Cute Bite and Mechanical Coherence

Cute Bite is the latest raising sim from Hanako Games, where you take the role of a butler training her vampire mistress, who’s decades long sleep has reduced her from a fearsome queen to a small child. By training various stats, the player guides the vampire towards her true power, gaining various endings for their efforts.

The main gameplay loop is choosing activities for the vampire to do – either jobs that gain money, or classes that raise stats and cost money – and balancing this with her mind and body health meters. In this respect the game is a standard, but very well executed, raising sim.

The thing that I found interesting was the additional mechanics and minigames that could be played at the end of the week, and how they tied elegantly into the main loop rather than feeling like seperate elements. Minigames can often feel tacked on, but despite the range of additional activities they fit excellently into the game.

The stats screen.
The butler and the vampire.

For example, one of the activities available by default is hunting. This can increase your mind and body meters if successful and uses the stats raised in the core loop. There is also a chance of money dropping. Because the stats are at the heart of the game, and the player is afforded an opportunity to gain crucial resources, this feels like a consistent part of the overall product despite it using turn based combat – the hallmark of a different game genre altogether. It is worth noting that Princess Maker, arguably the origin of these sorts of games, did have a dungeon mechanic, so it isn’t that Cute Bite is original in doing this, just that it is done exceedingly well.

The battles are based on the opposed stats of the vampire and her victim, which are in turn made up of two of the stats raised in the core loop. Not only do they tie into the main form of gameplay, but they are thematically appropriate to the vampire genre and are a little different from what you might expect from RPG stats. The target’s aloofness versus the vampire’s feigned helplessness was a particular favorite. The stats of each target are hidden at first, but as you encounter the same targets, you gain a picture of their competencies and weaknesses. This not only serves as a fun mechanic for discovery and strategy, it builds a painting of the town that you live in, as you meet the same people on the streets at night.

Cute Bite’s RPG style battles.
Princess Maker 2 Refine on Steam
Princess Maker 2’s RPG style battles.

Other activities include testing the vampire’s stats as she shmooses at a ball, attempts to burgle the local shops and mansions or arm wrestling grown men in the local pub. While these are all simpler, stat based challenges, it is worth pointing out the non-intrusive but well telegraphed difficulty of these challenges, using colors to signify difficulty, and the randomised nature of which stats will be challenged. Both make these great little mechanics that tie in nicely to the stat raising core.

The ballroom activity – I had no chance here.

There are also activities that allow the player to predict and affect their ending, by trading stats for money or divining a hint towards the ending they’ll get. Again, because both activities are tied directly to those stats that are at the core of the game, they work well.

Swapping stats for money.

What feels really great about all this is that these stats are not only the mechanical heart of the game, but the narrative one too. The game is a raising sim, you are trying to turn this girl into someone. The stats are both what you do and what the game is about. The stats affect your vampire in ways both telegraphed and obfuscated, with an icon appearing in the corner when the vampire is reacting to something that you chose for her or said to her in the past. The different choices, previous scenes and the personality the player sets for the vampire at the beginning of the game combine to change outcomes in a way that feels like the game is listening to you.

I searched for a game design term to describe what I’m talking about here. I wanted to use the word elegant, because it feels that way, but elegance in game design has a specific meaning to do with simplicity, depth and mastery. I’d argue that Cute Bite doesn’t have the kind of depth an elegant game does. While there is a lot of room for discovery and some interesting elements that feel emergent, the game is all authored and there is a finite amount of content that can be seen. This isn’t a bad thing – it just suggests that elegance is not the design philosophy I’m after here.

Coherence is possibly a better word, and one I’ve been using. Specifically I’m talking about mechanical coherence. Yes, there is narrative coherence here – as I mentioned earlier, what you do and what the game is about are the same thing, but I specifically want to highlight how every mechanic feels seamless and like it is build from the same set of bricks, on the same foundation.

Everything in this game is build around three concepts: Stats, Time and Money. The core mechanics of the game touch all three of these, with the less important aspects of the game touching less of them, but never having no basis in any of them.

A diagram of some of the activities in Cute Bite – I hadn’t yet discovered all of the mini games when I made this.

I can’t say what methodology the team at Hanako Games actually uses to design their titles, but the idea of designing from this core outwards is a great one. I’m not sure I could design something that neatly, especially considering I tend to approach a design narrative first, but making a diagram like this is a great exercise to both make the core of the game clear and discover how connected your mechanics are. I’ll try it on my next project!

What I’ve Been Playing May – June 2021

Itch Games

So most of my gaming time in June went on a crazy experiment where I played twenty two games in twenty four hours! I cleared out my itch library and played some arty, horror and VN games. Read more about it here!

Famicom Detective Club

I’d been waiting for ages for this one, was very excited when I saw it announced. I love detective games and the old school anime aesthetic.

I'm Liking Famicom Detective Club A Lot More Than I Expected To

I really enjoyed this at first, and thought the menu that the player interacts with the game through was very cool and old school. To examine scenes or interview suspects, you have a list of vague subjects to talk about, and selecting them in the correct order allows more information to be revealed.

Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir Chapter Nine - How Do I Get The  Mean Lawyer Lady To Talk To Me? - Nintendo Life

Unfortunately this got frustrating quickly, as the topics could sound ambiguous, leaving the choice of what to do next unclear. I likened this to a ‘narrative pixel hunt’. In my opinion, a good detective game should lead you to the answer while making you feel that you figured it out yourself, and here I felt like I was guessing at some points, or at others felt like I knew the next step but not how to express it through the game’s interface. I think the idea that the player can be ahead of their character’s thinking and then struggle to express their thoughts through the game is one of the key challenges of detective style games.

This frustration was felt the most when moving forward was prompted by doing or repeating an action that is obviously fruitless. There was no reason for me to try that action beyond trying every option, and it broke the fantasy of being a clever detective, making me and the character feel a little dumb. The option to perform an action that is impossible, like speak to a character not in the room, is often available, which leads to essentially a telling off by the character for making a stupid move.

Despite my grievances with the user experience, I did enjoy the story, with the school rumours, potential horror bent and references to Kabukicho creating a wonderful vibe.

I also really enjoyed the full voice acting in this game. I tend to prefer partial voice acting as I read faster than the speech, but this being in Japanese alleviated the issue and brought me more into the very Japanese world of the game. The art is also gorgeous, with lots of movement and more artwork than is normally expected for a visual novel.

New Pokemon Snap

New Pokémon Snap | Nintendo Switch | Games | Nintendo

I feel like this blog makes it sound like I just don’t like video games sometimes, as I seem to have a lot of complaints. Here’s a dozen more.

I was really disappointed by New Pokemon Snap. I’d played the original twenty years ago, getting the N64 cartridge for my seventh birthday, then patiently awaiting playing it as it was sealed away, along with my console, while we were in a temporary house until our new one was finished being built.

Perhaps this is the key to my lack of enjoyment – I was so excited about that game twenty years ago because I was pokemon obsessed. Nowadays though, I don’t know any pokemon after gen four and I think we’re on…eight now? So this felt more like a generic animal photography game than a pokemon one. That’s okay though – I figured I’d still get something out of it.

We started the game on a bad foot, resenting the incredibly handhold-y tutorial that wouldn’t let us try things or experiment. I understand that Nintendo’s audience can be young and this is who the tutorial was designed for, but we wished we’d at least been able to skip it as folk who are familiar with games.

Once we were in the game proper it was…okay? I can’t find anything to pinpoint as bad about the experience, but it wasn’t engaging either. After one or two rounds of a level I was bored enough to not want to play anymore. I wondered if the progression system was slightly to blame, with the natural discovery of new routes in the original game replaced with a ‘research score’ points based progression system, but even then I’m not convinced the actual core loop of the game would have held my attention.

Perhaps I’m just old and boring!

Resident Evil Village

So as a palette cleanser to the negativity, here’s a game I love.

RE8 Castle 13.jpg

While its overall world is a little larger, Resident Evil Village does the same thing that I adored about Resis 1,2 and 7 – it provides a small, enclosed environment that the player can learn, and that evolves over time. Not only does this let the player master the environment and provides fast traversal, it promotes both the horror feel and a solid sense of immersion.

One of the best ways to create immersion in my opinion is to provide a strong sense of player presence through a coherent and believable world. It doesn’t need to be realistic, but if it respects its own internal rules and the player can learn how to reliably interact with it, they feel as if they are really there. Mastering the small environment of Castle Dimitrescu really brought this feeling home for me.

I think creating this great sense of believability allows players, or at least myself, to suspend disbelief reasonably in other areas. The Resident Evil series has quite a few ‘gamey’ mechanics that immersion focused players like myself don’t generally enjoy but I almost revel in them here. I like trying to get all the rooms on the map to turn blue or knowing I’m safe in the safe room (though, looking at you Resi 2 for subverting that one!). The combination of a strong, learnable environment, puzzle mechanics and conventional mechanics that do not grate is quite reminiscent of some of the best Zelda dungeons, and I do wonder if nostalgia for these drives my love of this sort of setup.

RE8 Find Dimitrescu's Chambers walkthrough - Polygon

The entire Resident Evil universe is also incredibly silly. So many things happen that just don’t really make sense and yet I really enjoy the lore, the characters and the batshit yet predictable plot. Sometimes its less about doing something unique and more about executing something well and Resident Evil Village is incredibly well executed, with its fantastic artwork, fun puzzles and exciting gameplay.

I’ve not finished the game yet, so unsure how I’ll feel as more areas open up, but for now I’m really enjoying it.

24 Hours With My Library

I have this thing I like to do. I go onto, look at my homepage filled with weird, wonderful, interesting games, add them to my ‘stuff to play’ collection and then… never play them.

In the spirit of ‘inbox zero’ and ‘I did x amount of this thing in 24 hours because I hate myself’ YouTube videos, I decided to clear my ‘stuff to play’ collection by spending 24 hours with it before deleting it completely. I had a couple of rules:

  • No demos, though small projects and jam games are fine
  • No paid games, all of the ones here were available for free
  • Avoid overly long games, get as wide a gamut as possible

This actually thinned out the list significantly, as a lot of that list was demos or episodic games.

Overall, this was a more ambitious project that I’d initially hoped, and I realised that I really don’t have that much time for gaming! Twenty four hours is a surprisingly long amount of time. I think I probably fit into that post-core, four hours a week gamer profile more than anything else, which is a little sad honestly. Changing that would involve not playing twelve hours of tabletop a week though, and I couldn’t possibly cut back there…

I digress. I think this took me about three weeks in real time, and in that time I played twenty two games. Some for ten minutes, some for five hours. Here are my thoughts on them.

Hour 1 – Lavender

I decided to start with Lavender by Clockwork Prince, a puzzle game made in RPG maker that promised some horror elements.

Why did I put this on my list?
I’m not sure, but this was the first thing on the list so I decided to give it a go. A puzzle game with horror elements based on the fairy tale of Rapunzel sounds pretty cool to me.

I enjoyed playing this, the atmosphere was mysterious and the puzzles were challenging enough to be fun but not to be frustrating.

The plant puzzle was fun the first time, frustrating the second.

I didn’t, however, get the horror that was promised. It was hinted at through item descriptions, but I believe the true horror lies in the secret ending, which required me to do the puzzles all over again. I hadn’t written down the solutions and the puzzles turned out to be significantly less fun once the satisfaction of completing them once had been had. An option to skip the puzzles after completing a first playthrough would have been great here.

Hour 2 – Short Games Hour

For my second hour I picked out three short games.

Weekend Fever

Why did I put this on my list?
I believe I spoke to the creator of this game in a visual novel dev discord about use of photo backgrounds. They linked me their games as an example of their photo process and I never got around to playing any of them. Oops, I feel a little guilty about that one!

I love The Smiths.


This VN has a wonderful atmosphere, with a beautiful, dreamy feel that’s reminiscent of some of the magical realism media I’ve been interested in lately. The photo backgrounds – the reason I was interested in this in the first place – are used to good effect to bolster this atmosphere, with good use of filtering and shifting to show the protagonists state of mind. The processing that has been done on the photos, the amount of them and their appropriateness to the text give them a deliberate feel that makes this work. I think visual novels that use photo backgrounds often fail because they are used in place of an image crafted directly for the work and therefore the overall effect is not cohesive. This can then lead into the unfortunate impression that the technique was used out of ‘laziness’. We all know making a game is bloody hard and no one doing it is lazy, but consumers don’t see it that way.

The ideas and themes of the first half of the game are excellent, exploring homecoming and trauma. The use of language is strong, but is let down by odd grammar. Like with many VNs I’ve played with this issue, this is likely down to translation or English as a second language. I try to look past this (I mean, I couldn’t write a VN in French!) but as a native speaker it can be immersion breaking when the grammatical flow is off.

There is a fantastic dream sequence in this game, where size of sprites is used to great effect. Every time you click, they come closer, as it you are willing the spooky figures to come towards you. It felt like a very literal version of the idea that a book’s interactivity lies in turning the page.

Unfortunately the game’s ending lets it down. In my playthrough, the romantic interest never regained memory of a tragedy she shared with the main character. His business then failed, and the two of them ran away together while he started writing again. It was presented as romantic, but to me it felt as if the romantic interest was an object used to heal the main character’s trauma rather than a person with any agency of her own. It was rather ‘manic pixie dream girl’ esque which, y’know, was considered sexist and cliché in 2009, let alone 2021.

Hot, Tasty and Armed

Why did I put this on my list?
I think I saw cyberpunk art and thought, cool?


The premise of the game is that you are a weapons dealer posing as a hot dog seller, but I missed this, and lost the game because I sat and made hot dogs and failed to give anyone a gun. The tutorial was not very effective, and the small resolution of the pixel art made things difficult to read or distinguish.

It’s difficult to work out what’s happening here.

DejaVu Text Adventure

Why did I put this on my list?
I honestly have no clue why this was on my list. I like text adventures though, so decided to give it a try.


It turns out this was a small experiment for the dev to try out Unity, so I didn’t expect too much here, however when I heard text adventure I expected something that followed the conventions of either a parser game or a CYOA style game, so was surprised at the way choices were presented.

The game opens with a keypad, and rather than typing in the combination you want to use or clicking on the numbers, you are asked to press a button to try a particular combination. Having the player enter this themselves would have added a small degree of synchronicity between player and character, producing player-character empathy.

There was another password guessing situation where I was told I couldn’t guess the combination. This rattled me – I wanted to try! I wanted to learn that I couldn’t do something by failing, rather than by being told.

Despite my complaints about choice presentation, I liked the overall premise of the game a lot. It felt like a text version of an old flash escape the room game, which brought back some nostalgic memories. I had fun here.

Hour 3 – The Horror Hour

SNAKE 3310

Why did I put this on my list?

The art looked really cool, giving off a retro horror vibe – very much my thing!


In a way, this game did everything that Deja Vu text adventure didn’t, providing a synchronised experience between player and character. The feeling of spacial presence created by using only the X, Z and numpad keys for input, as you would on a Nokia 3310, was used to good effect to promote a sense of horror. I felt like I was there, and whatever it was was coming to get me.

Horror aside, Snake is a genuinely fun game and, as mentioned above, the control scheme furthered that, as it felt like playing on mobile twenty years ago. The message sounds were very true to form also, which fed into a feeling of nostalgia and familiarly. Being able to erode this positive feeling was then a powerful tool for horror.

I did start to get a little irritated when things got spooky. At that point I wanted more choice than to just keep playing snake. I wanted to try calling Charlie, or the unknown number, or the police, but it seemed all I could do was play a silly phone game. In some ways that was the horror of the game, as the phone took away my agency, and whether that’s a commentary on our use of phones or simply the fun idea of a cursed phone hijacking your brain, it ultimately works.

Veinless Property

Why did I put this on my list?

They had me at “Junji Ito inspired”.


The first second I opened this game I thought the art style was incredibly cool. The comic book feel was authentic and it was as if I’d stepped straight into a Junji Ito manga. The second I moved however, I hated it. The shearing when moving the camera was very difficult to get used to, and I think less motion would have served the visuals of the game better.

There are only three colours used in this game, yet they are able to provide a sense of depth, strong lighting and highlights that exist to lead you around the level and towards points of interest. Its clear a lot of thought was put into the shader and texture work here.

The first interaction in this game is incredibly satisfying. The player flicks the light switch and is rewarded with a very cool lettering vfx, completley in line with its artistic inspiration, alongside a very nice sound effect. I sat and flicked this light switch for longer than I’d care to admit.

This interaction leads into the first task of the game – switch off all the lights. This is a nice little excuse to explore the entire house and gain knowledge of the environment to use later, all while setting up the tension that will pay off to provide horror later.

Best part of the game.

When Veinless Property does become horrific, it has some genuinely frightening jump scares that don’t feel cheap, as they feel very in line with the genre expectations regarding Japanese horror and Junji Ito’s style.

While I normally love games to be as short as possible so I can play as many as possible, I would have loved for this to be longer. With a larger location and perhaps some additional puzzle gameplay, I could play a nine to twelve hour campaign in this setting.

Project Kat

Why did I put this on my list?

I saw a let’s play of this and thought it looked really fun, but I’m not sure who the youtuber was.

Project Kat


I really enjoyed this! It was a fun horror game, well executed, with a mystery good enough to keep you playing until the end.

The game begins with some very heavy tutorialisation, which was a little much for my taste but made up for itself with some very charming art. This was all presented inside a dream sequence, which was a nice way to allow for more obvious and simple interactions that wouldn’t neccearily make narrative sense in the main game. On top of that, it was able to introduce the idea of choice and unclear cause and effect that are used to drive the horror in a slightly meta way.

I found the general writing in this game fantastic. The characters are charming, with dialogue that feels natural and fun. The item descriptions are cute and witty, reminiscent of a classic adventure game. The puzzles were easy, but presented a nice alternative mode of interaction that kept me engaged. The art is also great, with a lot of care put into the three different styles to ensure they mesh well.

As mentioned above, there was a warning at the beginning about choice being important and cause and effect not being obvious. With this in mind, I read private diaries and broke into people’s things and most definitely steered myself towards a bad ending, but if you present me with lore, I’m gonna take it. I’m not sure how much my choices affected the game, as I played only once and I’m aware there are only two endings, but even the suggestion that they did affected the way I played and thought about choice. I considered how my actions would affect myself and others, even if ultimately I made choices I knew may end badly, notably thinking about whether actions that were not presented as strict choices may have consequences. For example – should I shut this door, should I take a weapon I don’t need so someone else can’t take it later? It made me think about the possibility of a game where all the choices are hidden, and what you don’t do is as important as what you do. I suppose this is sort of touching on systemic game design in a way, as rather than thinking of the game as a branching narrative, a series of if statements, it becomes framed as a set of objects that may interact, a system. Something to think about another time!

Playing this right after Veinless Property was interesting, as the two games had very different senses of horror due to their different points of view. Being first person, Veinless Property’s horror was personal and somewhat mine rather than the character’s as I feared jump scares. Project Kat on the other hand, was more focused on building a frightening atmosphere through its worldbuilding and mystery. I think Project Kat would have been terrifying from a first person POV, but may have lost something vital as the characterization of Kat would likely have been weaker.

Hour 4 – Interview with the Whisperer

Why did I put this on my list?

This was made by Deconstructeam, who made The Red Strings Club, one of my favorite games, so this was pretty much an insta-click regardless. The premise did sound incredible though – a short game Same dev as the red strings club so insta click, but premise sounded incredible – a short game about a journalist who travels into the Galician countryside to interview an old man who claims to have built a radio that allows him to speak with God, powered by chatbot technology.


While this wasn’t necessarily the game I had the most fun with out of my list, it’s definitely the one that’s stuck with me the most.

The characterization and use of technology in this game blend seamlessly, as the man, who it is suggested may be senile, speaks in a strange, disjointed manner due to the chatbot dialogue delivery system. The content of his lines and the manner in which they are connected, for the most part, are equally as strange, so the tech doesn’t pull you out of the experience.

To speak to the man, you input your own questions, as you would when speaking to a chatbot. This slows the narrative down somewhat, and gives it an unnatural flow, but again the above justification makes this feel okay. In fact, putting in my own questions gave me a huge sense of agency and made me feel in control of the narrative, despite my knowledge that there is a scripted ending to the game.

There was also a small transmedia element, where you are encouraged to google things that the man mentions to bring up in conversation. I really like this kind of thing, so that was another point towards this game!

In addition to this, the dialogue is beautifully written, with an wonderful, philosophical take on God. ‘Society is God, culture is God. Ever changing, ever fading, within the collective unconsciousness.’

Hour 5 – How We Know We’re Alive

How We Know We're Alive – Downloadable Game | Free Game Planet

Why did I put this on my list?

I think I saw this one on the front page of Itch, based on what I’d played and collected. It sounded incredibly up my street – narrative focused, short and melancholy. I was also intrigued by the tag line ‘set in the bible belt of Sweden’. I didn’t know there was a bible belt in Sweden, so it presented an opportunity to learn about a new place and perspective.


This game seemed really promising from the outset, with both the blurb and its polished opening getting me invested. Unfortunately I ended up liking it less than I expected. I’m struggling to articulate exactly why, because this had incredibly high production values and an interesting story and setting, but something just fell flat.

I felt a lot of guilt making assumptions about the nature of a character’s death, but it wasn’t me who did that – it was the character I was playing. She told me her thoughts, and I went along with them, making it feel like the narrative-adventure equivalent of giving the player a gun and chastising them for shooting.

The themes of city vs country and homecoming are ones I like, but I think here rather than showing that the countryside can be as good as the city though play, like in Persona 4, the player is told this is the case and made to feel bad for not agreeing.

I think this would have been a fantastic film, but the message was just a little too unhappy to work well when put in the main character’s shoes.

Hour 6 – Visual Novel Hour

Love on The Peacock Express

Why did I put this on my list?

This promised dating and mysteries, two of my favorite things! It’s also refreshing to see a romance visual novel whose cast is not five bishie boys and the token lesbian option.


I enjoyed the intro to this game, being shown a little bit of each character’s personality and learning that I was playing as a cute private investigator.

I was then given the option of who to sit with, which determined the mystery and romance option I would play through. I’m not usually a fan of this pick a route style of structure – I prefer natural discovery – but for a short game this is fine.

The mystery was simple but fun, done through dialogue choices with indication of the character’s reaction to your decisions through some silly vfx.

As a romance game, this kind of fell down. While there was a little bit of flirting between characters during the mystery, it didn’t feel like there was enough build up to justify a kiss scene right after you’d completed it. It felt like a reward for the player for solving the mystery, rather than a natural thing growing out of the characters spending time together. There wasn’t any development beyond this single kiss scene either. I had hoped to fall for someone over the course of a mystery, not to solve their problem and be rewarded with a kiss. Due to this I wasn’t interested in playing the other routes.

Tomato Clinic

Why did I put this on my list?

I’m not sure about this one. It was one of the oldest things on the list. I suppose I was just adding any visual novel I could find, and I do love vampires, though this cutesy art style wouldn’t be my usual pick.


In a surprise twist, the visual novel I thought I’d enjoy less I really liked! This had a great set of options from the outset, opening with an offering of audio description or captioned sound effects, then a nice character creator with options for pronouns and looks.

I liked this take on the vampire mythos, though I do love a good velvet cape, the idea of vampires as a separate race of people who are quite close to humans was interesting. The idea of cultural exchange, a blood food bank and a museum of vampirism was very charming.

In a section where you could choose to donate some blood to the vampires, there were several options to stop that stressed the idea of consent, which I thought was a really nice touch.

I liked this, and found the characters interesting enough that I played both endings.

Hour 7 – Interactive Fiction

My Father’s Long, Long Legs

Why did I put this on my list?

I’d read somewhere that this is a particularly famous and well regarded piece of interactive fiction. It was also made by the same developer as The Uncle Who Works At Nintendo, which was a fantastic piece of horror IF.


This was sufficiently creepy, with some creative use of agency and flow to enhance the feeling of terror. Generally you click though the text, but at points it flows without you, lending weight to more dramatic passages.

It also employed in-text hyperlinks, allowing for some extras or additional routes for those more invested, which was a nice touch.

This game also played with visuals and sound in a novel way for a text based game, with a section where you must illuminate the text using a small torch and a point where the text disappears and some very spooky sounds are used.

Scents and Semiosis

Why did I put this on my list?

I put this on my list while I was working on Poetry in the Machine, as I was interested in procedural interactive fiction and what could be done with Twine.


This was a lovely game, where I built a character’s history by choosing what a scent made them remember and feel. It had a vibe of travelling, mistakes and lost youth that was quite beautiful and romantic. The game gives you three sets of options, if you don’t want any of those you get rid of it, as if you’d forgotten.

I’m not sure exactly how this worked, but the bottles and scent combinations felt surprising yet coherent, so they were probably put together with some strong underlying rules. The developer has actually made the source code available, and I’ve been saying I want to check out Inform 7 as I’m interested in its near-English rules based script, so perhaps that will be a project at some point soon.

Hour 8 – Games as Art

I had this phase during the height of lockdown where I wanted to quit video games and become a museum creator or run an art gallery. I think I was just tired of my technical art job and itching to get outside and into real spaces again, but it affected my taste in games for a while and I added a fair few ‘art games’ to my list.

Independent Video Game Game

Why did I put this on my list?

This seemed to be a parody of indie development. I don’t know if I knew this was what it was, or I took it at face value.


So I hated this. I understand that it was probably supposed to be this way as it was a pisstake but it was just not enjoyable in the slightest. I had to listen to the implied author throw buzzwords at my as I watched barley coherent video clips. Then it turned into Jesus pong.

I’m not sure if this was paying homage to something in particular that I didn’t have the context of that would have made it really funny, or if it was just an art games thing in general. In a way it was interesting as a warning – things can’t be different for the sake of being different, an art piece needs real meaning.

Why Cavemen Paint on Walls

Why did I put this on my list?

It was in the art game category I think.


Talking of real meaning, this game came with an artist’s statement talking about technological evolution and human ritual. Now that’s exciting!

Apart from…this game is all talk and no delivery. You push some buttons and see people in different poses in a lift. That’s it. It looks like they had fun making it, but honestly I didn’t see how the content related to their statement at all.

At this point I was starting to think that I didn’t actually like art games.

The Crows Crows Crows Community Museum

Why did I put this on my list?

As I said above, I wanted to run a museum for about a month, and the idea of a virtual museum seemed apt to the times and to my expertise!


This felt like it was supposed to be a joke, and yet it was the most artistic of all. I felt this was better than the actual virtual museums I’d been in, as rather than a street-view style walk through photos of a real space, we walk around in a 3D environment with really excellent bouncing sound, which made me actually feel embodied in the space.

It opens to this fanfare with the player’s eyes opening, and we expect a beautiful scene and we get…the unity default environment. Its great, genuinely funny. I like CCC’s sense of humour. There was another section explaining about the founder of the museum, a Victorian man who made a museum for them despite them not existing yet, but as he was rich he funded this instead of the artists of the age. It was a nice wee dig at the classism inherit in the art world.

A lot of the art in here, provided by the CCC server is genuinely good and makes clever use of games as a medium. For example, the crow below looks different from all angles as it’s three planes that converge at certain viewpoints.

Hour 9 -11 – Cupid

Why did I put this on my list?

Guess it just looked like a cool VN, added it when I was focused on VN dev and not wider narrative stuff. Reading the blurb now, the ‘director’ style perspective rather than that of the protagonist looks very interesting.


This game was extremely dark. The itch page does have a content warning, however it failed to prepare me for what I was going to be reading. I’m not one to shy away from sensitive subject matter, but I do believe is has to be handled with care and I’m not one hundred percent sure Cupid managed that.

Right from the outset of the game we get inference of rape, and the options the player is given when speaking to the victim all have elements of victim blaming. It certainly sets the tone for the game and introduces the game’s odd POV character, but I didn’t enjoy feeling that my only options were to be incredibly cruel.

The point of view character is not the character that the story follows, but ‘Mother’, a voice inside her head, who’s origin is revealed later in the game. The choices you have as this character are never good, generally being a sort of twisted kindness or downright cruelty.

The story itself was interesting, and some of the passages that explored sexual horror were very well written, however I felt the mystery and worldbuilding were a little weak in places. In particular, there’s a third act twist regarding the nature of the protagonist that was not well foreshadowed, despite the fact it provides justification for the POV character’s existence. It felt like the author had deliberately hid things from the audience as a story tool rather than this feeling natural and shocking.

Shock is sort of key to what I thought of this game. I did enjoy many parts of it, but others felt like the were there for shock value rather than artistic value. It felt in part as if the author sat down to write the grimmest thing they could, rather than having a point they wanted to make or a story they wanted to tell. I felt like I was reading a visual novel by De Sade.

Its not all bad though, one of the great things about this game was the ending screen where the choices the player made are displayed. I really enjoy playing through visual novels naturally the first time to get a sense of natural discovery, but being quite ‘gamey’ after that and trying to find every moving part and how they connect. This screen shows the player what might be important for their next playthrough.

Hour 12 – 17 – Ebon Light

Why did I put this on my list?

I have absolutely no idea – this one one of the later games I played as the dark cover image didn’t stand out. Its a shame, because this turned out to be my favourite game of all twenty two!


I adored Ebon Light. Not because it did anything particularly different or clever gameplay wise, but because it was an engaging, well written adventure with appealing characters and a complex heroine who felt easy to empathise with. It also had a good amount of customization, which really appeals to me.

I was excited to be greeted straight away with a character customization screen that allowed me to not only customize my look, but my stats as well, choosing a disposition to indicate my starting stat array. I love stat based rpgs to begin with, but presenting the choice of stats as something tied to character rather than mechanics is one of my favourite tricks. It allows the player to get a glimpse of what’s under the hood, without breaking the role playing focus. Later in the game there’s the opportunity to buy clothes, and the game lets you change your outfit at any point, granting more points for player expression.

The art in this game was lovely, with small touches of layered animation elevating what ren’py can already do, giving the whole game a pop-up storybook sort of feel.

The story here was really fun, with interesting world building and a novel take on elves. The writing is okay, with a couple of oddly worded choices being misleading in places, but nothing egregious. There’s quite a bit of optional lore, with a codex screen allowing you to read back on it, which is nice. The game has a lot of characters, but handles its large cast well. Each character feels distinct, and the amount of player choice in who you speak to and what you focus on allows each playthrough to drill down into a few of the cast each time.

There was one incredibly interesting moment in this game, where a dream sequence had you killing your chosen love interest by accident. The choice of who is in this dream is given to the player before they are aware that they are playing through a dream sequence, which plays with the idea of choice and consequence in an interesting way. For a second I genuinely believed I’d killed a character by inviting him to my room. I wondered about the possibility of using the typical conventions of romance VNs to misdirect the player in this way in my own games, but ultimately thought that it takes more than it gives. It feels too similar to giving the player a gun and chiding them for shooting.

My favourite thing about Ebon Light was the heroine. Partly this may have been down to my choices, but she was likeable and felt like a real person. She wasn’t stupid nor overly clever, not weak nor overly strong. I’ve come to expect Mary Sues or damsels in distress in escapist media where the audience is expected to self-insert, so was happy to be presented with neither. If this was down to my choices, then the stats were built well and the writing really supported them and my ability as a player to define my character’s personality.

There were a couple of interesting mechanics in this game, it being more than just a branching narrative. I enjoyed the noise level mechanic that invited careful consideration of actions and limited how many choices could be made, as well as the social approach to physical combat when convincing the character’s powers to surface.

Hour 18 – Off the Record

Why Did I Put This On My List?

I had a phase of about two weeks where I’d decided I was going to quit my life and start a cafe, because lockdown was making my crazy. This game appealed to that sense of small business ownership, doing your own thing and serving a small group of loyal customers.


The art style in the game is gorgeous, its flat, block colours make it feel like a living illustration. To show time passing, the developer used an animation of the sky made to look like a record spinning, which was really clever.

I enjoyed the slow pace of the game, feeling like I really got into the role of the record shop owner as I helped people and spread musical knowledge. I think if I’d known a little more about older music I would have enjoyed this even more.

The first time I played was bittersweet, with me realising I couldn’t keep the shop open and helping and encouraging the local music scene anyway, with the desire to go out with a bang. I’d had the option to play cynical and sell the shop immediately, so I played a second time to try this. I had a completely different experience, with interactions feeling less meaningful and play feeling almost boring – that checked out feeling. The game did an excellent job of getting me into the mindset of the record shop owner.

Hour 19 – Dr. Frank’s Build A Boyfriend

Why Did I Put This On My List?

I’d played one of the dev’s other games when we were a part of the same game jam and really enjoyed it, so wanted to play more of their work.


This was a funny, well written Frankenstein parody, with visual novel and adventure game elements. There were a couple of endings, which could be achieved by using certain items, rather than making particular choices. This made for more natural discovery and less telegraphing of choice which was interesting. I played through both the regular ending and the secret ending.

Hour 20 – 23 Lockheart Indigo

Why Did I Put This On My List?

I am a simple woman, I see a detective game, I put it on my itch to play list.


I loved this game. The social battle mechanics were unique and enjoyable, and the mystery was just long enough to be compelling.

The main draw of Lockheart Indigo was its social combat system, using a combination of a turn based menu combat reminiscent of Pokémon and a social deduction lock mechanic taken straight from Ace Attorney. Facts were presented as both inventory items and attacks, with additional powers that let the player manipulate, undermine and convince their opponent.

A reverse health bar is presented in the form of nerve, where each bad move the player makes increases their opponents nerve, until they gain the gall to tell them to leave. The read skill uses a turn to get an understanding of the opponent’s personality, allowing the player to make informed, tactical choices.

In addition to really fun social battling, Lockheart Indigo had some great level design and puzzles, with its enclosed environment reminiscent of games such as Resident Evil where you learn a small environment and use it in different ways. You are led around the house very well, feeling as if you are wandering but always ending up in the right place at the right time with the correct item.

Something I found interesting about this game was my personal engagement in its ‘gamey’ aspects. Most of the time, I prefer games that put a focus on immersion by following strong internal logic and making use of diegetic elements. However, this was full of game tropes, menus and silly logic and I loved it. Perhaps the art style and camera work reminded me of older games that came before a push towards realism, but I thought the same thing when playing the newest Resident Evil game so perhaps not. Its a topic I need to do a little more exploration into, so possibly expect a post on that soon!

Hour 24 – Toripon

Why Did I Put This On My List?

I don’t know what made me put this on my list, but it was the first game I ever put in a collection, so I figured playing it last was apt.


This was a slightly disappointing last play – this game really wasn’t my style. It’s a relaxed, story-less, goal-less bird photography game. I tend to like games that drive towards a point or purpose so I became bored with this quickly.

I suppose it was probably part of the design of the game, perhaps they were playing with the idea of colour contrast or something, but like with Hot, Tasty and Armed, the small resolution of the game’s art meant I struggled to make out what was going on. This wasn’t ideal for photography. There was a higher resolution once the photo was taken, and the birds were cute, but it meant the primary verb just wasn’t fun for me.

I also wondered why I had so many birds. Who has this many birds?!


And there we have it – twenty two games in twenty four hours! Goodbye to play list!

As you might notice in the gif below, I did actually make a ‘New Things to Play’ list, which may be against the spirit of this post, however there were a couple of paid for or long form things on there that I really do want to try. Wish me luck in not making this one quite so long!


Overall I found this to be a really interesting exercise, both in quick evaluation of games and as a journey through my own tastes throughout the time I’ve been adding to the list. I think there’s a real value in the short games and experiments that developers post on and I’m glad I made the time to finally sit with the things I thought looked interesting.

My highlights from the list had to be Ebon Light, Interview with the Whisperer and Lockheart Indigo. Hardly surprising considering visual novels, experimental narrative and detective games are among my favourite genres!

I think its now time to go play something really long and AAA as a palette cleanser.

What I’ve Been Playing April 2021

Thimbleweed Park

Thimbleweed Park Reviews | TechSpot

I was obsessed with Maniac Mansion when I was a kid, so getting a switch was the perfect opportunity to play Thimbleweed Park. This is such a throwback – I love the references to MM, the self-deprecating game dev humour and the twin-peaks-if-it-was-a-comedy setting.

It doesn’t feel quite as difficult and pixel-hunt-y as Ron Gilbert’s older games, which I like as it means less frustration and more irreverent humour. Its not too easy either though, and I have felt I’ve had to think while playing, so that’s great. Honestly, not too much to say here beyond I really enjoyed it.

Tokimeki Memorial Girls’s Side: First Love

Lesbian Relationships in Tokimeki Memorial: Girl's Side 1st Love (Visual  Novel) | LGBTQ Video Game Archive

I played this game again because I was both feeling nostalgic for my teenage years and was thinking about systemic relationship building. The romance focused games I play are by and large visual novels, where the focus is on the story, dialog and choices, but Tokimeki Memorial is a dating sim, where the onus is placed on planning the player character’s calendar in order to raise her stats. The goal of building these stats up is to guide her towards her desired career and boyfriend by the end of her school years.

While I like a stat based approach and really enjoy calendar balancing, this leads to a gamification of the relationship building process that doesn’t feel great. While in a VN I generally express my character how I want to and hope that matches with a love interest (at least the first time playing), playing Tokimeki is more like chess – calculating ahead, planning and saying exactly what you know the boy wants to hear in very limited interactions. As there is no linear story as such and you don’t have a ‘route’ to go on with your love interest, the dates can feel a little shallow, with one or two choices where you pick the line that the other person would like best. I wonder if there’s a way to build a system like this into a more developed story? I think Long Live the Queen does it well, but largely because the focus is on your output as ruler and not on specific relationships, so that level of personal interaction between characters isn’t needed.

One of the most interesting mechanics in the game is the bomb system. A character constantly rejected me, so I figured they were not interested and stopped talking to them. In return, a bomb popped up next to their portrait. If I didn’t fix this relationship, it was going to explode and affect my relationship with every character. This was akin to the character telling people you were horrible or gossiping about you, which I think is a really neat touch. Especially in a closed environment like a school, no relationship exists in isolation. I did feel however that there was a bit of a weird gendered feeling to this system, like as a girl I had to keep all the boys happy while they were fine to ignore me. I’m not really sure how to rectify that, as this game is full of things that could be seen as harmful stereotyping, but were also true to my teenage girlhood. Its a complicated one that I don’t think was bad enough to warrant critiquing, but I can understand how it might put some off the game.

Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds on Steam

So this is a funny one. All my friends had been recommending a game to me. Its this first-person, open-world, spacefaring role-playing game filled with time bending puzzles and detective work. Right up my alley. Unfortunately, the game I bought was a first-person, open-world, spacefaring role-playing game filled with guns and capitalism. Que the Outer Worlds vs Outer Wilds problem. You’d think someone interested in game narrative might be a little more literate when it comes to her title choices, but here we are.

I figured I might as well give the game a shot since I’d spent the last two hours downloading it, and it had been a while since I’d played anything sufficiently Besthesda-like.

The game opened with some vintage style artwork riffing off of advertisements of the 40s and 50s and a tounge-in-cheek narration espousing the glory of capitalism. That had me interested. Political critique in a cool space world was something I was most definitely down for. When it started making not-so-subtle nods to Bioshock with the opening in the pod, I was sold.

Unfortunately the gameplay didn’t quite deliver on the opening cutscene’s promise. The twin sticks on the switch controller don’t feel great for camera or movement control which makes the combat fall flat. This may just be me getting used to the switch – this is the first shooter I’ve played on it – but the fact I’m having difficulty right at the start isn’t great. Its not awful when the joy cons are docked into the controller, but playing in handheld mode feels impossible. The level of sensitivity would be fine for keyboard/mouse, and probably for standard sized controllers for those more used to playing shooters, but its just too much for switch.

I may have already been soured on the combat by the first enemy you encounter being the marauders. You are given no context to who these people are, beyond that they are presumably human and they are going to kill you. There are no negative consequences for killing them (in fact, you have to kill them to progress in most areas) and stealing their things incurs no penalty, unlike other human characters.

Now, I’m not trying to go all video game violence bad here. I don’t have an issue with combat and killing as a mechanic as long as its adequately justified either by in game narrative or genre convention. I think there’s definitely a case for genre convention here and I was probably in the wrong headspace, having thought I’d be playing Outer Wilds, but it just felt wrong. We later have to make some really hard choices regarding human life and the capitalists who value profit over life are, so far, portrayed as straight up bad guys, so I don’t like murdering a whole encampment of people to steal a bloody engineering manual!

They attacked me so I attack them back feels rather cheap, but is at least fair. Justified self defence! Killing waves of these to complete an objective while you’re companion says nothing on the matter doesn’t feel justified. Some characters have mentioned how marauders barley speak, and it might be that we get context later down the line, so I am reserving full judgement for later, but I would rather context up front.

In contrast to mowing down marauders, the game has us make an incredibly difficult choice for our first major decision. We are told by the owner of the town that if we shut down the power to an outlying settlement, made up of deserters, we can have their power core to get our ship started. When I was given this task my immediate reaction was just, no. I don’t want to fix my ship if it means depriving an entire area of protection, heat and power. Upon making this objection (the dialog choices are generally very expressive and let you work through a problem before accepting it – I really like this) the owner tells you that he will take them back into his town. Of course, that means going back to his way of life, where profits are more important than people. These deserters left for a reason.

Never the less, I ventured out to the settlement and spoke with their leader, letting her know the deal. She offers a counter deal, switch off the power to the town and take their power core. Now – when I was making my over I was saying to my partner that that would be my ideal outcome, have everyone go to the settlement instead – but, the settlement leader was not offering sanctuary to the townspeople. She was after revenge.

My choice was between keeping everyone alive but under a cruel regime, or leaving an entire town of innocents to die. These people had no choice but to be complicit in the way the town was run. They were beaten down by it and scared to move out of line. Was I to doom them for this?

Ultimately, I chose to give the power to the town, with hope of not only convincing the deserters to go back, but to convince the leadership of both factions to come to some sort of agreement, where the town could be ran with an ethos more similar to that of the deserters. I got my way in the end, so that was pretty great.

I had a bit of annoyance with the game when I was given a number of side quests to do, just after I’d disabled the power. This is something that I often gripe about – I hate side quests that are given out at time-critical moments in the narrative. I don’t mind picking up a few when I’m meandering and there’s nothing bearing down on me, but you’ve just told me that without power the people of the settlement will die. By introducing side quests here, my sense of urgency and therefore my sense of immersion into the fantasy are taken away.

In my ideal game, all quests would have some sort of time sensitivity attached, and would not be able to be completed at or after certain story points. There with a persistent changing world to go alongside this. In a game that was catering to a wider gamut of player motivations however, I think the best way to deal with this is to not give out new side quests when these moments of urgency come up in the story, but to allow players to complete previously picked up quests at this time if they would like to.

Just as I was starting to decide this game wasn’t for me, it threw me a bone with some fantastic companion dialog. Parvati, who I already loved as a character, asked me for relationship advice. I was a little disappointed because in my headcanon we were already spacefaring girlfriends, but the entire sequence was really sweet, relatable and didn’t feel like I was making decisions for the character, I really felt like a respected friend giving advice. It was a fairly standard dialog tree, and I feel like I’m supposed to want more ‘interesting’ mechanics than that, but honestly I love a good bit of conversation!

I’m now looking forward to playing more and, as I’ve now picked up a fair few stragglers, thinking about my headcanons for how the crew get along. Good character dynamics really are instant fodder for my enjoyment of a game so this is good!

It Takes Two

It Takes Two review | PC Gamer

It Takes Two is a co-op platform adventure game, which I partially decided to play because of the co-op traversal idea I’d been playing with in my one page pitch exercise. I played with my partner, which was an interesting exercise in itself, as we rarely play together due to our conflicting playstyles – I play for story/emotion/immersion, he’s very into mastery/completionism.

I am very torn on my opinion of this game, because in some ways it is fantastic. The 3cs are incredibly polished and the game feels great to play. The platforming is intuitive and fun, just challenging enough to keep engagement up but not be frustrating, the new mechanics and tools provided to the player work well and blend seamlessly into the rest of the gameplay. I don’t normally like platformers that much and I really enjoyed this.

However, I found myself increasingly annoyed at the story and characters, which, as an aforementioned story motivated player, is kind of an issue. The game attempts to talk about a serious issue, but has both the tone and tact of a children’s movie. I found myself asking – who is this for? You play as two parents, ostensibly rectifying their marital issues through an adventure to break a curse that has turned them into dolls. The issue is that their daughter has put this curse on them for this very purpose. From an adult perspective it feels coercive and uncomfortable. The message was not that by working together they rediscovered their bond, but that they were forced into this discovery. I’ve not played enough of the game to know what the resolution is, so perhaps this angle is explored later, but considering it appears to be aping children’s movies of the early 90s, I’m not expecting it.

This is one of these situations where the mechanics and message should fuse seamlessly – co-op puzzle platforming is the perfect avenue for exploring co-operation, relationships and running a household/parenting – but the framing and tone have just let the overall theme down.

Also, the book character is the most annoying thing I have ever seen.

Mark and Lara

Buy cheap Mark & Lara: Partners In Justice cd key at the best price

This is a very short co-op detective game, where each player is given a different set of information and they must work together to make deductions about the case. I really love the premise here. It takes the best parts of detective puzzling and couch co-op to make what is usually a solo experience social.

Me and my friend had a lot of fun playing, though we did get a little exasperated by the line matching mechanic by the end of things. In order to point out a contradiction, the player must type in the number of a line in each character’s journal that contradict each other. This got increasingly less obvious, to the point that we had the right idea, but finding the line that matched that concept was difficult as suspects repeated the same things. It wasn’t heinous, but we were getting frustrated and had the game not wrapped up where it did I think we may have ended up giving up.

I really enjoyed the google mechanic, where you could look for additional information to do with the case by using keywords. This asks for more engagement from the player than is usual in a lot of detective games, as you are not led by wording of choices or hand held towards the answer. This is generally true of the game’s whole approach.

In terms of execution, there were a couple of localization hiccups, with some odd grammar and flow. As this was made by a small team, I don’t have the same expectations as I would of something AAA, but considering that the text is the focus of the gameplay and comprehending it correctly is the goal of the game, it would have been nice to have had an editor on the team who had a higher standard of written English.

Overall it was a good experience, and I’m looking forward to the next case.

What I’ve Been Playing Feb-March 2021


This is a game that has been recommended to me over and over and is a heavy influence on Coffee Talk, one of my favourite games, so I came into Va11-Hall-A with very high hopes.

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action on Steam

Mixing Drinks and Changing Lives

Va11-Hall-A is a visual novel with a drink mixing mechanic, which is your main way of interfacing with the story. The drink making felt a little clunky – there tend to be a lot of ingredients to add, and getting it wrong means a completely failed drink and having to start again. In contrast, Coffee Talk’s drink making has fewer ingredients, making the process feel smoother, and every combination makes something, even if it is incorrect. The idea that getting something wrong leads to discovery is really nice, and allows room for experimentation and taking your time – ideas that are inherent in Coffee Talk as a whole. Perhaps then, Va11-Hall-A’s less comfortable experience is also thematic – the game is about working a precarious minimum wage job in a cyberpunk hell future, so a clunky drink making experience that’s easy to go wrong is pretty indicative of the setting.


The story and world are very interesting in this game, but the dialog is strange in some places. I believe that English may not have been the first language of the writers, but I am unsure. I’m inferring this by odd grammar bits like ‘will you’ over ‘are you going to’. Another thing that stood out was the use of Miss Firstname as polite moniker, which is something we tend to see in translations of Asian media as an attempt to localise honorifics that we don’t have in English. I believe the team behind Va11-Hall-A are Venezuelan, so I’m not sure if this is something from Venezuelan culture or if its a deliberate choice that is meant to conjure up a Japanese feel, which is possible considering the anime and cyberpunk aesthetic that drives the design.

Another thing that felt odd, but in retrospect is likely intentional, is the way that we jump straight into conversations about happenings in the world with zero context. This is realistic, and does add to a sense of immersion, but is also confusing, as we try to figure out who factions are or what tech is as characters are talking about their relationships to it. Again, with the cyberpunk theme this must be a deliberate choice, as its reminiscent of the way Gibson writes in Neuromancer – a book that on first reading I hated for this reason, but on further readings became one of my favourite books of all time.

Story and World Building

So far, I haven’t felt particularly engaged in the main story of the bar closing down, nor have I felt attached to the characters. I like the world building though, and am curious to see where things go. In particular the additional world building and story information you get through the blogs and news apps are great, lending realism to the world as it feels like there’s a story outside of you and your customers.

The hacking story, online handles and just some of the way the future is handled feels like a blend between the retro-future visions of the 80’s and the mid 2000’s, which is sort of the future I imagined we’d have during the days of the early internet, so I do like the vibe very much.

There’s a lot I still have to see in Va11-Hall-A, and if more play time changes my opinion on it I’ll write a little more about it. I have feelings about some of the characters I’ve met so far – Dorothy in particular disturbed me – but I don’t feel I can comment until I’ve seen how their arcs go, if in fact that is something they get.

World Of Horror

World of Horror Is a Delightfully Frustrating Struggle to Survive | USgamer

I’m struggling to articulate why I love World of Horror so much. The atmosphere, built with the retro graphics, incredible soundtrack and Junji Ito motifs, is excellent, but there’s more to it than that.

World of Horror’s ability to provide an engaging, frightening story using procedural elements is really something. While the overall story of each mystery is hand authored, the individual events, such as meeting enemies, discovering ancient grimoires and getting lost on the subway are all procedural. This makes the game very replayable, but I also think it works on a thematic level. The unpredictability of the events means that you are always on your toes when playing this game. You can’t see the consequence of an action and reload to make a different choice. You can’t die and then plan to act differently next time. Just like the character in the game, you don’t know what horror will be facing you next and you have to improvise with whatever you have at hand. This powerlessness allows the player to relate to their character, as it is felt both through the eldritch god that looms over the town and through the rougelike nature of the gameplay.

Final Fantasy 9

I’ve been playing through Final Fantasy 9 with my partner, and its been really fun despite some issues I took with the characterization.

What's so good about FINAL FANTASY IX?

I didn’t enjoy Zidane’s attitude towards women. It wasn’t exactly offensive, particularly as the game does have some decent female characters, mostly just cringe and very of its time. ‘Bablicious’ – only in the 90s! It didn’t endear me to the main character much.

I was more concerned about the Quina character, who’s attitude and motivations were completley dissonant to the tone of the events in which I collected them. I understand that this was optional, so I give it some leeway for that, but the other characters were going through stories of war, of missing loved ones, of a return home and Quina was talking about food at every opportunity, using what can only be described as baby talk! Having a character come from a sort of native village using this type of language felt like it was close to touching on some very nasty stereotypes that didn’t sit well with me. I don’t think the food as motivation thing was neccearily bad in itself – travelling the world to try foods isn’t exactly unheard of in the real world – but said person doesn’t need to be portrayed as an imbecile, nor do they have to mention food during dramatic character moments for the rest of the party.

Final Fantasy IX] - Matra Magic (Quina's Blue Magic) - YouTube

Regardless of these issues, I have really been enjoying the game due to its other very cool characters which seem primed to have some good growth, and its unique steampunk/Shakespearian setting.

Andromeda Six Chapter 5

Andromeda Six’s fifth chapter was released a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been waiting for this for a while – things are really heating up in both the central story line and the optional romance, with the ‘lock in’ moment for the romance being offered in this chapter and the crew planning an attack on Zovak.

I feel like I need to preface this with – I love this game. The characters are excellent and, for the most part, the writing are world are solid. It feels far easier to talk about the negatives than the positives and I think I may have been particularly harsh with my opinion on this chapter due to how much I loved the previous ones and how long this had been building for.

The Kiss

We finally get the kiss scene in this chapter, but it feels rushed. I see that there was an attempt for a dramatic moment, with your love interest saving you from the abyss and kissing you in a crumbling building, but the kiss felt like it came out of nowhere. Weeks (months? timeline is unclear…) of banter and getting to know each other and then, a desperate kiss in combat. Now that sounds great if the characters thought they would die then and there, but this came after they save you. I would have much preferred to have the saving us scene, then have the kiss later as the crew are decompressing after their dangerous adventure. This does exist to an extent in the forest scene, which I much preferred.

Open Choices

I wonder if the kiss feels this way because of how open the choices are. At this point, bar a couple of blatantly signposted options that lock routes, I’m still able to romance anyone in the game. From what I can tell, there doesn’t appear to be any kind of underlying system determining affection of the crew for the player, nor tracking the player’s choices. There is a single choice when leaving Cursa that lets you choose who you’re currently crushing for, and it appears this has some affect on dialog, but I think it is the only choice that does.

It is only at this point in the game that you are locked into a romance, and it explicitly tells you this. I’m not sure what I think of that. On one hand, the very clear signposting is helpful. It prevents you getting onto a route that you don’t want, but on the other hand, it is not subtle in the slightest which breaks immersion, reminding the player that this is a game and not real people that you are trying to suss out. In real life, when you’re trying to get someone to like you you try to show them your best self while also trying to learn more about them. This is what I enjoy about the romance aspect of visual novels, and the blatancy of the way options are telegraphed in Andromeda Six takes that away.

It is nice change of pace in comparison to games where you have to redo a lot of content to switch paths, and I do appreciate being able to reload a save and see a bit of content with another character, so its not all bad, its just a little ‘gamey’ for my liking.


Compared to the writing in previous chapters (chapter one’s introduction of Damon is especially good), I felt the actual prose was a little weak. Grammar was off in places, and the text for each of the characters was very similar, which was disappointing considering this is the pivotal moment for the romance part of the plot. It felt almost as if there were a couple of scenes written and they were mixed and matched for each character. Vexx and Damon’s scenes inside the building were effectively the same, with different scenes in the forest. Cal’s scene in the building was slightly different, but the scene in the forest was incredibly similar to Damon’s. The scene in the forest does give the player a little insight into how the love interest is in a relationship, but I think I just wanted more distinction. The valentines DLC does a much better job at this, having similar but not exactly the same events due to the characters being attracted to different parts of a festival, and having them react in their own ways to the idea of a festival centered around love.

Another issue I had was that if you choose Vexx its possible you’ve just found out some very dark things about your shared past. It feels far too soon for my liking. I don’t think that the Vexx romance shouldn’t be in there – friends to enemies to lovers though a redemption arc? Brilliant! But it needs time. There’s a lot of talking and figuring out feelings that needs to be done between the MC and Vexx before I can believe they could get back together.

The other think that irked me is that in every romance option the MC says ‘Do you wish I didn’t kiss you?’ to them.
For one, surely it should be ‘Do you wish I hadn’t kissed you?’? For two, why so down? I’ve had the choice to choose my personality up to this point, and that is not something that I would have had my character say. This moment should be happy and instead it reeks of insecure otome protagonist – we’d managed to avoid that up until this point! Have some confidence traveller!

Overall however, I love Andromeda Six and I’m looking forward to the next chapter. I get the impression the game may be wrapping up soon, so exited to see how it concludes!


I’ve finally got a Switch! I saw that Famicom Detective Club was being remade for it, and I needed to get one. Until that comes out though, I’ve got a whole bunch of Otomes to play.

Collar X Malice :: Official Site | Just another Aksys Games Network site

The first of these is CollarXMalice, a mystery dating sim about a mysterious terrorist group terrorizing Shinjinku. So far I’ve played two of the routes. As far as I can tell, the content is very different between routes, with the heroine investigating a different aspect of the mystery alongside a different love interest in each one. Playing all of them seems to be the key to solving the crime overall. I like this approach, as it gives incentive to playing different routes beyond just experiencing the content with different characters. I like visual novels that have clearly been designed with replayability from the offset.

Choice Design and Replayability

Talking of replayability, CollarXMalice has a lot of good comfort options for making playing content you’ve seen before less hassle than it tends to be in other games. The skip function is genuinely fast, and the player can play with speed and content options to decide what to skip and how fast. It offers a history panel, as most VNs do, but offers the ability to skip back to anything in that history – a great option if you’re not a save scum type but want to make a different choice. In addition, once a route has been cleared, the option to start from later chapters in that route is available from the main menu.

Collar x Malice: Unlimited Review - Review - Nintendo World Report

The game does have a lot of dead ends though. Giving both early out game overs and multiple endings and routes gives us a lot of different content to discover, however most of the death endings don’t feel meaningful or interesting in a way that impacts the overall story. Mostly its a case of go the wrong way, follow the wrong person and end up murdered. One could argue this is a way to show how dangerous Shinjinku has become under the lift of the weapons ban, however this is never stressed and it often feels like it was the heroine’s fault for going somewhere dangerous. This is not only not a message I like, but it actively conflicts with the vison I wanted to have of the main character as a cop who could handle herself.

These endings are not well telegraphed. While I may have bemoaned Andromeda Six for its too obvious messaging of choice consequences, CollarXMalice goes too far in the other direction. Following the wrong person can lead to a fairly long section that only leads to death. One of the deaths in Kei’s route did foreshadow the villain of Mineo’s route, which is cool in hindsight, but didn’t feel good at the time.

The general wording of choices was also vague, and I wonder if this was also the case in the original Japanese or if its something that’s happened in translation. For example, there was an option where the main character is discussing what could happen if it turns out her and another character are not on the same side. The options are ‘I don’t want to run from him’ or ‘I don’t want him to shoot me’. I read it as ‘I don’t want to leave him’ or ‘I don’t want to be shot’, but the true meaning of the first statement was that the heroine was telling him to shoot her if necessary. The question was really asking if the heroine was willing to die for the greater good, feeding into the broader theme of greater good and the police system vs individual liberties. Dealing with serious topics like this is great, and its a little disappointing that unclear choices prevented me from expressing opinions on it.

Another slightly odd thing is trigger mode. As mentioned above, the main character doesn’t get to use her weapon often, so when she does its a big deal. Trigger mode appears when she can shoot, but it fails to appear if the ‘affection points’ with your love interest are too low. These points are displayed on a separate menu from the main game, which is easy to miss. There is a small ‘affection up’ UI element that appears when you make the choice, but I wasn’t aware until I googled it that this was actually a stat I could track as a player.

Collar X Malice Coming to PlayStation Vita Later This Year - Gameranx

Even if this was well communicated to the player though, the mechanic doesn’t make sense. There is no thematic connection between how much affection your love interest has for you and your ability to hit a target. The love interest is normally the one directing you to shoot, but this stat doesn’t convey the trust you have in them, its all about their attitude towards the main character and how often you made choices they liked. When trigger mode fails to activate, she automatically misses. A guy didn’t like you enough so you missed your target? Mixing combat and social stats can be very successful – see Persona 4 and 5 – but there’s no justification that makes this one work. I’d rather have seen the affection points lead to a platonic ending, where the duo were still great investigation partners, but not in a romantic relationship. Conversely, the game could have replaced affection points with detective points, increasing every time you made a correct deduction. This could then inform trigger mode, as you know which target to hit.

Story, World and Character

So far I’ve really enjoyed the main story and mystery. The slight horror bent to a detective story is right up my alley, and it combines Japanese ‘death game’ style horror alongside engaging twists and turns over multiple related cases. The world is also engaging, with the police station, bars and streets presenting a cool depiction of Japanese working life. Most of the otome games I’ve played have been set in high schools or magical worlds, so this slightly more adult, grounded world was nice to see.

Unfortunately, that’s where the adult feeling ends. Despite being a police officer, the main character does at times feel like a typical teenage otome protagonist. The game goes to lengths during the opening to show her during target practice and this really excited me, but she is then scared and falters every time combat comes up during the main storyline, being side-lined to show off how badass her love interest is. While there is a degree of battle-couple style fighting together near the end of each story, I’d have liked the heroine to be more on par with the boys in terms of policing and combat prowess.

She doesn’t match the love interests in terms of detective work either, though this does appear to be variable between routes and I do hold out hope that others may be better. Though they were appealing love interests, I found myself more jealous of than attracted to the main band of detectives. I wanted to be a badass hacker cop or an ex-division one detective AND date guys who were just as cool. While the fish out of water heroine can be a fun way to introduce a player to a fantastical world, in a more grounded one that character type is far less appealing.


Parts of the romance in this game are fantastic – seeing the characters learn and grow alongside each other. In particular, the slow burn of distrust, to reluctant work partners, to friends of Mineo’s route was fantastic. It felt realistic and not forced – there was no love at first sight, just the slow realisation that these were two people who had similar attitudes and things in common.

Damn it, Damien! — Bae in Review: Mineo Enomoto, Collar x Malice

There was great drama in Kei’s route, with him being unsure of which side the heroine is on and this being used to push and pull them apart. Unfortunately, his bizarre death wish was off-putting, and when we finally realise where his strange beliefs come from, they are solved in an instant via the power of love. This game doesn’t shy away from complex topics, but I think this was one that needed a lot more nuance to be handled correctly. This route also had you investigating a stalking case and brought up some excellent points about stalking and the Japanese justice system, all while including a love interest that literally followed you without your knowledge. At first I thought this was purposeful and was going to used to prove a point or as a source of conflict but it was never addressed. In the end it just came off as incredibly tone deaf.

Collar X Malice Opening Movie [English, PSV, Full 1080p HD] - YouTube

There are some odd attitudes towards romance in this game that, again, wouldn’t be out of place in a game featuring teenagers. In Kei’s route the heroine thought that he was only interested in her platonically, despite him telling her multiple times he was interested, and in Mineo’s route it says she’s never kissed someone before. While I’m sure there are plenty of adults in this situation, its not the majority and if I’m playing an adult I’d rather she’d have a more adult attitude. I’m 27 – I want a character I can relate to!

I really liked the side characters in the game. Having work friends and a conflict to resolve with her brother makes her feel like more is going on in her life than just the main plot, and its good to see a main character than has a support system outside of just the romanceable characters.

What I’ve Been Playing Dec 2020 – Jan 2021

I had been doing monthly ‘What I’ve Been Playing’ posts over on my now defunct narrative design blog, which served as a nice way for me to articulate what I enjoyed/thought worked about the games I’ve been playing and served as a bit of shorthand analysis. Though I wasn’t making the most astute observations – I am still fairly new to the narrative design side of game development – it served as a good incentive to ‘play like a designer’. (I do play games like a tech artist, but that mostly consists of zooming in on textures and trying to eyeball framerate issues…)

I’ll do one for February soon, but in the meantime, here’s my thoughts from December through January. Unlike the other posts I’ve moved over, this isn’t edited so proceed with caution, I guess?


Choice of Romance

Choice of Romance is an interactive fiction piece using the Choice of Games engine. I really enjoyed this, though it felt a little short – I have sequels to play though!

The opening to this game was great – we are thrust straight into the action with a barn fire that sets up a pastoral setting, the fact you have siblings and that there’s magic in the world. It also allows the player a choice that shows part of their personality.

One thing that’s excellent about all the choice of games I’ve played so far is the character customisation. They allow you to play as multiple genders, customise your look and pick a name from a list of setting appropriate names.

The way these choices are presented are very nice. For example, when you decide what you want out of your forthcoming adventure, you make a wish on a butterfly, and when you decide your eye colour you are looking in the mirror. They are small elements, but these make the choices feel immersive and part of the narrative, rather than like using a character creator at the start of a game. Its nice to not have these all lumped in together – you don’t get a full description of a character at the start of a book – but is wise to keep them near to the beginning before the player has a picture of the character in their head.

Having a description of what your character looks like, despite there being no sprite or model for them is really cool. It brings me into the story if I have a strong image of who I am playing as. I tend not to play as myself in these, but play them multiple times as different characters.

I was slightly disappointed that you could only play as straight or gay for the romances and that there was no bi option, but the choice of the main character’s sexuality determines the gender of the love interests, so I see why it was done this way.

Same character, different gender is something I’ve encountered a couple of times in Choice of Games and it is a really interesting concept. The character’s speech, actions and much of their description is the same but their pronouns are changed. This is great for catering to people who want to play as different sexualities, but its also incredibly interesting in terms of how the character is seen and their social dynamics.

There was one character in this game who was described as unattractive, boring and rich. They are the safe but unromantic marriage option; the person you marry out of duty not love. When I played as a straight man, she seemed someone to be pitied, a little desperate but harmless. When I played as a straight woman, he seemed creepy and predatory. They had exactly the same dialog.

I figured this was to do with social expectations and my own internal biases, but couldn’t figure out if it was the gender of the love interest or the gender of my player character that was swaying my opinion. As such, I decided to see how she came across when I played as a lesbian woman. She was somewhere in the middle – she seemed less harmless, but the pity came through too.

This is far too complex an issue to tackle in a wee blog most about games I’ve been playing, but overall it came down to the idea that as women we are socialised to have our guard up and be on the lookout for potential violence, especially coming from men. Even in this fictional gender neutral setting, my own learned behaviours are coming through.

Whether this is a right or wrong thing to think, many people do think this way, so considering the wider social views on my characters, both in the real world and in their fictional world, could add something to my writing.

On a completely different subject, I thought the pacing of the story was interesting. Some events, even entire months were glossed over, where other moments were seen in great detail. This is something I’ve struggled with in my own work so would like to practice.

Speaking of practice, I’d like to try out a character creation segment for myself, and possibly even give the Choice of Games engine a go, as I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve played from it so far!


Perfumare is a dark fantasy visual novel available on

Like Choice of Romance, Perfrumare doesn’t show you your player character, but allows you to choose your gender and clothing choice, this time while looking through a shop window. Its another nice, natural hook that allows the player to define themselves.

The AD in this game is great. Chromatic aberration on everything is such a mood. The sound is also great. There’s no music, but the ambient sfx really sets the mood.

This game had a really excellent writing style. I liked the longer sentences and strong use of similes for description. I’m struggling to find the words for why these are so good, so I’m just going to dump some of my favourite excerpts here.

“His eyes lock with yours, just as the door snaps open, with a long, deep rasp that brings you back to reality with a start.”

“Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, a pungent oder of death reaches your nose, heavy like steel and clogging like ash.”

“Something stirs in your mind, blaring like raid sirens; an echo of screams and endless darkness.”

“There’s a click of the floor button being chosen, then the ping and glide of the door, the humming noise of working machinery, the shift of the ground.”

“But the dizziness returns tenfold, knocking you off your feet so unexpectedly you smack your knee against the bed frame in your haste to stay standing.”

Obey Me!

This game was a mistake.

Obey Me has been advertised and recommended to me a lot, as I’ve downloaded dating games and other ‘girly’ games on mobile. The pestering broke me down and I figured I’d give it a go, thinking it was a visual novel/dating sim.

It is not.

It is a card collecting, gatcha, dance game with some visual novel story sections and a messaging app.

In its defence, this game is incredibly polished, has excellent Japanese voice acting and, despite its proclivity to spam you with notifications, doesn’t actually prompt you to spend money very often. If you are after a card collecting, gatcha, dance game, I think you’d be quite happy, but, like many mobile games, that is not what it is advertised as.

Now, it does have many romance elements – it has the aforementioned visual novel and messenger elements, alongside a gift giving and touch system not unlike the skinship system in Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side – a game that I will defend with my dying breath. However, the issue was that you know nothing about these men. You are thrown into their world, given a quick introduction to some of them based on deadly sin archetypes (not necessarily a bad thing – give me a well written trope any day) and, that’s it. You can now give them gifts and touch them. It felt weird, and non-consensual. I know these are pictures on a screen, yet I felt like a creep just touching this man’s hair who I knew nothing about beyond ‘hot demon boy’. I think moments like that need to feel earned and come from a place where its clear both characters want it in order to feel like a nice bit of romance gaming and not some creepy objectification thing.

Beyond this, I had to do a lot of dancing to get to any plot, much of which was not interesting. It appears to be slice of life so far, which is great when you have interesting and engaging characters, but not so much when you know very little about said characters. I also found the writing to be somewhat awkward, with unnatural sounding dialog, which I believe is probably down to translation.

I’m uninstalling this before I’m complied to play more. Despite thoroughly disliking this game, I seem to keep being drawn by these push notifications.


The Uncle That Works For Nintendo

The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo' is your childhood insecurities made  creepy flesh - The Verge

I’d had this sitting in my itch ‘To Play’ collection for ages, and had forgotten why I’d added it. I was expecting a short, silly horror game without much substance and I was proved wrong delightfully.

I went back and explored every option here in order to learn how the game worked and get every ending. It being short to run through once was much appreciated here!

The premise involves being a kid and staying over at your friend’s house. She boasts about her uncle who works at Nintendo, you talk about school, fight or stay friends. Depending on how you speak to your friend, and how much you probe her inner thoughts, you can realize that there’s something sinister about her uncle, who is arriving at midnight. Why has everyone forgotten her brother ever existed, and what price did she have to pay for all these new video game consoles?

Tugging on nostalgia, it invokes that kid at school who always had some outrageous boast, alongside featuring a creepypasta/urban legend type feel. I’m a sucker for nostaliga and internet horror, but there’s something more about this game that makes it so good.

Gameplay wise, its a choice based game; however the addition of optional elements that seemingly provide flavor text, but are later revealed to change the options the player has available to them, elevates its complexity. It also features time management, as the clock counts down to the uncle’s arrival. In playthroughs after the first, the player will be trying to figure out how to make the most of this time to give them new options when the uncle arrives, or trying to leave before that happens.

The game is just excellent aesthetically too. The sound is fantastically spooky, the writing quality is good and the abstract visuals, which I’ve seen used unsuccessfully in a fair few visual novels, work well in complementing the abstract terror that is the uncle.

Vampire The Masquerade: Night Road

Vampire: The Masquerade - Night Road Revs Up the World of Darkness

This is a Choice of Games book based on the ttrpg.

The setting was very interesting, and while I don’t remember there being a lot of descriptive text, I did come away with a rich picture of the world.

I enjoyed the game, however I got a very sudden ending, which I suspect may have been down to mechanics and stats not being appropriately telegraphed or tutorialised. I understand a tutorial is not very immersive and is the last thing you want in a game like this, but as far as I can tell it was using mechanics from the tabletop game, which are significantly more complex than a typical Choice of Game.

Part of me thinks discovering how the stats work through play is a good thing (though would be better if your character was as green as you), but the shock ending where I was going about my tasks and unknown folk just burst into my apartment and killed me was really dissapointing, especially as I wasn’t able to save the game. All my hard work, just gone. Now – that could be saying something! About the fleeting nature of life, random acts of cruelty but honestly, as much as message is important, tragedy has to be cathartic, and that was just unearned and locked me out of my experience.

I believe there is a Storyteller Mode which displays stats, so I may try the game this way and see how I feel about it.


Monsterhearts 2 - Buried Without Ceremony

This one is a tabletop rpg. I believe there’s a lot of overlap between IF and RPGs, so figured I’d talk about it!

The low-prep, improvisational nature of this one is quite new to me. I normally run D&D with a heinous amount of prep – think writing an entire source book prior to playing a run shot. I think this is good for me as a storyteller to get used to thinking on my feet a little more. Having said that, the best way to be able to improvise well in a way that makes sense and ties together nicely is, in my optinion, having a solid grasp on your world, so I did spend time prepping the location and its key factions. Having these factions make moves against each other in the background, regardless of player interaction, puts them at the center of a thriving world and means there’s always some kind of danger to walk into.

Talking of danger, one of my critiques of my story is the constant escalation. There was a running joke that we were just playing Riverdale, and I do feel like our session shared the common criticisms of that show! Things went from ‘who’s going to the party’ to ‘a character’s parent has been murdered and a gang is taking over the town’ very quickly.

In terms of the game system itself, I really enjoy how the rules convey typical teenage experiences, and the focus on relationship building over combat. Its also rules-lite which is absolutely my jam. Nothing like a maths session to break immersion! (Looking at you level 15 D&D campaign.)

In particular, the seating chart, where the group collaboratively builds NPCs, is a delight. Keeping track of 15 NPCs during game is not though – and even then I struggled to have a character for every situation. We’re playing a new setting soon, so I hope we’ll be able to include more diversity in the NPC dynamics to make sure they fit every potential situation.

Final Fantasy XIV

Legacy FFXIV Title | Final Fantasy XIV | Know Your Meme

MMOs are a genre of game that I have always loved the idea of and never actually enjoyed. I partly blame the mythos developed around them by the ‘we got stuck in the game’ style stories I saw a lot as a young person – Digimon and .Hack come to mind, but by the time I was playing these games, I already had a picture of a much richer experience than I would actually receive. I imagined I’d meet new people who I’d form bonds with for life, that hanging out with them in the game would be as fulfilling as a real life friendship. I imagined I’d be a hero, standing out from others in the game and joining in on massive events.

Perhaps if I ever got to raids/dungeons/high level content in these games I would get a glimpse of something akin to what I imagined an MMO would be, but the grind to get there is far too long for someone conscious of their time (they say, writing a blog post about video games… ;)).

There’s just nothing exciting about killing 10 wolves, or clearing a cellar of rats. I believe the true fantasy here is not being a hero, but having easily managed tasks that can be ticked off a to do list. How many of us have a constant to do list and feel like its never done? The whole thing, at this level at least, feels very passive. Click the button, get the task done, get the level up music. Almost skinnerbox like.

While I understand that there’s a strong appeal in a game like this, especially to those who just need to tune out, its not why I play games. Playing FFXIV was fine, but I don’t want to spend my time on fine. I’m just as passive watching a TV show, and then I’m getting drama, I’m getting a story. I’m just very driven by those concepts when engaging with media.

Being a story gamer though, I am loathe to admit that I skipped a great deal of the dialog. I just don’t want to sit and listen to why ‘S’hojobi’ (The names in this game are…something.) needs me to kill rats. Its not engaging. It doesn’t lead to a larger plot point, it doesn’t teach you anything about her as a character. She’s just a to do list deliverer.

I’m still considering playing more to see if its any different at high levels and in a group, but I’m not sold. If anything, I’ve found the imagined experience elsewhere – what was that initial description but a game of D&D?