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Here’s a genre of horror in gaming we haven’t touched upon yet – the interactive drama survival horror. Although, I’m not certain that it constitutes as its own genre as there are really only two games that come to mind, being 2015’s Until Dawn by Supermassive Games and Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. But if there are any more games of this design out there, please do let me know and I’ll get onto the genre police right away and have interactive drama survival horrors officially instated as an official genre with their minimum three title requirement. Either way, today we’ll be examining the PS4 exclusive Until Dawn and seeing what happens when the Goosebumps choose-your-own-adventure books that I used to hide in the school library from the other kids are made digital,  injected with young adult horniness, and a lot of blood and gore.


The real challenge is trying not to kill off the annoying ones

It’s hard to talk about the story without talking about the gameplay as the nature of the genre (interactive dramas are a little more common than interactive drama survival horror e.g. Detroit: Become Human) is directly built around the branching narrative thread mechanics that is its main attraction. As such no two play throughs are ever the same, as the advertisements say, due to the game’s ‘butterfly effect’ system that swears even the tiniest decisions can greatly increase and decrease the character’s chances of survivability. With that said, the main premise of the game is that a group of friends are returning to a holiday lodge on a snowy and isolated mountain one year after the accidental death of their two friends at the same lodge through bullying by said group of friends. From the get go we’re not made to like any of the characters but as the game cleverly posits you in the shoes of each of the seven characters at one time or another (sadly Rami Malek is not playable). In doing so you get to see the inner workings of their mind and how they engage with the other characters, forcing relatability. Naturally players will feel more drawn to one character over another (I personally only liked Hayden Panettiere and Mike because he was hot) and wanting to keep each character alive as they all split apart in their own storylines can be challenging. As much as the game boasts the variety of narrative threads to follow, it is rather linear in where characters can go and what they can do, and is more about finding clues along the way to keep your characters from biting the dust while trying to say the right things to get them to bang while being chased by a creepy clown murderer. The story is quite stellar in its pacing though and keeps the mystery interesting and unfolding in an intriguing way, making sure that players are always engaged.


Quicktime events are not the same thing as fun

I loathe quicktime events, as do a lot of gamers. They’re a cheap way of forcing suspense and risk by making the player press a random button at the exact right time to keep them from dying or stumbling. Until Dawn is full of quicktime event sequences that have the player choose betweeen safe and treacherous paths while escaping danger ot trying to save someone. Too many stumbles in the quicktime events and your character fails, and choose too many safe paths your character fails. Outside of these sequences a chunk of the gameplay is made up of exploration and the aforementioned gathering of clues. But what Until Dawn really brings to the table to innovate the genre (easy to do when there’s only two titles in the genre) is its adaptive horror system. Acting as prologues to each story chapter is the appearance of Peter Stormare (Fargo) as a therapist for the actual player. His purpose is to recount the events of the game, judge the player for their actions, prod them with questions about their decisions, and most importantly to create a pyschological profile of the player. The therapist will ask the player to tell them which they find scarier, spiders or snakes, scarecrows or clowns, barns or caves, knives or guns, and will change certain aspects of the main story to enhance the horror value for the player. While this is certainly welcome and a fun experiment, it isn’t implemented in any meaningful way other than some graphic changes in certain scenes i.e. the killer chases you with an uzi instead of a letter opener.


When you can’t decide, choose everything

For a game so centred on making their players meditate on their choices and regret them later for not being careful enough, the developers certainly did not share the same philosophy in putting the game together. Don’t get me wrong they clearly love the game and love horror as a whole, but the game is a bit weird and unfocused when one considers the amount of tropes and directions they’ve thrown into the title. The beginning of the game sets up a stalker slash slasher kind of thing, but then there is also a scene with a ouija board (on which I have given my opinion.) which sets up a ghost story, but then there are torture dungeons which feel like Saw, and then things start to go supernatural, and then we go to a mental asylum for reasons, and there’s a cabin in the woods too. All the different directions, plus how keen it is to change things up via the adaptive horror mechanic, leaves the game feeling a bit unrefined. Although for lovers of horror they might take it as pure fun and as a love letter. Until Dawn does also boast some top notch graphics, production design, and aural atmospheres that certainly tie the horror elements neatly together.


Until Dawn is not at all an until yawn

I’ve played this game three times, once when I was 17, another when I was 19, and another when I was 20 which actually was me watching my non-gamer friends play it together for the first time. One of the greatest things about Until Dawn is its core cinematic experience which really lends itself to players not adept at gaming mechanics or keen on contesting with a gun, approaching enemies and a health bar. It really is a lot of fun to play and its story and characters drive the experience more than anything if you push through the quicktime sequences. My only other gripe with the game is its sort of variability in narrative – if characters die it’s more likely that they just won’t show up in following scenes rather than entire narrative threads ending which limits the stakes a bit. Actually, that reminds me, for all the sluething you do to keep your characters alive and all the careful dialogue choices you make to ensure good feelings between the cast, there are a few random choices and quicktime moments that can kill your character in an instant which felt horrendously unfair (see, the final chapter). But all in all I highly recommend playing this game and can’t fault its entertainment value enough. Three Cthulhus out of five. More to be read here. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Quest Master @ PAX: A Dungeon-Builder First Look



Next in my journey of all the cool games I saw at PAX, Quest Master! Quest Master is a love letter to retro dungeon crawlers and level designers. Taking inspiration from both Mario Maker and the Legend of Zelda franchise, Quest Master promises the ability to play and design dungeons with a variety of enemies, traps, and puzzles. 

Check out the Quest Master game announcement here:

I was given a private 30-minute demo, where I got to try out some of the core features in a pre-beta version of Quest Master. This demo was led by one of the developers, Julian Creutz who shared some insight into the game design and user experience. My interview with Julian about Quest Master can be found here.

Quest Master has two main modes, playing dungeons and building them. I got to try out both, though I had a more comprehensive experience playing dungeons. While playing dungeons, the game mechanics were intuitive and simple. However, I was continuously surprised by the complexities offered by the puzzle and logic systems. For example, you can collect a boomerang which is incredibly easy to use. To solve one of the puzzles, I had to throw the boomerang through a torch (which I thought was just decorative) to catch the boomerang on fire and enable it to activate a gem. While the individual mechanics were basic, they combined into a sophisticated puzzle-solving experience.


Immediately, I was eager to look under the hood and see how the dungeon building mode enables the puzzle solving as previously described. Once again, I was impressed with the sophistication of a system with such simple mechanics. The controls for building weren’t intuitive for me, though I also don’t use a controller for much of my gaming (like I was during the demo). Additionally, I could see how it would be really easy to get accustomed to as you build.

As it was a short demo, I wasn’t able to try any of the multiplayer features (i.e. co-op, online map sharing) so I can’t speak to the success of their implementation. As this is supposed to be a large part of the game, I’m wary of wholeheartedly suggesting Quest Master for those interested in the multiplayer experience. However, I was impressed with Quest Master’s modern take on retro dungeon crawlers like the Legend of Zelda games. The graphics and controls feel like much needed quality of life updates for a system taking inspiration from older classics. 

I recommend wishlisting Quest Master if you are a fan of old Legend of Zelda games or are looking for a fresh take on the dungeon builder genre. If Quest Master interests you, don’t forget to check out my conversation with Julian too!

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Check out my other PAX posts here!


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Interview with Game Dev Julian Creutz: Quest Master @ PAX



As mentioned in previous posts, I had the opportunity to demo a pre-early access version of the game Quest Master alongside the Lead Developer, Julian Creutz. Quest Master is a Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Maker inspired dungeon crawling and building video game. While the other post covers the game itself, this one covers the inspiration and vision for the game as told by Julian.

How did you become involved in video game development?

I’ve been a huge gamer, and especially a Zelda fan, ever since I was a little child when my dad put a GameBoy Advance with “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” into my hands. Sometime during elementary school I started dabbling with game development using visual tools like Scratch and GameMaker. I quickly got into making Zelda fan games and had dreamt of the day when I would make my own Zelda game one day. Over the years I’ve honed my game development and programming skills, resulting in where I am today.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the development process?


Developing Quest Master is essentially like making two games at once – the making and the playing part. Both of these game elements have to be equally as polished to form a cohesive one.

The most difficult thing by far about the game’s development has been to make the maker mode experience intuitive for first-time users and people who know nothing about Zelda-like games, but at the same time powerful and complex enough to allow creating anything you could dream of.

One good example is the gameplay feature to link certain parts to others, like linking a pressure plate to opening a door. We’ve been through countless iterations affecting both the visual, gameplay and user experience aspects of it – I hope that the one we are using right now is the final one!

Quest Master takes a lot of inspiration from classic dungeon-crawlers like the Legend of Zelda franchise. What about these games was so enchanting to you and how does Quest Master try to capture that enchantment?

As described earlier, I’m like the biggest Zelda fan, which I’m sure shows. My gripe with many Zelda-likes on the market is that none perfectly capture the feel of the classic entries… there’s always something missing.


I confidently believe that Quest Master differs from that greatly. We are trying to make Quest Master feel like an in-house 2D Zelda like Nintendo used to make, just from an indie team like ours. Many people crave the classic 2D entries, just like I do.

What emotions do you hope the player will experience while playing Quest Master? What design choices were made to assist in that desired atmosphere?

A big aspect of Quest Master is its local multiplayer. The game is deliberately designed to work flawlessly with that, and makers can create specialized puzzles in the game that require all players to work together for example. The result is both rewarding, funny, and sometimes infuriating altogether, for example when one of your buddies throws you into a hole.

As a community dungeon maker, what features are you most excited to see implemented in player-made dungeon crawls?

I’ve already been hugely amazed by the creations of the existing Quest Master demo. With all the new features the game will launch into Early Access with, I bet this will be tenfold. I myself always enjoy the brain busting puzzles people come up with. Other things I also like a lot are the unintended mechanics the players find, which dynamically emerge from the many, many gameplay systems working together.


What’s it been like working with Apogee, an indie publisher who goes back to the early 1990’s and has a long legacy of terrific game releases?

I’ve only had very few interactions with game publishers in the past, and Quest Master is my first large scale commercial game project. There’s preconceived notions floating around everywhere on the internet about how evil game publishers are and how much better you would be off self-publishing your game. Contrary to that, working with Apogee has been nothing short of supportive and family-like. They are very invested in the project, and they have many Zelda fans on the team also helps a lot. They are supercharging the potential of Quest Master and without them the game would not be where it is today.

Is there anything else you would like to plug or that you think is important for people to know about Quest Master or other upcoming projects?

Early Access is just the beginning! Quest Master will be hugely expanded upon during its Early Access phase, with many more themes, dungeon parts and entire new gameplay features coming in short intervals and a rapid update schedule. There are always new things around the corner. For example, things like the singleplayer story campaign and the overworld maker will be most likely not be part of the initial Early Access release, but we will make sure to build anticipation by introducing bits and pieces into the world of Quest Master to build up to that.

I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am!


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LONESTAR @ PAX: Spaceships and Bounty Hunting



This past week I had the opportunity to go to my very first PAX East convention! For those who are unfamiliar, PAX East is a large gaming convention in Boston. This year marked its 20th anniversary, which meant an extra layer of celebration and festivities! Courtesy of a HauntedMTL Media Badge, I got to play tons of new games and meet even more interesting people. One of the games I was able to demo was LONESTAR by developer Math Tide. 

LONESTAR is a roguelike spaceship building game reminiscent of FTL and Dicey Dungeons. It was released for early access on Steam in January and has gotten largely positive feedback. In the game, you play as a bounty hunter traveling through various sectors to defeat your bounties. Along the way you can visit a shop, take a breather, or experience other various events. 

I was able to play the early access build for thirty minutes on the showroom floor, and I was pretty instantly hooked. I love roguelike deckbuilders, with Slay the Spire (especially the Downfall fan expansion) being a strong favorite. LONESTAR nails what I love from the genre, with an aesthetic smoothly integrated in its form and function and novel gameplay mechanics.

A screenshot from the LONESTAR Steam Page of game play.

LONESTAR’s ‘deckbuilding’ element takes the form of ship systems. You can collect, buy, and upgrade them as you progress through a run. However, your ship only has so much space on board. As a player, you have to prioritize weapons and utility systems while also ensuring you diversify your damage output/defense across all three sections of your ship. At the beginning of each round, you are randomly given number values that can be input into your ship systems to achieve varied effects. The enemy responds in kind, meaning whoever can get the highest damage output is who overwhelms the other in the round.

I loved the possibilities for synergy and strategy as your pilot explored more dangerous sectors. It was incredibly rewarding to turn a couple of crap numbers into a super powerful attack. I also enjoyed the various options for “vacation” time in between battles, which kept everything feeling fresh. Of note, I only played for thirty minutes. While they were a rewarding thirty minutes, the game was not incredibly difficult. I cannot speak on the general replayability, though I would have been happy to continue playing for at least another hour. My only critique from the whole experience was that some of the vocabulary was unclear. However, that could have been due to starting mid-run during my demo. 


If you enjoy deckbuilders and are interested in a spaceship game a bit easier than FTL, I think LONESTAR is a great choice. It is still in early access, however, I feel confident that the game is plenty of fun already. It is also only $10, so definitely worth taking a chance on. I’ll continue to watch the development of LONESTAR with great excitement! 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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