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Do Not Feed the Monkeys

One of the fundamental truths of 21st Century society is that you are always being watched. Every key press is logged. Every purchase entered into a ledger at a nameless data mining corporation (or government spy agency if there is even a difference between governmental and corporate surveillance in this day and age). And more than likely there is a camera somewhere right now capable of watching you. I would say it would be easy to become paranoid under these conditions, but I’m not certain that the word “paranoia” has any validity or meaning in a reality where everything you do is being detected and inspected*. Paranoia isn’t a state we can can enter anymore, paranoia is the air that we breathe and as such has ceased to have any meaning. We all exist in a global panopticon never quite sure if we are being observed or by whom, but we do know that every single moment the possibility exists that we are being watched and probably by weirdos. Sweaty men sitting in darkened rooms (or government/nameless corporate offices) lit only by the glow of their computer monitors watching as you put on your socks in the morning unaware that the camera on your electronic coffee maker is unsecured. They get out a yellow notebook and write down “left first – then right” and move on to the next camera. Anyone who isn’t paranoid in this situation is probably a sociopath unable to even comprehend the basics of modern life. This is REALITY. This is also Do Not Feed the Monkeys by Fictiorama Studios.

So many Monkeys.

Do Not Feed the Monkeys is one of my favorite games of the last few years because it combines my paranoid world view** with my love for LucasArts style adventure games with a healthy dose of actual real humor. It is a game unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and that, my friends, is why I do this.

The whole conceit of DNFTM is that you are one of them weirdos who watches people and makes notes about other peoples’ socks. You live in a dingy apartment and have access to a application that lets you watch feeds from unsecured video cameras from around the world. Some feeds are simply of nameless assembly lines or microwaves or other mundane tableau, but others are more interactive. Some of the feeds (“cages”) have people (“monkeys”) that you can observe and take notes about. Your notes generate search terms that you can put into a search engine to learn more about the situation in the cage. A shadowy organization will occasionally contact you offering cash for information (“what is the address for cage #4?”) or you can use your notes to manipulate and blackmail people (“feed the monkeys”). Obviously the name of the game is “DO NOT Feed the Monkeys” and your are warned about interacting with your subjects too much but it’s really hard not to when you know you could get away with it.

This man is interrupting the Monkey observation.


And that, I think, is the true genius of DNFTM. It is always presenting you with the option to cross the line between the observer and the observed. This is some Foucault Discipline and Punish type of next level smart game writing here. Where even at the digital distance created by computers there is still a relationship between the viewer and the viewed. And once you start interfering? What are you then? You become more like a jailer than a silent watcher, and you are changed.

The other aspect of DNFTM game-play is some basic life management. You can’t just sit and watch your computer all day as addictive as it is. You need to eat, sleep, and make money for rent and food. You can make money by solving puzzles and blackmail, but you’ll need to take time to do some menial jobs. Ideally you’ll time these so that you don’t miss anything important in your cages, but if you time it wrong you can render puzzles unsolvable. Does that make you paranoid? It should! You also have to purchase and balance your intake of food. Too many pizzas and your health will suffer, but healthy food is harder to procure and more expensive. Also, you need a lot of coffee. Ultimately, I didn’t find the management sim parts of DNFTM as engaging as the puzzle solving, but on the other hand, the sim portions serve to flesh out the world and make your whole experience seem more real. Again, if nothing else, this isn’t something I’ve seen before and I love DNFTM for that.

Takin’ notes and takin’ names.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great LucasArts inspired art style. Anyone who played Sam & Max Hit the Road or Indian Jomes and the Fate of Atlanta back in the day will recognize the 90s PC pixel art style. The art is simultaneously well done and references games that tell my brain that “there are puzzles to solve here and I must solve them”. There is also a robust soundtrack ranging from classical to slow old country tunes to Russian folk songs. The music is both incongruous and completely appropriate and had me nervously laughing multiple times during my play-through.

Laughing brings me to my final point. Which is that DNFTM is one of the funniest games I have ever played. So many little humorous touches are all over DNFTM. The morning newspaper has funny stories. Weird people come to your door with hilarious dialogue. Again, the LucasArts influence can be felt keenly here making me think of Secret of Monkey Island***** and such. With the humorous writing set against the pure absurdity of what you’re doing in the game, I was laughing through much of my play-through. That isn’t easy, and much respect to the writers here.

Do Not Feed the Monkeys isn’t a perfect game, but it is a great game. I have minor issues with some of the aspects of the game (the puzzles are somewhat inconsistent in quality and I found the life sim underwhelming) but it is much more than the sum of it’s parts. It’s a little bit jank, but it feels like it should be. It’s real. It’s creative. It’s beautiful. It’s unique. And somewhere someone is watching you play it and making notes on your progress in a yellowed notebook in the most meta of meta-game imaginable.

*But never rejected. No. It will be saved and used by someone for something at some point in the future. We are incapable of forgetting anymore. No forgiveness with out forgetfulness.

**Once again, I submit that I am not paranoid***. It is you who is not paranoid enough.

***I also feel like I should shout out to the old West End pencil and paper RPG classic Paranoia. Which is one of my favorite games of all time and did a lot to influence both how I run games and what I want to see from other games. Basically a combination of narrative freedom with crushing brutal consequences for that freedom. Hit me up if you fancy a game sometime.

*****Which is a connection I somehow didn’t make until writing that sentence. Derp.

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BIC Fest 2017 – The Best Fest

While all of you are galavanting around at TGS, the Burpy crew are enjoying a quiet weekend at home, nursing our wounds and sulking about how we’re not at TGS. It’s okay though, because we still have the memories of BIC Fest 2017 to get us through until BitSummit in May.

It’s going to be a long 8 months.

Until then, let’s talk about all the great stuff that happened at Busan Indie Connect this year.

  1. We went to Busan.
  2. A bunch of cool peeps came to Busan, too.
  3. We got drunk on the beach.
  4. I interpreted on stage for a bunch of cool people. @curttheinvert trolled Microsoft on stage.
  5. We played a lot of games.
  6. We got drunk at the beach.
  7. We forgot to learn what Azure was.

So much fun. Of course though, while it is super important to get drunk on the beach and meet with cool people, it’s also important to play video games. So many good choices this year, too. Project.99 was there in full effect with like a million games on a million laptops. To the Hell made what has to be it’s 3rd appearance at BIC. Racers: Dirt came back, but as a Sony title. It’s really nice to see the full circle on titles. Redout, too. They were heavily in development at BIC 2015, and now they’re on like every system. All good things.

However, with this post, I want to give you, in no particular order, my top 5 out of all the new stuff I saw this year. I mean, new to me at least.

 

Do Not Feed The Monkeys (Fictiorama Studios, Q4-2017)

Do Not Feed The Monkeys – Fictiorama Studios

 

Do Not Feed The Monkeys combines the text-based tension of Papers Please with a teensy bit of Phoenix Wright with um… Sliver? Basically, you’re duty bound by this secret society to watch unsecured webcams, called cages, and report back what the monkeys, the people you’re spying on, are doing. Your mandate is to only watch, but since the society doesn’t seem to pay you, you may be forced to make some… choices. You can take a job, or you can decide to start blackmailing the monkeys and see how far you get before the society comes in and shuts you down.

Honestly, there’s not a lot of gameplay here, but I pretty much had to be kicked off the demo because I hogged it for too long. There’s something about voyeurism and blackmailing people (come on, like there was ever a choice) that really draws your attention.

Oh, and I think one of the monkeys is Hitler.

 

HP Sword (TGB)

HP Sword – TGB

 

HP Sword is a decent platformer with a solid gimmick. The size and power of your blade is proportional to your HP. You can also use part of your HP as a projectile. This creates an effective risk/reward system by allowing the player temporarily losing power to get in a really good hit in, but it also puts a bit of pressure on if you’re doing poorly. Overall though, it’s pretty balanced. Very little information on it in English. I’ll do a proper review when I can get my hands on a copy.

 

Hyperun (Concrete Games)

Hyperun – Concrete Games

 

Hyperun is a racing game with no acceleration button. No brakes either. Basically, you just keep going, faster and faster until you fuck up. Using WASD lets you strafe, using the arrow keys lets you make an on-a-dime 90 degree turn. While strafing is pretty important to pick up speed boosts (and I think health boosts?) making those square corners at higher speeds is where the difficulty comes in. You can hold down an arrow key to drift before the corner, but I’ve found that it’s easier to just to try to time the corner well. I like the twist this gives to racing games.

 

Tiny Clusters (Thibaut Mereu)

Tiny Clusters – Thibaut Mereu

 

Tiny Clusters is a cute little game that you can get a demo of on itch right now. It’s a really good take on platforming puzzlers. You’re a little space dude, just trying to get by in this alien-eat-alien world… space. Luckily he has you to help him out by rearranging his world to let him get through. It’s surprisingly tricky, in a similar vein to Snakebird. I’ve only played the demo, so I don’t know if you get more screens to swap around, or if the different environments in each of the chunks will have different roles to play, but I’ll do a proper review on this one too when it comes out.

 

Legal Dungeon (Somi)

Legal Dungeon – Somi

 

This is another political game by Somi, who made Replica about a year or so ago. As far as I understand, in the US, a grand jury decides if the government will indict a person for a crime, but in Korea, the police and the prosecutors decide. This game is about that process, where you play as a cop going through documents trying to find clues that point to a person’s guilt. Knowing Somi, this game will be about the fine line between finding evidence, and placing that evidence blindly into the narrative you want to promote. I don’t see this game having as big of an appeal as Replica, but I still found it pretty engaging.

 

That’s it. @curttheinvert will be around soon with his round up. I’m going to go work our next game and try to forget TGS ever happened.