A piece of Portal

portal_1_screenshot_by_glissel-d4e2fmnToday I want to talk a bit about Portal, and it’s influence over the gaming scene, both good and bad.

Well, I am back. Like a new year’s resolution, I rise from my digital grave and back into the spotlight.  (Yes, I know that analogy didn’t make any sense). I made myself a promise to keep this thing going and at least try to stick to a schedule, so here I am. Or maybe I was bored, you may never know…
Anyway… Let’s get on topic: Portal. Like the infamous cake, and the tiresome meme it caused, I serve today’s blog posts in small notes. Now would be the chance to go “Top 5 things you didn’t know about Portal” but that’s not really my style, so screw “cheap exposure” and let me get to the point and bring the dessert. (Okay, I’ll stop now.)
[Spoilers ahead for a 5 and 8 year old game. Go ahead and play it already!]

  • Can’t believe this game will be 9 years old this year. I remember the first time playing it – maybe together with my brother? – and I found it pretty awesome and weird and clever. I remember a lot of people not liking the second part, criticizing that the puzzles were much”easier”. I’m not one of those people though, I think the sequel was pretty competent, and people were too forgiving of the “mistakes” of the original. Yes, the original was short, sweet and just the right length, but also it was one big tutorial, cleverly disguised. Which isn’t a bad thing, but that allowed the second game to experiment more, flesh out the world a bit, etc.
    It was just as good as the first one.
  • Ah the days when everything was “Cake is a Lie” and “Still Alive” … and it became old pretty quickly, yet was still going strong for quite a while. It wasn’t the golden days of memes yet – as they call it nowadays – that came later, but it sure was a “predecessor”. Well, in the gaming memes at least. But at Valve they also got tired of it, since they – wisely – only put brief mentions of the cake and the cube in the sequel.
    Though I still find it hard to believe they didn’t see it coming, and that they were serious about Hoopy becoming a meme. I mean, really?
  • But one thing more annoying for me than the memes were the influence of Portal over games. And my Dog, there were so many of them…
    I was big on Flash games in those years and suddenly a lot of games popped up where you were trapped in a giant facility with some evil puppetmaster taunting you.

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    At least “Portal: The Flash version” was obvious…

    It was just like the memes. A funny inside joke at first, then became an unoriginal, returning pattern. I even played one as late as 2014(!) that was pretty much the Portal story with a bit of re-flavoring. But the thing is that for most of these games the story was completely unnecessary! This is the advantage of puzzle games, they can work off of pure mechanics alone. You don’t need context to solve a Sudoku puzzle for example, so why bother adding in a completely unoriginal one to a video game.
    But I’m purposely not namedropping anything, since most of these were just one-man-shows ,with people experimenting and deconstructing the formula.
    On the other hand, there were some big name experiments.
    Does anyone remember (or even heard about) Twin Sector? That was probably the saddest attempt. It’s “best feature” was probably “The Room” quality voice acting in it.
    But there were some better ones too, some good like The Ball or Quantum Conundrum and some others that I have no opinion about, but clearly show influence, like: Magnetic: Cage Closed; Q.U.B.E; The Turing Test … Even as recent as last year December, with a game called CoLab for VR.
    I’m not implying of course, that these are bad for being influenced, just noting how Portal “brought in” the genre of First-person puzzle games, made it trendy and hot again, but non of the ones who came after really took off for some reason, which is a bit unusual. I mean I really liked those where they tried to do their own thing, like Antichamber or (again) Quantum Conundrum. But I’m pretty sure that most people would still name Portal as their first choice for an FPP game, and not say The Witness or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or The Talos Principle. (I listed these for being a similar genre, but probably not influenced directly by Portal.)
    What I’m saying here is that we should broaden the horizon a bit and give other First-person puzzle games a fair chance. I mean there are some good contenders to receive just as much recognition for their unique mechanics, like Perspective or the upcoming Museum of Simulation Technology.

  • Speaking of influences, what about all those stupid Portal theories? It’s a dark comedy game that people were overthinking way, way too much. “GLaDOS is a bound woman!” Oh please… Even with her containing (or being entirely) Caroline is just related, this was a case of Pareidolia and nothing else. “The Companion Cube is actually alive! Or contain dead bodies!!!” – This is debunked in-universe twice. Firstly: The Emancipation Grills. They only destroy organic matter by accident. If there were a dead bodies in the weighted boxes they would fall out as soon as they hit the grill. The Companion Cube doesn’t go through the grill, but it does get fizzed a few times by GLaDOS in the second game, disproving this theory.
    Second: in the Boots Investment Trailer preceding the release of Portal 2, we can clearly see how Aperture handles deceased test subjects. They are cruel and deeply obsessed about cubes, but not that obsessed to store test subjects in them. Probably GLaDOS wouldn’t do this either. She doesn’t care about test subjects to store them away. (They do mention skeletons in Portal 2, so she just probably left them out in the open.)
    So what is in the Companion Cube – if their is anything? What makes it threaten you or be able to speak?
    If anything – but I doubt it – it’s simple: Cores.

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    You know… these guys.

    I mean all the existing evidence points to this – rather than the silly “human remains” idea. GLaDOS hates them; She even reminds her own subjects that “Android hell” is a real place. Also, she does mention that “They are sentient” in Portal 2. A Core or – to a lesser extent – a Turret can be considered that, but a dead body certainly not. Maybe it’s a completely separate AI altogether, a failed box experiment.
    But I’m still on the mindset that it’s just another (empty) weighted cube, and GLaDOS is purposely messing with the test subjects.
    (I mean the design had some actual reasoning for the Companion Cube’s existence as well as the act of incinerating it.)

  • Just to close this off… Does anyone else had like no special feelings for the Companion Cube at all? I mean I get what they tried to do with it, partially to make the player feel guilty and the other part is tutorial. And I know a lot of people got obsessed by it, but I don’t know… I think it never worked for me. Maybe if it would’ve been introduced earlier, and I had to carry it over a few levels, than it would have been effective, but the way it’s presented as it is… not really. It doesn’t even work on Chell in-game it seems, since GLaDOS mention she was the quickest to dispose it, and I don’t think she is lying about that one.
    But, all of this implies a really nice thing, and I think a lot of people missed this. If the Companion Cube does really mean nothing to the player and Chell…
    That means that the last scene of Portal 2, when GLaDOS sends that Companion Cube after you is not really a parting gift (Chell couldn’t even carry it probably without the Portal Gun). It’s a message. Down below, from a passive-aggressive little murderous robot. A message that she would never admit and never tell you in person, so she just leaves it as a tiny little note in form of a box with a heart painted on its sides: “P.s.: I love you”
    And I think it was nice. Maybe the proof that Caroline might still be in there too.

Well that’s all for me today. Next week will be a busy one for me, but I’ll try to stick with my self-approved schedule from this point forward, so tune in next week.

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Upcoming plans…

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I wanted to leave a quick post to give off some e-life signs. So no, I didn’t gave up already, no worries.

Sorry about the lack of posts (to my 1 or 2 possible current readers, you guys are still the best) these last two weeks were a bit frustrating, and the US election was certainly not helping.
But anyway, I’m not here to complain and needlessly explain (Not under 2000 words). My birthday is coming up (Yay) and Christmas too (Actual Yay!), so I though I leave a quick note about some things I’m planning for the end of the year and next year.

Yes, that will include my usual thousand word essays no one reads, but not today.
Speaking off those essays, I do have two topics ready to be expended upon:
– My thoughts about Portal and it’s influences over the years. Yeah, that’s another old bone, but I think I can throw some stuff in that no one talked about yet hopefully.
– And I wanted to talk about EVIIIIIL. More specifically: This weird relationship some games have with “kind of letting you go evil, but not really”, but it needs a bit more research on my part.

Also, I know I gave my blog the tagline: “rambling about gaming, comics and art” and I yet to cover one of the last two… (But video games are art, Cubix!)
Buuuut… I just don’t have anything yet. Sorry.
When I come up with a relevant topic under “Comics”, I’ll write about it. It’ll probably be about webcomics anyway.
Or I am always up for topic ideas if anyone wants me to cover something in a really long-winded way.

However, I do have some of my own comic ideas.
In fact: I actually decided to commit and start my own webcomic.
I have two “big project” ideas: One is a fantasy adventure, and the other is set in the Star Wars universe (So it’s technically also a fantasy adventure). Both of them are comedic action-adventures. I came up with the main story elements, character descriptions, some storylines and joke ideas, but the character designs do need some more work.
I really wanted to draw them both, but it has to be one at a time, so I’m going to go with my fantasy adventure idea first.
Maybe I should’ve gone with the Star Wars one, so people won’t complain I took ideas from the new films, if they cover ideas I though about now, but oh well. I have to choose.

So yeah, look forward to those in the – hopefully near – future, and I’ll also throw in some one-shot comics in the mean time, when I finally sit down and draw them.

“The Beginner’s Guide” to “Awkward Dimensions”

Today I examine two “walking simulators” and talk about why focus is a really important factor in a game without traditional gameplay mechanics, and why you might want to hold onto deeply personal projects.

The Beginner’s Guide is a game I love to talk about, and I have to be honest with the fact that I’m a bit biased about it. It’s a game that I would recommend to all artists – not just gamers and game developers – to give it a try. And I do mean play, don’t watch someones let’s play of it if you can – or at least without commentary.
It has a lot of topics ranging from the “Death of the Author” to “the artists in the artwork” to depression, interpretation of a work, game development, games – in general, the audience and critics (what I’m doing now, so jokes on me) and more.You can write a small essay on that game alone.
But sadly, I’m in that territory again that the game is a year old now and almost all things that could be said about it has probably been said by others. (I recommend Errant Signal’s video on it.) Me throwing a ball in this basket and talking about my experience, or Coda, or in-game Davey Wreden, or even the inevitable Stanley Parable reference just doesn’t amount to much. (Unlike other 3000 word entries I can mention.)

So if I’m not here for The Beginner’s Guide what am I here to talk about?
Well I do want to talk about it, but I want to talk about it in context of a relatively recent game (that’s a first), namely: Awkward Dimensions Redux.

Okay, it’s not a too recent game, it came it in the summer, and I first saw the game on the Steam frontpage this October and I thought “Hey, I haven’t played an indie walking sim in a while and I loved the Radiators and the Parables and the Dr. Langeskovs, and this one is free so why not?” aaaaand I didn’t exactly like it.
To be fair, I was a bit tired on my first playthrough, and it made me a bit more grumpy than usual, but I did give it a second try.

The Beginner’s Guide has this overarching theme (well, one of them) about seeing things into other people’s work that is possibly not there, that maybe it is simply a reflection of your own self. Basically what Yoda said to Luke in the The Dark Side Cave on Dagobah: “Only what you take with you.”
And while the Beginner’s Guide toys with this by having the narrator manipulate the game to put him in the spotlight, developing this theme further, Awkward Dimensions – it seems like – took the idea but took it literally without really thinking about the meta context.
And by that I don’t mean (or accuse) the game’s creator – Steven Harmon – didn’t get the meaning of the game, he just either ignored it or was too ambitiously inspired by it.
The Beginner’s Guide is fiction, Awkward Dimensions is (most likely) not…

But where do I get this idea that it’s inspired by Wreden’s games? Well…  the soundtrack is heard in a footage in-game and it’s mentioned in the game’s developer commentary. But even if it weren’t, it carries some of the “motifs”- for a lack of a better word – that I could tell right away. Other inspiration like Blendo Games are also mentioned, but due to my sad lack of experience I cannot comment on it too much.

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That font in the title also seems awfully familiar…

Before we get further, I want to talk about what exactly is Awkward Dimensions Redux? While writing this I almost wrote “Awkward Dreams” a few times, but that is no accident. It’s pretty much a dream game in the literal sense: The main character falls asleep and we get to see his dreams and nightmares.
It’s basically a lot of non-sequitur sequences and short gameplay snippets merged under one title with some weird, sometimes experimental music and the occasional text-based narration.
As you get further you kind of realize that the “based on trippy dreams” is just the cover story and the protagonist is really – in fact – you the player, and not Steven Harmon. You are basically “invading” his headspace in his dreams and seeing his literal dreams (things that he strives for) and past experiences. But you don’t need to feel uncomfortable, it’s not an invasion, you have been invited here in a form of a video game.
This doesn’t sound bad so far… what do we get?
Well you open up with an empty farm, go into a dark and creepy backstage of a theater, then a beach and so on. You get a title for each scene, like if you are watching a bunch of short films one after another, but not much more than that.

But all throughout my playing I got this constant nagging feeling that I seen these before. And this is the part I bring into this review, but still it was there. Where have I seen these… “Legible” – it’s the landscape from Courage the Cowardly Dog; “Nobody Wins” – felt a bit like Black Velvetopia from Psychonauts because of that bull; “Sabotage” – Really obviously The Beginner’s Guide with the machine in the middle. “On the Surface” – No Man’s Sky; The forest campground – Radiator: Polaris. “Just make it quick” – Dr. Langeskov (but most likely it’s Blendo). And the last level is a Mirror’s Edge de-make, but the developer commentary doesn’t attempt to hide that one.
Am I making the ridiculous claim that the author ripped on these or that no other game developer could go camping and make a game about it? Of course not.
In a sense, this is almost good… like it’s familiar and we all have dreams that are common…
But I was just pulling the “Wreden move” here and trying to interpret the work in my own way to make a point. So what can Awkward Dimension Redux tell about it’s creator… Well for me that he is young, eager, a bit naive, has the usual teenager struggles but might still be at the point when he thinks no one can relate to it. But otherwise clearly shows talent.
So what’s the problem?

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My real problem with the game is that this a highly personal piece that was full of great and less-than-great ideas, but wasn’t “ready” to be published on a major distributor, free or otherwise.

Let me tell a story: Once upon a time, there was a teenager boy who wanted to be a writer. He once read an article in the newspaper that gave him the inspiration (and story) to write his first novel. It was about two young, orphaned teenagers falling in love, and their hardships that comes from this relationship. He eventually wrote around a 100 pages in one and a half years and was so proud of it. He wanted to show it to everyone, including more famous writers, to give him a critique. His literature teacher told him the quote(?) about “Put your work in the drawer and leave it there for 10 years. When the time is up, if you take it out and still find it good, only then you should publish it.” But of course he didn’t heed this warning… “Pfft… my work must be good, everyone likes it.” They liked it … as a work of a teenager. It didn’t even take that many years for him. After 2 or 3 years, his work seemed terrible and childish to him. But his passion for writing already died out by then. In his twenties he asked his family “Why didn’t you tell me my novel sucked?” – he remembered he thought about publishing it a few times, and how he become so famous – “Well, you were an eager teenager, we didn’t wanted to hurt your feelings. What were we supposed to say?” And the truth hurt, but it was fair.

And this is what I fear/suspect will be the fate of this game too. The only difference that it actually did get published. If not for the fact that it had a few relatable scenes, this endeavor could have backfired in a major way. The “Bullies taking away the diary of the shy kid and reading it out loud” kind of way.
It has too many personal life experiences – jumbled together – that Steven Harmon desperately wants us to understand but we can’t, we couldn’t and we shouldn’t. Doesn’t help that some of these are only understandable through the developer commentary and some that I expected more explanation to turned out to be not so “deep” than they actually appeared. (The space station comes to mind.)
How was I supposed to get that the camping ground level was an “In memoriam” without reading the developer commentary?Then there are the other – as the title of the game well reflects – awkward levels: “Sabotage” – with its tons of monologues. “Time to get over her” and “You are not good enough” which are great showcases for the teenage mind, but they present these problems almost as life tragedies and not what we “old folks” already know: growing into adulthood and facing the problems that come with it. Some scenes don’t fit at all, like the Dank Meme joke machine in “On the Surface” – Nothing ages a work more than slang, politics and memes. Or the desperate cry out for the USC to hire Harmon, because it is the place for indie devs. (I really don’t know that much about game dev courses but I recommend him Extra Credit’s videos on Game Schools as a sort of cautionary tale.)
And let me not even talk about the behind-the-scenes of the “Self Destruction room” and that video the player is forced to watch, because I can say things about it, but they aren’t pretty.

What I do say however, is this tiny option in the game when you press Esc:
Skip this level

This is a huge, huge NO! Not in this game, not in any game, especially not in this sort of game. Just no! You never EVER put a button in a game like this, I don’t care how frustrated your players or playtester were.
I was “frustrated” with the “Two Steps forwards, One step back” level, but I never in my life imagined to skip it. I choose to invest my time in this game and all the parts that come with it. You mean to tell me I could just sit down, press “skip the level” on all of them and that’s it? What did the player experienced of this game then? What did they get about what it tried to say? I mean I would get it if this was a statement, but it clearly wasn’t. This is not helping avoiding frustration, nor like the “Restart” button in The Stanley Parable; This is like if Dear Esther had a skip button, or Proteus. You get what I’m saying…
(The only time I actually skipped was when I couldn’t find the exit – like in “Sabotage” but that was due to the darkness and unclear level design – problems that could be fixed with some better player guidance and mapping.)
You also can’t imply to the player that your story is only worthy for those who sit down and listen to it/play it, because they already have a button for it: it’s called “Quit”. They already invested their time/money by playing the game in the first place, and they will keep going if they are truly interested. They embrace the puzzles and the “frustration”, that’s why they play.

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You could think at this point, that I’m trying to pull this game down, but that’s far from it. This game has really good ideas hidden in all the clutter: The framing game was neat; I loved the Two steps forward, One step back; and Curfew gave back intended atmosphere greatly. Even the scary backstage in the theater level was a tense moment that delivered the dread he set out perfectly (after I read the commentary), even if the whole “scare thing” was a bit out-of-place.
These are the strong points of the game that made it worth playing and that Harmon should grab onto and develop further, but instead these are hidden between a plethora of other personal stories and in-jokes that are not intended for the average player like me, nor can they get it and overall and little or nothing to my experience.

“Games don’t have to be for the players” obviously. One of the most surprising moments in The Beginner’s Guide for me was when the narrator talked about how Coda never really made games to get validation from others. I knew what it feels when I practice drawing or something, but never imagined it might be possible with games (even if it’s coming from a fictional character) and made me realize how much do I rely on validation.
Awkward Dimensions is the same but wanted to go big. And I know Harmon did a bunch of other games, but these are small, indie project. This is too deep water for such a deeply personal project and – sorry for putting it so rudely – he didn’t put enough big name games on the table to pull this move so early in his career. This game probably should’ve stayed on Gamejolt or itch.io, shown to friends and family, used as a demo or portfolio… not thrown into the big leagues to compete. As I said before – I could’ve imagined a much worse fate for this game than some of the negative comments on Steam, and I don’t think Harmon fully realized how lucky he was that his players found relatable moments, and that he decided to publish it for free.
I imagine game schools don’t hire people on the fact that someone got a game published, not in the age of Gamejolts, Greenlights and AppStores. Also I would say similar things, even if Steam was more like these previous, free-for-all platforms mentioned.
But it’s on Steam that –  as of 2016 – is still not like it, so this game went to play with the big dogs, and thus I reviewed as such.

In the last level – the Mirror’s Edge one – he talks in the developer commentary that you should try to copy someone’s work to find your own style, and this is a really great thought. But it also made me realize that this is what this game is. A bunch of little experiments trying to copy other games: from Wreden to Blendo. And he does a pretty good job of copying the style, the narrative structure, the “artsy stuff”, the “indieness”… but it forgets to do anything with the concept, just glues them together and tries to put an “unrelatable personal stories” spin on it, so “You just don’t get it.”
Yes, I don’t, but in this case I don’t think that it’s my fault.
And the “I know it’s teenage angst” defense the game presents you at a few points won’t shield it either.
You know how most people don’t like hearing other people’s dreams, and how the “It was all a dream” is such an overused, cliché trope? Same problem applies here.
It lacks focus. Something that holds it together – other than the title and intro/outro sequence.

 

Overall, I wish the best of luck for Steven Harmon on his future projects. You definitely got it in you, and you are a much braver soul than I am for publishing this game on a major distributor. I don’t want to discourage you from showing the world your creations, far from it. Games are a fantastic medium to work in.
This entry is just a cautionary reminder not to burn yourself in the fire while looking for validation. Pouring your soul out into the world like this is a dangerous move that can get you hurt unnecessarily, and there are “better” ways for artists to achieve this without becoming vulnerable to the trolls and bullies.
And keep on learning the craft, because its a worthwhile endeavor. Keep making games, keep failing faster.
I know most of this probably sucks to read – if you ever read this – but this is the way of the creator. They have to channel and focus their feelings to present it to the world.
I hope you understand what I mean by all of this.

I’ll leave with this Stephen King quote that says this better than I can:

The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.

Have you… – played Gast: The Greatest Little Ghost?

(“Have you…” is/will be a recurring series where I talk about underrated, less known or outright obscure games, films and comics.)
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It’s almost Halloween, and although over here we don’t really celebrate it like in the US, nevertheless I felt like coming up with some spooky topic. And what is more spooky than horrible, horrible voice acting? Oh… and also creepy clowns…
Today I introduce: Gast – an odd little Swedish gem(?) from 2002.

So after last week’s 3000 word long beast, I wanted to write something a bit more short and sweet. It’s Halloween season, so I thought about writing something with that in mind. But I don’t really like the traditional horror stuff around this time, I enjoy the more campy type of spooks.
Then I remembered playing this weird little game called Gist or Gast or something… I remember it was a bit scary and I thought I cover it, since it also had a clown in it, and there are these creepy clown cases that are popping up recently, so I guess it’s topical as well.
But looking back on it… well… it is scary if you are a kid like I was. As an adult it’s going to make you laugh more than anything.

Gast: The Greatest Little Ghost (English title) – or just Gast – is a Swedish game made by Idol FX AB in 2002, and published by Mindscape SA (who I’m guessing is an European subsidiary of Mindscape Interactive Inc.? It’s hard to find correct information about them.)
Did they made anything noteworthy? Well not really… they also made Nosferatu: The Wrath of Malachi which is also a less known but infamous “so bad it’s good” FPS horror game. (Jim Sterling did a brief and short showcase of it). And 3 more games not really worth mentioning. Yet here I am talking about one, but it’s their first published game, so it deserves a chance.

It’s a point-and-click (well mostly) horror game, but horror in the same vein as Tim Burton, and most likely heavily influenced by his work.
The story itself is simple: The evil clown Beleseblob (See what they did there? Because he is fat!), along with his monstrous henchmen, has stopped the magical clock of the amusement park making it dark and abandoned. You control Gast the little ghost, the caretaker of the park, who is set out to stop the clown, vanquish the nightmares, and bring back the life and joy to the amusement park.
This, of course, raises many questions: Who is this clown? Where did he come from? Why is he evil? Why is an amusement park operated by a magical clock? Why does it only have a rollercoaster, haunted mansion, and a merry-go-round? Why is a (childlike) ghost the caretaker? Why is he constantly get scared by stuff, when they can’t really “hurt him” in the traditional sense? And so on…

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The first area of the game… a bit empty.

But anyway… you control Gast by holding down the mouse button in the direction you want him to move (I keep referring to Gast as him, but she could be a girl I guess. Just some ghost sporting the traditional reaper robes with Burton-esque eyes.) and you have to solve puzzles to collect soul stars and unlock the final rollercoaster. You ride it, face Beleseblob, and you need to defeat him to finish the game.

The backgrounds are pre-rendered 3D á la Myst, though they are pretty dark. Too dark, in fact. On some maps you can barely see anything. And the tree branches covering the path (and your view) is certainly not helping. This sometimes makes it a bit more difficult to navigating the many areas (or maps) of the game, especially outdoors – though there are some signposts to help you out.
But when it works it is pretty nice to look at  and gives off that spooky, “Halloweeny” vibe – even if it’s a bit dated at this point.

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But when it doesn’t work: just look at this clutter…

I also have to mention the scare-o-meter. You don’t have a life bar in this game, but you do get scared by the clown’s monster henchmen and random environmental traps. Now these are not scarier then that one Garfield Flash game (and blatant advertisement) that a lot of us played as kids, but there are some cheap jump scares in the form of cutscenes. Of course they are pretty bad but they are accompanied by scary sound effects (in 2002’s standards anyway) and combined with the creepy, looping music, this game is not exactly for small children.
Oh, did I mention this game was rated age 3+?! Cruel parents take some notes.

So yeah, you can actually lose in a point & click game. Well that is a rare sight ever since the “golden age” of the genre ended. Though you can counteract some of these scare-points by collecting the stars or finding consumables.

The henchmen in this game are otherwise pretty bad at their job. After scaring you they suddenly break down to begging, asking you to do them favors.
But the voice acting… Oh dear Dog, the voice acting! Just listen to some of it!
My best guess is that the publisher thought “Hey, this is a kid’s game” and didn’t give a sh*t about it, but still… I’m not sure if the original Swedish is any better.

One of the annoying thing – apart from the clunky controls – is the inventory. Unlike in almost every other point & click game, here – for some reason – you only have 6 slots available at any time (excluding the soul stars which are collected separately).
On the positive side: you do have multiple solutions to some puzzles, which is pretty good and definitely the better aspect of this game – though I’m not sure if you can ever get trapped, hopefully not. I still remember being stuck and I think I needed to look up a walkthrough. But in my defense: I didn’t understand English very well back then, I mean the enemies pretty clearly say what they want out loud. It’s like they almost solve the puzzles themselves.
What is interesting that you can be outright cruel in this game. If a henchmen follows you, you can sometimes lead it to another hungry one and they kill it! In a kid’s game! I mean they were “evil” and it is a way to solve their puzzle, but jeez…
And there is also a guillotine in there somewhere, where you can also lead some henchmen that you helped and they follow you around. Great message to kids: Earn someone’s trust, redeem them, and then lead them to their doom!

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That guy in the picture already had his head off though.

Some comments about the game suggests that you can collect a large number of soul stars (50+), but you only need a small fraction of it. You only use 3 to unlock the final rollercoaster ride, so you could actually can get in really early, but you should keep on collecting a few more (A dozen or two). Because… you get a surprise arcade section.
Why is there an arcade section in a point & click game, when there was no indication before or any other puzzle like it? Who cares, it’s a kid’s game, and kids are dumb anyway, they’ll eat it up.

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The rollercoaster ride.

I mean I don’t mind, It’s not a hard section – even though I did fail on it as a kid – seems quite easy by today’s standards (Dodge incoming obstacles left or right), and require two parts pattern recognition and one part reflexes. But why is it in the game is the puzzling part, when there were no signs of it beforehand. Maybe they wanted to pad out the game’s length? It’s a bit questionable nonetheless.
Anyway, you use your stars as your hit points, so that is why you should collect more than the required 3 to enter. (And supposedly it becomes harder the more scared Gast is.)
After that there is another arcade section: A shooting gallery with the Beleseblob. Again, using your soul stars, but as ammunition this time and you will need a few shots.
If you lose here (or the previous section) you get a losing cutscene where he takes over the park and you just cry about it in the woods.
But… He goes down fast and you probably get the good ending where the kids are running towards the restored green park and Gast is happily riding the merry-go-round. I guess the kids are happy to, but their laughter sounds quite creepy and sinister regardless. Probably because there is nothing to do in that park.
You can finish this game pretty fast by the way. The playthrough I linked above did it in like half an hour.

Overall, what can I say about Gast? Despite it’s obvious flaws, it’s charming.
Clunky, weird, sometimes a bit cruel, and didn’t age well at all. But it’s not as bad as other infamous “so bad it’s good” games. It’s average, but playable, and has quite a few cutscenes. The Tim Burton like atmosphere is pretty neat, even if it’s pretty obvious.
If you want a short little Halloween adventure/spook I recommend checking it out… that is if you find it anywhere on the web, because I doubt that you can find it in retail anymore. Just keep the scary clown and the jump scares in mind if you play it with young kids.
Some sources that helped me remember this game:

Late reviews: Life is Strange

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They say to write what you know best. I’ll take it as suggestion to write about something that impacted me recently, which is Life is Strange.

It’s always a bit hard being late as a reviewer and critic. Especially with pretty popular topics or games. Thoughts like “What new things can I even write about this?” goes through your mind. But here I am, trying my best.
(Wish I had rewind powers, amiright?)
On the other hand, the game is set in October, so it is also the perfect time for this to come out, even if it is a year late since the original release of Episode 5.

For the first part, I’ll keep this review spoiler free, and I will indicate when I get to the spoilery parts.

I sort of knew what I was getting into when I first started playing. And the game doesn’t hide its intention from you either. You have the power to rewind time – go nuts.
This is what makes this game really effective. It can’t be made in any other media, other than a video game. There are talks about a series/movie adaptation, but honestly: It won’t work, and I can already see fans hating it. I’m really skeptical about it as well, especially knowing the history of video game adaptations.

A trip to Arcadia Bay…

Back to the game itself: When you look at it on its own, there isn’t much of gameplay to it. You walk around, talk to people, make choices that you can briefly change around. It’s pretty much a point & click where you do the walking instead.
But from the story telling perspective, that’s kind of enough really. Even the game itself doesn’t care about your power that much, it flat out refuses to tell you if its supernatural or scientific – and that’s fine. Almost refreshing to a point. Most writers know that getting into time travel can be a one way ticket to ruining your story, so Life is Strange took the easy route and just wants you to threat it like a superpower. And it works, though there are still questions that are left in the back of your mind (more on that in the spoiler section).

So the strongest part of the game are the characters, the writing and the accompanying set pieces.

Of course the game is set in Oregon, because everything spooky and mysterious happens in Oregon and Maine for some reason. There are also many references to Ray Bradbury’s The October Country just to emphasis the season, which I’m guessing the developers really want you to read. But this feeling of familiarity is (most likely) very intentional: Max is coming back to her hometown to study, the player is coming back to a place they most likely seen a few other times in other media, and you both are eager to see what has changed.Even the main theme is familiar. Has anyone else noticed how it is kinda-sorta similar to another song that you might have heard before? These are just little things that make me think: This has to be intentional.
I really liked it: the soft, painterly textures; the feel of the old-school fishing town; the campus building (which is a bit unrealistic for me in such a small town, but we can let that slide) Even for a non-American like me, and coming from a bunch of French developers, it gets the feeling of nostalgia well across.

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I have to be honest about the characters: Yes, they are pretty cliché “hollywood movie high school students” and yes, they sometimes use some outdated slang and phrases, but that didn’t bother me at all. I’m the kind of person who likes cliché characters if they are played straight and strong. It’s the little details that make the characters memorable and developed anyway, so it shouldn’t matter if they are slightly stereotypes. That’s why I can look past the rebel Chloe, or the rich-girl Victoria, or the shy and sentimental Kate. Didn’t most of us know similar people like them? I can certainly name a few from my teenage years.
I do understand however if different people react to them differently. I know some people were a bit creeped out by Daniel DaCosta, who wants to draw Max in the first episode, and he didn’t bother me that much (and no, not because I’m a bit of a “neckbeard” like him). It’s because I was mostly the awkward drawing guy years ago, so I knew he had no bad intentions, even if he personally was a bit of a jerk. I didn’t share any of his personality and attitude, but I wouldn’t have minded if someone asked me to draw them, even if I was much more worse at it… anyway, moving on…
I don’t agree with the idea that this game is emo however. It has non of the attributes and qualities of “emos”. It has a goth chick, but that’s about it; The main character is not oversensitive, or thinks that her problem is more important than others, etc.
Hipster? Well that depends on your definition. My surprising opinion (That it’s not) won’t influence you much probably, if you already think it is. My suggestion is to try it and judge for yourself honestly, since my best argument basically boils down to that just because something is indie (or has indie music) doesn’t make it hipster. And this game certainly isn’t indie with such a big name publisher. Or seeing how popular it is. That’s like saying “Undertale is a hipster game”.
There are two things I didn’t like:
One of them are the animations. I think some of it was motion captured, which was well done. In many games I have this feeling it’s “too good” or “too real” and that makes it out-of-place compared to the rest of the traditional “hand made” animations. But not here, it fitted the themes greatly and gave the characters more natural feel. Sadly this can’t be said about the facial animations, which I really wished they worked on a bit more, since it was such a crucial and noticeable weak spot. For how much we see the characters’ faces this should have been a much bigger focus. I don’t know if they motion captured the faces as well, but this is the place where I would have accepted more hand-crafted animation just to bring the emotions into the spotlight. They were visible, don’t get me wrong, but not as much as I wanted them to.

The other issue I had was with – funnily enough – Max. But I’m not really alone with this, and yes, we know: she is the player avatar, but I would have accepted a bit more characterization on her part.

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No! Bad Square Enix. Down! Put that script down!

There were definitely moments when she was too much of a dunce to take her seriously. Like in the very beginning when – as a wannabe photographer – she doesn’t know about the “Daguerreotype process“. Ouch! Okay, I’m not going to go high and mighty and say that you need to know the whole history of your craft to do it well, but come on: I knew about daguerreotypes before I was 18 and I’m not even a photographer. That’s like an artist not knowing who Leonardo da Vinci is…
Or later on when she complains that she doesn’t know what “periodic” in the periodic table means. No comment…
(Some other minor issues, like her already knowing some info, then be surprised when its reveled in a cutscene later, is more of the fault of bad gameplay sequencing, but still noticeable occasionally if you like to snoop around.)

I really don’t like this type of writing, it cheapens the character for the sake of the player, and if this wasn’t a game this would’ve been much harder to overlook. What works in other similar games like “Gone Home” – where the protagonist doesn’t speak – won’t work here. Period(ic)!

But where it works, it really does work and I’m happy that I could relate to many of the characters, that I could be a friend of Chloe, that I could make choices about myself and them.
One thing that really resonated me was seeing the world through the eyes of a woman, that I think no other game I played so far managed to capture so well. Many of my favorite games feature female protagonists, but non has given me the current status quo about what does it feel like to be one in the 21st century.

I think that is most of what I can say without spoilers, so I finish this section for now.
If you haven’t played this game, you should definitely try at least the first episode, which is free on Steam.
If you like emotional games, time travel, mystery and smart narratives and/or enjoyed games like Gone Home, Oxenfree or To The Moon and/or liked movies like The Butterfly Effect and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind … you will most likely going to enjoy this game as well. (Do note that this is a 16+ game and there are some heavier themes and topics throughout the episodes. This is not a lighthearted time travel adventure by any means.)

Hey! It left me feeling wanting for more for days and I felt like watching an awesome series all the way through, even though I was playing it. It has its flaws, quirks and some annoying moments, but if you can look past them then it will be a memorable experience.

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[Here be Spoilers. You have been warned.]

We all kind of knew what we were in for really. The tornado in the beginning is not exactly a subtle Chekhov’s Gun (warning: TvTropes link), it’s like giving the gun in your hand and saying that you have to use it later. But the game is full of literal and figurative guns, some are actually subtle and I love the game more for it.
Like in the part where you have to save Kate it basically tells you that “Hey, remember that family picture you innocently peaked at in the beginning of the episode? Well I hope you remember, because here is a pop quiz and you can’t use your powers this time.”I’m the curious explorer type, who is beyond redemption, and I search every nook and cranny to interact with. And these types of moments are my rewards for being curious and observant. I felt such a relief when I saved her.

Though yeah, we can’t go pass this scene without the mention of the “sudden but inexplicable losing of your power” moment. It does get mentioned later, but never actually becomes relevant, as well as your power getting more stronger when you travel back in time. I kind of let this one slide too, since I let similar things slide before in other media, just for them to get that “gravity of the situation” moment. But we all knew its there, and a bit better writing could’ve brought it back in another situation. Like in the ending maybe, hitting if Max powers stayed after the main plot has been resolved, or not. I would say no, but then again, it’s up to our interpretation.
And as I said before: the never explained time travel powers does raise a few questions…
Before I played Episode 2, I was thinking about the same thing that “How can you prove that you have this power” and it just so happened to be demonstrated the way I imagined. But here is the problem, I knew my theory had a flaw, namely that it can’t prove for certain that you have these powers if the multiverse theory holds true.
In that case: When Max rewinds time to name the content of Chloe’s pocket correctly, in another timeline she thinks that Max is just lying to her for no reason and could also never predict the future correctly.
I know the time travel “rules” of this universe is probably similar to the ones in The Butterfly Effect or Back to the Future, but still I wish the protagonist would at least address it or they talk about it. Because this way it seems that the whole universe revolves around Max. But I understand that the idea that she can destroy whole universes just by altering the timeline is probably too heavy of a subject for a mystery drama.

At least we are not short on other heavy subjects. Bullying, suicide, murder, sexual harassment, rape, euthanasia … Some of these subjects were not fleshed out as much as they could’ve been, but they were still effective. Life is Strange, and these are sadly part of life.
Though I guess they have to be on the short end of the stick, since they are overshadowed by the giant catastrophe coming towards the town.
It’s a bit weird, in something like Lord of the Rings they talk about friendship and cooperation and nobility, but still the focus was on defeating the bigger evil. Here you can gather life experience, but the final choice can change everything, even though the final act still overshadows all…

But these two tie together with the choices. The world revolves around Max and Chloe and your choices may not matter in the end, and I don’t understand the former part. Does the potential death of Kate, Nathan or Victoria don’t matter to the universe as much as Chloe’s? Would the universe give up after you choose to sacrifice Arcadia Bay? (My guess is probably no.)

Let’s back up a bit though. I kind of knew that these choices won’t matter much in the end (see Chekhov’s Gun above), and there were many false choices that lead to the same dialog, but in the end I’m glad they were there. For your character it may have not mattered in the end, but for you – the player – it did, and you got to know these characters, your actions and maybe a bit of yourself. I think a lot of people forgot this when judging these choices (especially the final one).
Lot of people loved the early morning scene after the school break-in in Episode 3: Chaos Theory, and I liked it too. But one of my favorite moment was in the alternate timeline. Yes, I accepted alternate Chloe’s last wish – don’t know what that says about me – and I remember sitting there just for a few minutes. I was just thinking earlier that “Don’t do this to me game” then it did, and I killed my best friend, because asked me to.I wasn’t crying, but tears definitely came to my eyes. Still feel emotional just writing about it. (Comes to show the power of a well written game.)
And later on with Frank the drug dealer, I was so frustrated trying to get him to cooperate with me and not let Chloe kill or hurt him. I rewinded a bunch of times until I could get him to agree. It made me feel satisfied that “Damn it you stubborn bastard, I know you are a major ass, but I’m glad you get to live.
So it was almost karmic justice that my vision or nightmare near the end in the diner scene told me that I used my power to manipulate people and gain friends, because I couldn’t do it otherwise. Harsh, and I lied to myself, but she knew and I knew the truth. That was such a brilliant move by devs that I tip my hat off to them. Even though it only works if you can’t live with your consequences and rewind. I wonder if she would tell you the same if you don’t use your powers for these shallow things?

And the twist… Yeah, that genuinely surprised me. It’s funny that these plot twists that I usually see coming in most crime shows now just went over my head. And the clues really were there all along! It was so nice to be surprised again. It was like the first time I watched Fight Club, and it was great. Motivation? Ehhh… questionable, but okay, I’ll buy it. And yeah the obvious (false) “bad guys” like David really weren’t that fleshed out and some of the actual bad guys like Nathan.
Though the false ending was a bit funny for me. When we won the contest and everyone is happy, I knew this wouldn’t last. But what made me a bit laugh is that I really don’t think that Max’s photo would win the contest. Like yeah, it’s a good photo (it’s the cover photo for this blog entry), but how is it related to the “Everyday Heroes” theme? Photographers? I mean some of the other entries we get to see are actually more relevant. Surprisingly I think Nathan’s would have been a better entry. Yeah, I know, it’s a false ending, trying to mislead you, but it’s so obvious…

But let’s get back to the actual ending. Bae or Bay, as the fans like to call it. Firstly, I don’t think that Max and Chloe are meant for each other (this whole Pricefield thing, sorry fans), but I do appreciate the game of giving you the option to do so.

Side note: I feel the same with accepting Warren, dumping him or try to stay friends.
I like how the game gives you the option, but also shows that he is a bit of a clingy guy (even though Daniel is sporting the stereotypical “nice guy” colors.)Max’s relationship with Warren is awkward, but in a good way – it also showed me my own flaws as a teenager, and how I may have made some girls uncomfortable back then. And the game forcing me to see things from the other side… It made me grow as a person, and I’m thankful for that. So rare that I found games that can manage to do something similar.

So even though I was accepting of the relationship part, I kind of felt like the last part shouldn’t have been a choice. You should have been forced to sacrifice Chloe. I fulfilled her wish before, and this is her again, asking me to do the same. She is not selfish anymore, she is willing to do the “right thing”. And as others have pointed out – the devs probably wanted you to pick this ending as well.
But then reading more opinions about, I realized I was wrong and this issue. This is a choice between “Destiny” and “Stop trying to fix things you think are broken” or “The Everyday Hero” and the “Rebel”. It must be there, otherwise the game would be poorer without it. We would’ve felt cheated.
(This is stark contrast to a game like Bastion [spoilers], where if you choose to go back in time, everything repeats exactly the same, at the “correct” answer is to accept tragedy and move on with life.)

Was it the good decision to sacrifice Chloe … again? But everything points towards yes…
Was it the bad decision to sacrifice Arcadia Bay? Most likely for what has happened so far, and that Max may never live down the guilt of her actions – even though both probably suffer, she will suffer a tiny bit more…
(Seriously, couldn’t they stop to look for survivors though? At least Chloe’s mom?!)
Though whatever your choice was, you now have to live with it, and for you – the player – it was the ride that was important, not the destination.

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This was never really just about time travel, unstoppable catastrophes and mysteries. This is about nostalgia, friendship, loss, the five stages of grief, and the little moments of life, and many other things.

It started with a photograph, ended with a photograph, and you viewed it through a lens as well. Pieces of time.

Say cheese!

Hello World!

Well, here goes nothing…

Welcome to The CubicSphere!

So let me start by sharing what type of content can you expect me to ramble about:
I’m a journalist by trade, but I was always a bit more interested in the visual arts – even though I still love writing.
So I decided to combine the two worlds.
I will write on this blog about my current interests, opinion and criticism on the topics that are close to me, which is mostly the usual: video games, webcomics, art, movies…
Meanwhile I aim to share ventures and experiences in my other areas of interest. Show off some comics or art, or a video game or other project I’m currently working on.
I will try to keep deeply personal content (i.e: real life troubles or drama) to a minimum, but since this is a “one man blog” I can’t guarantee it. Other personal life experience stuff will be present though, fair warning.
What I can tell for certain is that this is not an educational blog. That doesn’t mean that you won’t learn anything of course – some which will probably come from my own successes or mistakes. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t write a tutorial or share tips if I feel like it. It just means that if you are looking for outright scientific content or serious learning, this might not be the blog for you. There are professional blogs out there with people way smarter than me, and with well researched and written content. You should only stick around for my personal life lessons.
In short: If – for example – you want some serious topics on “How to make a professional comic” I’m not your guy (Scott McCloud is a good starting point on the other hand). But if you are looking for “How does Cubix personally makes his comics” I might just be the person you are looking for… scattered around several blog posts most likely.
(Don’t worry though, I keep my categories and tags neat and tiddy. I’m pretty prudent about that.)
Note: I don’t give out these “[Trigger warnings]”. I’ll try to keep clickbait to a bare minimum, so you will be able to tell by the header and/or categories what type of topic I’m going to talk about. If you keep reading despite that then it’s your own choice and I take no responsibility for it.

Due note that most of the time I am a lengthy writer. I usually find myself leaving walls of text on some comment section, even on simple topics. Also I tend to go into off-topic frequently and try to explain my logic or reasoning. But when I re-read my entries I delete most of the fluff to save you time.
So while I will open a Twitter account with this blog, I most likely won’t use it for anything other than sharing blog and project updates. The character count there is just too limiting for me, especially for getting into more in-depth subjects.


Blog update frequency: Currently once a week on Fridays – with the possibility of some infrequent posts during the week if I have a lot on my mind.
I want to keep things simple for starters, because I’m the usual “enthusiastic, but burns out quickly” type of guy, and one of the reasons I started this blog is to teach myself discipline instead of relying on motivation.We’ll see how that goes…
In the meantime, I keep the current update schedule in the side bar in case I decide to change it.


About commenting: I love and welcome all the comments. If you leave a relevant message, joke, idea, suggestion – even on a months old post – I promise I won’t mind it. But please: keep the internet etiquette in mind and stay on topic.
As per usual, I will remove all comment that are:

  • Racists, sexist or hateful.
  • Contains personal information (doxing), is a personal attack or advocates witch-hunt.
  • Purposefully offensive.
  • Irrelevant links, spam and blatant advertising.
  • Links to pirated, pornographic or illegal content.

You will be issued a warning if you:

  • Link a “Not Safe for Work” content without tagging it. This is how you should do it:
    Here is the link to the video [NSFW]:  (video link) “
  • Get political on a non-political topic (which is going to be pretty rare).
  • Constantly going off-topic or breaking these guidelines.

I promise not to let this minor power get into my head though. I will issue out warnings, but after that I do keep the right to remove any comment, so please: keep it civil!


One last thing:
I’m not a native English speaker.
If you find weird sentence structures, grammatical mistakes, or too many commas, then this is the reason why and I apologize in advance.
Feel free to politely call it to my attention in a personal message or a comment. (But do not start your comment with a “[insert error here]*“. Comment on the content first and foremost. If you frequently leave just a list of my errors I will fix it, but your comment will be removed and you’ll be issued a warning.)

So with all off that said:

Welcome again to my blog!

Stay tuned for my first real post…