It's been a weird year at RPS for me. After eight years as news editor, I started the nebulous new role of associate editor. This brought a broad mandate to cover indie games and PC Game Pass and to do, like, whatever else I think might be fun or good. It has been weird to not clock in and just Do News, and to have responsibility only over myself. This freedom has felt great when I've had ideas, and terrible when I've not. I'm still feeling it out, settling in, and making mistakes, but I'm quite enjoying myself. Hopefully you have enjoyed some of it too. Here are a few of my favourite things I've written this year!
My biggest project was my Tour de Jeux, a cycling tour of PC gaming spanning 12 posts, 14 games, a handful of videos, and 11,146 words. I got back into cycling during lockdown, hard, and was keen to look at bikes in games and in life. Running alongside the Tour De France, my Tour De Jeux checked out xtreme sports games, strategy games, bicycles in multiplayer shooters, cute indie walking simulators and visual novels, childhood adventures, and even a game powered by riding my real bike, as well as chatting about the Tour, bicycles in general, and my own cycling adventures.
Riders Republic is an arcade racing game which evokes enough of cycling to be delightful in a way the official Tour De France game isn't. The hum of your tyres and the whirr of your drivetrain, all throbbing slightly as effort shifts across each pedal stroke. Your view wobbling and jostling. The shudder when a corner is a little tight. The sound of tyre biting into terrain on turns. Little creaks and rattles from components. My rider panting and gasping. The whoosh of passing objects. Long grass tapping in my spokes, bushes scratching at my side. It's no simulation (it is extremely forgiving of ambulance-worthy manoeuvres, for one) but it feels good. Simply riding a bicycle is fun in this game.
I especially like that Riders Republic evokes some terrors of cycling. Bikes noisily skid and shudder when pushed too far, threatening to go out of control. Brakes aren't enough for really steep hills either, leaving you wrestling with an unstoppable skid (the absolute worst feeling on a bike). The field of view pulls out at high speeds too, a slightly out-of-body experience. As someone who fears heights and has lost a little skin to hills, the game has me pulling back in my chair and twisting uncomfortably during some downhill races, so sucked into the screen that I want to get away. I hate it, and that's great.
At the start of the year, back in the news department, I had a great deal of fun sighing and groaning about NFTs. Publishers were up to rubbish and nonsense but I did at least sometimes enjoy the opportunity to 'go off', as the kids say. I was glad to see the terrible ideas start to wither and die until I realised, wait, actually, NFTs are the future, and it's a fantastic future we should all get behind. So I started writing Non-Fungible Future, a series of young adult cyberpunk novels about teenage cryptorebels saving the dystopian future using NFTs.
The sky above the port was the colour of YouTube, tuned to a dead channel. 5arah.eth flicked off her augmented reality video overlay and cursed. Damn, the Web 2.0 centralisers had finally cracked down on Elizab.eth, her favourite content creator. Unless... still kicking her legs over edge of the long-dry dock, 5arah jacked back in and dove into the deep web. The datastreams felt cool around the fingers of her dataglove. Is this how rivers had felt, she wondered, or is this pleasant sensation the original content of a haptics Jedi ninja master? This thought was interrupted as her fingertips brushed against the packet she'd been searching for. 5arah grubbed for purchase in the dark depths of the web and heaved with all her bandwidth, raising to the surface the unmistakable neon blue links of a blockchain. Heh. Centralised media might kill Liz's channels and bury her discoverability but they can't censor her spirit and they sure as $SHIB can't break the 'chain.
Noting the DAO's buy-in cost, 5arah flipped open her crypto wallet and executed the blockchain authentication gesture tied to her biometrics: pointing a fingergun upwards under her chin as if to splatter her engrams across the infobahn, and pulling the trigger. Transfer complete. She hadn't just bought access to the private server, she'd bought enough votes to make Elizab.eth cosplay as a totally cringe meme during the next stream. 5arah.eth spat out her gum (Hot Takes flavour, always), cleared her throat, and joined the voice channel.
"Guess who's back, motherfungers."
Speaking of kewl hackers, I also enjoyed celebrating Cyber Monday with a series of daft posts about mirrorshades, knuckle tattoos, and a Swiss army knife for PowerPoint presentations. Because we all know that Cyber Monday is about cyberspace and hackers and cyberpunk and nothing else. I had hoped to do more, and better, but ah it's okay. I did find it very funny that William Gibson himself responded to chat about mirrorshades as an infosec hazard.
Mirrorshades are a powerful accessory. On a practical level, they're defensive. With your eyes mirrored-over, someone can't see where you're looking, which means they can't predict what you'll do and can't tell if you've noticed what they're doing. Mirrorshades also protect you from the retinal scans of The Man and His many drones and spycams. They're emotionally defensive too. Eyes are windows to the soul, they say, and you refuse to make a connection. Let no one meet your eye (and certainly not know if you're about to cry). When someone looks at you, they see only themself staring back. Or better yet, they see a reflection of the skyline and neon lights—as if the city is you and you are the city. When you don mirrorshades, you're standing behind a one-way mirror with the world as your interrogation room. But I fear mirrorshades may have become unsafe.
Honestly, that post exists primarily because I thought a pair of mirrorshades reflecting Solitaire rather than a dystopian skyline would be a funny twist on a classic cyberpunk image. And it is. I enjoyed the process of taking that mirrorshades photo too. I spent ages squished in front of my monitor, staring into my red rear bike light balanced on the corner of my screen, trying to angle reflections just right while holding my phone up and snapping on the selfie camera. This would have been so much easier with a real camera, or an assistant.
And on the subject of putting so much more effort into an image than anyone would ever notice or appreciate, I opened up about how often I delight in creating those details. After spending hours capturing one screenshot and 43 seconds of video showing a cat in Morrowind (for a post about a parent modding in the family cat to protect their kids from mudcrabs), I explained that process in my first Screenshot Secrets post.
Why faff with mods when you can shrink your wizard down to 30% of their normal size? Then turn the FOV down as narrow as it'll go, turn off the HUD, put your weapon away, and you have a great first-person camera. I was very pleased to think of this solution. After a few snaps, I have a screenshot I'm happy with. While I'm scornful of the 'bullshots' publishers often stage to sell games, trickery is fine when it's to show people a nice cat.
I was glad to have time for Screenshot Saturday Mondays, reviving a column started by Jay Castello then continued by Nat Clayton. Every week, a pick of a dozen-odd interesting screenshots and video clips from indie games which caught my eye on Twitter's #ScreenshotSaturday share-o-rama. It's exciting to write, scrolling through hundreds of tweets and seeing the vast range of indie games, and a great way to spot upcoming games we should pay more attention to. I don't know what will happen after Elon Musk kills Twitter.
My new role also gave me time to revive my mission to answer the biggest question: what's the best thing in video games? A toughie. So each week, I pick two directly comparable things (e.g. "dynamic music or hex grids?", "ridiculous spell animations or the mangled hands of Ethan Winters?"), examine them, then turn it over to you to vote. We're still in the first round but surely I will soon have covered every single thing in video games. Maybe at some point I'll court suggestions for more things. The format has been a fun writing prompt for me, and I've very much enjoyed your serious debate in the comments over these serious issues.
This bit is from a favourite, What's better: a level 1 rat, or Alone In The Dark's jacket inventory?
Reader The Dear, my friend, swallow your spite. Punch down the feeling that you are being insulted. Question your knee-jerk reaction that this is beneath you. The innkeeper (her name is Judith, by the way, not that your type ask) is doing you a great kindness. She doesn't know you. To Judith, you're just another bright-eyed rube starting out with dreams of adventure and fortune who'll end up dull-eyed in a ditch. These ten level 1 rats are a test.
Could you kill a rat? Can you look at a glossy little lad, grown fat on brewer's barley and dropped pork scratchings, and put a blade between his bright eyes? I'm asking both physically and emotionally. Have you seen how fast rats move? Have you seen how cute they are? Can you kill one and then keep on killing after the first fleck of blood hits your face? Can you heave aside the sacks of neeps and tatties his family will flee behind? If you can, hey, maybe you're ready to carve a bloodsoaked path across the land in search of fame, fortune, vengeance, or whatever the hell it is you think you deserve. But if this first step causes you to stumble, Judith knows where you'll be two days from now. She can't keep doing this.
But I'll tell you what I didn't do this year: replace the increasingly gross corpse of a mangled old mousepad. Yes, the ruminations on its decay will, I am sorry to say, continue. Certainly nothing to do with me processing grief in a way I think some people might find funny.
You felt the pressure give out against your wrist, heard a flop, and looked down. There it was. A lump fell out. A big lump, by your foot. After the dread of what might happen when it inevitably emerged, it was just there. You pick the lump up and look at it. It's a big lump, no doubt. And it did look like a bubbled and cracked lump of charred flesh still soft with tacky yellow fat on the inside. Yet you're surprised by how calm you feel. It's not so bad out in the open. This is what you were so worried about? This was the pressure shifting beneath the skin, the pinch in your vein, the tumour you kept pushing back, the horor you hoped to never experience in daylight? So what? It's not so bad.
I have no idea what I'm doing next year, but I didn't know what I was doing this year either. Let's find out together. Thanks for reading!