We don’t see Mars as a beautiful planet in its own right. We don’t see Mars as something that has existed alongside our planet for longer than life has existed. We don’t see Mars as worthy of preserving.
True story! I’ve spent a lot of effort over the years in carefully curating a complete ignorance of celebrities and the rich (as Prowsey once wrote, “as far as I’m concerned, the rich should not even be spoken to”) so I’d successfully managed to avoid finding out what an Elon Musk even was for absolute ages.
The first I’d really registered the dude as even existing came on a day where a bunch of people were sharing a video of him banging on about sending people to Mars and they were all “pick me, Space Karen” about it. Except it was abundantly clear he was pretty much talking about sending people off to go and do the lugging for the rich and the lucky chosen folk would likely die into the bargain. (Not that he was talking anything feasible or realistic that could lead to a bunch of people being popped on a rocket to Mars to be slaves to billionaires but like that’s ever stopped anyone on the internet from getting excited).
Obviously after all these years I’m now used to how weird people get over Space Karen and fully aware that there’s a bunch of folk who’d sit in a burning Tesla being ejected into the sun if they thought it might ensure Space Karen might notice them for a second. At the time though I was really confused. Like, why? Why are you like this? This is not a good deal, you know?
In fairness, I still don’t know why they’re like this but I have come to terms with the fact that some people just are.
Anyway. Mars! Go read Zach and see if you can fit in some Scarlet Traces afterwards.
I’d completely forgotten I’d bought this until a recent browse through Nindie Spotlight caused me to stumble back upon it. I’ve spent a fair while with it tonight and… yeah, it’s alright.
If you’ve played the already immensely successful Vampire Survivors then you’ll already have a good idea of what you’re getting into with Void Scrappers. If not, it’s as good a starting place for this type of game as any, really. Stuff and things are all present and correct, you know?
If you’re new to this sort of thing, the currently rather popular genre is kind of a more approachable play on the arcade arena shooter. They’re dead easy to get started with because for the bulk of the game, you’re only really required to move the ship/hero/whatever around. Firing is taken care of so just tootle around the rather generously sized arena avoiding the enemies, ensuring you get close enough often enough to take them out without running headfirst into them.
The initial moments tend to be gentle and sparse so there’s plenty of time to get used to things. When you knock out an enemy there’s a chance they’ll leave behind some scrap to collect, collecting the scrap fills a bar up. When the bar is full, the game gives you the option to choose one of three power ups. Pick one, power up, try and fill the next bar to do it over again. That, largely, is it. Like I say, it’s pretty approachable stuff.
Of course, there’s wrinkles. Void Scrappers is an especially gentle take on the genre for the most part so the difficulty ramps up quite slowly and games can take quite a fair chunk of time to work through as a result. This is where we come to the two tricks synonymous with the genre! As time goes on, the amount of enemies on the map increases. Yeah, the increase is at a fairly leisurely pace but still, there will be a lot of enemies on screen as a game progresses. Huge amounts of the things.
Now, whereas a more traditional arcade game would be content to let the player wing it as best they can (think how brutal something like Geometry Wars gets as the arena crowds), the other trick the genre has up its sleeve is to let the player build up a ridiculously overpowered arsenal of weapons. To excess.
It’s not a genre enamoured with keeping the player on the backfoot, the player rapidly becoming a whirling bringer of particle death is the whole point. For me, that’s the part that makes the genre vastly more approachable than most other arcade arena shooter games, they’re beyond generous in what they let the player become, they’re a spectacle too and -importantly- not in a rush to kill the player off. They’re chill. Ish.
The genre thrives on the tension between the player being an absurdly loaded killing machine with weapons, explosions, whatever going off all over the shop and the sheer amount of baddies that assault them as time goes on. The choice of 3 power ups when the bar fills up means there’s a neat element of randomness to exactly what arsenal the player carries each play, how fast, how frequent and how deadly each individual weapon is.
Personally, I’m always going to prefer my arena shooters a bit more on the immediate side but I have to admit, the setup makes for a rather lovely portable game experience. I can certainly see why Vampire Survivors has found its success alongside the Steam Deck, let’s put it that way. Sure enough, I lost a good few hours to a couple of rounds of Void Scrappers (yep, each go does take a chunk of time) and it’s a fine space-y example of the genre.
The problem, for me at least, is always going to be that the dopamine hit from a spreadsheet design of these things depresses me more than it excites me. I’ve never been convinced that compulsion is one of the primary goals of game design, a game that keeps you playing isn’t admirable! It’s kinda offensive to want to entrap players!
As the past decade or so has seen this sort of design (through the poorly named “roguelike” moniker and through live service games taking MMO design to its extreme) bleed into an enormous amount of games, I’ve found myself retreating more and more into games that don’t pull this crap on me. Fortunately these are bountiful times and finding games that avoid this nonsense isn’t the heavingly great task it could be.
I won’t pretend I don’t get a bit sad when I stumble into a game I would probably love were it made a decade and a bit ago before the fixation on this stuff took hold, I also won’t pretend I don’t have a handful I do return to every now and then (hello Destiny 2), as ever this stuff is messy and so am I.
But still. I want to find my zone in a game, not have the game try to own my time. Your mileage may vary, natch.
I have a lot of time for Volume (and the stuff Mike Bithell and his collaborators put out there in general) and Talen takes a few brief moments to detail just a few reasons why they too appreciate it.
I’m pretty much on board with all Talen’s points in the vid so hopefully, if you haven’t yet given Volume a punt then this all might tempt you somewhat. Honestly, it’s a really lovely game and its heart is in the right place at that.
Alongside all that though, I’m a huge admirer of how Mike and team know exactly where to focus their expertise to make compact and focused games feel more expansive, more expensive, than they are and Volume is an early masterclass in that and much like with Bithell’s first indie venture, Thomas Was Alone*, it still looks and sounds pretty remarkable all these years on as a result.
If you enjoy this vid, do give the rest of Talen’s vids a look over and they also have a Patreon if you can spare a few coppers.
*to my eternal shame, during its development I was initially sceptical about Mike’s pitch to include voice acting in Thomas Was Alone. You know, Thomas Was Alone, the game so many people now remember for its lovely voice acting! I realise that if I’m going to be wrong then I might as well go all in and be massively wrong but still, c’mon Rob! There’s wrong and then that.
(I can’t remember what games industry nonsense I was reading through a few days back that brought this video essay back into mind and to be fair, it doesn’t really matter either. Whatever it was, I’m sure videogames will do it again because videogames can’t ever stop)
I am eternally wary of any argument that posits videogames at the top of a cultural food chain, especially when the argument as to why pretty much inevitably comes down to “because you can press buttons” (though the language is usually way, way, more flowery and/or TED-talky). The idea that they are empathy generators but not only that, are THE superior form of empathy generator – as various folks in the industry trot out regularly – is ridiculous and Sam punctures that within the first few minutes of their essay.
What follows is a lovely study of The Last Guardian, how the relationship between Trico (the cat griffin furry chum) and the player works, weaving all this into a chat about what empathy is and how you – the player – bring your empathy to games rather than it being a gift bestowed on you by videogames and why this matters.
I’m doing the essay a great injustice in that summary there, partly because I want you to watch Sam’s video yourself and partly because as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m a bit under the weather and thinking is hard. Sorry, Sam (and readers!).
Also of note! If you enjoy this video essay and you have a few quid spare, Sam has a Patreon you can contribute to.
so yeah, i don’t believe everybody will start running to play interactive fiction titles if they’re slapped on billboards at Times Square. even if they did, it won’t solve the recognition problem: everyone wants to see their efforts recognized in some form or another. instead, criticism should help murder the commodity fetishism and let people see the games as true craftsmanship
I’m a bit under the weather right now so please excuse that I don’t have much more to say (because thinking in a straight line is hard), but being someone whose own work exists in a niche, I appreciated a lot of the thoughts in the post.
Since the release of No Man’s Sky in 2016, I’ve accumulated a lot of pictures of the thing. Since 2018, I’ve been sharing them to the NoMansShots Twitter feed but with Twitter being somewhere I don’t really want to be now since Musk’s takeover and subsequent trashing, I had to have a good long think about a) whether I wanted to continue what’s largely a post- only account whilst the thing falls apart and b) what to do about the few thousand picture archive.
In the grand scheme of things, the internet losing some screenshots of a very heavily screenshotted videogame that’s not only still being sold but still being worked on is hardly the greatest loss ever. I sincerely doubt most people would notice or care if they all disappeared tomorrow. I do care though.
I care because it’s a game I still get a great deal of pleasure out of, it’s a game I’m just starting to find time for the latest gen version of in-between what feels like rolling crises and shitty health. And with regards to the screenshots, it’s a game I still enjoy just looking at pictures of. With all that in mind, I figured I better find a home for these here pics.
The archive runs into around 28 gig as the bulk have been taken on a PS4 Pro. They’re not small! So after mulling over some of the other options, I’ve settled on uploading them all to Flickr and when I get a brief moment here and there, sorting them out a bit.
I’ve tried to catch dupes, shots that resulted from cat wrestling and ones where the UI is present and it shouldn’t be – I’ve probably missed quite a few though.
I kept them round for me, mainly. That said, if anyone does have a use for any or just needs a picture of No Man’s Sky for some reason, well, here you go. Use them for whatever, there’s one or two to choose from.
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.
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.
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.
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.