you’d normally be hanging out together, you find that instead you’re the one who stops turning up.

I never stopped liking DOTA, weirdly. I’ve had friends before who’ve found that it was a very toxic influence on their life, it made them destabilisingly angry or upset when they shouldn’t be and had to kick it. This year I started playing solo, and the weird zen-like concentration of focusing on the game not as a social tool but as a mechanically rewarding one helped me keep calm. Yet, though seeing my win percentage for the month rocket up to 70%, I felt there was some key part of me that had outgrown it.

DOTA 2 is a game, but it feels like a separate hobby. I could have described my interests as “I game, and also play DOTA 2”. There are over a hundred mechanically diverse and challenging heroes to master, that all combo in unique ways with the others on your team. It could be over a hundred hours till you’ve even played one game as each of them. The meta-game psychology and efficiency can change from patch to patch, keeping up with such things rewards you with hard-fought victory. I’ve studied and honed my mind, instincts and knowledge down to be able to recognise situations and react as best I can within a second whilst playing.

Yet, none of this knowledge is transferable. Like any good hobby I suppose. But when I could’ve learnt to program, found out and really taught myself how to be a better video editor, I instead invested enough time for a second job into a game that by its nature will probably render my knowledge of it obsolete in 6 months or less. It’s a bit painful to think of that wasted time, but as I’ve come to write this post I don’t think it was truly wasted. The experiences might not be universally understood when I come to talk to others, but the calmness, fun memories and people I met during my time with DOTA 2 are worth something to who I am as a person going forth.

This month, November 5th 2016, I decided to stop playing. No big ceremony, no bad rage inducing game, just a calm decision made in strength even though I liked it still.

Three days later my girlfriend left me. That’s not really related, I just thought it was an good  red herring to grab your attention and lead you into the conclusion.

I don’t think I’ll ever boot up DOTA 2 now, apart from maybe a one-off nostalgia with old gaming friends. But you don’t tend to take up fly fishing at a time when you need to be working on yourself, your career and socialising in a city. I feel pretty decent at DOTA 2 now, and know I could even master it to a degree, but that’s a crazy time investment that only a teenager/student can afford to do really and expect to see a career in esports as the payoff. It’s best for me to walk away now, with my happiness in the game high, and take that confidence of knowing the steps to mastery into the more positive things demanded of me in life. GG Dota, you were well played.

Tokyo Drift: Food

I wonder if you know, how they live in Tokyo, if you’ve seen it and you mean it then you know you have to go, unfazed and curious.

I recently went to Tokyo for 6 days. The only Japanese words I knew were “hello”, “excuse me” and “cat”. Also futanari, but I had no intention of using that one. Though not quite enough language knowledge to sit and appreciate a 40ft scroll of Japanese poetry, it did get me an amused bow and smile from an old man when I pointed at a cat and went “Neko!”. I’m 26.

Since coming back I’ve found it hard to answer the question “What was Tokyo/Japan like?” other than with some wanky summary like “An energetic serene juxtaposition” that has everyone nodding with assuaged wisdom. So I’m going to try to break it down here into categories. First up, eating.

THE FOOD

Every single person I spoke to before leaving had similar advice here. “The food is amazing, you’ve got to have an open mind and try everything”. Then I’d mention I don’t like fish and pork smashes my digestive system in twain, plus I was travelling with a vegetarian. The response would be “Good luck”.

The food IS amazing. Small little 5-30 person eateries are jammed everywhere in Tokyo, all cooking delicious smelling things or attacking anything seafood related like it slept with their wife then invaded their home planet. It’s an amazing spectacle and one that should be enjoyed with no more than 4 of your senses.

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Cute deserts are a common artform in Tokyo.

The downside is that you will find close to zero Vegetarian friendly Japanese dishes on offer. Most places will not even be able to do a boring veg option to placate your Vegetarian companion as you go crazy over the 60,000 ways to try meat & fish. Even if they say they do a meat free option, Tokyo will hide animal in everything.

Tofu & vegetable noodles? Cooked in a chicken or pork broth. Tomato sauce? Made from fish oil. Simple coffee? Gelatin sweeteners dissolved in it. Sweet red cabbage & rice sushi roll? Surprise salmon. At one stage we even bought a pot noodle that translated to “spicy tomato” with only tomato and pasta listed on the ingredients. Got it home, poured kettle water in and was ready to eat when the discovery was made that there were bacon bits in it.

Japan has no understanding of vegetarianism as a concept. There is literally no word for “vegetarian” in the Japanese vocabulary. The closest is the term “Shojin ryori” which is the term given to the diet pursued by Buddhist monks in Japan. Only, it’s about not eating meat when you really want to eat meat to be more spiritual, and even then Buddhism allows you to snack down on your animal friends if you want. Saying it in a restaurant is not a request for vegetarian options, but a very specific religious meal set that is done only in rare places that costs your second-born’s kidnap ransom for some fancily prepared veg & nuts. Asking for it in any other restaurant and it’d be like going to a pub and asking for the Holy Communion.

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Despite appearances and description, plus asking, this was not actually vegetarian. Tasty though.

It’s vaguely seen in Japan that any dish is improved by adding meat & fish to it, so if you’re eating out why not have it in there? It’s like telling a western chef to not use any spices when cooking. Even asking English speaking staff if you can replace the chicken/beef/fish in a dish with Tofu or even have it without is as confusing as if you’d politely requested to sneeze on their car’s wing mirrors.

How does somebody with a pacifistic gullet survive in Japan then? Japanese home cooking will sometimes be vegetarian, more out of dint of it being affordable than it being the interesting option. But that’s not a choice when staying in a hotel room. Of the 4 times we researched vegetarian friendly Japanese cuisine restaurants in Tokyo, it involved a 30 minute journey across the city just to find that each one had closed down/wasn’t open.

There was even one with the owners dogs dressed in outfits that stopped serving at 7:00pm we found out, walking in at 7:30. Their regularly updated Facebook page gave their opening hours as 10am-10pm, and there were two groups sat eating already, but who can tell the whims of small businesses. I got to see the dogs though so I can retroactively be content, rather than the tired and hungry state I was in at the time that could’ve happily eaten the dogs.

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The wonders of Korea-town veg-friendly dining.

Basically, full Japanese food is out as a vego. To eat vegetarian in Tokyo your choices are: Italian, Indian and Korean. This sounds a let down when you’re in Japan, but Tokyo doesn’t hold back on cooking amazing dishes even when they’re not the nation’s own. I had some of the best cooked and flavoured dishes of all those categories whilst out there, to the point that I only slightly regret not having been able to sample more national cuisine.

Another thing to note about Japan is that Breakfast isn’t that big a meal there, with most eateries not really opening till 11. Somedays I would end up eating the cooked chicken skewers that you can get behind the counter of 7/11 just to have something to chow down on on the move in the morning. Which I found is not really a done thing in Japan, maybe because it’s like the UK 40-50 years ago where street eating was frowned upon or maybe it’s because-

Continued in Part 2, THE PLACE.

EGX Rezzed 2016

Last year I came, I saw, I forgot then I wrote about some of the games I played at EGX Rezzed 2015. Oops, I did it again, I played with your heart, got lost in the game. These games to be precise.

TOKYO 42

toyko42impression

I was pretty intrigued about this one after seeing the slick announcement trailer put out just before the show. It looked like a modern take of Syndicate with a little bit of Fez styling, and that’s exactly how it played too. There were also nudists, which I don’t remember in either of those games.

The movement feels right, the fighting is fresh and interesting. Really all this needs is more levels added as the ground mechanics and aesthetic themes are pretty solid right now. The devs seem very eager to focus on a multiplayer mode, which at once seems exciting but I’m personally wary of due to how much extra work that’ll be. I’d hate for it to distract from them delivering the full potential this game has as a single-player experience.

THE WORLD IS FLAT

OMAN

The Leftfield collection is a great space at Rezzed that does lots of non-traditional development and game interaction. Last year there was a coffin, this year there was a knife that chopped at people’s fingers.

But the knife machine was broken every time I went over to try it out, so I ended up confirming how shit my geography is. The World Is Flat is controlled using a giant exercise ball, which you spin around as your “world prop” to find whatever country you’re prompted to within a time limit. It was actually good fun, and I think it has real educational possibilities.

I mean, I can now tell you where fucking Burkina Faso is for one.

OVERCOOKED!

overcookedoversad

There were lots of local co-op games this year at Rezzed, a trend I quite like to give more variety to a party than Gang Beasts and Mount Your Friends. Lacking the swinging dicks of the latter title, Overcooked is great for turning your friends into swinging dicks.

It’s Cook, Serve, Delicious! only now with multiple people helping to prep each dish as it comes up for order. So up to 4 people now have to juggle chopping, cooking, cleaning and plating dishes which can either lead to a lot of shouting and chaos, or one time when I played with 3 strangers a strange harmonious silence where we nearly beat the top score. More often setting the kitchen on fire and shouting though.

JUST CAUSE 3: SKY FORTRESS

I’m not sure what a DLC expansion to a AAA release was doing at a primordially Indie event. There was a whole room dedicated to Just Cause 3: Sky Fortress, a room that was nearly the size of the ENTIRE Indie Games section. Here it is by comparison on the supplied map.

RezzedmapcomparisonSMALL

At no stage do I understand how this was worth it for Square Enix. It felt out of theme for the rest of the event celebrating PC/Indie/VR/Alternative Gaming, plus was the only area with lots of unplayed consoles at any time. I went up to try a version, and it was merely the full Just Cause 3 with no indication on how or where to start the DLC bit. It was odd and confusing anomaly in an otherwise excellent show. I got a fridge magnet though so 9/10 GOTY + Best in Show + I Accept Wire Transfer.

TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER

I love Warhammer. Back in my teen days hanging out at Games Workshop, Warhammer Fantasy was the more thoughtful and mature game about big men with weapons hitting big creatures compared to the more populist Warhammer 40K’s big space men with weapons hitting big space creatures. When 16 year olds around me were discovering other people could touch their genitals for them and go to gigs I was very excitedly hoping to roll a misfire on the first barrel then a six for the Hellblaster Volley Gun.

I’d hoped to get a little play of this in, but I’m terrible at being patient at these expos as I want to fit lots of things in. The one machine I sat down at to try it out had frozen so I gave up, but the bits I watched of other people playing this game makes me very excited. It’s looking to be a very good Total War game with Warhammer Fantasy daftness thrown in that the teen me always wanted (and installed mods trying to replicate).

General Event Thoughts…

Tobacco docks is still a brilliant venue, light and airy plus when you get tired of it all you’re a short walk away from all the cool things and food London has to offer. I don’t think I’ll bother with the main Eurogamer Expo again now it’s moved to Birmingham, being trapped on a show floor 30-60 minutes away from the City Center’s bars and good food last time killed the social reason I go to these events.

I met some great and lovely journos, devs and people this year, but some of the press side seemed especially cynical of the whole event and games in general. Back when I did it proper, Games Writing was lowly paid and highly competitive, a situation that has become worse. I can’t help but be a bit saddened over hearing folk seeing PR as their only way ‘out’, but that’s not too different to 5 years ago looking back on it. Still, when I’m job hunting myself and games continue to seem a fun thing to cover, it’s a mood killer seeing people in fortunate jobs feeling trapped there or that they can’t go on to other fun things due to the pressures of getting older.

Speaking of press at these events it feels weird to see barely any Print Journos about any more. Instead, there’s swathes of Youtubers pointing cameras whilst rollicking around the show floor that don’t interact with the traditional/online press in any form. It’s as though the Press side has a disparaging view of this medium and shuns them as unprofessional, whilst the Youtube side are either ignorant of the role of press or equally dismissive of them in turn as an outdated/’corrupt’ old guard. I’m just talking out of my arse here really.

All the VR stuff looked really exciting but I couldn’t be fucked with queuing or signing up to an appointment, and a show floor felt the wrong place to  fumble about in so it’ll be a mystery unchecked for now. I will say though that for Expos, the wet-wipeability of the HTC Vive and Playstation VR are a big plus compared to the fabric fitting of the Rift. 250+ people’s sweat all mingled together, a nice little sponge for your forehead.

I’m happy that an event like Rezzed exists where punters and small-time Indies can interact, and though I grumbled a bit about Just Cause 3’s presence I think having a few big ‘mainstream’ titles there helps ticket sales so long as they’re not dominating. If more people come to play those, then stick around the rest of the day to discover the other brilliance on offer then I think that’s a good thing.

Why I Rage-Quitted 2016’s Most Relaxing Game

Stardew Valley is the surprise hit of 2016. Within 12 days of launch, it sold roughly 425,000 copies making its talented solo-creator Eric Barone a sudden millionaire by estimate. It’s meant to be a relaxing farm simulation role-playing game with a heavy Harvest Moon influence. Friends lulled me into playing it with sweet whispers of its meditative and calming powers, that it was a massage for soul and mind.

Instead of finding a good massage I felt like I’d found a bad ureteroscopy. It was one of the most stressful gaming experiences I’ve had this year, but it’s all my fault.

I know how to fork
Me playing Stardew with the HTC Vive.

I knew I was starting to get in over my head when a cat turned up in the morning to live with me. I think it’s meant to be a sweet and adorable moment, but all I could think was this little furry bastard was another spanner in the works of my super-efficient country life dreams. I was already spinning too many plates in an ever increasing daily To-Do list. At this rate of burden on my finances and time I’d always live in a shack, a small shitty shack in the country.

Reflecting this new threat to my farming existence I tried to name the cat Chariman Meow, but as this was too long I settled in calling it Meowist. No time to dwell, as I’d accumulated 50 crops that needed tending on a daily basis. My Cauliflowers had been growing for 11 days and would be ripe to pick and sell for a big profit that could be re-invested tomorrow. I walked up to the first one, got my watering can ready and instead accidentally swung a pickaxe and destroyed it.

I stood for a moment dumb founded, before slamming ALT+F4 to quit the game. Then for the first time in my life I uninstalled a game not out of boredom but because, really, it had broken me. A single lost Cauliflower hadn’t caused this much emotional turmoil since the last Brassicaphile convention.

Having never played Harvest Moon back in the 90’s, I lack grounding for something like Stardew Valley. Most of my gaming time recently has been taken up with competitive multiplayer games like DOTA 2 and CS: GO, or intense single player experiences like XCOM 2. There’s really one common theme across my gaming repertoire of late; that if you don’t use your time well then when it comes to the late game, you’re going to be more fucked than a sperm bank’s communal fleshlight.

Stardew Valley starts with inheriting your Grandad’s old farm and you leaving your soul-crushing job at the game’s vague antagonist corporation, Joja. Only once you get to the farm you find it’s more crap-laden than the hall space at Crufts after a mass laxative spiking incident. Clearing out all the stones, trees and overgrown grass on the farm takes time and energy, and as you only have a limited energy bar and a ingame clock to contend with a whole day spent toiling away can often feel like very little was achieved.

Pictured: A Farm.
Pictured: A Farm.

Ontop of this the game starts to breadcrumb numerous trails to all the things you can do in it, often in the form of pleasant messages and gifts in your mailbox each morning. As the only things I’ve ever received in the real life mail from friends is 10kg of hot chocolate and a toothbrush, this is a novelty in of itself. Nice though these quests might be, I was soon losing head space to keep track of all the things I should be doing. Having mentally mapped out how much space could be cleared, where to explore and what needed to be bought & planted the next day it was soon tossed aside each time I woke up to a new letter.

A message came through saying that the mines had opened up. When checking it out, I was handed a sword and told to clear my way down to level 5. I was now playing a lite dungeon crawler RPG, fighting monsters and huffing the only thing I had in my inventory at that point for health; foraged dandelions. I don’t know where this fitted into my owning a farm. Having grown up in the Yorkshire countryside, my theory is you’re not allowed to be a full farmer till you’ve taken up a weapon and killed the shit out of something small and slightly edible. Probably. It might not have to be edible, I’m not sure.

As things were starting to get truly overwhelming a Wizard told me I needed to save nature, then I collapsed from exhaustion next to a pond and somebody robbed me in my sleep. It was now at the stage where I felt there were too many elements introduced for me to master even one effectively let alone several. Not knowing what skills or crops would be needed to pass later challenges, who I should’ve met or when I’d have to do so as the calendar marched ever forwards. All this culminated in my destroyed Cauliflower breakdown. I was beset by stressful challenges and micromanaging where others had described relaxation and gaming therapy. I tapped out.

37 Friends Can Be Wrong
37 Friends can be wrong

Having retreated to a game of DOTA and a beer to calm me down, it nagged me that Stardew Valley didn’t click with me. Talking to friends about it again, they were having the time of their lives setting up sprinklers, naming baby cows and harvesting turnips. I’d not been so eluded by the benefits of getting into green crops that zoned out all my friends since secondary school. Mentioning how worked up trying to keep on top of everything had made me, it was a comment from a friend that made me consider that maybe I’d been trying to make the game click on entirely the wrong terms.

“You know it doesn’t matter if you miss something right dude? It just rolls around again the next year, it’s always going to be there. Like, you don’t have to do everything. Just take it at your own pace”. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that it didn’t matter about missing events, that the game had no grand set win or fail state. There was no need to get to the top of all the vocations as quick as possible. If I couldn’t socialise with a game nor master then beat it, what was the point of it?

Fishing.

In my crazy juggling of tasks, fishing had really struck a chord with me when playing the game. Testing myself, I cautiously reinstalled it (thankfully it’s a small download) and decided bollocks to everything going on, I’m going to get my rod out and play with myself tonight. It’s a strangely satisfying minigame, fishing in Stardew, and it’s all I did for 2 hours apart from a little light watering of my remaining cauliflowers. A daily walk to whatever bit of water I wanted, then spending the day calmly getting better at reeling fish in. It was the most relaxed I’d felt for weeks with a game, allowing myself to take this time to do not very much at all but appreciate the charming atmosphere.

That’s when I truly ‘got’ Stardew Valley’s appeal. It really is a magical zen space where you become one with nature, cordon it off then dig it up and sell it. The hints of new areas and things to do are just that, hints. Not secret or urgent content you need to unlock, merely new space there for when you feel ready for a change. No high scores, no competition, nowhere you need to press on to be just a sweet open story and carving out a space just for yourself.

After getting my rod all fishy I eventually put it and my tackle away, then picked up my hoe again and took a relaxed approach to the rest of the game. Rather than focusing on a singular task I was playing on whims. One day I might decide to chop down trees, the other I could try and win people over by giving them week-old Spaghetti. Soon I was managing all sorts at once, but destroying a Cauliflower or two didn’t matter at all because at last, I was at ease.

I had to unlearn every gaming instinct I’d unknowingly built up over the years on how to approach a game when it came to Stardew Valley. Here was a title that didn’t ask you to ‘game’ it in making it break to your will & skill, merely that you play it. It’s not stopped me seeking and enjoying challenge in new games mind. What it has done is made me pause and consider having a more malleable mindset to appreciating experiences outside my comfort zone, on their own terms. That’s the beauty of play that games can bring out which, if it wasn’t for some gentle coaxing by friends, I might have entirely missed out upon in Stardew due to my usual approach.

EGX Rezzed 2015

I went to EGX Rezzed. During this I spent some time in the press room, enjoying free cups of water.

This was truly how the other half lived.

One journalist in a corner putting together a list of games that were nothing to do with the show, Mike Bithell over there on twitter. Ten people sat around the altar of phone charge. To be worthy of this space I’d have to do something, and my 4 year old credentials from a year at PC Gamer weren’t going to cut it. I would have to write something brilliant, transcendent, inspiring and insipid. An article worthy of my name, nay lineage.

Here’s some games I half-remembered playing at Rezzed.

MAIA

Maia

The offspring of Dungeon Keeper and Dwarf Fortress, this is a game about being in space but on a planet, in space. Or it might have been a moon. I think it’s a moon as people are wearing space suits which is a thing you do on moons I’m pretty sure. You build rooms whilst a bit lost about what to do and command Marvin the depressed robot to mine walls. Then monsters come along and you build a glowstick in defense.

It’s early days still really, with a big 0.50 patch coming soon. Progress so far looks like it will actually get to a stage of being more complete and satisfying than Spacebase DF-9 ever was. A showroom floor with people busy queuing behind you and a demo with no clear end in sight is entirely the wrong place to play it mind. I was given a physical glowstick though so it gets a 9/10.

AVIARY ATTORNEY

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Phoenix Wright, but everyone’s an animal in Victorian times and it’s drawn in a lovely ink engraving art style and fantastic music. Lots of animal puns. Game of show. Must buy.

TRI: OF FRIENDSHIP AND MADNESS

Tri

The person I was with wanted to play a game near to this, and I felt like a sit down and this game was nearby with nobody currently playing it. You can’t sit infront of something and not play it, that would be rude. My friend finished their game to go to the bathroom soon after I started this negating the need to play it, but I felt I hadn’t played it for long enough with the dev standing behind me so felt obliged to carry on.

It’s a first person puzzle platformer game with a story about god foxes, which means you can draw triangles to solve levels. It felt like a well done HL 2 mod and was a bit slow to get on with things, but I found myself genuinely enjoying it. If it came out for a fiver I’d spend an afternoon relaxing to it.

EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me it was already released late last year, and is currently on sale at around a fiver. I’m really good at research and fact-checking.

TAPHOBOS

Taphobos

Known colloquially as “that game with the coffin”, it was a game with a coffin. And a 30 minute queue. One person played a first person platformer trying to find the coffin, the other laid in a coffin then had a VR headset showing them inside of a coffin and would have clues to read out.

A lot of potential for a great claustrophobic experience, sadly rendered useless. The game isn’t randomised, so if you see someone ahead of you playing it you know exactly where to go. Rather than having clues etched onto the lid of the coffin, instead *spooky* white text flashes up with cheesy clues. The other player doesn’t even need the clues, as the game is one long corridor meaning most experiences lasted under 5 minutes. Not really the impression they were going for by any means and as it’s a student project, I doubt they’ll have the time/money/inclination to continue with it. Bloody students.

It was quite comfy to lay down in though.

FRACTURED SPACE

Fractured Space

Dota 2 meets Star Trek Online. 5vs5 lane pushing but with spaceships. I didn’t play this one but it looked cool. 10/10.

TITAN SOULS

titan souls

I’ve never played Shadow of the Colossus. I hate/am bored by Dark Souls. This was great though, basically a boss rush game where both you and the boss die in a single hit, and you only have one arrow. I was shit at it. Eurogamer Gold Badge/10.

EVERY OTHER GAME I PLAYED AT THE SHOW

There were some other really good and bad games I played, but I can’t be bothered to draw any more. They’re all probably 7/10 and roughly 50% had kickstarters attached to their flyers.

EGX Rezzed was a good experience with nice games and passable people, with the Tobacco Docks being an excellent venue and the relaxing opportunity to informally chat to devs whilst playing their game is an experience that should not be passed upon. If you hate the soulessness & sweaty cramped conditions of other expos this was a refreshing change, though as it lacked a decent pub nearby I give it 1/10.

Breaking Space Station 13

Space Station 13 is a 2d online role-playing game that involves up to around 60 players all acting out menial & exciting jobs on a vastly interactive futuristic station, in rounds that generally last between 30-60 minutes. It is bonkers. Many stories have been posted about it elsewhere, some amazingly written. I want to talk about a particularly peculiar but interesting experience for me, from a game that is seemingly notorious for them.

For this round I’d rolled a Detective. Rolled in the D&D class sense of the word, not that I’d accosted a sleeping officer. One useless gimmicky thing the detective spawns with (aside from the ability to play the YEAHHHH sound effect from CSI Miami when putting on sunglasses) is a pair of “Virtual Reality” goggles. Putting them on transports a virtual representation of your character to a relaxing beach, whilst your actual character is rendered immobile and vulnerable in the real game world until you take them off again. Normally these are thrown in the trash at the very start to make way for more useful items, but before this could be done a voice entered my head.

“HEY DEVILISH”

Direct admin chat was being addressed to me (my character was called Devilish Whiskers, named so as I’d given him a fine moustache). Normally the shadowy behind-the-scenes admins only talk directly to you to punish you for breaking the spirit of the game’s rules or to ascertain if someone has messed you about. To be messaged at the start of the round I was a little bit worried.

“Hello?”
“Can you do me a favour real quick?”
“Sure?”
“Put on your VR goggles”

I picked them up and placed them on, and sure enough my character was transported to the sunny but useless beach. Not sure what the voice wanted me to do next, I picked up a volley ball and splashed in the sea for a little bit. For the look of the thing.

“Hang on a sec, going to try something and see if it breaks the game”
“Okay. I’ll carry on splashing for you till then”

Suddenly, a portal appeared on the beach. Stepping into randomly appearing portals in SS13 is usually a bad idea. They can either transport you to somewhere useful or off-limits 5% of the time, or there’s a 75% chance you’ll transport into the abyss of space to suffocate and freeze to death. The other 20% is teleporting into a wall and instantly dying which on the whole is a risk best worth avoiding.

“Step in”

Not wanting to disobey Game God I did as I was duly told. The portal ended up taking me not to the darkness of space but instead to my own Detective’s office. Next to my character who was wearing the VR goggles still and who was completely immobile.

“Cool! That worked.”
“What do I do now? What happens if I take the goggles off?”
“I don’t know. Try it!”

I took them off and the Virtual version of me vanished for me to take control of my original character again. I put the Goggles back on and stepped through the portal on the beach to end up in the office once more. Important questions raced through my mind.

“If I die as a virtual hologram, does my body die as well?”

Knowing if I was in a forgettable Bruce Willis movie was a top priority after all.

“I don’t think so, nope! Infact, strip your body”
“Excuse me?”
“Strip your body of all your detective stuff, and hide your body in your office’s locker.”

I ended up stripping my original character down to his underpants whilst I put on his clothes and took his items, before rolling my stiff detective body into an ID locked locker and securing it away. I rolled a Detective.

“Okay, you’re now a virtual detective. Go solve crimes but remember, keep your body safe!”

The voice left me behind and I tried to get back into the swing of SS13. I mean, I was still playing as a Detective, but only I knew what weirdness I’d just endured in the past 5 minutes and why I was a hologram walking about the station. My virtual status was a subject of much bemusement to everyone that I met, who were busy being wrapped up in the weirdness of their own rounds to suddenly have a holographic detective turn up and try to solve crimes. It didn’t matter to them that I was more useful than a garden strimmer and quite a swimmer.

Shrivelled up corpses had started appearing in the maintenance ducts around the station which meant a Changeling; a player who looks like just a normal character up until they assault you and drain your life essence after which they can morph into you. Tracking them down is hard and the corpses were piling up, but I felt fairly safe in that a changeling wouldn’t be able to kill me as a hologram. Well, possibly wouldn’t be able to kill me. And so long as I kept my body safe.

“HEY DEVILISH”

Admin God was speaking again after 15 minutes of no contact. I was in the middle of chasing a suspicious looking character through the dark maintenance area that I had a hunch could be the monstrous changeling. It looked like generic genetic crime would have to wait.

“I want to try something else. Go and get the locker with your body in and drag it back to here”

Hideous shape-shifting monster forgotten in order to feed my curiosity about what was going to happen next I dragged my body-locker halfway across the station. A security officer questioned me on the way about why I was acting suspiciously, but I told him it was fine officer I was just dragging my own body with my virtual body because a higher power told me to. This was accepted. I arrived back where I was originally contacted in Maintenance.

“Okay you know where the garbage chute is?”
“Yeah, I think so. It’s just south of here”
“I want you to take your body and throw it in the grinder”

The Grinder is just as it sounds. A conveyor belt leads to it which all the trash chutes on the station deliver garbage onto, that is then fed into the Grinder. Bodies that go through it tend to come out as a red gooey gibbed mess usually, but I placed trust in the voice.

Grabbing my naked body with my virtual one, I threw it onto the conveyor belt and watched it edge its way towards the grinder. It hit the grinder and became a fine red mist, but my virtual self didn’t vanish.

“Oh.”
“Cool!”
“That was my body wasn’t it?”
“Yeah but you’re still here! I didn’t think it’d work. Right, can you put these VR goggles on now?”

Still trying to process the fact I’d just murdered myself but was alive enough to regret it, a pair of VR goggles magically appeared out of the air next to me. I put them on and took control of a Virtual-Virtual version of me that was on a flashing blue neon map. Another portal appeared and I just walked through it, to end up next to my Virtual body. A spectator had come along at this point who simply said “The fuck is going on”. I couldn’t answer.

“Now I want you to throw your Virtual body in the Grinder”
“Haven’t I killed enough?”
“Trust me”

I repeated the process of stripping and murder that had gone on with my real body and threw my original hologram body into the grinder. Another pair of VR goggles appeared and before even being told I put them on to be transported to the same neon plane of existence and popping into the real world again as a Virtual-Virtual-Virtual Devilish Whiskers. My name was beginning to be a bit of a mouthful.

“Shouldn’t I just be Neo or something by this point? I seem to have conquered death in a virtual world.”
“Hey, you’re right! Give me a moment”

Before my eyes, my character’s clothes were replaced with a black trenchcoat and garments along with dark sunglasses, and my long name was changed to simply read “THE ONE”. A personal teleporter was also dropped into my inventory, allowing me to port around the station on a whim.

I was frankly amazed by the unravelling of all this. Space Station 13 has always been a inventive and mad place but it was impressive to see first hand an example of how game code and assets could be inserted during a round. Sometimes this creativity won’t be for any technical reason but because the admins themselves are bored gods wanting to tinker with their live creation. It was like watching a film be changed around you whilst having a direct conversation with the director, which I find is such an incredibly interesting & powerful avenue for games to explore.

I later asked the admin what he was doing and he said he was changing the code that linked the player character to their virtual one, and wanted to see how many extensions it could go through without breaking the game. He also had to draw quickly the black trenchcoat and create a whole new map level plane to transport the Virtual-Virtual version of myself to. All whilst a round with 45 other players was playing out around me, all of whom were none the wiser to this going on.

It’s for reasons like this that Space Station 13 has been such a strongly creative game. It is undeniably ugly and hacked together at times, but because of this it is incredibly robust to build upon. Crazy ideas can be tried out on a whim and scrapped without too much lost development time, plus fresh admins and creators are easily able to come in and add their ideas too. New things are still being added on a near-weekly basis even. The Space Station 13 you play today is the result of nearly 6 years of this collective mad bodging and stripping. It is the beauty of Sleep is Death but in an interactive game world, and the scope of Dwarf Fortress personalised.

I spent the rest of my holographic round porting around the station, trying to find people to confuse with my new almost deity status. By this point though the station had fallen into anarchy with a deadly uncaught changeling running around and all the security dead so the escape shuttle had been called. Using my new found powers I teleported to infront of the escape shuttle and walked onboard.

“BEHOLD. FOR I AM THE ONE.”

My panache for being a dramatic dickhead was rewarded by 3 people wearing paper hats robusting me around the head with fire-extinguishers until I fell into unconsciousness, then farting on my head just as the round ended. Which is as ever an important lesson – just because someone powerful in a world has taken an interest in you doesn’t mean other people have to indulge you if they don’t feel like it.

Bad Sci-Fi Short Story Jam

For those who might not know, Andy Kelly is running a story jam for bad science-fiction short stories. Awful writing is a secret pleasure of mine, as it’s either hilarious or educating me on how to be less shit at this writing lark.

In more recent times we’ve had the infamous THE EYE OF ARGON to entertain us, but bad writing and the enjoyment of it is an old artform. There’s the case of Amanda McKittrick Ros, whose writing was so awful that J.R.R Tolkien and friends would try reading aloud her works and see who could go the longest without laughing. There’s even a place in my heart for bad fanfic too, like My Immortal or the notorious Half Life: Full Life Consequences.

I encourage everyone to enter, the email address and very loose rules can be found at the site proper here where I look forward to reading your intended shitty writing.

In turn below is my magnum opus, entitled SPACE OF ADVENTURE IN SPACE. I took an hour out to do it and had good fun, if it gets a few laughs then it was totally worth my time.

READ SPACE OF ADVENTURE IN SPACE AT YOUR OWN BEHEST.