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…
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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 friend of mine played me a podcast (oh, those things of the future) yesterday which I knew I had to share.
Ostensibly a town community radio broadcast, this is an imaginary desert town that seems to have more in common with Twin Peaks and background music reminiscent of Chris Morris’ Blue Jam. The weather report is a song by an independent artist which has apparently included Tom Waits.
Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, voiced by Cecil Baldwin and published by Commonplace Books, this is a slice of weird I urge you to join.
It’s definately wintery here; sometimes snowing, then raining, then both at once. Christmas will soon be upon us! I’ve decided in future to put up Halloween decorations for Christmas rather than the traditional although I’d still have a tree, just an unusually adorned one. I don’t abide by all this ‘I hate Christmas’ cynicism, put tinsel in your hair and run through the streets naked and weeping I say! I’m not remotely religious but there’s always time to do that. Unless you’re Jewish. Or Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Budhist. Or Sikh or…something else.
Anyway…rather than watching repeats of Only Fools and Horses for the 500th time I’ve concocted a witch’s brew of eye goodies to make Christmas a spooky, strange or otherwise unusual affair, as I often do each year. If you don’t own any of these things I recommend them.
1: The Last American Freak Show. A documentary by Richard Butchins covering the exploits of a modern day travelling freak show. Reality, as is often the case, never quite lives up to expectation and Richard, a disabled man himself, struggles with the implications of the show and the haphazard way its run.
2. Freaks. It just makes sense to watch it after viewing the first one. Made in 1932, Tod Browning’s film is as good as ever.
3. Psychoville Halloween special. I love all of psychoville, particularly the librarian, but the Halloween special is a good spooky/funny standalone hour.
5. Amicus horror compilations. The above two are heavily influenced by such films as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. Entertaining fun!
6. The Others. I love this film. Alejandro Amenábar’s direction is extremely atmospheric with enough fog for an early Hammer horror. Plus Christopher Eccleston’s in it and I love him.
7. Oddities. It’s ridiculous fluff in the style of Pawn Stars for weirdos but I enjoy it, I think its fun. Watch it online somewhere or on Discovery Realtime.
8. Coraline. It’s cute! From a story originally by Neil Gaiman and directed by Nightmare Before Christmas’ Henry Selick.
9. Black Mirror. Disturbing viewing and best avoided during the festive dinner, but otherwise Charlie Brooker’s three stories are amazing and necessary watching.
10. Dr Who. The disturbing episodes are my favourites, usually either by League of Gentleman co-writer Mark Gatiss (also have a look at his History of Horror on BBC 4) or head writer Steven Moffat.
11. Dead Set. Again by Charlie Brooker its tense, atmospheric and Derren Brown co-writer Andy Nyman gets to spout some very inventive insults.
12. Derren Brown. Is it wrong to find him hammering nails up his nose and walking on glass slightly erotic? My favourites are the disturbing series Trick or Treat, live show Something Wicked This Way Comes, his latest offerings The Experiments and the third series of Tricks of the Mind.
13. Twin Peaks. Zavvi are currently selling the gold disc set of both series plus lots of extras of Twin Peaks for just over £20. Woo hoo!
So there concludes our festive list of fun. There’s bound to be things I’ve forgotten, but try not to wail and rend your garments until you’ve at least opened your presents. Farewell!
Most of the articles/stories on this site I’ve written for fun (unless they’re segments of published stories), but this one appears on a travel site. This version’s better. Hidden within these words you’ll find my previous life as a student of Bath Spa University. Bits of it are very studenty, such as the preoccupation with pubs.
If lively entertainment and surreal festivals are your thing, Bath is the answer when you want something a little different. From punk to street parades, it has it all.
Forget the pretty Georgian buildings (although they are lovely) and drunken students singing rugby songs; if you’re a tourist in Bath there is a lot more to see. If you’re around in the summer both tourists and locals alike will recommend the Bath Fringe Festival. Beginning on the 25th May and ending on the 10th of June, it’s a two-week journey into the surreal with performances from underground theatre groups in various venues around town. Many are often set in the Chapel Arts Centre, Bath’s ‘alternative arts venue,’ alongside late night pubs and parties. Let me tell you, it was an experience hearing a Dalek recite a DaDaist poem at 1 in the morning.
However it is the parades the festival is best known for. Only on the street party Walcot Nation Day (Walcot Street of course) can you be confronted with the likes of an 8-foot furry spider; it may be a man on stilts in costume but it’s still impressive. In the brilliant sunshine the chaos of the day becomes more and more pronounced, “I ended up on the back of a stranger’s bike handing out fliers for an art exhibition whilst being followed by circus performers swallowing fire,” recalls local Susie Morris, 27, fondly.
Crazy festivities aside, for those a little more local to Bath there is still a lot to keep a person entertained when the slow-walking tourists have gone. Aside from watching the ever-present street performers in the Square by the beautiful cathedral, or strolling around market stalls of alternative/hippie clothes and jewellery, you could sample the local flavour on a pub crawl. Start with vegetarian pub The Porter Cellar Bar, which is good fun with a variety of music (it’s best if you like it very loud), and full of pierced eye-candy both male and female. Through the gradually ascending hip hop or other ‘cool’ music you’re bound to meet all the young things of the area, and downstairs you’ll occasionally find bands, acoustic performers or comedy.
Next, off to Mandolin’s, the gay pub, which is always very full at the weekend; next there’s the Bell, favoured place of hippies and Rastafarians, and finish at the Porter Butt. This last place is famous for “loud and vicious” techno and punk nights, and is proud of its lack of shine. Andy Tanner, the landlord, lovingly describes it as having “a 1970s floor, nicotine walls and a flock of parrots to collect the dust, and the best pool table in Bath.” Something to bear in mind is the massive variety of ales on offer.
Upon waking the next day with a very sensitive head and a need for something more soothing, you can have a good breakfast at one of the many art cafes.
Upstairs in these venues are often poetry nights or art exhibitions, and there are a number of open mic nights (evenings that encourage anybody to grab the mike and perform) held monthly in assorted sites. Anyone can have a go as long as they’re brave enough, and a bar is always available.
If hair of the dog is the only way, head for the aforementioned Bell on Walcot Street. Settle down with a bottle of Weston’s cider amongst the canal dwellers, grizzled old hippies and dreadlocked residents to a soundtrack of folk or reggae, and later on liven up to a ska band at weekends. As happy hour reaches ever nearer, you have a couple of options open to you. You can either head to On the Video Front DVD rental and savour the joys of Hammer horrors, video nasties, worldwide indie cinema, the entire two series of Twin Peaks and many, many more; or you can head back down to the Porter and begin the journey all over again.