Punching Robots Club

With your host, Rob Remakes

Thinking about that Moose Life (and gathering a lot of years of thoughts in one place)

Giant Haystags.

Embarrassingly, ignoring that I’ve never had the opportunity to play Tempest 3000, Moose Life is the Yak game I’ve played the least of. Before this past few weeks, I’d played it hardly at all.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the quick blast I had on it at release (I was very excited about it), just between post lockdown depression (less about being in lockdown and more about getting a front row seat to how little the country was going to do about COVID) and my own and Em’s health being rough, I could barely muster the energy to play a videogame at length that I couldn’t just sleepwalk through at the time. Yep, even a Llamasoft one.

Looking back on my words at the time where I’m comparing the game to something like Devil Daggers and realising that oops, actually I was just exhausted, sorry.

Let’s try this again, from the top.

Donlan’s words were reassuring, as were James Cunningham’s. There was little chance of me not loving Moose Life when the two people I’m most likely to trust about a new Yak and Giles game were so complimentary. I just had to wait until I could dig in.

And so I waited. Life happened a lot and it took me much longer to get round to investing time in Moose Life than I’d anticipated. Still, two years is hardly the longest I’ve waited to play a videogame! Could be worse.

And you know what? It was absolutely worth the wait. Gosh, it’s the good stuff! (It’s also bloody difficult to screenshot but that’s another story entirely). I might have got a fair bit wrong in my initial excitement but I was at least right that it’s a really good game.

Repeating myself but: Moose Life is one of a handful of Llamasoft games designed (though not exclusively) for VR, the early eighties pure arcade experience but in/on your face. Regrettably, that particular element of the experience is something I can’t comment on as unfortunately my face tends to hurt from just wearing my glasses so wearing VR kit is totally not happening. Mildly gutted I’m unable to sample the game that way, gotta be honest. I can only imagine how exciting it must be to be inside a game like this.

Like the rest of Llamasoft’s recent work, Moose Life is aggressively arcade, violently VidKidz in its visuals. It wears a distinctive aesthetic that mashes up vintage arcade games, the messiness of 8 bit home computer games and today’s technology. I don’t think it’s exactly news at this point that I love that stuff! I may have mentioned it once or twelvety times before.

Jeff’s never been shy of admitting that he and Giles stand on the shoulders of giants – synthesizing the familiar with the uniquely Llamasoft – and the cavalcade of 80’s releases still stand as testament to Jeff being really fucking good at that stuff.

Since the old iPod Minotaur Project games it’s been fantastic watching Jeff and Giles really make this an aesthetic of their own and with each and every subsequent release, stretch it in all directions, explore it, perfect it.

(It’s such a rare thing to get to prod at this stuff in games because we usually burn people out long before they get to do this stuff, before they really get to bring all those years of graft, knowledge and experience to such personal games. We’re lucky in more ways than one that we somehow managed to keep Jeff in and around games, doubly so that Jeff’s talent could be equally met with Giles’ talent in co-authoring the more recent stuff. So please, indulge me a moment here).

T4k is honing the Llamasoft branch of Tempest to perfection, Polybius the great lost post-Blaster 2084 Vidkidz game that never could be, Akka Arrh a study in scoring and control. So what is Moose Life and where does it fit into all this?

I’ve been having a think about that and right now I’m settling on it being the game that belatedly bridges the gap between two eras of a career. I mean this in the most complementary fashion: it’s the Yak game that feels closest to the old 8 bit Llamasoft stuff in spirit.

Not that this is entirely new ground. We’ve been here before, I think, with 2002’s Gridrunner++ (to my mind, the most confident and inspiring of the Gridrunner series of games). The little pocket PC game that sat between the grander console fare of 90’s Yak games and the equally grand in scale new-Llamasoft of Space Giraffe.

If you’ve never played Gridrunner++, you absolutely should go and do that now because it’s fantastic. It’s the game I constantly look to when writing my own stuff and one day when I grow up, I hope to be able to write something as good.

The thing about Gridrunner++ is it helps us draw a continuous line from the 8 bit Yak to the console Yak and back again. The progress, the honing of a personal style, you can see it all come together distinctively for the first time. What you’d later come to expect from a Yak game today is all present in Grirdunner++ – the ridiculous amounts of particles, exploding text, the Llamatron-esque cacophony of sound.

Not that any of this stuff is unexplored territory for Jeff by the time of GR++’s release but fewer commercial and hardware constraints help provide the space needed to refine it all into something distinctly, uniquely, Yak.

There’s no doubting Space Giraffe and (later) Gridrunner Revolution’s place in later helping refine the aesthetics and play though they both feel strangely out of sync. Instead of occupying a mid-career evolutionary ground it’s like they skip straight to the final chapters, fucking around at the extremes and coming up with gold there.

This is absolutely not a bad thing (they’re a pair of amazing games), it just kinda means the mobile Minotaur Project games that released a few years later, themselves heralding a return to more compact (not small!) works, aren’t so much hitting a reset switch as picking back up from where Gridrunner++ left off,

So it’s with all that in mind when I say it belatedly (emphasis on the belatedly, at that) bridges a gap. Moose Life is less a transitional work – which I hope should be obvious from the previous and later games – and more the missing piece of the puzzle, filling in a what if? we never got the opportunity to see.

It’s “what if you could just comfortably muck around like you did on the C64 or whatever except now you have all this experience and a partner to help?” and it’s all the more fantastic for being that, even if I’m fairly sure it’s cheating and very very rude to do it so well.

Ah yes, does Moose Life do it all so well. Moose Life is rather bloody brilliant! Like, you’d hope so after wading through this many words but it is! It absolutely is brilliant.

There’s a dash of Juno First to it, a dash more of Tube Panic, leaping between planes Ancipital/Batalyx style. I could probably pick out inspirations, threads and whatever else all day. (I already had a go when I first wrote about it and somehow came up with different ones, there’s a lot there!). For what appears to be a fairly straightforward blast, it doesn’t half wear its heritage and influences with pride, never pastiche

More than anything else though, it’s a shooter to kick back to, a game hyperfocused on the joy of flying through this three dimensional arcade space and exploding things.

It’s smartly designed to let the player never really have to think too hard about the game (unless they really want to), to not really stress about scores and feel any pressure, instead just lean in to the joy. Something I can only (enviously) imagine being amplified by it also working in VR.

That’s not to say things don’t get pretty full on, they absolutely do. The game is happy to let the player coast along with it for a fair old while regardless and if the player really can’t be bothered with the more traditional videogamey parts then the freeride mode exists and they can just keep on going without the game really caring.

Whilst I think on! I’m a huge fan of freeride/tourism modes in games anyway. They’re great for accessibility reasons and I’d encourage their inclusion for that reason alone! An oft unsung bonus is that sometimes I just really want to admire a videogame for everything else it is, not just how it plays. I’ve always been like this and used pokes, multiface number tweaking, trainers and all that stuff. It’s why I love photo modes too (and jukeboxes and level skips and and and). I love the craft and graft people put in to make these things exist and just let me lose myself to that, yeah?

I’ve gone on long enough, I think. Visiting Moose Life a few years on and I’m quite made up with it. Time has given me the opportunity to see where it fits in the grander scheme of videogames, to calm my excitement and find a new, longer term, joy in it.

Most importantly to me, it cements my respect even further for the path Jeff and Giles tread in games. Arcade games are deceptively difficult things to get right and having a near 40 year run of great and/or fascinating ones is a remarkable feat.

I’ll forever be sad videogames rarely grants that opportunity to people here but equally, I’m damn grateful for the ones who stick it out regardless.

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Top 5: Things that could go wrong with Nintendo’s follow up to the Nintendo Switch.

A fancily dressed skeleton with a fine pipe and hat introduces the top 5, an occasional series of lists of 5 things not to be taken entirely seriously.
  1. It’s filled with lizards.
  2. The game cards are 100% edible this time round.
  3. Nintendo add a little flap on the rear that occasionally comes loose and pours nuclear waste onto your lap, immediately zombifying you and bringing everyone one step closer to both the zombie apocalypse and having their brains eaten.
  4. Entering the Konami code on the home screen irreversibly increases the price of videogames on the eShop by ten pounds each time and airdrops a random U2 album onto your SD card.
  5. The joycons take design inspiration from eXistenZ and due to EU regulations around the right of repair, it is possible to fix joycon drift at home using your own teeth (or someone else’s teeth, may void warranty if incorrectly sized teeth are used in place of Official Nintendo Seal Of Approval Teeth™. Nintendo does not encourage or condone the acquisition of teeth by illegal means). Key resellers add organ marketplaces to their websites for other replacement parts and the new USBI intestinal charging cable leads to an intestine shortage.

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Look At It! Space Giraffe (Xbox 360)

A hi res screenshot of Space Giraffe.

I figured that whilst I was off taking some pictures of Every Extend Extra Extreme, might as well grab a handful of super hi res pictures of Space Giraffe. You know, in case I ever need one or twenty to admire.

I’m still largely of the opinion that the game is an absolute masterpiece (though my skills are more than a tad rusty if today’s efforts are anything to go by), it’s just so aggressively videogame. It is 30 years of arcade games all happening at the same time.

So much effort has gone in to making something seem so completely visually wild and out of control, comprehensively engineered and tweaked for hours upon hours to maintain the illusion of a videogame that never, ever knows when something is enough.

What an incredible, time consuming, trick. Because of course, at the helm are Jeff and Giles, deciding where enough lies. It is always one or more steps above where videogames ordinarily settle, it is as much Douglas Trumbull in a KLF fever dream as it is a synthesis of the videogame arcade, yet it is deliberate and study it for a moment and that deliberateness is glaringly obvious. As obvious in the art as in the mechanics, the scoring, the cacophony of sound telegraphing threats, good play and the throb of a rave accompanying each round.

Chaos, then. But designed. Intentional. Purposeful. Raw.

And so fucking beautiful.

Huge pictures after the cut, feel free to nick them if you need them for owt.

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Look At It: Every Extend Extra Extreme (Xbox 360)

Lordy, playing Akka Arrh recently reminded me that Every Extend Extra Extreme existed and it’s still such an incredible looking thing around 15 years on. Absolutely inscrutable from screenshots but makes perfect sense whilst playing! In other words, the perfect kind of videogame.

It kinda reviewed okay at the time (tho Eurogamer gave it a right kicking) but seems to be one of those XBLA releases that’s largely forgotten about. Bit of a shame because playing it again for the first time in a very long time and it’s still a bloody great game.

Outside of the Revenge mode which lets you play a twin stick variation on the game it’s a matter of the player spawning onto the screen, being given a brief moment of immunity to line their shot up and/or collect any power ups then before that immunity runs out exploding themselves in order to cause the longest, silliest, chain reaction for big money scores.

And oh my, the chain reactions are long and very very silly and the scores are so very very big. It’s ace. Completely over the top, text and colours all over the place, chains that can go on for obscene lengths of time. A sensory delight first, a game kinda sorta adjacent to that.

Yeah, sure, it’s a simple beast of a videogame and far, far from taxing but sometimes I just want to make pretty colours and shapes happen and look at a really big number.

Mind you, I can’t believe the original Every Extend is nearly twenty years old now! Cripes. This indie lark doesn’t half make time fly.

Massive pictures below the cut.

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Read: The Elder Scrolls 6, PC Gamer

I had to painstakingly empty my inventory after accidentally hitting “take all” on thousands of pounds of real-world firearms and rooting myself in place with encumbrance. Dwemora and Oblivion were the highlights for me, though I appreciated stupidcatgirl’s nuanced and culturally sensitive portrayal of England, complete with the aforementioned Eldritch and a place called “Greggs” that they apparently really like over there?

Ted Litchfield, PC Gamer

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to never underestimate the amount of time someone will spend on making a shitpost as a videogame and just how absurd the results will be. I love it and I hope people never stop.

Anyway, so by my reckoning this here beast of a Morrowind mod is actually The Elder Scrolls 6 for real and legally Bethesda are obliged to pick back up at 7, unless someone sneaks 7 in before them too. I haven’t checked this with a lawyer but I asked the cat and she said yes, that’s how it works and there is no way she would ever lie to me.

She also told me that we’re in a parallel timeline where Morrowind was the last Elder Scrolls game and every Elder Scrolls since has also been an expansion pack for Morrowind. 20 years of Morrowind after Morrowind.

She tells me a lot of things, my cat. She’s good like that.

I downloaded ‘The Elder Scrolls 6’ but I’m starting to think it might not really be The Elder Scrolls 6 | PC Gamer
Ah, the wait is finally over. The Elder Scrolls 6, here at last, and a full six months before Starfield to boot. All my favorites are here: The Master Chief John 117, An immortal destruction golem pow

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Watch: R-Type (Chinnyvision Episode 500)

There’s not really a lot to say about R-Type that hasn’t already been covered elsewhere but watching Chinny run through a bunch of the home computer and early console ports and gosh, what a remarkably grand batch of ports they are. (Astoundingly, the exemplary PCEngine version only gets a passing mention and they’re still all grand.)

Obviously, I’ve been around long enough to know that they’re a grand bunch but it’s only seeing them back to back where it’s really sunk in just what a stellar job pretty much everyone did on them. Not one duffer is incredibly rare and precious stuff!

Belated well done and then some to everybody. Good job, all!

Oh, and the obligatory link to Bob Pape’s copious words on their Speccy port which is a lovely read. It’s actually illegal to talk about home ports of R-Type and not pass it on so you know what to do.

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Read: How To Make Small Good Games.

I want you to have fun making games you think are good. I want you to have radical pride in your work, even when the ugly systems that shape our lives tell you your stories are worthless. Because that journey is fun as hell. It’s life-changing, in a small way, to share art that you’re proud of, to see it resonate with others..

John Thyer, How To Make Small Good Games

For various reasons, lately I’ve been thinking a fair bit about how much small game advocacy has given way to business advice.

That there is a beautiful, thriving world of small videogames being made is an obviously wonderful thing for me, I’ve been arguing for years now that we live in an absolutely bountiful time for videogames and yet advocacy for bringing more people into games (not the games industry) is increasingly difficult to find and distribute (and to be fair, to justify at times also).

I mean, I understand these are difficult times for a lot of us. Videogames have become a potential route to surviving as other opportunities to make any money become more out of reach. In that context especially, I can understand how we get to where we are.

And, of course, the internet has changed a lot since the last determined go round where we renivented new games but somewhat digital. Time has passed, RSS has been sidelined and so too have blogs. The internet is a crueller place that lots of awful people get to treat as their playground. There’s plenty of reasons the dream of “everyone who wants to make a game should be able to” has become murkier, things less inviting.

2023 is harsh, basically.

ANYWAY! My own personal manifesto would be a whole lot more scattershot than the one John Thyer has constructed. Having been around the block a few times now I’ve had ample time to work out my preferences. None the less, there’s a lot of good stuff in John’s piece – especially if you’re just thinking “maybe I could make a game” for the first time.

That quote I pulled out at the top of this piece though? That’s everything.

Far Away Times: How To Make Good Small Games

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Top 5: Music Films

A fancily dressed skeleton with a fine pipe and hat introduces the top 5, an occasional series of lists of 5 things not to be taken entirely seriously.
  1. Honey, I Shrunk The Kinks
  2. Big Country For Old Men
  3. Fiend Without The Faces
  4. The Abbadook
  5. The 39 Steps

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Read: “Final Fantasy 16 demonstrates that sometimes an accessibility menu is better” on Eurogamer

the changes these rings implement are the exact features many disabled players need. Intended or not, this has already become an accessibility issue.

Geoffrey Bunting, Eurogamer

Having read the absurd reasoning for limiting the accessibility features in this way, I would not be as kind as Geoffrey Bunting is over on Eurogamer. It’s frankly embarrassing to have a grown ass man talking about their “gamer pride” as some sort of strength or virtue, doubly so to be used to justify the most needlessly restrictive and arsey way of implementing any accessibility at all.

The amount of extra work that goes in to a system like this vs a toggle is not slight either! I’d say it’s a complete self own, except games aren’t made by one person so it’s more just creating needless work for people just to make things worse for everyone else. Shameful really.

A reminder then that bodies break, illness happens, situations change and everyone is only ever a short hop away from their abilities changing. Ability isn’t something you can safely assume to be at a consistent level or a permanent state.

Temporary disability is a thing. Circumstances can easily shift too – having a kid about the place or whatever can shift your normal, what you can comfortably do without assistance. Life happens and it’s silly to pretend it doesn’t.

Not fighting against accessibility is as much an investment in future you as it is increasing the number of folks who can use a thing.

It’s a shame then that as the industry has been making great strides regarding accessibility features there’s still faintly influencial people in games coming out with this nonsense. Very videogames though. Very videogames.

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Read: Liz Ryerson’s “The California Problem”

if you are not interrogating more deeply how norms created by the markets that produce these rules, you are just giving the game industry a complete license to define what kind of experience is valid and what isn’t. this has much more serious implications when it comes to the ability for experiences to exist that would never be able to be made by large studios

Liz Ryerson, The California Problem

A long read from Liz that touches on – and discusses – the problems surrounding a vast number of interconnected things plaguing videogames. I wouldn’t even want to do it the injustice of trying to summarize it either.

As ever, Liz does a fantastic job of pinpointing things and cutting through the bullshit that videogames does rather like to indulge in. There’s a few points here and there where I’d say my own stance diverges a tad from Liz’s (and it is just a tad) but that’s for me to mull over, not a slight on this incredibly excellent and thoughtful essay.

It’s an essential, excellent, read. I’ve been super grateful for Liz’s contributions to games over the years and, well, nothing has changed there. Grab a drink and snack and do give this a read and if you have some spare cash, please consider Liz’s patreon.

\\………..//: The California Problem

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