Welcome to the March newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

I joked on Twitter that Big Robot had thrown in the towel because it was too bleak by half. Because, Jesus, it is bleak.

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16 thoughts on “Discussion: Metal Screams

  1. This was a great read, Joel. I, too, am a fan of found-footage horror, though I hadn’t described it that way before. And I loved the story, the writing, the way that you excoriate yourself in your retelling of the yelping incident with your wife. I feel you, brother.

  2. Thank you for the Secret Thing! I was going to ask you for it now that the Hell Day that prevented me from participating the first time is over, although I am sort of doing a Purgatory Day today so I’m not sure what’s going to become of it.

    –OK, so one thing is that I’ve noticed a lot of people describe things as being “in purgatory” when they mean that its fate is yet to be decided, but that is not what purgatory is at all! In purgatory you suffer because of your sins and when you are done suffering you get to go to heaven, for sure. For this reason everyone in Dante’s Purgatorio is pretty cheerful, as I remember it! Anyway, I hope that is my current state. (Basically, I was dealing with the middle-semester grading that I would ordinarily do over spring break, but there’s no spring break.)

    In the newsletter two paragraphs about The Light Keeps Us Safe are repeated, was that supposed to happen?

  3. First, it seems that Mailchimp has destroyed three whole paragraphs that were between “sounds of a machine-made hurricane” and “For some, horror”. The new editor is horrible, very flaky. This happened when I was moving images around and it kept… freezing and being unresponsive. Here are the missing paragraphs from the draft, so the final version was probably a little different:

    I played Big Robot’s The Light Keeps Us Safe when it first crept out into Early Access in 2018 and then I waited for the final release. TLKUS was completed late 2019 but this milestone was a remarkable non-event. Some didn’t even realise it was done; there was a sense that the game was abandoned, that either its problems were too expensive to solve or that the finances of Jim Rossignol’s Big Robot ran dry.

    It has problems: the ladders feel as unsafe to navigate as those in the original Half-Life; the communications from your unseen guide become sparse too quickly; your torch upgrades four times and that’s it, the gameplay is fixed from that point on; the difficulty curve is steep with new types enemies thrown at you rapidly; the entire experience feels truncated and the ending far too abrupt.

    I joked on Twitter that Big Robot had thrown in the towel because it was too bleak by half. Because, Jesus, it is bleak. Dominic Tarason described it to me as “mentally exhausting” and he’s not wrong there. When I die or make it back to the bunker after a successful raid, I’m not inclined to dive straight back in; I’m more likely to unplug and fire up a short session of Death Crown to de-stress.

    Brendan Thank you! Maybe I’ll write a followup to my old found footage post one day. Also, the night of the scalding was intense – you just don’t know how bad the damage straight after a burn – but once we were in the hands of the NHS, I began to relax. But it has been remarked that my wife is like the black knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. ‘Tis just a scratch. I mean, there was one point, where she literally was hopping around like the black knight.

    Matt I saw droqen handing control of the game to its “gatekeepers” and I thought, cool, I’ll have some of that. I’ve actually been playing it on the Mac because I was editing this newsletter on the Mac at the time I realised I had to get the game now 🙂 I think I’ll leave your conversation about purgatory in limbo for now.

  4. I’m sorry to hear about the troubles of the new editor. Capable and usable rich text editing seemed to be a solved problem 30 years ago! and yet here we are, still stuck in a quagmire of awful software. So it goes. But yes, it has resulted in a tremendously more readable result!

    Before: https://www.dropbox.com/s/22ektlgydg2oe8x/IMG_0305.PNG?dl=0

    After: https://www.dropbox.com/s/3rxfsx6pklchdfd/IMG_0304.PNG?dl=0

    I still havent had the whatever-it-is to go back to TLKUS; I don’t think I upgraded the flashlight even once! Someday though.

    I also very much want to listen to Gospels of the Flood, but its very rare that my brain can focus on spoken word without constantly distracting itself, and I’m waiting until the moment seems right. I hope that will be soon.

  5. a. the light keeps us safe sounds incredible! i read just a little bit and will read the rest when i play this game, which will probably never happen because i have loads of games on my list to play before that.

    b. do you think ‘revenge’ is the best way to go? i understand giving the game away for free, but also, that probably means more difficult for everyone… so you’re making more people suffer with this… and ‘antagonising’ the creator… but at the same time being generous for anti-gatekeeping… it’s funny because droqen is so nice but his games are not. i’ve talked about a couple endings with him that i felt were a bummer and he felt bad about them! and also i try to get him to include kisses in every game to balance out the meanness (plus kisses are fun)

  6. Andy I’m hoping I won’t have as much pain with the editor next time because I’ll be careful not to “mess around” too much. I’ve got the template in order now, so that’s a plus. But I am struck, as you are, about this invention of “block-based” editing? I guess it’s to try and simplify some of the layout concepts but it just doesn’t work as expected if you have any history with a rich text editor. One of the worst things in the Mailchimp editor is Ctrl+Z doesn’t work. You literally have to click on an arrow and, in certain cases, it doesn’t work at all.

    I’ve enjoyed the 4 parts of the Gospels I’ve listened to so far (they’re about 15 minutes each) and it feels like some lessons on the nature of God and faith which reminds me somewhat of The Talos Principle. No idea where exactly where it will end up.

    Daniel I think The Light Keeps Us Safe should definitely have more attention! Good luck if you ever get some time with it.

    As for the revenge, ha ha, I can see where you’re going with that. Am I just exposing more people to the cruelty of Cruel World? With droqen’s view of the original buyers being the “gatekeepers” of the game and knowing from Twitter that Matt probably hadn’t got a copy and was curious to see it, I felt like I wasn’t going to spread too much pain. droqen is a subscriber to the newsletter and so I’ve chosen the username/password very carefully not to antagonise him 🙂

  7. daniel, I’m pretty sure it’s OK, droqen specifically said that anyone who wants to play it now needs to find someone who will let them pirate it! The idea I believe was that it doesn’t really work properly after the initial period, it will basically get trampled down, so he can’t in good conscience charge for it.

    Anyway I will be buying/tipping something else of droqen’s that is perhaps not so ARRRRGGGGH. (Just kidding, everything of droqen’s is ARRRRGGGGH. I honestly feel a bit like I might have hurt his career by whining about how hard Fishbane was at JayIsGames before realizing how AWESOMEly hard it was. I feel awful about that!

    oh, I’m on twitter now, I might be able to ask the person who designed that bonus level where the missing fishies are!)

  8. “A broken or even infected reality” – I will bang the SOMA drum forever. If you haven’t played it, I don’t want to say too much, but let’s just say I can imagine it existing in another corner of the same world as TLKUS. It’s ostensibly about the remains of a world, but what it really gets into is a broken and infected psyche. It’s a far more mature and insightful game than the Amnesias, imho. I can’t recommend it enough.

    Glad to hear Mrs G is doing better!

  9. Count me amongst the SOMA drum… uh, bangers.

    I really enjoyed both Sir and Tolva, but haven’t played TLKUS yet. It looks fascinating but heavy and terrifying! We’ll see whether I can muster up the courage to play it in the future 🙂

    Glad your wife is on the mend, Joel. (I just knew it’d be bloody pasta water!)

    So… Andy’s screenshot of the newsletter looks different on my computer and phone. When I first saw the newsletter I thought ‘Oh no, he’s gone for Courier!’ but looking at the stylesheet (and Andy’s screenshot), it’s Arvo first, which is a lovely typeface, then Courier. Unless my browser(s) are up to something! It kind of blows my mind though that Mailchimp’s new email composer is a pig to use. Mailpig.

    On Deep Rock Galactic. I’ve played some with my PC group (they weren’t in the best mood for it) but my console group (cross-play, yay!) have really enjoyed it. There are some neat systems and logistical problems that overlap in chaotic and interesting ways that make the co-op a lot of fun.

    I too am loving SOLAS 128. Progress has been steady but very satisfying.

    The article on making choice a metric got to the heart of some of the stuff I touched on in the last newsletter discussion, and by coincidence I finished The Longing today. All my talk of not replaying games again to explore other endings/decisions and… this one, the one that takes 400 real-time days to get one particular ending and however many days to get others… this is the one I want to go back into. Fuck. The game even says you’re only meant to play it once! But… I have burning questions! Holes! You can’t even simply restart it. I worry that returning to it will spoil what magic/poetry is still there. Hmm.

  10. TLKUS flew completely under my radar – on paper, it sounds like something I might be interested in, but some of your comments kinda put me off. I abandoned Sir, You Are Being Hunted because I found it too stressful, even during the long and relatively quiet moments of exploration. Again, good and interesting on paper, but I couldn’t enjoy it, and I couldn’t even engage with the negative emotions it created in me. From what I’ve seen, it seems TLKUS is a similar flavour in a different environment, and I’m not sure I’m up for that (it seems that all the Big Robot games I know of are somehow incomplete/fundamentallu flawed, even with interesting premises).

    The article on My Octopus Teacher confounded me. I mean, I understand the gist of it, and can even agree with the fundamental points, but then it drowns you under piles of jargon that is, to me, absolutely unbearable. It reminds me of the kind of academic prose (mainly in the humanities and social sciences) that is impenetrable for the sake of it. I shudder to think that I was guilty of that, and even thought it the only *good* way to write academic texts for an embarassingly long time. It’s fun, very fun, to write like that, but it’s ultimately a bit too masturbatory (which, I guess, is fitting for the article in question).

    The Gamasutra article, while I agree is basically “here-is-why-my-game-is-good”, does raise a few interesting points. I’m reminded of a video by Innuendo Studios (I think) on Kentucky Route Zero, and this observation on the “nature” of choice in it: when, in the first episode, at the very beginning, you’re asked about your dog’s name, you’re not choosing how the dog’s called, you are remembering how he/she always was called. There are no branching paths in KRZ. the plot is fixed, and the interactions you are allowed to influence are meaningless, if we ascribe meaning only to choices that can change outcomes, influence the course of events. In KRZ, what you can choose is the “flavour” of interactions, you can explore relationships in different ways, or none at all. And yet, I felt a tremendous sense of ownership over the story I got to experience, even if it was the same as everybody else.

    Maybe the problem is in presenting “Choice” as a mechanic, on the same level of stats, or shooting, or jumping – suggesting that “Choice” (or, the discreet moments sanctioned by the game) is something different than “choice” (the moment-to-moment of what the player does). The best example of subverting this paradigm, at least from the games I played, is still Spec Ops: The Line – heavy-handed, but effective. I can’t think of any other game that does it as well. Maybe Stanley Parable, but that’s another beast altogether. However, these examples I think show that this is not a new problem, and that maybe there are solutions out there already.

  11. MrBehemo I have a copy of SOMA, it’s just in the giant pile!!! But if I installed any more hard-drive-sizeable games at this juncture, Badger Commander is likely to kill me for thwarting the install of Vanquish with yet another “accidental” install.

    Gregg The pasta water blame could be shared with the buildup of pans around the sink at the time, which was the indirect cause of the accident!

    I found when I open the newsletter in my mobile mail app (Aquamail) I get Courier rather than Arvo which is disappointing because Courier is the worst font to use. I actually had to keep setting the font as well, it constantly snapped back to Helvetica which I didn’t want. Oh my God, Mailchimp is really making me suffer. I’m thinking of recreating the template again in the old builder. We’ll see :S

    So I’ve just looked up The Longing and I’m reminded – just a little and ONLY a little – of Michael Brough’s old VESPER.5. Although I’m linking to my fictional sequel VESPER.6 there because I’m really stupid. It’s a nice idea but I wonder how cruel it is to offer players a unique playthrough, to enforce that using time and then… to not answer all your questions.

    Hello Lorenzo! TLKUS is absolutely stressful and, having not played Sir, it sounds like some of the ideas/mechanics have been carried across from Sir to TLKUS. I still rate The Signal From Tölva though. Great experience.

    “A bit too masturbatory” *chortle* I read My Octopus Teacher through pure fluke and I knew nothing of the background. It’s a long and winding read, for sure, but it amused me. I was surprised she had been dog-piled on Twitter over, to be honest, some random bullshit from her mind. I was glad she hadn’t felt the need to apologise.

    I was compelled to include the article about choice because it followed on so neatly from the last newsletter. Jon Ingold did make me think a lot more about the problem of developers *making* choices matter, that attempts to supply the player with important controls can undermine a story and perhaps shoehorn it in a way that softer options or removing options altogether won’t do. And thank you for another reminder to play KRZ.

  12. Joel I forgot to give best wishes for your wife’s recovery! That sounds awful. I have a lot of issues sectioning off work time and home time and this creates some issues in the household too but so far I don’t think anyone has been injured seriously because of it. One time the plastic bags I keep on the fridge had fallen down the side and I was reaching around to get them and I tried to steady myself by holding onto the door handle, and of course the door opened, and I fell with a loud crash and my wife rushed in and was afraid I’d fallen down the basement stairs because she couldn’t see me because I was sitting on the floor laughing.

    That reminds me, I just noticed that Octodad: Dadliest Catch has a 64-bit update.

  13. Oh, that VESPER.5 and the fictional sequel sound interesting and I can definitely see the link! ‘Ritual’ is absolutely the right term. Funny comments, thanks to matt w and Sid. Brouge. Brogue. Strike the pose: Rogue. I can imagine VESPER farms doling out turns for the rich monks in Ferraris. ‘Ferraria’. Classic Sid.

    I think The Longing’s appeal or reputation is somewhat diminished by the tag or description as an ‘idle game’ mixed with an adventure game. Idling is definitely a big part of the game (time continues when you exit though) but it’s also very involving if you engage with its mysteries and clues (in this sense it reminds me of Outer Wilds because curiosity and discovery well and truly took me over).

    To clarify: my ‘burning questions’ and ‘holes’ are Things I Didn’t Do. Basically I discovered something that you’re only likely to see/hear for 2 minutes in every day (unless I missed something). That’s a very narrow window and it was an incredible HOLY SHIT moment. I let out a squeal and everything. I was always planning to pursue that… but then I discovered other secrets within secrets and eventually I had to choose between it and them, and them won. It’s uncommon for me to be interested in the Things I Didn’t Do! Honestly though, I’m sad it’s all over, but the longing had to end. Given its theme, I’m still amazed that it was released in March 2020.

  14. Matt, thanks for the best wishes. My wife is back to normal now – no more trips to the doctor required – and just waiting for the skin to finish healing. Although she has to keep the affected areas out of the sun for three years…

    Gregg, thanks for clarifying that – I still don’t think I’ll be diving into The Longing any day soon, though!

  15. Oh it wasn’t a recommendation; you’ve got Vanquish to install! 😉

    “she has to keep the affected areas out of the sun for three years”

    Oh wow.

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