I played Half-Life for the first time… and didn’t enjoy it

opening screen of Half-Life

Back in May, I played a first person shooter for the first time. I chose Doom (1993) and instantly, unexpectedly, fell in love.

So it seemed a good idea to try another one. I had a few in mind, but decided to put it to a vote on Twitter.

I was pretty pleased that Half-Life won: it has such a major reputation in gaming history; it seemed a natural next step in the advancement of FPS gameplay and graphics; and I’m a big fan of Portal, which is set in the same universe.

While I’d intentionally not read up on any of the games too much, I was aware of Half-Life’s true 3D environment and correspondingly more complex controls, and that was my downfall. So to those of you who voted for Half-Life – I’m sorry, I tried!

I’d still like to do a little retrospective on my Half-Life experience, as it wasn’t all bad, and I owe you that, right?

Half-Life tutorial

Now I know I’ve said before that I don’t like tutorials, but this is only my second FPS and it’s a big learning curve on Doom! I like that this one is framed as an induction sesh in the training facility. As well as learning how to play, it gives it a nice introduction to the feel of the game.

Half-Life environment

These walkways are really reminiscent of Portal, especially with the earlier voiceover. I can totally see how that game built on Half-Life.

Half-Life jumps

Wouldn’t it be nice if people were transparent in real life? London wouldn’t seem to crowded.

She wants me to jump over those barrel-like structures. Right-o, I manage that one fine.

Half-Life jump-crouch

Now this is where it gets trickier: the cursed jump-crouch. I mean, that’s barely executable in real life, is it? We’d just go get a ladder. Nevertheless, I manage to clumsily manipulate my fingers to run and jump without smacking my head (Space-Control-Up).

I got on fine with pushing things…

Half-Life push

…breaking things…

Half-Life break

…cockroaches…!

Half-Life cockroach

…and shooting things…

Half-Life shooting

I graduated!

Half_Life beginning

Good morning, and welcome to the Black Mesa Transit System. This automated train is provided for the security and convenience of the Black Mesa Research Facility personnel.

I love the idea of a transit ride to get to the facility. It’s a great introduction and lets you look around as you arrive at this curious place.

Another reason I looked forward to playing Half-Life was the promise of a story, to give the action context and a purpose. Doom is great, but it’s nice to have a bit of a foundation.

Half-Life underground

And this is just beautiful. I feel like I’m in a modern mine cart, travelling underground to somewhere mysterious and secluded. The journey towards the facility while still being able to walk around the carriage and look at different things outside is a really nice contrast. It’s as revealing as a cut scene, but with some tangibility since you still have control of the character.

Half-Life Gordon

Aha, I was wondering what my name was. I think I look more like a Russ. Or Leonard.

Half-Life spider

What’s that?!

Half-Life black mesa

I’ve arrived at the Black Mesa Research Facility. Where are the doughnuts?

Half-Life old man

Maybe Larry David knows.

After a bit of a wander (and a brief microwave explosion that may or may not have been my fault) I end up here. Intriguing…

Half-Life containers

I finally find the test chamber I’m told to go to.

Half-Life central room

I’m given instructions over a tannoy to start the experiment. I follow those steps, and then…

Half-Life explosion

Yeah this can’t be good!

Half-Life prehistoric

WHAT. Did I just flash back to prehistoric times?! After a fairly docile start, this game suddenly has my attention.

Half-Life demons

SOMEONE CALL DOOMGUY!

Half-Life post experiment

Everything has seemingly returned to normal now, except that the test chamber is destroyed. I guess I’ll get out of here…

Half-Life old man dead

Uh-oh, Larry David don’t look so good.

Half-Life chaos

These guys aren’t going to be much help!

At this point I stopped taking screenshots, because everything got a bit fiddly. Yes, even just jumping over debris. And especially ladders, which no matter how hard I tried, I would leap at and subsequently fall all the way down, resulting in diminished health, if not my death. This just added to my mounting frustration with the controls.

I did manage to kill a few headcrabs. Taking things out is fine – it’s the movement and navigation I struggled with.

I appreciate I’m not a seasoned FPS player, and maybe that’s the problem. Doom was fine because it only ever required a mouse to move/shoot, and keys to strafe and run. This feels much more strategic; there’s more required than just running, dodging and shooting – and I thought that would be a positive thing, especially because I’m an adventure gamer and used to nice narratives and puzzle-solving. But for someone who’s still trying to master a leap in the mechanics, it just interrupted the game. I got to the point where I was taken out of the atmosphere and story because I had to concentrate so hard to control the character.

And in some ways, it is a bit slow. The unravelling concept had me immersed at first, but then I started to switch off a bit. I left it for a few days but didn’t really feel much inclination to get back to it. I toyed with forcing myself to pick it up again. I wanted to give it a proper chance, but I also don’t want to waste valuable gaming hours on something I’m simply not enjoying.

Sorry, Half-Life.

I really wanted things to work between you and I. It’s not you, it’s me. You did nothing wrong, and you should be played by those who appreciate you. I hope we can still be friends?

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198X: a side of Bombay potato

Yep, still running with these curry ratings. I’ve ranked this one Bombay potato because while the main component (tasty spuds) of the game is fantastic, there isn’t much narrative (sauce) holding it together. It’s a side dish because, as it turns out, this isn’t the full game (more on that later).

198X

198X (Hi-Bit Studios) follows the story of Kid, a lost soul trying to escape adolescence by retreating to the world of arcade games. Every time Kid masters a game, Kid grows stronger.

You might have noticed by the awkwardness of that sentence that I’m avoiding giving Kid a gender – that’s because it’s not explicit in the game or any promotional material I’ve read. Presumably it’s intentional – so let’s honour that.

The game is essentially a sequence of five classic arcade games: Beating Heart, a smooth beat ’em up à la Streets of Rage; Out of the Void, a calamitous space shoot-em-up; The Runaway racing game; Shadowplay, an autoscroller featuring a slashy ninja cat (my favourite); and finally Kill Screen, a dungeon-crawler RPG.

Screenshot of 198X Beating heart level

I like that there are no tutorials or hints – we’re plunged right into the first one and expected to make our way, much like we did in the days of yore. Each one is a refreshing change of genre, and I really admire the ambitious development behind that idea. It’s bold, and it’s what put the game on my radar in the first place.

Screenshot of 198X The Runaway

However, putting that many genres into one game poses an obvious problem; not everyone is going to enjoy all of them and I wonder if that might alienate some players since you can’t progress without completing them all. For example, I’m not so familiar with dungeon crawler games. I ended up getting help with that part, which was a shame, particularly as it ended up being the final part (again, more on that later).

A weak story

These mini-game challenges are all loosely held together by cutscenes that advance the narrative. Except they don’t, really, and that’s my issue with this game. The arcade sequences are fun, but the parts in between just don’t cut it. The story isn’t developed enough to hold it together – I’m fed a tiny morsel of teenage grump, and then it’s on to the next arcade segment. As a result I don’t find myself caring about Kid or wanting to know what will happen to them.

Screenshot of 198X Kid and mom

What little is there is never fully fleshed out – Kid’s a teenager navigating the difficulties of adolescence, and what’s new? We’re not told specifically what Kid is struggling with – it’s just a pre-packed, clichéd setup that feels a bit lazy. Sure, I found escapism in games too, but are we meant to think a few stints in the arcade has solved Kid’s problems?

As a result, it just feels like I’m playing a compilation of remastered old games that don’t have any context apart from my own, subjective nostalgia. It’s a shame, because it starts out really strong.

Enthralling music and beautiful, animated pixel art

I don’t want to give the impression that it’s all bad, because it isn’t, and it will naturally depend on your expectations (mine were high).

The music, scored by Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage and soon to be Streets of Rage 4), is one of the best things about it. It’s like I’ve gone back in time and someone has polished those old sounds to make them ultra-pristine. Each piece complements the different genres perfectly.

Screenshot of 198X kid on bed

The other thing that struck me is the use of pixel art in the cut scenes. I’ve played a lot of games with great pixel art recently, but it’s mostly static. In 198X there’s so much detail in the movement, and it really ramps up the atmosphere. The use of light and colour is mesmerising and if you’re a fan of cyberpunk, you’ll love this style.

Screenshot of 198X house and cat

The abrupt ‘ending’ (spoiler-free)

Abrupt, and in my case, completely unexpected.

I didn’t realise this was an episodic game. When I first added it to my Steam wishlist there was no mention of it. At the time of writing, there still isn’t on the Playstation version. A quick scan through some of the other reviews suggests I’m not the only one, either.

At two hours’ gameplay it’s pretty short regardless, but had I been aware of a sequel I might’ve been a little less shocked when, after a bit of narrative plonked after Kill Screen, it sharply braked to a stop. There’s no indication of when the next part will be released, how many parts there will be, or what the cost is. And on that note, £13.99 (15.30 euros) seems steep, and there’s very little replayability past what you could get from an emulator or classics compilation.

Granted, it’s probably worse for those who have been following the game for a while. I already knew a lot about the style, concept and gameplay so none of that was a surprise, but I didn’t know about the decision to make it episodic. If however you came to it fresh, you’d likely be wowed by the setup and probably aware that it’s not the full game.

I can only assume all the time and energy put into the arcade games (which I appreciate would’ve been a lot) meant there was less time to fully develop the plot. The arcade games are so refined and fun to play, the pixel art and music are some of the best I’ve experienced, but the supporting narrative just falls flat.

Screenshot of 198X night sky

6/10

The first instalment of 198X is available on Steam, GOG, Playstation 4, and coming soon to Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.

Retro goodness at That’s Not Current

Thats Not Current logo

If I ever go quiet on the blog front, it’s usually because I’m working on something for That’s Not Current. It’s an awesome, growing compendium of articles and features harking back to great times in gaming, TV, film and comics – if you thrive on nostalgia, this is your ball pit.

Here are some of their latest articles to wet your whistle:

Call for new writers

Psst, they’re also looking for new blood. If you’re like me, you might relish the opportunity to reach people who like the same stuff. Or maybe you’re a blogger wanting to expand your skills by writing more feature-led pieces. Maybe you’ve had an article up your sleeve waiting to be unleashed on the masses, but your blog isn’t quite the right platform.

I love having a second arena to publish my work – where else would I get to lament the X-Files revival, geek out over the best gaming maps and get a bit controversial about Krusty’s Super Fun House?

Find out more about writing for That’s Not Current, or email Phil Hayton at philiphaytonmail@gmail.com (please let him know you came from here – it makes me look good).

This isn’t a sponsored post, by the way – nor was I held at gunpoint to promote TNC. They’re just a great bunch and I wanted to give them some airtime.

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.

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