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"Whatcha playin', kid?" (and reading, and singing) September 2022 Edition

The return of the highly irregular series, now with more things

· Currently Playing

In no particular order, a few things, games and not, that are giving me life:

1. Stray

I mean, obviously. Of COURSE Stray is giving me life. It hits all of my criteria for the type of game I most enjoy playing:

  • Doesn't require 40 to 900 hours of my limited free time
  • Tells a tight, emotional story in a richly developed, characterful world
  • Encourages exploration through puzzle moments, collectibles, and traversal quests
  • "Nintendo-style" dialogue — short, quippy, casual, and at times surprisingly poignant
  • Limited hand-holding (if there had been a quest log and a waypoint arrow, I'd've been out, bruh)
  • CAT :3
  • A hacker character named Elliot who wears a blanket hoodie — don't think you can sneak a Mr. Robot reference past me, Stray, me and Rami Malek go way back

If I had to have a gripe, if I had to, it would've been the lack of variety in character dialogue when showing every person you meet every item in your inventory. I know, I know, the ROI of making clever bespoke lines for every possible piece of dialogue in your tree is pretty low, but damn if it doesn't delight us text-monching, Easter Egg-hunting players. Take note, BlueTwelve: if ever you endeavor to release an extended edition or some such, hire me to write all of your silly, highly-specific, deep-cut dialogue lines. I LIVE for that.

And if I had to have another couple of gripes, if I had to, they would be that the puzzles were pretty easy, and the stealth sections were either a breeze or painstakingly difficult due to finicky controls, no in between.

But really, these are such minor gripes that in no way affect my desire to replay the game and re-immerse myself in this world. Stray delighted me in a way that few modern games have, taking me back to a simpler time of "open boxed" N64 worlds like Majora's Mask and Ocarina of Time, where exploration and interaction serve as your goalposts, rather than the game presenting you with a chore list and a glowing waypoint arrow that sees you shelving your brain and checking off to-dos (looking at you, most modern "exploration" games).

Stray is the kind of game I desperately wish I could be making as a developer — I'm simultaneously filled with hope that such a game could succeed in today's landscape, and anguish that no one has yet hired me to make that kind of game.

2. Rainbow Kitten Surprise

I've been following RKS since "Cocaine Jesus"* came on shuffle in my Spotify feed in 2016, and I've been hooked ever since. While their name might conjure assumptions of hyper-kawaii-techno-pop music, they're decidedly not that. But it's also hard to pinpoint their genre. Indie alt-folk-rock probably best describes them? Sometimes funk, sometimes hip-hop, sometimes eletro-experimental? But a whole lot of grooving, dancing, lyrical storytelling, layered instrumentation, and fabulously catchy melodies. I literally do not go a day without listening to at least one Rainbow Kitten Surprise song, if not their entire discography on a loop.

*Filmed prior to lead singer Ela Melo publicly sharing her gender identity; I just adore this particular performance of the song so much.

After several years of missing their live shows due to various series of unfortunate events (read: poor social-life-planning on my part), and then that tricky bit with the global pandemic, I FINALLY got to see them live this past July 11th at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado. AMAZING SHOW, holy crap — made all the more amazing by winning a contest and getting to STAND ON THE SIDE OF THE STAGE during the encore performance!! SLAIN. DEAD.

At one point during the encore performance of "It's Called: Freefall", Ela sang, "Know yourself and who you came in with", and pointed in my direction. I'll choose to believe she intentionally sang this lyric directly to me, even though I was partially hidden behind the sound guy's setup and she was probably doing choreography she'd practiced a thousand times before BUT STILL — beam me up, Spaghetti God, I've peaked. When your favorite modern singer of your favorite modern band sings a lyric from one of your favorite songs directly at you, what more is there to achieve in life, truly.

RKS went on a mental health hiatus shortly after their Red Rocks shows, so I count myself especially lucky to have gotten to see them before they took a break from touring. Love you all, thank you for those shows, and please take care of yourselves <3 (You know, because they're avid readers of my blog and sure to see this missive.)

3. The Everworld book series

The year was 2000. I was 12 years old, fresh out of sixth grade, and recently experimenting with wearing cargo shorts. I was two years away from the growth spurt and discovery of DDR that would see me out of the "clinically obsese" category and into the "well, at least they're making fun of my glasses instead of my weight" category.

In those lonely years, I did what every other red-blooded, mercilessly-teased American introvert did: play video games and read books alone in their room.

Everworld was one of those book series I devoured in that Y2K tween time. A highly wacky, sci-fi-fantasy-horror romp through a universe in which all fantastical figures of history, myth, legend, and alien imagining come together in a coming-of-age story for four high schooler protagonists dragged into the multiverse melting pot.

Authored by K.A. Applegate of the Animorphs series, and co-authored by Michael Grant of the Gone series, Everworld still stands up today, in a lot of ways. The blending of Vikings and Aztecs and Greek gods and horrifying aliens and elves and dwarves and mythical creatures is still a wildly fun kaleidoscope. The duality of high schoolers continuing to live their regular lives in the real world when they go to sleep in Everworld is still a fascinating conceit to my multiverse-loving brain. The heroic journey to get home across twelve books still keeps me turning pages.

Sure, it's a YA series, and with it comes all the trappings of YA: tropey characters, deus ex machina for the sake of keeping the word count on track, nary a subtext to be seen, characters expositing left and right. And, yes, we've made a lot of strides as a society in the past 20 years, so there's some of that "oof, that kind of language/thinking wouldn't hold up today" going on, but, you know, product of its time that it is, the series still holds up, creatively. I'm having fun revisiting Everworld 20 years later.

And I'm wondering why the heck no one's made a game or TV show set in this universe yet! Applegate, my girl, in the right hands, Everworld could be generating some nice royalties while introducing a new generation to an under-the-radar classic. If ever you go the Stephen King route and decide to sell the rights to an upstart creator for $1, I'm buying.

4. Lists with more than three things on them




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