Live Free, Play Hard: WHAT THE FRIDA KAHLO!?

THIS WEEK: Markov chain visual novel. Musical therapy for the surgical mech. Quantum energy is basically about superpowers.


GeoGuessr by Anton Wallén

GeoGuessr shows you a random picture from Google Street View, you guess where it is, repeat. So simple, so good.

I like that success is a gradient, rewarding that “OH SO CLOSE” feeling.

The source material is…the entire world, in a departure from the distorted view we usually get.

The ubiquitous Mercator map (designed for navigation back in the 1500s) portrays Africa and Greenland as the same size (Africa is 14 times the size of Greenland), coincidentally squishing non-Western countries under the weight of those who imperialized them. We see the glorious monuments and grand vistas, rarely the suburbs or slums (unless the slums meet some Western criteria of “charming” or “exotic”).

Even the actual act of travel is no guarantee against this distortion, directed as we are to the shiny, designed zones of tourism, our imaginations and bodies occupying only a tiny percentage of the actual world.

This is everything in between: the dirt roads, the strip malls, the alleys. Occasional glimpses of something gorgeous or mysterious are a special reward, honest and uncurated.

But most of all GeoGuessr is a good detective game. The lettering on road signs, the color of the soil, the shape of streets–testing and teaching and expanding our distorted viewpoint to something a little more true.



Unbreakable by Meghann O’Neill and Rebecca McKenzie

A surgical mech in rehabilitation, a musical therapist, and their music.

The decisions you make are interesting, like the way you repair the mech’s fingers. But your choices do more than branch the story, they add a layer of music to the soundtrack–“dynamic, textural variations as aural backdrop.” Hearing a simple loop grow into a full-fledged composition was beautiful.

I love the writing. Everything I read filled me with a sense of melancholy, or tension, or uncertainty. Unbreakable never overplays itself, just flows like you’ve been writing those case notes for years.



Your Swimsuit Jumped Over Its Own Weathercock, You Liar! by Amy Roberts

A visual novel that generates itself entirely from Markov chains every time you play.

This means choosing dialogue options is no longer about optimal choices and instead about what looks interesting–scanning for linguistic pareidolia in the textual chaos, chewing on words for their flavor, not coherence.

When we do find coherence, it was produced without agency, making those phrases all the more magical, like shapes in the clouds. Really funny shapes.





Cascata by ForthFloorGames

Cascata is about constant heroics.

Deadly lines are falling and the only way to destroy them is to grab colored dots, which only affect the line on your partner’s side. Without the other person, you will die.

It gets trickier. There are points, which cunningly double as platforms–stay on the platform long enough and it turns into points, temporarily eroding the level, which is great when your partner is about to get crushed and a purple dot is all the way at the top.

Cascata is also about getting distracted and feeling like a greedy piece of shit when your partner gets squished.

In some games, coop mode means the exact same game except another person is shooting monsters with you. Here, it’s everything.



welcome to the forest by Nuprahtor

A journey into the heart of a mysterious forest, haunted by memories of your dead wife. They say the forest brings people back to life, but for some reason everyone stays away.

Nuprahtor is known for dread, but this is one of his subtlest stories–if there is dread, it hangs in silence, in certain ambiguous phrases, in the chirping of birds.

And there is tenderness too. This is, after all, a love story.


Anhedonia by maddox pratt

Fragile, aching hypertext relating the author’s experience with anhedonia, “the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable”–a common component in many struggles, depression and social anxiety to name a few.

Anhedonia succeeds because it successfully transmits the deadness it describes. The weight of numbness is palpable, it hangs from every sentence, drowning everything with grey. This makes the occasional bursts of light all the more bright.

It rebels against the clinical, against a system that sees disorders, not people–lists of symptoms melting into descriptions of what it actually means to suffer from those things, tired sentences dissolving into wasps, scissors, lilacs, cold water.



[placeholder] by Michael Cook

Puzzle game narrated by its source code. Smooth controls, excellent pacing.

You control a cube. This cube makes grey blocks colorful. It feels good to move around making things light up. When everything lights up, you win. Feels good on my brain.



The Old Man and The Lake by James Earl Cox III and Steven “Papi” Harvey II

Fishing game! With cool collages! And frenzied pole action!

Can the Old Man beat the Lake? Or will it leave him reel-ing when the tides turn? Do lakes even have tides? Or do they lap? Is lapping the baby form of tides? The answer to all (none) of these questions is a click away!


MOSHIMOSHI by Armel Gibson and Calum Bowen

MOSHIMOSHI is about colors. It’s about shooting things and grabbing power-ups and staying alive and outrageously fun music but most of all about colors. Each element is linked to a color in the cycling background–avatar and enemies hypnotically blending in and out of sight.



WONDER CITY by Wonder City Team

WONDER CITY is an episodic choose-your-own adventure game for younger girls about a highschool girl discovering her superpowers (in the form of Quanta, which is the cool kind of quantum energy).

Everyone has Quanta, it’s just a matter of using it. On Twitter, game designer Naomi Clark said “It was meant as an antidote to precisely that “YOU ARE THE CHOSEN ONE” thing in superhero tropes.” She and the game’s writer Phoebe Elefante expressed their desire to develop the theme more strongly and move away from the exceptionalism rife in superheroics.

Character creation has three body types, not one. And truly, the goal isn’t to present any one body type as ideal but to say that your shape is fine–an important feeling to reinforce for kids.

Every so often the game tells you what badges you’ve earned (I’m Selfless Powerful Direct Collaborative!)–indications of your playstyle.

I like that all paths are valid (Openness with others is good, but safeguarding your secret identity is also good!), recognizing that life is full of grey areas (as opposed to extrapolating some arbitrary, moralistic outcome from your choices like many branching games).

The creators of the film that inspired the game write: “Our research found that half of girls ages 8 to 12 play games online. The most popular “girl games” center on themes like cooking, shopping, makeup, and dating, and the default protagonist of most other games is a white male.”

WONDER CITY is strongest in light of its intended audience–positive body messages, a diverse cast, and plenty of powerful female namedrops (“What the Frida Kahlo?!”).


  1. Brosepholis says:

    It must be nice to have a struggle to define yourself by.

  2. Nim says:

    MoshiMoshi’s description reads a lot like Hotline Miami

  3. Kaira- says:


    I swear, that song wouldn’t feel out of place in Loco Roco.

  4. Fred S. says:

    Had to block that animated gif for moshimoshi, it was threatening to give me seizures.
    Thank goodness for adblock.

  5. Noburu says:

    No more gifs in the story briefs or even story pics. They are horribly distracting.

  6. Voronwer says:

    I think RPS broke GeoGuessr.

    • newc0253 says:

      “The source material is…the entire world, in a departure from the distorted view we usually get.”

      Actually the view you get of the world from Geogssr is also pretty distorted – just the parts of it that are on Google Street view. This means you end up with:

      1. Lots of Brazil, a bit of Chile but no other part of South America

      2. Pretty much all of Europe and western Russia but nothing of the Middle East.

      3. Southern Africa but nothing of the rest of the continent.

      4. Japan and Taiwan and bits of Malaysia and Thailand but nothing of the rest of Asia.

      It’s a great game in its own way but after a while you notice certain locations being repeated. Also:

      1. All parts of Australia look the same

      2. It’s very hard to tell northern Canada from Finland and Sweden.

      3. Very occassionally you will get the Azores or Cape Verde islands and they will ruin your score.

      • Tacroy says:

        It just dumped me in the friggin’ ocean looking at a friggin’ sea turtle wtf.

        Edit: yeah, it put me right here.

        So if you find yourself looking at a sea turtle, it’s in Australia.

        Edit: hell yeah my knowledge of obscure Brazilian geographical features got me 2000 points!

        Edit: the trick seems to be to learn what roads look like in various countries – that’s probably one of the best ways of discerning what continent you’re in.

        • newc0253 says:

          yes, it helps if you can figure out which side of the road they drive on.

          the left = aus, southern africa, nz and the uk

          the right = everywhere else

          however, the side of the road won’t help distinguish between:

          1. australia and parts of southern africa, which can look suprisingly similar;

          2. the entire boreal forest belt between northern canada, scandanavia and russia.

        • The Random One says:

          That turtle is awesome. I’d like the game even more if it was called Where Is This Turtle?

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          Bluerps says:

          One time I also ended up in the ocean. However, it was not the same place as yours, I think, but another island/reef nearby. There was no turtle there, though I found a ray after wandering around for a while.

      • Porpentine says:

        yeah, good point, it’s broader than most views of the world, but not complete. still really interesting.

        • Tatourmi says:

          Actually some other parts of africa ARE featured. I fell very near the Tsodilo on a dirt road.

          • newc0253 says:

            I think you’ll find Tsodilo falls within the definition of ‘Southern Africa’.

        • jrodman says:

          Perhaps he or she mentally filed the “ern” off by accident.

  7. Mr. Mister says:

    One thing: The Mercatoresness of GeoGuesser’s map gets faded away as you zoom-in.

  8. pilouuuu says:

    Your Swimsuit Jumped Over Its Own Weathercock, You Liar! shows how much more interesting dialogues could be in games.I can’t believe the greatest advance in dialogue treeshave been Mass Effect 3 dialogue wheel…

  9. Dr I am a Doctor says:

    oh god that wonder city game is written so terribly.

    • The Random One says:

      My main character was obsessed with someone named Joe at every turn and when he (she?) was finally invited to the girl’s house called her a standing stuck pig, but was still able to (his words) deposit part of his trousers.

  10. verilyso says:

    Wonder City must be one of the worst-written cyoa games/visual novels I’ve ever read.

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      I’d count the awful lolwacky pie references but that would mean actually playing the game without crying

    • The Random One says:

      Yeah, I liked what they were trying to do but the whole thing was just cringetown.

    • nimzy says:

      For a different rendition of the concept, you can always do a web search for “A Certain Scientific Railgun” or “A Certain Magical Index.” If stuff out of Japan is your thing.

  11. The Random One says:

    Does anything happen in Old Man and the Lake after the trolley shooting sequence? Because I really want to know, but I’m really bad at it :-(