Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, has spawned much division and mixed feeling in Europe and the rest of the world for a variety of reasons. PanicBarn’s Not Tonight is a dark comedy game exploring the life of a British citizen with EU heritage in a vision of post-Brexit Britain.
The setting is something of a dystopian police state where those EU citizens who previously settled in the UK have had their permanent residence cancelled and instead are kept in cell-like apartments and only let out to work, which they must do enough of to maintain their temporary residence permits. In short, a form of prison and slavery. With such a political theme, it is perhaps unsurprising that the game attracted a lot of criticism and social media abuse from all around the world even before its release.
You work as a bouncer in various establishments, starting at the King’s Head pub, where you must check IDs at the door to allow only the right people in. At first it is a simple check of birthdate, but soon ID expiry date, nationality and other categories become relevant factors too. You have a quota of people who should be correctly admitted, with a bonus for any additional proper admissions. The gameplay, screen layout and interface are unashamedly very similar to Papers Please, with the checking of ID cards to enter various night spots replacing the examination of passports on a border crossing.
The graphics are done in a retro pixel style that, together with the characters’ ‘babbling’ style of speech, help to support the comedic aspect of the game against the gritty setting. The dialogue itself paints the ‘British’ authority figures as ignorant idiots who see very little wrong with the subjugation of ‘foreigners’, and the foreigners themselves as hard working and oppressed. It is not difficult to recognise which side of the political fence this game positions itself on.
The soundtrack consists mostly of the music coming from inside the establishments where you work, which is well done with the sound of thumping music blaring out as doors are opened and then muffled again once the next lucky one is allowed admission.
Already launched for Windows and Mac, a ‘challenge mode’ is due to be unveiled in the coming weeks as DLC. Further releases on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch are planned for next year. You can learn more about Not Tonight through the developer’s website.
Human Errors is a free browser-based Interactive Fiction game by Katherine Morayati, winner of various XYZZY awards in the text adventure field for Best Writing.
The game is certainly based on an intriguing premise. You are faced with a login screen to start. After typing your name and receiving a password, you are confronted by an email system with messages. Some 5000 of them, it appears! It becomes clear that you have been taken on as front-line support to triage bug reports for a technology company who have mass-produced a mood-regulation implant device that is supposed to control impulses on the part of the wearer (host?). It becomes equally clear almost straight away that this corporation is perhaps not as concerned with the welfare of its customers as might be hoped.
As you begin to feel your way around by reading emails of issues people are having with this tech, you’ll find the task to be both boring and interesting at the same time. Sifting through emails is hardly the most exciting activity in its own right, but you can respond to any messages that interest you by composing your own replies and you will periodically receive responses back that are sometimes funny, sometimes serious stories. In the process, various problems develop, from a customer having intrusive thoughts about the Beach Boys, to a boss attempting to force his staff to obey his every command using this tech, to attempts at love with a companion mannequin. There is sure to be something that piques your interest!
The length of time playing the game and how much depth you want to get into is up to the way you interact with the email system and the interest you might take in its diverse issues. The developer envisages that sessions will probably be 10-15 minute bursts, although there is a lot to see so multiple playthroughs will give different results.
Human Errors was released in May this year, and is available to play online at Sub-Q.
Also exhibiting this year was Bitsy, an editor and engine using HTML5 to allow production of little games and/or worlds. There is quite a narrative emphasis to this development tool, as the stated purpose and function of the software is to ‘make it easy to make games where you can walk around and talk to people and be somewhere’. Currently around 1500 games have been produced by over 900 different creators.
Mark Wonnacott, David Mowatt and their custom-made gaming device
As the engine and editor are browser-based, the projects using it will work on pretty much any device with a browser. The games themselves are varied in nature, from simple top-down pocket arcade style, to platformers, to Zelda-like, to visual novels, all united by chunky pixel graphics and a focus on story and dialogue. A selection can be found for free under the tag ‘bitsy’ on itch.io.
One rather novel feature of the games displayed at AdventureX was the custom-made handheld device on which they could be played. Created by Mark Wonnacott as a way to showcase a large number of short games in an interesting fashion, quite a lot of attention was drawn by it at the event. It also highlighted the large and active community of Bitsy developers.
For more information on Bitsy itself, check out the editor/engine’s own itch.io page.