Is Twitter really that bad, or have I just not had my shitstorm moment?

Demon-gentleman

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people saying things like, ‘I need to get off Twitter, but I can’t.’ Or, ‘I’ve been really good and not gone on Twitter for a week.’ Or ‘@%£$ you, Twitter, you big pile of horse crap!’

Personally, I like Twitter, so comments like this strike oddly upon my ears. I’ve never felt the need to ‘wean’ myself off it, or take a break for reasons other than to go on holiday or meet a deadline. I know plenty of others who have used it for a long time and feel the same. Still, lately there’s a real sense that people find Twitter abhorrent and conversely addictive, like a bad habit they can’t shake.

I definitely identified with that feeling when I left Facebook. At first, I found it useful for sharing photos and keeping in touch, but grew to loathe how it encourages people to self-obsess, brag and compete with everyone else. It’s like a wily witch luring you in with features like ‘my story’ that only urge people to talk about themselves. It’s so ripe for comparing people to one another, and that can be very dangerous, especially when things aren’t so great on your side of the fence. Humans don’t cope well with that kind of psychology.

Twitter vs Facebook

When I discovered Twitter, I thought, hey, here’s somewhere I can bond with other like-minded people on the subjects I find interesting like gaming, writing and general geekery. It’s not a soap opera about who’s changed hair colour, having their fifteenth baby or hint-whinging about something or other (‘can’t say, hun’). Don’t get me wrong – I’m obviously keen to know how my friends are and what’s going on with them, but I would much rather do that in person. I’ve lost count of how many people have said, ‘Oh didn’t you know? I put it on Facebook’.

If anything, Twitter fills a void in my ‘real life’, providing a space to chat about gaming and other things my friends just aren’t into. What’s more, there are few other platforms (except maybe Discord or Kickstarter) where I can engage with devs and other inspiring people who are happy to open themselves up to fans. I can stay up to date with important announcements about games, gigs and news that’s relevant to me. I can promote stuff like my blog and the websites I write for, knowing I’m hitting the right audiences and not boring family and friends who might not give a banana about the complexities of the monkey wrench puzzle.

Politics!

When I have seen people come to blows, it’s usually over differing opinions on the state of the world, or conflicting morals or behaviour. Quite rightly, people have a lot to say on the big issues, how they’re directly or indirectly affected by the decisions of our leaders (and voters, cough), new laws, environmental crises, and so on. I haven’t come up against that yet, but I tend to stay out of those sorts of conversations, so maybe that’s why.

Trolls!

I get this. Some imbeciles exist on Twitter solely to prod people until they get a rise. It’s even worse if you’re blue-ticked. I’ve been trolled a bit and while it was pretty short-lived, I can see how it might make you want to run away, arms flailing. It’s easy enough to block and ignore, but if fame makes you an attractive prospect for the trolling breed, I guess there’s ultimately no escaping it.

Addiction!

I’m all too aware of how social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other online platforms can quickly become all-consuming and so addictive that I catch myself checking timelines and then picking up my phone again a second later. I’m aware of the sudden joy that pings my endorphin receptors whenever that like or retweet symbol pops up (and the sadness when it conflates 20 likes into one). It’s human nature to crave that validation. What worries me is that I don’t remember always needing it – not until I started getting it. It may not be as bad as Facebook, but Twitter instills neediness too.

Tempting fate

Of course I’ll probably have my shitstorm moment now, ending with me rage quitting in a haze of disappointing realisation.

I believe your overall experience and enjoyment of Twitter comes down to how you use it, and who you interact with – but there is a shelf life. All social media has the potential to become wholly overbearing, hateful and addictive, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before I experience that first hand.

I was all set to publish this, then a tweet about my Doom blog post unexpectedly took off (thanks John Romero). So now I’d like to add a new category…

Twitter fatigue

It’s all fun and excitement when a tweet gets a lot of attention; even better when people interact and there are some nice exchanges. In my specific case, it was great seeing how a game has influenced so many in different ways, and how people are united by that. And on a personal level, people were reading my stuff and enjoying it. For those first few hours or so I felt great.

Then something weird happened. I started feeling uneasy, and I wanted to remove myself from all the activity hitting my feed. I wanted the notifications to stop.

I guess part of that was the exhaustion that comes from trying to acknowledge and reply to (almost) everybody, but it was also a mental thing. I felt foggy-headed and overwhelmed. Even while the pings were still coming in, I was going through a bit of a comedown, like after a caffeine high, or the end of a holiday.

And this is following only a minor event – it must be ten times that for people when something goes viral. If you’re in the public eye I suppose it’s something you get used to, but perhaps then it becomes meaningless, and ultimately tiresome. For the rest of us, those moments are rare and short-lived, but that’s not to say they don’t make us feel part of a community or even inspire us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t.

I’m curious to revisit this post in a year or so. Will I have closed my Twitter account? Gone incognito? Switched to something else instead? Will Twitter itself be shut down over a mass controversy? Place your bets.

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The Ultimate Video Game: dev team

Now that I’ve established the main elements of my hypothetical point-and-click game, my thoughts have been turning to my hypothetical dev team, and who I’d have on it.

A recap of the game

In 2019, archaeologists uncover the IT basement of a 1980s bank. Pete, the architect sent to survey it for demolition, is captivated by the room and its perfectly preserved contents, and barricades himself in. He soon discovers that something sinister happened here, and using clues left by Head of IT, Earl, back in 1989, he is sucked into a story of government conspiracy and brainwashing. Who were The Suits, and what happened to Earl?

The game is an adventure point-and-click with parts told in flashback, and solving puzzles by toggling between Earl in 1989 and Pete in 2019; they work ‘together’ with the player bridging the gap between past and present.

Read more posts about the Ultimate Video Game >>

Who would help me make my ideal video game?

My team would consist of talented, enthusiastic and inspiring people who all have something valuable to bring to the mix. I’d embrace a team that questions my ideas, makes me consider things from all angles, and works together to ultimately deliver the best product possible.

Then we can all celebrate with a curry and a pint o’ grog.

David Fox and Ron Gilbert, programming and design

Ron Gilbert and David Fox drawnA no-brainer, really. Well-established veterans of the point-and-click genre and responsible for some of my favourite games (Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Thimbleweed Park), their experience of programming, storytelling and dealing with the many bugbears of game development puts them firmly at the top of my list. I’m a picky, meticulous person in both personality and career, so I’d need people on a par with that.

Some key mechanics of the game would be tricky – toggling between 1989 and 2019 to complete tasks, and some very strict puzzle dependency towards the end – so I’d need their expertise. Their gaming ‘morals’ would also be a perfect match – I’ve already mentioned there will be no dying, no hand-holding tutorials, and logical puzzle chains.

I followed development of Thimbleweed Park (play it if you haven’t!) via their insightful dev blog and podcasts, and have had some great interactions with them too (David’s just as friendly as you’d think; Ron as delightfully cynical).

So if we’re treating this as an ideal scenario with no holds barred, David and Ron would be there (with me nitpicking over their shoulders).

Matt Nikutta and Octavi Navarro, artwork and animation

Matt and OctaviNot so long ago I played Unforeseen Incidents, a wonderful, fresh new point-and-click adventure game. Matt’s hand-drawn artwork was what grabbed my attention – unique and beautiful sketches that capture such atmosphere (and humour, when appropriate). I’d love to see him create eye-catching backdrops of Pete’s office, the excavation, the buried IT room, and the final, dramatic scene when the building is demolished for good. His vivid close-ups would be perfect for animating Pete and Earl’s anguished faces, and for the dry, sinister styling of the Suits.

I’ve been a fan of pixel art for a while, and Octavi just blows me away. Another member of the Thimbleweed Park crew – but it’s his personal portfolio of amazing cross-sections that I find so mesmerising (I have one on my wall as I type this). His pixelated style would be perfect for injecting some 80s detail into Earl’s IT room – the big computer monitors, Depeche Mode posters, retro inventory items, the 80s verb design (see Gameplay) and other little Easter eggs and features.

Kim from Later Levels, project management

Kim3Who better to put in charge of planning and scheduling than the person who started it all? If it wasn’t for the Later Levels Ultimate Video Game collaboration this wouldn’t even be a thing. Kim’s a legend in my blogging circles. She’s awesome at bringing the community together and inspiring other writers, all while churning out great content on a much more regular basis than me! I bet she’d have some great ideas, too.

Story and dialogue… well, me.

Naturally, I’d want to protect and preserve the characters, story and messages that I’ve scoped out so far – so I’d need the be the one in control of that.

I’ve written for a lot of different audiences over the years – with the exception of video games. This would be the ultimate challenge, bringing together two of my favourite things. Writing my characters and their story into life would be incredible. All with the help of my wonderful, entirely hypothetical team of course!

Given my error-seeking ways, I’d take care of QA, too.

That was fun.

I’ve had a blast fantasising about my Ultimate Video Game. I’d planned to explore more elements, but I think I’ve covered everything that’s important to me, and there’s only so far an imaginary project can go!

I’ve become quite attached to Earl and Pete, and often find myself daydreaming about their fates. I’m toying with the idea of turning this into a story project, where I’d write a chapter per post on a semi-regular (cough) basis, just for fun, and to see where it goes. But we’ll see.

 

Five games that gave me Tetris Syndrome

Tetris Syndrome is the result of repeating an action to the point that you start to act out or hallucinate the motions in real life – like piecing Tetris blocks together. It’s not limited to gaming, though that’s where the idea comes from.

Tetris Syndrome is also known as Tetris Effect, but that now means something else in our gaming world.

1. Tetris

tetris-mega-drive

No surprise there.

I regularly envisage things slotting together when I’m out and about – brick walls, high-rise buildings, people in my yoga class. It’s ingrained from years of playing Tetris, though it’s even worse when I’ve just been playing it. Sometimes I involuntarily fit blocks together in my mind as I’m drifting off to sleep, or just waking up.

On the plus side, it’s very useful for packing for holiday, cramming useless items into tiny cupboards and stacking the dishwasher. That sounds facetious, but I really do believe it helps. How can it not? It’s not like all those years of rotating shapes was a complete waste of time. Is it? IS IT?

2. The Witness

D7ezL3pXoAAD4-W

Seriously, I really did draw a mental beam of light down my cat’s arm.

Anyone who’s extensively played The Witness will know that a large part of the game is spent trying to draw light beams from anything that remotely resembles a circle with a path under it. It means your brain is trained to look for this pattern everywhere – and it doesn’t take long before that extends into real life.

Cats, shower heads, fried eggs, zebra crossings… I’m surrounded!

Finding these pathways is kind of a side mission in the game, and as such the player is only partly engaged with the idea as they go about solving the main puzzles. I think that’s quite key – it easily becomes a subconscious pattern-seeking compulsion because it sits in the back of your mind, even when you stop playing.

3. Thimbleweed Park

Thimbleweed Park speck of dust

In Thimbleweed Park you can pick up tiny specks of dust while exploring the kooky town. It’s also an achievement to collect all of them, so that was me addicted from the outset. The fact that I’ve spent so much time playing it means I am now cursed to spot a tiny pixel of dust wherever I go.

Sometimes this is actual dust when I’ve been lax on the cleaning, so not all bad.

There’s also an achievement for not collecting any specks of dust, which I dutifully fulfilled. I think that merely enhanced the syndrome, since you still have to notice them to avoid picking them up.

4. Doom

Doom 1993

I’ve been playing Doom a lot lately (you haven’t noticed?)

This is really quite embarrassing, but I’ve found myself strafing around the house a few times. Yeah. Picture that for a moment.

If I go through a narrow doorway and I’m looking for someone (human/feline), an apparently innate instinct makes me flinch to the side when I see them. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been trying really hard to improve my strategy in Doom instead of relying on my weapons. Particularly when it came to that cyberdemon – I think that was when I was at the peak of my household strafing.

Who knows, it could come in handy one day?

5. The ‘undo’ shortcut (okay, four games)

command-z

This is a super weird one. You know Command-z (Control-z on Windows)? At my last job when I used InDesign extensively, ‘undo’ was a useful shortcut. I’d use it all the time. I like to think I was meticulous rather than constantly making mistakes, but that’s beside the point.

Around the time of a really heavy workload I’d catch myself thinking I could undo my actions away from the computer. So I’d put something in the cupboard at home and then think, no wait I still need that, UNDO. Or I’d turn the TV over then want to turn it back again. UNDO. It was a very weird point in my life. It was extremely subtle and I only just caught myself doing it, and would then think, what the… what am I DOING?!

Of course, it would be pretty handy having an undo button in life. Though if everyone did, it could get messy.

Am I worried?

No, not really. I quite like these little intricacies of our brains. It means there’s a lot of complex stuff going on in there – and a lot of it subliminal. There’s evidence that programmers who develop Tetris Syndrome get better at coding. Our brains are learning these patterns in case we want to use them again.

And when you’re (still) trying to beat the world Tetris record, that can be handy.

Have you been affected by Tetris Syndrome? I can’t provide a Helpline, but I would like to hear about it in the comments.

The Ultimate Video Game: gameplay

image of an amusing puzzle dependency chart

An update on Question of the Month

So a few weeks ago it was announced that the Question of the Month/Ultimate Video Game collaboration has come to an end. It’s a shame, but totally understandable – I’ve found it a challenge keeping on top of these posts so I can only imagine what’s involved in running the whole thing! As such I’m really grateful to Later Levels and OverThinker Y for the opportunity.

That said, I intend to finish what I started! I’ve cultivated so many ideas along the way and there’s still more I want to explore from both a gaming concept and writing point of view.

So, on to the next element: gameplay.

(If you haven’t read the previous posts covering setting, protagonist, antagonist and plot, you might want to do that first.)

Gameplay and interface

Throughout this process I’ve been picturing the game as a 2D illustrated adventure, with an old-school LucasArts point and click interface (shocker). So there would be a pretty typical verb layout like the one in The Secret of Monkey Island – but with modern styling, a show/hide option, and slightly different verbs.

Image from The Secret of Monkey Island

Cut scenes would zoom in on the action in a more film-like way, with close-ups of our protagonists and the discoveries they make. Some of these would also be flashbacks, to tell bits of Earl’s story in the 1980s. Then as the player progresses there will eventually be a toggle button that allows the player to jump between 1989 Earl and 2019 Pete, playing parts of the game as each character. Which brings me to the next feature…

Puzzles

There will be a nice range of fairly typical puzzle types, including tile sliding, riddles, deciphering and inventory focused tasks – and maybe some mini games too.

As the game advances and Pete finds more clues left behind by Earl, a large portion of puzzle-solving will involve toggling between 1989 and 2019 – Earl and Pete will effectively work ‘together’, with the player bridging the gap between past and present. For example, if Pete needs to use a broken walkman in the present, the player can go back to the 1980s, play as Earl, and stop it from being knocked off the table in the first place. If he needs batteries for it, he can check where Earl hid them from his pilfering colleagues.

Towards the end of the game, there will be a significant puzzle that involves aligning events in the past and present in perfect timing (this will be the infamous difficult bit that YouTubers rage about).

The style of the game will change subtly when the player is in the 1980s, as both an atmospheric device and a reminder to the player which era they are currently in (since a lot of the scenes will take place in the same environment). For example: the verb selector will take on a more retro, pixelated look; artwork will be rougher; and the overall colour palette will be more restricted.

Depending on how, and how much, the player changes the past, this will be reflected in slight variations on the ending.

Structure and difficulty

The game will have three main chapters – the first is for exposition, story-growing and skill-building; the second introduces the back-and-forth time travelling; the third advances all those things and is much more frantic and potentially quite tricky. There are no difficulty settings and no hand-holding tutorials – you learn as you go.

But that’s okay because there will be infinite cloud save slots! There will be no dying, but the player may have to restart some puzzles if they fail. I’d also incorporate a checklist to keep track of important objectives and progress. Pete would view this on his smartphone; Earl on a hi-tech 1980s PDA.

Achievements, just for fun

80s raver: listen to 20 chart toppers
Bhaji barmy: eat 50 onion bhajis
Neon bangle-toots: collect all ten neon bangles
Pro Procrastinator: Complete Level 1 of Pipe Mania
Too kool for skool: spell ‘boobies’ on Earl’s calculator
Mind-boggling toggling: toggle between past and present ten times in 20 seconds

 

What happens when an adventure gamer plays a first-person shooter?

I like to think I’m open-minded about different genres, but really I’m an adventure gamer at heart. I enjoy following stories, collecting things and solving puzzles. Anything that involves firing bullets just doesn’t appeal to me – I’m not talking about the odd kill, but where the main strategy is to blast everyone to bits.

However when it comes to food, I’ll try pretty much anything – and that mostly ends well. So I’m going to apply this same logic to gaming – the classic shooter is a category that’s eluded me for a while, and it’s about time I addressed that.

Doom_cover_art

I didn’t need long to decide which game would be best suited to pop my FPS cherry. Doom (1993) is the absolute natural choice – a trailblazer in the world of first-person shooters with its 3D graphics, multiplayer network and endless opportunity for mods. It has such a reputation among my peers – and it’s deliciously old-school.

Doom-quote

id Software was also responsible for Commander Keen, one of my favourite DOS games as a child. And, you know, since Doomguy is Billy Blaze’s son and all. So I hopped onto Steam and parted with the teensy sum of £3.99 (€4-ish) and only 28MB of storage (another reason why old games are great).

I’ve got my beer. I’ve got my volume up.

Here we go.

Image of Doom title screen

This looks delightfully classic. There’s my ammo, health, arms, armour (sorry, I can’t not put a ‘U’ in that), and various ammo counters.

And there’s a tiny, enraged Doomguy head, ready to FIGHT!

Image of Doom episode selection screen

Episode selection time. I’m opting for the first, in the hope that if it all goes tits-up I can hide among the bodies.

Image of Doom skill level selection screen

Choose your skill level. Well obviously I’m going for the easiest. Don’t raise your eyebrow at me Doomguy! This ain’t no Keen!

Image of first level of Doom
‘The pool is currently closed.’

It seems that some of my enemies have been killed for me already, which is nice. At first I thought that was a concession because I’m playing on the lowest difficulty, but apparently it’s the same regardless. On that note I’m loving the graphics – from my observations of modern FPS games I can totally see how Doom laid down the concept. I really like the music too. It’s spurring me on. Grr!

What I would’ve liked is a bit of story at the beginning. Sure, I don’t have the boxed version which probably had some lore in it. But on-screen would be nice, too. I don’t really know why I’m here – just that I’m in a nightmarish maze world, fighting zombie soldiers and pink monsters. I like to have a clear objective (I guess that comes from adventure gaming too).

But it’s nice how everything is contained – unlike the more modern fighting games which just seem endless and open-ended. This is quite arcade-like, which suits me.

Image of collecting health in Doom
On reflection, I should’ve screengrabbed the actual health

I’ve picked up some health. I guess that’s mostly intended for the harder levels when you’d need it after killing the guys that are pre-killed for me here. I’m a bit OCD about collecting everything, even if unnecessary. That might be my downfall.

Oh hey, my health status went up though, so maybe not so unnecessary. Perhaps this is hyper strength, like steroids (don’t look down, Doomguy). I suppose that means I’ll have more health to spare when I get a battering. I got some armour, too. The little helmets remind me of the TV show, Knightmare.

I’m using the classic controls, by the way. So the arrow cursors to move around, Ctrl to fire, Spacebar to open doors. It’s how I would’ve played it in the day. I could opt to override that with an XBox controller, but I won’t just yet. It’s nice and simple – not many keys to remember, and no double joints required. It’s running through DOSBox (via Steam).

Image of armour suit in Doom
ArmoUr

That looks useful! A neon green military vest. This puts my armour up to 100%, nice. A big boost like that is usually indicative of an imminent challenge, and I’m right.

Heeeeere’s Johnny!

Image of first enemy on easy level of Doom

The enemies are quite difficult to spot in some parts of the game, even when they’re ahead as opposed to behind you or to the side. There’s a bit of warning before they get too close though, and yes, okay, to get to the point that first kill was very satisfying. Is it too late to backtrack on my abhorrence of weapon-based games?

A couple of hours later…

I’m loving this game. The levels after that really open up, and I found myself really getting into it. I mean, really immersed in a way that I perhaps wouldn’t be with an adventure game. In a classic point-and-click where you’re exploring, meeting characters and scouring for inventory items it’s a much more laid-back experience. In a FPS you’re required to be focussed and alert the whole time, in case an imp or demon comes bumbling out of nowhere. There’s no time to admire some Caribbean scenery or amusing dialogue – it’s thrash or be thrashed.

Image from Doom showing Hangar level finish

And I can completely see how games like Doom are so addictive. I now understand my husband’s reluctance to be nourished and watered when in the midst of a killing spree. It’s much harder to find a stopping point than in a story-based adventure. There are few moments where it feels right to abandon a mission, apart from at the end of a level.

The progression feels really nice, too. It’s pretty easy at the start, but gradually increases in complexity with more weapon options, varying enemies and more labyrinthine environments (I’m too embarrassed to say how long I was floundering about in the Computer Station).

Image of the Computer Station map in Doom
The Computer Station level map

Everyone loves a good Help menu

I had a slight panic when I realised I didn’t know how to switch weapons then, hey, here’s a handy screen! In the days of yore we didn’t need any of your fancy tutorials, but a Help screen like this is actually pretty useful. It also showed me that there’s a map (not that it helped me in my Computer Station stumbling – some people just can’t navigate for crap).

Image of Doom Help screen

In terms of fun factor, my favourite weapon has to be the chainsaw. It’s not that practical since you can’t use it from afar, but it’s so delightfully gory. Speaking in 2018 at the WAD conference (Doom’s Development: A Year of Madness), Romero remembers that they had a chainsaw in the studio, borrowed from Tom Hall’s girlfriend, to use as a reference for the art.

Doom-quote 2

I love that. They simply made a chainsaw look like a chainsaw. It’s that simplicity that I love, and what I think is so appealing about the game. There are no complex side missions or things to piece together – just stages to progress through.

I guess the complexity at the time – for both the creators and players – was in the 3D format. Along with Wolfenstein 3D it cemented the 3D shooter genre for decades to come, and it’s still thriving. It’s so easy to overlook given how far game design has come since, but at the time it was pioneering.

It’s almost ironic that my preconceptions about not liking games like Doom probably came from what I’ve seen of modern FPS games like Far Cry – open-world, lifelike, heavy duty gaming that is far too epic for my tastes. It seems all I had to do was look to the past, to the origins of the FPS to find one that I’d enjoy. And who knows, maybe I’ll end up playing through the whole evolution until I become a fan of the modern varieties.

The gosh-darn-it verdict

So, I’m pleasantly surprised. In playing Doom I’ve made an unlikely addition to my list of treasured DOS games. I’m still playing while I write this up. Afterwards I might try my hand at Wolfenstein and Half-Life. I’d also like to sample some of the many Doom mods that are out there.

Adventure games will always be top of my list, but it’s fun exploring genres that are outside of my comfort zone – especially when they contain an important piece of gaming history.

And hell, it’s nice to find a chainsaw that can actually be used.

Achievement Unlocked Award

About a week ago I got a nice surprise when a notification popped up telling me Megan from A Geeky Gal has nominated me for this award. Thanks Megan!

achievement-unlocked-award

The Achievement Unlocked Award is for anyone who would fit into geeky blogging that goes above and beyond in our niche. Whether you are all about video games, DIY across all fandoms, sharing your cosplay journey, or anywhere in between, it all fits and is worth celebrating. – Michelle @ A Geek Girl’s Guide

Megan’s name crops up a lot in my blogging circles so I’m pretty honoured she thought of me! I urge you to go visit her great blog, covering a huge range of geeky endeavours from anime and gaming to cosplay, YouTubing and poetic musings.

What does the nomination mean?

The rules are simple: if you are nominated, you’ll answer the five below standard questions for every award and the five custom questions by the nominator. You’ll then change their custom five to five of your own questions and nominate other bloggers you think deserve this award. Make sure to thank whoever nominated you and include the award description as well!

Standard Questions

Why did you start your blog?

Musings of a Nitpicking Girl began as a blog about the English language. As well as being a grammar/spelling nitpicker I’ve always been interested in language and how we use it day to day, so I decided to write about it. Since then it’s morphed into a blog about my other passion: gaming (though sometimes I combine the two!)

What are your favourite topics to write about?

I love writing about meaty gaming theory (such as puzzle constructs; the role of hints; why we like mindless games) – usually of the retro kind. Recently I’ve really enjoyed getting back to some fiction writing by taking part in the Ultimate Video Game challenge.

What have you learned since you started your blog?

I’ve learned that there is a big blogging community out there – particularly in the world of gaming – and that it’s fun and rewarding to interact with other bloggers. I’ve always been a bit of a loner so I didn’t see that coming!

I’ve also learned to be myself – a blog is the perfect retreat to ramble on about what interests me, without judgement. I can write more professionally (ha!) elsewhere, but my blog is for me.

What do you love about being a geeky blog?

‘Geeky’ is a term that gets flung around a lot these days; ironically, it’s almost fashionable to be a geek now, despite its negative associations. But if I take it in the sense of being a bit niche I love connecting with people who have the same interests, and I enjoy exchanging ideas and thoughts about adventure games and cult TV/film, since not all of my ‘real life’ friends are into that.

Where would you like to see your blog go in the future?

I feel like it’s still growing, as I’ve not written that many posts (nowhere near Megan’s 300-odd!) I’m slowly accruing more followers, so I guess I’d like it to carry on as it is. I’ve got loads more to write about, and a burgeoning backlog of ideas still to explore. I don’t like to plan too much, so I’ll see where it ends up!

Custom Questions

What are you currently binge watching?

I’m currently working my way through ER with my husband. We’ve had lots of fun playing ‘spot the then-unknown actor’. I’ve been rewatching a lot of 3rd Rock from the Sun too (for an article, but now I’m hooked again). I’m also really enjoying the current series of Game of Thrones, but at one a week that’s not really binging. I’ve just started The Umbrella Academy, which is amazing, so that will most likely become a binge watch soon.

What was the last game you played that had an emotional impact on you?

Probably Inside. It’s so disturbing and atmospheric – even more so than Limbo – and I felt really quite affected by the time I reached the end. That’s rare for me, as I tend to be a bit desensitised to grim things what with me loving that sort of stuff… I don’t want to spoil it for others but there were just some parts of it that made me uneasy (in a good way), and really took my breath away.

Have you ever been to a convention?

Yes! But not of the gaming kind. I went to a couple of X-Files conventions as a teen (I’m a massive fan), with my friend who was equally obsessive about it. I came back with all sorts – comics, postcards, trading cards, the official map…

Oh, I’ve also been to Comic Con a few times, which was great (Christopher Lloyd gave a great talk and I’m pretty sure Corey Feldman is a robot).

What three apps do you use the most?

Twitter, WhatsApp and Google Keep!

When did you first realise you were a geek?

I still struggle a bit with what that term implies, but I suppose I’ve always been interested in things that would be classed as ‘geeky’ – retro stuff, tech, puzzles, video games, and generally being a bit socially awkward, haha. I spent a lot of time in front of my computer as a kid, while everyone else was out playing.

I guess it’s mixed in with a bit of nerd, too. As I’ve got older I’ve met lots of similar-minded people – in my colleagues, friends and husband (we like to compare Excel functions over a glass of vino) – and that’s been awesome.

That was fun!

My nominations…

(Caveat: if this isn’t your beef, please don’t feel obliged to do it!)

Standard questions

  • Why did you start your blog?
  • What are your favourite topics to write about?
  • What have you learned since you started your blog?
  • What do you love about being a geeky blog?
  • Where would you like to see your blog go in the future?

Custom questions

  • What does the term ‘geek’ mean to you?
  • If there was a regular blog about your life, who would you want to write it?
  • If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
  • Would you rather have Sonic the Hedgehogs for feet, or Tetris pieces for hands?

The Ultimate Video Game: plot

INXS-Kick-border

I’m thinking this might be the hardest element to write, and as such I’ve been putting it off. I mean cripes, I’ve been dusting.

Recap: this post is part of The Ultimate Video Game, an ongoing challenge set by LaterLevels and OverthinkerY. I’ve already covered the setting, protagonist and antagonist in earlier posts.

April’s element is the plot. This bit feels really strange for two reasons. Firstly, when I write fiction it tends to be a more organic process as I go along (read: I’m too indecisive to make plans and stick to them); and secondly, it goes against my instinct to reveal big spoilers! (Seriously.)

Am I just procrastinating further? Probably. So without further ado…

The plot

The game opens on a family of four eating at a table. The little girl reaches for a bowl while her father tells a joke that makes everybody fall about laughing. They are happy.

The view pans back and now we are looking at them through a window. Back further, and we can see the whole building. The facade is that of an old English stately home, nestled in the picturesque countryside.

The people in the window suddenly freeze, and as we pan back further a gold frame comes into view around the scene; it’s actually a painting. There’s an audible sigh. We realise we’ve been looking through the eyes of Pete, who is slumped at his desk and wishing he was part of the happy family he imagined living there all those years ago.

A phone rings, and the story begins here.

Pete, an architect, is sent by his boss to take photos of an old office floor that has been buried underground for years, recently excavated by archaeologists. His company plans to gut it and build on top.

When Pete arrives, he’s transfixed by the perfectly preserved concoction of 80s computer systems and pop culture memorabilia. He starts taking photos, and begins piecing together the lives of the people that worked down here under the dim glow of the computer monitors. The lowly IT department at Frankfurter Bank.

But the more he finds, the more he realises something isn’t right. He finds cryptic notes, suspicious floppy disks and strange photos left by Earl, the IT head. It’s as if he was leaving a trail of important clues for someone in the future.

In 1989, Earl is gazing at an INXS poster wishing he was Michael Hutchence. In between, he completes some minor bug fixes and starts work on a misbehaving PC sent down from the fifth floor. His lead systems engineer strolls over to the coffee pot. Earl throws a grunt his way and rummages in a drawer for his screwdriver. He closes it, and notices a stream of coffee making its way to his feet. He looks up at the engineer, who is standing motionless while pouring coffee into a definitely-already-full mug.

His team have been acting strangely, lately.

After a few more incidents like this, Earl identifies that the level of insanity in his team is directly correlated to the amount of time spent at their workstations, and begins to suspect something much worse than an over-indulgence in marijuana. My team are acting peculiar, and it ain’t the doobies. He notes with interest that there have also been an unusual amount of issues reported to the helpdesk, ranging from small glitches to spontaneously combusting printers.

We learn that the bank is being hacked by a shady government organisation known as the Suits. The purpose of the hack, it turns out, is to covertly test a new mind control program, by uploading thoughts to the network and infecting its users [don’t ask me how, I’m just the narrator]. Unfortunately for Earl, his IT team are the perfect test subjects – low-profile, hidden away underground and the least bit of interest to their peers. Earl must find a way to stop the infiltration and avoid having his own brain turned to mush.

Back in the present, Pete has barricaded himself in the underground office – much to the fury of his management – while he digs deeper into the mystery. He becomes emotionally invested. From what he can deduce, the Suits are now long gone, eliminated one by one by Earl or by something else. He finds himself desperate to know what happened to Earl… then the clues run dry. They just stop. Exhausted and disheartened, he decides to take a break. He hauls the copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure from Earl’s backpack.

And then something strange happens. As he plays, the game starts returning commands as if speaking specifically to him. It’s spewing harsh warnings, threatening to fondle Pete’s brain if he continues to probe. At first Pete is amused (especially at the careless innuendo), thinking it’s part of the game (this is Douglas Adams, after all). But then it gets personal. Pete finds he was wrong about the Suits; one remaining evil genius still exists in the form of an AI – one that communicates (poorly) through a text adventure. It continues to rage, informing Pete that Earl is dead and his efforts are futile. Yeah, right.

With the help of Earl from the past, Pete takes down the AI and makes sure the mind control plan can never go ahead. He seals the gateway, and finally allows the building to be destroyed. At the end of the game Pete has one last task: to find Earl. Despite what the AI said, he knows he’s still alive. He eventually tracks him down, and makes his way to the isolated trailer park where he believes Earl has been hiding out.

When he gets there, he finds a grave. Another decoy, obviously. But then, in the church obituaries, he learns that Earl succumbed to a long illness shortly after he left the department. The AI was telling the truth; his death was nothing to do with the Suits. Just a cruel, bitter coincidence. That must be why he was in a hurry to leave clues – because he knew he wouldn’t be around to see it through.

Pete is crushed.

This last blow, and everything that has happened before it, throws Pete further into crippling loneliness. He can’t face going back to his meaningless, empty life – no job, an ex-wife who would now likely rinse him for everything he’s got, and a daughter who he’ll never get to see again. The pain would be immeasurable.

Then he remembers. Among other things, the AI had complained that its virtual environment was stuck in the 80s. It had absorbed the world Pete felt he always belonged in, instead of the bleak, vacuous present. He goes home to his computer and re-opens the gateway. Swallowing back tears, he uploads his consciousness, taking the place of the AI he destroyed.