Where did all the words go?

Uh oh, she’s off again.

I’ve been musing about the lost art of words. So much of our communication these days is through images – emojis, memes, gifs photos, film clips, you name it. Of course, I’m speaking mostly of casual exchanges – not professional or formal – but I wonder how long it will be before that’s acceptable, too. It makes me a bit sad that the art of words and conversation is getting lost among all the pretty pictures. When it comes to emojis I’m just as guilty as anyone – sometimes it just seems more appropriate, friendly, and easy to respond to someone’s comment with a smiley, especially if you’re at the end of a conversation or there isn’t much to say. A picture speaks a thousand words, so an emoji’s got to be, what, ten at least?

These days we’re struggling to express ourselves in a world that’s all about speedy, efficient interactions. Nobody wants to spend time in lengthy discussions anymore. Similarly, for anything to stand a chance against rapidly scrolling fingers it has to stand out, and images do that so much more powerfully than words. So it’s no surprise that we resort to visual flirting instead of going to the effort of composing a sentence. (Rein it in, Kate, rein it in.)

Nudge, nudge, winky face

Back when text messages really were just text, I remember the rise of emoticons – early ‘smileys’ made by combining punctuation. Even before that, you could find rudimentary versions in glyph libraries and font collections such as Symbol and Dingbats, but it never would have occurred to me to use them in a conversation with people. We should have seen it coming. Some smart people did – they got rich (some even tried to trademark emoticons – they didn’t). Pretty quickly, emoticons became smileys which in turn became emojis, and all of a sudden there’s this huge library of facial expressions to choose from, containing more squints and grimaces than we could ever hope to produce with our own faces. And now it’s not just faces – there are cartwheelers, zombies, mermaids, David Bowie and a multitude of suggestive fruit and vegetables. You could basically write a sentence using emojis alone – and I’m genuinely worried we’re headed that way.

Big on ambiguity

My issue with emojis is that while they’re fun and jaunty, there is such potential for ambiguity. The problem with images is that they are very much dependent on the interpretation of the recipient. For example, take the raised eyebrow face. Sandy says to Dave, ‘I tripped and fell on the subway.’ Dave replies with the raised eyebrow face. That could mean so many things. Dave might mean, ‘You did? That’s embarrassing!’ Or, he could be saying, ‘I doubt that’s true!’ Or, ‘You really are a clumsy shitbag!’ The possibilities are endless. Sometimes I have trouble with the sweating emoji because the sweat drop looks a bit like a tear drop, so I’m never quite sure if someone’s feeling (mock) uncomfortable or just very emotional. Even the most innocuous faces like the simple smile could be misconstrued as sarcasm or passive aggressiveness – which they often are (you’ve all seen Moon, right?)

Secondly, emojis still aren’t always rendered the same across different operating systems and devices. Even worse – sync your social media to post simultaneously across all apps, and you might end up posting emojis that look quite different on one to the other. While I don’t link any apps myself, I’ve noticed some marked differences – for example, the ‘surprise’ emoji on my WhatsApp looks more like embarrassment compared to Twitter’s version. These differences could be dangerous (and have been for some celebs) – though it makes a good case for not automating or syncing your apps!

What if ALL THE WORDS GO?

Some of that ambiguity has led to changes in emojis such as ‘geek’ (or ‘nerd’), which has been scaled back to a subtler (less ‘toothy’) image of a person with special interests. That’s less fun though, isn’t it? Does it really get the point across now? Isn’t the point of emojis that they exaggerate for emphasis? And then there was the controversy over skin tone, leading to a range of skin colours to choose from. And gender – so now there’s a male and female for everything. Again this strikes me as trying to make them more like actual people, instead of caricatures that reinforce your words. Is this paving the way for replacing words with emojis and whatever their successors end up being? (Don’t get me started on emotisounds.) After all, they’re increasingly used in place of text rather than alongside it. Will there come a point where we don’t need the words at all? Will we just liaise through a wall of cartoon faces? Is that the wind outside or am I hyperventilating?

Naturally, there will always be a level of ambiguity with words as well, but at least when we send text we know the recipient is seeing the same thing we are. But that doesn’t account for tone and meaning, which every brain will absorb differently. As a Brit with a typically sarcastic output, I run into this problem a fair bit.

The gif that keeps on giving

I’ve rambled on for ten paragraphs and I haven’t mentioned gifs or memes yet – and perhaps these are a better example of replacing words completely. Replying to people with an image is so common on social media now. My Twitter timeline is peppered with it, and I get it – an intriguing visual makes a user stop in their tracks – text involves reading, and we don’t have time for that. (Rein.) I’ll admit, though, that I enjoy the propensity for subtle humour and cult references that come along with it. If someone replies with a still from a TV show or film that you would only recognise if you were a fan, it’s fun. It’s like you’re in on it.

But another thing about memes is that they proliferate so quickly. The same meme will pop up countless times in a million different contexts, rendering it pretty meaningless and not attached to anyone in particular. Its original owner was lost about 100,000 users ago. No one has ownership of anything anymore, and I can’t help but think that would be less of a problem with words. Words don’t spread so easily, and people aren’t as inclined to reproduce big chunks of someone’s writing as they are to posting an image as their own. Images seem to carry more anonymity and less liability; a wordy sentence or paragraph is more unique and specific than a single visual frame. People can hide behind pictures, but words are more personal.

And you know, less lazy. (Reins snapped.)

In all seriousness, I know we need to move with the times. And we are mostly talking about social media here and, as I said before, not about formal communication. I think the turning point (and my descent into despair) will come when we see those lines beginning to blur. In the meantime I’ll continue using emojis and images in my conversations with people while trying to keep a balance with actual, meaningful sentences where it matters.

If you’ve read this far without slamming into a wall of fatigue, you might notice there aren’t any images in this piece. That’s intentional, to make my point. What it probably, actually, means is that this is my lowest ranking post, ever. *sweaty-faced emoji*

Nobodies: a zingy jalfrezi

(In case you weren’t aware, I rate my games on a Curry ScaleTM)

Like a lot of games, Nobodies (Blyts, 2019) sat patiently on my wishlist for a while. I’m glad I finally got round to it – it’s right up my street, if overnight someone dug up my street and re-routed it somewhere unexpected. Yes, another point-and-click. Yes, more dark comedy. Yes, another murder theme. Except, in this game, the objective is to cover up the murders. You’re Mr Cleanup Job, sent in to bury the evidence, sweep up the entrails and dispose of the body so that nothing remains of your peer’s grisly assassination.

Clean-up on aisle four!

Each assignment begins with the murder scene, prompting you to collect, use and combine objects in order to hide the body and cover tracks. Sometimes this is achieved through dialogue with other characters, but there’s not too much chatting. Make a careless move or reveal yourself, and it’s a restart – though a lot of the things you did will still be in place, so it’s not too frustrating.

TripAdvisor: 1/10

You can pass levels by doing the bare minimum, or be an absolute perfectionist and earn a full marks medal. No surprise which was me. According to the Belbin behavioural test I did at work once, I’m a completer-finisher. As such, the tidying nature of Nobodies really appealed to me. Even in games that don’t necessitate it, I cannot leave a room without closing cupboards, turning off taps and switching off lights. So I’ve spent a lot of time in this game making sure I put everything back in place.

If you don’t manage the medal, you’re given a list of your indiscretions and the chance to correct them. Again – I spent a lot of time on this game. Usually you can rectify your mistakes by picking up where you left off, but one particular level had me redoing the whole thing from start to finish because there was no other way. That’s dedication, but now I can sleep at night.

Sliding block puzzle FTW.

Story ain’t everything

The overarching narrative and individual cases aren’t that interesting, but that didn’t matter to me. I liked that it’s a fairly straightforward game. It’s a pick up/put down affair, as opposed to a big investment. The settings for each case are nice and varied (a hospital, science lab, museum, train, among others) and the puzzle chains inventive. Some ‘obvious’ solutions aren’t quite what they seem (vending machine!), which is a good thing, but there are no monkey wrenches either.

Nothing to see here.

If you do get stuck, there’s an in-game hint system, but I admit to consulting a walkthrough a couple of times as the hints weren’t always that helpful, and there’s no way to get a different hint until you solve that particular bit. Incrementally useful hints would work better. I also experienced one confusing moment where the game referred to a puzzle before I’d got there – but that happens in most adventure games I’ve played and isn’t a huge deal as a one-off.

While the gameplay is grounded on classic point-and-click mechanics, the overall style is quite modern. The scenery and subtle backdrops are really nicely illustrated and conjure an ominous (think Soviet) atmosphere. The music that accompanies your missions is perfectly suited, with a nice bit of sinister synth – it reminded me of the video game CounterSpy – and some of the sound effects are reminiscent of The X-Files.

It’s a fairly short game, and I remember being a bit surprised to suddenly arrive at the end – perhaps because there’s little narrative stringing it all together. But while I wasn’t gripped by the story, with everything that’s going on at the moment I found the closing scenes to be particularly, eerily, apt.

9/10

Nobodies is available on Steam, Android and iOS.

Four games to play when you don’t have much time (and one wildcard)

The Supper: sadistic speciality on a plate

Octavi Navarro | Steam

Love a top-down view.

I’ve long been a big fan of Octavi’s pixel art and, more recently, his adventure games. The eerie feels in his earlier games reeled me in (Midnight Scenes, The Librarian), and while The Supper is a different vibe, it doesn’t disappoint. This one swaps the chiaroscuro for rich colour and less subtle animation, but both those things complement the pixel style just as well.

Look at those gorgeous reds.

Described as ‘bite-size’ in the introduction and a little bit hand-holdy at first, I wasn’t sure I’d like it as much – but as the game progressed I loved the development into a gory, dark point-and-click. In fact it combines two of my favourite pastimes – cooking and the macabre.

I urge you to join Ms Appleton as she cooks up a feast for her customers, guided by a mysterious disembodied voice. That’s all I’m going to say in terms of the plot. Zzzzzp. It also worth noting that I was unexpectedly moved by the ending – something few pixel artists can achieve of me!

Delores: a blast from the park-a-boo

Terrible Toybox | Steam, GOG, Xbox One, PS4, Android/iOS, Switch

Cheese!

You don’t have to be a fan of Thimbleweed Park to enjoy this one, but it helps. I was pleasantly surprised to hear news of a spin-off from the 2017 game developed by LucasArts alumni. Then stoked to hear it was about Delores. And humbled it was being offered FREE to cheer up fans during shitty times.

It’s essentially a ‘complete the checklist’ minigame, initially conceived as a prototype for Ron Gilbert’s new engine; you play as Delores, now a journalist working for Nickel News, tasked with taking snaps of various objects and occurrences around Thimbleweed Park. It cleverly utilises ‘found art’ from Thimbleweed Park (so don’t expect a whole new game) and is broken up into six tidy segments – there’s no ability to save, but once you’ve completed a set of tasks you’re rewarded with a new set.

Tick! Tick! Tick! Ooh a speck of dust…

This was right up my street for a short game. I’m a slightly OCD completionist so I took great joy in looking for the solutions and ticking off those lists. It’s not too taxing but provides enough challenges to be satisfying (and highly addictive in my case!) The tasks are creative, and polished with the same dry humour we saw in Thimbleweed Park.

And that lovely soundtrack is back, mmm.

Kill Yourself: dark humour done right

Gugames | Steam

This dude’s unlucky.

Some might be put off by the main objective (right there, in its naked glory in the title) but hey, if we can’t look death in the face, let’s vicariously find the most inventive ways to achieve it. In all seriousness, I’ve faced some dark times and I still really like this game – the humour is very tongue-in-cheek, and the cartoon style provides enough detachment for me. The design is pretty no-frills but I like that – nice chunky pixels (noticing a pattern?) and a refreshingly straightforward point-and-click interface.

Damn.

The aim is to find all the different ways to top yourself, by combining and manipulating objects and features of the house, in classic adventure game style. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easy game, though – there are some really great, challenging puzzles, some of which require very lateral thinking. After solving a handful, new rooms are revealed with more puzzles.

The mechanics are nothing new but it’s the concept that’s so original. A daring move from the developer but one that pays off. I’m fed up with all these ‘nice’ games – I’d like to see more dark and uncomfortable topics, provided they’re done right.

So if you fancy something a little different, I highly recommend this. There are 30 different endings – so you better get on it!

Among Us: trust no1

InnerSloth | Steam, Android/iOS, Switch (Xbox soon)

Best selection of hats in a game, ever.

This one has really done the rounds, so you’ve probably heard of it. I played it as a way to stay in touch with friends during the pand-ovid-ona and it did not disappoint. The game places you and 3-9 other players on board a spaceship, where one player is an intruder set on taking you out, one by one. Think virtual Murder in the Dark (not that it’s ever actual murder in the dark… oh you know what I mean).

Each crewmate has a list of tasks to complete around the ship (which themselves are quite fun!); the objective is to complete all of these, or expose the intruder before everyone is killed. If you’re the intruder, you get to stealthily murder each player (and sabotage things on the ship, which is less fun) while pretending to carry out your duties. Whenever a dead body is discovered, everyone can have a chat and vote on who they think is the culprit (with the imposter playing along, which can make for some amusing revelations at the end).

It’s brilliantly suited to mobile gaming, and the potential for cunning and flabbergastery is endless.

Green: I saw Blue kill Red in the engine room! It’s him!’
*everyone votes Blue*
GREEN WAS THE IMPOSTER.

I’ll certainly never trust my friends again.

WILDCARD: Rubik’s Cube

Okay, not a video game, but this is what happens when you watch The Speed Cubers on Netflix. (I’ve moved on to chess now, obviously.)

I haven’t touched one of these for five years or so, but it didn’t take long to remember how bloomin’ addictive those little coloured squares can be. It’s more than just a fidget spinner though – there are methods and mechanics to learn to get you to that final, tidy block. I don’t normally enjoy cheating (yes, that would be ‘cheating’ to me) but it’s actually fun understanding how the intricacies of the puzzle work.

My favourite thing about it is its portability. You can play anywhere – on the couch, in the bath, on the loo (what?) and it looks nice on the shelf. I’ve just remembered that a friend once dressed as a Rubik’s Cube for a hen do (slightly less practical).

Of course, it takes time and finger flexing to master the complete process, and none of us (that I’m aware) are about to star in The Speed Cubers 2. But it’s simple, classic fun from the good old days – and you don’t need a computer!

Musings on the word ‘geek’

A ‘geek’ used to describe someone unfashionably intelligent, or ‘un-cool’ – not far off the definition of ‘nerd’. Bullies used to say it at my school as a jibe – a kind of amalgamation of ‘teacher’s pet’ and ‘loner’. Whoever it was aimed at, it was always a negative and offensive way to describe them.

More recently, being a geek simply means being knowledgeable or very interested in a certain subject – be it a type of technology, film series, book franchise – usually at quite an in-depth level. Though still a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s shed its unfavourable connotations and even gone so far as becoming a term of endearment. Gone are the days when ‘computer enthusiast’ conjured an image of a mysterious underworld where only the nerdiest, weirdest spectacled beings sit in dark rooms and sniffle at the keyboard. It’s now cool to be into things like programming, for example – especially since the growth of digital media and video games. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with those?

So, great, the weirdos are now understood and have a respected place in society, and everyone can move on and be happy. But I can’t help feel this is one of those occasions where negative culture ricochets too far in the opposite direction. The word ‘geek’ is flung around so much that its become a bit meaningless. Far from the original definition, now everyone who has a slight interest in something slightly niche is one. And today it’s cool to be a geek. So many people are self-proclaimed geeks, proud of their niche interest and expertise.

I guess there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that – and for the record I don’t mind being referred to as one, in the right context. But I liked it when it was more of a rarity. It was a more subtle time. These days people like to label themselves, and let’s face it, sometimes it’s inaccurate. Suddenly playing mahjong or watching Game of Thrones makes you a geek. If you have a really in-depth knowledge of the history of mahjong, or say, the different types of wood used in GoT scenery, then sure, but just being a fan of something does not a geek make.

Not to quash the progress we’ve made in equality, but whenever I see someone declaring themselves as a ‘geeky girl’ it kind of makes me cringe. For a start, it shouldn’t, and doesn’t, matter that you’re female. You can be a geek regardless of your gender. You don’t need to specify, and by doing so it sounds like you’re making a point of the fact that you’re a girl, like that’s somehow unexpected, or a novelty. It’s not; it’s 2020.

Another phrase that had me involuntarily lifting my pelvic floor last year: ‘CALLING ALL NERDS AND NERDETTES!’ Why? Why quantify it with a gender? Why is there a distinction – can’t we all just be ‘nerds’? It’s all a bit cutesy and patronising. Women have spent a long time getting people to call them ‘actors’, ‘waiters’ and ‘tie fighters’ (sorry, ‘firefighters’).

I’ve slightly digressed from my original point which is that ‘geek’ is becoming a little overused. It’s like a lot of cultural changes – the fun part is the transition, when people begin taking ownership of a derogative word and it slowly transforms into a positive one. “He’s a bit of a geek.” “There’s nothing wrong with being a geek! He’s really smart.” It’s really great when that happens. It means people’s attitudes are changing for the better, and we’re moving forward.

So isn’t it a bit of a redundant term now? I’m hoping that in time it won’t be used at all, and people will happily refer to one another’s specific interests instead. But there are always new terms cropping up to single people out, and so the process repeats, and the whole thing will come full circle and someone else will be writing a blog post about how irritating it all is.

Who’s my ideal reader?

I thought it would be interesting to look at my blog’s analytics, to see what kind of readers y’all are. That’s right, I’m goin’ to take that there toothpick and poke aroun’ in the recesses of your braiiins. (And promptly rid myself of this here fake and likely offensive Southern drawl.)

I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?

– Stephen King, On Writing

Of course this is a blog, not a story, but the concept is the same.

(The following is based on data from May 2020, otherwise I’d be forever chasing my tail.)

You prefer to read about Doom and monkey wrenches over anally-retentive observations about language

I started this blog in 2018. Since then, the most-read post is What happens when an adventure gamer plays a first-person shooter? and the least-read is Are you using these words correctly?

Stats-overview

These stats are from WordPress’ native analytics data, because I’m too cheap to invest in a premium account with Google Analytics tracking (though I do use Google Search Console). So take it with a pinch of curry powder.

In the beginning, the blog was about language and my passion for words, gradually spiralling into more gaming-related posts. It seems the latter is much more popular – but I had fewer followers back then, so it’s no surprise the lowest ranking post is one from those early days when I was indulging my nitpicking side.

Screenshot 2020-07-25 at 17.05.15

What’s more, it doesn’t shock me that a post about Doom accounts for the most traffic, given its popularity on Twitter. It turns out Doom is an extremely widely appreciated game holding a timeless place in gaming culture, with one of the biggest online communities keeping it thriving. Who’d have thunk it?

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition_ LeChuck's Revenge 08_10_2018 18_11_17

Coming in third place is Can we talk about the monkey wrench puzzle? Again, not a huge surprise – a lot of traffic comes from web searches for ‘monkey wrench puzzle’ and similar terms. The puzzle is a pretty contentious and commonly debated topic, and crops up again and again on gaming forums and the like.

May referrals
Google Search Console, May 2020

It’s also quite telling that people are searching for information about Kid’s gender in 198X. I told you it was ambiguous!

You’re a lovely bunch of twits

Referrals

WordPress referrals, May 2020

Unsurprising that the top referrer is Twitter, since that’s where I promote my posts. I’m ‘silently present’ on a few sites and forums, and as such get some traffic from those too – plus the occasional pingback or tag from other bloggers.

Flipboard is something I only learned about recently. It’s a content-aggregating site that pulls together blog posts, articles and news stories from all different sites and categorises them in a magazine format. There’s some debate over the integrity of these kinds of sites because they reproduce content without permission, but I’m happy for my stuff to be on there for now – they link out to the original post and it’s pretty clear who the author is.

You’re all insomniacs, from the States, and not very productive on a Thursday

Most popular day and hour

Interesting. I guess there are a lot of night owls visiting my blog, or… you’re all from the US.

 

Countries

That may be largely due to the fact that the USA makes up most of Twitter’s users. Or, perhaps adventure games are more popular in the States. Or you’re all using dodgy offshore VPNs. Or, you’re actually just one American dude obsessed with my blog. Or an American bot gone rogue, generating fake likes, comments and utterly misleading stats.

Moving on.

So, who’s my ideal reader?

My IR (Ideal Reader) is a Twitter user who enjoys playing and debating about old games, doesn’t enjoy nitpicking the finer points of English language, is up bleary-eyed at an ungodly hour, and is a Yank who skives off on a Thursday.

So that’s what I’m aiming for. Thank goodness for stats.

I’m crap at Battle Chess, but I don’t care

Battle Chess DOS

I’m not great at chess, but I needed a game to play in between looking after our newborn twins, you know, for a bit of sanity. I thought chess would be good because we could take moves in between feeding, burping and cuddling. And looking after the babies (ba-doom-TSH).

Then I thought, I’m a bit crap at chess though, so I could do with a practice before I go up against my husband who is significantly less crap at it. And what better way to do that than to revisit the delight that is Battle Chess (Interplay Productions, 1988).

Romancing the stoneman

I first played the MS-DOS version of Battle Chess on my PC when I was about 12. Suddenly, a game I’d always thought of as dull and difficult became fun and stimulating – not to mention deliciously dark, which is what made this version of the classic so enticing. The fight-to-the-death animations – and accompanying PC speaker sound effects – puts this version of computer chess way ahead of the others.

The different personalities of the character pieces show through in even the smallest movements; the castle (or rook) turning into a brick-formed brute is a stroke of genius.

I lost the first game. I blame my crush on the castleman.

Who gives a duck?

My favourite story behind Battle Chess, whether it’s true or not, is the one concerning the developer and the duck (Diane, note that title for my next children’s book). Wary of executive approval, he added a small illustration of a duck to the queen piece, to give his bosses something to critique instead of taking out something he actually liked and worked hard on. Sure enough, they removed the duck and approved everything else. A ‘duck’ is now a common term for including something superfluous as ‘bait’ to be taken out.

I lost the second game. I blame daydreaming about that duck.

The Thinker

One of my favourite things about Battle Chess is the idle animation, characterised by Rodin’s The Thinker sitting on a PC.

I lost the third game. I blame thinking about The Thinker.

Give it a few more knights*

*I’m sorry.

So it’s going to be a while before I’m ready to play an actual physical game of chess. But that’s okay as there are apparently 30,000+ opening sequences to play through. On the upside, maybe by that time someone would have made a version based on characters in The X-Files.

Pendemic – a creative outlet in a time of crisis

A few days ago I stumbled on Pendemic (geddit?), a project bringing writers together during the coronavirus outbreak. Anyone can submit a piece, with genres ranging from poetry and short stories to essays, creative non-fiction and letters. You don’t have to be a published writer.

It’s a great idea for a collaboration and there are some great reads – among my favourites are Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Balls, Rules for a Plague Year and 2020: Error Message.

Naturally I’ve written my own piece, Musings During a Pandemic. I went for a comedic approach, as I often do during times like these. Sure, the coronavirus isn’t funny, but without humour I’d go insane.

If you’re of the writery type, why not submit something? It’s mostly poetry on there at the moment, so help fill up the other categories!

Pendemic is a way for us all to share our experiences, it’s a tool and a refuge, not a literary magazine for ordinary times but a journal for an exceptional one – so all voices will be included: we’re not showcasing literary talent but writing this pandemic out – you are all welcome.

– from the Pendemic website

Pendemic was formed by Joy Redmond, Liz Quirke, Niall McArdle and Ruth McKee.

On a related note, I hope you’re all keeping safe and well during these not-so-brilliant times.

Does ‘The Curse of Monkey Island’ let the franchise down?

The Curse of Monkey Island opening screen

I’ve had a lot of people ask me if it’s worth playing the third instalment of the Monkey Island series, and it’s a question I asked myself, too.

When I played The Secret of Monkey Island for the first time a few years ago, I loved it. The humour was really something else, the puzzles were challenging but well-designed, and the story captivating. I was even more blown away by Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. It made such an impression on me that I sat gazing at the end credits in sheer elation. There aren’t many games that do that for me.

While it was natural to continue my swashbuckling in The Curse of Monkey Island, I was reluctant. Released six years after MI2, it’s something of a departure from the first two games; the art style is more cartoonish, there’s a coin interface in place of the verbs; and most importantly, it was developed under a different team. No Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman or Tim Schafer.

The Curse of Monkey Island cartoon graphics

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not that much of a snob that I turn my nose up because my heroes are absent from the taskforce, but the perfectly balanced writing and design from that trio is hard to beat.

And don’t forget I’m coming to this 22 years later. By now Gilbert is an established veteran of the genre, and there’s a bit of a community coldness towards ‘non-canon’ Monkey Island – fuelled more so by the loss of the Monkey Island rights and Disney’s refusal to give them back. (No petitions please, we’ve been over this.) I imagine Curse wasn’t so tainted back in 1998.

Anyway, I went in with an open mind.

Cartoon vs pixel art

At first I was like, eugh, this is so ‘Disneyed up’ (even before they got their hands on the IP). Facial expressions are dreamy and goggle-eyed, there are giant swirls of colour in the backgrounds, and everything looks like it’s made out of rubber. It made me miss the dark, moody hues of the first Monkey Island.

The Curse of Monkey Island Elaine
Oh hey, Belle.

Secret of Monkey Island lookout
That’s better.

LeChuck’s Revenge is a bit brighter, and perhaps closer to the colour palette of Curse, but still, the latter feels flat and lacking depth. But it’s a more modern time, and it makes sense to update graphics from the pixel-heavy artwork of the earlier games – and while I didn’t play them until adulthood, there’s probably still a bit of ‘faux nostalgia’ factoring into my critique.

And that’s not to say I didn’t warm to the artwork as I got further through it. While my least favourite are the close-ups character profiles, there are some really beautiful wide shots.

The Curse of Monkey Island town

Coin interface vs verbs

Again, these kinds of changes are necessary to move forward. In the Space Quest games I hated the transition from the (supposed) freedom of the text parser to a coin setup, but here it works quite well. It’s much less intrusive, only appearing when I want to investigate something, and it’s more mouse-friendly.

One thing I found is that it’s not always obvious when an action changes (such as when  ‘talk’ becomes ‘taste’), but hey, that’s all part of the puzzle. I actually grew to really appreciate little subtleties in the game like this.

In this example, the object I was looking at changed its label after Guybrush inspects it more thoroughly. Genius.

The Curse of Monkey Island - authentic native maskThe Curse of Monkey Island - product of LuxembourgThe Curse of Monkey Island - semi-authentic native mask

Nice touches

There are other nice touches throughout, such as the town clock that keeps real time. It took me a little while to notice, but again that’s the beauty.

Something I didn’t expect to match the earlier games is the humour, but there are some really smart moments where the game pokes fun at itself and the genre, continuing the sharp satire from MI1 and 2. There are some stellar moments of pointed realism.

Curse of Monkey Island - cryptCurse of Monkey Island - crypt 2

Curse of Monkey Island - crypt 3
MIC DROP.

Unintuitive puzzles

Unfortunately, the puzzle construction is where the game really fell down for me, and perhaps is what makes it less popular among LucasArts fans than its predecessors.

A memorable example is the gold tooth puzzle. I won’t go into too much detail and risk spoilers, but if you’ve played it already you know what I’m talking about.

I knew I needed the gold tooth from Blondebeard’s mouth, and that I had a jawbreaker in my inventory. So far, so good. The next bit with the gum made sense, and off we go. Until–

Curse of Monkey Island - gold tooth Blondebeard

The next bit took me ages to figure out. I tried using everything in my inventory, in all sorts of imaginative ways, ultimately brute forcing each item and combination and still didn’t get anywhere. In the end I think I consulted the Universal Hint System to solve it.

I appreciate puzzles are a bit subjective; your approach will likely depend on an array of things, from your native language and vocabulary, capacity for remembering seemingly unimportant bits of dialogue, random events and of course your general puzzle-solving experience. It’s always a gamble for game designers to put themselves in the mind of the player given that not everyone thinks the same way about a problem.

I should note that I was playing on ‘Mega Monkey’ difficulty. In the easier mode, Guybrush can walk out of the shop with the tooth without being summoned back by Blondebeard, and the second part of the solution isn’t necessary. This makes me wonder if the convoluted second part was just bolted on to satisfy the Mega Monkey contingent; it might’ve been better to rethink the puzzle as a whole.

There are other puzzles like this (getting out of the snake; getting the map; accessing the crypt), and it was only once I got to part three that they seemed to be better thought out and more logical (without being ‘easy’). Having played the first two games the puzzles here just feel awkward and cobbled together.

Lack of polish

This awkwardness extends to the plot, too. The story development in Curse feels more disjointed than the first two games. It’s all a bit piecemeal, and just not as well held together. There’s a long stretch between most of the chapters and scenery changes, which gets a bit dull and frustrating, and I just didn’t get the same sense of fulfilment and completeness that I did with Secret and LeChuck’s Revenge.

As for the ending, I found it weak and anticlimactic, especially compared to MI2. Sure, the ending of LeChuck’s Revenge is controversial, but at least that means it’s interesting!

So should I play it?

Despite my whinging, I’d say yes, if you’ve played the first two then it’s worth it. Even if you end up agreeing with the cons I’ve drawn on above, there’s some great humour to be had, some of the puzzles are fun and challenging in the right ways, and it goes some way to tickling those nostalgia sensors.

As for Escape and Tales, that’s for another time…

Roger Wilco: The Character That Defines Musings of a Nitpicking Girl

This is a great collaboration. Read my piece and others to come throughout the year!

Normal Happenings

JAN 6 MUSIC

We could not find a more appropriate theme if we tried! This original composition captures the essence of the Space Quest series perfectly, with both whimsy and quite horror. Or, perhaps we’re looking too deeply into what is simply a beautiful spacey jam. Either way, we hope you enjoy!

We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Also, we can confirm that, because this tater-tot has eyes, it reads these entries!


INTRODUCTION

Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers! We’re so thankful for the positive reception of the first piece, and we know you’ll love this entry by Kate from Musings of a Nitpicking Girl just as much.

In her about section, Kate claims to be a nitpicker, meaning she’s “a person who…

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Christmas musings 2019

Populous snow level
One year I will make this as a Christmas cake

Ho ho ho and a bottle of grog.

This time last year I was pretty grumpy. Some personal things really weren’t going my way, and I was a bit lost. Thankfully, through some miracle, things are better now. But before I get on to that, here’s a run-down of my gaming and blogging shenanigans in 2019. (If I can write it before Christmas is over, what with this frustratingly sticky keyboard. There we go – moaning resumed.)

Gaming

My gaming tally is atrocious compared to 2018. It turns out I’ve completed a grand total of *drum roll* three games in a whole year (Unforeseen Incidents, Doom and 198X). That’s frankly rather embarrassing. Where did the time go?

I have, however, added a new genre to my favourites – old school FPS. Doom really opened my eyes to the fact that shooting at things can be hella fun, and doesn’t have to involve traipsing round huge landscapes or having a degree in weaponry. Don’t get me wrong – my enjoyment of FPS games is limited to the early 90s so it’s a small window, but a window all the same.

Blogging

I like to think my lack of gaming can be attributed to my increase in blogging. I’ve written around the same number of posts this year, but they’ve been much deeper and more focused. My stats are way better and that’s rewarding.

Something that hasn’t changed is that I’ve had a lot of fun interacting with the gaming community on WordPress and Twitter. Perhaps for that reason I’ve steered away from writing for other sites lately. I get so much more engagement through my own blog posts and I can make sure my stuff gets out there, instead of watching it go to waste.

Thanks so much to all my followers and readers for your support this year – it really means a lot!

Monkey-moment

Some personal news

So what’s the reason Kate has hung up her Scrooge breeches and ditched the sour face?

Mr Kate and I are finally welcoming not one, but two new members to our home of nerdery and geekdom, as it turns out I’m expecting twins next year. Holy moly! We’ve known for a while now but I still can’t believe it. Without getting too personal we’ve had a pretty awful four years trying to start a family, and it really is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. We’re (cautiously) over the moon 🙂

So fix Guybrush a grog, put up the tree and pop a Santa hat on Doomguy, because I’m determined to enjoy Christmas this year.

(But will someone please get me a new keyboard?)