This is going to sound weird probably but evidence suggests that I’m a pretty good teenage girl. My exuberant performance as Gaige in Borderlands 2 is legendary – ask anybody – and before that I managed a highly effective troupe of Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble. Put me in a tartan skirt and I’ll change the world, or at least the school’s immediate environs. So it probably comes as little surprise that I enjoyed the first part of Dontnod’s odd, sweet, beautiful Life is Strange, an episodic consequenture from the creators of Remember Me.
Dejobaan Games is a Boston-based indie studio. They have a sharp sense of humor, and I like their work, in theory, which is why I am on their mailing list. I don’t like their work generally in practice, however, for one simple reason: I get simulation-based motion sickness, and a game about base-jumping off of high structures for points sets that off in about thirty minutes, never even mind the Oculus Rift. When even The Wonderful End of the World forced me give up and have a liedown, I thought I might have to give up on this studio’s work altogether.
But then I was offered a chance to try out Elegy For a Dead World, created by Dejobaan and Popcannibal, and I jumped at it. I’d tried the game out at conferences previously, and the premise intrigued me. This is A Game About Writing. I like writing!
The most obvious place to start – one of the only obvious qualities it has, really – is that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is unquestionably the most visually spectacular game I have ever played. Even if there weren’t anything else to say, that might be enough. If your computer can run it (and it’s punishing, but not too punishing) you probably need to buy it just to see the incredible technology The Astronauts bring to bear on this indie mystery. It’s simply jaw-dropping. Your jaw will drop. Which is harder to do than you think. Have you ever tried to drop your jaw? I just released my jaw muscles and my jaw stayed more or less where it was. It moved a little. But I wouldn’t call it a “drop.” You have to actively drop your jaw. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter will make you do that.
Foreword from the author,
Sometimes writing things is difficult. Not literally, like pushing keyboard buttons, that’s usually not difficult, except when coke spills in your keyboard and really messes up the Alt key, that makes pushing the buttons difficult because Alt is really underrated and oft-used. But I meant difficult like, the space in my brain that would normally come up with things to say to the computer word processor is absent. Or filled with noodles. And my brain doesn’t have a way of eating the neighbor noodles so they just have to live together. The noodles are useless too, it’s not like they do something.
I’m not someone you’d want around in a survival scenario: zombies, tribulation, camping, the park. Frankly, I possess very few skills and many undesirable qualities. If I were placed in an environment containing more than 65% Nature, I would die. I bring middlin’ genetic value to the table, but honestly, you could do better. I have no aptitude in engineering, construction, basic math, unarmed combat, logistics, celestial navigation, tool use, or athletics. I can’t operate a chainsaw, drive a motorcycle, construct an igloo, butcher an animal, or dress a wound. A slurry of cynicism, negative affectivity, and acute anhedonia give rise to a personality best described as “unpleasant.” I’m freakishly resistant to cold, but that power comes at a high price: my cognitive abilities begin to break down above 85°F/29°C, collapsing completely soon after.
You may be curious why I’m telling you all this.
2007 seems so long ago. That was the year THQ and GSC Game World finally released the absurdly ambitious open-world shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. It surprised us by being phenomenal. Broken, incoherent, and phenomenal. Released after six years of troubled development, it was a heavily redacted copy of the original vision – more than 50% of the game was cut – but even in its mangled state it was a landmark in the “future of shooters is RPGs” concept. To this day nothing has quite replicated the feel of your first time. And throughout it all rumors persisted, about the STALKER that they’d intended.
Welcome to the Zone that was. Welcome back, to a place you’ve never quite been.
Before I talk about Lifeless Planet, I’d like to share a funny story. I was talking with a coworker the other day and for some reason the conversation turned to space, and the distances involved when discussing it. Now, before I go on, you need to understand that I work with some people who are… rather… narrow… in their thought processes. Which is why, at this point, my colleague said:
“Well, they don’t know for sure that space is that big. I mean, they can’t say the distance to the next star without actually measuring it.”
I stared at him.
Enemy Mind is a game being developed at Schell Games in Pittsburgh, PA. Schell occasionally does an internal game jam, and allows employees to work on their own independent game projects for a week. Enemy Mind was the brainchild of engineer Mike Traficante, and after a debut at the jam, was selected by the studio to receive further development. It was Greenlit on Steam and is already available through Early Access.
The approach to meet with Jane Jensen kind of seemed like a scene from one of her games. I had an email, a time, and a location: an unnamed building off the main conference site identified only by a number. When I arrived, I had a secret code to enter into the door. Behind the door was one shiny elevator, and a series of mailboxes. One was marked with a mysterious note. I was worried that there was going to be a puzzle here to solve. But then to my relief I was buzzed up, and invited into the Phoenix Online Suite.
Then I checked out some of the games. Read on…