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The Bestest Best Being Pleasantly Lost Of 2014: Bernband

Wandering around an alien city

Give up on trying to find your way around Bernband's neon alien futurecity. Give in to wandering, see where your tippy-tappy feet and the turbolifts take you. One minute's wandering might take you through a bustling club, over a bridge with hovercars zipping past, to a horrible trumpet performance, then bumping into an alien weeing in a corner. Variety is the spice of life, They say.

Graham: Science fiction says that people living in crowded, loud, futurist cities will turn to virtual reality in order to visit peaceful forests and remember what the sky looked like. What it won't tell you is that the reverse is true, too: I can see trees outside my window, but I long for a crowded metropolis full of strange aliens and jazz bars.

Bernband offers that and it's become an extension of the ways in which I try to create ambiance in my home. The other methods I use are all good, too - Noisli offers some background hum, music can add a little old-fashioned class, and street-level YouTube videos can whisk me momentarily away somewhere else - but I can sink further into Bernband. The common complaint that all you do is walk around in games like this betrays how good games are at giving you the experience of walking around. And they are the only medium that can do this.

From a point of remove, Bernband is impressive over and above other walking simulators because it wrings atmosphere and a strong sense of place from such a small number of pieces. The bridges you cross and bars and churches you stroll past are barely textured, and the aliens who walk, dance and chunter are crude 2D sprites. It certainly benefits from riffing on familiar kinds of futurist cities - there's a lot of Blade Runner here, a dab of Star Wars' cantina there - but mainly it sucks you in and takes you to that place with music, lighting, and a pixellated filter that turns rough edges into an aesthetic.

But screw standing at a point of remove. I didn't vote for Bernband because it was cleverly made, but because I love spending time in it.

Alice: I did have something to say about the freedom of being alone in a crowd, the joy of noise washing over you and filling you, and the pleasure of wandering with no purpose beyond wanting to have time to yourself and see some interesting things, but I couldn't quite find the words. Instead, have a few of my snaps from my travels in Bernband:

This band play loud and they play relentlessly. I'd happily stay here all evening, the noise blocking everything, but it seems too early in my wanderings to settle.

This fella in the metro station keeps barking at me. I think they think I'm trying to listen in on their call. Honestly, if you're worried that everyone's staring at you, remember that everyone else is as caught up in their own lives as you are in yours.

Stumbled into a classroom. Whoops. They didn't mind, but I felt rude.

The folks at this child's awful trumpet recital clap a little too enthusiastically.

This dark theatre with a dance performance is way more my scene.

I don't understand the art in this city. They're really big on Troll dolls. I try not to divine 'meaning' but I do wonder what's going on. Maybe that trumpeting was considered great here.

Slightly nervous walking across this catwalk with hovercars zipping past above and below. Maybe I shouldn't be here. I'm sure it'll be fine. Keep on walking and I'll end up somewhere.

Found this lot in a distant corner of a deserted car park.

I accidentally ended up inside that fish tank at one point.

There's something hostile about the glare of this greenhouse and the chirping of birds I can't see.

I spend a lot of time looking up. I'm a huge advocate of looking up, discovering parts of the world we never usually see. I want to shake people who go everywhere looking down at the ground.

I like this bar but...

I feel like I'm crashing these strangers' groups. I'm perfectly happy going to clubs (and movies, gigs, restaurants...) by myself but can feel anxious people might mistakenly think I'm trying to dance with them. Nah, I'm cool by myself, ta. I've mostly stopped doing it as I end up dancing tighter, unable to just feel the music when I'm worried I might be imposing on other people's evening, and don't enjoy it as much. Besides, I keep being distracted by that guy pissing in the corridor outside.

Found myself in a dead-end alley with a quiet bar and a beautiful view of the city. The bartender waved at me. It's the sort of place I'd settle with a book. That's what I ended up doing on my last holiday, drunkenly meandering across Paris with a book in my pocket, being a bit confused but enjoying gawping at stuff.

Just a hovering orb I guess.

Is this the power core? It goes up a long way. Should I be down here? How did I get down here?

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