Boing Boing 

Solve Jimi Hendrix's murder in a game where everyone is Jimi Hendrix

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You are Jimi Hendrix, a detective. Officer Jimi Hendrix has called you to the scene of the crime. The victim? Jimi Hendrix.

The Jimi Hendrix Case, free to download, is a classic-style point and click mystery with absolutely beautiful pixel art, made for a monthly adventure game jam (I think the jam theme was actually "Hendrix"). The fact that literally every person in the game world is Jimi Hendrix allows fun things to happen with the classic format—at one point the game quizzes you to remember the victim and suspects, and of course, all the answers are Jimi Hendrix.

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Looking into this game a little bit, I learned there are actually lots of conspiracy theories about whether the real Jimi Hendrix was murdered. I don't know enough about them to know if there's anything for Hendrix fans in the game related to those theories, but the game is made with lots of love and doesn't take a lot of your time.

I found out about this one from my colleague Laura Kate Dale, who wrote a short review at Destructoid, and who also wrote the great article about VR that we blogged about earlier today.

The unique complications of playing VR games as a trans person

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Over at Kotaku, my colleague Laura Kate Dale has a heartfelt and interesting piece on various experiences she's had with VR games, and how being trans has added a unique layer to how she interacts with these games.

For example, she shares how a game called Pixel Rift, where the player starts out as a girl child, made her smile, creating "a window into a childhood I never got to experience properly." But for Laura, other VR games, which often place the player into the experience of other bodies, were more conflicting:

Girl Body is simple. Stand in front of a mirror, look at a woman who moves her head as you do. Inhabit a female body. It was hardly complicated, but it left me with a lot of complicated feelings.

First, there were phantom limb sensations. It's one thing to know your body isn't what you hope it one day will become, but it's something different to have your eyes and your sense of touch lying to each other: to look at yourself and see a body you'd be happy with, but then run your hands across yourself and have things not feel the way they look. It was distressing. I found myself feeling in many ways worse about my actual appearance; I'd seen the end goal and been reminded that what I was seeing wasn't my reality. That really hurt. For the next few days, I felt incredibly self-conscious about aspects of my appearance I had previously been able to ignore on a daily basis.

I've heard VR users often say that inhabiting other bodies and other spaces is uniquely liberating, but Laura's piece sheds light on the fact that embodiment may be complicated for some. She ultimately suggests that VR games could be an important starting point for young people to experiment with other forms of expression, safely and privately:

Many of the early experiences that played a vital part in coming to terms with my own identity were terrifying, and felt filled with risks. Virtual Reality provides a space to experiment with some of those aspects of identity in a much more private manner. That added sense of safety, security and cohesiveness made it a therapeutic way to explore my own sense of dysphoria.

Read Laura's full piece at Kotaku.

Play it now: Jack MacQwerty

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Home row on the raaaange... ha ha, I totally made that up myself! Jack MacQwerty is a cute game where you shoot cowboy duelists by typing their names. It's made more interesting by the fact you have to keep an eye on your ammo (and type "reload", of course), and avoid killing hostages, who jog past you with names like INNOCENT and DONOTKILL.

Play Jack MacQwerty, by Kromah, for free in your browser at GameJolt. At Offworld we love typing games almost as much as we love games about plants growing. If that's you, too, try Secret of Qwerty and Monologue

Sign, seal, and deliver mind-numbing form letters in this fun game

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When Lucas Pope made Papers, Please, which I think is one of the best games of my lifetime, he showed that bureaucracy can be darkly funny, even as it inexorably squeezes the life out of a person, a system.

You don't think games about signing and stamping and shuffling and checking numbers can be engaging, and yet there's something mysteriously compelling about the simple, repetitive tasks. With the brand-new jam game Unsolicited, Pope delivers a little game about sending out form letters for timeshares, charities, sweepstakes, bill collectors and more, and again he manages to unearth the secret glee we all conceal at being an agent of performance. It's fun and you can't help it and what is wrong with the human brain?

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It's the way Pope makes everything feel touchable, the rustling of colorful paper sheets, the scratch of pen on paper, that keeps me glued to Unsolicited. Against a time limit, you have to fill in the correct fields across an increasing variety of notices. Other people's names blur rudely together; their chance to win, their dream vacation, their kind donation becomes a jumble of statistics, backdropped by color-popped stationery logos and exhortations to prioritize client care from your employer.

Unsolicited was made for the recent Ludum Dare 33 weekend game jam, whose theme was "You are the Monster". We're seeing all kinds of clever stuff coming out of the jam: games about everything from the European refugee crisis to everyday misanthropy.

Pope is currently working on Return of the Obra Dinn, a sort of mystery-exploration game about a shipwreck.

Ride this surreal subway line to wonderful places

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Most of us use public transportation for very goal-oriented purposes: we have somewhere we need to go, and we take the shortest path possible to get there. When you're always rushing from one place to the next, it's easy to forget about about everything that lies in between—that every point on a map is tiny world unto itself, a place you could visit. What would it be like if you picked a random station or stop, went there, and walked around?

In Subway Adventure, a new game by Increpare, that's exactly what you do. It starts by assigning you a task: "Pick somewhere that you might like to go, and go there." The station where you begin offers a helpful map of the Dream World of Sadness Metro to help you plan your journey. Each of the individual subway lines—which have names like "Birth," "False Consciousness" and "Abstraction"—also have maps of their own:

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This is a game where you might find yourself saying, "wait, I think I need to transfer to the green line in order to get to the moon."

The places you find when you ride the subway are often as strange an dwonderful as their names suggest: a station nestled inside the mouth of a whale, another another overrun covered in colorful bits of plastic that transform it into a climbing wall, another a space station.

Your fellow passengers will sometimes get in your way, even occasionally blocking you from getting on or off a train, though no one is quite rude enough to hold the door. At one stop, Time Zone, everyone you meet is a clock with legs, while at other locales the people you meet are skeletons and forklifts, or blocky figures pushing beds up and down the platform, or they are on fire.

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There's something wonderful about wandering in games, though sometimes I find it hard to fully give myself permission. Even when simply meandering about is clearly intended to be part of the experience—as the beautiful, bucolic Everyone's Gone to the Rapture—I still feel a pressure to do, to accomplish something. Even in games that I'm presumably playing for entertainment, strolling around can feel like I'm wasting time, instead than focusing on what I'm "supposed" to be doing.

In Subway Adventure, there's something freeing to me about the idea that the only thing you're supposed to do is explore, absorb what you find, and then get on the next train to another destination, with no idea what awaits you. Those are the kind of trips I'd like to take more, I think. Like Subway Adventure, I think they'd be trips worth taking.

Windows, Mac and Linux users can download the game for free here.

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Why Cities: Skylines has become the new darling of the city-building genre

There's a beautiful article in the New Yorker about the popular new city-building game Cities: Skylines—I admire any reference to Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities" made in a conversation about video games, so good work, Simon Parkin.

Part of the fun in city-building is when you, an ordinary idle player of games, come up on the same kind of compromises, of infrastructural impossibilities, that plague real-world cities, and you sometimes realize the problems of your physical world are more complicated than they seem. Apparently part of the popularity of Cities: Skylines is that it's suited to the streaming world, and people like to watch others build:

Although Cities: Skylines builds on the template of Wright’s concept, it adds numerous features of its own, including a realistic traffic system that accommodates genuine transportation-planning strategies.

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The game has also, according to its designer, Karoliina Korppoo, benefitted from timing; game streaming, whereby a player broadcasts her activity online and comments on it, has become wildly popular. “Skylines is an excellent game to stream,” Korppoo said. “It’s slow-paced, allowing time to explain your plans while creating weird and wonderful things. This was not something we planned—it just happened naturally.”

In Calvino's book, Marco Polo describes 55 cities to Kublai Khan, and because they don't speak the same language, the descriptions are abstract, image-rich. It's almost a video game-like book, in that the prose encourages you to build the described places in your head. I don't know if this is open to interpretation or not, but when I read it with a friend we thought the story was just 55 ways of describing Venice, the city of Venice through 55 different perspectives. That would be especially relevant to the game cities we build in our imagination, where if we all tried to build, say, London, one would never be quite the same as another.

You can buy Cities: Skylines in either a "standard" or "deluxe" edition on digital storefronts. And if you like Simon Parkin's writing, as we do, he also has a new book out you might be interested in.

Become a pharmaceutical industry monster in this striking new simulation game

Big Pharma, out today on PC, Mac and Linux, is a fascinating look at the complicated and often dark world of drug development. Right now there's a counter on the game's official website (it counts profits made, comas caused, patents infringed and clinical trials buried) that starkly illustrates the factors that come into play when profit and competition is involved in the business of curing disease.

Last year I interviewed Tim Wicksteed of Big Pharma developer Twice Circled about how his quest to just make an engaging "tycoon"-genre simulation game quickly veered into the realm of moral nuance. He wanted the game to pose the question of "are the goals of running a profitable business ethically compatible with the goal of making people healthy?":

"Life-saving drugs are shunned in favor of ones which treat (but importantly do not cure) chronic illnesses; companies are incentivized to simply copy their competitors and tweak the formulas rather than create new cures; and treatments for rich Westerners are prioritized over those sorely needed by the poorest communities around the world."

"These last ones are some of my favorites because they sound horrific but strangely understandable," he continues. "If you think about these companies on a human scale, you can imagine the people working for them, under intense pressure from their boss to hit their targets, and when you put yourself in their shoes can you really, I mean really say you would do things differently? That's the question Big Pharma asks of its players."

You can buy Big Pharma for $19.95 from the team's digital storefront.

Level cities with your strange squid song

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Imagine that one day a giant squid materialized in the sky over a city like an Elder God, singing the song that will end the world. Imagine that you are that squid.

Such is your remit in Modulocean, a game made by Octurnip for the A Game by Its Cover jam, where developers made real games inspired by fake (but delightful) art for Famicom game cartridges.

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The game is alternately titled Whale of Noise; you can also be a giant whale.

Your song changes as you experiment with with a series of glyphs floating in bubbles beneath your sea creature, moving them in and out of the sphere where they reside. Different combinations will cause strange reverberations; some will even level the city below you. Is there any rhyme or reason to your unholy might?

Whale of Noise - Modulocean is free to download for Windows and Mac.

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You must hear this rapturous, pastoral and unique game score

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Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is a mysterious, beautiful game about a post-apocalyptic English countryside. Wan steel and lemon skies and vivid, ruddy sunsets spread out over fields dotted with native plants, and players slowly, gently explore the resonances of those who have vanished to piece together its abstract story.

It's the latest game from Brighton, UK-based The Chinese Room, a studio run by a husband-and-wife team who, before they started making games, collaborated on projects like interactive "sound walks" and the Second Life debut of the Royal Opera House. Director Jessica Curry composed Everybody's Gone to the Rapture's delicate, unique soundtrack, and her music and sound design is essential to the experience of the game, synchronizing with procedural audio and ambient sound developed by the team's Adam Hay.

When I talked to The Chinese Room last year, Curry told me about some of the inspirations for the music she composed for the game:

"We don't just want to use traditional game aesthetics 'because it's a game,'" Curry explains. "And that's not saying we consider other art forms 'more highly,' but people who play games also all watch films, read books, listen to music, and we think it's important something doesn't just look and sound like a game for the sake of it. For me, the music isn't going to sound like other game soundtracks -- I really wanted a classic English pastoral sound, not from a 'game genre.'"

The Rapture soundtrack thrives on its own as atmospheric, listenable music. This week, the original classical score was likely to have hit number one on the UK official charts—but were removed for being an OST. It shows some conservative misunderstanding and prejudice on the part of the organization, as there have been movie tune compilations (including a Complete Harry Potter Film Music compilation) on the chart already. Before the removal, Curry was apparently the only woman composer in the top 50.

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We salute the multi-talented Jessica Curry for her work, and agree with her that music created for visual media should be considered as classical music. Such compositions make classical music accessible to audiences that might not otherwise have a chance to appreciate it—the harmony of sound and experience created by Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, which you can download on a PlayStation 4, is an experience you mustn't miss if you have access to the platform.

Get the soundtrack on Amazon or iTunes, or search for it on Spotify. Finally, read more about the development of this score at the Guardian.

Everyday Misanthrope, the game about making people miserable

22429-shot0-1440446381.PNG-eq-900-500 "There is no joy in your life, only pain," reads your player status on the opening screen of Everyday Misanthrope. Created by Liz England for the recent "You Are the Monster" Ludum Dare game jam, the game simulates a day in the life of a terrible person, whose only joy derives from bringing discomfort, frustration and pain to the lives of everyone around them.

There are just so many different places where you can be an asshole: on the road, in shops, at work, in the bathroom, on social media. Really, every interaction with another human being is just another opportunity to make the people around you feel a little bit more like you do: absolutely miserable.

The miseries you mete out to others range from stealing handicapped parking spots to berating coworkers for no reason, or making inappropriate comments at work and insisting they be laughed off as jokes. Some are so small and petty as to be almost confusing; why would anyone pull the tags off all the dresses at a department store so no one can find their size? Why would you fill a grocery cart with food and then abandon it in the aisle? And of course there is the digital equivalent of this behavior, trolling strangers online.

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The game tallies the number of lives your ruin over the course of the game, and once you finish you'll have to click through the personal story of each individual you've inconvenienced or harmed. The list will be long. Much as in trolling, while there's no real way to lose, there's also not really any way to win—at least as far as "winning" involves having any sort of real happiness in your life.

Everyday Misanthrope is downloadable for free on Itch.io for PC, Mac and Linux users.

Battle your friends in a game inspired by 1980s space anime

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The opening screen of Capsule Force feels ripped from the intro to an anime series: a series of stars pinging out a catchy melody in the sky like a series of shining bells. It's a retrofuturistic battle game that wears its love of 1980s space anime on its sleeve, inspired partly by the aesthetics of shows like Macross, Dirty Pair and Galaxy Express 999.

The year is 1999, and the human race is embroiled in an intergalactic war where entire galaxies have been captured in capsules, Pokemon style. Bounty hunters hired by various Earth factions are fighting for control of various galactic capsules, and that's where you—and your friends—come in.

The game's 2-to-4 player multiplayer battles pit two teams of anime bounty hunters—Emi and Jet, or Nova and "Z"—against each other to shoot it out with Mega Man-style arm cannons and defend themselves with shield bubbles. The point isn't to kill each other, however, but to successfully ride a tram horizontally across the multi-screen level in your team's direction, and claim a precious galactic capsule.

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The battles are fast and chaotic, and there's a sense of lightness to the way you move. Although gravity can still pull you down, this is a game where you spend a lot of time floating; you can fling yourself into the air by shooting your weapons at your feet, or suspend yourself in the air indefinitely at any time by charging it, which also gives you time to aim before unleashing a laser blast.

While there are single-player missions as well, ultimately you buy Capsule Force for its multiplayer battles, or you don't buy it at all. This is a game meant to be played at parties and with friends, crowded around the television and yelling frantically.

There are a few crucial limitations, however, that will exclude a lot of people. You can't play against your friends online—or at least not yet—and there's no option to play against bots. Basically, you can only play with people who happen to be in your living room, and some living rooms (and lives) are lonelier than others (sadface).

Capsule Force, which was developed by Klobit, is available on PS4, PC and Mac. Regardless of where you play it, using a controller is strongly advised, as the precision it requires is difficult to produce on a keyboard and will probably frustrate the hell out of you.

Mobile game of the week: Pac-Man 256

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The new Pac-Man game is a little bit different than you remember, and not just because you play it on your smartphone. Although more recent iterations of the franchise have added more bells and whistles to the classic concept, Pac-Man 256 turns the entire concept on its head by sending the perpetually hungry spheroid hero racing through an endless map of power pellets as a lethal glitch wave nips at his heels.

The wave and the game's title is a reference to the famous glitch from level 256 of the original game, where half the board disintegrates into colorful alphanumeric symbols. Here, the glitch slowly creeps forward destroying the level inch by inch as you race away, turning Pac-Man from a claustrophobic one-room play into a thrilling chase scene. Suddenly, it isn't about sweeping the board of every power pellet anymore. It's about running as fast as you can through an obstacle course of ghosts that's dissolving behind you.

The game both demands and rewards forward momentum, not only by shifting the colors of the map like a neon disco floor as you progress, but rewarding you with speed boosts for chomping power pellets in unbroken chains. That often requires taking more hazardous routes through the course, so watch your step and don't double back—just keep moving. Over time, you'll also unlock power-ups that throw more entertaining chaos into the game, like ghost-killing lasers, freeze bombs and even tornados.

Pac-Man 256 was developed for Bandai Namco by Hipster Whale, the studio best known for the mobile game Crossy Road. Their popular car-dodging adventure is sometimes described as "Infinite Frogger," so it's not a huge surprise to see them reimagine another classic '80s arcade game with similarly endless levels.

The game is free to download, and every day you'll be only allotted six credits. Each play costs one credit, though you can use another credit to continue when you die—but only once. After that, you'll start over at the beginning. You can also choose "free play," which will allow you to keep going after you're out of credits, but with none of the power-ups that make it so much fun.

If you're particularly desperate, you can pay more for extra credits once your allotment runs out—the modern equivalent of popping another quarter into the arcade machine. Or you can "earn" a "gift" of more credits by watching an ad, which is the modern equivalent of, I dunno, having to listen to a lecture from your parents before you could play video games? Except that the lecture is about... buying more video games? There's no exact parallel, I guess. You can also plunk down $7.99 for infinite credits, aka "actually purchasing the game."

Pac-Man 256 is available on iOS and Android.

Read a cool new book on our strange, deep relations with video games

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My friend Simon Parkin has been working long and hard on Death by Video Game, an amazing book of journalism on some of our stranger obsessions with the form. I've been really enjoying it so far and do recommend—it's a candid and humane look at what video games mean to people, with all the attendant beauty and weirdness that suggests.

I think it's a great read for serious fans of games, but also for people who don't really play them—it tackles, through its storytelling, the questions everyone always asks, like "are games too violent" or "are they our fantasies", and offers complicated answers. Read an excerpt of the book here.

Death by Video Game: Tales of obsession from the virtual frontline is now available.

Mavis Beacon taught you typing. Who was she really?

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Mavis Beacon, the typing software tutor whose beaming but strict oversight was the scourge of many sixth-graders' "free" period in the computer room, was not actually a real person, but rather emblematic of an age where the anthromorphization of programs was believed to better engage users with them.

VICE has a piece on anthropomorphic software that includes a history of the fictional Mavis Beacon, who was modeled on a woman who worked at the Saks Fifth Avenue perfume counter:

Abrams described Renee L'Esperance as a "stunning Haitian woman," with "three-inch fingernails." Crane instantly wanted to put her face on the box for his typing software. They got to talking, and despite the concerns Abrams voiced ("She's never been near a keyboard!"), they soon made a deal. Abrams told us they paid D'esprance a flat fee, bought her a conservative outfit that befitted a typist, and rented a business square in Century City on a Sunday, in order to take the cover photo. As for her long fingernails, Crane said "Don't worry. We won't show her hands," according to Abrams.

The article is an interesting look back on how software gets personified, and how the subjects of those personas often end up returning to "a quiet life back in the Caribbean."

Do you like fun typing games? So do I. Try Secret of Qwerty, or Monologue.

Passengers is a game about the human cost of Europe's migrant crisis

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The ongoing European Migrant Crisis sees death tolls rise as refugees take expensive and often extremely-dangerous trips with smugglers, often to be displaced again or even arrested when they arrive. The European Union is struggling with the ethical responsibility to assist people who've endured desperate and life-threatening circumstances for a chance at a better—while some countries believe in developing a unified continental plan to assist in the crisis, there are also fears that placing asylum-seekers would lead to more risk of life and resource strain. Some countries are building fences.

Creator Francois "Nerial" Alliot and collaborator Arnaud De Bock felt the human lives of the migrants themselves could too easily be lost in the ethical debates about asylum and human smuggling. In their new game Passengers, you play a smuggler bringing people to Europe. You can select what kind of watercraft you pilot and what kind of bribes you accept, and how many people to bring on board—these factors affect your own profits and level of risk. On your journey many of your passengers will die, you'll attract the attention of the coast guard, run out of water, or worse.

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The most impactful part of the game is when you choose who to take on board. Each asylum-seeker comes to you with a name, a history, perhaps a family, and an amount they can afford to pay, which you can negotiate. You find yourself in the position of judge—who deserves another chance? Who might be too fragile for the trip and should leave room for someone else? Should you take a high number of people, even if it makes the trip more dangerous?

Would you take a drug dealer, a criminal, a benefits-seeker? What if he was more polite and appreciative to you than the sullen man who won't look you in the eye and doesn't seem grateful for your risk? Would you try to negotiate a higher fee from a woman and child if they seemed healthy, if you knew they probably had money?

Ultimately do your own feelings make a difference to the fate of your passengers, who will often die at sea?

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It does remind of the constant calculations of what "life is worth" that often come with these incredibly complicated but heartbreaking situations. The free little game was made in a weekend for the Ludum Dare 33 jam, the theme of which was "You Are The Monster." It's a PICO-8 game—Passengers co-creator Arnaud De Bock kindly sent us the fanzine about the elegantly-constrained digital console last week.

A game-making app for everyone?

Game-making apps tend to evolve into intimidating tools aimed at pros. Beginners need something useful to non-coders—and Nintendo has the right idea. Read the rest

Weird dinosaurs, haberdashery and second-kills

anatomic1 Our Monday reflection is a regular weekly item here on Offworld, a special satellite transmission designed to highlight our favorite Offworld stories, wonderful trends, and the stories from elsewhere in the galaxy that got us talking. Sign up here to receive this digest each week via email—it's a great way to avoid missing anything.

Latest Features

Daniel Starkey previously wrote for Offworld about an American Indian pen and paper roleplaying game, and last week he re-joined us with something more serious: The story of how as a poor child, software piracy offered him a way out of the cultural desert and into experiences he wouldn't have been able to have otherwise. Although obviously nobody endorses pirating games, for some people it's that or nothing—the piece provoked a lot of discussion, but as far as I'm concerned, if you think a poor child should never have gotten to play Deus Ex we probably can't hang out.

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Games are apparently impacting Chinese culture in a big way, and Christina Xu came to Offworld to teach us Chinese phrases taken from the games world (can't handle a cute pop singer? your "blood trough is running empty"). It's really really interesting! Special thanks to Laura Hudson for working with last week's feature writers to bring these pieces to us.

Offworld Games

I love the work of Nathalie Lawhead, and her jittery, sentient Anatomically Incorrect Dinosaurs is part grotesque archaeology sim, part funny narrative experience. You absolutely gotta try it. My other favorite of last week was Sophie Houlden's Dusk Child, a mysterious and sharply-designed PICO-8 game. If you're new to PICO-8, we also covered a cool new fanzine devoted to the web-based microconsole, and it has some great contributors. You can download a digital version for free.

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Laura enjoyed Regency Love, a Jane Austen-style dating sim with tea and haberdashery and other Jane Austen stuff. The creators reportedly were playing Dragon Age games and wondered what it would be like to replace everyone with Mr. Darcy and all of those guys. I don't know actually, I'm not a big Jane Austen fan (although Regency Solitaire has been one of my favorite games of the year).

Transmissions from elsewhere

In the wonderful ZEAL zine, Robert Yang (you may remember we loved his dick pic game, Cobra Club and his car sex game, Stick Shift) writes about getting gay married, Ovid, bodies, keyframe animation and ragdoll physics. It's a great piece on body performances in games and the tech we use to create them, viewed through a wider social lens.

Not games

The new Destroyer record is streaming on most music sites. I was crying about something over the weekend, so I put it on, pulled the duvet over my head and had a good satisfying mope to the violins on the opening track. THEN SUDDENLY there's all these saxophones on track two, and my goddamn mope was ruined, but that's okay, because the record is really good.

That's all we have for this week's reflection; of course, that's not everything we did in the last week, just the things I'm still thinking lots about. As always, go to Offworld directly to see the gentle, loving face of the modern games space, with no gunmetal gray, no DLC, no bros, no energy drinks and nothing but cool weird things made by cool weird people and you belong.

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