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My Favourite Game Studio – Amanita Design

To play any of the games pictured in this post (or their demos), click the images. Thanks!

I came across Czech-based Amanita Design when I was at 6th-Form College. I spent most of my breaks with friends, but when they were away or busy, I went to the computer labs. Gaming hadn’t really begun to rock my world just yet — I wanted it to, but none of my friends could lead the way and I was busy with other things.

I stumbled across a free flash game online. Do any of you remember it? This “leave the room” thing that was based on the Japanese tradition of having to set up certain things before a spirit can move on?

Yeah, that was it. Crimson Room. (Click the image to play it.) Anyway, after I solved it, I would have nothing but more puzzle games — really “adventure games”, but the sites that provided these things had decided en masse that “adventure game” was not a marketable phrase or something.

I solved a few games from the “escape from the room” genre, and was getting pretty good at them (the secret? CLICK EVERYWHERE) and then I came across this little beauty:

This is the opening screen for Samorost, the first game Amanita released. Luckily for me and all of you, the original Samorost has always been a free game. Go ahead — click the picture. Go play it. It’s on the studio’s website.

Samorost was a revelation to me. I mean you actually had to think to solve this game. Plus it’s just so pretty. All of the backgrounds are photo manips of moss and twigs — the beautiful little things you find lying about if you live near a forest. The music is atmospheric, not annoying. I couldn’t believe it was free to play.

Samorost‘s story is continued in the pay-to-play Samorost 2, which can be bought for the price of a sandwich. The bundle includes versions for PC, Mac, and Linux, and the soundtrack. It’s a longer game than Samorost, but not full-length. These two games are one of a piece. If you liked Samorost you’ll like Samorost 2.

But oh my god, when Machinarium  came out. I’d played all the commission work on Amanita’s website (short point and clicks built to advertise a product or educate on some point) and I wanted some real meat; Machinarium gave me that.

What can I say other than, “this game is almost perfect”? Er. “It’s cheap, too”? Look. I sound like I’m one of those rabid fans that would stalk the people responsible for Amanita at ComicCon (if they ever end up at ComicCon, I mean). Swear I’m not. I just really love their work — in a totally mature, non-rabid–

um can i make babies with you tnx!!!!!!!!!! (Click on the image to play the demo of the game.)

One thing I have to say about Machinarium is that the minigames can be annoying at times. They’re not crazy-difficult, but I often found myself making an excellent move and then not remembering how I made that excellent move in the first place — which was frustrating, because if I suddenly got an attack of the durs and messed up at the last minute, I’d have to start from the beginning.

I much prefer moving the robot through the landscape than I did the minigames — but each to his own, I suppose. I’m a sucker for pretty scenery and good music, which, I should mention, is smashing. Really excellent. I have the soundtrack and the supplemental soundtrack at home. If you’ve played the game, you know this is important when I say that the Caribbean-steel-drum dubstep song is on the supplemental soundtrack. It’s okay. You won’t have to rip it from the game. You can get your fix legitimately.

This is one of those things where I can’t say much more than, “It’s great. Go try it,” because most of Amanita’s work appeals to that highly-personal non-verbal centre that governs what aesthetic themes draw you in. I think the games are adorable, funny, gorgeous, and fun to play. Other people might find them frustrating, boring, and plain.

Just go try them for yourself — see what you think.

~Alice M.

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When GlaDOS Asks You to Marry Someone, You Say Yes

Gary Hudston, God-Among-Men, commissioned a team to take on a secret Portal 2 project for his girlfriend.

I cried at the end. ME.

(via Kotaku.com)

Level Design: Rachel van der Meer & Doug Hoogland
Scripting: Doug Hoogland
Writing: Gary Hudston
Animations: Rachel van der Meer
VoiceActor: Ellen Mclain
Recording: VALVe

~Alice


DeathSpank: The most fun you’ll ever have in a thong.

Me and this game are besties.

When I first got to know it about a year ago, I thought it was boring. It was nerdy but not in a cool way, I thought. Mannnn, the truth is I’d been hanging out with the bro games and goth games for so long I forgot what nerdy cool looked like.

Sure, it’s got more side quests than a wedding planner. Everybody wants you to get stuff for them. Everybody! My god. The countryside is teeming with people who can’t walk five minutes to fetch a soup bone or something. Why are you not heinously fat, NPCs??? How do you keep your cute little NPC chub-belly so dainty when you can’t walk like, literally, into your own backyard?

How does NPC commerce even work?!?!? Nobody can be bothered to go anywhere! Do they have transporter beams to get goods to the shops? This one guy was even like, Oh I just can’t get that stone five feet to my left. Please get it for me!

What, seriously? Um, okay, BUT ONLY because I am an XP junkie of the nth degree.

Pictured: Goods & Services

No, but seriously, this game made me cackle. Not even like a hen. LIKE A TURKEY. Like, Cogogogoglllaghkakakakakekekekekeheee. And repeatedly! I even hit my head on the back of the sofa hard enough to give myself a headache, I cackled so vehemently. The voice actor for DeathSpank is just that good.

Plus Ron Gilbert wrote it. In case you’re suffering a severe case of the herp derps, I will explain:

YES MY FRIENDS

The best part is that I didn’t have to wrest P1 from LofL’s unyielding grasp: there’s co-op available. It does tend to make the game stupidly easy, but it was super fun nonetheless. The first game doesn’t give you a choice of co-op characters because co-op was an afterthought. That’s fine. It’s still fun. But we’re playing the second game now, and the co-op characters are awesome. I definitely recommend both DeathSpank 1&2.

I have to say, none of the gameplay trailers do DeathSpank any favours. It doesn’t look fun (not to me, anyway) but it’s reeeeeeallly fun. The challenge in this game is doing enough of the side missions and using the weapons you get correctly — that is to say, not a challenge at all. It’s basically one giant, convoluted vessel for hilarious voice-acting and a brilliant script.

~ Alice M.


Alice: Madness Returns

It was earlier this morning that I found myself face down on the sofa, hands in the armpits of a cat, thinking how maybe I should give up blogging and writing altogether and hey why stop there why not just bung me in an institute for mute people and affix my lips together with gaffa tape while we’re at it because I would never have anything interesting to say about anything ever again and why bother.

“Cat,” I said,”why am I so tired all the time?”

The cat, who up until now had been trying to rub saliva over my knuckles with his lips, delicately took the side of my hand into his mouth and began to chew on it. He’s a sweet creature, if rather stupid.

It was a fair question. I’d been sick with worry for the Love of my Life, who, when done being busy for his job (thus preventing me from playing Alice, see previous post) had managed to get himself ill after a rather serious fashion, which in turn meant I grabbed sleep when I wasn’t worrying, which meant I replaced sleep with back-to-back “Hoarders” marathons for a week, which meant I then got ill myself WHICH COINCIDED WITH MY PERIOD God help us all, having found out that LofL’s treatment is going to be lengthy and often quite painful. (He’ll be fine. No worries, femmeketeers.)

But it’s been days, possibly weeks — I don’t know, time is dead in my emo heart — so why the shit haven’t I been able to get up and go about my life? Can a person catch lupus from cats, coffee, or PS3 controllers?

Because even though the thought of trying to write something insightful about Alice has been about as appealing as rabies, I’ve been playing it a lot.

Alice knows my pain. SHE WEEPS MY TEARS

I confess, I am a crazed fan of American McGee’s various interpretations of Lewis Carroll. It’s been my very favourite game franchise since I spotted a copy of the first Alice entirely by accident on my birthday. I wasn’t even looking to buy a game but I couldn’t help myself. It was everything I ever wanted in a game: amazing art direction, a plot about insanity, a dreamscape, a whiff of classic literature, gothy frothy steampunk topping.

Forgive me, then, if my review of Madness Returns is a little biased. I can’t really convince you to like the er, style of the game. The…aura. The thing that makes it distinctly so.

So I shan’t even try.

First, the problems with the game:

  • You find out, if you do a little digging, that there are things they wanted to include, but that they “didn’t have time” for. “Didn’t have time” is game industry speak for “EA wouldn’t give us money”. Did I mention that I hate EA sometimes? I hate EA sometimes.
  • Plot progression was, at one point in Chapter Two, woefully unclear. LofL and I were scratching our heads about it until I played it again recently and discovered that yes, it makes sense, but only if you pay very close attention. This is okay with me, I guess — though a wee bit irksome. It wouldn’t have taken very much effort to make it clearer, and unlike other places in the game where obscurity and puzzlement is absolutely key, it just didn’t work here. Made us go hunh rather than hmm.
  • The graphics are out of date. This game is just gobsmackingly gorgeous, you understand…you’re not really paying for graphics. You’re paying for art direction and story and music and it’s worth it. But I understand why this would irk a lot of people.
  • No 3-D videos. None at all. None of that stuff from the trailers that made me wee my knickers in excitement. Nope. EA didn’t give them the money to do it. I was absolutely heartbroken when I found this out. Truly crushed. And then, as I played it, I grew to appreciate it. It’s always bothered my suspension of disbelief when I walk into a glade or whatever and suddenly everyone gets nicer hair and shadows spring out of nowhere and suddenly granny has a mole or the protag is actually pretty for once. So, in a way — it was really nice. But in another way, EA can suck a dick.

Now that’s out of the way, let me gush a little.

This GAME, friends. This GAME! It took my brain and put it through a keyhole into a land of rusted nails and despair and dolls covered in wax and broken glass, and MEAT FURNITURE and clockwork and burning tea and sick, SICK, depravity.

Nnnaaaagh.

It was AWESOME. LofL told me he’d never seen anyone go through a game looking at each. and every. texture. before moving forward but really the game is just that lush. Everything means something. Everything is put in just so to tell a story and once you play through the game and start playing it again everything sort of clicks into place and you find yourself making this face

when you realise the depravity of it all and the hints they gave you along the way that you didn’t see and also sort of this face

because oh my god it was there all along but you just didn’t see it coming.

I have no idea whether playing this game qualifies me for a degree in psychiatry (it should) but even if the plot isn’t realistic, it’s intricate and believable. Alice, effectively, is kidding herself. And there are a few things she’s not noticing. You don’t notice them either, but they’re right there for you to see.

Speaking of seeing…I don’t want to ruin the game for you by posting too many screenshots. My favourite part of this game was starting a new chapter not knowing what I was going to find.

Each chapter of Madness Returns has three parts: Victorian London, a pre-level of sorts, and a level proper. The things Alice sees in Victorian London are beautifully echoed, exaggerated and twisted in Wonderland. Unlike the previous game, this one makes it very clear that Wonderland exists entirely in Alice’s head. It’s not as romanticised as the first installment: Alice is crazy, and it shows. Most of the game takes place silently — in the visuals, the decoration.

Gameplay was smooth. I liked the fighting system; it had a nice difficulty curve. This was because the game switched up the fighting a lot; different enemies required different strategies, the early-acquisition weapons were useful throughout play, and control was very intuitive. Yes, there are a lot of jumping puzzles. But they’re really cool. They’re especially cool because jumping puzzles let you nose around the aforementioned jawdropping prettiness you’re prancing through.

Though standard Alice gameplay was amply present in Madness Returns, there were frequent minigame additions I found refreshing. I also liked the emphasis on collectibles; getting them was a puzzle in itself.

Another thing about gameplay that I adored: there’s only one boss. I hate bosses. They make me trip over my own feet. They freak me out. I kind of just cower in the corner whimpering. just kill me already I don’t even want omigod you’re so big and scary hnhhhhhhh *flailing of hands*

But with normal enemies I’m all like BLAMMO and POWFACE and this

Yeah. Bad^ass.

so by the time I got to the final boss I was cracking my knuckles and darkening spittoons with cool. Okay, and so then the fight started and I nearly burst into tears and shoved the controller into LofL’s hands. BUT I WILL TOTALLY DO IT MYSELF NEXT TIME.

(To sum: if you like bosses, do not purchase this game.)

I of course bought the dress-and-weapon DLC, and I think it’s just fabbo (Pretty dresses! Deeply creepy weapons!), but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone but rabid fanatics like myself or obsessive compulsives who must. get. every. collectible.

You can whine all you want; I’m not going to change my mind. I loved this game. If you don’t want to pay 60 bucks for it, rent it from GameFly. If you don’t want to play it yourself, get someone else to play it and watch. If you’re entirely uninterested and you think it looks ugly and boring or you’d rather be playing Need 4 Speed: Cars Go Vroom or Punch Him in the Dick! Do it Again! or My Pony Princess Cupcake Fantasy Love Baby or whatever crap you like, then that’s cool — we’ll just never be friends.

– Alice M.


Sequels to Old Games

LofL has made me promise not to play Alice: Madness Returns without him. So instead of my release-day review of Madness Returns as promised I (grr) have to wait for him to finish “werking” or whatever that word was.

LofL WORKING HARD.

LofL WORKING HARD.

So instead, as a preview to my EPIC Madness Returns review (available soon from femmegamer Enterprises, Inc., Corp., & Sons), I thought I’d write about something topical that’s been bugging the shit out of me.

Has everyone seen the reviews for Duke Nukem? Specifically the ones that are like, “this game was so misogynistic it made my girlfriend’s hoo-hoo spout wiccans with battle-axes that we had to fend off at night whilst I slept otherwise they’d sacrifice my dick to the Moon Goddess and so violent I would have felt cleaner bathing in the blood of a goat that had been left outside in the hot sun to rot for a week, and it’s just SHOOTING and PIXELLATED TITTY how BORING I’ve been waiting for this game for so many years and OH HOW I AM DISAPPOINT”?

I entirely agree with them. Duke Nukem Forever is absolutely appalling. Where previous Duke Nukem games subtly discussed the tensions between the established Caucasian population and the influx of immigrants that the United States has, since its inception, welcomed and refused by turn depending upon the good graces of the voting pool, all while bearing in mind the trials foisted upon the waning, underprivileged indigenous population of the Americas, Duke Nukem Forever is a vulgar bloodbath.

Duke Nukem Forever: Nothing but kill, kill, kill.

Duke Nukem Forever: Nothing but kill, kill, kill.

Previous Duke Nukem games, through their subtle portrayal of woman as an equal, though sexual, being, revolutionized the gaming industry’s attitude towards girls as gamers — and as colleagues. As Valve Software’s Gabriella Newell is often quoted saying, “Duke Nukem paved the way for women in the gaming industry, and the world at large.”

Duke Nukem Forever, by contrast, focuses on women as faceless bodies, free of personality, or even any capacity at all beyond that of lurid glimpses of flesh that might only titillate the most desperate teenage boy.

Duke Nukem Forever: Teaching young men that women are nothing but pornographic objects.

Duke Nukem Forever: Teaching young men that women are nothing but pornographic objects.

There is even a section of the game wherein these women are carrying alien babies, which Duke aborts — a disgusting, shocking scene which crosses any sensible human being’s boundary of good taste.

Duke Nukem Forever: Handling sensitive subjects with bad taste.

Duke Nukem Forever: Handling sensitive subjects with bad taste.

Not only that, but given the undertones present elsewhere in the game, one is led to believe that these “alien abortions” are direct allusions to the interbreeding of Caucasian incumbents with immigrants — unwillingly on the part of Whites, who are portrayed as victims.

Duke Nukem Forever: White supremacist nonsense.

Duke Nukem Forever: White supremacist nonsense.

But the prejudice in Duke Nukem Forever is not merely aimed at perceived “invaders” — no, the Duke’s surroundings poke arrogant fun at everything that is not white nor its own backward assumption of “male”. I was most offended by a brand of cigarettes with the brand-name “Faggs” accompanied by a picture of what ignorant Americans would assume is the typical English dandy.

"Faggs" cigarettes from Duke Nukem Forever

"Faggs" cigarettes from Duke Nukem Forever

While it is true that the word “fag” in the U.K. does not signify a gay man, but rather, a cigarette, this not-so-clever pun is certainly not enough to save the game from offending much of its target audience.

Much of the game’s cleverness is of this shallow, at most one-chuckle humour — the kind of humour that appeals to twelve-year-old boys and their nyuk-nyuks and poop jokes.

Duke Nukem Forever's toilet humour does not appeal to the discerning Duke Nukem fanbase

Duke Nukem Forever's toilet humour does not appeal to the discerning Duke Nukem fanbase

Can we not look to the past for inspiration? Sequels to older series are supposed to be both the technological and spiritual successors to their prior iterations, but Duke Nukem Forever seems to be not a step forwards, but a step backwards from its complex, subtle, and genteel predecessors.

Similarly, the reviews for Alice: Madness Returns have exactly captured my impression of the game so far. I am midway through Chapter Two, and, as a die-hard American McGee’s Alice fan, I am sick to death of platforms!

Will sequels ever get it right? Alice: Madness Returns has far too many jumping puzzles.

Will sequels ever get it right? Alice: Madness Returns has far too many jumping puzzles.

– Alice M.


My Fingers Really Hurt

My sophomore year of university, I shared a suite with two guys. I think there were four (five?) game consoles. We had two mini-fridges: one for mixers, one for beer. We converted a desk into a bar. I learnt the art of being an alpha-male arsehole. We made the kind of jokes that would have gotten us killed in public.

It was AWESOME.

For some reason, Guitar Hero was the proving ground that decided which of my two male roommates was the most virile. Not something sensible like, I don’t know, Halo or Warcraft or something, no: Guitar Hero. (One roommate was in a top-rated WoW guild, the other managed a professional team of Warcraft III players. Why not an MMO or an RTS? Who knows.)

MANLY

MANLY

The apex of manliness was apparently playing “Texas Flood” on expert with baked goods tied to the hands and getting five stars. We never actually attached anyone’s fingers to bread loaves, and I don’t remember who reached the top of Man Mountain first, but I can tell you that I could only play Guitar Hero when my roommates were both otherwise occupied.

Still, I got in some practice. I think I managed to pass “Cochise” on medium…? Anyway, considering the time I had to work with, I was damn good. (Not so with SmashBros. I suck at SmashBros. FALCOOOOOOON…PAUNCH!)

LofL (the love of my life) found a copy of Guitar Hero, II, and Legends of Rock for three bucks each at Game Stop a few days ago. “Okay, I dig it,” I thought. “I might be able to play this still.” We had a guitar already, five bucks at a garage sale.

That damned guitar. I played like a GOD for oh, five hours. And then I went to sleep, because I hadn’t slept in umpteen hours (writers, amirite?).

Pictured: The Common Insomnia Gremlin, jitterus caffeinatrex

Pictured: The Common Insomnia Gremlin, jitterus caffeinatrex

Sure, the strum bar didn’t work when you pushed up, but it was okay. Most of the menus were cyclical. I played by thumbing the strum bar down most of the time, anyway.

When I woke up, the downstroke didn’t work at all. It was like a magic suck-button. It either wouldn’t register or would register twice at once. (It took us a little while to figure it out because the only game in which LofL can be truthfully classified as “newb” is Guitar Hero — and when he told me he was playing worse than usual I was like, “So what else is new?” No I wasn’t. I’m not that mean.)

I’ll soothe your burning curiosity immediately: playing only on the upstroke is really goddamn annoying. It’s too slow. My fingers slip.

What could I do? I had four stars on “Sharp Dressed Man” on EASY. I played and played and played. I migrated back and forth over the sofa. I made LofL (my personal technology guru, bless his heart) open both of our guitars to see if he could scavenge parts from the one that didn’t work to make a kind of FrankenGibson. (Alas, no.)

When the guitar was working, I played on medium and managed four and five stars on mostly everything up to “No One Knows”. Also beyond “No One Knows”. Because let’s face it, “No One Knows” is not “medium”, no matter what that game says.

Refer to the riff that first takes place between 1:08 and 1:10 where you have to play both lead guitar and bass guitar at once. That douche killed me every time unless I stared through the screen — because Guitar Hero is like snappy comebacks. If you think about it, you fail. I should have played it drunk.

Anyway, that’s my meandering story. Hope you didn’t loathe it. I could bitch and moan some more about how playing on the upstroke made me repeat “Killer Queen” so many times to get five stars on easy that my neighbourhood dogs started howling and my fish died, or how upstroke killed my cousin’s firstborn and is the progenitor of AIDS and 4-chan. It’s okay; I won’t.

To sum:

1. Guitar Hero is best played with a working guitar.
2. Guitar Hero is best played whilst either sleep-deprived or drunk.
3. If you can play “Texas Flood” on expert, having baked goods tied to your fingers with string, and subsequently get five stars, you are Alpha Male Plus Numbaa One Strong Man and women will flock to you.
4. Don’t play with the jock. Nobody likes you if you play with the jock.
5. FALCOOOOOOON….PAAAAUUUUNCH!

MANLY

MANLY

~Alice M.


A Zombiephobe Plays L4D

Hi. I’m Alice, and I’m a zombiephobe.

Psh, you’re saying. Don’t be silly. You’re not really afraid of zombies, are you?

You know what? I am. So shut up. Er, sorry. I meant…Nice to meet you all. I’m going to be blogging here! Yay!

Most of my posts will be game reviews, rather than speculation about the gaming world in general; I like doing reviews because I can bitch and snark to my heart’s content and it only seems to make people like me more. I know you’ll want a bit of my gaming background: I love adventure games. I love all of the Final Fantasies, even VIII, and especially XII. I love anything clever and lovely. My favourite game is Half-Life 2, though I’ve never played it myself — I watched someone else play it. I played Portal 2 twice. My household spends more money on games than on food. My day job is writing fiction; you can check out my other blog if you’re curious about that.

I’m also really and truly a zombiephobe. The genuine article. I read newspapers with an eye for new strains of flu or rabies. I struggle with the decision of whether or not to buy a shotgun and keep it in the closet. I have window locks, steel-reinforced doors, a house alarm. I hear sirens and I think, “My god, it’s the beginning of the end.”

Peruse the Sharpieprints blueprints for my zombie-proof fortress, perfected over many endless nights in bed, staring up at the ceiling, covers clutched under the chin:

I like Sharpies.

I like Sharpies.

It started in my late teens. I was still living in London with my mum, though not for much longer, and dating a boy who was simply mad about cinema. He took me to see 28 Days Later during opening week for the cinematic qualities he’d been promised.

I was shaking like a leaf when we left the theatre. In the distance, some voice (no doubt belonging to a fellow film patron) did a surprisingly accurate rendition of a zombie scream. Both of us jumped about half a metre in the air. That night I insisted we camp on the floor because something could reach up through the bed. I didn’t fall asleep until I could press my back up against his side and feel that he was a living, breathing person.

Nearly ten years later, the love of my life, a computer man through and through, spends many hours per week playing Left 4 Dead with his friends from home. He’s an expatriate of Europe like me: the sound of gunshots and cursing in three languages has become a fixture of the house — like the ice machine, or the fish tank.

I got this blogging gig thanks to a Twitter (!) exchange with the lovely Kostika. LofL was playing L4D when I told him about starting as a game blogger. I’d been thinking of just nicking a review I’d done of FFX to stand in until I came up with something really good — and then I thought, “Hang on, I reckon people would enjoy hearing about how I screamed a lot over some fake zombies.”

So it was that yesterday I found myself wishing I’d never been born as LofL patiently waited for me to cringe my way through the opening video. I’d occasionally looked over his shoulder as he played, occasionally listened to his explanations of strategy, but this was so different.

Oh god. I think I might puke

LofL was Francis, of course. He’s always Francis. It’s kind of sexy on him. He’s one of those alpha male types — bit of a misanthrope, wrathful with the heat of a thousand suns, superlatively intelligent, snorts derisively a lot. Codes in C++. I would have gone for Bill, but in the spirit of the event (“femme”) I decided on Zoey. Also a submachine gun, because I felt more secure behind a spray of hot lead.

L4D opens on a rooftop, hordes of the undead milling about on the street below, sounds of snarling, rabid zombies drifting up from the stairs — from behind a closed door, which you’re meant to open.

“Are you going first, or am I?” said LofL.

He couldn’t see it (we were sitting next to each other, staring at our respective screens) but I gave Francis a withering look.

“You.” I said. “Dur.”

He ran down the stairs. The NPCs followed him. I know enough about the smart AI in the game to know I was toast if I stayed on the rooftop by myself, so I plunged in after them. I kept my back to the wall. I’ll have to be honest, the first few minutes were a blur. I shot the NPCs in the back several times trying to hit zombies they’d already killed. We were playing on easy, so in retrospect I was mostly shooting at scenery — but it was hell. I wasted loads of bullets. LofL told me I wasn’t actually that bad.

The first special infected I saw was a boomer. I tried to shoot it, but the submachine gun seemed to send bullets everywhere but the boomer, which vomited on me.

I picked up a shotgun at the next safehouse.

Every new room was in I muttered, “Not a tank, not a tank, please not a tank.” I shot hunters and boomers and smokers. I got strangled by a smoker once. Didn’t care, not really — LofL saved me pretty quickly. All I cared about was making it through the level without finding a tank. So it makes sense that the first really clear memory I have is walking to the end of a subway train, and LofL stopping me and saying, “There’s a tank in there.”

Really?” I said. I hyperventilated. I checked my health, my pain pills, my ammo. Okay, so I had less than a hundred bullets, but no big deal, right? That would be okay.

“Yeah,” said LofL. “Hear him? He’s grunting.”

I did hear something — a kind of deep snuffling, snorting noise. Like a rhinoceros. I backed Zoey away from the door.

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“Follow me,” said LofL. He led me out of the car and jumped over a piece of ground.

“Stand here,” he said. “You’ve got a molotov, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Okay, so equip the molotov. Press 3. Okay, now hold down your first mouse button and aim at the door, but don’t let it go.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I’m going to go open the door. When the tank comes, set it on fire,” he said. “Then run.”

“Oh my god,” I said.

“Don’t set me on fire,” he said.

“Uh huh.” The distance between me and the subway car seemed really short.

I felt a certain dull inevitability as he went into the car. This is it, I thought. I’m going to die.

The tank was the size of Africa. I saw a glimpse of knotted muscle and I threw that damn molotov right in his face. I ran nearly the entire length of the level before I realised that I’d run too far — right the way back to the ammunition pile — and now some hunter was going to show up and rip my face off for abandoning everyone.

I loaded up on shells and put my back to the wall.

“Come get me!” I said. “I’m going to get killed!”

“You ran too far,” said LofL — man for Come back your own damn self.

When I got back to them LofL was already jumping away into the darkness and the NPCs — who were obviously smart enough to know who’d keep them alive better — followed him like a pair of puppies.

“I keep telling A. [a guy in his clan] that if you set a tank on fire it will kill him,” LofL was saying. “You don’t have to shoot him once.”

Trust me.

Trust me.

The next tank I saw was in the finale. LofL told me to run, but not where, so I jumped off a roof — right onto the tank’s head. He threw me across the floor; I shot him several times in the face until the fire (LofL is nothing if not systematic) killed him.

We finished No Mercy on easy without me dying once. I was horribly proud of myself.

As the credits rolled, LofL turned to me with a smile on his face and said, “You consistently killed a third of the zombies I did.”

“Great,” I said grumpily. I’d been hoping to discover that I was a sort of zombie prodigy — a girl that, despite her fear, was piling up bodies and taking names. “Maybe if there’d been more zombies to shoot, I would have shot more.”

“Yeah, easy is really, uh, easy,” he said. “I think you’d be okay playing on expert with the team. You can’t possibly be as terrible as B [another clan-mate who tends to run in front of LofL’s sniper barrel at inopportune moments].”

My face probably blanched.

“I think I’d like to play more on easy,” I said.

~Alice M.