Game Review: A Study in Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Heather Albano
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2015
Played on: Steam

Exercising your brain, and your conscience rather than your aim and your reflexes, text-based interactive fiction games make an enjoyable change from the more graphically intensive FPS games and action RPGs that I tend to play the most. Choice of Games have published some real crackers in this genre – Choice of Robots, particularly, remains not only one of my favourite games and favourite reads, but one of my downright favourite experiences – so it’s great that so many more of the publisher’s outputs are becoming available on Steam, both games from their back catalogue and new releases. Heather Albano’s A Study in Steampunk, falls into the latter category, a brand new game released with the following blurb:

Steam-powered mechs meet forbidden sorcery in this interactive steampunk novel, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, and Jack the Ripper!

Given my love for the mecha, for the steampunk aesthetic, and for all things Victorian-noir, this was an insta-buy for me. Did it live up to its promise?

A Study in Steampunk: title screen

A Study in Steampunk: title screen

Let’s survey the evidence, shall we Watson?

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Movie Talk: Ponderings on Pacific Rim 2

Or, where is my goddamn shoe sequel?

“To be or not to be — that is the question…” As we all know, in this speech Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was pondering the fate of the proposed sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 movie Pacific Rim. The “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” clearly represent the uncertainty surrounding this project: initially it looked like Pacific Rim wouldn’t perform well enough in the box office to assure a sequel; it didn’t recoup its costs in America, but after a strong performance in other countries, especially in China, a follow-up film was finally greenlit and scheduled, only to face further delays and now – if last week’s reports are accurate –  a question mark over whether it’ll happen at all. In the next line of his soliloquy, Hamlet mentions “a sea of troubles” the Pac Rim influence here is not in doubt, but scholars are divided over the precise focus. Did Shakespeare intend the line as a reference to Breach – the ocean rift through which the film’s Kaiju antagonists ascend? Or if it is rather an allusion to “Maelstrom” which has been the working title of the troubled sequel? Either way, prescient Bard that Will. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

Alas poor, uh... PPDC badge?

Alas poor, uh… PPDC badge

Ok, so I made up a lot of the stuff in that opening paragraph, did you notice? Although someone totally should write a thesis on Del Toro and Shakespeare… hang on… *Googles* someone already has, day made! But some truths remain. I do genuinely have a PhD, and there is currently a hell of a lot of confusion and uncertainty over the future of Pacific Rim 2. Here’s my unasked for soliloquy on the situation…

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Cosplay: Sasha Kaidanovsky from Pacific Rim

OK, I noticed something abut my post content from the past week: I seem to be incapable of writing without finding a way to work in references to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. So today I thought I’d just run with it and actually post about that film, or more specifically, about the cosplay project it inspired a couple of years ago.

Pacific Rim was undoubtedly my favourite film of 2013 and it came as a bit of a surprise just how much it got me! I went in to the cinema just expecting a good time, and some geeky fun. I mean, giant mecha punching giant monsters and a computer voiced by GLaDOS, what’s not to love there? I got all the geeky fun I’d been hoping for but what I hadn’t expected was quite how strongly this film would put me in touch with my gleeful inner child. Sure, there’s some pretty awful dialogue in places and plot holes the size of the breach if you stop to think about them but none of that matters because it’s just such an earnest cinematic experience. Pacific Rim is made with real love and passion for the genre and that is wonderfully infectious. I mean we all know del Toro loves Kaiju, but there’s passion for the machines too: those awesome, lingering swooping shots of the Jaegers are the best kind of mech-porn. Plus there’s that Ramin Djawadi score, in equal parts rousing and rocking.

When I came out of the cinema I said two things:

1). “I wanna see that again.”

2). ”Cherno Alpha is the coolest thing ever and I want to be one of its pilots’

Screen shot from Legendary Pictures Pacific Rim

The Russian Jaeger Cherno Alpha. Screen shot from Legendary Pictures Pacific Rim

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Game Review: Mecha Ace

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Paul Wang
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2014
Played on: Steam

Cover art by Paul Wang

Cover art by Paul Wang

Stop and think rationally for a minute and there are so many reasons why doing battle from inside giant war robots is daft idea. We all know this, and yet it’s a trope that surfaces again and again in anime, sci-fi and fantasy. You ask why? I ask you why are you even asking that? It’s the Rule of Cool! It’s because mecha are spectacular!

So I’ll admit I was simultaneously excited and doubtful about picking up this choose your own adventure game by Paul Wang. “Step into the cockpit of a giant robot in an interstellar civil war!” The blurb entices… “Customize your mecha to duel against enemy pilots with “monosaber” plasma swords.” Who hasn’t yearned to do this? Personally, I’ve spent so long fantasizing about being a mech pilot that I spent months sewing costumes so that B and I could cosplay as crew of Pacific Rim‘s Cherno Alpha. But you see the thing there? My first response to just how much I adored Pacific Rim was to do something visual: to make costumes. Mech war is a hugely visual genre. Yes, there are some great stories woven in there too but generally mecha are loved because they look awesome. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from a text only interactive novel on the subject. When so much about mecha combat doesn’t convince – if, that is, you ever you get past the awe-inspiring visuals enough to actually consider this fact – then just how will a story hold up where precisely all you do is consider?

The answer? It holds up surprisingly well. Indeed, it’s a testament to the world building skills of game writer Paul Wang that Mecha Ace: Heroes of the Vedrian War manages to create an enjoyably tense and tactical textual experience within this usually most visually-reliant of genres.

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