The Weekly Playlist: the one where Julian reveals he’s a masochist and Steve travels back in time

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This week’s playlist may contain spoilers: there are two pieces on The Walking Dead and they might contain story elements, you have been warned. (I’d love to tell you for sure but if someone writes a comment piece on The Walking Dead and I’ve not yet played the most recent episode I have it in my contract that I can avoid reading it.)

Bookending those we have Steve’s piece on Time Travel Knight, one of the games to come out from the recent Molyjam – it’s ace – and Julian’s ongoing struggle with Rogue Legacy.

Julian: Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy has been teaching me how bad I am at platformers.

Quick sum-up, Rogue Legacy is a roguelike platformer. Each time you start the game you enter a randomly-generated castle and battle beasts and ghoulies to collect gold and search out its secrets. Death is permanent, and you continue by selecting one of your hero’s heirs and heiresses. Once you enter the castle with this child, again, the castle has regenerated different from before.

Because every death means starting again with a new castle there’s more pressure to survive than in a regular platformer where you simply return to a level and attempt the difficult section again. You have one shot at the castle and if you blow it you will never see it again. It’s a permanent failure and that gets to me.

I went through a phase of dying repeatedly and not earning enough gold in the castle to upgrade my heroes – you can boost their attack, armour, health, and other stats with the money you earn through adventuring. When you enter the castle you have to give away all your gold to the gatekeeper so, what this means in practice, is if you don’t earn enough gold for upgrades in your one shot at the castle then the whole painful experience gained you nothing material at all. It was a wasted venture. That gets to me, too.

It’s bizarre, though. The permanent failure and idea of time wasted in a game are both things I struggle with when playing. It frustrates me. Yet I’ve spent more hours playing Rogue Legacy this week than anything else. Why is it the games that annoy us will often keep us coming back?

Jeremy: The Walking Dead

This week I’ve had two experiences quietly, smilingly relieve me of some stubbornly-held misconceptions about my very favourite games.

“The only reason Dishonored’s stealth is as compelling as it is,” my subconscious had been loudly telling anybody who’d listen, “is because it’s nestled in a 3D egg made of exquisite level design, gentle world-building, Looking Glass-inherited sound design and money.”

Nope, replied Mark of the Ninja. I’ve got that same vibe, replete with hidey-holes and footsteps and all that good stuff, all in 2D. And I’ve thrown in a couple of Arkham Asylum’s best mechanics just ‘cos.

Thanks, Mark. Really.

“Significant player choices can’t just happen,” I’d also been mumbling grumpily to myself. “They have to be supported by days-worth of character investment and orc-disassembly.”

And then the Telltale Humble Bundle prompted me to catch up with The Walking Dead, and I realised that the doomy, crushing decisions you’re asked to make once every 60 hours in Dragon Age: Origins could happen every 60 minutes instead. I’m midway through episode two, and this game has already put me through the wringer so many times I could slide through project leader Sean Vanaman’s letterbox and personally tell him precisely how sad he has made me. The bastard.

Matt: The Walking Dead: 400 Days

A quick word of advice: The Walking Dead does support Steam Cloud, but only if you tell it to. So say you decided to build a new PC in April, and then this week went to play 400 Days expecting your old save files to be there, unless you told the game to use the cloud those saves most certainly won’t be there. I realised I was in this situation when The Walking Dead asked me if I wanted the game to invent choice outcomes for me for the 400 Days DLC episode, since it couldn’t find any present. I most certainly didn’t want a game making important, physiologically damaging life choice for me. There was no other option. I had to put myself through The Walking Dead all over again.

‘Put yourself through’ is certainly something that explains The Walking Dead. You don’t play it, ‘play’ suggests it’s a joyful experience. Like the comics, the game is a constant source of depression, harsh tension, and rising tempers. It’s difficult to side with anyone on a permanent basis (the ‘best buddy’ character is a permanent arsehole), and any decisions you’re forced to make demands you do it in five seconds and comes packaged with the guarantee it will haunt you for the rest of your life.

These decisions come thicker and faster in 400 Days. Essentially five issues of a comic focussing on five new characters, the episode appears to be an introduction to a new group of survivors we will presumably be playing in Season 2. All five have astonishingly harrowing situations you’ll have to work your way out of, and those situations always demand a crucial decision. They’re not painted in colour coded signposts – CLICK THIS ONE TO BE THE FUTURE MORAL COMPASS OF THE GROUP or CLICK THIS ONE TO BE THE GROUP TOKEN BASTARD – and result in a suitcase full of baggage to take into the next season with you.

I’ve got a group of five total screw-ups in my camp. I can’t wait to ruin their lives some more when Season 2 kicks off.

Steve: Time Travel Knight

gamejolt.com/games/adventure/time-travel-knight-molyjam-2013/15853/

Time Travel Knight is a game about a yes yes yes. Obviously that. It’s a MolyJam 2013 entry, which means it’s a game built in 48 hours and inspired by the tweets of the @petermolydeux parody account. Time Travel Knight took the melancholy line “I wish I had some time machine and could go back two weeks. You live by your mistakes, for sure” and spun out a short adventure about a knight, flung back in time fourteen days and attempting to prevent the very catastrophe he witnesses at the game’s outset.

How? He has no idea and neither do you, because of time amnesia. So you wander the land, hitting monsters and gathering coins, talking to strangers, finding items and attempting to change the course of history. Days pass by in seconds, creating a sense of urgency and purpose to your wandering and exploring, though failure simply means you’ll end up back where you started, two weeks in the past and armed with slightly more information than before.

Time Travel Knight is Groundhog Day and Majora’s Mask reduced to their most basic ideas, that of repetition and world-ending disasters. There aren’t many factors you can change in practice, but the adorable script and refreshingly straightforward moral choices makes each subsequent playthrough worthwhile.