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Arithmophobia II: The Numbers Strike Back


So I had this week's post Arithmophobia in my head for months as “write some words on how RPG numbers put me off playing” using The Story of Thor and Dark Souls as examples from different sides of the numerical wall. It was meant to be short, more about these individual games, but something happened on the way to the Publish button: I started to question why those numbers were important.

I had no conclusion so instead turned the ending into an invitation to discuss. And a lot of people got in touch, through the comments and on Twitter. This has been great and helped sharpen up my thoughts.

This post is a more structured take on RPG stats than the original Arithmophobia, touching on different aspects such as grind, feedback, accessibility and more. It was supposed to be short. Who would have guessed that evaluating the role of numbers in an RPG turns out to be a goddamn rabbit hole...

To show I’m not biased against numbers, I’m going to number every subsection. P.S. I also have a PhD in mathematics.

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Tony Van was the producer in charge of localizing a Japanese RPG called The Story of Thor: Hikari wo Tsugu Mono (Ancient, 1994) for Western audiences, but received a badly translated copy of the story to work from.

In an interview for the The Game Localization Handbook, he explained: “I tried my hardest to figure it out, but was completely baffled. I was under extreme time pressure to get it out for Christmas, so I didn’t have time to contact the Japanese office to track down the original source and get it re-translated. I simply rewrote the story and dialogue using all the plot points I could understand as references and writing that sounded good to me when I didn’t understand the plot points!”

Instead of the action taking place in “the world of Thor”, the English translation located everything in “the land of Oasis” and the game was sold in North America as Beyond Oasis. Someone decided it would sell better in Europe under its original title of The Story of Thor: A Successor of the Light except it left thousands of European Sega Megadrive owners with a mystery: who the bloody Hell is Thor?

I will forever remember it as The Story of Thor because Thor is one of my personal favourites. I’ve played through it three times: the first time was in 1994 as the academic chapter of my life was coming to a close; the second time in 2006 as pure comfort gaming on an emulator; the third time, this year, was a performance for my children, who enjoyed the watching but had little interest in the doing. It can now be bought on Steam for a couple of dollars.

This recent and perhaps final playthrough was illuminating because I was simultaneously playing… dun-dun-duuuunnnn Dark Souls (From Software, 2011).

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The Insufficient You


I completed the first-person thriller Asemblance (Nilo Studios, 2016) in a few hours but what had started out as excitement morphed into frustration and eventually liquefied into a bitter soup of dissatisfaction.

Like Cradle (Flying Cafe for Semianimals, 2015) which I discussed recently, it marries interesting ideas to some big flaws. But it has a lethal problem which cannot be fixed: something that’s vital to enjoy the game is not included in the purchase price.

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Discussion: All Things, All People


Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the August SPECIAL NO MAN'S SKY edition of the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.


What I Really Thought About The Witness

Hidden inside The Unbearable Now was access to a secret video. After three weeks, I decided to make the video public for everyone. Here it is, twenty random observations about The Witness (Thelka, 2016) which had no home in The Unbearable Now.

There be much spoilers for The Witness from the very beginning; the focus is more on puzzle mechanics.

Also here’s the audience retention graph for The Unbearable Now! Click the image for a larger version.

the unbearable now audience retention

The red band indicates the twenty second challenge. I was pleased to discover that the audience who hung on this far stayed for the ride and did not let me down. The green circle seems to be interest in Sokobond, but I can’t be sure. The spike at the end is clearly a lot of viewers trying to solve the mystery of the secret video.

Filed under: Video Essays 1 Comment

Discussion: Adventures in Cardboard


Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the slightly late July edition of the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.




The Anatomy of ANATOMY


At one point in ANATOMY (Kitty Horrorshow, 2016), a door opened by itself.

It happened at 10 o’clock at night and I needed to put head to pillow soon. I wasn’t alone and the house was not particularly quiet. The whoosh of a toilet tank refilling. The clomp-clomp of neighbours jogging up and down the stairs in what sounded like metal boots. The reassuring whirr of a computer fan.

Yet I was absolutely terrified.

I thought: absolutely FUCK this game. I had no urgent need to find out what existed on the other side of that door, to let ANATOMY drag its ragged, rusty claws through my subconscious.

I shut the computer down.

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One Step Forward, One Step Back


Electron Dance reader Ketchua brought Cradle (Flying Cafe for Semianimals, 2015) to my attention many years ago and something about its look stood out. Its release last year seem to go largely unnoticed although Adam Smith gave it a glowing review on Rock Paper Shotgun.

Cradle is gripping, featuring a complex sci-fi story that is serious and unexpectedly bleak: but holy Jesus it has some problems.

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The Unbearable Now: On The Witness

On the theme park island of The Witness, you solve puzzles. Solving puzzles leads to more puzzles. Keep working. Keep digging. Keep solving. Again and again and again. But this process cannot continue forever. Where does The Witness end? And why?

At last, it is here: The Unbearable Now is a spoiler-filled interpretation of The Witness (Thelka, 2016) that’s been months in the making. It is laced with a few choice expletives, but definitely no gore. Or nudity.

Watch the film below or direct on YouTube.






Discussion: The Fat Finger


Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the June edition of the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.