Welcome to When You’re Going Through Hell, our Twilight 2000 RPG campaign log. Last time on War Is Hell, I started a review of Free League Publishing’s Twilight 2000 RPG; this series will expand upon that. Here is a chance to meet the motley crew that we rolled up using the Life Paths character generation system which I really liked. I’m not going to detail all of their stats but you get the idea from the backstories. So, without further ado…
Meet Our Crew
Kyle Van Schoen (Ice) as written and played by myself
Kyle Van Schoen is an American machine gunner. Kyle grew up in a wealthy family in the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA, USA. He learned Russian as a child to engage with his matriarchal grandmother who ruled the roost. And he went to college as expected. But he really wanted to do something more physical developing his strength. In college studying science, Kyle took up wrestling which became his passion. He developed a name for himself in the wrestling circuit while specializing in chemistry, and this attracted the attention of an influential gang expanding their meth market. The gang welcomed him as family and rewarded his physical prowess in ways his family never acknowledged. When close friend and gang leader Moondog, the brainiac of the operation so to speak, was shot by a rival gang in a bloody spectacle, the police became involved and quickly swept up the remaining gang members. Through his grandmother’s clout, Kyle was offered opportunity to join the Army to fight in the war in Europe rather than being hauled off to jail, court and prison, which would have smeared his birth family’s reputation. His incredible strength quickly cast him as a machine gunner. He nicknames his comrades under the premise that you should never reveal your true self because you don’t know who is listening.
Moral Code (quoted from Mal in Firefly, Serenity): I look out for me and mine.
Big Dream: He secretly wants to be reunited with his gang family and return to the streets of LA.
Nadya Wojcik (Nadi, nicknamed Wheelz by Kyle) as written and played by myself
Nadya Wojcik was born in Milicz to a Polish father and French mother and is much more at home under the hood of a car than engaging socially. Nadya was an only child, raised by her father after her mother died when she was only 3 years old. She took on her father’s affinity for cars and helped him out in the garage from an early age. As she gained skills as a mechanic, she became fascinated with how things worked and dabbled in gunsmithing, locksmithing, blacksmithing and finally improvised munitions as the world began to fall into upheaval. Her father was killed and their garage was destroyed when the Russians took over Milicz, and Nadya fled the city in her pickup truck. She began to learn some quartermaster skills, developing her ability to set up camp wherever she went looking for work, until she was recruited by the US Army to help with vehicle repairs after losing most of its internal logistical support.
Moral code: Fix it right the first time dammit!
Big Dream: To someday set up an auto body shop in her father’s memory.
Roger Smith (nicknamed Maestro by Kyle) as written and played by myself
Roger Smith is an African-American 1st lieutenant who comes across as a very courteous and polished man of impeccable moral character. Roger grew up in small town Alabama in the US and enjoyed deer hunting every season with his cousins, learning to handle a rifle on their isolated property away from judgmental eyes. He had wanted to make a name for himself in rock-n-roll but, in college, he soon realized that his dream of becoming a big name musician was out of reach – he was just too clean-cut for the popular scene at the time. So he went into the military to find another way to get out of the small town. His musical background and liberal arts education led him to want to inspire others and he quickly wound up on the officers’ track. Although he had only spent two terms in the military before the war broke out, he excelled at tactical training and was named a 1st lieutenant before being sent to Europe.
Moral Code: We’re all in this together.
Big Dream: To fulfill his duty to his country and then return home to his family having seen what is left of this decaying world.
Aleksy Sowka (Alek, nicknamed Scope by Kyle) as written & played by V
Aleksy (means defender of man) Sowka (means owl), Alek’s grandfather grew up in Poland. He liked to go hunting with his father. When he turned 12, his father told him he was to hunt on his own, as a rite of passage. When he was on his way home, with 3 small rabbits, he saw militants in his village. They were burning houses, killing adults and rounding up children to be sold as sex slaves. He saw his sister being raped by militants. Knowing he couldn’t change the situation, he used his rifle to shoot her in the head so she would be spared the horrors to come. Afterwards, he scavenged the village for money and supplies and made his way to the United States.
Alek grew up in a military family. His father was a Non-Com officer and ruled with an iron – but not abusive – hand. His father taught him to hunt and told him the story about his grandfather many times. Alek enjoyed using a rifle and became adept at hunting. He also learned the art of stealth, and was all that more successful because of it. He day-dreamed about saving innocent people from oppression and being the hero in a movie. As soon as he could, he enlisted in the military and thrived under the structure and discipline which accompanied military life. He eagerly learned as much as he could about ranged combat, scoped weapons, stealth, recon and combat awareness. He went into special ops as soon as he qualified. Now, as 1st Sergeant at the age of 33, he learned medical aid and command training. He was even second in command in the aftermath of a nuclear strike so has a working knowledge of radiation sickness.
Moral Code (a quote from Mahatma Gandhi): “Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defense or for defense of the defenseless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission.”
Big Dream: An idealist, he wishes to live in a community without oppression.
Patricia Smith (Trisha, nicknamed Doc by Kyle) as written & played by V
“Trisha” grew up in rural Kentucky. Her father was a farrier – a trained specialist who cares for horse’s feet. It combines the skills of blacksmith and veterinarian to trim and balance horses’ hooves, craft & maintain horseshoes and apply them to horses’ feet. Her mother was a home health aide. As a child, she loved to go with her father around the countryside. Initially, she wanted to be a veterinarian for horses. But then her father developed the tremors and shuffling gait of Parkinson’s disease. The area was so rural that there wasn’t a doctor for 200 miles. So she watched her father deteriorate. He died when she was 17. When she graduated from high school, she made a promise to herself that she would become a rural doctor. In college, she developed a fascination for and proficiency with chemicals… and discovered she threw up when she saw blood. Realizing this would make being a general practitioner difficult, she revised her goal. She decided to go into research. No blood there! But getting there would be a challenge. First, she had to earn her way up the ladder of skills – field surgeon, treating diseases, chemical poisons and antidotes, radiation sickness, etc. To her dismay, just as she was applying for that research position at John’s Hopkins University, she was drafted.
Moral Code: 1st – Don’t throw up. 2nd – Do no harm.
Big Dream: To find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease and be lead researcher at John’s Hopkins University.
Jack Max (nicknamed Brick by Kyle) as written & played by V
Jack grew up in a small house in urban Detroit. Both of his parents worked in the automobile factory and made a decent living. Jack had a little sister, 2 years younger than he. His father frequently became drunk. And when that happened, he was abusive to Jack, his sister and his mother. Jack became fiercely protective of his mother and sister, and would antagonize his father to distract him from hurting them. Unknown to him, Jack’s sister started using drugs. When she was 16, she died from an overdose of heroin. Not able to deal with the trauma of her daughter’s death, Jack’s mother hanged herself. When he graduated from high school, he was hired by a construction company and learned many useful skills. He had a good work ethic and developed an aversion to alcohol and drugs. He also became adept at scrounging for parts to fix things around his house. His short stature, however, resulted in him being bullied and picked-on by the older workers. He had to quickly learn to defend himself and gain the upper hand in order to avoid injury, or worse. Out of necessity, he developed skills in all methods of combat. Soon, his first reaction was to fight. He definitely was not a team player. With the money he earned and the skills he learned, he developed a side job fixing houses for others in the neighborhood.
When he was 25, he heard about the military’s need for recruits due to the increasingly precarious situation in Eastern Europe. Rather than getting drafted, Jack enlisted. He liked the idea of getting to fight and not get into trouble for it!
Moral Code: Every man for himself.
Big Dream: Not to have to rely on ANYBODY.
Heretic’s Fork Review: Punish Sinners Like it’s Your Job (It Is)
Welcome to your new corporate job. It’s Hell. No, really. In Heretic’s Fork, Punish sinners, chat with your co-workers, and don’t forget to check your email before you clock out!
Heretic’s Fork is a 2023 video game by 9FingerGames and published with Ravenage Games. 9FingerGames is a one-man studio run by Stevie Andrea that is also responsible for titles such as Zapling Bygone. While only out since September, Heretic’s Fork has already garnered several accolades. These include selection for Fear Fest 2023 and The Mini Indie Showcase as well as making Rock Paper Shotgun’s Bestest Bests list.
Heretic’s Fork is a deck-building, tower defense, bullet-hell (ha) game where you take on hordes of souls trying to escape Hell. To begin, you choose an employee to help you in your task. Each employee has a special ability (and variants) that do everything from nothing to stat buffs to adding whole new mechanics. For example the starting character, Intern Ruby, gives no bonuses. But, Gilbo Gibbins introduces a luck-based wheel that encourages you to gamble your cards away for potentially big rewards (and risks).
As the game progresses, you build and upgrade structures to bolster your defenses against the increasingly difficult hordes of sinners. You also have a deck, through which you upgrade your stats and gain special abilities. With rogue-like elements, you are able to unlock new cards and characters by completing goals, using coins, or finding secrets. This leaves a lot to uncover as you work your way through the circles of Hell. While your screen quickly becomes bullet hell, your structures are more or less automated and do all the sinner punishing for you. The real strategy comes in what cards (and structures) you play, upgrade, and get rid of as the game progresses.
I have a soft spot for rogue-like deck building games. Heretic’s Fork is no different. I love the diversity of game play through the many structure, character, and card options. The mechanics really complement the game play choices, making each run feel unique and rewarding.
It was easy to spend hours at a time achievement hunting and exploring the hidden secrets buried in your file systems. In fact, I easily put 20 hours into Heretic’s Fork within two weeks of buying it! It also helped that it was an easy game to play on the Steam Deck, despite it not being created with the Steam Deck in mind. That being said, endless mode did stretch my Steam Deck to its limits (but my PC did just fine). It is also of note, that since September the game has been regularly updated with both paid and unpaid bonus content. It feels like every time I’m ready to move on, something new drops and I’m forced to dive back in!
If you are a fan of tower defense, rogue-like, or deckbuilding games, Heretic’s Fork is definitely worth checking out! It’s only $10 on Steam, which is well worth the price for an interesting gaming experience.
(5 / 5)
The Thing in Review, Movie 1, Movie 2 and the Board Game
The Thing… Where to start? I guess we’ll start at the beginning, or the first movie as it were, in 1982…. (Note: for all that it is based upon the same book, I am not including the 1951 The Thing from Another World in this review as it is very different from the later iterations. Nor am I reviewing the book itself.)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a cult classic film and a staple of the horror genre despite its original release to lackluster attendance. It focuses on a small group of Antarctic researchers desperately trying to piece together the mystery of what happened at a neighboring outpost before succumbing to the horror itself. Seems that some “thing” was unearthed from its burial in the long frozen ice and has been released to roam the desolate Antarctic wasteland in a ravenous bodyshaping doppleganger frenzy.
The psychological thriller aspect of this film is laid on thick, with distrust sown between the scant trapped crew remaining, trying to figure out who is and isn’t affected. The characters don’t act irrationally based on tired tropes, making somewhat reasonable choices based on what information they have and learn over the course of the incident, save for acting solo or in pairs despite known risks.
Paranoia reigns supreme and the implications of the circumstances the crew finds themselves in are not lost in the shuffle. This elusive us-versus-them setup is the film’s best quality. And as for another film great, I totally want MacReady’s helicopter flying hat. That is some grand fashion, if I do say so myself. But I digress…
The Bad (or at least, The Ugly)
I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will mention that the alien being appears in numerous gruesome scenes. Personally, I feel that this is where the film falls short. I get that we had to see its evolving body horror nature to better understand the implications of what the alien can and cannot do as its abilities are revealed.
But it starts to fall into the campy uncanny valley bordering on comic relief when there is too much focus placed on showing the intruder. In my opinion, such vagaries are often more terrifying when left unseen, for the viewer’s imagination to run wild. That said, I will remind everyone that this was before CG, and it was a wholly different world of special effects then. So, for 1982 amidst the shiny happy wonderment surrounding E.T., The Thing was freakishly damn creepy.
I give the original film 4.0 Cthulhus.
(4 / 5)
On to the prequel, the 2011 version of The Thing exploring exactly what had happened at the Norwegian base camp, as seen in the setup in the John Carpenter release…
So, despite all of the mixed reviews out there, I rather liked the prequel. I thought it did pretty well conveying the same moods and story as the 1982 release.
As expected, the prequel did use a lot more fancy pants computer generated content to depict the sheer terror of the Thing itself. Although it relied heavily on this, I think it used the new capability rather well while still paying homage to the original. The scene developing the two-faced monster was wonderfully creepy in much the same spirit as the 1982 release. The psychological distress revved up very convincingly, with the characters’ paranoia escalating in ways that made sense internally. And the jump scares and grotesque features were good.
The Bad and the Ugly
The way that the events panned out and how the characters interacted within their circumstances was unfortunately less developed than in the original film. As a prequel, not all of the actions led into the 1982 film in ways that were believable, and thus beg the question of when all that research was conducted with the videos made and written records chronicled. The timeline just doesn’t feel at all consistent. Did this occur over a day, two days, a month, or even a few months’ time? This is not wholly clear. The movie plays out as if everything happened within 48 hours but that doesn’t naturally follow with all of the setup.
And the 2011 release relied more on typical horror tropes like scientific secrecy and splitting up in ways that don’t entirely make sense. A lot of the characters behaved less rationally even despite being shown to process the information at hand quickly. It’s almost like they were trying to set themselves up to be jump scared and assimilated. Who knows, maybe they were?
But my biggest beef with this film is the weirdness with the alien spaceship. I won’t spoil the plot by giving it away, but suffice it to say the alien’s capabilities seem more influenced by how quickly the humans learn what they can do rather than what they are actually able to accomplish, which creates a sort of unique dysfuntion all its own. I’d have shrugged this off if not for the spaceship but instead was left feeling like the movie just had to push for an Iron Man moment (like in The Martian). I guess sometimes we need a big red sign on the wall that says “Bang head here” in the form of a WTF movie moment.
So I give the 2011 prequel only 3.0 Cthulhus. If I had seen this first I don’t know that I’d have gone out of my way to see the 1982 release, and it really just wasn’t as good as the original despite the psychological tension and creepy factor. I know I started off this mini-review stating that I rather liked it, and I genuinely did. But then again I also rather liked parts of The Minions movie from the Despicable Me enterprise (it had me laughing any way; what can I say, I’m easy sometimes), so you do the math…
(3 / 5)
The Board Game
And finally, The Thing the board game, based on the 1982 film. Note: there are previous games along themes of The Thing, but I have only played the recent 2022 release. All of the versions have had mixed reviews, mostly being compared to the Battlestar Galactica game of hidden identities, often held as the pinnacle of this “hidden role” game style.
I really like this game. I love that you can sow paranoia as you try to figure out who is and isn’t human. And if you don’t have enough players to really delve into the psychological aspects of this, with every man out for himself, you can play cooperatively against the game itself as the harsh environment, sabotage and alien infiltration take their toll. And as many of you know, I adore cooperative games.
The board game is a hidden identity structure featuring characters from the 1982 movie. Player characters do not know whether the others are human or are alien-imitating-fake-human trying to assimilate them into the alien threat. Everyone is acting upon their own motives and suspicions as they try to get the hell outta Dodge back to the civilized world. I have not been able to approach this in the full version as my tabletop game group is small, but the cooperative version does still offer some sense of the terror and urgency felt.
The game mechanics are a bit chunky but they aren’t overly complicated and the game doesn’t generally outlast its run time of around an hour once you get the hang of the actions and how the phases play out. Again, we’ve played it cooperatively and this may or may not hold true depending on your game group. First off, you have to account for the weather, which always comes first in such an inhospitable environment as Antarctica. Next, player characters determine where they are going and theoretically what they are doing, though this doesn’t reveal itself immediately and doesn’t necessarily make it apparent who is and isn’t human. Then the alien threat is established and the leader takes a role in determining what happens where. Eventually, food is eaten, tests are administered, and the dogs get out and wreak havoc.
The art is lovely and hearkens to the original film. And the game is fun. But the game mechanics and rules are not entirely well-explained in all circumstances, including the translation between standard and cooperative play, and the playbook raises more questions than answers. There is much heated debate over the interpretation of this, and my group was not exempt from the discussion around when exactly the dogs get out.
Returning to the film does not offer a better explanation, as the game deviates from the movie in enough ways to create possibilities around actions too far gone, such as blood testing or repairing the communications to call for help. And the original monstrous dog has a big role at the start of the film, pretty much going wherever it likes, so are the dogs supposed to be in or out? Unsure. So expect to get bogged down in this discourse for awhile, especially if you don’t all agree on how the game should be played.
The Fine Print
Because of this extra confusion, sowing dissent for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie or theme and everything to do with people having their own ideas of how the rules and setup should be interpreted, I give the game only 3.0 Cthulhus. Lack of definition in these circumstances is not a boon, and should not be left to the imagination (unlike the portrayal of monstrous creatures which can benefit from not revealing too much). And since everyone is paranoid and self-serving, it only muddles up discussion of how to interpret the rules more, depending on what side you’re on, human versus alien threat… That said, the game is fun and, if your gaming group isn’t full of a bunch of rules lawyers like mine is, hopefully you won’t get too bogged down in the fine print.
(3 / 5)
And for follow up, we decided to ignore the forums and make a house rule that one dog begins outside of the kennel sowing confusion and the location deck is interacted with from there to see if the other dogs are released. This seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of the original film, for whatever that’s worth. The other dogs weren’t even shown to be at risk until that dog is taken to the kennel, so maybe they shouldn’t come out to play until exposed. And here we go again…
More Game Reviews
If you enjoyed this review and want to explore another creepy cooperative game with lots of character motive, feel free to read about Dead of Winter. Or you can delve further into the survivalist genre with Ravine.
Fear & Hunger (2018), a Game Review
Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen, using RPG Maker for a dungeon-crawling horror.
Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen. This RPG Maker game brings to life a dungeon-crawling horror set in a grimdark fantasy world. Published by Happy Paintings, this game remains available on Steam and Itch.io.
You are one of four adventurers tasked with uncovering the truth of a dungeon simply called Fear and Hunger. Fighting through the horrors, you must manage your hunger, health, and sanity. But with fate stacked against you, how can you hope to survive?
What I like about Fear & Hunger
Despite the plethora of RPG Maker horrors, Fear & Hunger stands out in nearly every way. While it looks like an RPG Maker game, the aesthetic provides a uniquely decrepit and haunting visual uncommon even among the horrors.
Fear & Hunger wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Any casual search on the development, even the aesthetics, will reveal these influences. However, it weaves these inspirations to add something new.
This game is excruciatingly hard and unfair in the best of ways! I tried a few runs with specific tests in mind. One was on the default experience, or “easy mode.” This mode affects how much damage monsters can take before dying but doesn’t notably affect your “luck” rolls. It’s these luck rolls that truly make the experience. Every step can lead to danger, forcing you into rolls that may cost your life.
Many factors lead to abrupt endings or benefits, making each playthrough unique. Each level has a few different potential layouts. While not procedural generation, this provides variety throughout playthroughs.
There are several options and ways to play that I enjoy indulging in, following the structural choices akin to Souls-like games. While there are no inherent right ways to play, there are easier options and tactical decisions. This truth applies to character selection. In fighting, the Knight gave me the easiest introduction. The Dark Priest requires more tactical gameplay but companionless potential if played to their unique strengths. The Barbarian can provide the easiest food resource and competent combat. Lastly, the Mercenary acts more like a rogue, so try and avoid initial confrontation.
Tired Tropes and Triggers
The most important trigger to mention is sexual assault. This game, unfortunately, includes several examples of sexual assault and abuse. While these often lead to blackout screens, the game leaves nothing to the imagination. The creator took the feedback to heart and made drastic changes to the sequel to minimize these moments. However, this doesn’t change the first Fear & Hunger.
If you get squeamish by pixelated nudity, then it’ll be hard to overlook the quantity found in Fear & Hunger. There’s more male nudity throughout the game. This point is especially the case when concerning enemies. Regardless, it remains ever-present. A game option might even turn you into a nude abomination.
As a sanity meter implies, characters can have mental breakdowns. Characters must indulge in various activities, including drug use, to survive.
What I Dislike about Fear & Hunger, or Food for Thought
Failure often leads to punishment. Where most games provide a game over, Fear & Hunger forces you to play. In these moments, the character is usually bleeding out and crawling, with little hope for salvation. I don’t exactly understand this gameplay decision. You lost to die again? There are likely ways to survive these scenarios, but some moments seem impossible and unrewarding.
I’ve heard mention that this game “hates you.” While I disagree with the wording, I will say that chance plays a heavy role in your survival. You can do everything right, but a few uncontrollable rolls can doom you to death. These dice rolls even affect when and if you get a saving book or can rest (to save), which likely means you lose progress.
Despite the innovation in gameplay mechanics, this remains an RPG Maker game. Movement remains linear, requiring the keypad to adjust to specific angles.
Fear & Hunger remain terrifying. As one delves further into the dungeon, harder choices force the character into more desperate acts. Few games truly make these decisions necessary, like Fear & Hunger. While mechanics are a bit janky, and the material does shock for the sake of shocking the viewer, it captures a darkness few games dare to cross.
(4 / 5)