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About
Hey, I'm Riobux. I joined Destructoid a few months back due to Podtoid when Jim Sterling, Jonathan Holmes and Conrad Zimmerman used to do it, and when Phil & Spencer did the Destructoid Twitch channel. I'm a Sociology With Psychology graduate who has a particular interest in videogame culture and the creation of videogames. I post a blog every two weeks (or at least try) about an aspect that interests me, with usually some article in the weeks between about something videogame related.

When I'm not here attempting to act like a civilised being, making odd jokes only I snigger at or being way too late with posting blogs, I can be found on Gamers Honest Truth, a fledgling videogame website that values the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as a new videogame reviewer. I'm also attempting my hand at writing a fan-fiction at the Starcrawler forums after giving Darkest Dungeon fiction a punt.
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Riobux
4 hours ago - 2:48 PM on 11.27.2014

This week we will get to discuss the usefulness and problems of showing your game's design data to your videogame's community and allowing them to comment on it.

So recently I did a review for Dungeon Of The Endless for Gamers Honest Truth. In the midst of reviewing it I found out Amplitude Studios had an interesting system in place called Games2Gether. To put it simply, Games2Gether seeks to provide full disclosure of their games' development and aid discussion on ways to improve their games. This includes a roadmap, a forum for discussion, a full rationale of design decisions, contests asking for specific input (e.g. monster design) and surveys asking specific questions (e.g. rating favourite heroes).

From this I began thinking: Why don't more developers do this? What would be to gain, or lose, from a system akin to Games2Gether? The current logic of development is kept neatly under-wraps, only released when ready and refined. It is rare to see developers ask their community specific questions in the form of surveys or contests. Usually, they may use a forum to see what people talk about with reaction to news or new content (including screenshots). They may even have a suggestion section, but this tends to be left to the community rather than directed by the developers.

 

Some suggestions don't need direction by the developers to be invaluable. Such as "please could you ship a working game that doesn't create unintentional nightmare fuel."

 

So this article looks to consider the advantages and disadvantages of including a system similar to Games2Gether for other games development. I will be using the Dungeon Of The Endless section for Games2Gether, and comparing it with the Payday 2, Starcrawlers and Darkest Dungeon forums.

One of the positive sides of this is it can lead to better design choices. This is for two reasons. The first is you end up with more data on what the player wants. As the player is asked directly for advice of how to turn a game they're bought into a game they love even more, they are likely to reveal short-comings that could make the game better. They may also unintentionally reveal the type of choices they make, thus revealing if a choice is objectively or subjectively better.

An example of this on the Games2Gether forum was a poll asking players which heroes they pick to start off with. On the surface, this was a simple question on preference. However, due to players tending towards picking heroes that fit with their tactics this choice actually tells the developer what kind of hero skills/stat combinations are preferable to players. The more concentrated the character choice, the more that indicates there are clear preferences based on common tactics. An analysis can then be done to correlate heroes that did well, and ones that didn't. Thus leading to better design decisions on hero designs in the future.

The second reason why this can allow developers to make better design choices is this allows players to look over the documents and review them for ways to improve it, therefore allowing more people to review for improvements. By having additional people look over they can spot potential areas for improvement that the designers on the development team may have over looked. Plus, it can avoid people recommending areas for improvement the developers plan to include anyway. For example, a player can look through not only the design documentation on Games2Gether but also the list of community feedback (which includes status, comments and likelihood of being added) on the forum, and use that to suggest further ideas.

 

Some games have a high barrier for suggestions due to resources and keeping with the tone of the game. Other games, like Saints Row IV, appears to just throw in anything that is vaguely fun.

 

The second positive side is it helps create more stronger community relations. Not only this allows the player to be more knowledgable of future content, so they feel more in-the-loop, but an agency is created. The individual feels more free and in control of the future of the game, as they feel the development is an interactive process. This is in contrast to how passive people may feel with regards to AAA titles in terms of helping to mould the development.

This is part of the reason, I believe, why consumer-content pledge tiers work as well as they do as a reward. While naming a character may not influence the game in a major way, the purchaser of the tier feels like they contributed something to something they love. This minor form of control still acts as a form of control, and players are more likely to feel the end product is a collaborative production of love rather than a cynical cash-grab.

However, there are a few problems that can occur. The first is perhaps an obvious issue: It would require extra work. The extent of the work is something I can only theorise through comparison. The comparison I wish to make is Kickstarter, as Games2Gether and Kickstarter have various things in common that are important. The most important of which is information of an up-and-coming aspect (let it be an update to a game, or a project you wish funded) presented in a clear, concise and visually-appealing manner.

I recommend having a look at the Ghost blogging platform Kickstarter before reading on. Have a mental guess of how long it took to make that. According to John O'Nolan, it took six weeks to make the campaign. Even longer if you include researching which took O'Nolan about six months.

 

Some Kickstarters, of course, take a lot less time.

 

Now, to compare with the amount of graphical design, art work, forum creation and updates, it would make additional work necessary. The amount of extra work required would be noticeable; this would require either someone to focus on it while the development team continues or some of the development team to work on these factors. The former choice may cost more money in wages, while the latter could delay the project. This makes Games2Gether something that may be tricky to mimic by smaller companies like Red Hook Games (Darkest Dungeon) or Juggernaut Games (Starcrawlers).

An additional reason why it may not be suited for every company/game is due to the objective of the game. To obtain a complete analysis of the game by the players, it would require talking about late-game content if it is a story-focused game. This could present problems with regards to revealing what are intended to be twists or merely just things designed to surprise the player. This has been something that has led to any design decisions concerning Darkest Dungeon's final dungeon unspoken. While disclosure is possible, it can not be the full-disclosure as Games2Gether seeks to achieve.

There are also games that may have poor design decisions on purpose. A classic example of this is Spec Ops: The Line, with its use of predictable enemies and being made to slowly slog along. People not quite illuminated by the intentionally bad design direction as a form of statement may proceed to make suggestions to make the game good. Which, depending how you see satirical videogames, may either turn just a satirical game into a satirical game that is fun on a face level or dull the bite the game has. It appears that Games2Gether may be for games striving to be good that is story-light.

 

I can't help but feel the development roadmap of Spec Ops: The Line would have just been the loading screen quotes. For example: "To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless."

 

However, one problem does exist that can affect any company and any game. With community trust built up as the design decision is cleared by the community and put on the roadmap, there is something that can send it tumbling down: Said design decision being revoked. Could this be due to further consideration of what it could do to the game? Maybe it'll take a bit longer than expected? Perhaps things beyond your control make it impossible to do? Either way, it can send community trust crumbling with a forum filled with people asking for a refund.

Payday 2's forum, at a time anyway, was filled with people who didn't trust Overkill at all. There were a few factors that led up to this attitude by their own community. One of which was safehouse customisation. This was an addition that was hinted at to come since the beta of Payday 2. However, over a year later, it has not come. If this is due to prioritising other aspects, or some other reason, is unknown. However, this led to a lot of people complaining since the promise was seen to have been made, and people expected it to come within three months of release. Perhaps this could have been rectified by telling players of the current state, but that assumes the reason can be easily described without potentially revealing future updates or revealing something else they're not allowed to. Either way, the trust of the community was broken by the direction of DLC development taking a different turn.

In conclusion, the disclosure of design is potentially a positive force that can do a lot for a game. Not only allowing the players to get a game they truly love, but also feel like they contributed to the final product. However, something akin to Games2Gether is feat not designed for small companies, nor communities that could get angry at design directions shifting. In the end though, it is definitely an interesting approach to games development and does what more companies should strive to do. Which is to allow the player to hold the power to affect what is going on. With some moderation of what suggestion gets the green-light and what is denied, we can all hopefully get what we want by the end of development: A videogame we love.

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, wherever you are. So two weeks ago (well, a week ago for me as I'm writing this after my Positive Sexism article), I promised that I would talk about the personal impact Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (ZE:VLR) has had upon me. If you're new to this blog, you don't need to worry about reading anything prior as this exists as a stand-alone. If you're looking for more of an analytical view of ZE:VLR, check out my article called Riobux Recommends: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. So if you're sitting comfortably, I'll begin.

It was a pretty cold day in roughly Feburary 2013 when I brought a 3DS. As someone who grew up without Nintendo and still not drawn in by the primary Nintendo cast, this perhaps was a strange purchase. However, this purchase was due to a series of events that had occurred in my life up to that point.

 

Back during my childhood, I always preferred dark stories with bleak endings. The joyful and colourful expressions of Nintendo could not sway me.

 

Going chronologically. I grew up with videogames as my sole friend, as I existed in social isolation with some bullying between the ages of 12 and 19. I also did some reading as a past time hobby, and even did some writing of fiction. Both of these faded out by the time I was 19, as I was swept suddenly into a life where I knew people. People liked me back, which was a bizarre situation for me. This was thanks to going to university to study Sociology With Psychology in 2010, a choice that I think may have saved my life at least temporarily.

The next few years had good and bad parts. A girl I was dating at the time fell apart very hard after two years. Despite it being a combination of our faults, I ended up feeling especially guilty for the terrible things I did. I had tried to join two LGBT societies, partially hoping for a same-sex relationship but also to find those who shared my view on equality. In the end, I got kicked out of both. People who I considered friends, ones I had gained during my earlier years of university, started to drift away as we started not to see eye-to-eye on things. I had tried to keep the friendships alive in a panic, but they faded out. I had even shoved away a friend I was going to begin dating due to a series of paranoid moments of me suspecting I was being pushed out of their life.

On the bright-side though, I had my attempt at being part of running an university society. I had also gained a new hobby in the form of pen-and-paper RPGs. I even managed to worm my way through the degree with good marks mostly. In 2013, despite an interest in videogames and the internet on an academic level, I had begin to grow bored. Perhaps it was due to feeling very much alone at this point, or maybe due to my dissertation going very badly. My boredom was not only with videogames, but my life as a whole.

 

At this point, videogames appeared as a simplistic pleasure that I could no longer appreciate. It felt like very few, if any, videogames were fun or interesting rather than a pointless boring distraction.

 

This sensation was nothing new. Growing up, I struggled to find things to look forward to actively. I had a few things that I had wanted, but nothing to feel any inclination to stick around for. I had existed for the sake of existing. A state fuelled by an instinctual biological urge to live, and nothing more. The only thing that had changed was my apathy of existing was heightening. While one or two great games held my attention, anything less than that grew into a grey void of “who cares” punctuated with “videogames are pointless”. My days of being interested in sociological discussions, especially on internet culture, videogames and videogame culture was dying hard, along with my love of videogames. Apathy rode on in its place.

So back to where I was. On a cold February day in 2013, I had decided to buy a 3DS. It was a Hail Mary pass. With the lack of interest in videogames in areas I'd normally explore, I thought maybe an area I hadn't yet explored would have something for me. I had researched, and found out what games would be of interest on the console; this included 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (999), which was the prequel to Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. I worked out what deal I should get. A black 3DS with the 3DS version of Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Nice and cheap, plus comes with a game that is apparently really good. I had also gotten Pokemon White which I also heard was good.

Sadly, both games weren't to my taste. Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time had left me bored and Pokemon was a lot more grindy than I had hoped. So I thought “well, I heard 999 is really good” and that I should get it. However, I found out 999 was never released in Europe, so I ended up picking up Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. After all, a good game stands on its own without knowledge of the previous one. At least so I figured at the time.

 

I perhaps could have waited to play 999, and it perhaps could have made my experience better. I was so apathetic that I didn't care that I was potentially damaging my experience. I just wanted to feel a gram of interest or joy before I got back to my dull life.

 

So I bought ZE:VLR on a whim. The student loan and the savings I had anyway let me have this chance of perhaps finding something that'll preoccupy my time for a spell. Something to do while doing essays and my dissertation that year. After all, due to how 3DS worked, I figured I'd just do a bit and then flip down the lid after 10 minutes during a break. I didn't expect much out of it, except a middle-of-the-road plot that just connected random puzzles to each other.

What I didn't expect was a game that blew me away. Its use of choices, an intelligent story that kept me greatly interested and puzzles that existed part of the story and not independent of it just made me fall deeply in love with it. I obsessed over the details of the game, without feeling my digging would be fruitless. For the first time ever, I felt an enthusiastic strong urge to expose the game to others. I had to share this experience with others.

Possibly even more significant, for the first time in possible a decade I looked forward to something. I knew I wanted to experience a third Zero Escape game, that I did not want to rest until I saw it. That my life would not be complete, until I saw the end of the tale that is Zero Escape. Perhaps it sounds hyperbolic, maybe even insane, to want to exist just to see the final chapter of Zero Escape, but it is true. As someone who does not get any thrills out of hoarding money, advancing in a career or having a family, this was my moment to learn of a reason why I should stick around. Maybe not a good reason, but a reason none-the-less.

 

There are some psychological theories that suggest that motivational, self-esteem and many more hall-marks of positive psychological health are more stable when it comes from an internal reward than external reward (intrinsic vs extrinsic). Although extrinsic reward is still useful, especially where intrinsic rewards can not be done.

 

As I wanted to share ZE:VLR with the world, and talk about it to an obsessive degree, I grew enthusiastic about videogames again. Where I had lost my hope in videogames drawing my attention for a meaningful amount of time and as something more than a meaningless distraction, ZE:VLR turned up to prove me wrong in the best of ways. It touched me in the most important and intimate manner. This was especially with regards to its writing and ludonarrative nature; as the aspect of videogames I look forward to the most is the writing it may provide.

Without this game, it's very possible I would have turned away from videogames and never looked back. I definitely would not of had it in me to write weekly articles about videogames, especially the fortnightly article about aspects on videogames and gaming culture that I find interesting. I also would not be writing articles for Gamers Honest Truth, attempting to carve a possible career that I may find interesting out of a degree that now collects dust.

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward gave me hope. Not only the feeling of obsessiveness that comes with loving a game that previously I had not felt, but also a hope for a sequel that makes me feel a similar way. As well as the possibility that future games may capture even 1/10th of my feelings towards Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Thank you for existing, and I will continue to wait in hopeful anticipation for the final game of the Zero Escape trilogy.

 

If you wish to support the possible development of Zero Escape 3, you may click "like" on Operation Bluebird or Save Zero Escape on Facebook. You can also check out on Twitter Save Zero Escape or the English account of Kotaro Uchikoshi who was the director and writer of the series.

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This week, I wish to talk about the possibility of “positive sexism” in videogames. Perhaps I should explain what I mean about the concept before people start telling me I'm misogynistic and the reason we can no longer have nice things. Depicting one gender in a disadvantageous position in a videogame's setting is a very hard task to do well. Women's rights is a relatively recent event. In the UK, it was 1975 when the Sex Discrimination Act was made legal. Not only is it a recent event, but it's also an on-going one as awareness is made of the inequality females face. Which is why it is a very touchy subject. By treating the topic in a sloppy manner it can disrespect the subject of past inequality and ongoing inequality that exists today in society. With regards to a setting where males are in a disadvantageous position, it is a concept that is so alien to the majority of people that it can have believability problems.

So positive sexism is when a depiction of sexism is okay. That it doesn't come across as the equivalent of kicking the puppy by an antagonist, nor does it feel like a display of beliefs held by the author. That it fits in the setting perfectly in a non-distracting but still relevant way. That the videogame, or it's setting, is intentionally offensive towards females for a purpose that is a positive presence in the videogame industry. This article will discuss three ways that positive sexism can be achieved.

 

" "Positive sexism?" Where sexism is okay? Next you'll be telling me murder is okay sometimes. "

 

The first way is the most controversial of the three. One of the core problems females characters can face in the media is objectification. That they are not a human being, but rather an object of desire and a goal to attain. This is backed with an outfit design that either gives nudity or hints at nudity a heavy amount. Even if it's not intended to be a character you're meant to want to obtain, it can be a character who's design function is to distract the player with sexuality. It is a line Bayonetta sits upon, where it has been successfully argued from both sides that either Bayonetta's sexuality creates depth or is a form of meaningless eye-candy for the player. So, what if a videogame lies very firmly on the side of objectification and could this ever be okay?

What if sexuality was the whole purpose of a videogame? What if a good portion of the experience was to indulge in sexual pleasure? Why would such a videogame be inferior to games where the core enjoyment comes from murder? While the experience could be shallow, it could however be an interesting exploration on sexuality while receiving enjoyment. A game that is hyper-sexualised would likely portray some females (and some males maybe) in an objectifying way, but could that be okay? Even though a good portion of females would require the male to “chase” them, could this be reflective of the traditional approach to dating? Could females be usually submissive and timid in a scenario be okay? Could giving control to someone else, actually be a form of being in control? That disempowerment be a form of empowerment, akin to masochism or submission in the BDSM umbrella? I am perhaps being hyperbolic at this point.

If I'm asking a lot of questions, it's really because I don't have the answers for this one. While I do acknowledge there does seem to be somewhat discrimination towards sexuality in videogames, which is fair due to how badly females are portrayed normally, I'm probably not the one who should answer this. I am someone who is not much into sexuality; to the point where Bayonetta's sexuality makes me mildly uncomfortable, where I don't know if I should like it or not. So, as someone who is more on the prudent side of sexuality, I'm really not going to be the one who can decide if a game based around sexuality is fine and how it should be. What I do know is this: Videogames have the ability to manipulate and embrace all the emotions of the rainbow. It can let us love, let us hate, let us fear. It can even let us embrace a blood-lust as we slaughter wave-after-wave of mindless enemies. So is there a problem necessarily with letting us lust?

 

Videogames can help explore all the emotions of the sexuality rainbow.

 

The second way positive sexism can occur in videogames is historical accuracy. Games such as Crusader Kings 2 pulls this off well, as you are required to have males to hold a dynasty together. Your daughters being swallowed up into other dynasties. While it is an unfortunate reality, it is still a reality and being exposed to the social rights at the time does help the player learn about history. Having an option to suddenly have a homosexual queen/king, while interesting, would not be historically accurate and therefore put off those who seek to immerse themselves in historical periods.

So this seems like an obvious aspect but yet it can go horribly awry, like leaving the nail gun with a two year old. The less dedication given to the source material, the more the sexism can come off as a reflection of the author. Since if it feels heavily cherry-picked with regards to details, and one of the few areas they stay true is the only rights a woman had was the rule of thumb, then questions are raised of why did they stay true to that particular detail and not the others.

Taken to it's absolutely abhorrent level, you get the infamous F.A.T.A.L pen-and-paper RPG. A RPG that uses sexism, to garnish a very immature view towards sexuality. Like how you may garnish a turd with a block of butter. It uses the excuse of historical accuracy (in a fantasy setting that includes magic that can make a victim's mouth double as their anus...I'm sorry for telling you this exists) to allow for sexism on a level that is beyond what would be accurate for that time period.

 

F.A.T.A.L may be the only pen-and-paper RPG rulebook that requires a sanity check out of game, just for reading it.

 

(Note: This is a Trigger Warning for those affected by the videogame Custer's Revenge or brief mentions about rape/sexual assault. Skip two paragraphs if it may trigger.)

A less abhorrent example of cherry-picking gone badly is the classic game Custer's Revenge. This is a game where you walk from left to right, dodging arrows, so you may force yourself on a young woman tied to a post. Did I mention you're both naked? That's probably an important part. It cherry picks through all the aspects of the interactions between immigrants and Native Americans, probably because the game did come out in 1982 on the Atari 2600, and focuses on two aspects: Dodging death and getting laid. With the latter being forced, because y'know...”A winner takes what is theirs” and stuff...

The game could have been an interesting examination of just how badly Native Americans were treated. In contrast to the possibility the fact it focuses on dodging arrows and sex, and the sexual assault is the reward, it couldn't miss that objective harder if it was in another country and instead they shot the new family dog on Christmas day. The degrading of women is not done as an interesting point, but as a high-five. So if someone wants to make a historical game that tackles or even depicts issues such as sexism, then respect must be given by researching fully and not making a half-hearted attempt at depicting such events. If there's one aspect of videogames where the rule “do it right, or not at all” exists, it is depicting forms of discrimination, even in a historical scenario.

The most interesting manner of positive sexism, is where it is used as an obstacle to overcome. Either it is used as a form of “this is the way things are” or as a way to make someone into an object of loathing or confirm their place as a villain. However, rather than it being a wall to never be climbed like in Crusader Kings 2, it instead is to be conquered like the Berlin Wall. However, problems already exist in the obstacle aspect. It must be believable to occur. A lack of believability creates a strawman situation, where irrational dislike is made even more irrational. Making it harder to sympathise with females, due to how unrelatable their situation is.

 

Either climbed over after a 1378km dash, or broken down with the collective force of those around us, the wall of discrimination that seperates us shall be conquered. 

 

If it is used to make a character look bad in a quick and cheap way, it may show disrespect towards equality movements and the struggle females face against sexism. It may also come off as lazy and two-dimensional. As a form of a villain just kicking a dog, except with a sharper edge that it could cut it's self on.

Problems also exist with regards to how to conquer the discrimination. While dealing with it does not need to change the world around them, or the person in question, it does need to act as something a player can over-come. Having a female character suffer sexism by multiple people by an uncaring and unfair world, and then not allow the player to have their own form of personal revenge against this discrimination can make the player feel like they lack agency and self-efficacy (self-efficacy being the personal belief in their own ability to complete tasks and reach goals, a term that I believe is important in videogames). However, there are times I think where creating a feeling of powerlessness can improve the game, especially if it is a game that is trying to make a statement on misogyny. These exceptions are rare though, especially as most videogames seek to create positive emotions in the player.

To illustrate the difference between good and poor use of this form of positive sexism, I wish to compare two videogames that use it. Although I'll admit they use it to very different degrees and in very different ways, so perhaps they are less comparable. However, I think you may see what I mean when I present the games.

A videogame that does this form of positive sexism well is Mount & Blade: Warband. This is a sandbox game where you have a loose purpose in the fictional medieval setting: Build an empire. How you do it, how you fund it and how you become powerful enough to do it is up to you. Maybe you will join a kingdom and gain fiefdoms? Or you'll buy something cheap and sell at a high price elsewhere over and over? Perhaps even just go bandit hunting? There are more options are out there in this sandbox game.

 

Maybe you'll be the sole samurai in these lands.

 

Upon making your female character, you start off with no differences compared to making a male character. However, as you're venturing about you'll come across a lord. Rather than a simple greeting, suddenly they'll comment on the strangeness of a woman on the fields of battle wielding a sword. You'll be given two comments to choose from, which tends to be these:
1. You could be polite, and remain meek to their suggestion.
2. You could just remind them you are a warrior, with a sword arm and the desire to take what you deserve to claim.
The second option will usually land you a penalty to reputation with them, although sometimes you will gain a bonus. Rarely though, if this encounter occurs in a castle, they may call you out on a duel to put you in your place. Which instead putting them in their place gives you immense satisfaction, as well an in-game penalty to reputation.

While you may be denied some aspects, such as a fiefdom, this denial I feel does not lock content off for some players but rather puts female characters at a disadvantage which can be conquered. You can still gain land through conquer. You can still work for lords, even if you wouldn't get a fiefdom out of it. Someone once said that playing a straight white male is playing life on easy mode. While this game wouldn't let you test the sexuality or the race aspect, it does let you play the game on a harder difficulty by just being female and this difficulty adds to the game rather than subtracts. I personally actually enjoy this extra challenge and always play a female character on Mount & Blade: Warband.

In contrast, is Always Sometimes Monsters. A game that promises to provide hard choices to difficult situations. One that allows your choice of gender, race and sexuality to affect the events of the game. However, I can barely recall many times when your gender, race or sexuality becomes relevant despite playing as an Asian lesbian. I can barely remember any time when my choices felt like they affected much within the game's story.

 

No, don't give me that look. I didn't pick what I did due to that.

 

The scene which I feel would be a good example of poor sexism, is near the start. If you picked a lesbian character, the landlord who is annoyed at you for not paying the rent offers a side-remark of a way he may over-look your debt: If perhaps you could give a picture of you and your girlfriend together. Putting aside the homophobic nature of the comment, the sexism aspect is used to offer another excuse of why your landlord is someone to hate. With very little context to the nature of the landlord, besides his desire to get his money, this comment comes across as a form of just villianising him. Rather than adding depth, it just adds yet another reason to hate a two-dimensional target for hatred.

The game tries again later in the form of a gang leader who may let you sleep in their quarters, if you do “a special favour” for them. While perhaps realistic, if maybe unusually blunt (wouldn't it make more sense for them to spring the toll after you agreed, than before?), the game offers no form of overcoming this nor any outcome later-on for this event. It comes off as a side-event that has no lasting effect beyond the scene. At least from what I remember, there wasn't a moment of sexism that made me think, or marvel at the depth. Just moments of villianising characters you were designed to hate anyway.

The conclusion I originally was going to write was going to simply ask for more games to depict sexism, as well as racism and homophobia, in a respectful manner. Not to use it as the punchline to what you're doing to grab people's attention, but rather to give a particular message or create an interesting event. However, excluding a game based in or influenced by history, is there a respectful means or reason of depicting sexism, homophobia or racism? I mentioned sexism for pornographic purposes, but powerlessness and objectification of women for sexual purposes isn't the same as full on sexism I believe. Plus, it would be hard to apply homophobia or racism to sexuality without appealing to a very niche fetish, as it appears to be a very rare fetish (although one I've witnessed myself).

Sexism, homophobia and racism are, increasingly, becoming a symbol of the past. Fortunately we live in an age where we are offended by these ideologies, even if we are tempted to go back to them (e.g. the rise of right wing political parties in Europe). We have fewer and fewer excuses to depict forms of discrimination in an appropriate manner as a statement of our current lives, as it becomes rarer and rarer in the modern day and less and less likely to exist in a non-dystopian future.

Despite fewer occurrences in the modern day, as always, we should not shy away from showing these difficult and trying moments in our lives; instead we should depict forms of bigotry with absolute respect. Videogames have the power to teach through simulating past lives, current lives and possible future lives if we go down a particular sociological path. Which teaching about lives less fortunate than our own can help us maximise our ability to empathise with others. In a world that is wrought with as much chaos as it is, we need to remember our empathy so we may keep our own sanity.

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So this week, I'm giving a new side-series a punt: Riobux Recommends. Riobux Recommends, besides a delightful title of alliteration, is where I offer up interesting videogames for examination. I promise you, this is not just a tool to deliver just things I like and you should too. Rather, it's where I analyse videogames that I feel work very well at certain aspects, and examine them on why they work. Discovering the lessons to be learnt from the experience that can perhaps be applied elsewhere. Of course, I will also be talking about where the videogame does slip up and consider aspects of development that feel relevant to the final product. Unlike the analysis weeks (which will be next week, and then every two weeks after that), not every two weeks will be a Riobux Recommends article. It'll just be a common series during my misc weeks.

 

I will also be employing a new system of spoiler warning specifically for Riobux Recommends; as a full analysis can not be complete without dipping into spoiler territory. So paragraphs where spoilers will be discussed will begin and end with a line of equal marks (“=”). I'll try to group them together as much as I can. In the comments as well, if you feel a paragraph of what you're saying contains spoilers could you please use the same system? Of course I can't enforce it, but it'd be nice for those who would rather not encounter spoilers while discussing it in the comments section. Anyway, with that out the way, let's get on with the show.

 

For the first chapter of Riobux Recommends, I wish to present Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (ZE:VLR). ZE:VLR is a visual novel that contains puzzles for the 3DS and PSP Vita. It was developed by Spike Chunsoft who also developed the series Danganronpa. It is a videogame that has won several awards including Handheld Game Of The Year by Gamespot, beating Resident Evil: Revelations, Professor Layton And The Miracle Mask and Persona 4 Golden. As well as Best Story by RPGFan, despite The Walking Dead, Journey and Spec Ops: The Line being released during 2012. ZE:VLR is also a videogame that means a lot to me and I'll be discussing it in two weeks time for the Giving Thanks community assignment. So I'll try to save my own personal feelings for the ZE:VLR until then.

 

Is it a coincidence the first Riobux Recommends is about what is most likely my favourite game? Probably not really.

 

This is a videogame best enjoyed as blind as possible. So I suggest playing through the story with as little knowledge as possible. However, if you're not convinced yet why you should then I hope this article does convince you to without spoiling anything at all.

 

What ZE:VLR does best is its story, and it's something I think developers and writers could learn from. As it does tackle some of the hardest and perhaps weakest parts of narratives in videogames and even in some other mediums.

 

The main aspect it tackles well is its use of plot twists. Too many times, a plot twist will occur from nowhere. Perhaps the clues were there, but glanced over so much it would require an eagle-eye to spot them. Maybe you pieced it together, but then a red-herring took you off the trail so it could suspend the mystery. Good uses of mystery allow it to be solvable long before the reveal is performed, with the participant using their logic to solve it. However, it will still be performed in such a way that a minority will guess correctly, and even then they'll not be entirely sure. If we're talking about films, this is what separates Fight Club from Jacob's Ladder. In videogames, this is what separates Persona 4 from Mirror's Edge. The perfect sign of a good twist that was hinted at, is if you go back with the knowledge of the twist and can point out the clues along the way. You should have a few light bulb moments of “oohh, that explains why X occurred or why Y did Z”.

 

ZE:VLR throws hints of all the twists, with some of the major twists being hinted at within the first half an hour. Which there really are a lot of twists in this adventure. Despite how many hints of these twists there are, it does not need to prolong the mystery. It only uses a red herring once (and it's a weak one at that), it doesn't have needless complications nor do they withhold evidence. They even allow characters to discuss the evidence, if it fits the circumstances. This allows important evidence to be dwelled upon as necessary for the reader's inspection.

 

It's also a very sneaky game at putting hints out there without drawing attention. On here is a hint at a somewhat early twist. Yes, even on their promotional wallpaper.

 

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Evidence about Sigma and Phi's time-travelling is actively discussed by the two, Phi even going as far as making references to Schrodinger's Cat to help theorise about the time-travelling. Phi also discusses the anagram “memento mori when the nineth lion ate the sun”, even saying it's obviously an anagram due to the misspelling of ninth, but will not solve it for you. On the flip side, it wouldn't make sense for Sigma and Phi to discuss Dio's name as a clue to him being a cultist, or make reference to Zero III's rabbit avatar possibly being a reference to the East Asian lore of Moon Rabbit.

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They even go as far as to use Knox's Ten Commandments (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FairPlayWhodunnit) and to reference it in a note you can find. The note serving as a nudge that the game does play fair in its mystery. While it's not to the letter, it is done to the spirit of the rule with great understanding of why the rule does exist. While the game does break all the rules to the letter, steps are made to allow the spirit to stay intact and firmly. So the player can fairly work out the mystery and the plot twists of the game.

 

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As an example: the 2nd rule is broken very hard by the time travelling Sigma does. However, the spirit of why this rule exists is to avoid the reader not being able to fully consider the applications of the supernatural element. However, due to this aspect only being done by Sigma and Phi, the two people who aren't the source of any mysteries, the spirit remains intact. As an added bonus, due to the player's use of the supernatural ability it allows them to personally scrutinise how it can be used.

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This is a videogame that allows its clues to the mysteries that exist within the story to sit right out in the open, even be acknowledged, and then allowed to subside on it's own in an organic manner.

 

This videogame also teaches complex subjects in a respectful and basic manner, as necessary to the plot. Too many times I've seen a videogame bravely set out to teach a player something, either about the world to aid integration or about a technical piece of information that is relevant to what's going on, and just fall flat on their face. A complaint Final Fantasy 13 receives is its confusing storyline, as it ends up submerging the player in a long-winded explanation that's filled with irregular words. A more minor note is a complaint I had with 999 was its ill-explained reason why a character would discuss an obscure neurological condition that coincidentally becomes relevant later.

 

STORY?!

 

ZE:VLR knocks this area out of the park, as it proceeds to talk about complex concepts like Schrodinger's Cat, The Chinese Room and Prisoner's Dilemma. Not only are they delivered in an organic way that makes sense to what's occurring, it's done in a style that allows the player to understand. You wouldn't find a moment here where you ask yourself “...Why are you telling me this?” or moments where you're absolutely completely baffled to what they're talking about.

 

One core way of delivering these complex notions is with a simplified story version. The Prisoner's Dilemma uses the story of an apple and a banana who gets arrested and promised different jail times depending on if they confess or stay silent. This explanation of an aspect of game theory is very simple, but never feels like you're being talked down. The use of an apple and a banana as characters in the tale is a reference to algebra symbols A & B. While the videogame presents perhaps a simplistic side of various concepts, this works as an introduction to that general area and tells you as much as you need to know for the area. This “need to know” basis avoids swamping the player in information.

 

Writing this, I'm surprised I'm already on the 3rd page as my usual articles are about 4 pages long. My Horror Special article ran for just over 4 pages. There's just so many parts of this videogame I could talk about that it does in a successful and interesting way. Perhaps just one more area I'll explain before I dip into what it doesn't do as strongly.

 

One of the interesting aspects of narrative-driven videogames as of late is choice. The power to bend the direction of the story to where you want it to go. The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games really stands as a symbol of how much choice a videogame can provide, using varies tricks to maximise the illusion of choice. Other videogames have attempted this, such as Infamous, Always Sometimes Monsters and The Novelist with different degrees of success.

 

No matter what choice you make in The Walking Dead, you're still going to feel something by the end.

 

ZE:VLR embraces choice as much as possible using a theory of time flow: Branching time. The theory goes that for every choice a person makes, time branches off and multiple universes now exist to accommodate these choices. For instance, there now exists an universe where I slam my empty bottle of Fireball Whiskey (which should have been dumped long ago) onto the desk, breaking said bottle in the process. Another universe exists where I didn't do that, and fortunately that is the time line we all exist within. I am potentially simplifying it, but that is the general gist of the theory.

 

This serves two purposes: The first is it plays directly into the story, thus using gameplay to inform the story and story to help the gameplay. The second aspect is it allows the player to be aware of when the choices have an impact, and these choices to have a very strong impact. As every choice makes a significant difference to the plot the player has to go through. In the entire videogame, there are 22 endings. Each one of them noticeably different to each one. Creating not just an illusion of choice, but instead actual real choices that make a difference.

 

Plus, it has a mechanic where you can go back to a choice you've made. Rather than most games that requires you to keep a track of your saves just before ending-related choices or to play through the videogame again, you can simply go to the flow diagram and just pick an earlier choice. In fact, you are recommended to do so to progress through the plot. This simple device not only makes sense to the story, but also saves a lot of time.

 

Not being sure which choices would get me a different ending, and expecting to replay the game if I got the same ending was just the bane of my existance in 999.

 

There were some other aspects I could talk about, but I fear of making this recommendation too long-winded. Like the videogame's tendency to explain everything in the entire story (yes, including the puzzles), its somewhat interesting sense of humour (I recommend after playing the videogame to check out the PSP Vita achievements for it) and its ability to inform you about the previous videogame enough to get the 999 references but not so much as to spoil it. This really is the type of videogame where I could analyse it moment-to-moment from a writing stand-point. However, as much as it hurts, I have to go onto where it is particularly weak.

 

This videogame's graphics look a bit on the dated side. It looks like something from 2005, perhaps even earlier. While the character designs serve to help identify characters easily and make them memorable, it still from a technical stand-point is not anything of any note. Rather than using an art style that could be memorable, like 999's pixel art or Danganronpa's stylised art-work, it uses standard 3d models. While not so hideous it'll turn people way, it's still something that is perhaps on the weak side.

 

Good question Phi...With that right foot, "Uh...what?" indeed...

 

Its puzzles sometimes can require a bit of moon-logic. Especially towards the end, the puzzles ramp up in difficulty to a heavy amount where it can descend into trial-and-error. This particularly occurs when you're looking for the secret file, as you're expected to interpret the puzzle in a completely different way.

 

Plus, you can end up encountering some glitches that still exist to this day. Not even the mild-mannered glitches where maybe a character's dialogue is skipped or their face contorts into an alien, but the major videogame-breaking kind. While it's known what will break it (saving in a puzzle room and sometimes just the PEC room generally), these haven't been fixed by the developers. All that can be done is making sure you only save in the novel sections (shown by the flow chart), and save before facing the PEC room. Then just reloading if the PEC room crashes your videogame.

 

Another complaint some people may have, although I personally don't, is the story ends on a very minor cliff-hanger. It hints heavily at the events in the sequel; leaving the fate open and a few unanswered questions that were promised to be answered then. This complaint would have been over-looked if the fate of the sequel was in a less precarious situation.

 

The reason for the paragraph talking about how well praised it is at the start (did I mention its gotten a critic score and user score of 88 and 8.9 on the 3DS and 84 and 8.8 on the Vita on Metacritic?), was to compare it to its sequel's position. Due to bad sales, especially in Japan, it is currently in a state of indefinite hiatus as announced by the writer of ZE:VLR. Made possibly a bit worse as the sequel was to be the final videogame in the trilogy. As it is, Operation Bluebird seeks to try to prompt Spike Chunsoft to make a sequel, as they try to find a publisher willing to help fund the development. There is the possibility that after Spike Chunsoft are done with the next Danganronpa they may revisit it, but a possibility is all it is.

 

Game that was released to good reviews, bad sales and a good few fans begging for a sequel? Never occured before I think.

 

So, on that mildly sad note, I highly recommend Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward to anyone who enjoys puzzle videogames and/or visual novels. You should be able to buy it on the 3DS and PSN store. Plus, buying this will mean that ZE:VLR has another sale, which may bring it closer to the sequel everyone deserves. Even those not currently into the series. 

 

Two weeks from now, I'll be revisiting this videogame to talk about why I'm thankful for the its existence and why it means a lot to me, although it shouldn't have much repeating aspects of this article so don't worry about that. Until next week for my analytical article, good bye.

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So today, we're going to be talking about mechanics or ideas found in non-horror games that would fit well in a horror game.

So originally this was going to be a different article. One about sexism in videogames, with an interesting twist. However, 2/3rds of the way through it, I realised something: I hadn't really done anything horror based. Something that is absolute heresy for someone who loves horror games. Sure I did the Fangs For Memories article last week, but it was hardly an analytical article. So, now I'm given the chance to talk about horror games at an appropriate time. This is something I should embrace it as much as possible.

So when it comes to horror games, they're inspired by all manner of life. Silent Hill was inspired partially by Jacob's Ladder, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was inspired by Lovecraftian literature and Neverending Nightmares was based on the developer's own battle with mental illness. However, sometimes there are mechanics that in it's self could inspire full on horror games. So I will be talking about five mechanics found in particular videogames, with a disqualification condition if it has already been featured in a horror game unaltered or mostly-unaltered. If the paragraph may reveal spoilers about the game, I'll put in italics the name of the game before the paragraph. Which then you can simply skip the singular paragraph and have nothing spoiled.

The first mechanic is more of an ending aspect of videogames. Most horror games involve some form of a reveal of what is going on, although the good ones leave the character mostly in the dark even by the end. Letting the player draw their own conclusions of the events that occurred. However, what if the mystery was simply not solved. You fight through the symptoms and you get to a point where you the player must reveal the truth based on the evidence you have gathered and pure investigative prowess. However, for some reason, you're lacking. You didn't find the newspaper article hinting at a dig site, you didn't ask the woman a particular question or you let an enemy escape which later provides information to you. You have some concept of the outline of the case, but you just can't quite work out who to point the finger at.

 

You didn't, for whatever reason, suck up the red liquid from a glass vial into a plastic bottle. Just on the off-chance it'd be useful.

 

In the end, you give up. You either just input a random answer, or you hit that give up function. The game then proceeds to give you an ending where the trail just ran cold. You're left with absolutely nothing to do, except perhaps try again, as the main antagonist gets away or the root cause remains untreated.

Heavy Rain illustrates an example of this well. To solve the mystery for Norman Jayden, you must analyse at least two different clues. However, if you miss the clues it can lead to being unable to solve the mystery. If you're unable to solve the mystery, or you take too long, you can end up with the bad ending for Jayden. Another character, Madison, can tell Jayden the answer if he can't work it out. If she is dead then Jayden has to let the case go cold with potentially the death of a young child on his concious.

This form of involving nature of detective work of the horror that has transpired, could serve as an interesting interactive test to see if the player understands what is going on. It makes players pay attention to what is going on, and not float from one scare to the next, as they have to work for their good ending. Which having to work for something resembling a good ending fits perfectly within the horror genre. It could also work as a way for the player to manipulate the horror plot, to factor in success or failure. Plus, it adds critical thinking of how to escape and solve the mystery, or perhaps just escape if they don't feel the mystery is worth solving. That is okay too.

The second way involves reality bending. While twisting reality is a common staple of horror games, from the Silent Hill series to Lone Survivor, this is usually done in a way where a large portion of the game exists in an unreal world that is revealed as such later. However, another simple way to indicate reality or fiction is one that Spec Ops: The Line explores.

 

Sometimes reality blends two characters together, and something delightful occurs from it.

 

Spec Ops: The Line

In Spec Ops: The Line, the line between reality and a fictional world is blurred heavily. With lines like “Wait...Wait, this isn't right...We did this already!” with reference to a helicopter scene, the same one the game starts out with reappearing later. Multiple theories exist on the fate of Walker due to this heavy reality blurring. However, there is one subtle clue to hint when Walker is lying to himself or hallucinating, and it's with the use of fade outs. If it fades-out black, it's true, if it fades-out white it's either a hallucination or a lie. Interestingly, the ending where Walker goes home is the only ending with a fade-out to white.

So, using this fade-out rule, it makes it possible for two scenes next to each other to be real or fake in a subtle and non-invasive manner. This makes it easier to delve into the psychology of the character, and yet depict it in a form of reality. However, caution must be used as this can easily descend into being confusing or frustrating if over-used. Plus, if the representation of false scenes are sloppily done, it could lead to inconsequential or just general confusion of what the relevance is.

A third interesting mechanic involves the use of the stress meter in horror games. This is a common aspect of videogames, one that has been employed by games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. However, there is a particular form of stress meter that has appeared recently that appears inspired by the Call Of Cthulhu pen-and-paper RPG.

Darkest Dungeon features a sanity system where adventures are slowly stressed over time by disturbing attacks, horrific events and disgusting abominations. When a character loses all their stress, one of two events can occur. The very unlikely event is the character becomes greatly inspired in this moment of doubt to push on ever stronger. The more likely event is the character gains a mental affliction that affects them negatively. This will usually get represented by a statistical difference, or by the character acting in a particular way (e.g. a turn will be wasted running to the back of the party).

 

No light hearted jokes here, not even from the Jester. Especially not from the Jester.

 

This is a mechanic with a few problems however. For a start, it would be impossible to treat mental illness as anything than in a pulpy/Hollywood fashion. So it may lead to some semi-disrespectful and very non-representative portrayals of psychiatric illness. Things like hallucinations/delusions for the schizophrenics, and just misery for those who are depressed. Secondly, it'd be hard to make the game story-centric, which personally is usually a sign of a very good horror game, as mental illness is something that can really change the flow of the game. There is also the aspect that the game's story arc could get potentially derailed if it's not a simple task (e.g. kill all creatures), as a character who is suffering from a particularly severe form of mental disorder could be rendered very hard to play as.

However, despite these problems, it could breath new life into the sanity system and back up mechanically the stressful environments that are associated with horror games. You could experience an unique perspective on different afflictions. For instance, you could be playing a WWI-based FPS horror game, and you get the shellshock affliction. This could make aiming the rifle particularly hard as your hands just wouldn't stop shaking. You could also have a schizophrenia moment (perhaps even a realistic portrayal), where your senses are being affected. It would be different, compared at least to the typical “if you lose your sanity, you die” portrayals.

The next aspect of non-horror videogames that would fit well in a horror game is actually a graphical style. It's style in it's original game caused a lot of complaints with regards to creating headaches, and having an incredibly violent head-bobbing motion when running. Which, due to it's action genre, there was a lot of running in the game. The graphical style was Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Day's Youtube inspired camcorder view.

 

Now, if it was inspired by Red Tube, it'd be a completely different game.

 

Part of the horror is not being able to fully understand the beast you see. Some of the scariest videogames hide the reality of what you're facing and allows you to project your fears onto what you see. The mind tries to comprehend the pixels into a shape that makes sense, and is horrifying. So what about combining the “shot-on-VHS” look which some films go for with videogames, to create a look where bad things are happening but you can barely comprehend what things?

This could create problems of headaches in the user if the run animation and various camera errors are overused or awkwardly done. It also could take users out of the experience if the camera-man is ill-explained if the main character is not the camera-man. However, despite both these problems, it could help make an ugly setting look uglier and allow projection to scare the user.

The final interesting mechanic that could sell a horror game, is a combat mechanic. I know you're going to the comment's section, ready to tell me about how combat shouldn't be in horror. I know, I know, someone even told me WWI would be hard to make into a good horror game because of the combat it would involve. That if you're able to fight your oppressors, even delaying the inevitable, you gain an amount of power that doesn't belong in a horror game. First, I would counter with ammo limitation as you really have to judge fight-or-flight rather than being able to kill everything. Secondly, I would tell you about a mechanic that only exists in a game made in a 7-day challenge.

 

Yes, your horror game can have combat and still be scary. If Silent Hill is a testament to anything, let it be that. 

 

I present to you: Receiver. A game made in a 7-day FPS challenge, which was designed to explore realistic gun handling mechanics. If mental images of games like World Of Guns springs to mind, with awkward controls and perhaps an over-focus on realism of gun handling, then you're not far off actually. However, rather than World Of Guns where you assemble, dissemble and shoot blindly in a white floating void, Receiver exists in a world. You are someone who must scavenge bullets and tapes, as you fight off turrets and drones. It's the little things that sells this game though.

Say you are running around with a Colt 1911 and you find some bullets. You were dry, but you managed to find these bullets. With a collection of button presses, you must:
1. Eject the magazine.
2. Load the bullets into the magazine.
3. Put the magazine back in the gun.
4. Pull back and release the slide.
If you were using a revolver, you simply flip the cylinder out, eject all the casings on the floor (picking any unused ones) and reload one by one each bullet. Finally putting the cylinder back in. In an action-packed high-octane FPS, the amount of work required to reload would be incredibly awkward. Let alone if you wanted to check the slide if there is a loaded bullet in, turn the safety on-and-off and so on.

In a horror game though, a setting where each fight should feel like you could very much die, the mechanic fits in well. This system makes you feel each bullet you use. You are reloading and making sure each bullet is in a magazine during down times. This makes reloading mid-combat not just a bad idea, but likely something that'll get you killed. In the original Receiver game, the drones and turrets are powerful enough that you can be killed with one shot if you don't aim carefully.

The main downside with the existing Receiver system, is the floating-gun look. By not seeing your own hands hold the gun or put the bullets in, it can feel a bit disconnecting and could drag you out of the experience of what is occurring. If hands were added, and animated well, it could make the player feel even more connected to the character and the events in the game.

 

Maybe in Receiver you're a ghost, like in Screencheat. 

 

Now, if there was a way to combine four of the five aspects (everything except the Spec Ops system, which wouldn't fit well with the camera approach of Kane & Lynch: Dog Days), it could make for an absolutely fantastic game. A shoulder low-quality camera following a detective who gets dragged into a case that looks to threaten his body and mind, who must get to the bottom of the case. I would definitely be interested in such a game. Even just implementing just one of these mechanics well (especially the Receiver mechanic) could carry the game very strongly. Oh well, one can dream...

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Good day, and welcome to a wonderful horror edition of my blog posts. As the month of October, a month associated with terror, fear and horror, comes towards a final bombastic close in the form of Halloween; I wish to throw my wood into the fire and share with you over the roaring flames what has tingled my spine. What has left me agasp in what I've witnessed in visual novel videogames. A tale of death, both of a physical and a psychological nature. After all, if there's certainly one thing worse than being in a state of real physical death, it's the knowledge that while they exist physically inside they're long gone. They breath, they sleep, they eat, but they were not the ones we thought we knew. That they are inside broken, destroyed and perhaps dead, a puppeteer of a parody of what we once knew and cared about.

So you may cry: “But why spine chilling creep, why not the horrors that keep you shaking and checking under your bed?”. To this, I respond with that horror is cheap and plentiful. You wish to be left paranoid, shaking in bed as you stare into the black void that may hide that which may claim your life, this is a cheap thrill. A building of atmosphere, the sensation that a creature may destroy you around the next corner, is something that requires no investment in the tale. It's when you become creeped out however, that requires something special. It requires build up, a strong story to keep you invested and then the unpredictable twist. As you look upon your spoiled goods, and see your fears become a reality in front of your eyes.

 

The only story here is about workplace exploitation.

 

So I wish to tell you of three visual novel videogames that have created a particular creep, that has left me disturbed and just saying a singular phrase over and over like a dark bird-song: “Oh no”. However, I wish to not sell you short, as every single one of these have left me worried, but still enjoying it. Like Alice as she burrowed deep into the hole, I wanted to go deeper but was scared of the outcomes to come. Naturally, spoilers will be afoot, but each chapter will begin with the videogame of discussion. So you may simply skip to the next videogame if you wish to experience it yourself in the future. If pictures are required to illustrate a point, a handy link will be given as a gift so those avoiding information on the game will not be foretold of the twists and turns. So, if you are sitting comfortably with a refreshment of your choosing, I shall begin.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

999 is a visual novel with puzzles, the first in the Zero Escape series. You play as Junpei, a college student stuck on a boat that will sink in nine hours, along with eight other people and with one goal set out by the antagonist: Find the 9th door to escape. There are various rules set out to make sure people didn't cheat to escape with the ultimate punishment for breaking them: Death.

Each person has a bracelet with a number on it. This serves two functions: The number is used for the doors, and it can trigger a bomb inside the owner's body if a rule is broken. To enter a numbered door for the first time, two conditions must be satisfied. The first is the digital root of those who wish to enter it must equal the door number, and it must be between 3 and 5 people. This is confirmed by swiping their bracelet on the external box and locking it in. Those who enter then have to disable the countdown on their watch by swiping it against a box inside, so it prevents those who are unregistered rushing into the room.

 

"If there's no limit on how many people can enter a room, they'll probably all just go into a cabin and go to sleep. Hhmm...Better put a time limit on too. If they sleep on the job, it'll be hard to get them out if they can't be bothered."

 

During the plot of the game it is revealed that two of the characters, Clover and Snake, are related as sister and brother. Snake however gets a chronic case of the dead. This is thanks to someone pushing him into a numbered door alone, making him unable to disable the bomb ticking down. This is because everyone who is registered on the external box needs to swipe the internal box for it to disable the bombs. His death is revealed later, depending on if you force yourself to go into the 3 door or not. Needless to say, Clover is horrified at the revelation of her brother's death. She flips between being quiet and furious that it could have been anyone who threw Snake in. Plus, it would have to be more than one person, due to it requiring at least 3 people to open a door.

This failing of trust of who killed her brother climaxes in the Axe ending. After working out who must have thrown her brother in, she kills them (7+3+2= 12 1+2 = 3). However, with killing Santa and Seven, there was sadly an avoidable casualty. Someone who stood between Clover and the two people who must have killed her brother, and that was your love interest June. The only one who knew you outside of the 999 events. All Junpei can do in retaliation, is just to fall to his knees.

He then looks up to see someone broken. Horribly horribly broken.

Just the knowledge this person was just broken beyond belief, and unpredictable, made the screenshot of Clover creepy. In some way, you contributed to what is now a very mentally damaged girl. It was enough to make me remember the ending every time I think of Clover as a name. It doesn't help that Clover then uses an axe to cut you up for your bracelet, after asking you for your hand so you and this broken little girl can escape. Made even worse that even if she got every single bracelet, she wouldn't be able to escape out of the furnace. Meanwhile, her brother actually trapped in a coffin that no one can let him out of due to the two people who would have been able to being dead. A somewhat creepy experience, but I'm sure I can up the ratchet.

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Duel Destinies

So this is one that may simultaneously create confusion and a knowing nod. Perhaps something people wouldn't expect on a list like this, but yet they know the scene I'm going to be babbling about. Perhaps I should explain.

To the uninformed, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney is a series where you are a lawyer who must defend clients from a guilty verdict, and thus in the process reveal the true culprit of the crime. It's a light hearted series that has plenty of jokes, fun visuals and some silliness as well. Duel Destinies being the sixth Ace Attorney game released in the UK (they did release Ace Attorney Investigations 2 in Japan only) and the first on the 3DS. As you play as Phoenix Wright, returned after having his lawyer license revoked from the previous game. Along with Apollo Justice from the previous game, and a new face: Athena Cykes.

 

Apollo comes back, angstier than ever.

 

Athena is a character that comes across as constantly happy, always with a smirk on her face. However, there are signs something is not quite okay with her. This becomes most apparent in case 3, Turnabout Academy, when Athena gets taunted by the suspected, and then proven, killer to the point of shaking with severe self-doubt. At the time, there is no knowledge of what causes Athena to lose faith in herself to the point of clutching herself, and sure she is unable to win the case.

However, it begins to be revealed that perhaps Athena may have had something to do with her mother's death, Metis Cykes. That when Simon Blackquill, the person charged with the death of Athena's mother, turned up at the laboratory for a psychology lesson Metis was already dead. Stood over her, was Athena with a grin on her bloody face. Athena only had one thing to tell Blackquill: “Something's wrong with Mom, so I'm taking her apart to fix her!”. Due to Athena's sheltered childhood, she believed as a child that people could be fixed in the same way robots could.

So she wasn't sad about her mother being dead, but glad to help fix her using the machine that disassembles and reassembles robots her mother happened to be laid upon; with a sword wound to her gut. This memory of her mother's murder, and of her believing in being able to fix the fatal wound, was blocked out to the extent that upon remembering it again she realises the conclusion to be drawn: She was the one who killed her mother. Just the look of sheer joy of unawareness, and somewhat due to this very dark moment coming from nowhere, sent a creep tingling up my spine. I pressed on, wanting to know more of what happened with her mother, but wary that the truth may be something even more horrible. Fortunately, it turned out to be someone completely different, but the possibility it could go even bleaker had me creeped out.

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward

So this was a game that had no mental breaking moments, but did create two scenes that I consider the most creepy occassions in visual novels for me. I figured I'd focus on one, so I had to pick which one made me more fearful to know more but yet made me want to dig deeper. In the end, I had to go with Luna End rather than Clover End.

 

Do I prefer to be creeped out one way, or another... How about alcohol? I prefer that.

 

So say you went down the far left path of the flowchart. You first find a mysterious woman who is dead from a stab wound to the chest. Then the small boy, Quark, goes unconscious due to the mysterious virus Radical 6. He later goes missing after a room. Followed by Alice dying from a stab wound to the chest, similar to how the woman died. Next, Luna is found dead from being injected with a chemical that stops the heart, with later hints that perhaps Clover did it.

While you'd be forgiven for suspecting the deaths end there, it does not. Clover and Tenmyouji fail to turn up to enter a door on time, which carries the penalty of death by a heart stopping injection. You find the two of them, handcuffed to a sink together. A bloody message by Clover left on her inner thigh hinting at who did it: “016”. Finally, you enter the Rec Room to find K with an axe in the back of his head and Dio with a lance in his stomach.

So now, you and Phi are all alone. There is a killer somewhere out there. Either a 10th person, or perhaps Quark managed to hit K with an axe hard enough to penetrate his armour? Quark is just a child though...Right? Whatever is the case, you and Phi are next without a doubt.

That's when you enter a code into a PC in the director's office. ID: GTFDML016. That's when you find out the ID name is a GAULEM Unit's (i.e. robot) serial number. That's when you open the file, and see a familiar picture next to a GAULEM specification notes. Luna. Luna's serial number is 016, as written on Clover's inner-thigh. Your brain begins to snap into place.

Luna is robotic, and so would be able to fight as well as required and be as strong as required. She'd be able to wield the axe and spear, perhaps at the same time. Luna wouldn't be affected by the heart-stopping chemical, so she could act in stealth. Plus, who would expect someone as lovely acting and innocent looking as Luna doing something as foul as murder?

 

"PLUS, WHO WOULD EXPECT A WOMAN TO ACHIEVE A RAMPAGE?!"

 

The announcer starts counting down to the voting time, something at least one person in a group of three must do or be punished by death. Sigma and Phi arrive at the voting booth and swipe their card. They step in and turn around. Together, the two of them see a terrible figure just as the doors are closing.

Luna, just standing there, watching you by her self.

This creepy moment is made even more so by the simple fact that Luna is your opponent in voting. What if she knew if you allied or betrayed? What would she do if you betrayed her? What is her next move? What is she going to do? You're now trapped in a small voting booth, told to vote to ally or betray Luna (both would give you the required 9 points to leave, if Luna does not vote) with Luna quite possibly waiting outside for you. She's already possibly killed 6 people including the old woman, with an unknown fate for young Quark. You vote, and she's gone. Just like that. Depending on how you vote, you either get a character ending (akin to a good ending) that has been considered one of the best endings and the most depressing ending in the game or a bad ending.

Closure

So I hope you enjoyed the delightful venture into the creepier side of visual novels, where you must dig deeper to just find out how deep the hole goes. If you request a visual novel that is perhaps more horrifying than just creepy, I recommend for you to take a gander at Corpse Party. It is a delightful visual novel for the PSP where rather than obscuring the horror, they sit it out in the open for all people to look upon. You get to experience in full graphical detail the deaths of many teenagers, along with some pictures of said grizzly scenes (e.g. NSFW and an early spoiler ), with the knowledge that some of them are your fault and others are bound by fate to death. Which makes me wonder: Is it worse to die to a fault that is your own, or know you were powerless to it? Alas, I'll admit to not being quite sure of that.

May you have a wonderful Halloween, your tastes lying in atmospheric horrors of things just lurking and watching or with buckets of blood and gore sloshed around or somewhere in between.

 

Until next time... Take care...

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