Open Close
Open Close

Distress: A New Game

Leave a comment
Screen 1

Hey! I’m making a new game with some other folks called Distress. It’s been successfully funded on Kickstarter but there’s still time to pledge so you can get a copy for a discount and some other goodies. You can pledge with the Kickstarter page here or if you’d like to use Paypal, there are Paypal links at the bottom of this page for each tier.


About this project

A fading distress signal from a space station that’s gone silent. A metropolis filled with dark secrets, death lurking in every alleyway. Welcome to Nova 8. Step into the boots of Demetria Barton, one of the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunters, and lead her team to a mysterious city in search of answers and riches.

Distress is a branching visual novel inspired by the likes of Silent Hill, Snatcher, and Mass Effect. Trapped in a city filled with deadly creatures and a ruthless militarized task force controlled by a shadowy administrator, you’ll have to use your wits and make tough decisions in order to survive. You’re responsible not just for your own life, but the lives of your crew as well. Make your choices. Live with the consequences. Good luck.


A piece by Offworld featuring Distress.

An Interview with Gameskinny about Distress.

A podcast interview with Indiehaven about Distress.


  •  A 3 hour adventure with branching paths and 30 endings. Distress will be designed so that each playthrough will be radically different from any other.
  •  Difficult decisions that will alter the game’s path. Will you augment yourself in order to enhance your cybernetic abilities at the cost of shortening your lifespan? Sacrifice your medic to save your pilot? Prepare to be held accountable for your choices.
  •  Gorgeously illustrated artwork and cutscenes.
  • An eerie, electric soundtrack.

Meet The Crew

Demetria Barton (AKA You) is a war veteran and the captain of the Swiftsure.   Demetria and her crew take on only the strangest, most unusual cases: haywire androids, artifacts of mysterious origins, and everyone’s favorite failed science experiments. Nova 8 will be the most dangerous and challenging adventure she’s undertaken yet, but her physical ferocity and keen survivor’s instinct just might keep her and the rest of her crew alive.

Barkley Pearce isn’t your usual big lug. Sure, he can beat a man to death with his pinky, but he’s more likely to crush you in a game of chess. His tactical mind has made him a worthy second-in-command for The Swiftsure.

Nyles Guerra is a tech genius with a penchant for mystery novels (unless you want an hour long lecture on genre conventions don’t ask him what he thinks of P.T. Bartworth’s The Squids of Saturn). When he isn’t fixing up the crew’s weaponry or reading a novel, he can be found listening to the People’s Federation Radio in his bunk.

Sara Voxley makes a mean stir fry. Oh, and she can stick your lungs back into you when they fall out. A sassy multilinguist foodie who’s as capable of a gunslinger as she is a surgeon, Sara isn’t someone you want to be on the bad side of.

Jim Finn is a hick and proud of it, darn it. The pilot of the Swiftsure, Jim has gotten Demetria and her crew out of many a tight spot. Not much use with a weapon, but man, he sure can strum a sitar with the best of them. Whatever you do just don’t touch his craft beer without his permission.

 About Us

Light Machine is comprised of three people:

Javy Gwaltney has written and designed several interactive fiction games including The Terror Aboard The Speedwell, which received high praise from Polygon and The New York Times. He also helped create You Were Made For Loneliness and The Right Side of Town. When he isn’t playing games with the cat napping in his lap, he’s writing about them for Playboy, Paste, Vice, Unwinnable, and other publications.

Ian Laser Higginbotham is an illustrator, animator, and comic maker. His past works include illustrations for companies like Vimeo, animations for companies like College Humor and comics for himself! In 2011 he won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators. He loves dogs and video games. You can find his work here.

Erandi Huipe is a musician who has composed for various game projects such as Cavern,Arial Society and The Right Side of Town. He is fond of synths, drum breaks, and air conditioning.

Pledge with PayPal

Distress Tier ($9)

Gets you a digital PC/Mac copy of the game upon release.


Soundtrack Tier ($15)

You’ll receive the soundtrack for the full game as well as previous tier rewards.


Podcast Tier ($20)

Pledge this much and you’ll receive all previous rewards plus access to an archive of bimonthly developer podcasts where one of the team members talks about the progress they’re making in developing Distress.


Art Book Tier ($25)

A digital artbook featuring sketches, illustrations, and commentary from the team.

You’ll receive all previous tier rewards as well.


Short Story Tier ($50)

Pledge this much and Javy will write a short story about you. You’ll also receive previous tier rewards as well.


Sketch Tier ($75)

Pledge this much and Ian will draw a sketch of you. You’ll also receive previous tier rewards as well.


Design A Monster Tier ($200)

We’ll work with you to design a monster to be featured into the game. You will be co-credited with its creation.
You’ll also receive all previous tier rewards.


Be In The Game Tier ($500)

We will use your likeness in the game for a character! You’ll be in our game! You’ll also receive all previous tier rewards.


Grand Theft Auto IV and the Whims of Lady Luck

Leave a comment


I wrote this for Bitmob a few years back. Reposting it here because it’s one of the stronger pieces I wrote on that site. –Javy

[The following contains spoilers for Grand Theft Auto IV and its two DLC packs]

Back in 2008, acclaimed author Junot Diaz (Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) wrote a piece about Grand Theft Auto IV entitled “’Grand,’ but No ‘Godfather.’” In it, he described GTA IV as:

 … an example of our evasions as a culture, more of a fairy tale, more of a story of consolation than a shattering cultural critique or even, dare I say it, great art. GTA IV is a game that allows you to forget how screwed-up and complicated things are in the real world; it could have done more, it could have put that screwed-up complicated world front and center.

I’m not sure that I completely disagree with Diaz, but I am curious to know how (or if) his opinion would have changed if he had ventured to play the game’s two DLC add-ons, The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

I recently completed a second playthrough of the full game and the two add-ons, and I have to admit that my first time through GTA IV left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. The narrative concept of this particular entry was grand, but the game was just too damn long and its story sagged in places (Manny Escuela, anyone?). However, playing the DLC and the main quest at the same time made the narrative a much more cohesive and interesting experience. What emerged was a shared and rather grim tale about chance.

It’s clear to me that, although GTA IV can certainly be played by itself, all three of these campaigns are needed in order to experience the full story. Much like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, they are all separate stories that happen to occasionally intertwine. Each protagonist has his own narrative and set of issues he’s dealing with: Niko futilely attempts to both escape and confront the demons of his past while tackling the seedy side of the American Dream, Johnny Klebitz tries to keep his biker gang (the Lost) together after their insane former president returns and leads them into a senseless gangwar, while Luis Lopez struggles to help his boss pay back his creditors by doing violent and outrageous favors for them.

The ending of GTA IV’s main story presents Niko with a choice: pursue revenge against someone who has caused him only misery throughout the events of the game, or make a deal to absolve the man of his crimes and rake in tons of cash. Unfortunately, neither choice has positive consequences for Niko. If you choose revenge, Niko’s innocent girlfriend dies, and if you choose to make a deal with the bastard who has consistently screwed you over again and again will only result in — get this — him betraying you once more … and your cousin’s death. In the grand scheme of things neither choice matters that much. Somebody that Niko loves will die, and all the money he has accumulated means nothing.

This is not poor game design. You are presented with choices throughout GTA IV, but you’re never told that they’ll have that much of an impact. Kill Playbox X or Dwayne. Does it matter who? You might get a little reward for killing one of them, but the endgame doesn’t change one iota. This is because choice does not reign supreme, chance does.

The DLC cements this theme. In The Lost and the Damned, Johnny spends the first half of the game loyally (but not unquestioningly) serving Billy Grey, the club’s president, and he is rewarded with suicide missions, rampant paranoia, and, eventually, Grey’s betrayal when he decides to go state’s witness. In a fantastic sequence, the remaining members of the Lost storm the prison holding Grey and kill everyone inside, but this doesn’t change the fact that the gang is done. The campaign ends with the remaining members of the Lost burning their clubhouse to the ground as they watch solemnly. Roll credits.

And to think that all of this could have been avoided if Johnny had been enough of a scumbag to usurp Billy and put a bullet into his head at the beginning of the game.

Contrast this ending with the one for The Ballad of Gay Tony, where Luis is actually rewarded for his loyalty to Tony. He kills the antagonist and all of Tony’s creditors are either paid back or dead. Not only that, but there’s a hint that Yusuf Amir, the son of a billionaire, will work with Tony and Luis to open a chain of Tony’s clubs around the world. Then there’s an earlier sequence where a homeless man gets accidentally pushed by Luis and discovers the diamonds that all the protagonists of these stories have been chasing.

I won’t disagree with Diaz’s notion that GTA IV isn’t “great art,” but I think a game that leaves everything up to chance like this is hardly a “story of consolation” or a “fairy tale.” Bad shit happens to good people (Kate and Roman), and sometimes the characters who don’t deserve a break get one (like Luis and Tony). Chaos is not consolation, and if anything, this expanded narrative for GTA IV is one that flaunts just how unfair and dismal the world can be to its inhabitants.

Grand Theft Auto IV may not, as Diaz charges, put a “screwed-up complicated world front and center” in the way that something like Spec Ops: The Line does, but it’s still a pretty sound narrative that shines most of the time and leaves me tittering in anticipation of the next Grand Theft Auto.

Evils Yet Unknown: Correspondence From The City

Leave a comment

A while ago I pitched a story about taxi riding in Grand Theft Auto V to various publications. The idea was simple. I would sit in a taxi in the game for a couple of nights, maybe a week, and I would write about what I saw. Just to see what happened. I called it a digital tourism piece because it sounded fancy and I thought I was being clever. Nobody bit, so I filed the pitch away.

The idea kept coming back to me though. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to do something with the concept. So, my greedy heart be damned, I decided to write the piece for free. Something happened though. I guess you’d call it lycanthropy. My games criticism piece changed, slowly but surely, into some kind of weird, delirious fiction. I wrote it in great hunger and sorrow. I wrote it drunk and sober. I carried it with me for three weeks, thinking about it non-stop. We ran together beneath a full moon. I loved and loathed it and now that it’s done I can finally stick it on the internet and kill it with a silver bullet for good.

Enjoy it. Loathe it. Do what you do. You can download a PDF version or an E-pub version here for free/PWYW.

New Game: The Right Side of Town

Leave a comment

I am releasing a new game. It’s one that I made in collaboration with Kitty Horrorshow,  Erandi Huipe, and Matthew Schanuel. It’s called The Right Side of Town and it’s set in the same universe as The Terror Aboard The Speedwell and You Were Made for Loneliness:

Welcome to the future. The remnants of humanity, in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event known only as The Fall, have fled a dying homeworld to seek refuge among the colonies of the solar system. Five hundred years later, on a decaying city orbiting Mars, an android lives in secret, passing as a human detective. When a man winds up dead in the richest district in the city, the detective and her partner find themselves taking a case where any choice could have dire consequences for humanity.


  • 40K branching sci-fi story with 6 endings featuring the heroine from You Were Made for Loneliness.
  • No middle ground, no easy decisions. Make your choices and live with the consequences.
  • Included with every purchase of The Right Side of Town: Erandi Huipe’s soundtrack, a selection of Matt Schanuel’s illustrations for the game, and a collection of poems Kitty Horrorshow wrote for the game.

You can buy the game here.

Disability And Gaming Resource List

comments 2

Disabilities and games, whether it’s about characters with disabilities in games or people with disabilities playing games, is a subject I’ve been interested in for several years now. Online written work is a bit difficult to find, so I thought I’d throw together a resource list to make it easier for people to find this sort of writing. I’ll check back every couple of weeks or so and update this periodically. –Javy

Writing on Disability and Gaming

“Listen Up: Taking the ‘Video’ out of  ‘Video Game'” –Christina Couch

“Ability, Disability and Dead Space” — Diane Carr

“What It’s Like to Play Games When You’re Colorblind” — Cameron Gidari

“Every Last Bottle Cap: How My OCD Turned Collectibles From Distraction to Obsession.” — Holly Green

“How The Kinect Saved My Health, And Why I Don’t Want To See It Go Away” — Holly Green

“Day In The Life: Disability and Representation” — Javy Gwaltney

“Disability, Diversity, and Evolution in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” — Javy Gwaltney

” Reimagining Disability in Role-Playing Games” — Elsa. S. Henry

“If It Were Any Other Jam, It Would be Illegal: Founders of Accessibility Jam on Disabilities in Gaming” — Courtney Holmes

“Film Victoria Update: a Game Accessibility Success Story” — IGDA

“For Disabled, Video Games Can Be Lifesaver” –Kristin Kalning

“A Look Into Developing Injustice’s Accessibility Mode” –Robert Kingett

“The Struggles and Benefits of Being a Color Blind Gamer” — Bill Lavoy

“Making Magic Happen” — Steve Lubitz

“A Look at Characters With Disabilities” — Brett McCabe

“Red vs. Green: Gaming With Color Blindness” — Kirk McKeand

” The Sense and Nonsense of Haptic Technology in Games” — Jan Jacob Mekes

“How Video Games and Kinect Change The Lives of Disabled People” –Microsoft

“Making Video Games Accessible: Business Justifications and Design Considerations” –Microsoft

“Your Body Isn’t Your World: The Hero of Mad Max and Disability.” — Tauriq Moosa

“Access For All: Meet The Organisations and Developers Supporting Disabled Players” — Richard Moss

“Audio-only game Grail to the Thief Puts a Blind-accessible Spin on Old-school Adventures” — Richard Moss

“Blind Games: The Next Battleground in Accessibility” — Richard Moss

“Haptic Technology: The Next Frontier in Video Games, Wearables, Virtual Reality, and Mobile Electronics” — Richard Moss

“The Healing Power of Video Games” –Richard Moss

“Why Gaming Accessibility Matters” –Richard Moss

“Blind Gamers Are Embracing Developers Who Have an Eye For Accessibility.” — Shaun Musgrave

“Includification: Bringing Video Games to Players With Disabilities” — Kyle Orland

“Different Bodies and Deus Ex: Making Disability The Enemy” –Joe Parlock

“Disability in Gaming: The Problem of Representation” — Joe Parlock

“How Pokemon is a Great Metaphor for Chronic Pain.” –Joe Parlock

“Life is Strange’s Worrying Approach to Disability.” –Joe Parlock

“Us Explains Chronic Fatigue in a Way Spoons Never Could.” –Joe Parlock

“What It’s Like Gaming With Chronic Pain, And Why I Fear The Future” –Joe Parlock

“Writing Characters, Not Symptoms: A Gamer With Autism Discusses What Our Hobby Gets Wrong” –Joe Parlock

“Why I Cried at Fallout 3’s Quest About Disability” — Joe Parlock

“I’m A Disabled Gamer And This Is My Story” –Nicky Regos

“The Unwilling Hardcore: How Video Games Helped Me Battle My OCD” –Christos Reid

Gamers With Disabilities Battle Indifferent Industry” –Jason Schreier

“Beyond Eyes is Held Back by Only Setting Its Sights on The Sighted.” –Carly Smith

“Making Video Games Accessible foe People With Disabilities” –Steve Spohn

“Game Accessibility: What It is And Why It Matters” — Joshua Straub

“One-Button Bayonetta: Disabled Gamers Fight for Inclusion” –Daniel Starkey

“Games Have Basic, Huge Accessibility Problems (That We Celebrate)” — Daniel Starkey

“How L.A. Noire Created The Illusion of an Autistic Protagonist” –Jake Tucker

TimeSplitters: Future Perfect Is The Game That Helped Me Survive College.” –Jake Tucker

“Blind Player competes at Evolution, says, ‘If you’re playing me…don’t hold back'” –Ryan Tullis

“Disabled Gamers: Part of your World” — Jordan Erica Webber

“How Octodad Works as an Analogy for Invisible Illness” — Nina White (writing as Ashton Raze)

“Interview – Elaine Biddis on Videogames, Assistive Devices & Accessibility” — Steve Wilcox/ Elaine Biddis

Writing Characters Unlike Me” — Carolyn VanEseltine

Game Changers(purchase required) — Alan Williamson

“A Glimpse Into The Lives of Disabled Gamers” — Kyle Wolmarans

“A Deaf Gamer’s Destiny” — ?

Web Sites

AbleGamers AudioGames



Game Accessibility

Game Accessibility Guidelines Game Critics (has a deaf & hard of hearing  info section for all their reviews)



International Games Developers Association: Game Accessibility  Special Interest Group

Special Effect 

Videojuegos Accesibles 

10 Thoughts About Dragon Age: Inquisition

Leave a comment

So I’ve sunk a lot of time into Dragon Age: Inquisition. A lot, like 140 hours or so. And I have thoughts about the game, all of which could be their own essay, but the truth of the matter is that I just don’t care about the game enough to devote an entire’s essay worth to it. That’s not meant to be a slight on the game itself, which isn’t a bad, but I just get weary thinking about the energy and time it would take to write an essay, especially when there already quite a few out there worth reading that sum up my issues with the game.
Here, a selection:

One by Patrick Klepek.

One by Austin Walker.

One by Becky Chambers.

One by Todd Harper.

The following is basically a post that’s going to house all my thoughts on Dragon Age so I can get them out of me and focus on other games. Spoilers follow.

(1) The biggest sin that Inquisition commits is that it trades depth for scope. The game is focused on giving the player a huge world to explore, one filled with generic RPG quests: collect some ingredients, kill some bandits, rescue a farmer’s pet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these standard activities except in Inquisition they serve as a direct contradiction to your role in the game as Inquisitor, one of the most important people in Thedas. You have countless people, legions at your command, and yet here you are, stuck doing silly quests because the expectations that go alongside the genre override the need for narrative consistency. Why can’t I just send the servants out to do this stuff? I’ve got dragons to kill, conspiracies to snuff, a world to save.

I’ve seen a lot of folks reacting favorably to discovering new areas opening up in the game. To me though, these discoveries are ones of horror and fatigue, not of excitement at the prospect of doing more…well, chores. Chores are what they are. A series of large locales filled to the brim with chores that lead to more chores. None of them are really that engaging, but hey, I’ve got at least four writing projects I need to procrastinate, so why not?

(2) The lack of urgency. I can respect why reviewers, like Phil Kollar over at Polygon, dig what they perceive as the game’s philosophy of generosity, allowing the player to do the quests they want in the order they want to while the game’s main plot is suspended in stasis for their benefit. Hell, Mass Effect 2 did the same thing, and that’s part of the reason I love that game.

And yet, DA:I’s plot just never sold me on the idea that I was a figure of importance saving the world, mostly because the game’s bad guy is an evil buffoon. Each sequence in the main plot is about you foiling his plans. Every. Single. One. There’s no moment where all hope is lost (like Thessia in Mass Effect 3, or Cailan and Duncan’s deaths in Dragon Age: Origins). The whole storyline is basically about the Inquisitor just beating the crap out of Corypheus. Nearly everything is always in your control and that’s just a dull shame.

(3) The characters are wonderfully written. There’s never been a Bioware game with a stronger cast. Nearly everything Iron Bull says is either hilarious or wise, and the moments that reveal how genuinely kind he is are well done. Cassandra is a fascinating character as well: a holy warrior with  legitimate concerns about her religion who also enjoys romantic poetry and reading smutty novels. Cole, the withdrawn, miserable spirit who wants to help everyone. Then there’s Vivienne whose wit and bluntness make her a fantastic frenemy.

Too bad they’re part of a game set on minimizing interaction opportunities with them in favor of having you shuffle around mountains and forests collecting herbs.

(4) Why is there so much fucking elfroot?

(5) The combat is stale…at first, and then it turns into something pretty fun and satisfying once you start unlocking neat abilities, especially if you’re playing as a mage and raining down fire on your foes. I just can’t stand the overhead tactical camera though. The UI, on consoles at least, isn’t competent enough for the game to mimic tactical games like XCOM, or even Origins’ paused combat planning in a satisfying way.

(6) I wish Bioware would commit to showing the nastiness of relationships sometimes. Most Bioware romances have the same sort of courtship structure:

1. Interact with character.

2. Make the right dialog choices.

3. End up with character.

And those romance-specific conversations seem kind of creepily tilted to the player, almost always drawing attention to the fact that Shepard/Inquisitor/Warden/whatever is saving the world/universe during those sequences. I’d be interested in more variety here. Sure, there’s the standard breakup option, but what about integrating relationship difficulties. What about conversations that can turn into arguments? Petty jealousy? Helping someone try and get through memories of a traumatic incident only for them to snap at you?

Inquisition did some interesting things with romance in the game that could often result in a player being shot down by their love interest if they weren’t attractive to the LI (like Cassandra turning down a woman Inquisitor) but on the whole relationships in these games are still treated as relatively simple things to understand and do well at. And I don’t really think that’s the case at all, realistically, so it’d be nice to see future Bioware games strive for some of that complexity.

(7) Glitches. Glitches and bugs galore. This is, without a doubt, the most broken AAA game I’ve played this year. Shit just falls apart out of nowhere. I’ve had dragons fly up into the sky when their health was low and get stuck there; I’ve also had them glitch during their death animation so that I couldn’t loot their corpses for the victory spoils. I’ve had three quests break on me to the point that I had to restart several hours of progress since there was no workaround for them. I had one quest, related to tracking and killing a dragon, just break entirely so that I couldn’t progress in it at all without backtracking about 20 hours. Today, during my second playthrough, I uncovered another bug where an old quest that I’ve already completed remains stuck on my screen and will, according to other folks who have had the same problem, remain there for the rest of the playthrough.

Some of these are bordering on game ruining bugs, which I guess is a byproduct of what happens when you decide that you’re going to Skyrimify your character-driven series.

(8) The War Table is a great idea with an absolutely terrible execution. The countdown timer on each operation, designed much like certain segments in many F2P games, shoos player away to lengthen a an already ridiculous playtime for a game. I don’t understand why Power, used to unlock most of the main missions in the game, couldn’t have been used as the same currency to unlock the side quest operations or the operations that are tired to opening up certain areas in the game. Instead of being a well-designed feature allowing the player to draw themselves further into that fantasy of being the inquisitor making choices that have consequences for all of Thedas, it’s just another barricade to enjoyment.

(9) Tired. That’s the word that comes to mind with I think about my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a game that left me tired. The kind of tired I feel when I leave a theater after watching a three hour special effects extravaganza that didn’t know what to do with its plot. I’m tired of fetching things, tired of waiting for an arbitrairly placed timer to tell me I can play this quest, tired of having to replay an hour because the quest item I needed disappeared from the world, but most of all I’m tired of the most interesting sections of games, snippets of brilliant storytelling and risky narrative maneuvers, being devoured by the philosophy of “more CONTENT.”

(10) Inquisition seems like a game that was manufactured to win Game of the Year awards, with its focus on being the biggest RPG around, but it’s a bummer that in giving so much space to all those RPG chores it doesn’t give enough to its cast of characters, all of them well-realized and worth anyone’s time. What a shame.

Interactive Fiction Fund Guidelines

comment 1

Welcome! Feeling the urge to tell a story? Maybe you want your audience to have some part in telling it? Wanna get paid for it?

You’re in the right place.

These are the submission guidelines for pitching a piece of interactive fiction to The Interactive Fiction Fund (IFF).

We’re accepting pitches for March until February  27th. 

There’s two criteria for judging pitches editors will use when deciding what piece(s) will be commissioned.

1.  How interesting is the idea?

2. How feasible is it to produce this idea within a month?

Your pitch should be straightforward. Sell us on your idea and then make us believe you can pull it off by telling us a bit about you. Tell us about your experience with IF or why this story means something  to you. If you have a 1-2 page preview of the project you’re proposing,  you can include it, but nothing longer than that.

Email your pitches to

Pay is $50 for an accepted pitch that leads to a creation delivered by the deadline. The creator keeps the rights to their work and can do as they wish with it. They can sell it on an online marketplace or release it free on the internet. Patreon supporters get the game earlier than anyone else.

FAQ about pitches:

Q: What genres are off limits?

A: None. If your idea is interesting to the guest editor and I, it will be taken into consideration no matter the genre. Want to write an epic fantasy? Cool, tell us about it. A personal story that makes great use of the IF format? We want to hear about it.

Q: Are works limited to a particular format and engine, like text and Twine?

A: No. You can submit pitches for games to be made with development programs other than Twine. Text parser games, games made with RPG maker, and the like are all encouraged. Again, the prevailing criteria here: (1) Is the idea interesting? and (2)  can the creator pull it off within a month?

Q: Are implementing sounds and visuals into my IF creation allowed?

A: Sure. Go for it.

Guest Editor Guidelines

Each month we’ll have a new guest editor so that it’s not just me (Javy, hi, that’s me) picking submissions. Guest editors will be someone who has had some experience either writing IF or writing about IF. If this is you and you want to be a guest editor one month, send me an email:

Pay for guest editor is $20.

If you wish to make a one time donation to IFF instead of donating via Patreon, you can do so here.

My Favorite Games of 2014

Leave a comment

It’s the time of year where folks are snarking about Game of the Year lists, but I think they have their uses and are fun, so I’m gonna do one. HAH.

My Ten Favorite Games From The Year 2014

10. Dragon Age: Inquisition

There is no game released this year that I’ve had more ambivalent feelings toward. I love Bioware games. I think fighting the forces of evil while developing your relationships with your fellow quest members is a they game make rather well. Dragon Age: Origins, though I wasn’t nearly as enamored with it as I was with Mass Effect for genre reasons, told a compelling yarn and had some memorable characters.

Inquisition tells more or less the same story (boo) but has more fascinating characters and couple of nice moments that are buried in the game’s ridiculous amount of filler garbage and terrible navigation system, both ripped from Bethesda’s games. Inquisition traded depth for scope, and I really, really hate that.

And yet, those little moments are just enough. Every conversation with Varric about Bianca or every time I tried to solve the enigma that is Iron Bull, got me to wade through all that mundane, design-contradictory nonsense for over 60 hours. And you know what? I’ve already started a new game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a mess of a game, but damn it Bioware got me again.

9.  Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Danganronpa is probably the weirdest, zaniest game I played this year. It’s also one of the two reasons to buy a Vita. It’s a giant melting pot of various games (Persona 4, Virtue’s Last Reward, Phoenix Wright) that somehow works really well, even when it expects the player to sit through hours of reading text. The story is a familiar one, a Saw-esque spin of Christie’s And Then There Were None. The characters are funny and interesting enough even though most of them amount to little more than fodder.

Danganronpa is, in every sense of the word, a wicked game.

8. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Advanced Warfare is an impressive game on several fronts. The campaign is exactly what the series needed after Ghosts‘ tepid, boring one. The addition of exo suit abilities–jetpacks, ROBOT PUNCHING–gives the player a surprising amount of options when it comes to taking on foes in multiplayer and singleplayer. Equally impressive, is Sledgehammer’s attempt to tell a story that aspires to be just a little bit more than a white dude mindlessly shooting other dudes. Some aspects of that story, such as the villain, don’t work quite as well as I’d like them to, but other bits, specifically bits that incorporate a diverse cast and focus on disability, are impressive.

You can read the piece I wrote about disability and diversity in Call of Duty:Advanced Warfare for Paste here.

7.  Queers in Love at The End of the World

Queers in Love at The End of the World is a twine game by Anna Anthropy. It’s the end of the world. You have ten seconds to spend with your lover. What will you do? The game’s free, so instead of telling you why it’s so great, I’d rather encourage you to take a minute of your day and play through it a couple of times. It’s a game that speaks for itself.

6. Alien: Isolation

I love Alien. Deeply. I think the 1979 film by Ridley Scott is one of the few perfect movies. Alien: Isolation is the best adaptation of that film (other games have sought to emulate the gun blazing action in Cameron’s Aliens) and is, separated from the source material, a really good game. For the most part. The majority of the game had me on the edge of my seat, holding my breath alongside Amanda as she hid in a locker, waiting for the creature to pass by so we could make a long dash down the hallway to safety.

If only the game was about five hours shorter.

You can read my review of Alien: Isolation here.

5. Glitchhikers

Glitchhikers is the most personal game I’ve played this year.  As an eerie, surreal late night driving simulator, Glitchhikers made me recall a period of my life where I was on the road quite a bit, and it made me remember some old friends as well.

4. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor is brilliant and bland and delightful and infuriating, and good god I wished they would have just clipped the story. I’ve spent a lot of time with Mordor, toying with its rad Nemisis system, creating rise & fall stories about certain Uruks. I actually felt a tinge of sadness and disappointment when I accidentally beheaded one before I wanted his story to end.

But the rest of the game, the majority of it, in fact, is mediocre at best and absolutely horrendous at its low points. The protagonists are dull. The story is poorly written, with a lot of fridging and some damsel in distress quests.

But the Nemesis system? I could play in that sandbox forever.

You can read my review of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor here.

3. Sunless Sea

Sunless Sea, by the makers of Fallen London, is a great game that lets you create your own story as a seafaring (or, Zeefairing, I guess) captain trying to make their living off an underground ocean. The game’s story creation tools, from the immense diversity available in selecting who your captain is to what the game win conditions are, are particularly impressive. I’ve gone mad at sea from staring at monsters in the murky depths too long, and I’ve had my boat sunk by a giant shark with a cage over its head as I sailed back to port. I have yet to beat the game, despite my many, many attempts, but nearly every run has been a memorable experience (including the one where my captain met his fate without leaving the harbor of London).

Alas, maybe the Zee will treat my poor captains better in 2015.

2. Velocity 2X 

Velocity 2X is incredible to watch, let alone play. The game jumps across several genres, often instantly, with a rhythm that’s hard to believe. One minute you’re flying a space ship,  shooting down alien ships in a typical bull-hell screen only to be running along corridors, collecting gems, and solving puzzles. The transitions never feel jarring and it’s kind of incredible how easily the various modes bleed into each other to create Velocity 2X as a single experience rather than a game made up of various parts that don’t quite mix well together.

1. Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order is the best game I’ve played this year. It’s a game made by developers that approach the game’s ludicrous, alternate-history subject matter with a serious face and a respect for both the world and its characters. The game’s shooting mechanics, rather than distract from the story like so many games do, compliment BJ’s character arc as a man proud of his work as a killing machine but also as someone who’s growing weary of war.

Wolfenstein is my favorite game from 2014 because it’s a game that works as a whole. Many of the games released this year (Mordor and Alien, for example) have bits and pieces that are absolutely incredible, but they often clash with other areas, design-wise. The New Order is, in contrast, a single,  consistently great experience from top to bottom.


Honorable Mentions:

Banner Saga

Murdered:Soul Suspect

Bound by Flame

Worst Game I’ve Played This Year


You Are Never Alone: An Essay on Glitchhikers

Leave a comment

Years ago, when I was in a long distance relationship with the woman I love, I spent a large portion of my time on the road, traveling from Rock Hill, South Carolina to Atlanta, Georgia. Usually, it was night, probably the early hours of the morning, and the journey took three and a half hours. Sometimes I’d pull into her driveway just in time to wake her up at sunrise.

It was nice.

These journeys meant that my social life deviated from that of my peers. While they were out drinking, fucking, and having a grand time, I was usually locked away in my dorm room, reading novels or making playlists for the weekend drive. Of course, I was never one of those craven music fiends who could manage a somewhat steady high on tunes alone. I relied on other, more obvious stimulants to keep me from nodding off and veering into a guard rail. Coffee worked for a bit, as did smoking a pack of cigarettes. If I was truly desperate and tired, I’d take one of my ADHD pills and hoped my girlfriend would understand and forgive the temporary fit of depression and self-withdrawal that always occurred when the medicine petered off.

Staying awake on the road isn’t enough, though, especially when you’re making the same trip every other weekend, always having the same beautiful, yet dull drive to look forward to. Sometimes to stay sane you have to give in to the tomfoolery of the mind. In my case?

I split.

I often had long conversations with different versions of myself, aloud and otherwise, about various subjects—film and literature were the constants. There was haughty, arrogant, somewhat detestable Javy who was always planning the next great novel. Kind, timid Javy who always talked about why social justice and ecological preservation should be humanity’s top priorities. Javy who had a two hour rant on why Brazil was the greatest film of all time. Javy who constantly worried about finances and the strength of his relationships.

After four years of talking with all these versions of myself, the long-distance aspect of my relationship came to an end. My girlfriend and I moved in together. I don’t travel as much anymore—only on holidays to see the folks—and so I had no use for my passengers anymore. I didn’t need their voices or, at least, my awareness of their voices. I made an effort not to think about them.

That is, until I played Glitchhikers.

Glitchhikers is a video game developed by ceMelusine and Silverstring media. I’d guess you lump it into the “abstract with no clear win-condition” category of games championed by indie connoisseurs and reviled by those who would be quite happy if games were about shooting dudes ad infituim. In the game, you drive a car along the interstate at night. Above, the stars pepper the night sky. You can change lanes with the A/D keys, you can accelerate with W, and you can look to your right and left with Q/E. You cannot crash the car. You’re simply driving, unburdened by danger, though there’s something uneasy going on here. Your character is always blinking. Music that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch flick plays on the radio while, from time to time, you’ll also pick up a hitchhiker. You don’t pull over to the side of the road to pick them up. You glimpse them in the distance and then, after a couple of seconds, they are transported to your passenger seat. You have conversations with them. The hitchhiker will talk and you can respond with choices from a conversation wheel. Conversations are often eerie and philosophical and they drift on to an abrupt ending in which the hitchhiker disappears from your car.

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 10.52.49 AM

What I find fascinating about Glitchhikers is that it’s an astounding recreation of a certain time and place that feels like it’s stuck between the world we know and some fantasy realm beyond our understanding. Those who have experienced it, burning rubber beneath a late moon, desperately trying to stay awake, know the sort of Twilight Zone feeling that emerges: an uneasy mixture of fear and soothing relaxation. You’ve never been more comfortable in your life, traveller. You could just close your eyes for a second, y’know? You’re strong enough, you’re not foolish enough to fall asleep behind the wheel. You know the stats. You’ve seen too many public safety ads for that to happen, for fuck’s sake.

However, on the road, there is no greater enemy than comfort. That’s why those voices mattered. They created loud inner debates that shattered my calm and my relaxation. I would not say Glitchhikers (or any game, I hope) is a Javy Simulator. However, Glitchhikers is game that’s about some kind of surreal journey and it’s a journey open to interpretation enough so that it invites the player to fill in the blanks with their experiences. That invitation reminded me of some old friends that might have saved my life at one point or another.

Sometimes I still get the urge to go driving at night. I don’t, though. Gas is too pricey. And there’s also a fear that I might not stop at the edge of town and come home. That I might just keep going, y’know? I miss the road. I miss the stars and traveling with the pines on either side of me and the glimpses of truckers drinking their jugs of coffee and the burnt, ashy cigarette hanging from my mouth and the conversations with those loathsome passengers of mine.

I really, really do.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers