With your host, Rob Remakes

Category: Journal

Simon’s Casual Cat

I’ve never really felt the urgent need to go ducking into a more recent block matching game when despite more than a few attempts from EA to trash it, Bejeweled 3 (or Bejeweled Classic as it is these days) has more than amply filled the niche for me.

However, I’ve been kinda more exhausted than my usual exhausted self (which runs at a baseline of 7 exhaustions out of 10 on a good day) and figured why not, so a quick rummage through Apple Arcade to find something and Simon’s Cat Storytime looked chill enough. One yoink and a few days later and oh sweet baby Molyneux, am I ever glad I grabbed this on Arcade rather than a game in a similar vein because it’s pretty damn evil.

And look, I know I’m the last to know here! I’ve sort of known that mainstream casual has been a shitshow for a while and I remember Em occasionally popping one on here and there when her more usual stuff was a bit too much and complaining about whatever one they gave a go of that time round but still, it’s a pretty grim state of affairs when this is the main face of games to the general public and that face is the face of non-stop exploitation.

Aside from the kinda middle class cute that is Simon’s Cat giving the game the appearance of being more gentle, it’s how absolutely unrelenting it all is. It. Never. Stops.

There’s always another currency to be drained, another temptation, the player perpetually kept on the back foot, another offer, another streak to keep up. Always. Never stopping. Of course the very core of the design has to feed all this so it’s going to be a game that’s happy to put the player on a losing streak, happy to let them churn through coins trying again and again, fighting the random nature of the game, forever convincing the player that this next time, they can totally beat the level and when they don’t? No biggy because it makes a number go down and a number going down amongst all this feeds addictions.

That in game purchases don’t even exist in this Apple Arcade release, it’s remarkable. Even without a way to empty your pockets, here’s a game that still manages to feel expressly exploitative. It’s depressing.

It’s depressing not just because of the sheer exploitation but because the effort that’s gone in to dressing this all up is remarkable. This stuff can’t be done like this – looking and sounding this good – without people spending a lot of time and a lot of money putting it together. Think of how many nice things we could have if that talent and expense wasn’t put to work on something ultimately designed to extract money from punters in the most distracting manner possible.

In some regards, I kinda choose to be perpetually shocked by stuff like this because I don’t want to ever be fine with it. And I’m certainly not implying that this stuff is the domain of casual games only. I mean, FIFA (or whatever EA have decided to call it when you’re reading this) exists, right? Games don’t half like to do some really shitty things. It’s also definitely not new, I’ve just wisely avoided things until I suddenly decided not to.

And yes, I know, I know, “Rob, you remember arcade games, mate?” and of course I do. I know videogames have forever been finding ways of getting someone to empty their pockets but this past decade or so has (much like in everything else, I guess) seen this stuff rocket out of hand.

And yes, I know, I know, “someone in games gets pissy at casual” is an eternal part of videogames. Fair enough, I’ll cop to that. Just think of it as my turn now. And yes, I also know that there’s a whole spectrum of videogames out there, some less, some more exploitative. I’m having a moan here, leave me alone.

Cats deserve better than this crap. Even fictional ones.

Ori And It Gets Results

“Was the feedback given in constructive ways? No. Was the feedback ultimately constructive? Yes,” said one developer, who felt the behavior of the leaders was atrocious but felt mixed in his opinion of the founders because they got results.

from this article on the studio behind the Ori games.

This is the most ass backwards way of looking at what happens when bosses and toxic workplaces damage the people that work there.

I’m not willing to concede that traumatising, upsetting and otherwise abusing workers is worth it if you get a decent videogame at the end of the process because there hasn’t been a videogame yet worth all that. There will never be a videogame worth all that, sorry.

Aside from that…

It is unnecessary. Nobody needs to treat people badly – nobody needs to be cruel – to make a videogame happen. Nobody needs to be broken to make something wonderful. If something wonderful is made, it is made in spite of the cruelty not because of it.

The repercussions, the results, go beyond the one game.

Every time we burn one person out, that’s one person less able to contribute their best to games. Every talented person who leaves games is a loss to videogames future, every person we break or traumatise we leave them less able to bring their “results” to future videogames. We take from videogames more than we gain when we burn through people. For the sake of one game, we jeopardise an unfathomable amount more.

The results are stolen from the future. They’re stolen from somebody’s future. The results are stolen from someone’s health, physical and/or mental. They’re stolen from the relationships, the families, the friends of the people we burn out.

“On balance”, the cruelty just breaks people. That’s never worth it.


Emma Fearon (Mrs Bob / Shabbyshark) 1974-2021

Emma, my friend, my wife, mum to the most incredible kids, her own person, passed away on Saturday. We’re all heartbroken.

Em was the not so invisible hand in my videogame career, the one person I’m proudest to have got to share time on this Earth with – Em was just an amazing person to be around.

For folks who used to frequent the Retro Remakes forums, Em was Mrs Bob. An eternal background presence, the person who even when things were ridiculously tough going for the pair of us, made sure that month in, month out, the place stayed online.

I couldn’t stand the username she chose – she was always more than Mrs Bob, she was Em. She was proud tho, proud to be with me, be by my side and of the community as a whole. To her, Mrs Bob was a way of telling me that I mattered to her. That RR mattered to her. Oh. And for the shits and giggles of tormenting me whilst sitting across the other side of the room, grinning, posting.

I still find it ridiculous, still think it undersold everything she ever did. I don’t think anyone in the community thought for a second that Em wasn’t a huge part of RR existing for as long as it did tho. I think everyone knew. She just liked it all better this way and well, that was that.

Her real passion was in writing tho and she had a wicked way with the written word, playful, cheeky, blunt. Before her health went awry, she had a ball of a time down at a local-ish writing circle with similarly talented folks. If she wasn’t reading, she was writing. If she wasn’t doing either, she was thinking about writing, talking into the night about strands and passages.

Six years ago we’d just finished having the house extended, redecorated, mainly so as to make space for an office she could write in, for a conservatory she could sit in and look out up at the sky and when the sky opened up, listen to the rain hammering off the roof. She loved that.

We’d just finished when her health took a sharp turn for the worst and she never did get to write the stories we’d spend hours discussing. I’ll always be sad that the world didn’t get to see that side of Em outside of a short, affecting, Twine game about abuse and eating disorders.

I have no doubt that if life had bothered to stop happening to us long enough, she’d have wrote some wonderful things – probably about shapeshifting sexy werewolves or something.

(Mind, with apologies because I can’t remember the author or books right now, but somewhere out there people have been reading a couple of quite popular urban fantasy books with a character named after Em starring. Times like this I regret having a forgetful brain and, more so, not having Em to ask and double check.)

That was the amazing thing about getting to spend time with Em though. Her kindness and generosity touched so many that odd things like that would happen.

Even in recent years when she’s been in ridiculous amounts of pain, where we’ve both had so much to get through, she’d still find time to support the local animal rescue somehow, to put her money where her mouth was and lift people up – from local taxi drivers, to folks struggling without a roof of their own over their heads and on. She never stopped giving a shit, she never stopped helping. Couldn’t even manage getting a coffee without making sure there was extra money for a bigger tip or to throw in towards getting someone a hot drink who needed one.

She brought that same love of life, that same belief that some things are just the right things that you need to do – not just talk about – to our home life too. She imbued our kids with a profound sense of what is unjust in this world and how it won’t fix itself. We both did but I always thought Em as the one who’d be one step ahead of me. Mainly because she invariably was.

Em believed in unions, in wanting everyone lifting up so they could thrive, in wanting a world where people can just be themselves in safety, where we you know, try and scorch the Earth a fair bit less so that other people can have a go on it.

That sense of justice was often a sense of sadness too tho, especially over the past decade, especially especially during the pandemic and especially as her inability to do as much as she wanted due to ill health dragged on.

I’m painting a rosy picture here and I am biased, she was my best friend as well as partner. Our life together has never been plain sailing. She was, like me, prone to the most ridiculous fuck ups and whoops moments, Em was human and all that entails, we always said that was the strength in our relationship, the glue that held us together alongside a mutual enjoyment of each other’s company, that we knew each of us could get ourselves in a pickle from the off and accepted each other as who they were.

I never wanted to change Em, Em never wanted to change me. Where would the fun be in that? I mean, we’d have less to talk about and that’d be no good.

Part of the reason all this hurts as much as it does, you know? Decades together, with crappy health and a chaotic life and we somehow managed to find time to still miss each other’s company when apart and to never run out of things to talk about, wrongs we wanted righted, films or whatever we loved, books we’d read.

No shit I’m going to miss her. Em was an amazing person to be around and I’ve always felt privileged to get to share my life with her, even if I remained forever mystified how anyone could walk down the street accumulating a cat following like she would. Taking a walk with Em was like meandering down the road with some sort of Hellboy/Pied Piper crossover.

This probably explains why my first stupid thought when she passed away was “fuck, the cat’s going to kill me for going home without her” and only after that, anything remotely sensible.

The next while is going to be hard. We’ve been struggling for a while now, skint and firefighting too many corners. Rather than getting to fully enjoy what time we had left together, it’s been constant battling to keep our heads above water, to keep the family together and safe. Things are going to be tighter still now it’s just me and the kids.

I’m fairly sure that I’ll forever be sad that things weren’t easier, of the time we wasted on things which we could have spent doing things we enjoyed doing, together. I’ll always be sad that the past five years has been spent surviving with Em in considerable pain and time together growing shorter, money getting tighter, stresses getting more profound.

But if I’m honest, there could never be enough time. There never was. I’ll still always be grateful that I got to spend the best part of my life with the best person I could.

Em, then. Mrs Bob. Shabbyshark. I’m going to fucking miss you and so are the kids and the cats. Even the cats that weren’t ours. Especially the cats that weren’t ours. What on Earth did you do, hypnotise them?

Saints Row

I’ve sort of been going through a phase where I’ve been happily enjoying a whole bunch of videogames but not really being too excited for anything on the horizon after Psychonauts 2.

Partly it’s down to the computer fizzling out so I’m stuck on the PS4 for quite the foreseeable and, not to beat around the bush, a lot of ‘big’ games just don’t really do anything for me.

I’m absolutely not short of anything to play on the thing in the now and for the near future but I invariably only find out whether there’s anything I want on the week they’re released because that’s just sort of how PSN works with smaller games.

It also means I end up with a fair few platform games of varying quality and (thankfully) ones that aren’t a little too frustrating for my tired brain. Unfortunately neon shooters and weird stuff (pretty much my favourite things) is in short supply.

(Also I seem to have an abundance of games with a fox in because that seems to be a thing! Not complaining – nowt wrong with foxes unless you’re wearing your wife’s green kimono early one morning, it just amuses me somewhat)

It’s not exactly a terrible situation but yeah, it has meant that I don’t spend a lot of time actually excited for future games.

So thank Molyneux for the new Saints Row trailer giving me a huge grin and a couple of laugh out loud moments. I enjoyed (and replayed fairly often) Saints Row 3 and 4 but between the all too obvious pressures Volition were clearly under making them and the increasing absurdity, I was also sort of content for them to maybe just go do something else.

Obviously, I would dearly love a this-gen Crackdown meets Prototype yet much, much, sillier because I’m still me but also, I’m fairly happy to have a bit of Saints Row style open world around a cast that’s kinda just great to muck around with.

I get the Watchdog 2 comparisons some have been making and sure, I largely enjoyed my time with the characters in Watchdogs 2 but the game left me cold. Not as cold as the facking hell that was Legion but still, pretty enough game but not my bag in the actually playing it department. Put that sort of Watchdogs 2-ish characterisation through the Saints Row filter and yes please.

So yes, actually properly excited for the new Saints Row and one that hopefully doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart at any moment too. Agents Of Mayhem certainly proved Volition have it in them given time, tech and money so yes, excited.

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