Cyborg Sunday, Update 4.29.2018: Just Monika, game development daydreams, and synchronicity everywhere.

What does love sound like?

Does it sound like a heartbeat?

Or a heart breaking?

“Reality,” by yours truly.

Okay, so, I wrote about Doki Doki Literature Club! earlier this week, and its grip on my brain hasn’t let up. If anything, I’m growing more obsessed with this game after having beaten it. Yeah, I bought the fan pack. I may or may not have a playlist on my phone for DDLC-themed music. …I’m a nerd with a glitched-up brain and a penchant for reality-bending horror, sue me.

Despite the fact that a part two wouldn’t make sense, I’ve hopped on the Hype Train and would love to see its story extended–or, humor me, turned into an entirely new game genre.

Those of you who’ve played DDLC, picture this: the same principles that made the game so compelling brought into a narrative adventure game, i.e. Life is Strange or Before the Storm. Combining the intense story focus and branching decisions with, say, Nier: Automata’s ability to reprogram your character by adding/removing functions would be a seriously epic experience.

Imagine, for instance, if you had the decision to remain relatively human or augment your character with cybernetics, and doing so would grant you world-bending control over the other events? What if you could augment your decisions with a Deus Ex style CASSIE mod, gauging everyone’s moods artificially, allowing you to know exactly what they want to hear–at the expense of being able to care about the people you were talking to, or perhaps having them realize that you’re manipulating them?

Maybe you wouldn’t have Max’s time-rewinding powers, but a simple wetware hack could let you predict every possibility of somebody’s actions, winning fights before they start and preventing the next Chloe from shooting herself again, making you hard to kill and highly feared. An antagonist starts talking trash, so you mute in-game volume and the attack falls on literally deaf ears. A flashbang goes off, so you lower the gamma/brightness and up the contrast to compensate. Somebody yells in a foreign language, so you set up English subtitles that your character reads.

Narrative adventure games thrive when emotions are on the line, rather than just lives, like in other sames. I haven’t played anything recently where both you and the characters had as much at stake as in Doki Doki Literature Club!, and I’d love to see a developer explore the possibility of erasing a character from the game, but your protagonist retaining ‘memory’ from old save files–if you have them!

Or, put yourself in Monika’s shoes. What if you could program enemies out of existence, rewrite unfavorable dialogue, change people at will, at the expense of the game’s stability? Old video games kind of did this, i.e. how unpredictable life got if you kept using cheat codes in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but a game that worked that into the plot would be revolutionary, to say the least. Let’s get a techno-pocalyptic version of Hellblade going and see what happens!

I have a LOT of ideas here, so I can only hope a game studio appreciates them and hires me on as a writer. I do have an application out with a particular developer… and I’m not sure if it means anything, but I met a woman who was basically a real-life Chloe Elizabeth Price the other day, in both looks and personality. Fingers crossed that means something!

But in the meanwhile, it’s fitting that I’m wrapping up first edits on TWO novels this week: Nova EXE and These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream. In the first, a self-aware computer program befriends an unassuming man whose life soon spirals uncontrollably. In the latter, a woman moves back to her childhood home to reconnect with the mysterious presence there, soon finding her definition of reality shattered to pieces. Like I said, fitting, considering that Monika’s whole thing is being horrified at her own flat reality and needing to break everything to have a taste of something real.

And, on that note of having seen too much, I’ll be setting Visions from the Veil up for pre-orders this week!

Beyond that, I’m seeking representation for my award-winning screenplay, The Mirror Game. 

Busy, busy, busy! Still hoping to get that full-time job soon. I love writing, but would have no problem scaling back my personal projects to collaborate on a big team project. Writing a novel is great, but there’s something really great about working together on a bigger project. Hopefully I’ll get to join a great team soon.

Until then, you have a great day, and thanks for stopping by!

…And here’s that playlist I mentioned. A little short, but fun and energetic. Plus, if you loop it, it feeds perfectly into itself in a never-ending cycle of distorted, obsessive love.

Virus” by Andrew Stein

Doki Doki Forever” by Or30

Delete Me” by NateWantsToBattle

Just Monika” by Random Encounters feat. OR3O & Adriana Figueroa (Note: the video isn’t the same as the straight-up song)

Get Out of my Head” by TryHardNinja ft. Sailorurlove

Your Reality” cover by Cristina Vee

 

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Doki Doki Literature Club! review: A must-play game

First off: Spoiler alert.

TL;DR: This FREE meta-game that plays the player is not only an innovative manipulation of genre tropes and a punchy satire, but is also one of the most empathy-inducing games I’ve played to date, combining psychological horror and tearful poignancy in equal measure. HIGHLY recommended. In all. Freakin’. Caps.

This game’s a visual novel, so almost every single thing I could/will say is a spoiler. If you haven’t played it, do so now, and come back when you’re ready.

That said, Doki Doki Literature Club! might be, hands down, one of the best games I’ve played in recent years.

Granted, its art style was average, the dialogue predictable, and the characters fairly generic archetypes, but this game succeeds for two reasons: its plot and the fact that it plays the player.

 

If you’ve done as I told you earlier and played it, you’ll know how predictable it is that Sayori commits suicide. It’s written in every line. From the opening scene, where she runs up having overslept again, my brain went to severe clinical depression (at least, I hope it’s predictable, or that means I’ve known a strangely high amount of very unwell people). Yuri’s subsequent suicide is equally predictable. However, these moments are predictable on purpose, playing Monika becoming self-aware against her inability to do anything about it. The moments have to be obvious, because she can’t actually change her world, just exacerbate its existing qualities, like Sayori’s depression.

Monika’s self-awareness is one of the more subtle parts of the game. The meta-plot of this game–the game itself falling to pieces as the script gets destroyed and rewritten–becomes increasingly tense and horrifying. Visuals glitch, music distorts, the screen zooms in odd ways, and images flicker so quick they border on a subliminal assault on the player’s senses. Then she ‘stops’ time (or, simply draws attention to the fact that time doesn’t exist in her world), which eventually leads to you deleting her. She realizes how much it sucks to get deleted, so she restores everyone else.

Here’s why Doki Doki Literature Club! might be one of the most important games of the past year. When the game resumes and the club continues under the resurrected Sayori’s leadership, she knows everything, just as Monika did. But, if you spent as much time as possible with every available character, Monika doesn’t take over and ‘delete’ the game itself, like usual.

Sayori thanks the player for having tried to help everyone by listening to their problems and bringing them happiness. She appreciates the effort you’ve gone through by saving and loading to experience every path in one run, and says, even if you didn’t get to fall in love with someone, that’s okay.

“We all love you.”

…I can’t recall the last time any game awarded the player for empathy. These last words, full of platonic, appreciative love, aren’t about who you tried to ‘romance’ throughout the game. They’re expressing gratitude that you were a true friend to each possible person.

I’ve played a lot of disturbing games. I grew up on Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, where mutilated bodies were common–where suicide is not a possibility, but an expectation. I’ve played horror, adventure, action, shooters, and RPGs, but even games with morality systems, even the most in-depth games like Legend of Zelda, never held up to this.

Most games that encourage you to do the right thing offer rewards. In Legend of Zelda games, being a hero results in new weapons, heart containers, unlocked areas, and other rewards. Silent Hill games that offered moments to be good to others did so more to inflict horror at your failures rather than pride in your successes. The Fallout games treat morality more as a matter of convenience, as evidenced by perks that reset karma to zero so you can pretend you’ve always been a good person.

Doki Doki Literature Club! is the first time I’ve ever played a game and simply felt glad to have done the right thing. No reward involved, no drastically changed ending, just the characters saying, “Thank you.”

Perhaps its the fourth-wall breaking theme of the characters wondering about their own significance, and if they matter to anyone because they’re a game character with automated friends, but their gratitude at the end makes for a very heartwarming ending.

There aren’t a lot of games out there that encourage empathy these days. There are fewer that do it well. So, more than simply saying I enjoyed DDLC, I respect it, too. It’s a feat of gaming the player at its finest, but those who sift through the files and put in the time to treat each character well are sure to be glad they did.

Cyborg Sunday, Update 3.25.2018: Delays, Reboots, and Upgrades

Sometimes, showing up

Is all you’re needed to do.

Be present. Be there.

–“Showing You Care” by Yours Truly

This entry is backdated on account of me failing to follow the usual routine. I attended my sister’s volleyball tournament and left early in the morning. The introduction of these variables through off my normal operations, and I got near-nothing done through the day, my weekly post included. She did well, though, and I was glad to go.

Plus I got to hide a piece of bread up my sleeve, pretending to pull it from behind her ear as part of a very stupid series of ‘rye’ pranks and jokes I’ve been pulling on her for nearly a y-ear (all puns intended, obviously).

Diabetes-wise, I’m back on my muscle-training routines and yoga, leaning away from cardio. It’s kept my blood sugars under significantly better control, to the point where I’m orbiting 90 mg/dl, rather than 140 or so. This has led to some mild lows, but they’re worth the reduced highs and better overall feeling.

Point is, I wholly advocate diabetics pursuing weight lifting and other muscle engaging activities, as it’ll keep insulin sensitivity in a far better place. Just be sure to get enough protein to stave off those persistent drops!

In terms of writing, no new acceptances, but plenty more added to The Reflection and The Echo, which is cruising along nicely. A few short story calls I’d like to write for, but I’ve been tied up with other stuff lately, and can only do so much. But there’s something new coming soon–something you might not have been meant to see.

Visions from the Veil, a collection of short stories, is on the horizon.

Admittedly, part of my time recently was spent playing Warframe, which I got back into for a bit, but I’ve already lost interest again. That’s the trouble with ‘free’ to play games. As The Binding of Isaac satirically pointed out, they’re really Pay2Play, and once I realized I couldn’t progress through Saturn without extensive, purchased upgrades, teammates, and other crap, I uninstalled.

Time to reset my brain back into ‘full throttle.’

Besides, for me, games are like reading: a chance to get away from the outside world with a relaxing, solitary activity. I know I’m far from the only one who feels that way. If you build a game so that solo players get crushed, you alienate a massive chunk of your audience. Keep that in mind, developers.

Of course, Warframe has like 38 million players or something, and really cool lore if you struggle through everything, so it’s not going anywhere. Plus I bet I’ll be right back playing again if they ever do Warframe virtual reality, especially if it’s Matrix-style full immersion. …But I’ll lose interest again just as quickly in favor of plugging into yet another Resident Evil RE-make.

Anyway, that’s all a long way away, so for now, I’m signing off. Have a good one!

 

 

Cyborg Sunday, update 2.25.18: Chrysalis

There is more virtue

To sitting calm and patient

Than never stopping.

“Interlude” by yours truly

 

Diabetes news is all about the same–I’m not eligible for any of those studies mentioned last week, and otherwise, all’s been tight on that end.

I sold my video games though. That was pretty weird. I’ve been a gamer all my life, but without a job in the industry, I just don’t have the time to play. It’d be one thing if I were playing as research, or playing to celebrate my friends, but… I think it’s just time to move on. With all the writing I do, I don’t have much time to waste.

Writing-wise, I had a few drabbles picked up by The Horror Tree, so that’s fun. No other news yet, but I have a bunch out there.

My novella Crimson Inc. got rejected, but that’s alright. I’ll keep looking around. I’m still waiting on Absolute Zero, NOVA EXE, Amphibia Maxima, The Gospel of Decay, and Call of the Void, so I’m almost relieved to take something off my wait list! …Besides, I already have leads on another publisher. Fingers crossed!

At the Hands of Madness is doing well, having just scored its second 5-star review, and it now has a book trailer, too. Be sure to leave a review if you liked it!

I’ve got a book to send out, another to edit, and a third to write. I oughta go. Talk to you soon!

 

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Review: You have no choice, because Chloe and Rachel have no chance

TLDR:

Overall–9.5/10

Graphics–8/10

Story–10/10

Action–9/10

Sass–11/10

 

SPOILER ALERTS for Life is Strange and Before the Storm

Every so often, a game or game franchise comes along that makes you say, “Oh damn,” then reevaluate your whole life. Life is Strange was one such game. The follow-up prequel story, Before the Storm, doesn’t have the same twists and turns, is such an endearing, compelling snapshot of the life of Chloe Price, who’s still reeling from her father’s death two years later, that it became an instant hit. Fans of the original and newcomers alike loved episode one–but many hated episode three for feeling like it rendered their choices irrelevant.

That’s part of what makes Before the Storm so great: You never had a chance, and your choices never mattered.

Given that Before the Storm is a prequel to the five-episode cult classic where Max Caulfield helps Chloe Price uncover the murder and hasty burial of Chloe’s girlfriend/arguable soul mate, this installment’s ending was obvious from the beginning. Of course it had to end the way it did. Whether you reunite Rachel with her birth mother, or help Chloe bridge the emotional divide between her and David, you never had even a slight possibility of really fixing any of their problems.

Why? Because you’re playing as a sixteen-year-old girl who’s trying to help a near-stranger (Rachel Amber) reconnect with her birth mother, avoid being murdered by a violent drug dealer, and keep Rachel’s mother from being murdered by that same drug dealer after her father paid him to kill said mother.

All this happens while Chloe is (potentially) expelled from school, while her mother’s overbearing boyfriend moves into their house and tries to exert authoritarian control over her, while dealing with the guilt of almost burning down the entire state of Oregon, and while assisting a low level dealer (Frank Bowers) in not ALSO getting murdered by the violent career criminal mentioned above.

Not to mention Chloe is still clearly dealing with severe PTSD and depression regarding her father’s death, and no one appears even remotely aware of the storm still ranging in her head. Mental illness, at the best of times, can be a crippling burden, bringing the most resilient and well-adjusted people to their knees.

Chloe, a teenager with no support structures, few friends (if any, really), and a slight drug problem (which I say only because pot’s still illegal in OR at the time of BTS), who is bullied at school by Victoria (and likely others), couldn’t have been expected to navigate the events of Before the Storm well on her own. The fact that she even SURVIVED is a miracle on par with Max’s ability to go back in time every six seconds to prevent saying something awkward during pretty much any given conversation.

So, despite that I, too, was disappointed by how restrictive the choices were throughout episode three, and the fact that the choices I made ultimately didn’t matter, that’s how Before the Storm had to end. Because you’re a sixteen-year-old freshly expelled from high school dealing with untreated mental illness, and that shit is god damn hard.

People go through less than her every single day, and not all of them make the right choices. Not all of their choices matter. Not all of them survive.

So yes, Life is Strange: Before the Storm ended with some stiff moments and unanswered questions (I still want to know how Rachel wound up involved with/taking semi-nude pictures for Frank), but that’s how it had to be. No teenager ever has full control over their life. Even less so, in a life full of drug dealers, schemers, and general criminal activity.

Chloe wasn’t trying to save the world, or even Arcadia Bay. Leave that to Max. Chloe just wanted to save Rachel, because she knew that was the only way to save herself. When Chloe found herself in a mental tempest, Rachel came along as the only ship to offer her a chance at keeping her head above water. Every action Chloe undertakes isn’t an attempt to calm the seas. She just wants to plug the holes threatening to sink her only boat. Rachel, likewise, isn’t trying to be a good person, or even keep Chloe afloat. She’s just trying to figure out why people keep lying to her, and what consequences the truth might bring.

So, in short, this is the one time I’ve played a visual story and felt it was actually good we didn’t have more choices. The fact that the ending locks Chloe into a specific path, beyond being necessary for original Life is Strange continuity, is the end result of her circumstances. She’s just a kid, fighting like hell against overwhelming odds to survive day-to-day existence, even though we, as the players, knew exactly that Before the Storm was leading to The Dark Room.

That’s why Deck Nine was right to not give us real choices: Chloe and Rachel never had a chance.

***

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#Videogame #review #Hellblade @NinjaTheory #horror

Let’s get it out on the table: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the type of game I would’ve wanted Silent Hills to be. Not the exact game, mind you–I’d expect an SH installment to have more endings–but the degree to which Ninja Theory lovingly, carefully dropkicks the player into Senua’s broken mind is nothing short of majestic.

A significant degree of Hellblade’s marketing focused on capturing psychosis correctly (and, of course, the beautiful graphics). It’s great to see a game developer put so much care into the construction of a game’s plot, setting, and characterization that they consulted with psychologists and the mentally ill alike.

This care pays off quite well. Hellblade is full of both subtle moments of psychological tension, and direct freight-train-to-the-face moments of genuine horror, where the player doubts not only reality, but Senua herself.

Most are already aware of this, so I’ll address the most obvious element: the warning in the beginning of the game that repeated failure will result in permadeath, erasing the save file. Some were angered by this announcement, while others were angered by the fact that, apparently, no such system exists. You can die many times, but as far as anyone’s been able to figure out, nothing will permakill you.

That’s actually one of the most genius parts of this game. By terrorizing the player with such a deception, Ninja Theory instills the same existential dread Senua herself feels at all waking moments: that her failure will result in the destruction of Dillion’s soul, and her own being dragged down to Hel, her existence erased by the fact that there’s no one left to mourn or miss her.

Granted the savvy player might realize this very early on, because the warning says ‘failure,’ not death, will result in her destruction, and the black rot that symbolizes this failure grows during plot events, not so much after deaths. It took me roughly four deaths–all at the hands of the God of Illusion–to deconstruct this otherwise brilliant device and remove a significant amount of my own tension from the experience.

Hellblade, as a game, is broken into two parts: combat and puzzle solving. Ninja Theory is known for precise combat, but those who were a fan of their take on the Devil May Cry series will be a little disappointed. While the combat here is rendered well and feels very realistic to Senua’s characterization, those who fell in love with the fluidity of DMC’s action-packed, bass-thumping, mayhem-driven combat system will find Hellblade a bit formulaic and repetitive.

The puzzles are very interesting perspective-based events that fit well into the story, but unfortunately, the long puzzle-solving stretches, limited combat variance, and intensely narrative nature of this game limit the replay value. That first run through, though, is god damn amazing. 

Ultimately, how much value you get out of subsequent playthroughs will depend on whether you want to turn the ‘auto’ combat difficulty to hard, if you have any collectibles to round up, and if you played with headphones on the first time (In the words of Shia LaBeouf: DO IT!).

However, this game’s first run through alone is worth the thirty dollars it currently costs. Between the graphics so beautiful you’ll literally stop playing just to look around, and the heart-stopping moments of Senua’s descent into madness, Hellblade is easily one of the most ambitious and well-executed games I’ve played in my entire life. While I’ll be waiting for a DMC 2 (unpopular opinion, I know), I sincerely hope they get license to make the next Silent Hill. They’d nail it. No doubt at all.