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.

Modern Gothic, Extreme Horror And Haunted Vaginas: Bizarre Book Club

Today’s pretentious book picture is brought to you by Utopia coffee shop in Southend, Essex. Books, hipster decorations and brilliant drinks oh my!  img_20160806_145807

Good day my lovely packets of weird flavour crisps that you’re not sure if you’ll like at first but turn out to be really good. I’ve read a bunch more weird books so join me on my wild ride. P.S. I’m on rather a lot of painkillers so forgive me if I gibber nonsensically like a drunk aunt on Valium.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. ballad-of-black-tomThe thing I enjoyed most about this modern weird fiction tale was the characterization. Black Tom, a man from 1920s Harlem, is completely believable and draws you into his story of finding a strange book for an even stranger old white man.

Set in the Lovecraft universe, it offers a unique perspective in that the author is an African American man. The dedication is to Lovecraft himself and ‘all (the author’s) complicated feelings towards him.’

Sunruined by Anderson Prunty. sunruined This collection of short stories has a gothic Halloween flavour to it, I could almost smell the Autumn leaves. Or perhaps I was just desperate for Autumn to begin.

They may not always be outright horror, in fact some are probably dark fantasy or whatever the kids are reading these days, but they’re always beautiful and very imaginative. Don’t worry, there’s no vampires, but there are screaming trees and predatory women.

While The Black Stars Burn by Lucy Snyder. whiletheblackstarsburnIt’s very shallow but the main reason I bought this book was because of it’s beautiful cover. LOOK AT IT! Then I was pleasantly surprised by the stories.

There are a number of genres here but mainly science fiction and weird, two of my favourite things. The author uses these strange set ups as a backdrop for everyday feelings, such as the woman in mourning who goes on a space voyage. The ending of this one is wonderfully dark, by the way, as are many of them. Read it!

The Teratologist by Edward Lee and Wrath James White. What a pair of sick puppies. I took a picture of my face whilst reading the second page. THE SECOND PAGE!img-20160823-wa0000

Generally I would say this kind of thing isn’t my cup of tea as the grossness is kind of an endurance test, while the aberrant sex gets a little tiresome. However something about it kept me reading. It sounds like I hated it but I really didn’t, I found the story quite fascinating. Two men, a journalist and photographer, are invited to the house of a wealthy man who secretly collects deformed people and religious leaders and feeds them lust enhancing drugs in order to offend God and bring him to Earth.

I think I enjoyed it, but seriously, only read if you have a strong stomach.

The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III. thehauntedvaginaI expected a very different book to the one I got. I thought I’d be reading a gross, immature comedy with not too much depth, but entertaining. It was entertaining, but it was also a very sweet and heartfelt look at relationships and the odd little things that make us love a person and, often, why relationships don’t last.

It is occasionally a bit gross, such as when the main character oils up to dive inside his girlfriend’s nether regions to explore the strange world within, but sex and love is sometimes gross and messy and we can’t explore these topics without getting a bit dirty.

There we have it! I won’t be posting next week as I’m having a holiday in my house, but you have plenty to be getting on with. Adieu!

Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories Anthology – Bizarre Book Club

Bonjour mon petite panier de fleurs! Ca Va? Bien!

Just a quick pop in to say I just finished this book and loved it, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories from Crystal Lake Publishing. Gutted-final-cover-smaller-1000x500The title is certainly right, the stories are beautiful, though some may not be strictly considered horror. However there’s a horror edge to them whether they’re fantastical or realistic, and who cares about genre with writers like Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Maria Alexander, Stephanie M Wytovich and lots more?

Some were darkly sad, some gothically beautiful and one or two gave me the genuine shivers, particularly Clive Barker’s Coming To Grief. Another very different favourite of mine was the tragically realistic Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Sets You Free) by Lisa Mannetti. Try it, you might like it, as the teenagers in Public Information Films used to say. However this book will probably not lead to hard drug consumption. Or will it? (No).

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, Or: The Ministry Of Stories For Children

Good day my little falafel fillings! How is life treating you? No outbreaks of hysterical dancing I hope?

On Tuesday I went to London with Bill’s camera and was excited to see this shop for monsters. You might wonder how it makes any money? Well, there are either a surprising amount of monsters on Hoxton Street or it’s a cover for a children and young adult’s writing group. We’ll say it’s both.

The children are mentored to bring out their creativity and there was actually a group meeting in the next room while I took pictures of the front (see below), and all the while music from the 20s and early 30s played on an old style radio. I was in my own personal heaven!

Here’s a little video explaining it in further detail, then have a peek at their ghoulish and grizzly offerings. Here’s the address if you’d like to see it for yourself:

159 Hoxton St

London

N1 6PJ

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An Occult, Macabre Delight – Talliston House and Gardens

All pictures courtesy of the website.

Last weekend my friends and I decided to go look at a house. “Why?” You ask, “there’s houses everywhere. Look, I can see one now.” Well, yes, but this one “there’s one with a red door, and a green door, and…” Shush! As I was saying, this one is really special.

The 1929 Occult Study
The 1929 Occult Study

Talliston House and Gardens in Dunmow, Essex, has been a project of the owner, John Trevillion, for 25 years. It started as a regular ex council house and has become an art piece where every room exists in a different era, from a New Orleans voodoo kitchen to a late Victorian front room.

1960s Cambodia in the attic
1960s Cambodia in the attic

My favourites, however, were upstairs: a study from 1929 New York filled with occult books and props, a ‘haunted bedroom’ and 1960s Cambodia in the attic.

A Victorian front room
A Victorian front room

They’ve still not quite finished but there’s lots of things upcoming. They hold murder mystery nights, people can stay over on special occasions, plus there’s viewings, poetry and music nights (you can watch the videos on their youtube channel) and an event in October with actors occupying the rooms. Honestly, we thought it was wonderful. Visit if you can, and finally here’s a video showing how it was made (note: they had help completing it so don’t worry, they’re almost done):

Bizarre Book Club 14: Time Travelling Pimps, Not Kittens and Clockwork Girls

Welcome to a fresh batch of not-reviews (the word review is a bit scary, isn’t it? I prefer ‘Telling People About Stuff I’ve Read.’ Not quite as catchy though). Today’s pretentious book club picture (minus book, whoops!) is brought to you from A Canteen, Chelmsford’s groovy hipster cafe. If stone baked pizza, artsy bread or smoothies are your cup of tea then come on down (Disclaimer – they also have cups of tea).

Pentax Digital Camera

1. Time Pimp by Garrett Cook. This winner of the Wonderland Awards made me feel as though I was sitting on a tea cup ride at the local fair. That’s not a bad thing – sometimes on the same page I chuckled (the pimp’s assurances that he neither knows nor cares how time travel works is a recurring joke), felt disorientated and then disturbed.

Much like Dr Who coming from a race of Time Lords, apparently Time Pimps are born on a specific planet into the profession. The Pimp’s various adventures through time with his stable of surreal hoes – which includes a world after pandas have revealed an evil plan to destroy mankind – was a bit of an action packed bombardment for my tiny mind at times. I liked it though, it’s entertaining madness and if you can allow yourself to dribble down the sink with the brain melting words you’ll be just fine.

2. Kitten by G Arthur Brown. In the real world (or is it?) the kitten is not really a time-pimp-garrettkitten, it’s a deformed squirrel thing that coughs up stamps and belongs to a small boy. The not-kitten is killed by the boy’s mother (well, kind of. Just read it) and appears in an alternate reality on a Steel Planet as a real kitten. Aided by a fishy handed man, he goes on a quest for revenge.

This is a very silly book and one of my favourites. Every page was a joy and contained something I wish I’d written, from hitching a ride on a panda by pretending to be a fancy hat to the abrupt dismissal of anyone’s sad story with “we don’t have time for your crap.” I found it to be an easy, brain tickling read and I think you might too.

3. Clockwork Girl by Athena Villaverde. You get three for the price of one with this book as it contains three novellas. The first one, Caterpillar Girl, was way too goth kid for me, although if that’s your cup of tea then I recommend it. I liked the next two much more.

Clockwork Girl reminded me of a sweeter, sadder and less angry Metamorphosis (one of clockworkgirlthe characters is even called Gregor). A girl finds herself transformed into a clockwork toy and suffers at the hands of those she lives with, including her owner, a girl who tires of her when she grows up. Much like the Velveteen Rabbit she is thrown away, but always hopes to be reunited with her owner.

Beehive Girl is a sensuous tale of salsa dancing and honey, with the ultimate accolade being chosen to dance with the titular honey-combed character. However the bees inside her don’t like bad dancers and sting anyone who puts a foot wrong.

I’m not sure how Athena managed to write an entire novella about waiting to dance with somebody, but she did and it’s very pretty indeed. In fact all of the stories are simple but very sweet and pretty, and if you don’t mind the odd happy ending I definitely recommend it.

Pip and Pop’s Fantastical Psychedelic Rainbow Candy Fashion Runway

Australian artist Pip and Pop, aka Tanya Schultz, creates installations and artworks out of candy (sweeties), plastic and all kinds of bits and bobs. Just one look at a piece by her is enough to melt both your eyes and half your nose. It’s worth it though.

These pictures (and video) are what happened when she collaborated with fashion label Romance Was Born in 2013 for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Australia:

pip-and-pop-romance-was-born Romance-Was-Born-SpringSummer-20134 romance-was-born-spring-summer-pip-pop romance was born pip-and-pop romance-was-born romance-was-born-pip-pop