Pineapple Bin: On Bioshock Infinite’s Oddball Loot System

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Pineapples in the bin, sandwiches in the cabinet and trick almonds. Yes, these are the bizarre storage choices made by the inhabitants of Columbia, Bioshock Infinite’s floating city, suspended high above the American mainland.

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Don’t you just hate it when you open a box of almonds and…

The third Bioshock game, released in 2013, takes you on a rollicking, high stakes disaster course through one of the most stunningly realised pieces of game design I’ve ever seen. Playing as no nonsense veteran Booker Dewitt, your goal is to complete a job that will bring the city of Columbia to its knees, as you try to understand your place in it all. The afore mentioned city in the sky is a grandiose steampunk wonderland, replete with dark, satirical gems on the state of America, past and present. Or should that be the past, present and future states of America all happening at once, since the game’s heavy serving of multiverse theory serves to make things all the more up in the air.

These choices allowed Irrational Games to create their Bioshock series finale with a self-aware edge, complicating the moral simplicity that the original has been criticised for. The result is remarkable, and while I could spoil the beauty of it for you with plenty of screenshots, I decided to make a different sort of collection.

Despite the self-awareness on show from the developers, the loot system in the game has a great way of injecting nonsense into the mix. On Dewitt’s journey around Columbia, you’ll find plenty of places to loot food, drink, ammunition and money. Generally, such loot collection in games happens so quickly that you don’t take notice, and for most of Bioshock Infinite I was hoarding goods without taking in the weird and wonderful storage decisions made by some Columbia residents. It was the pineapple in the bin that caught my attention however, and then I just had to keep an eye out. I’ve charted some of my more unusual finds below.

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Somebody was having a great time in this barrel until Dewitt came along and took their lunch.
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Whatever this mission is, be assured that it involves RPGs and sidetable cake.
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People in Columbia really go in for cotton candy, hiding it in their desks even.
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These men died as they lived, carrying around classic American fairground food at all times.
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Props to whoever managed to keep a fresh cup of coffee brewing in their desk while the world collapsed around them.
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Every office space needs a good stock of filing cabinet sandwiches, essential for the snacking worker.

All things considered, this might just be the version of Columbia where people wouldn’t see a problem with leaving food, ammunition and money literally all over the shop. I have no problem with that, and multiverse wise, Dewitt could have ended up in a world where everybody made rational choices about storing perishables and liquids; after experiencing Bioshock Infinite, I know that would be no place for him to live.

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Browser Gaming: Episode I – Snow, Wine, and too many Draculas

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Looking for something to pass a few minutes or so? I was, and remembering the wonderful itch.io turned to search for some short, in-browser games. I was looking for things I could play one handed, while my other arm rested casually over the back of my chair, ideally games made with the brilliant Bitsy by Adam Le Doux, or in a similar gridded adventure map style. These were the perfect way to make the most of the little time I had, and I encourage you to do the same.

Click here to see all the games featured in our collection of in-browser greats, or go to each individual game by clicking the title and, if you can, make a donation to show these creators some love.

Linda’s Quest for Dog Samot by Frankiextra

A perfect palate cleanser, if it were a glass of wine to be spat into a bucket I’d describe it as – a fruity rosé with notes of dog hair, which is why I’m into games journalism and not wine writing. It’s very short, made me laugh and I’m glad it exists. Cheers!

Snowcrash by Breogán Hackett

I love interactive fiction, and this short, high stakes survival adventure is an entry into the field that makes innovative use of Bitsy’s choice system, at least, I’ve not seen anything as complex made in the in-browser game editor so far. With beautifully made pixel art and an effectively chilly, but not-too-chilling soundtrack, this is overall an effective and enjoyable game tied together by sharp writing. According to my choices, I’d be useless in a snowstorm plane crash, good to know as we head deeper into winter.

 

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The beautiful winter expanse, shame it’s going to kill you if you’re not careful

 

Our Damned Machine by Sophie Houlden

The first game I played, which got me hunting for more of the same, is this dystopic maze adventure, where the only possible route is one which takes you to the machine of the title. In a world of people deluded and rejected by the eponymous contraption, you hear their stories and walk towards your own interaction with the overlord. Making impressive use of Bitsy’s art and rooms systems, this game reminded me of an early 20th century science fiction story, with its critical eye on mechanised life. Though we may be dull to the message of such stories, even with Black Mirror there to shake our boots, this is still an effective interactive experience I’d recommend. Just don’t expect playing it to win you any favour with the machine.

Dracula Express by ComputerJames

If you are into ridiculous supernatural locomotion, look no further than Dracula Express, the short farce featuring you as the new conductor of a train that is exactly what it claims to be. Board the only public transport around exclusively for all the Draculas in the world! Saying too much would ruin the fun, and though it seems like a slightly unresolved work, I had a lot of fun checking out what all the Draculas had to say about it all. Bonus – the infectiously upbeat soundtrack, which I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere before.

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Let me think… a whistle and a ticket machine? Not on this train!

A Kishoutenketsu in the Countryside by HeskHwis

The only game here made outside of Bitsy, this adventure game of meditation on classic Japanese, Chinese and Korean narratives, Kishoutenketsu, is part of a series by HeskHwis exploring this structure. I didn’t complete the adventure the first time around, but it was interesting enough to mean that I returned to it determined to make my way through. With a puzzle mechanic that requires reflection and care in your actions, it is a stimulating, frustratingly fun little game which rewards you well for your efforts. I get strong, loving vibes from this game and feel all the warmer for it, well worth some time pushing wooden logs around!

 

Fire! On Tomb Raider and Firewatch

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Over this New Year’s period I played two games, unintentionally experiencing two very connected experiences. With Square Enix revealing a third instalment in the Tomb Raider reboot series during the holidays, and Camp Santo similarly announcing their new game In The Valley Of The Gods, I was playing both of their first entries in this field, Tomb Raider (2013) and Firewatch (2016). Though I had just been looking for some adventure to get me through a lonely New Year’s, when I looked closer at both I saw more than a few things drawing the titles together, not least their shared obsession with fire.

For a game called Firewatch, the amount of time spent watching fires is surprisingly minimal, and is about relative to how long you spend raiding tombs in Tomb Raider. However, while Firewatch has you avoiding and preventing the flames, Tomb Raider centres around a story and environment which actively encourage pyromania, as you burn a path across a mysterious Pacific island. These divergent attitudes are tied to the main difference I found between the two – the way a connection is forged between player, story and avatar.

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Games of Discovery

Discussing differences would be nothing without establishing the similarities that make the games worthy of comparison in the first place. Both will have you exploring dense forests and caves, walkie-talkie and rope to hand, as you uncover documents and items pointing to a deep, dangerous mystery hidden somewhere close by. As you uncover more and more, your safety and the safety of those you know is threatened, but like anyone caught in a web of mystery, you have to keep digging before finally making that final daring escape.

Aside from the set-up of a hidden mystery in a constrained outdoor area, the key similarity in both is their discovery mechanic, allowing objects and texts to carry the backstory.

Both games try to be as much stories about their characters as they are about the exploration and mystery of a location. For Tomb Raider this move seems to be all about re-inventing and shifting perceptions about Lara Croft. Understandably, and rightfully, in this game Lara Croft is given more of a believable personality and background than ever before, making her original breast oriented incarnations look like badly written fan fiction. But the game is also layered with a deep history, relating to the island of Yamatai, home of the legendary Himiko, Sun Goddess, that has you and the rest of a documentary crew shipwrecked on the island in the first place. Through the stories of the people who have been trapped on this island and the objects they left behind, from ancient times, through WWII, up to today, you learn the truth about the storms that are preventing your escape. These are told through sets of collectables, journal entries, artefacts, even the diaries of your crewmates, as well as a video camera with footage from before your stranding, giving a deeper insight into the personalities tied up in the island’s mystery. It’s a design move that makes collection of hidden artefacts more than just about percentage completion, though treasure maps and percentages are still there as a halfway house.

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Firewatch does away with such allowances, and has you tied to a journey that gives you the opportunity to discover its secrets without making an explicit in-game completion task of it. The personality of Firewatch and its story revolving around a lookout in Shoshone National park and missing persons in the area, which conjured up thoughts of the X-Files as I played, is in the way its documents and objects are, at least in the first two thirds of the game much more down to earth than Tomb Raider’s ephemera. For instance, notes between two park rangers, an old sweatshirt and cap, kiddish drawings all hold meaning, one that is not so obvious as the idea that the legends of Himiko are actually true. Firewatch contains the red herrings and misdirection that Tomb Raider misses out on because of the franchise’s essential elements.

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But, both make use of this collection system to give us non-playable characters who are more than just sketched outlines, but have themselves left traces in the environment.

Another personalising touch I found especially effective was the way Tomb Raider gives individual enemy groupings personality by scripting dialogues for the guards to have as they search the island for you. This little touch gave the inevitable shootouts a bit more weight than enemy passages in similar games, rival extreme archaeology series Uncharted for instance

Games of Differing Perspectives

Though both games take steps to make their characters into believable participants in the journey towards the end, the key difference comes in our point of view as players. There is a reason that in Firewatch even a thin smoke trail can make you jumpy, while Tomb Raider has you leaping around lighting people on fire with napalm tipped arrows. While Lara Croft is an avatar viewed in third person, Firewatch tells the entire story through first person perspective. In neither game can you switch between camera angles and get a different POV – you are made to see Lara Croft as puppet in a very dangerous play, while Henry becomes your lens for the world. Unsurprisingly this means that for Henry fire is never the game mechanic that it becomes in Lara’s world, since that stuff burns.

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Despite more freedom in the pyromancy and weapons department, there’s no deciding Lara’s backstory and ultimately no deciding her fate. Although you can choose to find out more or less about the others, their reactions are also no different for any player of the game. This means that in every instance you are given the same image of pain as the ultimate enforcer of development in a person.

Since Lara’s journey is one of a true hero, fittingly there is little reserve to the kinds of torment that the third-person ragdoll can endure on this journey towards becoming the eponymous Tomb Raider.

In an adventure strung together with set pieces reminiscent of all the best in the previously mentioned Uncharted series, Tomb Raider manages to inflict a great deal of physical and emotional pain on Lara Croft. Unlike Nathan Drake’s lovable rogue character though, it doesn’t take another person to make this born hero realise that the people getting hurt around her are not expendable assets (providing they’re one of the good guys of course). So, though there is some emotional leverage placed on Lara by her crew, several times it is made clear that the things happening are soul and gut wrenchingly painful to Lara in herself. Cue scenes of intense shivering, self-sterilising wounds and being strung up more than once in a room full of butchered bodies.

This is also elucidated through the many brutal death scenes that play when you muck up one of the unfortunately frequent quicktime events in the game. Lara will be viscerally crushed, impaled and mauled as she makes her way valiantly to the true end state of the game. I can’t tell whether this was another attempt at the authenticity layered throughout, trying to make out Lara’s strength, or if it is perhaps a cruel, subconscious way of making a character designed as a sexual fantasy work through a torture porn theme-park for their ‘real’ hero status.

For a discussion of the flipside of this, when water is not dangerous enough, see ‘Submerged, and the fear of death’.

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Firewatch’s Henry also faces pain, but it’s of a type more relatable to the average player than being crushed by an ageless Japanese warrior guard. From the start you are in charge of Henry’s choices, moulding his life pre-1989, a personality building profile of scenarios similar to the one at the beginning of the recently discussed Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. However, in this case the choices have a long-lasting effect on what Henry confesses about it all through the walkie-talkie to Delilah, chief watchtower lookout, who you only ever meet over the airwaves. Despite this distance, some honest and inspired dialogue endears Delilah to you as the key voice in your guard duty of the trees of the National Park. The walkie-talkie, aside from in essential scenes, is optional, and you can choose to report on what you find to Delilah, getting as much or little detail on elements of the main story as you want. Each of your responses has a timer, giving you seconds to decide how to react to Delilah’s questions, and this makes the interaction between the player and Delilah a personalised storytelling conduit based not on tactics but on instinct. This mechanic is, I feel, the reason that Firewatch tells a much more moving reflection on loss and survival than Tomb Raider, since the story told is defined by the person you are, not who Henry or Delilah is, but who the player is.

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While Tomb Raider did give me a few moments of Hollywood-style shock and awe and a new-found respect for Lara Croft, we all know that this was the height of the emotional reaction intended by the game, and it does a good enough job of making something new out of a badass inspirational character previously hampered by her origins. For the real display of character development, Firewatch’s honest, nuanced writing, which gets the player involved in the moral and instinctive choices that make up Henry and Delilah’s relationship, is the more captivating. An exciting, suspense filled first person mystery is a lot to ask of even the most respected in the ‘walking simulator’ genre, but Firewatch provides that, alongside a story that by the end of the game had me in tears. It will be first up in the sequel to Games that made me cry 2017 at the end of the year.

So, with my interest peaked in both, here’s to Shadow of the Tomb Raider and In The Valley Of The Gods!

Gaming CV – Nostalgia Games (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team, 2005)

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Coming out of what for many is the festive season, plenty of kids have gone into the new year with new games, toys and gadgets as gifts from family and friends, and I was never any different. Here I reflect on one gift, and the ways it sparks my memories of playing games as a refuge.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team (Nintendo DS – Nintendo, 2005)

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I’m back home this holiday, letting the family dog out into the garden, grass and snow amusing the little fluff ball, and I spot something out in the grass. A reminder of our gift giving traditions and of the end of childhood. A little square of blue. Wading out into mud painted green and white, in slippers, I pluck from the ground an instantly recognisable item. A cartridge for the Nintendo DS, once given as a birthday present to a nine-year-old kid with my eyes and my ears, and in all respects me. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team, first played by me in 2006.

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Re-united after a decade – (not an actual photo of my cartridge).

Being re-united with this object was a confusing moment, I recalled a trip to a local supermarket, spotting this game and asking a question, I remember a friend getting a similar game. It is hard to place in my gaming memory, since to be frank, it’s not a great game. At least, I was disappointed by the entry in a series where my other exposures (Pokémon Fire Red, Pokémon Colosseum, even Pokémon Puzzle Challenge) had been so exciting. The game was dull, tedious, not fun to a kid just wanting some classic Pokémon battling, yet finding it out in the garden sparked a real moment of joy in me. It’s as if my own history of gaming has lived on in this plucky little rectangle, which on the outside seems as it once did, ready to be clicked into the back of Nintendo’s handheld to take me on a rescue adventure. Playing as a Pokémon, leading another group of Pokémon on missions into dark caves and abandoned places full of ghouls.

The best bit about Mystery Dungeon, aside from the game’s name, was the introductory psych evaluation performed on you to determine your Pokémon species. I’ve always been into personality tests, and though I’ve not been caught out by scientology yet, I do remember replaying this opening section several times, out of boredom or what, I don’t know. I was fascinated by this passage of the eponymous mysery, which then led to a confusing and ultimately underwhelming play experience.

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Nintendo accurately displaying the true experiences of kids everywhere

I fondly remember even these memories of what I felt was a mediocre game because it still feels warm, a safe part of the often-daunting descent into puberty. It reminds me of playing Animal Crossing with friends, and everybody getting frustrated with the mole man who’d verbally abuse you for forgetting to save, and Professor Layton’s puzzles, and the Big Brain Academy, and all of the fun had with that little black block that was my Nintendo DS Lite, tied to gifts by being bought with ‘birthday money’ received one year. The Nintendo Corporation managed to cater for my age group in a way no other gaming giant could, it understood the idea of gaming for groups of friends of any type, it didn’t patronise kids, it respected us. Though Halo was another social game I played with my best friend, it didn’t translate to group fun in the way the Nintendo DS allowed. The Switch continues this tradition of console gaming for everyone, anywhere, that Nintendo are unrivalled providers for.

It might be a reason for me not going in for Nintendo’s recent mobile incarnations of their beloved franchises, a reticence about re-animating my childhood experiences. These memories tied up with receiving gifts and friendship, are not ones I want to go about reliving by choosing to go back into the world of Animal Crossing through Pocket Camp for instance. Despite their cushy nostalgia, these games were a safety net to me, and if I’m going to spend time gaming it won’t be through a conduit for memories which on their reverse contain loneliness, disappointment and disgust with what was happening to my body. To me that nostalgia is best kept within the little blue box, ruined by weather and the twelve-year journey through three changes of house, and out into the garden.

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Weathered adult hand presenting mobile app for younger market.

It’s all a sticky web when a franchise grows up beside you and remains in the realm of childhood, since while you and your mind now cater for your adult life, reinventions of games you once played are there for today’s generation of children. This relationship is not one I have even nearly worked out in this quick reflection, it’s like chewing gum stuck in hair, pulling at it hurts, but I’d like to untangle it.

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team sits beside me now, I’ve got no DS to test out the battered connectors on the back, but that doesn’t really bother me, now I think it’s time for it to rest, ultimately rescued from the tall grass.

On History, Art and VR

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Let’s not call this article a manifesto for the creation of VR apps that reconsider art and its history, but it is.

This time round, the Winterbeast of consumer culture brought the Oculus Rift into my life, and despite some of the teething problems expected with early generation tech, it’s been living up to my expectations of virtual reality as bewitching wonderment. Despite having great fun shooting robots I’m most excited about the possibility of VR experiences that combine my intoxicating interests of art and history, and I’ll wax rhapsodic about that for a while.

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Can’t talk right now, too busy exploring Ancient Rome.

Looking back into history is one of those things, like geographical and scientific exploration, that I think can be reinvented brilliantly through virtual reality tech. As an immersive medium VR can allow us to inhabit those recreations of the past that documentaries and books are constantly trying to create. There’s a problem though, especially in VR, with claiming to have created authentic historical reproductions, which is that history is far too slippery.

To illustrate, imagine fights we’ve all had where one person says one thing happened and one person another thing and there’s no proof of either – and eventually the majority side with the most convincing speaker. Our knowledge of human history is in many ways just a glorified version of such fights, and as a result there is no defining ‘version’ of history that exists without being heavily covered in the violent politics of prejudice. ‘True’ history is impossible to calculate, especially when so much of the evidence has been destroyed to skew the image, or was never meant to stick around in the first place.

So, to bring the past to life, we often rely on ‘virtual realities’, not in the Rift sense, but in the vast collections of history we have preserved in art, which, while steeped in the same prejudice, provide contextual time capsules that can still evoke the emotions, sights, sounds and smells imbued within, or at least some understanding of what was meant, in just a look. Though for some modern and contemporary arts this effect has been flattened by major shifts in art production, matching shifting lifestyles in the past century, most of the pre-WWII art that survives is there as an effective historical gateway. We can look at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and go ‘Wow that’s a really big painting OMG’, or at prints by Hokusai and go ‘This picture is TINY but so BIG, it moves me, I FEEL the presence of water and of Mount FUJI’, and suddenly we have a virtual portal to 16th Century Rome or 19th Century Japan, one much more effective than just being told the dry facts.

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Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, c.1832 (woodblock print, 25.7cm x 37.8cm)

Yet so much of this art is held in collections around the world that people will never get to see, and because we can’t interact with it more directly, so much of it is misunderstood, dulled and constrained by living in the world of collections both public and private. Though initiatives such as The Google Art Project are giving online access to these images, these are nothing but catalogues for us to browse dispassionately, removed from the immersion of looking at a piece of art by the restrictions of size, space and texture presented by traditional monitor screens. If art stays in these collections and catalogues it can only exist out of time and out of place, for us to approach like a dry cracker, with no topping. That is why, for instance, experiences designed in the style of paintings, or made as explorations of historical art studios and their locations, and even envisioning intentions of artists who didn’t have immersive technology, could be so effective in revitalising art collections that currently sit under years’ worth of mental dust.

Anyone creating these experiences must acknowledge where the urge to do that comes from however, and it’s the bourgeoisie, middle class fantasy that came up with museums in the first place, built on the idea that some things (and people) are less important, less interesting than others. Who are we to say what does and doesn’t matter to the person sitting next to us, sitting over the ocean and in the chat forum with us? We have to kill the idea that somebody can ‘know’ what happened and what somebody else was feeling. So much art and history has already been lost that way, and it didn’t do anyone any good.

This is about giving the entire world of art that did survive history – famous works, hidden works, arts of war and peace, arts of love and hate, public arts, craftworks – a more dynamic role to play in our imagining of the past. Placing them in time, not as static truths, but as portals to the many worlds, curated by people who they matter to, full of the thoughts that brought them forth. In this way in VR we can create artworks out of art history.

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Woman enjoying virtual rollercoaster app in museum gallery
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Submerged, and the fear of death.

On Submerged (Uppercut Games, 2015) –

A storm is raging on the horizon, flashes of lightning set white fire in the sky, the submerged city skyline illuminated for the briefest moment. A fog rolls in with the rain heading your way. This could be it, as the weather lashes out again and again at your tiny vessel, rocking on a body of water polluted with chemical fluorescence. You grit your teeth and bear it, with no shelter, no protective clothing and a body racked by creeping mutation, you must go on. Out here in the middle of it all, you risk everything to save the life of your dying brother.

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Except, you don’t. The thing is, and be grateful for it since it’s a thing that usually affects 100% of Earth’s living population, you, Miku, can’t die.

The idea of Submerged is based entirely in fear, the fear of ecological disaster, the fear of being unable to save a loved one, the fear even of becoming other. It is a timely, melancholic and impressively put together piece of speculative fiction that asks us to consider what will live on when most of us die, posed not only in relation to what might be destroyed, but also through Australian Aboriginal dreamtime storytelling, reflecting human life that has already seen destruction.

An awe-inspiring feat, and what makes the game a delight to play is the landscape in which this all occurs, a harsh yet beautiful drowned city of enigmatic landmarks and mutated animal life, through which you must navigate to locate supply drops. You head down  the submerged streets by boat, searching for these supplies, as well as scrap to salvage for your engine, and clues to the fate of the city. The freedom that makes this enjoyable is ultimately what takes away from the game’s bold premise. In searching for a way to make telling the story possible while using the mechanics of collection chosen for the game, the designers have created a pitfall in the experience, Miku can’t experience harm at any point in the journey, whether sailing through a storm, or clinging by fingertips to a ledge ten stories up.

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In case the danger of life on harsh waters, even with some protection, was understated.

This soft approach helps make the game easier for a younger audience, makes it easier for a narrative to be told in such a deadly situation, and makes the story make sense – since the fear of dying of mutation is key to your perseverance. This means though that you can’t die a non-narrative death, nor experience injury, and that just doesn’t pass as believable. Suspending disbelief is key, and it relies on consistency – we are happy to accept that Harry Potter can cast spells from a wand, as long as he doesn’t start shooting them from his armpits, that’s just ridiculous. Just as I am happy to accept the storied terrain of an ecological apocalypse, as long as the survivors are still subject to the very things that caused the submersion in the first place, the deadly capacity of water.

The most satisfying element of Submerged for me was in using the in-game screengrab tool to create what are truly remarkable gameplay scenes, but surely that goes against the entire message of the game. The idea that ecological disaster is beautiful is one I’m sure the developers didn’t mean to include, but unfortunately it’s definitely there, I mean look at the photos I took with this mutated whale:

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Meanwhile, the game manages well to retain tension between you and the mutated humans that remain, since you’re never certain of their intent. They linger over you the whole time, moving in and out of sight as you climb for supplies, and that truly felt like a threat.

I can understand how it’s easier to mask the potential of your ‘monsters’ than your environment, but it did make this very intense and relevant story feel more like a boating holiday around some quirky landmarks gathering supplies, instead of an urgent message.

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Gaming CV – My First Game (A Bug’s Life, 1998)

One of the main issues with having a scatterbrain is related to experience, while I’ve been advised to make documents and itemise my skill-based experiences with an eye to making a ‘career’, I find it hard once one thing is over to not just leap onto the next unrelated thing without noting down what I just did. So, I’m pretty sure I have experience in curating and exhibiting art, film editing and sound production, animation, game development, writing fiction, non-fiction… and so on yada yada.

The thing is, it’s just not interesting to me to go over what I’ve done. Why waste time making documents vainly proving that you’ve ‘done a thing’, when there’s so many more things to be doing right now. Except, I thought that, until I came across an exception. Gaming.

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“Experience? I think you’ll find all you need to know on here.”

I can imagine it now, a CV consisting of a list of consoles, years played, and all the roles taken on while playing – with the title of Master Chief (Halo 1, 2 and 3) placed in an ideal position to catch the eyes of any potential employer. Of course, the fact that this CV would be so similar to so many others, and so unremarkable in light of some people’s gaming achievements, would instantly nullify it if everyone took on this strategy.

But, reflecting on a life of playing, thinking about, and cherishing the art of videogames is a rich source of this so called ‘experience’ thing. It reveals so many avenues of potential reflection that my scattered mind is instantly happy with all the possibilities. But let’s start basic, with what I think was my first ever game.

A Bug’s Life (PlayStation – Traveller’s Tales, 1998)

While many working and playing with video games today will have been around since the dawn of the entire medium, I was born into the late nineties and the beginning of the big console era. Being one of those so-called millennials means that my entire gaming life has been centred around a constant battle between Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo’s console technology, with Valve and web-based stores only recently providing a workable computer based alternative for our ‘want and get’ generations.

Being born into this time of rapid console innovation I was, as a young boy, lucky to have a mother who understood the worth of games, and the PlayStation was my starting point on this most fantastic voyage. Alongside videogames, cinema has always been a big part of my life, and going to the cinema is almost unparalleled as a way of socialising with the screen as proxy. So, here the two first experiences intersect in Disney Pixar’s 1998 film about the life of a bug – A Bug’s Life. I’m sure my mother still has the ticket from that first cinema trip, and though I don’t remember that, I have in my head memories of playing the PlayStation version of the official videogame. That must have been a couple of years later though, as a toddler more in control of their motor systems, and perhaps when console and game were a more reasonable price.

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That memorable film scene where Flik wanders around jumping and collecting power-ups.

Nevertheless, I do remember playing the game, and mainly I remember it being difficult, recalling the ant Flik’s body becoming a flashing translucent shell as I ran around getting injured, much more I cannot tell you. But, I do recall feeling fascinated, and a tiny bit obsessed, with completing some arbitrary goal – a feeling that would crystallise into a deep love for the video game medium over many years of play.

I’m not sure, like with Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly (2002), whether I ever got past the first level of A Bug’s Life, or just kept playing it on repeat, not able to pass the tutorial stages. Despite that, which would in any game I’d play today be unreasonable, I remember it being fun to just be able to be inside the world of one of my favourite films (an opinion I’ve revised since). Being inside that world of ants and acorns is not only probably my first remembered gaming experience, but also my first identifiable memory.

With games tied so intimately to the structure of my developing brain, is it any wonder that after almost two decades of seeing them in the frame of distraction and bad influence, when I take a proper look videogames reveal themselves to me as being just as affecting, relevant and arguably more fun than any other kind of art.

I look forward to updating my CV with more experience relevant to this particular field.

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Games to Make you Cry – 2017

More accurately let’s call this ‘Games that made me cry 2017’, since not everyone is going to be moved to tears by these experiences. But if like me you’re an anxious softie, just waiting for someone to mention lonely break-times on the school playground, ready to burst into tears at any moment, then these are the most tear-jerking games of the year.

Everything (PC, PS4)

Everything_02 © David OReilly 20172

David OReilly’s game about becoming everything has been much talked about this year, for the fact that not only is it a beautiful, subversive piece of art, but that it was the first video game to qualify footage for the long list nominations at the next Oscars.

On an in-game level, Everything brought me to tears for the aforementioned beauty of its experience, combining the chance to walk in the shoes of all the animals, molecules and trash around us while reflecting on the philosophy of interconnectedness as lectured on by Alan Watts.

It may sound like soppy nonsense, but I was in tears realising my connection to every ‘thing’, alive or not, and that I am not just a part of a stupid universe left out in the cold, but integral to the meaning and existence of all things. Coming out of several years of feeling like crap, that’s a comforting thing to think about.

If you’re up for the potential of emotional revelations while roaming around a forest as a flock of VHS cassettes, Everything is the game to play.

What Remains of Edith Finch (PC, PS4, XBOX One)

Screenshot (29)

Oh boy, if Everything was a tears-of-joy kind of game, this was something else. The award-winning, award-deserving mystery house reflection on mortality and family history, Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch, was certainly the most interesting, heart wrenching experience I’ve had in gaming this year, and perhaps ever.

To tell you why would spoil the fun but I can reflect on how I feel What Remains of Edith Finch delivers a couple of majorly rewarding emotional body blows to the invested player as it goes along.

It explores hidden areas of human experience through play mechanics.
It’s weird.
It doesn’t tell you everything, and it doesn’t patronise either player or character.

That’s the main thing, playing What Remains of Edith Finch I got the impression that the creators just got it, understanding that minority stories, untold stories and hidden fantasies are shouldn’t told and explored as though they are to be pitied or are special, but because they are as real as any of the other stories we tell. I was in tears three or four times in a way no game has really provoked before, by making relatable, back-of-the-mind mental experiences feel tangible and true.
Alongside the tears What Remains of Edith Finch also uses intrigue, fear and great sorrow to create a truly magnificent game, making it, paradoxically, the most joyous experience I have had playing video games this year.

Since playing and making games has only recently become a main creative interest for me, I didn’t play as many games released this year as I might in the future, and so this is just a list of two from 2017. However, the other two tear inducing games played this year were The Beginner’s Guide and the games of trust and reliability it plays, and the point and click game about spaceships, cake and growing up Broken Age. Two very different games, really highlighting that it’s all about convincing your player (in this case me) of your/your character’s honest feelings when you go to places of emotional tenderness.

I’d love to know what games have made you shed a tear or two as you played.