Personal Update

I’ve not posted here in a long time and while I have some ideas for things to write and articles on other sites to link to, I thought it would be best to address my absence first.

At some point in the future I’ll go into things in much greater detail than I go into here, when I’m able to find the words more easily. The shortest version for people is that in January, my mother fell ill. She passed away in March and I’ve had to do a lot since then. I still have a lot to do.

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8 Ways to Survive, the overly-specific 2015 edition

This is thing number one if you want to survive the year. Breathing is good, some might say essential. Food and water in and out of the right holes. Coffee is pretty good, too. Don’t get run over by a car, don’t get stabbed with any sharp objects, don’t taunt a robber. Don’t go on fire… I’m sure there are several more. Not dying is pretty good, I recommend it.

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The common mayfly has a lifespan of 24 hours, the chumps. If you want to survive for a whole year, don’t be a mayfly. They’re such idiots they probably don’t even know how doomed they are. Idiots.


As it turns out, asking out a woman you’re infatuated with is not going to kill you. My dating life has been sporadic enough that it’s good to be reminded of this. Admittedly my asking out Emma was akin to the awkwardness of Kingpin asking out Vanessa Marianna in Daredevil. Fortunately Emma quite liked the Wilson/Vanessa romance.
I met Emma in NaNoWriMo 2014 (as I said in previous posts, NaNoWriMo has been very good for me) and when she helped me out with running events in 2015 we were texting every day about that, then not just about that, then it reached a point where I was on one of my late evening anxiety walks around the neighbourhood and told myself that I had to actually ask her out by the time I reached a windmill I often use as a landmark. By the time I reached somewhere in Hove I had a response and on that date was where my mumbling, Kingpin-esque attempt at properly making sure this was a date and that there would be more happened.
I admit, I’m not the best person at emotions outside of the popular culture, so our relationship has been a great time and a bit of a learning experience. Fortunately she is patient, funny, just morbid enough and a fellow writer so events like NaNoWriMo mean that I don’t just vanish from her life like I do my flatmates and family. Emma has been a great way to not just survive 2015 but to make it the best year.

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Well, they didn’t all come to fruition but much like the, ‘asking out the woman you love doesn’t kill you’, neither does commissioning someone you respect to do something. I was paralysed by the prospect of not having a cover artist for Lightning and the demoralising nature of not knowing how/where to go for this caused me to freeze up and has now delayed things. The great part of this is that I now have a cover artist. I have modified my plans for Lightning and continue to do so. I also have several other plans from role-playing campaigns with the In-Fighters, reviews and articles, the possible resurrection of D+Pad Magazine. I always like to plan a million things as I feel it gives you reasons to continue, reasons to keep fighting and pushing. Even if you get only half a million things done, that’s still half a million things.

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Looking back at the year, I know too many people. People are great and as much as I’m an introvert, I’m also really quite socially dependent. Balancing those two things is generally quite interesting as it means getting cave time and trying to organise the aforementioned million things. Friends are a lifeline, whether depressed, angry, in need of inspiration, help or just warm bodies to play games, they’re a definite must for survival, including:

The In-Fighters
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The Huddlemen

My colleagues
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My wonderful, horrendous family
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The Who Dares Rolls crew
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And the brilliant Brighton Wrimos, both the mainstays and the newcomers
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I wrote 301,233 words in the last year. That includes writing prose, articles, reviews, too few blog posts, edits. There are too many orphans in my writing. My comic reviews really fell behind but that’s part of this one. Write loads, but don’t write unnecessarily if it’s not doing enough for you. I’m skipping ahead with my G+ comic reviews and will be catching up with what I had before. I allowed myself the occasional day off, especially once I started dating. I’m sporadically prolific with Who Dares Rolls and busily working on Lightning. The NaNoWriMo project will need to be shelved, reviewed and rewritten, I feel.
I’ve tried life without writing when I was a teenager and that can’t happen. It just can’t. I didn’t stop and I didn’t die, so this is another essential one.

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Ah, spreadsheets. My loves in order are Emma, coffee and then spreadsheets. I have been called strange for suggesting that if man and software could marry then I would make Excel my wife. This was before I was dating, which I’m sure makes that kind of statement fine. The vast amounts of popular culture I ingest are recorded on a spreadsheet to remind me where I’m at when there could be months between me watching episodes of Fargo or trying to pick which novel to read next on my Kindle. I also have the spreadsheet I open most days, which is my word count spreadsheet. Without it I wouldn’t know how much I’ve been doing, what I’ve been writing lately and probably should keep writing. Organisation isn’t necessarily survival, but for me I go so far the other way without these kind of tools that I’d probably be lost and eaten by wolves without a touchstone like this.

You are spared a picture of spreadsheets, even I can’t make them look awesome.

Owls are literally the worst. I have not encountered an owl and therefore am still alive.


Evil Owl

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NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up: The Brighton Wrimos

It’s over. The Word-God is sated, the Panic Jar has been put back in the darkened, blood-stained cave where it once came from. So how was it for everyone?

Brighton Wrimos
The Brighton Wrimos
The Brighton Wrimos have been established for some time, but it’s only been the last couple of years that Fred and I have been in charge. The previous Wrimos; Cerys & Ellie, set a great precedent with their administration and that helped solidify us as a group not only in November but the whole year round.

I’m not entirely sure how the municipal liaisons run their communities but we’ve had a few mainstays in ours. There’s a frankly antiquated chat site called Chatzy which we use so that anyone can access it even with old tech. There are write-ins both on and offline. So what did we do?

This year we had a virtual write-in every Tuesday. This meant that people could use the chat room to take part in sprints (timed races to see who could make the most words in normally 10-15 minute stretches). Former ML Cerys and BlackJack were both fantastic at running these kinds of sprints. In fact BlackJack ran a few three-sprint hours in the chat room throughout the month irrespective of the day. My normal writing group, The Plot Bunnies meet every few Tuesdays so I moderated on my off-weeks and Fred moderated when I was Bunnying.

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On Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons we met in person, something I know is often daunting for writers. The crowd was lovely, however. We huddled round our laptops, running sprints, working and distracting each other. There’s always the paradox of the write-in that we seem to be chatting all the time but words are still happening. It’s pretty impressive to witness. There are quiet times all you can hear is the gentle clattering of keys tapping away, broken up only when someone passes by and everyone looks up unaware of whether friend or foe has approached the herd. There were also stickers for people passing every thousand words, the Panic Jars and punchcards for our achievement system, but more on those soon…

On Fridays we ran a NaNoWriMo social event where people could relax, drink and play games. Anything but writing, pretty much, so we could de-stress from the week’s activity.

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In the middle of the month I ran a marathon in the chat room. It was a full Saturday of writing from 11am until 8pm. Each hour there would be a challenge for anyone in the chat room and we’d try and complete them. I ran it last year, too, when I decided to start adding optional challenges most of which the group took up. There’s flavour text in the style of a pub crawl, but with words. This year I picked a time travel theme with us going back from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe and ending at the Monolith from 2001. It was manic in places, but we wrote a total of 59,194 words in one day, collectively.

The NaNoWriMo forums have specific areas dedicated to each community so Brighton & Hove had its’ own forum which we used throughout the month. I started off with questions about people’s books like the setting, the characters and so on, to try and get people pumped for their work and thinking about the project ahead. During the month we added things like a ‘character graveyard’ to celebrate and lament character deaths. Then there were weekly challenges where we gave the Wrimos a prompt to fit into their story and a place to post a short excerpt of their work featuring the element used. This year we had phobias, Fiasco-style chaos, making up a word and sport (the latter labelled the ‘writer’s bane challenge’).

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After NaNoWriMo 2014, Fred and I noticed the audience on our forums and the chat rooms were not our audience on Facebook. All of the communities are great, but there are some who stick to just one place. To mitigate this, we made sure to put information about gatherings not only on a Google Calendar (and link to maps for the venues) but we also made events on the Brighton Wrimos Facebook Group to make sure people knew when things were happening and where they were. It was definitely noticeable how many more people came that never checked the forums or chatroom but were aware through Facebook. Some of them crossed over and joined us and some did, just to get the their punch cards filled in. Speaking of which…


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I’m a gamer, Fred is a gamer. A lot of the Wrimos are, too. So we decided to employ that wonderful, if meaningless Skinner Box system of achievements.

This is another holdover from the original Brighton Wrimos, although we’ve changed it a little each year. Each Wrimo who attends an event (or asks online) gets a punchcard. Then when they hit the achievements they get to hole punch that part of the card. The achievements are partially things you’d do anyway in NaNoWriMo (every increment of 10,000 words up to 50k), productivity-based (sprints, having a 5k day) and socially-based (going to events, posting on our various outlets). Because it is known that we have had some people with social anxiety or really busy lives, all of these were achievable without having to turn up in person to an event.

This year we had a couple of extras. There were optional achievements mentioned on the forums; Writing 10,000 words in a day, designing a cover on the site, taking part in all four weekly challenges on the forums and drawing a result from the adult panic jar.
We also have badges! Never let it be said that we aren’t a fickle lot. All it takes to win us over are stickers, googly eyes, notepads, pens, caffeine and sugar. For the sprints we had a bag of glorious tat as prizes but the one thing I couldn’t get were badges. The cost of NaNoWriMo badges were prohibitively high for extremely few. When one of my gaming group generously offered to make up badges I spoke with one of our more artistically-inclined Wrimos, Rosie, who designed these:

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Aren’t they great? Anyone who punched their whole card received a badge as a prize. Yay, prizes!

Then there’s the beast…

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The Panic Jar is something we’ve always had in the Brighton Wrimos. I’ve looked online and the only references I can see are in our community and in an article our own BlackJack made to explain it. You can find that here.

It’s a collection of ideas from writers, all made on little scraps of paper. They’re prompts, lines of dialogue or elements to add to your story. The jar follows us to all events and it always gets added to. There are some prompts in the jar from before I started doing NaNoWriMo six years ago. In theory these are to help, but the Brighton Wrimos like a challenge and often add strange things in there. Or rules, like, “Draw two more.” If you pull from the jar, you have to use it in your story. Or a side story. But use it. Anyone can add to the jar, anyone can pull from the jar. It’s become an essential part of NaNoWriMo in our community. The jar has broken multiple times though; we’re currently on the fourth jar which has been labelled as Tom Baker because well, we’re all massive nerds.

Because some of the suggestions are quite adult and Brighton Wrimos is an all-ages group, we have an Adult Panic Jar, which is the Peter Capaldi jar. Our Peter Capaldi has googly eyes though and likes to stare at the Wrimos, daring them to pull from the jar.

So there you have it, another year down and some great fun experiences. A lot of dead characters, a draft which I don’t hate but definitely needs to be redone, an ungodly amount of coffee imbibed and a vast amount of writing done by my beloved community. Congratulations, Brighton Wrimos!

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Pirate Fluxx at a pub chill-out after a write-in. Not really writing-based, but we got to do pirate accents.


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I have no idea whether this was an intentional error or not for the social.

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Wrimos deep in concentration at the first write-in. Or sleeping, I’m not sure which.

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NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up: My Own Progress

It’s over. The Word-God is sated, the Panic Jar has been put back in the darkened, blood-stained cave where it once came from. So how was it for me?

My Project (s)
I hit 77k this year, the first time I’ve done less than a previous year but really that was for the best. I wrote a couple of short stories, some small scenes for Lightning’s advent calendar which will take place during the final release of Lightning Season One. That may mean little, but you’ll all see one day. I also wrote two novellas. They… don’t entirely suck. They need fixing. They are Lovecraftian murder mysteries. I tried reading works of Agatha Christie and HP Lovecraft beforehand and that didn’t go brilliantly. I started with the early Lovecraft which isn’t great and the Poirots I read were the short stories which weren’t really all that satisfying. Still, once I realised it was the end of October and I had done little prep, I set to it.

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These are my scenes in virtual form, I do have them in actual index card versions, too. I worked out the timeline from a previous comic book incarnation, then the timeline from the murderer’s POV, then I moved the scenes around, cleared up some things and because this is NaNoWriMo and there’s a space for it, I made a cover…

Burnt Offerings.jpg
It’s not good, is it? This is why I have a cover artist (did I tell you lately how I have a cover artist?) I wanted a human figure burning, specifically a woman but try not having a sexualised woman on fire… apparently it’s pretty much not possible.
I started strong but there were a couple of things which didn’t move as fast as I’d like, a suspect needed to get tagged in a little more and I don’t know how clear the mystery is. I’ll review it in a year or two when I’m able and see what worked, what to change, then redraft it. This is what NaNoWriMo is for though.

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Then I got two weeks into NaNoWriMo and realised that I was nearly done and without the scenes for the second novella. I knew the culprit, the setting, the introduction, the ending and the weapon, but not anything else. It was set in a school reunion and I spent part of a write-in using Fiasco playbooks to make randomised relationships between a dozen people. I then put their relationships up on my whiteboard, added random names to the roles and started fleshing out backstories. It was glorious seeing them all come together and I’m sure in a second draft they’ll all pop even more. That story was done in a worryingly short amount of time and at nearly 10,000 words less than the original. I think I hit the beats and moved on too quickly.

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With one week left I was presented with the option of starting a third novella in this series; one with a reality show gone awry, or stop and edit. Sanity prevailed and I stopped to edit. And play Dragon Age: Inquisition. And Rock Band 4. Winding down so much meant that leaving NaNoWriMo felt like less of a wrench and less jarring than in previous years. Last year I didn’t write for most of December, but then I’d hit way too many words.

Anyway, that was me, a fairly standard NaNoWriMo, some work that needs a lot of messing about with and a few short pieces I need to edit and put up. That’s about it for me but more importantly, how about the Brighton Wrimos? Well that’s going to be part two…

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Lightning Update – No Idea


When I was thirteen, all the way up until I was seventeen… maybe eighteen, I wanted to run a comic company. I loved comics, I wanted to write them ever since I discovered that they were written. All of my immobile time, all of my hospital time, it was spent with comics and then I met Adam Kidd. He wanted to be an artist for comics and I wanted to be a writer. It was perfect. Despite being younger than Jim Shooter was when he stumbled into comic work for DC, we had ambition. We also had no clue.

Between us we gathered maybe ten like-minded people over our time as Awesome Comics (later El Queso Diablo Comics when Rob Liefeld named his company Awesome Entertainment and we didn’t want to be associated with him). We were editors in chief and had worlds with sprawling continuity and characters, with crossovers. We split apart, partially from our growing loves, Adam’s of his myriad bands, mine of dystopian science fiction which was beginning to infect the comic scripts. I must have written 20-30 scripts on various devices, some were only in printed form and I have no idea where they went. Others left my possession when my laptop was burgled along with everything I’d written before age 20. That was probably a blessing in disguise.

Those were great days. Reading Legion of Super-Heroes at Adam’s aunts in Manchester while plotting out multi-part early-90’s Marvel-style crossovers. Badgering my brother or one of the Armstrong brothers for artwork. It felt like we were something big, something real. We had ambition and at the very least some level of talent. The problem was we had no idea what we were doing.

There are times when I feel like nothing’s changed in these decades since the inception of Awesome Comics. I finished my last parse of the Lightning Episode One manuscript. It’s gone through a few readers, been edited and then I needed to make sure all the changes I’d made match up. They do now. Then I saw this article [>>>LINK] and started bricking it. There’s a lot more to do and my self-imposed deadline of January is looming ahead.

I need to format the prose and the cover (I have a cover! I have a cover artist!), put in the contents, logos, back and front end blurb, then get them all in a lovely file for the Kindle and whatever else I do, format-wise. I need ISBNs. They cost money, apparently. Again, I have no idea what I’m doing, so this should be interesting. I need a website, I need to figure out what’s going on with tax once all this starts. I’m pretty sure I’ll be using KDP Select from this description of it (not linked to as I can’t find it, I will link if I do). I know there’s the exclusivity bugbear but I reckon it’s nine months and that allows me a level of focus which I can spread out in that time. It also means getting in on promotions and the like. But not the print-on-demand as I’ve heard things about that. I’ll look further into it and see what to do there.

It’s a little sobering to realise that I’m basically in the same challenge as I had twenty years ago. This time I have maybe half a clue of what’s ahead I guess. We’ll see what happens.

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Lady Blackbird Review and Actual Play


Lady Blackbird is a free role-playing game by John Harper and it’s fantastic for a short game.

I’ve written about my experiences with the game here on Who Dares Rolls.

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The Beginner’s Guide Review

This is a difficult game to write about, but a few hours after playing it, I’m left with several thoughts and feelings still floating around about what I’ve experienced. There’s a lot to process and possibly more than I think I’ll be able to get to here. I’ll be interested in replaying it and seeing where things stand from there, but for now this is what I’ve taken away from the game.

There will be spoilers as I go, but I’ll warn you when they come.


I heard good things about The Beginner’s Guide but not any details about what it was. At first I assumed it was a video game about being a rogue leftover part of a game in the middle of being made (The Magic Circle, I think) so as it turned out I knew even less than I thought about the game. It’s by Davey Wreden who made The Stanley Parable, a fantastic game which my brother introduced me to the demo of by insisting it was entirely different to the game itself. It was and the game is something fantastic to experience. This is a little along those lines as far as using the mechanics of a video game to tell a story.

The game stars one speaking character; Davey Wreden. He narrates the games which make up The Beginner’s Guide, acting as a kind of documentary of the works of a person called Coda. Coda’s a character whose personality and backstory is only provided by the commentary of Davey and the designs you walk through. I guess in a way you are the third character as the audience member walking through Coda’s world, curated by Davey.

To start off with, you’re wandering a Counter Strike map designed by Coda and right away there are things wrong with it, only visible once you start moving within the world. I knew a few people who tinkered with CS back in the day and it places this designer firmly in the era of people modding games that I know of. The errors look like they could be due to a first-timer learning what they’re doing but Davey tells us of recurring themes in the work of Coda. There are floating boxes, strange cubes and dead ends. It’s alienating and within or without the fiction it’s entirely on purpose to set the tone. We are not a person in the world, we’re a witness to a game being designed.

Once you have had a bit of a search and heard what Davey has to say, we skip ahead in time to the next project of Coda’s. It’s a space game with a non-working gun and an actual maze. Again, it’s something an amateur or an artist may have made and Davey has his own insights. The look of the levels are oddly charming in the same way that I find using the old graphics as to see how the original looked back in the day. There’s a moment where you die and Davey talks about Coda’s intent simply be that you die, only he experienced a bug which he replicates. You’re elevated into the air and can see the maze, the ship, all without a ceiling and the edges of the game world. There are sharp corners on the background and space itself is just a box you’re in. This is important, this change of perspective.

The narrative of The Beginner’s Guide is presented through the game’s mechanics, but on several levels. One of the next games is one where you play a character who can only move backwards through a level. This section is something which I could imagine standing on its own easily enough and has messages unique to the game as well as to the greater narrative. It reminded me a little of Passage which was a game asking whether you want freedom with loneliness or companionship with restriction. There was no right answer in that game. This one the restriction’s a little more linear and you switch between the ability to see what’s ahead or the ability to move without seeing to navigate. Again, this is important. All of it is. There are puzzles, but not many, this is more of a journey than anything else, but a ‘walking game’ which uses the minimal mechanics of the game to its’ advantage. In games like Dear Esther, you would be in awe of a heavily detailed world but at a loss of what exactly to do between chunks of narration. Here, the worlds are small and bite-sized, the worlds can be as small as a single room or massive and awe-inspiring.

Davey talks of the grander designs being experimented with and the meaning behind it all, as well as his experiences with Coda in real life. His interpretation of things like the series of small prison games, the domesticity of one game. There are recurring styles presented and some aspects evolve which reflects Coda’s growth as a person. His voice is only really experienced by little floating circles in one level and the dialogue options in a handful of games. Otherwise we’ve got the mechanics and Davey’s accounts as all you have to go on.

It’s fascinating to see and for ninety minutes as a documentary, fake or otherwise, it makes for a great use of the medium. The games themselves are fairly small and definite works in progress, but there’s something which has inspired the narrator and hearing his analysis of it helps drive us through. And this is where we get to the spoilers.



As the game goes on, it becomes evident that there’s a lot about depression going on in the game. Coda is someone who didn’t bother to release his games, but he did build several of them even if they’re just half-thought-out ideas. In one there’s a simple puzzle which you are given the ability to remove the walls from. Once you do, there’s a massive labyrinth sprawling off into the distance, all of it half-finished, but from your perspective on the platform from where you completed a simple puzzle, it’s beautiful. The ideas aren’t all formed and he’s evidently troubled by him inability to put it all out in a game. He is questioned and tormented by elements of it.
The ‘creator with depression’ is a cliche, but it is one for a reason. As I stood on the platform, looking at the maze with no way of actually getting there, I was struck by the sense of my own work. So many of these games were half-finished and just abandoned until Davey found them. How many of my own works have been left in the filing cabinet I never open. I have notepads stacked up to prop up a broken set of shelves which have yet more notepads resting on it. I don’t remember all of the projects. They’re half-finished and I’m sure several aren’t all that good. These are often like that. Davey’s found context within all of them, even when they’re simply walking forward in a small patch of darkness with a little sign at the end.

Especially once dialogue is introduced, there’s curiosity followed by introspection and frustration with the creative process. A few of the pieces of dialogue seem to refer to previous games in the series which implies that they were meant to be experienced in a group or with this curated experience, or possibly are an error, or possibly something else.
As a writer, the process is often like pulling teeth. Sometimes it can feel thankless and endless, especially if you’re not creating anything that’s actually going out there. Until recently I stalled with my novel as it felt like I would never find a cover artist and never get my act together with it. My situation looks to have changed and I’m spurred on for now, but I still sleep in the same room as the corpses of several creative projects.




Examining a creative work changes it, filters it through the eyes of the audience. We’re seeing that here, both through you the audience and from Davey himself. There are optional workarounds and ‘fixes’ to the games to make them playable, inserted by Davey. He adds platforms, hints, skips ahead. We see the cries of help from a depressive and the stunted creativity, but how much of that is Coda, Davey or you? We all bring ourselves to any creativity we experience, but what happens when the analysis overwrites the original book?
The version of Davey who is narrating this series of games is someone who derives meaning from experiencing and passing on someone else’s work. He gets a level of joy and satisfaction from picking it apart and given his close proximity to the work means that the author can see what’s being done. Davey passes out his work and tinkers with it all throughout.

In a way, that labyrinth visible early in the game via a bug is one of the key themes; perspective of a game from a new level. Davey looked at the world and that there was more hidden inside it. He saw a man who went mechanics-first into games and fixated on a making a prison level, but Davey’s interpretation was that this was more than perfecting a prison level. The Coda we see in all the little messages he’s stored in a level doesn’t really imply as much of the tortured artist Davey picks up on. The dialogue referring to other games is no longer trustworthy, nor are a lot of the levels given how many parts had to be ‘fixed’ by Davey.

We interpret art in our own ways, we take it on and love it, but then our readings can be ours instead of the author’s. That’s something forgotten here by Davey. He reads himself into Coda, but in turn we are reading ourselves into Davey. The intent of Coda could be a level of this depression Davey reads into it, but could also be just enjoying mechanics.
I run role-playing games and have always said that as an unpublished author it gives me a hit having an audience who are experiencing and enjoying fiction I’m creating, even if it’s a half-dozen people. I lend out media in all forms to people and I write reviews of games. Maybe they are all done through the same drive. We write reviews for you to see whether the game is enjoyable, whether it’s worth buying and investing time in, but we also do it for us. Davey Wreden dedicated this game to, “R.” This feels like fiction, but then who knows how much truth there is to this. I don’t think the answer matters as much as your interpretation and experience of the game. It twists and turns not in a way which is meant to have you jump and then make all the previous scenes worthless, instead each reveal builds on what you’ve seen and pushes you forwards. It’s about an artist, it’s about how we interact with games, it’s about a reviewer, it’s about their relationship. It’s about all of them and as short as the game is, it felt heartbreaking by the end. You’re brought in for Davey’s ride and the very act of analysis of art is brought into question. It’s beautiful and strange for something so simplistic-looking and so short. The use of game mechanics as narrative make it an experience unique to games and all the better for it.

Reviewed on PC; game was purchased by the reviewer

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