Friday, April 8, 2022

Friday Night Free-For-All

I spent most of today puppy-sitting while Mrs Bhagpuss was at work so this is going to be a delicious Friday Grab-Bag. We all love one of those, don't we? 

First up, those London Games Festival streaming demos I was talking about the other day. I've managed to play - or try to play - three more of them now: Lab Rat, Grimoire Groves and Silt. I will not be wishlisting any of them but for entirely different reasons.

Lab Rat, described as a "Satirical adventure featuring an AI who will monitor and entertain you as you progress through 100+ genre-bending puzzles" is... pretty much exactly that, although I think "entertain" here is used ironically. Annoy, irritate, frustrate, make you want to smash it with a hammer. All of those.

The A.I. that is, not the game. The game I quite enjoyed, although I'm not a big enough fan of logic puzzles to want to play much more than I saw in the demo. The graphics are clear, clean and coherent. They look suitably futuristic and robotic. The objects you shunt around have a satisfying heft to them. It's quite a tactile game.

The puzzles themselves, the ones I saw in the hour I played (And I did go the full permitted hour, which is a strong positive.) were all moving block puzzles of one kind or another. I think I got to puzzle number twelve before the shutters came down. There's the bare minimum of explanation but all the information you need is on screen. Figuring it out is part of the fun.

The game played perfectly throughout, Not a glitch or a stumble. If this was the kind of game I liked I'd be very happy to have found it. Even as a dabbler in these things I thought it was fun, just not for much longer than the demo lasted. 

Where Lab Rat is all blue steel and industry, Grimoire Groves is candy colors and nature. As the demo begins you're offered a choice of a tutorial or jumping right in. I picked the tutorial, which was probably just as well, seeing I couldn't even finish that. 


Everything was going well enough for the first few tasks, even if I wasn't always a hunded per cent clear on the mechanics. I knew I had a spellbook (The titular Grimoire) and one spell, which I was starting to use to grow and harvest plants so as to have the materials I needed to make more spells. 

I knew how to change the spell I had to the right element to suit each plant. I was wandering around, trying to do that, as my mentor had told me I should, when I somehow got myself into a loop. I could only move around part of the area and none of the elements seemed to please any of the plants inside it. 

I was never sure whether it was a bug in the game or if I was doing something wrong or missing some vital piece of information. Either way, after ten minutes going round in futile circles I'd had enough. It's not like it would have been a game I'd have wanted to play anyway.

Silt, on the other hand, does look like something I might enjoy. It has the kind of hand-drawn, indie comic graphics that appeal to me and the mechanics of possessing fish and other sea-creatures to move around underwater is an unusual one.

Unfortunately I couldn't get the demo to work hardly at all. I saw the opening cut scene and the first screen and that was all. Every time I possessed the first fish and tried to move it around the screen, the demo crashed to desktop. I gave it several tries but it happened over and over and in the end I gave up.

I might try the downloadable version of the demo on Steam just in case the crashes had something to do with the remote play via Microsoft Azure but given the flawless performance of two of the four demos on that platform I suspect that wasn't the problem. 

I notice as I write this that I have cleverly left the only one of the games not to have a demo on Steam for last. The Festival finishes in two days and I'm at work for both of them. I may never know whether Paper Trail would have been the game for me but, of the four I did play, Mask of the Rose is the only one I'll be keeping tabs on.

Moving on, I noticed a couple of interesting entries in the Metaverse steeplechase today. One was the announcement widely reported both in and out of the gaming press that Epic is going to be developing "a Place for Kids to Play in the Metaverse" in partnership with Lego

Since Epic arguably has the current best-in-show proto-metaverse application in Fortnite and Lego is as close as you're likely to get to a "trusted brand", this is a development that bears consideration.

Considerably less convincing was the news that Improbable, the not-at-all ironically named developers of the SpatialOS platform, is working on "a network of interoperable Web3 metaverses", to which they've assigned the catchy name MSquared. (M-superscript-2, which I am not going to research how to render here, thank you Improbable.)

Given that, as MassivelyOP puts it, "Improbable making things happen in relation to its SpatialOS tech has been an exception and not the rule", I wouldn't hold your breath. I mean, it's nice they seem to get that for most of the metaverse hype to come true there's going to have to be some interoperability baked in but it seems, yes, improbable that Improbable would be the people to do it.

The two developments together made me think of something that hadn't previously occured to me. I wonder if the whole Metaverse concept isn't really just a thing old people want. It seems to be based almost entirely around the vision of a handful of science fiction writers from the eighties and nineties, which, frankly, might as well be the dark ages. 

The underlying conceit seems to be one of making the virtual world look like an analogue of the analog. It's predicated on avatars of individuals navigating digitized three-dimensional spaces as though they were in the real world. It's almost as if the metaverse is a way to pretend the last quarter-century of technological change never happened. Is that even what anyone under fifty wants?

It seems to me that Gen Z/Alpha digital natives already have the metaverse they want right in their phones. I suspect they'll be about as keen on wandering around cavernous digispaces in fancy dress as they are sitting on the sofa with their parents watching Strictly Come Dancing.

Kids, however, will probably love it. Epic and Lego may be onto a winner there. If Metaverse does turn out to be mainly for children and grandparents it's no wonder Zuckerberg renamed Faceboook "Meta". I mean, that's probably 90% of his market, right there.

And finally, since I got the CD delivered to my door this very day of release, let's have the latest video from current indie breakout sensation, Wet Leg. It's called Ur Mum, it's a mini movie and it's great. Of course it is.


  1. Wet Leg is certainly making a splash. They were featured on a local radio station here earlier in the week. That was the exact song featured in the interview.

    1. They've already been through the hype-backlash-anti-backlash cycle and that was before they released their first album. I think it's the humor that's getting them the attention, both good and bad.


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