Player Too: Episode 3 – The Talos Principle & Super Meat Boy

Hey. So it’s been a few weeks since the last episode of Player Too. To remind you, this is my documented approach to trying to introduce my girlfriend Claire, who identifies as not being a gamer, to the wonderful world of games. We try out games that might appeal to her inquisitive side, and that might have a lower skill-barrier to entry. Then we discuss the games themselves and, particularly, their value for developing a gaming interest in a self-proclaimed non-gamer.

Click the link if you want to catch up on Episode 2. In it I closed by saying we’d probably get into Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments or a Telltale Games series. While we’ve bought and just about started those (Game of Thrones by Telltale), we’re not far enough in to have enough to say about them. What we have played in the last few weeks is The Talos Principle and Super Meat Boy! For the first time, I played very little of the games and Claire chose to pick them up and play without me helping or watching or whatever. I think that’s progress!

The Talos Principle

So this is puzzle game. As I’ve said before, Claire is into mysteries, crosswords, sudoku, logic puzzles, etc. We figured this would be a good one to do. Having developed some walking skills in Gone Home we thought she could tackle this, maybe on her way to Portal, which does require a lot of skill. I’ve heard this game compared to Portal before, but the only similarities I can see is that they’re both first person puzzle games.

Graphically, this is the best game we’ve played so far. I heard Claire raving about how good it looked, then I came to check it out on her laptop and it was running everything on minimum. I loaded up the demo on my PC with my GTX970 and absolutely blew her mind! So, points there, but I think graphics are at their most important when you’re trying to sell a game through screenshots or videos. Once you’re in a flow, you don’t care what a game looks like, and gameplay trumps graphics for overall experience. Personal opinion disclaimer; whatever. I’m saying I don’t think good graphics will convert Claire to gaming. And they didn’t. She resumed play on her laptop happily enough.

She put about 12 hours into the game but has called it quits. I saw her solve a bunch of different puzzles and learn new mechanics, but in the end she was frustrated by a few things.

The story didn’t grab her at all. I also found the deity to be more annoying than intriguing. I can’t even say, from what I saw, that the story is drip-fed to you. It’s more like it’s totally withheld until presumably some later point that we didn’t reach. So without the story pulling you through those tougher puzzles, frustration sets in.

I think that with a puzzle game you should have one problem preventing your advancement. “I don’t know if I’ve figured this out correctly”. Then you use your skills and the mechanics you’ve been shown to test your hypothesis and either you were right, or you create a new hypothesis. 

Claire and I both suffered from a second hindrance, though, which I feel is a fault of the game. “I don’t know if they’ve introduced a new mechanic”. I didn’t play much of the game but I beat the demo, and even in that I was frustrated when I found a puzzle had to be beaten by doing something with a fan. You assume that a fan blows something, and it does. So the device is introduced and you see it needs to blow something. However, you also need to know that the fan is weighty enough to function like a box does on pressure pads. So you actually had two things to figure out with a brand new device that wasn’t explained.

Apparently this occurs a bit more in the full game. It feels a bit like time wasting to me, where other games make a point of introducing new mechanics in easy to understand ways. We’re used to a device having a function in a game or puzzle. Figuring that out and then testing new hypotheses with no clue that there’s another function all along feels like a cheap way to make a puzzle harder. At least there are only a handful of different devices so this doesn’t hold the game back too much but regardless, I think many would agree that in a game, particularly a puzzle one, both new and old players should be clear about what the rules of the game are.

 Okay, now how many things did you say I could do with this?..
Okay, now how many things did you say I could do with this?..

Claire was also frustrated that she wasn’t always clear where she should go next to even find a new puzzle. This is her experience, as a new player. I’m not saying all players would find these same frustrations, particularly if they’re used to an open-world or hub-and-spoke model of game world. Maybe they would. I can’t say.

A third problem she had, as someone less experienced with a first-person control scheme was “I don’t know if I’ve figured this out but can’t pull it off because of my control skills, or if I haven’t figured it out yet”. This isn’t the game’s fault, but contributed to Claire’s frustration when combined with our afforementioned second problem. This led to a lot of attempts wasted trying to do something because she believed she needed to just up her skills to accomplish it, when really there was a new mechanic in play. Once or twice I was called in to see if she had it right, by manoeuvring around enemies with more finely tuned timing. I proved her hypothesis right and she moved on, but had been frustrated because of her skill level.

This is my fault for recommending the game at this stage, perhaps. I heard that the game didn’t demand much skill in terms of movement, but maybe we should have still come via The Stanley Parable to get some more movement experience first. Claire’s skills improved over her 12 hours of play, and she had some of the satisfaction you get from beating a puzzle game, but overall she didn’t enjoy it.

Claire’s Score: 7/10. Yes, I know the game frequently scores 9/10, but understand, there’s a value in knowing what a first-time (or thereabouts) gamer thinks of a game too, not just what the games press thinks. This is more a score of Claire’s personal enjoyment. She found herself frustrated by not knowing if she hadn’t figured a puzzle out correctly yet based on the current rules, if she hadn’t figured out a new mechanic quietly introduced, or if she had figured it out but couldn’t prove the hypothesis because of her skill level. All the same, she spent a lot of time with it and enjoyed it a lot. She says she could return to do the odd puzzle in the future.

A better story might have pulled her into the game, but it didn’t intrigue her (or me) in the slightest at the level we got to. She didn’t mind the deity character like I did, but he didn’t exactly interest her either.

Player Too Result: A bit of a fail. Claire retains an interest in puzzle games, but we’re still a fair ways off playing Portal. We need to up her first person control skills if she’s going to get the most out of what gaming has to offer. I may have introduced this game a little too soon. The Stanley Parable should help with this, and Sherlock Holmes should satisfy the puzzle game side in the meantime.

Super Meat Boy

So, I’ve just stated that Claire’s gaming skills may have hindered her enjoyment of The Talos Principle. How do you think she got on with Super Meat Boy, an extremely difficult skill-based platformer? Quite well, actually.

Her first reaction was quite comical, though. The face she made when seeing the blood splatter everywhere and hearing the squishy sound effects was.. well I thought she was going to throw up, let’s say that. She didn’t, however, and after a few minutes she started to find the pitter patter of bloody feet even a bit funny.

Claire really enjoyed this game, although she only has two hours on it so far and doesn’t really intend to go further. Again, the story isn’t really there, so you’re just left to enjoy the game level by level. I watched her get to grips with the controls (using a game pad for the first time since she was a kid, bar a few minutes with Race The Sun one time) and clear the first couple of levels. Then I left her to her own devices. When I returned she was stuck on the last level of Chapter 1. So that’s level 17 or so. She knew what to do (this game isn’t often hard that way), she just hadn’t gotten there yet.

She offered me a go and after a half dozen attempts I cleared it. I have to say that the game is a lot of fun, and that replay feature where you see all your failed attempts die alongside your one success is inspired! Claire then had a few goes at the boss level, then passed it to me and I beat him in about a half dozen goes again (probably more, let’s be honest). She had somehow managed to clear the first chapter without realising that tapping A gives a short jump, while holding it gives a longer, higher jump. This becomes quite important.

We then tried a few fan made levels which were infuriatingly difficult. We quit and returned to Chapter 2 where the levels were now set in a hospital (of sorts) and there were piles of syringes everywhere to kill you. We couldn’t figure out how to beat the first level (I tried jumping from a very specific spot but never felt like I had the right idea as I kept hitting a pile of syringes no matter what I did) so we skipped it and I played the next couple. At this stage, the syringes made Claire lose her mettle for the game and cast her back to the squeamishness she’d had at the start, so she decided that she was done with it. She liked what she’d played but felt she’d reached the limits of her skill and enjoyment as the difficulty was ramping up fast.

 The wonderful replay mode in action!
The wonderful replay mode in action!

Claire’s Score: 7.5/10. She found this very entertaining, and gross! She often got full-bodied laughs out of her own death, but all the same she doesn’t intend to play more of the game. She found the difficulty a to get significantly beyond her as the game progressed and had no desire to die upon piles of needles come Chapter 2.

Player Too Result: Hard to say. Here we tried a platformer that’s supposed to be difficult and Claire did pretty well at it. Like I said, I only got a few levels further than her. So she’s becoming more confident in her ability to take control of a game and succeed. This would have been a barrier before in a “no, I couldn’t possibly” kind of way. We also got her using a game pad and finding the fun in death and a quick restart.

These things would all indicate good progress towards the realm of gaming, except that she doesn’t intend to play the game again. Would she like a similar style of platformer that was less gross and a tad less difficult? Perhaps. Do comment if you can recommend any, as they’re not my area of expertise. We played Bro Force together once before but it was just hopeless. This was before the Player Too project so maybe it’s worth trying that again. Or Nidhogg, perhaps. Fez? Braid? Do comment.

 Pretty cool first boss level, with all the feels in the post-boss cutscene
Pretty cool first boss level, with all the feels in the post-boss cutscene

So that’s it for the current episode. I’d like to state that Claire’s scores for games aren’t based on any particular criteria. They’re more like her personal enjoyment of the game, tempered by a bit of consideration for the objective merits of the game, whether she connected with them or not. They’re pretty arbitrary and I don’t encourage anyone to look back at older episodes and compare scores to conclude that Meat Boy is any better or worse than Race the Sun, for example. They’re basically the scores of a first time gamer, and by design, are becoming less meaningful as such since the aim of the Player Too series is to attempt to turn Claire into a gamer. 

Basically, they’re just a bit of fun!

I can’t say if we’re any closer to turning Claire into a gamer this time, but her skills are definitely improving and she’s realising that there’s fun to be had in all types of games. So the project continues! Although we’ve learned to stay further away from blood and gore.

Next Time On Player Too: We’ve a lot of games to choose from for next time. We bought nearly all the Telltale games in that last Humble sale, as well as Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments and I’ve Fez and Luftrausers and Stealth Inc. 2 too! We will probably go with Sherlock and either the Stanley Parable or Game of Thrones (or both) for next time.

In the meantime, if you’ve any game recommendations or stories of how you brought a loved one into the world of gaming, do please share in the comments!

Until next time..

Player Too: Episode 2 – Gone Home & Race The Sun (and more)

Click for Episode 1..

Welcome to the second instalment of Player Too, where I try to turn my girlfriend Claire into a gamer by exploring games with low barriers to entry. After all, you can’t expect to play a shooter without having learned movement controls at some point, or a 4x strategy game without playing something simpler like Command & Conquer or a tower defence.

In the time since the first episode, we’ve played Race The Sun and Gone Home, as well as Irish games Darkside Detective (demo) and Curtain.

Gone Home

A few people recommended that we play Gone Home if we liked the mystery of Her Story and needed something with a low skill level. Again, I thought it was important for Claire to play herself, and not just watch. You’ll never consider yourself a gamer if you don’t actually get ‘hands on’.

I know this game is referred to by many as a “walking simulator”. I know it’s intended as a derogatory term, but that doesn’t mean a game is without merit, and in fact, since Claire has never ever controlled a first person character with a keyboard and mouse, a walking simulator actually sounded perfect. She could get used to movement in an environment where you can’t die and don’t have a time limit. I figure if she could get used to first person movement, then she might eventually be able for the extremely enjoyable Portal games, maybe by way of the Stanley Parable or Talos Principle first. If she liked Gone Home for what it was, then maybe we could stop off at The Vanishing of Ethan Carter or something like that. said that Gone Home takes about two hours to beat. We figured we’d beat the game in a single evening, even with the need to learn how to move first. I positioned Claire’s fingers on the WASD keys. She asked why she couldn’t use the up/down/left/right arrows. I said that she could technically but that she’d just have to treat this like a driving lesson and take my word that it’s better to have more keys in range of your fingers (like tab, q, e, f, etc) for when a game requires more controls. Plus on her laptop the arrow keys would just be horrible to try and use. Look at this!

 Ewww.. Okay we're definitely going with the WASD keys, then.
Ewww.. Okay we’re definitely going with the WASD keys, then.

So the next ninety minutes for me were kind of painful. Like sitting alongside a new driver as they grind the clutch, cut out the engine, slam on the brakes, and over steer. But that’s just me. I wanted to see the story but it was really being held up by learning how to move. Claire did really well, though. She remembered to keep her fingers in place, and before long didn’t have to keep looking down for the crouch button. Using the mouse to look around was natural, and I think for a first go she did as well as could be expected. First person games aren’t ruled out, then, but it might be a while before she’s circle strafing and rocket jumping. All the same, I got exhausted watching. Claire finished the second half of the game without me and I played it myself the day after that so we could talk about it.

Because it’s such a short game, heavily based on plot, it’s hard not to discuss it without spoiling a large percentage, so I won’t. I think that’s probably a telling criticism of Gone Home. You nearly need to come at it knowing literally nothing to get the full experience (a bit like the movie Signs). If you know what does or doesn’t happen then the occasional red herring won’t add to the experience. Wondering what’s happened in the house is all you’ve got. Gameplay-wise, you wander around a fairly large family home, wondering why your family aren’t there, and examining notes, phone messages, and newspaper clippings to develop the story. Every few clues your sister will “speak” to you in your head and continue narrating the story. You don’t really need to work anything out for yourself, solve puzzles, or test theories. It’s all given to you in a logical sequence. You can choose which of the unlocked rooms to explore yourself and how deeply to explore them, so the experience isn’t ‘on the rails’, but it still feels like there’s nothing to DO! There’s very little you even have to remember or backtrack for.

Unprompted, Claire said things like “it’s not really a game” or “there’s nothing to do”. Without her being aware of the “not a game” debate that circles experiential games like this, it was interesting to hear her get there on her own. She felt like she had no input into the experience. There’s nothing to ‘beat’. There’s no element of competition. No win or lose state. It was just like watching a movie but where she had to move the plot on herself, and that that’s not really what she would call a game.

 You can pick up and rotate objects to examine them, but rarely need to. A properly-opening cassette box was the best though!
You can pick up and rotate objects to examine them, but rarely need to. A properly-opening cassette box was the best though!

Legendary game designer Sid Meier said that “a game is a series of interesting choices”. That’s a great definition, but excludes interactive fiction as games. Claire and I think that’s fine. Saying something “isn’t a game” shouldn’t be offensive. Not every piece of recreational software has to be a game. Interactive fiction is probably a better way to describe ‘games’ like these. But I digress..whatever that means..

In terms of it being a worthwhile experience though, she said it was, and I think it is too. I do think games should be about more than just shooting and platforming. “Experiential games” can be a great way of telling a story. Gone home would have been a decent short story if done in print, and using technology to bring you into the story is definitely worth doing, but the word ‘game’ has definitions and expectations. Broadly speaking, there’s a player or players, an objective, and a set of rules. Gone Home, or Telltale’s games could meet this at a stretch, but they’re far better described as ‘interactive fiction’. Telltale themselves said in a panel at GDC when asked if what they made were games, that they didn’t really care! They are what they are.

Claire’s Score: 6/10. Worthwhile as an experience, but not worth the €20 asking price as it’s too short with not enough going on. Get it on sale for €10 or less.

Player Too Result: Claire and I reached a common consensus pretty easily with Gone Home. We felt that it was useful as a walking simulator to train Claire in movement in a consequence-free environment. We felt that it wasn’t really a game (how dare we use such profanity) under certain definitions. We felt that it was a worthwhile experience, and that more interactive fiction like this would be a good thing. But we felt that the story wasn’t particularly great. It was nice, different, and worthwhile, but if there were more similar games to compare alongside, Gone Home probably wouldn’t stand up all that well as, insofar as twists, red herrings, and mystery go, it could have done better. We think people only recommend it because it’s different and there isn’t yet anything better. The developers, Fullbright, are releasing another game called Takoma next year. We’re definitely interested in checking it out.

Claire is interested in a similar experience but with the ability to make decisions and affect the story. Sounds to me like it might be time to introduce an RPG on Player Too, though we still have to keep the controls simple. Any recommendations?

Bonus Mini-Review: Curtain

As I wrote this blog, I got Claire to try “Curtain”, by Dreamfeeel, winner of the Grand Prize for the Most Amazing Game at Amaze, Berlin 2015. It’s a 20-30 minute experiential game that focuses on abusive relationships. It has a very distinct art style that looks off-putting at first, but stick with it if you try the game. It uses that imagery, as well as sound and level design in great narrative ways that experiential games should take note of.

I asked Claire what she thought when she finished and she said “that was awesome! So simple, so clever” (note that after ten seconds of playing the game she said “I don’t like this, I want to quit” so do stick with it if you try it).

 Click to see Curtain's page on
Click to see Curtain’s page on

You can name your own price  (including €0) to get the game on Itch. Click the GIF above. We downloaded for free just to see (I thought Claire may have hated it) but she liked it enough to go back and pay the asking price. You can’t say fairer than that!

Second Bonus Mini-Review: The Darkside Detective

At the end of the last Player Too I said we might try point-and-click game The Darkside Detective which, though not out yet, has a downloadable demo (scroll to bottom of that page) covering a single complete chapter.

It’s a comedy point-and-click adventure game with an X-files vibe and is divided into ‘cases’ like monster-of-the-week episodes, with a larger ‘seasonal’ plot running through them. In reference to our above “not a game” debate, I’m conscious that a point and click linear story is not that far removed from interactive fiction, but they’ve always been called games no-question. I suppose the fact that you have to think about how to advance the scene counts as input and challenge enough to use the word ‘game’. Anyway, I think I’m really making two blog posts out of one thing today so I’ll digress once more.

As I said in Episode 1, Claire has always liked puzzles, crosswords, etc and so I thought this genre might suit her. She did take things a little too literally, though. Because you’re exploring a mansion and the kitchen isn’t important, it’s not included in the game. A policeman character makes a fourth-wall-joke about it being odd that these rich folks don’t have a kitchen and so Claire started to focus her efforts on finding the hidden kitchen, so she could use a phone to ring the number on the box of matches she’d been given and verify the father’s alibi. I thought this was funny. We don’t think about certain things as gamers too much. In a point-and-click game we tend to just use the items we’ve been given on the scene to try and advance the plot, whereas Claire was approaching the given situation as a real detective and fully role playing.

She was disappointed to find that the experience was narrower than she thought, but when she had the right frame of mind she found the fun that this genre had to offer, particularly the comedic aspects. Everyone enjoys having a guess at the solution or the plot and being proven right, then rewarded with more story. It’s a great core game loop that made the genre huge in the 90s and is likely why the genre is seeing a comeback now.

Claire said she’d definitely buy the full game when it comes out so, again, I think we’re doing well at turning Claire into a gamer. 

Race The Sun

Four games in three weeks, across three genres. I’d say project Player Too is working pretty well so far. Race the Sun is an endless runner, meaning there is constant movement and your only input is to avoid obstacles. You can’t get off the rails that the game proceeds on. More can be build around that core but that’s an endless runner.

In Race The Sun you control a solar powered spaceship racing towards the setting sun. You collect time-warping powerups to make the sun climb a little in the sky, but if you stray into the long shadows cast by tall obstacles, you lose sped, and the sun sets faster, bringing you closer to death. When I played, I never saw death by sunset, I always smashed into a wall way before that.

As you can see from the images, the art style is as simple as it needs to be. It does everything you need, and the game runs at a high number of frames per second, essential to giving this game is smooth feel.

The reason I came to try this game with Claire is that it was on a Steam promotion. For one day the game was free to install, and if you installed it you could keep it. This coincided with the release of some DLC so they were quick to offer you to buy the expansion if you did get the game for free. I knew of the game before but thought it a bit simplistic for me. I’ll try anything once though (for free) so I downloaded it and found that I liked it. It’s a great little way to spend a few minutes.

This prompted me to create a Steam account for Claire and download it on her laptop. I thought that the fact that you need only steer left or right, and that there’s a fast reset time after death meant that Claire might get into it. I’d seen her enjoy Angry Birds because of its fast reset time, and even an early build of my game Sons of Sol when I had all hits cause instant death, but a quick tap of the R key reset the level. Difficulty didn’t matter if the consequences to death were minimal and you could get back into the action quickly.

Claire was soon riveted! She was jumping around in her chair (“full body steering”) as she’d swerve to avoid a large column, then wail in frustration, arms up in the air as she hit the one behind it. After one second she’d be back at the controls, eyes inches from the screen, tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth, concentrating and vowing to get further this time. “One more go” was never one more go.

She’d be intimidated and put off by the amount of controls you have to think about with a racing game, but with left or right being her only decisions, she had ‘mastered’ the controls in a minute and was all about beating the challenge. Race the Sun challenges you very well. When you’re about to pass your record distance you can see a big banner text with your old distance float up from the horizon in front of you, egging you on. There’s also several achievements that let you feel like you’re progressing even if you still can’t get past level 2 (things like “beat the first level without bumping anything”, etc). 


I played it just on the first day, but Claire has returned to it several times without me being around. She’s taken it upon herself that she wanted to play this game more. That’s encouraging. We’ve found that she can be drawn in by a game experience and look forward to playing it again. She’s said that she spent all day in work wanted to come back and try and beat that damn level.

This is extra interesting because the levels change daily. The feel of the zones and the types of obstacles encountered are consistent, but the specific layout changes daily, meaning you can never really learn the course  and improve that way. Every day it’s about your reactions versus the game, with no cheating.

Of particular interest to me was that you can get a powerup that allows you to jump once with the spacebar. This adds a button to think about while your mind is already constantly racing. It wasn’t long before Claire added this jump move to her repertoire and added finding the powerup to her mental list of objectives in a turn. Further on, there’s some sort of teleport on the shift button that she’s also mastered. She’s now much further into and better at the game than I am.

Claire’s Score: 7/10. Loads of fun!

Player Too Result: We’ve found another genre that Claire can get into.  Endless runner! We’ve proven that skill based games are totally within her grasp as long as they’re not too punishing, and indeed that they can be more fun for being difficult but with a shallow learning curve and little encouraging objectives.

Claire’s skills are increasing, but still need work if we’re to take on Portal. She’s finding that she enjoys more and more genres of games and types of games that she didn’t know existed, but that she enjoys them in small doses. Her willingness to try new suggestions is increasing because of the good games we’ve found so far, and she’s starting to think she’d like try try games with more input in to the narrative, or more games with a simple skill challenge.

I think we’re a long way from getting into an epic 20+ hour RPG, but that Telltale games are definitely where we should be heading next for a positive narrative experience.

As far as building her first person skills, the Talos Principle has a free demo and is discounted on Steam this weekend. I’m not sure if the puzzles are skill based at all, but we can learn from the demo and buy it if she think’s she could handle it. The Stanley Parable demo would also make a good low-consequence ‘walking simulator’/training game.

Next Time On Player Too: All of those possibilities aside, on the strength of her enjoyment of the detective game Her Story, we’re next trying out Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, which is the newest and best rated of the Holmes games. Claire and I have read and both really enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes books, as well as the Benedict Cumberbatch TV show and Robert Downey Jr. movies, so this will hopefully not disappoint.

Have you any suggestions for what else we should try next? Or which is the best Telltale game to go for (she think zombies are stupid, so not Walking Dead)? Have you had a similar experience with a friend or loved one and want to suggest any games you tried together? Please comment!

Until next time..

Player Too: Episode 1 – Her Story

 Click for the Her Story website.
Click for the Her Story website.

Welcome to the first instalment of Player Too, a new, semi-regular blog series about trying to make my girlfriend, Claire, a gamer too. If you’re a gamer and have a significant other, a brother, sister or best friend who isn’t, then this blog series may be for you.

Since this is the first episode, I just want to set the background before talking about Her Story (which I’ll keep spoiler free). I’m a big gamer, obviously. Claire, by her own declaration, isn’t. We share interests in travel, food, movies, TV shows, burlesque, etc but we never game together. I would like to share the magic of games with her and play some co-op or just spectator-friendly games. I don’t think we’ll ever be playing Command & Conquer or Half Life over a network, but there are all sorts of games out there designed to appeal to all sorts of people. I’m sure that if I can pick a few suitable titles, I might kick start her gaming engine. Claire is willing to try games I recommend in the interests of having new experiences, but doesn’t think she’ll ever call herself a gamer.

I’d like to define “gamer” for the purposes of this blog before continuing. Claire’s view and mine would be that the term ‘gamer’ as comparable to ‘hiker’, ‘jogger’, ‘cyclist’, or ‘reader’. If you have read a book, you’re not a reader. If you have climbed a mountain, you’re not a hiker. If you like Candy Crush and Sonic, you’re not a gamer. But if you regularly play games, purchase them, anticipate new releases, and consider them a hobby, then you’re a gamer.

My goal is to ultimately have Claire call herself a gamer. This blog will document our journey through different hand-picked titles, give a brief summary and review, and answer whether Claire would like to play more similar games or not. She’s up for the journey, and free to call it quits whenever she wants, so I’d better pick some decent titles. I’d appreciate any recommendations you fine readers may have.

“Was it 9pm or 10pm punk?! I swear I will gouge your eyes out with this pen!!” We found Cole a bit too intense..

I’ve tried to bring Claire into my gaming experiences before but without much success. A few years ago we tried playing LA Noire. Claire has quite acute detective skills, and I thought a game where you interviewed suspects and gauged their reactions might appeal to her. It sort of did but neither of us actually liked the game once we got into it. She’d get bored while I drove around the city and got into gun fights. Then I’d get bored “exploring” a crime scene by simply walking around waiting to press A when it told me to. Both of us were also a bit dissatisfied with the interrogation mechanic. If we would ‘doubt’ a statement, our character might explode and yell at the suspect, accusing them flat-out of murder.  Great poker face, dude. It wasn’t what we wanted and we stopped playing.

Claire’s willing to play my game in development, Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest, but it’s a skill based game and she’s not a practised gamer. It’s not for her, really. And that’s fine. I’ve also tried Nidhogg and BroForce with her. They’re fun for a bit but she’s not interested enough to get used to the controls. We have a few laughs and that’s it. They don’t stick with her.

I’m not starting from scratch here though. As a kid, Claire was big into Revenge of the Mutant Camels, Puzzle Bobble, and later Mario Kart 64 and Mario 64. And others, just not much this millennium . Claire does play Candy Crush. She explains that it’s just because she’s into puzzles. Sudoku and crosswords are more to her tastes. She also liked Angry Birds as it’s a puzzle game at its core. 

She likes mysteries too, though, and she’s really sharp at connecting dots and making inferences in a TV show, book or movie. Better than me anyway. So when I saw a new mystery/detective game called Her Story, I thought this might finally be a game totally for Claire. I was interested as a game designer in the new type of gameplay. A bonus was that the controls are basically the same as using Windows so I could really involve Claire by letting her play instead of me “steering” like in LA Noire. If she’s not hands-on, I figure, she won’t ever feel like a gamer.

Her Story a new game by Sam Barlow, known for his work on Aisle and two Silent Hill Games. It’s about the player searching through archived police interview footage based on typing key words into a database search that can only display five results. You don’t know why you’re doing this but you start to piece together a story as you go along. If you’re worried about spoilers, I won’t say anything that the trailer doesn’t reveal already (which is nothing).

The game is remarkable in that it’s designed by one man, all of its content (except the search interface) is delivered through FMV (full motion video, which we haven’t seen much of since the 90s), and that there’s only a single actress for all of the scenes. Nobody else! Further, since the search results only display the first five results for a given search term (like “murder”), the designer had to be very careful with script writing so as not to overuse a word if he wanted it to be a key clue.

Claire sat down to play the game and I grabbed a pen and paper to take notes. We started by searching the term “murder” as in the trailer and watched the four results. These gave us clues as to other characters and places and we’d search them down too. The woman might say a name and we’d search for that name, finding the first five (as in, earliest chronological five) instances of the interviewee saying that name. The results might tell us that there’s 8 instances, however, and we’d have to be clever to try and find the remaining three, or even to prove to ourselves that the other three were new ones and not ones that we’d seen before while searching another term. It’s a narrative-driven game, but the real gameplay lies in using the search engine.

With each clue we’d hypothesize on what’s going on, then search new terms based on our theory, or hunch. It was quite enjoyable. Claire really got into it. We stayed up a little later than we should have for three nights together to get through the game, and if we’d talk on the phone during the day we’d each have a new theory we wanted to try out when we got back to it.

 The screen glare is an option you can turn off. The game does a good job of simulating a computer interface from the 90s, but the System Clock says it's 2015. I guess the South East Constabulary are still waiting on that budget increase..
The screen glare is an option you can turn off. The game does a good job of simulating a computer interface from the 90s, but the System Clock says it’s 2015. I guess the South East Constabulary are still waiting on that budget increase..

As it stands, we’ve found the majority of the videos, and pieced together the story to our satisfaction. You don’t have to get 100% completion to trigger the ending, and if you accept the end trigger you can still log back into the police database after the credits roll to search down the remaining videos. We’ve come back to it a few times with a new idea to find a few more videos, but no fruit yet.

Claire’s Score: 7/10. Very enjoyable but a little simplistic.

Player Too Result: Claire liked the game a lot. She’d be telling me to shut up so she could search down a term, and couldn’t wait to get home to play more. If that’s not symptomatic of a gamer, I don’t know what is.

So this was a good first attempt. The problem is that the game is fairly unique and there aren’t many similar experiences. We’d both definitely play more if Sam Barlow made a similar game, and there’s sure to be a few copycats coming out in the next few years as the game is doing quite well for itself, but there’s nothing similar that I know of currently. Its €6 price tag definitely helps get it into the hand of gamers. It’s a short game but I do think it’s worth more than that, and it’s not often I’d say that about a game at full price.

Next Time on Player Too: I’m not sure what to have Claire play next. I’m definitely up for suggestions. A Telltale Games series might be a good choice. Claire’s into Game of Thrones, though I’m not myself. I’ve already played the Walking Dead and would rather a different Telltale game instead of replaying that.
Maybe a point and click adventure game. I’m looking forward to Darkside Detective, an Irish game coming out later this year. It’s a humorous point and click detective game which arranges itself into separate ‘cases’, like an X-files monster of the week. This might be ideal but so far there’s only one short demo level. I do recommend it. 

Any suggestions for us to play? Please leave a comment. Thanks for reading. Until next time..