But work’s winding down, and I finally have some time. I haven’t written anything but code in a very long while, so I wrote all of this in a span of two hours.
So here’s a bunch of impressions of some media I’ve consumed, ranked in order of least to most enjoyed.
8. The Waylanders
Made by a relatively untested studio and having some well-known writers on staff, The Waylanders promises to be a worthy low-budget spiritual successor to stuff like Dragon Age: Origins. It had a successful Kickstarter based on the fame of its writers and consulting staff, and is currently out on early access.
So this is the first early access game I’ve ever bought. Predictably, it’s really janky.
There’s the kernel of a good story in there, but most of the cutscenes and dialogues are unfinished. The combat system is fun when you get the hang of it, but it’s a bit unwieldy - there are two ways of selecting multiple party members, for example, and I’m not convinced they needed to be different.
But it is fun, there is some good potential here, and I’m hoping it improves.
I wonder what it says about me that I can barely watch any movies nowadays.
I also wonder what it says about me that I’m not able to get myself to watch any new Indian Netflix movies, but lapped up a movie featuring people speaking in Hindi and Bengali (with the latter having an appropriate accent!). I need to be able to break out of this ridiculous mentality, where I’m more sated with foreign representation than local art.
Either way, it’s an okay movie with two very good action scenes. Good to pass the time and talk over.
6. The Beginner’s Guide
The Stanley Parable was an old Half Life 2 mod that was eventually turned into a full fledged game, and it’s still a fun and memorable experience. One of the creators of that game made The Beginner’s Guide, which I finally picked up on a whim (and a discount) and played through.
I’ll be honest - I only started this article seriously after finishing the game. It’s a short experience - it’s over in an hour and a half - but it’s very interesting in the ideas and themes it chooses to tackle. It’s essentially about art and creativity, about self-expression and burnout. However, interestingly, it also chooses to flip the perspective and focus on the people that view that art, which creates this interesting portrait of art being influenced through observation, and the complexities that might create.
If you can get it for the price of a movie ticket, do pick it up. I think you’ll like it.
5. American Gods
This is the only TV show I’ve watched since quarantine started.
This is a show co-created by Bryan Fuller, the creator and genius behind the beautiful melodrama that is the Hannibal TV show. I had pretty high expectations going in, especially because it’s an adaptation of a good book by Neil Gaiman.
Is it good? Yes! Is it strange and weirdly janky? Yes! Does it have weirdly comedic moments of drama that makes you feel alienated? Yes! Does it work in spite of it? No! It works exactly because of it.
It’s provocative and corny and heartfelt, and I’m sad they kicked Bryan Fuller out after the first season. There were apparently issues the top brass had with his approach, and he had to leave (with some Fuller alumni leaving the show along with him, like Gillian Anderson).
It’s a shame. I would have wanted to watch the second season if he was still onboard. Ah well.
This was an interesting ride.
Tacoma is a game set in the future, where your sole purpose is to board an abandoned space station, plug in a tablet computer in three to four places, wait for around half an hour at each place, then leave. However, you’ve got a bunch of security footage to go through while you wait.
You’ve also got augmented reality lenses, and the security footage is all in 3D - which means you can literally walk through security footage, rewind and fast forward anyone talking or moving in front of you, and get a sense of how a true 3D VR movie would actually feel like. Is there a scene that takes place in the living room, but you’re more interested in what the characters outside are talking about? You can actually do that!
This, combined with the environmental storytelling and great voice acting, combines to bring a diverse, complex and memorable cast of characters you get to watch. It’s another short experience - the whole game gets over in around three hours - but it’s another great game worth checking out.
3. Signs Of The Sojourner
This is sort of the underdog on this list - it’s a low budget deckbuilding game with expressive art and great music, and if you want to check anything out on this list, I really suggest you buy this one first. Let me try and make the case for this recommendation.
There is a very specific type of experience so many of us share, especially when we go out into the world as functioning adult members of society. A lot of us move out of our homes and end up feeling like we have no place in the new ones we chose. We find a communication gap with the new people we meet, even if we share a language - we might want to convey something they aren’t able to grasp, and the way they talk about their lives might end up feeling alien to us. But we’re human beings. We can adapt to anything and anywhere, and we end up taking a piece of our new chosen residence inside of us.
But we aren’t infinite, and learning to communicate in new ways usually ends up with us losing touch with our older selves. And eventually, each time we come back to our original home, it gets harder and harder to communicate with the friends you once had, and to be the family you once were to the ones you love.
Signs Of The Sojourner takes place in a small dying town, where you have to travel with a caravan every month to find new places to get supplies for your own store. The further you go, the stranger people become, and as you learn to talk to them, you start to forget the ways you communicated with the friends you have back home. Every trip, the person you are when you leave grows farther away from the person you return as.
It’s a strange emotional experience, and the choices you make can result in wildly different endings for you. Again, the whole experience lasts no more than five hours, but it’s worth it.
Also, there's a puppy!
I usually don’t play horror games - I don’t really get affected by horror movies or books, but games are a medium where you’re literally put in the shoes of a doomed protagonist, so all the threats feel real and personal. This is a game from the developers of Penumbra and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which are both games I like but have never completed, so it took me some extra time and effort to complete this game. Luckily, there’s a "Safe Mode" presented to you when you start the game, which makes all the monsters passive to your presence. Unluckily, I decided to go ahead with the normal mode anyway.
But the inclusion of a "Safe Mode" is interesting for Soma. It was added in a patch, two years after the game’s release - and in the interim, the most popular mod for this game was called "Wuss Mode", which provided a similar non-hostile mode to go through and experience the story. Why would so many people play a horror game after removing the danger? What would they get from it?
As it turns out, Soma’s main horror doesn’t come from the monsters - it’s completely existential in origin.
Sometime after the first ten minutes of the game, you awaken in some ruined futuristic station, with robotic monsters roaming the corridors. Scarier than those, though, are the non-monstrous robots - at various points through the game, you meet machines that talk like human beings, can’t see their own bodies, and are convinced they’re completely human. Any attempt to convince them otherwise fails, and the only way you can progress, some of the time, is to hurt or kill the robots. And they react with pain EXTREMELY convincingly.
The central question of the game revolves around identity - what does it mean to be human? If your consciousness could be copied perfectly to any machine, even, say, a toaster, is the toaster as human as you? If it feels, thinks, loves, hates, what makes you more human than it?
And what does it mean for identity if it can be duplicated?
The ending of this game is fantastic, too, fitting in perfectly with the themes and the tone of the whole piece. It’s a worthwhile ride, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the concepts mentioned above.
1. Outer Wilds
Somewhere after the first five hours, I realized Outer Wilds was one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.
Outer Wilds is a game about exploration and discovery. You have a small solar system to explore, with five unique and interesting planets and a whole bunch of sci-fi trickery going on, and the planets change as time progresses. Each planet has a number of ruins from a millenia-old alien race called the Nomai, the members of which all perished in an unknown event.
Outer Wilds is a game about the value of information. Every 22 minutes, the sun in your system goes supernova, and everything in the system is destroyed, including you. A time loop is established, and you return to the beginning of the cycle with all your memories intact - and all you have is the information you collected, all of which help you access areas and tackle dangers in other planets, and, eventually, might even help you break out of the loop.
Outer Wilds is a game about the horrors of space and the melancholy of decay. As you progress through the Nomai ruins, you learn about a unique, vibrant, expressive species, their hopes and aspirations and fears, and the wonders they discovered and accomplished, and you do it over their skeletons in their broken buildings. Time is fleeting, and the universe is vast and uncaring to the existence of life.
Outer Wilds is a game about hope. The universe only has all the meaning you impose upon it, and because there’s no traditional mission structure, you can hop on your ship and go anywhere. You choose where to go, what to learn, and which obstacles to challenge yourself with, and each discovery enriches you with the means to go to even more places and overcome even more obstacles.
Outer Wilds is easily the best time I’ve had with a piece of media in a very long while, and I hope everyone chooses to play it. If you do, though, don’t look up any spoilers. The game is about discovery, both in story and mechanics, and it’s better if you experience everything it has to give by yourself.
You won’t regret it, I promise.