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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Book Review: The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto

Robo Reads

Title: The Stories of Ibis
Author: Hiroshi Yamamoto
Translator: Takami Nieda
Published: (Kindle Edition) 2011

Quotation: Why were there so many stories about robots and humans fighting? Did they only exist because that was how mankind had always lived? Did we simply see ourselves in these humanoid machines?

The Stories of Ibis presents a sequence of five short stories and two slightly longer ones, each exploring human relationships with artificial intelligence, or with other humans in a technologically-enabled world. Hugely diverse in setting, the subjects include the following: a group of bulletin-board users collaboratively imagining the adventures of a Star Trek-like fictional space crew (“The Universe on my Hands”); a tale of told by artificially intelligent space station on the edge of a black hole that provides a final stop-off for the adventurous and the suicidal (“Black Hole Diver”); there’s even a bubblegum anime-inspired world populated by powered up AI school-kid fighters (”A World Where Justice is Just”). Each tale stands alone, but scaffolded by an introduction and series of intermissions in which characters reflect on the story they have just heard, the stories combine to offer an impressively original exploration of the possibilities and perils of humans creating artificial life.

Kindle Edition cover

Kindle Edition cover

The creation of autonomous robots and the consequences of this for humanity as a species is a topic to which sci-fiction returns time and again. Yet Yamamato’s work never feels stale precisely because of the extent to which it recognises this fact. Artificial intelligences like the titular Ibis – the female AI who narrates each of these wide-ranging tales, rather like a robo-Scheherazade – are not simply the product of technical advancements, they are also born from stories and fictions that first imagined them. More concerned with language and psychology than engineering, this collection acknowledges the creative power of story telling, particularly those yarns spun about robots…

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Film Review: Crimson Peak

Part of AddAltMode's Creepy Countdown series

AddAltMode’s cinematic Creepy Countdown choice

Year: 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

Guillermo del Toro is a director who is remarkable for his strong artistic vision and for the unbridled passion he displays for the various genres in which he works. His latest film, Crimson Peak, is no exception on either count. A beautifully macabre treat for the eyes, I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a movie quite so visually sumptuous. It’s also a work that really embraces its genre, although that isn’t perhaps the genre some filmgoers may have been expecting…

Mia Wasikowska in Legendary Pictures Crimson Peak. Screencap from Official Trailer

Mia Wasikowska in Legendary Pictures Crimson Peak. Screencap from Official Trailer

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Geekily Ever After? AddAltMode’s Top 10 Tips for a Lasting Geek Relationship

This summer B and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. According to UK tradition this apparently was our “woollen” anniversary – although a more appropriate material for us would surely have been plastic seeing as we spent our anniversary weekend at Auto Assembly! Who says romance is dead? Now a Transformers convention may not be too many people’s idea of a romantic date but it’s fitting for us in many ways as our geeky interests and passions have always been an central element in our relationship. Like any partnership, ours has had its ups and downs over the years, but we’re glad to still be going strong after 7 years of marriage and almost 15 together as a couple (yeah, we didn’t exactly rush down the aisle).

PixelHeartWe’re often asked what is the secret behind our successful marriage, and I’m not sure there is one – although friendship, compromise, stubbornness and yes, just sheer luck certainly all have had their roles to play. But even if there’s no magic formula we’ve learned a few things over the years about making a relationship last and we thought we’d share them today. Now, relationship advice isn’t a topic we’d normally cover here on AddAltMode but, as you’ll see, it isn’t a million miles away from our regular programming. This is a geek blog, and over the years we’ve come to realise that the fact that we’re both massive geeks isn’t just a key element in why we get along so well, it also provides a shared language and some handy frames of reference for many of things we’ve learned on our journey together to date…

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Tasteometer: My Top 5 Pixar Films

So, there’s a brand new Pixar film on the  horizon: Inside Out. I say “on the horizon” but it’s actually already been released in the States. Here in the UK we have to wait a couple of weeks longer: it will be landing on July 24th apparently. As a minor, gripey aside, why do a lot of Disney releases still keep on with the staggered release dates? In these days of online connectivity it seems ridiculous to make some countries wait weeks when a film is already out elsewhere, it just seems a recipe for spoilers and / or piracy. I haven’t forgiven Disney yet for making us wait MONTHS for Wreck It Ralph. I was so excited for that film but while the States got it in, I think, October / November, it was something like February before it reached our side of the pond and I’ll admit my enthusiasm was waning by that point. So a couple of weeks delay here is a vast improvement, but why any delay? We get Marvel films simultaneously (indeed, we got Age of Ultron first!) I just don’t understand the logic.

Release schedule grumbling aside, let’s talk Pixar, then.

Pixar characters logo

They’ve produced some of my all time favorite films  over the years, especially during the period of the late noughties, which – looking back – seemed a bit like a Pixar golden age. Yes, there’s a retrospective, possibly even nostalgic, tone to that statement, because I have to say I haven’t been so impressed with the studio’s output since 2010. It felt like the magic was lost when they started churning out too many sequels and prequels. But my interest has been rekindled a little by Inside Out: an original story – their first for a while – and, from what I’ve seen and read about it so far, an interesting choice of subject, set inside the mind of a young a girl and featuring her personified emotions. The film’s overall message, that a little sadness is necessary in life, seems a brave and important one to emphasise in a family film. So I’m reasonably interested to see it, although I’ll admit the scene in the trailer which showcased Dad’s inner emotions (which mostly consisted of ignoring his wife and tactlessly misreading the situation) felt a little too much like it was playing up to crass stereotypes. I hope the rest of the film is a little more nuanced than this scene, but you know, even if it isn’t, at least they’ve released this and not Cars 3.

The imminent release of Inside Out seems like a good time to reflect on Pixar releases of old. So after some chin stroking, I’ve put together my Pixar Top Five. I think most of us have a Pixar film or two that inspires particular fondness, so comparing lists is a good way of comparing tastes. I’ve love to know how your preferences stand against mine….

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Game Review: Hatoful Boyfriend

Type of game: Visual novel
Developed by: (original) Moa Hato (remake) Mediatonic
Published by: (remake) Devolver Digital
Year: (original) 2011 (remake) 2014
Played on: Steam

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And no, I don’t mean Christmas, I’m talking about the Steam Summer Sale – which admittedly does have things in common with December 25th *insert fat man Santa / Gabe Newell joke here.* During this week or so of heavily discounted PC games our spending here at AddAltMode tend to fall in to 2 categories: the ‘big’ games we really wanted but were waiting to obtain at a bargain price, and usually at least one or two really odd games purchased either out of curiosity or just for the giggles because they were so cheap. This is why our (non-Borderlands) gaming has become particularly random and uh, farmyard themed (?) in recent weeks: with AddAltMode B playing Goat Simulator and me settling down with this um pigeon-dating simulator….

Hatoful Boyfriend menu screen

Hatoful Boyfriend menu screen

Yes, Hatoful Boyfriend is a pigeon-dating simulator. Don’t judge me. In it, you play as the only human attending St.Pigeonations, a prestigious Japanese high-school run and attended by sentient birds. Ostensibly the goal is to progress through the typical milestones of the school calendar: classes, holidays, sports days and festivals, while getting to know “everybirdie” (the game uses this and similar terms throughout) and to find that special “somebirdie” to pursue more intimately. I enjoy interactive fiction a lot. I’d never dated a pigeon before, or indeed considered dating one but I was intrigued by two things: firstly just how off the wall the premise was, and secondly just how many extremely positive reviews this title seemed to have garnered. Could a game about romancing pigeons really be so engaging, or does the world just contain far more pigeon fanciers (and not in the racing sense) than I’d realised? The sale price of £1.74 seemed a reasonable sum to pay to find out more…

I thought it might make me laugh for an hour or two. How wrong can you be?

cheevos

No, I haven’t suddenly become a pigeon pervert but I did get suckered in, hook line and sinker. Because it turns out Hatoful Boyfriend is a much more intense, dark and engaging experience than I’d anticipated. There’s much, much more to this game than meets the eye…

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Kickstarter Spotlight: Silicon Heart

It’s always great when a Kickstarter comes along that you can pledge for and root for and get genuinely excited about supporting. The most recent project to capture my interest (and get me reaching for my credit card) is Silicon Heart, a graphic novel project written by Sam Roads with art by Kat Nicholson.

Silicon Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silicon Heart is a 120 page graphic novel, set to be published across four issues. You can download a free preview of Volume One from the Kickstarter page here.

I found out about the project via Auto Assembly as Kat Nicholson has worked on Transformers comics and has been a convention guest there in the past. If you’ve been following my Robo Reads book reviews – which tend to muse on such things as relationships with robots, and the fears and prejudices that so surround artificial intelligence – then you’ll quickly see why this particular project piqued my interest.

Here’s the blurb:

A powerful new graphic novel about love and prejudice, set thirty years from now in the Welsh Valleys.

January is a bullied teenager who finds solace in the embrace of synthetic-being Rho. Her friends and family are unready to accept this, but when January takes a stand against the prejudice of the law, no-one is prepared for what happens next…

The preview pages show just how perfectly Kat Nicholson’s sweet and charming art style complements the text of this sad and sympathetic story. I particularly appreciated the subtle disconnect between January’s words, “in the evening, I had a great night out. All my friends were there,” and the reality of her situation, as she is pictured alone in her room. We’re all guilty of embellishing the truth at times – especially since the rise of social media – but this comic captures that urge to fictionalise, and the pain of loneliness and being bullied, in a particularly poignant way. I get the impression that this sense of uncomfortable truths lurking beneath a superficially sweet exterior will extend to the comic’s world-building and society as a whole. “BLINK2ACCEPT” for example, suggests at once impressive levels of technological advancement and a very sinister level of social control and surveillance.

It’s also really refreshing to encounter a near-future set project like this that takes place in the Welsh valleys, rather than in some sprawling dystopian metropolis.  It’ll be really interesting to see where this story goes and how things progress.

The Kickstarter has a little over a week left to run and is already close to reaching its funding goal which is very encouraging. But if this great independent graphic novel interests you do please consider making a pledge and helping to spread the world to ensure January and Rho’s story can continue. There are some nice additional rewards on offer including thank you credits, numbered editions and even character sketches for higher tier backers. Find out more over on the Silicon Heart Kickstarter page.

Book Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

Robo Reads

Title: He, She and It 
Author: Marge Piercy
First Published: 1991 by Ballantine

Isn’t it a rare but exhilarating thing when a book comes along that ticks almost all of your personal reading boxes? For me, He, She and It is one such book. It’s a work of feminist (tick),  dystopian (tick), cyberpunk science-fiction but with a strongly literary flavour (triple tick) that also features an affecting and pretty damn sexy robot romance plot (yes that’s a big tick for me too, which should surprise nobody). Piercy’s novel also contains many ingredients – such as its elements of Jewish history and mysticism – that I wouldn’t necessarily seek out in a book but which actually proved fascinating. The novel features two interlinked stories, one set in a grim near-future of nuclear fallout and environmental destruction and one set in 1600s Prague. Despite their very different locales both narratives explore, in a way that is both searching and sympathetic, the consequences of creating an artificial being that can think – and, crucially, feel – for itself.

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