How To Right Gud: An Homage To Terry Pratchett

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Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is awesome. I could stop right there but that would sort of defeat the self engrandizing journey of praise I’d like to set out upon for this, not long for the world, amazing author. I came to the game so to speak probably far after many had discovered his writing. But that’s always the way for me: late to the party and the last one standing. Strangely enough that’s also only half true as I actually read a graphic novel ‘Mort’ when I was younger that is an adaptation of the novel of his which shares the name. But since I can claim ignorance at the time of not actually knowing it was Terry’s work I still hold to the aforementioned statement that I did not read his work until recently, or at the very least, knowingly.

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Why do I love his work so much? That’s what I’m waxing on about isn’t it. So I’d best get to it. When I read his books I smile, I laugh, I learn, and maybe most important of all, I laugh at myself. In the Disc-World works there are over fourty books. To say that Terry was prolific would be an impressive understatement. The man simply never stopped writing. Up until he passed away he wrote and did so even when he himself could not put a pen to the page. He had someone take dictation and continued on in that way as well. Anyways, I digress.

In these many books I don’t understand and am constantly humbled by how he never ran out of something to say. And there in a way is the lesson I took away from him. He’s the ultimate example of what a writer should do if he wants to improve, grow, evolve, or any other fancy adjective you can throw at the wall: you should write. Yes some of it may be better or worse, but that is hardly the point. The point is to write, unashamedly, unabashedly, unanotherwordedly. Our greatest glory is not in never writing pure garbage, but in writing pure garbage until it becomes someone else’s treasure. I’m now a staunch believer in the counter concept that, you can in fact, polish a turd. To make this point in another way. Terry has made me less afraid of my writing. Inaction is the mother failure, and upon further thought, the distant cousin of masturbating far too much.

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We worry and worry and worry and melt away in a boiling non existence of existential crisis far to often wishing that we made the next great work, the world changer that all will bow before. The Disc-World books made me realize finally how unoriginal that is. A sharp adherence to practiced set standards leads to the constant problem: same shit different manuscript. Writing is meant to be play, to entertain! I feel like you see this a lot in Terry’s irreverent non-stop word play. The man is constantly creating words, messing with the ones we know and liberating us from the misunderstanding that language is law. Language is a symbol of our better selves and our better selves are not ruled by laws. They are freed by creation. Granted to write a sentence with zero punctuation that carries on for ages when it should have stopped an eternity ago can get you in serious trouble if you’re not careful and a lot of people will have your head for it but if you stick to your convictions and run with it you may be surprised at the end result… it might be funny?

So that’s what Terry Pratchett means to me. Don’t be so insufferably strict with how you right. Play with language. If you are doing it for any other reason than the clacking you feel under your fingers as you go along, you may want to examine your goals.

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SOMA Game Review

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Like many a nerdy dreamer I to have found myself caught up in the excitement of starting a let’s play channel (thegreatowl). For the uninitiated, that’s a Youtube channel where you upload playlists of games you are playing through or any other content as it relates to games: reviews, reviews of items in games, commentaries as you play, stuff like that.

I’d been away from gaming for some time as I have focused on writing but saw this as a way to get back into it without it feeling entirely indulgent. Basically I finally had an excuse to play games and call it work. Thank the gods.

One of the greatest things about getting back into it has been observing the world of video games as it has evolved so much over the past half decade or so that I have been away. One particular genre of games, of which this piece of writing concerns itself with, is survival horror.

Yes, we’ve seen earlier iterations of this kind of game before, such as the original ‘Resident Evil’ or ‘Silent Hill’ but let me tell you, have they ever come a long way. These new games make the old ones, unsurprisingly, look dated beyond compare.

The game I picked up off the Playstation online store goes by the name of SOMA. This is not the first game of this kind produced by the company ‘Frictional Games’. Their original was a game called ‘Amnesia’. While I intend to dedicate most of this writing to SOMA, Amnesia as well deserves a nod, and was a staggering achievement in terms of what can now be accomplished in a game setting that must have suspension of disbelief or fall apart utterly.

I should say first as well I am not usually a fan of horror movies, or having the shit scared out of me. Which makes even further the point that this game performed an incredible feat to draw my interest. Now on to what makes this game so great in my opinion.

I’ve already mentioned in passing the first reason: suspension of disbelief. When creating a survival horror environment game designers are faced with a monumental task: make what is entirely safe and harmless, seem like it’s going to kill you. It is then paramount that the player be completely immersed in the game world. Snap out of the immersion for even a moment and what you are doing and all your feelings towards it become laughable. Herein lies SOMA and its predecessor’s basis for success. At ever level they achieve this and it is more nuanced than you might think.

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Setting: SOMA takes place on the ocean floor. By choosing such an ominous and obviously claustrophobic backdrop for the game’s wonderfully written narrative the player is already primed for immersion – quite literally in this case – pardon the pun. You are in Pathos, a hilariously named underwater city. I say hilarious because Pathos among its many meanings means tragedy. Who the hell named this place! It is beautiful in all its dark and rusted horror. Frequent power outages and the remnants of those who live their show rather than tell the story you’ve been dropped into. The additional detail, should you choose to explore more, is worth discovering. I could continue more here but suffice it to say the level design is exceptional and although largely linear still rewards the player for searching out rooms that have no other purpose than fleshing out the plot.

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What is a world without sound? I would recommend if you play a game like this that headphones are a must. You won’t truly appreciate the efforts that went into SOMA’s sound design unless you do so. They are jaw dropping. Doors open with a visceral metallic snap, your boot-steps thud weighted with foreboding, as you run hard your heart-beat picks up in your ears creating urgency, gore and all things bloody or squishy have the appropriate amount of… squishiness? I was particularly impressed when you are outside the city and walking on the ocean floor. I can tell you from my times diving they’ve nailed this perfectly. Here like in no other game does the sound matter and draw you in. It is easy to forget that that light flickering just so as you enter a room setting your nerves on edge is done so with purpose and forethought. I can assure you all throughout SOMA you will find examples of the design teams unending mission to make every new corner, one that you hesitate to look around.

The villains: They are perhaps the greatest challenge in a game of this nature to get right. How, do you get a player to actually feel threatened by a pile of pixels? We, the jaded citizens of modern society, usually after getting a look at what is scaring us say, β€œoh, I’ve seen that before. Boring”. Thankfully the game designers of SOMA have quite elegantly solved this problem.

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They’ve simply and brilliantly added the game mechanic that looking directly at these foes will cause as much damage as coming in direct contact with them. I nearly clapped when I heard this portion of the gameplay explained by your lone companion that follows you along in your mission. It’s success was two-fold. First, and most importantly, the mystery of that which stalks you is maintained in a natural way . Without mystery, without wondering what this thing is, we quickly lose our fear. Imagination is always so much more terrifying than reality. Second they implemented the game mechanic in a way that made sense for the story. It is always truly impressive when an apparent weakness is subverted and made instead into a strength. The final characteristic of your would be killers I want to mention is their frequency. As opposed to scare after jump scare which would quickly numb the players senses, these monstrosities are used at carefully timed increments, again usually at plot points of particular interest to heighten you immersion.

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The last aspect I will discuss and one which I credit survival horror games with reviving, is plot. When you cannot rely so much on action or bright flashy graphical flourishes you must have a wonderful story. And in no way is SOMA’s weaker than any of its other well executed components. I’ll be careful here as it is so good I would hate to spoil any of its delicious details. They really did hit it out of the park. Sci-Fi lovers will swoon, and horror fans should be just as satisfied. The overall arc as revealed by one character specifically is impressive enough with its scope and philosophical considerations, let alone all the different occasions the designers us in world features to reveal other points. Everywhere, as I’d already mentioned, is show not tell. Molding pictures of loved ones gone, a bloody razor blade, sealed off pathways with warnings, all show the player what has happened here and the imagination quickly sets off on a million suppositions of what could have transpired in this haunted tragic place.

So in conclusion. If you can stomach, the churning of your own, play this game. I don’t really liked being scared but I will forgo that feeling for something so well crafted. SOMA is excellent and if Frictional Games continues on this trend, gamers should look forward to each and every one of their releases.

I give this game a rating of… Thirty Unicorns!