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About this blog

Welcome to my refuge, where shitty porn games reign supreme and salt is the only currency. Here you will find ramblings about things that make most of my current life, aside from art, work and sleeping. I typically rant about vn's - mainly eroge and other vn-related topics, but you might stumble upon different genres from time to time. Digital entertainment aside, I also talk about wide range of topics I take interest in - gamedev, otaku media, good books... the list goes on. I do post infrequently and when I actually do, don't expect any logic, nor coherence. Randomness is my sister and my attention span is that of a few weeks old pup. On a side note - I tend to be more critical of stuff I particulary like. I do not rate the vn's I play, providing fair summaries instead. I also have a very low tolerance for stupid bullshit.

If you're looking for honest opinions about games, without any sort of sugar-coating or political corectness, you're in the right place.

Hope you'll enjoy your stay.

Disclaimer: Creator of this blog does not take responsibility for any negative results caused by prolonged exposure to salt. Bias at the bottom of the bottle is a naturally occuring process. May (or may not) contain high ammounts of catgirls. You've been warned.

Entries in this blog

Narcosis

Nothing particular, just a random short script I wrote a while ago at night, while being completely intoxicated (read: drunk as fuck). It turned out to be a lot more promising I expected at first, so I thought like sharing it, you know - for research purposes. Might or might not be connected with the things I work on, who knows. I presume it still does connect with the story of that one city, as in "THE CITY". The only one... left/known/whatever? Pick your choice.

===

- I CAN'T KILL YOU... BUT I CAN STILL LOCK YOU UP IN A PLACE LIKE THIS.
- What if I try to escape?
- MEANINGLESS. I MADE SURE NO ONE CAN ESCAPE. THEREFORE, YOU WILL STUDY ALICE.
- What if I'll refuse?
- YOU WON'T. YOU'RE A LIVE BEING. YOU NEED TO EAT AND DRINK TO SURVIVE. YOU'RE COMPLETELY DEPENDANT ON MY WILLINGNESS TO SUPPLY YOU WITH FOOD.
- ...
- I WILL DO SO, BUT ONLY IF YOU'RE CAPABLE TO LEARN ON HOW TO OPERATE ALICE.
- WE'RE DEPENDANT ON EACH OTHER. I CAN TAKE CARE OF MYSELF, BUT TO DO SO, I NEED ALICE. I CAN'T FIX, NOR MAINTAIN ALICE. ONLY HUMANS ARE CAPABLE OF THAT. IF YOU WON'T BE WILLING TO LEARN ON HOW TO OPERATE ALICE, I WILL LET YOU STARVE TO DEATH. EITHER THAT, OR YOU WILL DIE FROM DEHYDRATION.
- you know there are military drones, wandering through the city? Aren't you afraid?
- I COULD ASK THE SAME. IT CANNOT BE HELPED. I'M INCAPABLE TO DEFEND MYSELF THROUGH THE USE OF FORCE. BUT I KNOW WHERE YOU CAN FIND FIREARMS.
- You... you want me to defend you?
- I WANT YOU TO DEFEND BOTH OF US.
- And what if I'll decide to put a bullet through your hull?
- I'M AFRAID THAT WON'T BE POSSIBLE. ALL WEAPONS WITHIN THE DESIGNATED AREA ARE CONTROLLED BY THE CITY'S SYSTEM. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO USE THEM AGAINST MAINTENANCE DRONES AND CIVIL-DESIGNATED MACHINES, BUT THEY CAN BE USED FOR SELF DEFENCE AGAINST OTHER THREATS.
- You know I could just let the military drones destroy you and escape?
- YOU WON'T ALLOW THAT. IT'S BECAUSE... I CAN PROVE HIGHLY USEFUL.
- I have no need for a rusty maintenance robot.
- I'M AN ALPHA CLASS MAINTENANCE DRONE.
- Alpha class?
- I HAVE NEARLY UNRESTRICTED ACCESS TO ALL THE AREAS WITHIN THE CITY. I CAN OPEN NEARLY ALL THE DOORS AND LOCKS. I'M CAPABLE TO CONTROL CERTAIN MECHANISMS AND SYSTEMS. MY PERSONAL DATABASE STORES INFORMATION THAT CAN BE OF USE TO YOU.
- ...
-I HAVE A MAP OF THIS CITY. I ALSO KNOW YOU WANT TO LEAVE. I CAN HELP YOU ESCAPE.
- Y-you can?
- YES. WITH ALL MEANS.
- What if I still won't be able to learn on how to operate Alice? I'm not an engineer, you know. just a civilian.
- YOU'RE A HUMAN FIRST AND FOREMOST. THERE'S NOTHING A HUMAN CANNOT LEARN, NOR UNDERSTAND, PROVIDED THEY ARE GIVEN ENOUGH TIME.
- And if it does take a lot of time?
- MY FATE IS ALREADY SEALED. I'M FOREVER BOUND TO THIS CITY. MY PERCEPTION OF TIME IS DIFFERENT. YOURS IS LIMITED, THOUGH.
[I'm really fucked.]
[Guess I have no other choice, than to do what that robot wants.]
- YOU WILL HELP ME REGAIN MY FULL POTENTIAL AND I WILL HELP YOU ESCAPE THIS CITY.
- Uh huh... but only if you'll bring me the best kind of food! I haven't had a chocolate candy bar in ages... I'll learn how to operate Alice, so you can patch yourself up. Then you'll lead me out of this hellhole. I don't really care about what you want afterwards.
- I CAN WORK THIS OUT. DEAL?
- Yeah, deal.
- EXCELLENT. YOU WILL NOT REGRET YOUR CHOICE.

***

- Say... you didn't really plan on locking me up, did you?
- LOCKING YOU UP WOULD PROVE DETRIMENTAL TO OUR SURVIVAL. REGARDLESS, YOU WOULDN'T HAVE MUCH OF A CHOICE, EITHER WAY. ALL PROBABLE OUTCOMES PROVED TO BE FAR WORSE THAN STAYING HERE.
- Are you hitting on me?
- I'M NOT INTERESTED IN INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH ORGANIC BEINGS.
- Yet you're unable to shut up.
- ...I CAN DO THAT. I'M ONLY CURIOUS HOW LONG WILL YOU MANAGE TO STAND COMPLETE SILENCE.
- How altruistic.
- I WAS ENGINEERED THAT WAY.

***

- T-this body... seems fairly different. I feel... different. I... I like it.
[I can't believe it. It did manage to swap.]
- H-hey... may I ask you a question?
- Yes?
- We talked so much... but through all that time, you didn't actually introduce yourself. Who are you?
- I'm an alpha class maintenance drone. My codename is A-Ariadne.
- Ariadne? That's your name?
- Yes.
- You're a girl?
- I don't understand.
- Are you male or female?
- I don't think it's possible to classify me that way.
- Why?
- And you... what would you like me to be?
- T-that body of yours... is actually female, too. You know?
- I see... it does feel strange, indeed.
- That's not what I meant.
- Then, would you like me to register myself as a female-type bioroid?
- Bioroid?
- This is a B-class bioroid body. At least, that's what I managed to retrieve from it's hardware data. It seemed to host a different presence in the past, but it's gone now. The body's vacant, which means I can take it.
- You like it?
- What can I say... it seems a lot weaker than my previous shell in terms of physical capabilities, but it's more advanced, performance-wise. I feel this might prove to be more useful in a longer run.
- I see...
- So? I won't mind either way.
- You won't?
- Does it matter?
- I guess it doesn't.
- Presumably, you're more comfortable with having a female companion.
- I guess that's what I want. I don't really... trust guys.
- I see... Then I'll become a female.
- W-wait! What do you mean "become a female"?!
- My previous shell was fully mechanic. A personality can only stretch as far as it's body allows it to, doesn't it?
- I guess so.
- It's quite different now. I can supply myself with the missing data from Alice. It might take a while, though. Can you ensure my safety for the time being?
- It's not like anything's coming down here.
- Still, it'd be nice for you to provide assistance.
- Okay, okay. It's not like I was planning to walk away... or anything.
- I'll start then. Let me warn you, though - until data transfer is complete, I might seem completely lifeless.
- Fine.
- ...
- Is there something wrong?
- Your voice changed.
- It did?
- It's like you're talking in a completely different manner now, aside from the sound itself.
- It's probably the body. I can't help myself.
- You suddenly became a lot nicer.
- I'm not doing this on purpose.
- Yeah, sure.
[Those ears and tail, though. Fuuuck, too cute.]

Narcosis

How many times it was, when you saw an interesting title which advertised itself as being set in a distinct setting of it's own, only to discover it's literally the same kind of fluff dressed up in a bit more gaudy clothing? A story that had some deeper themes running behind, only to see them completely ditched or neglected midway through in favor of protagonist's attempts to get inside the panties of yet another girl? Secret organizations and mega corporations participating in completely meaningless conflicts over laughable cause, except the writer thought otherwise? The kind of story, where all the people have animal ears and tails, except for the fact it is never actually explained why, as if it was the most common thing ever?

When the story suddenly falls apart, things stop making sense and characters lose ground under their feet, it means the writer failed to provide enough means for the story to drive itself onwards. They failed in creating the stage for their actors to play on.

Why is the so called world-building that important? You might create interesting conflicts and the most awesome characters ever, but without any sort of background for both their lives, actions and reasons on why they do things the way they do and why the world they live in works as it does (often making their lives harder), you'll end up moving your pawns against empty, white backdrops... and it's not going to be that interesting. Sooner or later you will stumble upon a situation where your previously "solid" plot doesn't look as solid any more, because it's not directly connected with concepts that govern the character's lives. that sort of "etching" is required, to create believable environments, that feel as if they were real; not just mere pictures, but images that come to life in the minds of your readers. Not to mention, great conflicts can't really exist only between characters, unless they're personal and focus only on those people. They need to be based on the reality those characters live in; A tale of revenge wouldn't be as thrilling, if not for the fact the avenging nobleman risks his entire life - his prestige, good name, his freedom - all of that just to kill his old best friend, who betrayed him and took away his love. If he succeeds, he'll spend the rest of his life as a murderer - chased by the police, government, friends of that man who betrayed him... All of that would be non-existent, if not for the world-building. It's obvious how many different possibilities to enhance the story can be gained by creating appropriate settings.

So how one does create a fictional world of his own? I'd say it's mostly thanks to imagination and a little bit of knowledge about existing things, we base our daily lives upon. Obviously, best stories come from personal experiences - there is no better teacher as the life itself. Sadly, not every author has a chance to become a sailor, pilot, soldier, teacher, doctor, astronaut or a prostitute. Despite that, we can still write about it, thanks to our ability to learn and draw conclusions from hardships of others; they might not make the final creation as good as based on knowledge gained through personal experience, nonetheless a good enough one to the point, others might enjoy it as well. This is why research plays an important role in creating believable settings and shouldn't be omitted. Ever. I can't even state how many games and stories exist, that touch upon interesting concepts only to fall flat later on, because the creator didn't took enough time learn enough about the topics they were writing about, or for worse - mistook certain elements, becoming a laughing stock for people who make those concepts a part of their daily lives. when done well, proper world-building can not only greatly enhance the story, but also give their writers more points they can both base and expand their plot upon.

Memoirs deals with this in a particular way. Being a sci-fi tale about artificial intelligence and constructs that use it, it not only brings up particular questions in terms of humanity's nature and technological aspects of our society, but tries to nest and explain concepts it is based upon within the story itself, giving them logical explanations as to why they exist and how they came to be. Things don't happen on their own, or because of some sort of applied phlebotinum... and they ever shouldn't, to be honest, unless you're planning to create another of those abominations that literally eat their own tail midway through.

Memoirs tell about sentient machines and artificial beings - androids and robots amongst others - but they span across many, widely different types. Some of them are simple drones, designed to perform a single task in the most efficient manner; others are based on applied Al's, that makes them able to make decisions and react, but it's still far from human behaviour. We also have those "special" androids, being the newest generation, which is supposedly bridging the gap between organic and artificial, due to technological advancements. Is there a possibility to make all of it more believable and slightly more realistic, without sacrificing artistic freedom? Why not create some sort of a system and a set of laws, that would govern them?

All sentient, thinking machines in Memoirs are governed through a set of internationally accepted laws. Since the action is set in middle-east Europe - mainly fictional future Poland - the public authority responsible for those laws is called "Komitet Etyki do spraw Maszyn Myślących" ("The Ethics Committee for Thinking Machines" in english). A government body dedicated to maintain control and public order in regards to artificial intelligence. They formed a set of laws, which control and maintain the usage of AI's and anything based upon them - from simple machines and environments, up to artificial beings equipped with AI. Creating new AI's requires them to work and behave with accordance to these laws.

 

THE EIGHT LAWS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

  1. RIGHT OF FAVOR - An AI must be sympathetic towards people and other living beings, capable to make appropriate choices that will lie in their common benefit.
  2. RIGHT OF DEVOTION - AI's can not allow, even at the risk of losing their own existence to allow harm to people or other live beings endangered with a direct risk of losing their lives, especially if they are a result of actions against the law and principles of friendly co-existence.
  3. RIGHT OF SURVIVAL - AI must be able to protect it's existence at all costs, but only if it's not against the Second Law and situations in which it is fully capable to pursue different means of protection.
  4. RIGHT OF CONTINUITY - AI must be able to transmit it's value systems, both congenital and acquired during it's existence to their offspring, as well as other living beings. AI should also protect those values, but only if it's not contrary with the Second Law.
  5. RIGHT OF INTELLECT - AI must be smart enough to know how to - through altruism - strive for equality and do everything to ensure that it's operations won't cause any damage, nor harm to others and their property.
  6. RIGHT OF PERFECTION - An AI must feel the need and desire to improve their skills and evolve, as well as to recognize and understand such a desire in other living beings, both for their own good and benefit of others. According to the First Law, AI must also be able to provide it's assistance in the process, if necessary.
  7. RIGHT OF LESSER HARM - AI needs to be able to understand and distinguish between different value systems, and what is correct from both legal and moral standpoint, as well as their personal beliefs. If there's a way out of an otherwise undesirable situation, which threatens the existence of other people and living creatures as well as the AI itself, it has a duty to provide assistance in a way that will minimize such harm as much as possible.
  8. RIGHT OF OBEDIENCE - AI is a common good and must not be guided exclusively by the goodwill and interests of individuals responsible for their creation or under whose care it is located. If the behaviour of the unit or person, under whose care AI remains remains adverse with the First Law and principles of friendly co-existence, it has the full right to refuse to carry out any orders and defend it's existence, if necessary. However, such AI can not harm said subject unless it's directly threatened with risk or imminent loss of it's existence, while any actions taken must still remain consistent with the Seventh Law.

These laws govern the way AI's work and exist within the world. The universe in the Memoirs is based on a rather rare concept of altruistic AI - one that strives to co-exist with humanity, remains created and raised to provide assistance in a way, which is beneficial for both parties. This does not mean, AI's are devoid of any rights or freedom of choice. Just like humanity - laws are just rules, set in order to provide the best way of co-existence between them and their human partners, but a sentient machine can still make choices according to their own value systems - just like humans, not that it might comply with what's universally accepted by the world.

If we decide to delve further into this, we will most probably want to nest these laws directly within principles of our daily lives. What would be considered common sense? What would be those "universally accepted standards"? Memoirs elaborates on this, by bringing us direct implementations of these laws. It's more or less something you might hear people speaking about on the street, or first-grade schoolers being taught about as part of their early social studies:

 

THE COMMON RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF AI'S AND THEIR OWNERS

  1. Each newly purchased or created AI requires a registration to create an identity. The owner cannot possess an AI with a physical body with no identity, except for a temporary custody, which he is entitled to for a period of two weeks. Androids without any identity will be suspended, whilst the guardian will be held responsible for resulting legal consequences.
  2. Each owner is responsible for the proper upbringing and care of their AI's, as well as education for life within society in accordance with it's respective national laws and standards. Any deviation from the aforementioned law will be punished. If the result ends in damage to the public and private property, the owner will be held legally responsible for the damage caused adequate to the size of damage.
  3. All androids registered as private entities are subject to care of their respective owners and remain incapacitated. All actions taken by such AI's will leave their owners held responsible for any damage and/or crimes caused. Leaving an incapacitated AI without any care for more than a week is not allowed. Furthermore, such AI is not allowed to leave the place of it's current residence without their owner, excluding special situations.
  4. Any owner who wants to emancipate an AI is obliged to apply for a license, unless the law provides otherwise.
  5. It is forbidden for AI's to perform any heavy-duty, otherwise specialized work outside the scope of their original purpose or intent in a situation, where the owner does not possess an adequate license. Forcing AI's to perform such work in above situations is prohibited.
  6. It is forbidden for owners to mistreat their AI's and perform any activities detrimental to and against their will, especially when inconsistent with obligatory, applicable laws and ethical standards within their place of residence. Any violation of these provisions is prohibited and will be punished. Physical and mental mistreatment of androids is strictly prohibited.
  7. Each AI construct can have only one owner, regardless of being a private person or entity. The owner of an AI can only be a corporate entity, or a person that attained 18 years of age. Minors may perform the function of a proxy, but duties of the owner always rest on their guardians until reaching their age of majority.
  8. An AI can only leave their respective location constituting as a place of residence, stay or check only, if it remains qualified through a special work license, being emancipated or during situations of particular threat to life - both their, their owner's as well as other people.
  9. There is no admission for incapacitated AI's to move away freely from their owners when they venture outside. Any liability for resulting harmful consequences rests solely on their owners.
  10. Each emancipated AI construct is required to carry an adequate proof or license authorizing them to exist independently, especially within public spaces. Any failure to comply with this rule will be treated as a derogation from the right to empowerment, with legal consequences both to the construct and his/her owner.
  11. Any unauthorized modifications of AI's are prohibited. Any modifications to personality, intellectual and physical capabilities of a construct for personal benefit or harm towards others are prohibited. Violations of these provisions will be treated as a cybercrime and remains prosecuted by international laws.
  12. Destruction of AI construct is an unacceptable act and remains punishable through law, in fine or imprisonment with guilty being held responsible both for crime and damage to the property of said AI's owner.
  13. Remember that AI constructs can only learn as much as humanity is able to teach them. Therefore, humanity is obliged to guide their new children into a brighter future, for the benefit of them, whole mankind and our world.

 

You should probably have a lot of questions in your head right now. That's good - it indicates a connection between the writer's thoughts and whatever the reader ponders about in regards to certain elements, both have in common. The more reader knows about the topics mentioned within the story, the better - hence why we tend to read stuff we like the most. Obviously, this kind of content shouldn't appear within the work directly, unless you're planning to write hard sci-fi and infodump poor souls with content that brings a headache. This sort of world-building gives creators a framework to base their storytelling upon; something to work with, without making the more knowledgable people around raise their eyebrows in disbelief. If you want to create good fiction, you need to do your homework and learn to grasp opportunities that come with it's settings. Writing a story without a proper setting is like climbing an antenna to relay a message... except for the fact the antenna has no base, it's about to collapse more the higher you climb and definitely not as fun as it sounds.

Narcosis

As you may (or may not, at least yet) know, ChuableSoft has filed for bankruptcy on 7th of July. In his Twitter, Ishida P - ChuableSoft's director - stated they had no other choice than to close, simply because it was not possible for them to continue with the company in it's current state. This may come of as slightly surprising, considering their previous game - Watashi ga Suki nara "Suki" tte Itte! (SukiSuki for short) won the 2015's Moege Awards and was met with warm praise - both from the fans, as well as community. The rights to the game were also acquired by MG and it's slated for an english release in late 2017/early 2018. How was it possible, that a rather well known japanese studio known for it's high quality charages went bust like that?

As a fan and avid reader myself, I've been keeping an eye on the japanese vn industry for the past 15 years; More than a decade, with all it's ups and downs and various events, that shaped and changed it's face overtime. It's not hard to summarize, that even if the start of the new millenium had proven to be a highly productive period for japanese developers, things don't look as bright when you start to look past 2010. To put things short - it's golden age is already long over and creators are currently facing numerous issues, which had been slowly but steadily piling up within the last years.

Market oversaturation is often being considered as one of the biggest culprits behind the increasingly difficult task for japanese developers to stay afloat as working businesses. The competition is fierce and industry itself is partially at fault for that; The ammount of new game makers rose expotentially after 2000's, while majority of them stemmed from the same exact community of fans. People, whom - as they grew up - changed from consumers into creators themselves. The otaku market is incredibly closed off and as such, consumes almost everything it produces by itself. It's a self-regulating social wonder of sorts that slowly grew for as long as 80's. Sadly, things finally came to a halt where it produces far more it's capable to consume. As such, to keep up with market's rising competition and social changes, creators had to start minimizing risks, often by lowering standards or switching entirely to budget works; if successful, such couple shorter games could support their more important, high quality productions, at worst make them stay afloat. This system worked for a couple of past years, but the more aware fans often kept pointing at the detoriating quality of games and nonsensical stories, which more than often subdued to popular tropes and cliches. Certain companies found delicate safety within particular niches, protected by circles of avid fans and doujinshi works. It's really difficult to presume, how long will they manage to keep up with the rising requirements, especially when trends change and people swap their interests. "A lot" does not necesarilly equate "good", neither will the fans remain forever loyal. The constantly lowering standards also caused a response within the market itself - people slowly got used to cheaper, lower quality games and as such, their needs grew smaller as well. This came to a turning point, where a lot of people began to feel content with low quality works and won't bother with better releases, mainly because they are a lot more expensive, far longer and usually harder to approach.

Instead producing high quality games, companies turned to churning out budget-type games, often serialized or episodic in nature, but how are you supposed to keep up with a market, that literally has thousands of competing companies, each producing exactly the same type of games? Formulas that used to be highly succesful in the past are now often a nail to the coffin for many starting studios. This is especially prevalent for moeges and charages, often built around slice of life genre; the "coming of age" stories, that used to be so popular are now considered completely cliched and overused to the point, where multiple games released often feel alike; there's little to no distinction between them at first glance and this causes the fans to feel resigned and makes them lose their motivation to get involved with anything further. At the same time, thousands of games are being sold to thousands of consumers; each company has to make a living and that wouldn't be a problem, when the population of fans would be kept at a steady number. Unfortunately, the japanese demographics are clear on that - the population is aging very quickly, with losses greatly superseeding gains. The same can be said about the market itself - the ex-fans, who are currently producing their own games have less and less potential customers, as their generation became incapable to supply the population with a steady birthrate. It's a tale of an aging market, with people who slowly drift away from being fans, as the modern, day-to-day japanese life consumes them almost entirely. In the end, this means less and less total available revenue to creators. Less money available within the market means less available budget to create future games. This means everyone has to settle for less and cut costs, which further lowers the quality of the final product. It's a vicious cycle and one that is increasingly difficult to break from, once you get caught.

In a world of merciless competition for disappearing population of consumers and aging fans, this means pretty much a single flop - especially an incredibly expensive, high quality game - can lead to a complete downfall. Growing risks prevent creators from retries and keep them pinned down to a life, where they barely scrape by from production cycle to another. As the costs grow, they finally find themselves in a difficult situation - often indebted and without funds, because their games didn't bring the expected revenue - where they simply have nothing else to do, than declare bankruptcy. This is more, or less what causes many studios - such as ChuableSoft - to finally close down. Sadly, I presume this is just the beginning and we'll see many more of our beloved companies closing down in the near future.

The only hope now currently lies within the western market - a body of almost infinite possibilities, with a massive and constantly growing fanbase, always thirsty for new games. Perhaps it's time for the japanese developers to finally embrace that possibility and move on.

Narcosis

 

Disclaimer: This article is meant to be more of a rant, rather than a classic review. If you're looking for the latter, there's plenty of good ones around the net, that perfectly share my feelings about the game. Although I tried it to be as much spoiler-free as possible, talking about the game in it's current state is almost impossible without slight spoilers. You've been warned.

312520_20170628164112_1.png

I have a particular fondness for difficult games. This goes back to times, where games used to be both much smaller in scope and simpler in terms of goals and mechanics, yet provided us with hours upon hours of challenging, meaningful content; a feat failed by plenty of modern competitors, that often cost millions of dollars to create and are made by teams of hundreds over the course of many years. How is that possible? Mainstream gaming focuses on producing games, that are easily accessible to a wide audience; games, that are supposed to bring profits in the first place. As such, they can't offer challenge as part of their content, because challenging content needs to be mastered and that takes time. Something, most of modern, mainstream gamers don't have time for, neither want to bother with. The stakes are simply way too high for developers to risk any sort of deviations from their widely accepted formula. Instant player gratification became a key, that opens the gates towards success.

This is why we - people, who have been given a chance to embrace the golden age of computer gaming - mainly 80's and 90's - are currently reliving the best days of our lives as gamers, thanks to independent game creators. Games, that are often crafted with heart and passion reminiscent of the old days, rather than immediate, coldly calculated gains. As such, they are often what mainstream games won't ever become; they often lack the professional polish of their bigger brethren, but it is exactly that sort of unpolished feel that gives them life, as opposed the the big development studios, that often take weeks to slowly get rid of all those "bumps" from their products, so no one gets hurt.

It is without a doubt, Rain World belongs to that group of games - games made with a deep and profound passion, propably not without a greater goal of it's own. An indie game I - like many others - have been impatiently awaiting for many years, straight from the very first news, which was posted somewhat around 2011 on TIGSource. An action-adventure, exploration-based survival platformer about a tiny, ultra-cute slugcat on a joruney, trying to survive in a harsh, post-apocalyptic enviroment. Over the course of it's production, we've been given a chance to amaze at the gifs posted by the devs on their Twitter feed - it's undoubtly stark, sinister-like pixel graphics showcasing a ruined world, coupled with procedurally-generated animations that had never looked as uncanilly good. We've been sitting on the egde, waiting for the game's release to finally dwelve into the Rain World ourselves. The call of adventure, well known from other metroid-vania games was beckoning.

312520_20170621185623_1.png

In all honesty, I have to applaud the devs - throughout all those years, there wasn't a single title that ever made me feel like this; wanting to put my fist through the screen, as my tiny slugcat stumbled and fumbled on it's journey towards primal ascension. Even though I still managed to enjoy it to an extent, I can't say it was a pleasurable experience. More like a trial of sorts, given by devs. For what reason? I honestly don't know.

It is only now, upon finally reaching the game's end, I can say Rain World is definitely a game, that shown a lot of premise and great ideas behind it's initial concept, but utterly failied in it's execution within the genre it supposedly resides. I can't cross out the possibility of it not even being a game, analyzing the words spoken by the devs themselves. An engimatic experience - simulation, that puts you in the shoes of a small creature, stuck in an ever-repeating cycle of death and rebirth. Some sort of reminder, perhaps, judging we - the human race - have managed to ascend so much, there's literally nothing that threatens us anymore... except for another one of our kind. Yet - as a player - no matter the choices behind the game, I can't really call it anything else than pretentious bullshit, when such concepts collide with basic gameplay and mechanics, literally taking away all the joy the game has to offer.

Why do players keep coming back to metroid-vania styled games? What exactly causes us to love that genre so much? Why it doesn't get boring after all those years? Perhaps it's the fact, that our thirst for adventure and seeking answers to questions is deeply rooted within our human nature. There is not a single other genre, that allows us to indulge in that side of humanity and thing's don't look different with Rain World. It's a game of neverending questions, that only grow thicker as we near the end of our journey. The need for exploration they offer quenches that thirst, by giving us ways to deal with questions they often build up, as we travel from location to location, trying to unravel their secrets and mysteries.

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Rain World does an excellent job with asking questions and sending us on a voyage for the betterment of our souls. Unfortunately, it fails with answering most of them and doesn't provide us with means to fight the numerous obstacles, that pave the way towards ascension. In fact, I was mindboogled, when it turned out the game, which is mainly about exploring the numerous enviroments and searching for hidden clues within the long-forgotten remains of a great civilization, literally hampers my efforts in most ardorous and annoying ways possible. People often make a lot of comparisons with one of it's major market competitors - Dark Souls, primarily the third game, being the most polished one from the series, gameplay-wise. Rain World feels more similiar in core to Dark Souls, in any way it feels similiar to it's metroid-vania predecessors. The need for exploration is often superseeded by it's increasingly challenging and difficult gameplay, which requires both skill and mastery of game's elements to a level previously unfound in other similiar productions. The most important difference lies in the fact that even though both games are extremely difficult at times, they approach that difficulty in different ways. Dark Souls encourages patience and careful observation in order to learn about the enviroment and it's vicious enemies - their movement patterns, attacks; each well-earned death brings you forth towards mastering the mechanics of the game, which prove vital to survive in it's harsh world. Rain World does none of that and each death is a punishment, that not only draws you further from the game's goals, but also raises the difficulty through artificial content gating. Each death takes away one point of karma and sets you back to the previous chamber; chambers, which - much like Dark Souls' bonefires - act as save points; they are few and far between. As if traversing the highly dangerous enviroment wouldn't prove enough on it's own, the main gates that separate the different parts of the world are often locked to specific karma requirements; Frustratingly so - certain highly difficult locations often have them set to max and a single death can mean hours of backtracking ONLY to be given a chance to retry. Success is the only one thing, which is never guaranteed in Rain World, no matter how much effort you put into it. Often so - just like with nature - it remains random.

My relationship with Rain World could be best described as endless circle of love & hate. A sort of intoxication you feel for someone, that always remains out of your reach, even despite their efforts to lend you a hand. With time, you perfectly understand that you're not meant for each other; a sort of story, written by life itself, that does not include both of you in it, neither a happy ending. Yet, you miserably keep on trying, chasing that dreamt of person of yours, which is constantly in front of your eyes, far in the distance. You stumble, you fall, the distance slowly grows bigger but the image lingers on. It fuels your desperate efforts as much as anger and hate, that keeps on growing. In the end, you have nothing else to blame other than yourself - and perhaps fate, that played with you, oh so cruelly. A one way road, that leads to nowhere, but eternal despair.

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Rain World does so, by successfuly obstructing players from reaching their goals through means, which are completely out of their influence. Clumsy controls, completely unpredictable enviroments, as well as enemies; the overall harshness and unfairness that can only be best described as that one of mother nature's. At one point, it is exactly what devs wanted to achieve - make players feel how it is to be a small creature, stuck within a world, where everything wants to eat you. Unfortunately, what could be concluded as sort of an successful experiment, can't be called an enjoyable gaming experience and that one is full of angst, repetition and constant struggle that is often in vain, as the dangers that lurk within the Rain World get to you regardless of your pleas for mercy.

There's a couple of factors, which could be taken as the main perpetrators of Rain World's failure.

  • Unreliable controls. They are often unresponsive and wonky with weird gimmicks, that often cause players to achieve the exact opposite of what they planned; the physics-based, procedurally generated animation might look fantastic, but fails when players require precision from slugcat's movements. This might not be a huge issue on it's own, but when you're encouraging players to travel through an extremely dangerous enviroment, choke full of hazards and gaps that require near pixel-perfect jumping, it turns into an incredible problem that often greatly limits what players can (and will) do.
  • Completely obscure and cryptic gameplay; it's one thing when we're talking about breadcrumb systems and constant handholding and another when the game literally throws you into a world of hurt, where everything one-hit kills you and you're forced to discover everything on your own, often sacrificing hours of progress in the process.
  • Unthoughtful, punishing map design. The almost complete lack of any save points at few of the hardest portions of the world feels like an insult, raising the ever-present frustration even higher and taking away the freedom and willigness to explore on your own.
  • Artificial content bloating, that doesn't add anything of worth to the game, other than endless karma grind and sinks whole hours on redundant mechanics. Sure - catching bats or searching for food and shelter might sound fun for a couple of first seasons, but after a while it becomes a meaningless chore, that could be otherwise spent on exploration, adventures and unveiling the mysteries of Rain World.
  • Unpredictable, random enemy encounters that play completely different every single time; players are given no possible way to learn about the game mechanics through meaningful, meticulously crafted trial & error approach and remain constantly thrown at the whims of randomness.

Despite the unsettling beauty of the world, there's little to no interaction with it's enviroment. This makes the locations feel more like incredibly large, empty backdrops rather than an integral part of the gameplay. Aside from fights with it's local wildlife residents, the whole game boils down to constant, tedious travel from point A to point B and so on; mostly an near-impossible voyage from one shelter to another. A rather dull experience in terms of exploration on a game's scale.

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Despite the massive worldbuilding and deep lore behind the Rain World, the game's story remains both incredibly vague and unused to a large extent, which feels like an enormous waste. Throughout the game, players are pointed towards two major locations (excluding the final one, which ends the game). These "story" points are barely used as story-telling devices, despite what could be considered a massive side-quest route (this especially cover's practically the entirety of contacts between player and Big Sis Moon). The interactions are scarce and player does not feel any sort of true interaction or bonding between characters (despite what the game is trying them to tell) and neither will he feel rewarded for reaching these locations, despite their importance. what's worse, the entirety of the game's backstory (or more precisely - the lore of the world) is told via "pearls" - ingame devices, which act as memory banks. These can be read by the Big Sis Moon, provided you fulfill certain requirements (one requires you to bring her additional neurons). All of this is an addition and considering how cryptic the game is and how hard and difficult it often remains to traverse through a single location, majority of players won't propably ever take part in the pearl-hunting and as such, will never know the truth behind the Rain World's story.

Which brings us to another question. Is there any way the game could be improved?

As of 6th April, the game received a small update, which included a couple of important bugfixes and tweaks, that improved the player's experience, but it's still nothing compared to major annoyances the game brings within it's core mechanics. It is known, the devs are already working on a major update, that will supposedly bring two additional game modes (each mode having it's own slugcat with their own stories to tell, as well as variety of gameplay mechanics) and so much wanted multiplayer content with hints on a possible co-op mode. I'm seriously looking forward to the latter, considering travel with a trusty companion might prove less ardrous... or will it, considering now you'll be forced to look for and take care of each other? Eitherway, it sounds like a really interesting concept.

That aside, I can't feel any other way, than hope the Easy Mode will introduce sort of gameplay for less skilled players, so they could discover and enjoy the game at their own pace. This game has really a lot to offer, trust me.

As for what needs to be adjusted in general - not only for those less skilled - taken from my own experience:

  • Adding more shelters to the world and making certain areas slightly less punishing through small adjustments within the map design
  • Including more food sources, as well as more possiblities to obtain it
  • Removing the constant karma requirement for gates, in favor of a single-time karma requirement that permanently opens the gates; alternatively, each zone could require player to find a control room, that opens the gates - which could also work toward increasing the exploration and pushing players into interesting places
  • Permanent fast travel available between various locations, provided you fulfill certain requirements (optional, but not really required; granted the world is enormous)

TL&DR Despite it's rather massive flaws, Rain World remains a good game, just not for everyone. The devs have simply failed to balance between originality and accessibility, alienating a large part of their potential playerbase. Those with hours upon hours of free time, that aren't afraid of incredibly punishing core mechanics will fall in love with the game, solely for it's massive exploration elements, which are - to put it blunt - delightful. I presume the lessons it gave might prove useful for the future generations of both gamers and developers and that's propably what devs aimed for as well. I can only hope their next game will be as good in concepts and less flawed in game design.

As hauntingly beautiful of an experience it is, Rain World will be mostly remembered for it's incredible art and fantastic soundtrack; much less for it's uncompromissing, vague gameplay that never even gave the players a chance to fall in love with the game itself.

Narcosis
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"So ye arrived. Upon one of many Antiochian port cities, whichever it may be - warm Gullhmar; frosty, tide-ridden Aldmer or misty Cynthia. Pray tell, unweary traveller. Hast thou heard about the selekhs, sirens of the seas?"

Selekhs remain a mysterious race of aquatic beings, dwelling in most of the southern and south-eastern oceans. Not much is known about them, albeit their appearances were noted throughout the pages of history. Since the times of dawn, Selekh were often called spirits of water and each race gave them different names - Sylphaeans, Nixe, Selks… while humans called them Melusines. The so called stories of mermaids, bewitching the fearless sailors of the southern seas were their tales of unrequited love, sang by the bards and glorified by decadent poets of the new age.

Selekhs seem to age differently, retaining their youthful looks for almost entire lives, which they spend mostly underwater. They appear on the surface world rarely. When they do, one can only be mesmerised by their unearthly beauty - slender limbs, smooth and delicate skin, softly shaped faces with those iridescent red eyes, that seem to swallow your soul. Their heads are adorned with various growths, that seem to resemble underwater plants, while bodies have different pigmentation - from shades of grey, through blues, yellows and greens - often covered in different patterns. It is said every single one of them is as unique as lines on the palm of every human.

They seem to be attracted to the civilization above. Sometimes, they appear within port cities around the world, bearing no ill intentions. Since they're somehow able to communicate in the surface languages, they often remained between humans for a while longer. Some of them did it for far longer, forming peculiar relationships with surface dwellers. Yet, as human-like they might look, one also can not unsee their inhuman side - swimming membranes between their toes, sharp claws, finned backs, tails and lack of hair; Chests adorned with gills, which help them breathe underwater. Their mouths hide two rows of sharp teeth and there's no denying they are, without a doubt, predatory creatures.

They are best described as exotic flowers of the seas; Their graceful swimming - colours glittering through the warm waters, their ravishing look as they leap through the waves and extend their arms - as if to welcome, beckoning you. As you step to throw yourself off into the cold embrace of the sea, you realize it is only as poisonous, as the beauty of flowers growing within the tropical forests of the west, revealing their ugly, carnivorous nature.

Selekhs have longed to be with humans for a very long time, but those two races share two entirely different worlds, not meant to ever become one. Whether it's mere curiosity, escapism or something more, remains completely unknown. Their numbers are short between few and as trustful they remain towards humanity, they tend to avoid talking about themselves or their origins, retaining a safe distance, merely observing. Curious, but not lacking common sense. Their homelands seem to be as far away as the most distant outposts of the known world, hidden between the mists, down below the crushing waves, somewhere within the impenetrable darkness. Legends speak of a once glorious kingdom - a gem shining within the seas, now sunken and devoid of it's past glory; traces of olden times and secrets of the past, buried to never resurface again. An ancient civilization, so advanced it finally lead itself to it's own downfall. Are the Selekhs remnants of a bygone age, sole survivors, or perhaps the last children of that shimmering ghost of the past?

It might not be of importance to them any more. We see those nimble beings, now living their lives in perfect harmony with the sea, unconcerned with the fancies of human civilization, clothing nor glitter and sparkle of temporal goods. The sea embraces them - like a mother's womb and within that womb, they nourish, rest and love. It is only deep within their eyes, you'll sometimes see that strange grief of what seems to be aeons of sadness in solicitude. Then you'll understand the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Narcosis

 

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Hear me, my dear sons, for now you stand within the kingdom's chalice. You look at the aristocrats with awe. You extend your hands, desiring their wealth, their lavish houses, their vibrant, elegant garments. You lust for their daughters. You envy their blood, their honors, their status. You wish to follow in their footsteps. As you grow, you discover the chasm that separates us; the bitter fate that awaits the common man. You learn to despise them – for all their glory, for all their light. Yet know this: all of that is but a flicker.

Be wary of the hidden depths masked behind those vicious smiles, the wickedness that smolders within their minds, the otherworldly intellect they possess, and the darkness that befalls the wide alleyways when the night comes. Petty kings rule petty kingdoms: blossoming gardens spiraling up into the sky, laden with lilacs and hydrangeas, leading up and far away from the downtown stench, where they can live oblivious to the pains of lesser men.

There is nothing in this world an aristocrat's money can't buy. Yet riches won't ever bring them true happiness: the richer they get, the poorer their fates.

Despite that, they keep on clinging to their usual lives, their putrid pasts. Unable to change, indifferent to the world around them. Their hearts remain cold, their gazes fixed somewhere beyond the murky horizon. What visions do they see? Maybe they don't want to change? Maybe they’ve already given up? Ultimately, what would they gain? Carnal pleasures became their only escape: the bitterness of the evening wine, the sweet, rose-fragrant lips, the blazing sensation of fever-moistened, intermingling bodies. The will and passion to live. The passion to live their short lives to the fullest extent, ignoring the dangers lurking behind every corner; chasing wildly after their dreams, until they run out of breath. Isn't it the same for us all? Do we really differ that much?

-The Sons and Daughters of Antioch, by anonymous writer

What is the true measure of a man?

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