Guest Post: Story-telling, dating pigeons and homoeroticism: weirdest indie computer games Pt. 1

Today’s words are brought to you by the talented Angie Hewitt. Follow her on Twitter and watch her on Twitch. Enjoy!

hatoful-boyfriend

Think of computer games, and what comes to mind? Call of Duty, Super Mario, or World of Warcraft? These sorts of big studio titles are well-known, but gaming has always had an indie side. Efforts have been made to unite the two: the highly anticipated No Man’s Sky promised to be the first big budget game with an indie aesthetic and endless exploration. However, the mixed reviews reveal the inevitable disappointment that comes with a hype-culture, a world where zealous fans send death threats to journalists for the crime of reporting a delayed release date.

Despite the industry’s problems, I enjoy playing games; I recently did a 24 hour game marathon for charity, and was lucky enough to have some strange titles to choose from, all on my console. Indie gaming has become a popular business, and part of this may be down to consumer boredom with the same old narratives in more mainstream games. It could also come from platforms like Steam Greenlight, where you can tout a game in the hope people will like what they see and vote for it to be made and released. There’s some utter dross out there, too, and more than a little controversy about a lack of quality control; however, there seem to be more games than ever trying to capture the weary audience’s attention or, better yet, a YouTuber looking for something weird to play.

YouTubers have been doing Let’s Play videos for years and increasingly search the fringe for something original. It pays to stand out when surrounded by clones of Uncharted or Fallout. For those unfamiliar with Let’s Plays, the premise is simple: a YouTuber captures footage of them playing a computer game, often with voiceover and on-screen video of their reactions. For the uninitiated, it may sound odd to derive enjoyment from watching someone else play a game, but many tune in for the YouTuber’s entertaining commentary. Don’t knock it:  PewDiePie makes quite a good living from his unique style of play, with a reported net worth of $12 million.

If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track, here are a handful of games which aim to deliver something different, even if that means not being to everyone’s taste…

Succulent

I could write an entire post about Robert Yang’s games, and perhaps, God-willing, one day I shall. Yang is one of the most interesting creative minds to come out of the games industry in recent years. Whilst at first glance his games seem silly or merely titillating, they often have a deeper meaning. Hurt Me Plenty, for example, may just look like a game where you spank a dude, but it slowly reveals itself to be a thought-provoking take on consent.

Succulent is intended as a parody of ‘homo hop’, and the idea that male gay bodies should all conform to a certain type (toned, white, abs for days). The gameplay is simple: “Castro clone” stands before you, an ice lolly in his mouth. Your job is to move the lolly around as he sucks on it. That’s it. Oh, and then the guy also consumes other… things. Play the game and then check out Yang’s blog for an insight into his thought processes (don’t read before playing as it contains ending spoilers!!!). Succulent is available to download for pay what you want.

Virginia and Gone Home

One of the most recent releases on this list, Virginia is part of a sub-genre of gaming often referred to as exploration games, sometimes less charitably called ‘walking simulators’. They are usually short (around 2 hours long), with minimal action required (press X here, walk there), and the focus is on the narrative. Virginia is a prime example of this. You are an FBI agent in the 1990s, sent to a little U.S. town to solve a missing persons case. However, you have your own secrets to reveal, and they’re not always pleasant ones. The twist? There is no dialogue throughout the entire story, and part of the joy is working out what the hell is going on. The game reminded me of Twin Peaks with its dream sequences, and there was more than a sly nod at an X Files influence. Play it if you can; it’s definitely an interesting experience.

A quick shoutout to Gone Home as well – another game set in the 90s, your role is to walk around your childhood home and uncover the mysteries within your family. Unlike Virginia, it has dialogue provided through diaries, letters, phone messages and voice recordings. This interactive story takes time to build characters, making you care about this supposedly everyday family before you even realise it’s happening.

Though your main task is to find out what’s happened to your little sister, the father was a surprise: he proved to be a more subtle and rewarding character than initially presented. You won’t necessarily get all the subtext straightaway, but clues about the father’s past, and what drives him, are peppered throughout.

Hatoful Boyfriend

From one unique experience to another…

Hatoful Boyfriend is based around the visual novel genre popular in Japan. Again narrative-focused, it’s more like watching a story unfold based on your choices. However, there are multiple endings (HB has about 14) and the point is to play through the game again and again, making different decisions to unlock the different outcomes. These kinds of games are usually dating sims, where you’re trying to pick which boy or girl to romance.

Hatoful Boyfriend takes the idea of the dating sim and puts a new spin on it. For reasons neither Jesse Cox nor I understood, you are a human girl at a school for birds. Yes. You are trying to romance birds. Talking birds, no less, ranging from a puffy aristocrat, to a deranged athlete obsessed with pudding.

Don’t ask why because it will not tell you, at least, not at first. The storylines are often bizarre and surprising; if you don’t make the correct choices, a ninja comes to murder you in the night, meaning you have to start all over. However, stick with it: a strange narrative emerges. You get a glimpse of this during a sequence where you’re travelling. There is meant to be a section unlocked if you successfully romance the ‘bad boy’ characters (helpfully called the ‘Bad Boy’ storyline), which reveals how the world came to be in this state. I’ve yet to complete it, but God speed, pigeon fanciers!

Journey

Another exploration game of sorts, Journey stole my breath away. It is, visually, one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. You are a traveller on a journey, with the ability to flutter along the wind. As you fly around, music soars as well, creating a sense of joy and adventure.

The puzzles are interesting, though may not be challenging enough for some, especially as other, silent players will show up to demonstrate what to do next. That’s fine, though; it just means you get to spend more time appreciating the style and feel of the desert world. It is one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played, and thoroughly charming. At less than a tenner, it’s well worth your time.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015

Not a game I’ve personally played, but one I’ve watched, SWYDS (because I’m not typing that out every time) is a fast-paced arcade game which sounds creepier than it is. The idea is simple: some 8-bit dads and sons are at a swimming pool (I guess?), but the sons are lost. You must guide and match the right son up to their dad and… yeah.

A somewhat subversive take on quick-reaction games, there’s a healthy sprinkling of dad jokes in here and reviewers have said it’s highly addictive as the difficulty increases. SWYDS is going for 79p on Steam at the moment, which sounds like a bargain to me.

The Bunker

Horror games are a staple of YouTube Let’s Plays, where players get to demonstrate their reactions to jump scares and creepiness for the audience’s viewing pleasure. The Bunker had proven a popular choice, partly for its horror storyline, but also for its visual style.

The Bunker is a psychological horror, and a fairly bleak one. Harking back to the 90s, this is a FMV game (i.e. based around filmed video, where clips play after buttons have been pressed and choices made). You guide John, a man who has grown up in a bunker after a strongly implied nuclear disaster has taken place. Now an adult and the only survivor, he’s all alone…right?

I enjoyed this whilst I played it, even if the gameplay did feel more like an interactive movie. The writing is solid and the central performance of Adam Brown as John is outstanding, looking perpetually like a lost schoolboy with too many secrets. The tense, claustrophobic atmosphere ramps up as things go wrong, and you start to wonder exactly what John has seen, or done.

That’s part 1 for now. In part 2, I’ll be looking at Reigns, The Stanley Parable, Life is Strange, The Room (a game based on the infamous cult film) and Goat Simulator.

A Few Bizarre, Gothic, Psychedelic Or Paranormal Full Length Shows From 90s British TV

Pip pip, what what and other meaningless phrases. Here are a few full length episodes of ‘documentaries’ from my distant memories. It seems to me that the 90s developed an obsession with the odd in all it’s forms, from Fortean Times to sun, moon and star decorations (which of course I had as wallpaper). Perhaps my memory is biased because I lapped it up like a crazy cat, but here are my favourites IN FULL!

Sacred Weeds. There were four episodes in this series: Blue Lily, Henbane, Salvia Divinorum and Fly Agaric Mushroom. They were fascinating for a couple of reasons; firstly for the study on natural drugs, secondly for the stubbornness of  the scientists who very rarely if at all change their minds and thirdly for the sheer oddness of suited men and women questioning people tripping their tootsies off. Here’s the Henbane episode, thought to have been taken by witches:

For an added treat here’s Salvia Divinorum

BBC Weird Night. Back in 1994 the BBC had a ‘weird night’ which became legendary in my mind, partly because there’s almost no information on it and the programmes were never shown again. It will always have a special place in my mind as a defining moment of weirdness setting me on a particular path with my fiction. I personally don’t believe in the paranormal anymore, but it’s still a fun watch if only to bask in 90s tastic weirdness. Also of note, follow the link above to see which films, including David Lynch, were shown after the programmes.

Fortean Review of the Year (1994)

The next was WSH, The Myth of the Urban Myth. Urban myths are fascinatingly grotesque, and this show weaves drama with genuine experts discussing them from all angles:

Weird Thoughts. Continuing Weird Night, here’s a gathering of ‘experts’ in the bowels of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum discussing the meaning of weird. I love this because the London museum was the destination of mine and Bill’s second date:

This is slightly cheating as this programme was first broadcast in 2002, but the image of a kitty cat drug orgy was burned onto my retinas. Here’s Weird Nature, Peculiar Potions:

A Few New (To Me) Innovative And Alternative Fashion Designers

I was perusing clips of London Alternative Fashion Week (admittedly a couple of years old now) and Brighton Fashion Week and happened upon a few I found very interesting.

Love these new (ish) clothes kittens or hate them, you can’t deny they’ll stick in your mind.

First is Jylle Navarro, somehow bringing punk, zombies and 90s rave to knitwear. This first clip is from Alternative Fashion Week and the beginning features a lot of standing around so you may want to skip on a bit:

This next clip from Brighton Fashion Week is probably the liveliest runway/rave/alien/fashion thing I’ve seen, however I’ve not seen many so let me know of any others:

And lastly here she is being interviewed at the London art cafe and shop for groovy kids Cult Mountain:

Next is the rather cute Wonderland collection from Victoria Bramwell, seen a bit first at London Alternative Fashion Week:

And more fully at The El Rey Theatre. The camera’s vantage point is a little unfortunate, almost looking up the model’s dresses, but at least you can see all the outfits:

Freya Von Bulow makes apocalyptic dresses out of tissue paper! Here’s a short interview with her:

And her show:

Here are some vintage frills and embroidered gas masks by Gemma McDonald:

And lastly here are some angry industrial aliens by Katarzyna Konieczka

Easy DIY vintage and alternative fashion and hair tutorials

It’s the New Year! OK it’s been the new year for a little while but I heard lots of birds today and it made me think of spring, therefore it only really became new year properly for me today. You know what I mean. And a new year means a new look. Sometimes. Well, the magazines keep telling me this and they wouldn’t lie, would they?

Anyway… after you’ve read the article I posted a while ago on looking and feeling vintage, here are various tutorials you may find useful. From everyone’s favourite make up muse Edie Sedgwick to modern gothic, from 20s flapper to hippie/metal/whatever dreadlocks, punk to steampunk and blacklight parties it’s all right here. Hooray!

First, because I used to have dreadlocks and I still love them, is a how to:

If real dreads are too much of a frightening commitment, here’s how to do them in wool:

Next up some gothicness. Here is MissChievous’ make-up tutorial:

The ‘Tim Burton’ look from Michelle Phan:

Antimony and Lace is a site dedicated to tutorials on do it yourself goth clothes, and Goth.net is a community site for sharing clothes tips and the like.

Quite a sweet tutorial for rock types on making shredded leggings. My favourite part was the cat:

Here’s a wiki how on making your own punk clothes.

Who wouldn’t want to dye their hair rainbow?!:

The ‘Queen of Blending’ shows us how to perfect the drag queen/faerie/bizarre look:

‘Pixiwoo’ provides tips on getting the look of the lady who inspired many alternative fashion fanatics, Edie Sedgwick:

And here’s a little blog post on her general look. Check the bottom for links to articles about her.

‘The Cherry Dollface’ shows us a 50s hairstyle, picked from her many vintage tutorials:

Steampunk stuff is expensive and complicated, right? Not necessarily:

Get the flapper look:

And her make up:

Finally here is the mookychick guide to setting up a blacklight room.

Well, there we have it, quite a number of top tips for the average alternative type. May you have a jolly old time with it this year. Good byee!

Bizarre fashion predictions from the distant past (some intentional, some not)

Well hello! Icicles hang from the trees outside (unless you’re in Australia, in which case I still can’t get my head round your weather, now sort it out). With the festive party season drawing near I’m sure everyone is wondering what to wear, and as I may have mentioned I love unusual and alternative fashion.

Why not take the old advice and learn from history? They appear to have had a spooky pre-knowledge for what the catwalks of today hold.

Before Lady Gaga was even a concept of a twinkle in the eye, this bacon sporting Bacongentleman from 1894 and hardware displaying banner-girllady from the 1890s were strutting the streets. Of course, the man is taking part in a fancy dress party and the lady is a ‘banner woman’ for a hardware shop, but this diminishes nothing.

This 1917 May Queen must have seen My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding in her sleep: May

Next up Big Brother was watching the Georgians long before Orwell or (sigh) that TV programme that will not end.

Apparently owning a small framed picture of someone’s eye on your person was quite in vogue, though they had very different meanings in France and England.

To the French it symbolised watchfulness, whereas to the English it was usually a token of love: georgian-eye-jewellery

OK enough fannying about (it’s an English expression in case you’re unfamiliar), now for the serious stuff.

These billiant predictions appeared in The Strand magazine (very prestigious London publication) in 1893.

They’re all fascinating and the designers have used the past as inspiration. I fashion-predictionsrecommend you have a jaunt on over to the original post of this even if you don’t the others, but I think this one obscurely deciding that society will form a medieval circus is my favourite:

Finally I absolutely love this news item from the 1930s. Designers collaborated to predict what we would be wearing in 2000. Ooh, swish!

Songstresses and burlesque queens: Five unusual ladies

I’ve had to interview various unusual and creative ladies for magazines and it got me thinking about a few that people may not have heard of, but would like to.

I’m on some pretty heavy painkillers (have a read of my post on endometriosis) so forgive me if I don’t make much sense…

The first two are musical. I like ethereal music ladies such as Bat For Lashes and CocoRosie, and two singers/musicians I came across in the last few years have caught my interest.

Anneka Snip lives in Brighton and has collaborated with electronica artists like Milanese, Blue Daisy and Ital Tek.

Kid A (or Annie T) is an American lady who is currently on tour with Scroobius Pip. Have a listen:

Next up is a cabaret artist known as Missy Macabre. A one woman vintage burlesque freak show, I interviewed her about a short comedy/horror film she appeared in called Annabelle’s Tea Party. Have a look at her in action:

Next we have comedy burlesque performer Fancy Chance. I was sent to review The Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus and she was very entertaining:

In the same show was Lucifire, the lead stunt woman. Amongst other things she ate glass, walked on it and made me chuckle (the gentleman onstage is her husband and fellow performer Professor Tusk):

Just as an added bonus here’s Bat for Lashes doing Horse and I at Shepherd’s Bush, London:

5 Reasons a spooky creative brain prefers winter

It’s that time again (almost). When a headless coachman appears out of the mist to take you to the cursed castle, and charges you double time on Saturdays (“But you went the long way round those crumbling gravestones”).

Nothing like a cup of haunted tea to warm the cockles

The good thing about being a creative type is that you can do anything and claim it as research: “What do you mean you spent the day watching the Twilight Zone?” “Shut up it’s research.”

So here are a few small reasons winter is best for anyone who likes to dally in the darkened spaces of art or literature or…something else.

1. Halloween. Yes, yes, it’s all commercialised and it’s for children etc, but who cares? Just for one year try not to be a Halloween McScrooge and celebrate the Day of the Dead with everyone else. Dress up, even if its as ‘your best friend who wears the exact same clothes as you.’ I began my first proper short story at school on the day of Halloween and ever since then its had a special place in my disturbed heart. I guarantee you’ll find some kind of inspiration, even if its a story about murdering trick or treaters.

2. Staying indoors. Let’s face it, writing or doing anything work related during summer is difficult and unpleasant. Maybe I’m alone here but I like knowing that the world outside is furiously cold while I sit indoors drinking tea and working/watching The Twilight Zone. Which brings me onto my next point.

3. Spooky films get spookier. It’s a cliche certainly, but there’s really nothing like watching a spine-chiller while the wind and rain howls against your window. Sometimes for extra cosiness I like to pretend there are zombies stumbling around my driveway too. That way I can feel smug that they can’t get me. Or can they?

4. Your surroundings are inspiration. Whilst its obvious you need to be wary of writing/painting/whatever in cliches, its hard not to think of great ideas when wandering through a mist clouded field. Just remember, focusing on the idea rather than lengthy descriptions of nature might be best. Unless your main character is a lecturer of some kind. Even then, maybe not a good idea…

5. More time to think. Summer is filled with Gestapo-like orders to have fun, but time seems to slow down in winter. People tend to vegetate and grow moss which is perfect for ruminating on thoughts, or simply trying to occupy yourself. You can either spend your winter obsessing on why Cathy brought all the men cups of tea and not you or Sally, or you can send your brain to another place and make up somewhere better. Or much worse, depending on what you like to do to your main characters.

So this was my little thought bubble on winter. I wanted to include the wearing of fluffy socks and colourful coats but it didn’t seem relevant, so I’ll just mention them here. Happy winter!