The Search for the Blackest Black Acrylic Paint

The Search for the Blackest Black Acrylic Paint

Recently (over the past almost two years) I’ve been getting into painting miniatures. The miniatures are almost always game pieces – be it figures from the Fallout board game, ships in Star Wars: Armada, or World War II Bolt Action platoons. I’ll probably be writing more about my learning curve so not everybody has to make the same mistakes and silly purchases that I did, but for now, I want to talk about something that people take for granted: black.

Yep, black – you know, the shade that we see everywhere. My phone is back, my shirt is black, my notebook, some of the two cats I have, black is a color that fits on any model or painting. It can help add texture and depth, give a cool look on a starship, or just make a nice black belt for a soldier to really bring the outfit together. However, those things aren’t ACTUALLY black – they’re very dark shades of grey. There’s a distinction to make here, and that is that black is the absence of light. It’s a void. It’s something that is incredibly difficult to replicate, especially in paint or media… And that may be why when I came across an article on Vantablack, I was intrigued. Vantablack is the darkest material people can create (as of writing it may have been recently dethroned, I don’t know). Using Vantablack creates a void-like appearance because barely any light is reflected back to the viewer – it truly is the absence of light.

The problem with Vantablack is twofold – first, it’s something that pretty much needs to be applied in a specialized lab, and second, the exclusive use of it for artistic purposes is owned by some dude, who is pretty smug about it. Like the rest of miniature painters everywhere, I just used my regular blacks and got along just fine, until I came across an ad promoting a paint that was the darkest on the market. That’s where I first saw Culture Hustle’s Black 2.0 (I’m not an affiliate, I’m not getting paid, or getting free stuff, or anything like that). I had a few projects in mind for scenery and miniatures where a true void effect would look pretty neat, so I bought a bottle, waited a bit, and then painted something up.

The results were… Okay. The pictures that are used on the site show Black 2.0 in its absolute best scenarios – to the eye, though, it looked not much different than my regular black. I will say that it was much easier to get a solid black with 2.0, but was it worth it over my Citadel paints? Not so much.

Then, of course, came Black 3.0. It was marketed as being even darker, and if you used 2.0 as a base layer then coated 3.0 on top, you’d have the blackest black that black has ever been! (It sounded fishy, I know). Again, I decided “What the hell?” and bought a bottle. This time, we’re on to something.

Black 3.0 truly is the blackest paint I own (still not getting paid). One of the models I wanted to paint was a TIE Phantom from X-Wing, the miniature game from Fantasy Flight. TIE Phantoms are supposed to be able to cloak themselves to be invisible to the naked eye, and since they’d be deployed in space… Well, a black void paint just fits. Here is the current Work-in-Progress model, where I have only painted black.

 

 

The effect is the ship going into the void (cloaking). This model is the factory paint, then the black is a base coat of Black 2.0 and a single layer of Black 3.0. The eye is better than a camera, so while it’s not a complete void, it’s an effect that’s hard to describe – if it were over a black background, it would blend seamlessly. Only by holding a bright light next to it can you start to see the texturing on the wings, and under no play circumstance would that happen.

So, being happy with my choice so far, I was curious about how this new Black 2.0+3.0 combination stacked up to the other blacks in my box(es) of paint. For that, I made a little sample swatch for everyone!

comparison-original

In the swatch, you can see:

  • Liquitex Basics Mars Black
  • Citadel Abbadon Black base
  • Black 2.0
  • Black 3.0
  • Black 2.0 for the first coat, 3.0 for the second

None of the paints have been thinned, and they had dried for about 10 minutes when the picture was taken. It was on white cardstock, and it was lit by a very bright daylight-balanced source about a foot away.

Again, this is something that is hard to capture with a camera, but here are some observations:

  • On its own, the cheap Liquitex Basics Mars Black would have been pretty darn black. There is a bit of shine and gloss to it, though, so keep that in mind.
  • Citadel’s Abbadon Black is going to be great for most uses. Really, this is the realistic black that you see day-to-day, like a non-gloss phone case or a black outfit.
  • Black 2.0 was very matte. Of course, it was darker than Liquitex and Citadel, and I’d have thought it would be as black as black can be.
  • Black 3.0 on its own shows very little difference between 2.0. It seemed like maybe it was darker, but if I had to pick it out from its predecessor I would probably fail.
  • Black 2.0 undercoat with 3.0 topcoat truly is like a void. It’s bizarre. You hold it up to a lamp, three inches away, and it’s STILL BLACK. It’s like a borderline optical illusion.

I wanted to see what I could do here, so I loaded up Photoshop and added some exposure filters to the chart. See the results below (and click on it for a larger version).

comparison-lightened

With exposure pretty much blown out, now we can definitely see some differences.

tl;dr – How do I get the blackest black acrylic paint?

In my testing, you would want to use the Culture Hustle Black 2.0 as your base coat (after primer), let it dry for a good day, then put 3.0 overtop. You’ll get an extremely unique effect that will draw attention and trick the eye. I would not suggest this replace your usual black since it looks almost unnaturally dark, but it sure is something to see.

Hopefully, this helps fellow miniature painters in their shopping – what we have is a truly dark acrylic, so while the marketing is strong with 2.0/3.0, there is actually some value to it.

Paints used:

How HomeAgain Gave My Pet Away

How HomeAgain Gave My Pet Away

I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this post. The events in it are said and done, the results history, regardless of the outcome. I don’t expect this to get an apology, letter, refund, or anything else, but I do hope it informs some people – maybe shed some light on a situation I hope they never have to deal with, or give them some inspiration to prepare themselves should this happen to them.

This, ladies and gentlemen of the Internet, is the true story how HomeAgain, the service that’s “A lost pet’s best chance”, caused me to lose my pet – almost for good.

Setting the Scene

If you’re a friend of mine then you’ve almost certainly heard me talk about Lily – a now five-year-old cat I adopted when she was about only a month old. For those of you that haven’t heard, here’s the little fuzzball:

Tigerlily Fur Huggable Bear Pad Fix Santoro.
From the Cone of Shame to her best friend Bunny.

Lily is a Norwegian Forest Cat – apparently a rare breed, often selling as kittens from $400 to $800. That’s not how I got her, though – it was a trip to the Boone County Animal Shelter in June of 2012 that first brought the soft, fluffy little girl into my life. Extremely skittish but already lovable, Tigerlily Fur Huggable Bear Pad Fix Santoro (I kept changing her nicknames and there was a bunch of extra input, okay?!) and I bonded almost right away.

Everything sounds great, right? There’s just one little catch – my girlfriend at the time was staying at my apartment and went with me when I got Lily. This plays an important part.

Fast Forward to Later

A couple months after owning her, Lily was declawed and spayed, because she had the sharpest little claws you could imagine and also I didn’t want her to have kittens. During this time, the veterinarian implanted a HomeAgain microchip. This is a cool little device – when an animal is brought into a pound or shelter, it’s scanned and the microchip’s serial number is displayed, along with a pet profile. This means if your pet gets away or gets taken, you can prove the animal is yours – the vet or pound would call you and say they have your pet, which would then be held until you arrived.

Since I was working at the time, I couldn’t drop off or pick up Lily at the vet. This means I was unaware of what information was added to the pet profile – I had the serial number and the billing information, though, and I ensured that my number was the contact number, so all seemed clear.

About a year and a half later, another cat came waltzing into my life – this one’s name is Oreo. Creative, I know, but he’s a cool guy and he’s got some great taste:

Oreo Eating Pizza
For the record, he didn’t get much more… Though he did eat all the peppers and cheese.

I got him fixed (a terrible fate), declawed, and chipped as well. It was when I was signing him up with his chip ID number that the operator mentioned he had found another pet at my address, but it wasn’t associated with an online ID. He asked if I wanted to put the cats in the same account under my email address – of course I did, and so it was done. For almost three years, the cats were paid for and managed under my own personal HomeAgain.com account, where my name and address were the residence and my email was the email on file.

Just to reiterate: everything in the HomeAgain account had me listed as the primary owner of both animals. While my girlfriend’s number was listed as a secondary contact, it was only in that context.

May 2017 – Where All Hell Broke Loose

I’ll leave the personal details out of this, because it isn’t particularly relevant. Instead, I’ll give you a step-by-step walkthrough of the days leading up to and the first few days in May, 2017.

Thursday, April 27: I leave to go out of town on a business trip, putting both pets in the care of She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. We’ll just call this person my ex from here on out.

Monday, May 1: I get back from my trip to find a much emptier place than when I left. While I noticed it was a (little) cleaned up, a few things of my ex’s were gone, and it took me a terrifying minute to realize that Lily was gone as well. I find a note saying that she had taken the cat.

Monday, May 2 (early AM): After spending most of the evening trying to get ahold of my ex to bring Lily back (with everything going straight to voicemail), that morning I logged into HomeAgain, call their support number, and marked Lily as “Lost” with a note that it was actually stolen, along with a description. I verified that my contact information was correct and switched the secondary contact to my mother’s number in case I couldn’t get to the phone.

Days go by, and I spend time trying to get my ex to return the animal, but I have no luck – my attempts at contact go unanswered. I file for mediation so I can try to recover Lily peacefully, and have to wait a grueling three weeks for the hearing.

Tuesday, May 23: The mediation hearing takes place, and I present my evidence: veterinary records, a letter from the vet indicating the cat’s residence, a note from the property owner that the cat resided at my house, and what I believed to be the final nail – the printed out HomeAgain pages that showed I was the owner and primary contact.

To my surprise, however, my ex claimed that I was no longer listed as the owner. She claimed that she had called HomeAgain and changed ownership. My jaw nearly drops – there’s no way this is true, but I couldn’t refute it, and instead moved on to present the rest of my color-coordinated case.

The mediation ends since there’s no hope for a resolution, and I quickly try to log in with my phone. Surely she couldn’t have done this – I had clearly told the HomeAgain agent I spoke with on the 2nd that the pet was stolen, added it to the pet’s information, changed the account password, and did everything to be sure that I would retain ownership of the account, and therefore the cat.

I couldn’t log in, and a panicked drive home and phone call later the reality of the situation hit me…

HomeAgain Gave My Cat Away

Sure enough, HomeAgain had switched the ownership of my pet from my name to hers, and removed Lily (actually both cats, but Oreo was corrected) from my account. They said that it was against their company policy to change ownership of the pet without some sort of legal document, so I wouldn’t be able to get my cat back in my account.

When I pointed out that the transfer happened without a legal document, they agreed.

“Yes, that was a mistake,” the senior-level support representative told me, “but it’s against our policy to make transfers without legal documents, so we can’t change it back.”

That’s right, reader – even though they admitted to a mistake, they wouldn’t UNDO the mistake because of their policy. Instead, they suggested I get a paper that would exchange ownership back to me, which I could then send in to have it changed.

Case closed – they up and screwed me.

The End, Some Good News, and The Moral of the Story

That concludes my experience with HomeAgain for the time being. Through other means (and while halfway through writing this post) I actually did manage to get Lily back over a series of days – it took an additional week, meaning it had been about a month total without her all said and done. Don’t worry, though – she’s safe, sound, and cuddled up right back where she used to be before the whole incident.

Lily at Home
Home, but grumpy after a bath. Shortly after this picture, she pushed my Kindle off the bed to express her kitten-angst.

Even though I did manage to get Lily back (without any assistance from HomeAgain, who STILL has the pet registered in someone else’s name despite my actual paperwork now – still working on it), there’s something very important to walk away with here:

HomeAgain shouldn’t be trusted to prove ownership of a pet, or even help you recover a lost one. Through tall tales, waterworks, convincing, or whatever else, the cat was transferred out of my name and into someone else’s without so much as a notice to me. It was only when I actually needed it – when I checked to log in, that I found the cat had been given away.

I don’t think this experience is particularly common, should the HomeAgain support staff’s representative be correct in that it’s against their policy. Truthfully, I have no way of verifying if it IS common and I certainly hope not. All I can do is tell my side and reinforce the point that you need to have backups of your backups, and to be ready to re-prove ownership of an animal. Be sure to keep checking if your pet goes missing that you’re still registered as the owner – it looks like they can very easily change ownership, and all it could take is a crappy veterinarian’s note or a convincing story before you lose your companion. The state won’t help in recovering stolen pets, so you have to put in extra care… Because HomeAgain certainly won’t.

On Hostility in Gaming – How One Bad Apple Ruins the Bunch

On Hostility in Gaming – How One Bad Apple Ruins the Bunch

I’ve always been a bit of a ‘lone wolf’ gamer. Although I do love some cooperative experiences and games, I typically stick to a game’s story or only engage in co-op with a friend I actually know. On the rare occasions I do go out in the wide world of online multiplayer, it’s with a solo approach – I’ll do as much as I can on my own, and only reach out when necessary.

Recently I’ve picked up playing the fan-made revival of the 2003 LucasArts/SOE MMORPG, Star Wars: Galaxies (formally known as “SWGEmu“). Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) is one of my all-time favorite games – a total sandbox experience, it broke the mold with a revolutionary Profession and Skill system that allowed endless combinations and builds. Instead of relying on your Warrior for tanking and Mage for DPS, you had a huge variety to choose from that allowed you to play solo or in teams – I’ll almost certainly write about it later, so I’ll skip the details. It’s totally freeform, which is formula for success to the game’s major playerbase – adults.

This was always the draw of Galaxies and most of the online games I play – the maturity of your average player. Of course there were trolls and troublemakers, but recently I’ve come across a special kind of idiot – one of the worst types… Bad enough that I wanted to vent about the problem that I know plagues online gaming and what ultimately drove me away from games that rely on multiplayer in the first place.

A fair warning to readers: This is a long entry. I began intending to write about a very specific type of personality, but instead it grew to tackle a larger issue in gaming – unfiltered writing has a tendency to do that.

Cooperation in Star Wars Galaxies – Some Context

For some additional context, cooperation is essential in Star Wars: Galaxies. While most MMOs rely on high-end drops from difficult enemies, SWG did it entirely differently. Characters could avoid combat altogether and instead become crafters – using components like metal and polymers collected by other players or harvesters, they craft the best gear. Drops from enemies are usually sub-par at best, so it’s important to understand that while you can “solo” the game, there’s always an underlying player cooperation. Aside from simply buying and trading, the best way to advance is to find a group of like-minded players and join a guild.

Guilds are the primary form of player association in most MMOs, and inevitably, they have a set structure with typically a single figurehead, the guild leader. Some games are very restrictive – a guild leader can never be ‘impeached’, and some games are more freeform where it’s more of an oligarchy approach – Galaxies has three tiers in their setup, the Leader, Officers, and Members (with available titles and responsibilities for individuals, if desired). It was the best guilds that used this system – by giving officers control and shifting the weight off of a single person, the guild could more easily run and grow.

To run a successful guild, it required maturity and cooperation – there were so many moving parts, that a level of trust in your fellow guild members was not just encouraged, but required. You could vote on new leadership if the existing proved incompetent, and players had a say in keeping their leadership on track… But what happens when those checks and balances are removed?

A Case Study in Doing it Wrong

I had the misfortune to find out exactly what happens after joining “RvR” – a guild on the central Basilisk server. RvR at first appeared as a giant, prosperous guild with a major city positioned in a great location for character leveling and mission running. There was activity in their central hub, and you couldn’t help but see the guild tag on players across the game. There had to be something that they were doing right – I joined the first chance I got, and almost immediately, I saw the first sign that should have shot up warning flares.

Rough Recruitment

In the city there was a sign on who to contact to join the guild – two players named PlayerX and PlayerY (obviously not their actual player names, though the guild IS real). I reached out to both and found PlayerX online – he said he was preoccupied, but would email me information about the guild so I could see if it was a good fit. I went about my business, and approximately an hour later I see not one, but two messages in my character’s inbox. The first was the standard recruitment propaganda – services, information, you name it. The second was also from PlayerX, and was much less friendly.

In the 30 minutes since his first email, PlayerX had apparently gone on a rampage – I found a long rant about “lack of maturity” and “disrespect”, with threats that I wouldn’t be welcome in the guild. Knowing a troll when I see one (and also noting that PlayerX had gone offline), I instead reached out to PlayerY, the actual guild leader, to sign up. I logged off for the night, and the next day had a discovery – PlayerX and PlayerY were, in fact, the same person. Graciously, he had decided to let me in the guild – I remember thinking it couldn’t be all bad, and that there was likely some sort of language barrier that made him come off as abrasive. I joined, plopped down some houses, and again, went about my business.

“My Way or the Highway” – Opinions Not Allowed

Things seemed okay for the next day or so – while I noticed that the GuildChat channel was surprisingly quiet for the number of players online, it appeared that the setup was more complex than I knew – somehow, the guild ran three cities clumped closely together, creating a nice hub on a formerly remote world. There were regular services to reduce the time it took to prepare for an outing, and a decent mall nearby. While running around town, a player approached me, seeing the “RvR” tag, and asked for more information. I gave PlayerX a pass on our first encounter and relayed the good parts of the guild, simultaneously mentioning in GuildChat that there was someone in the city who wanted to join. The few responses I got said that there wasn’t anyone online who could sign him up, as we only had a handful of officers – way under the normal ratio. I mentioned it was too bad, asked why we didn’t have more officers, and told the new player he’d have to try again another time.

A few minutes later, the shit had hit the fan, and the angry PlayerX appeared online. Again ranting in (what I believed to be) a second-language English, he flipped a lid about my comment, mentioning how they do have officers, and that I was being disrespectful. Again that word came up, and it was clear that PlayerX had never heard that respect was earned, not assumed – someone had a complex, and that someone was on my case. In a bewildering conversation I wish I’d recorded, threats of ‘blacklisting’ my character came out, and any respect had been lost. The Guild Leader and mayor of the area was a joke – during the semi-public debate, several players messaged me assurances that it had happened to them, and that the rule of thumb was you were either a suck-up or you never spoke in chat.

The thought kept coming to mind until finally, I asked one of my ‘supporters’ – how was PlayerX still Guild Leader if this was typical behavior? I should have known before I got the answer – PlayerX, PlayerY, and all of the other guild officers were actually just characters ran by the same person. Abusing multiple accounts and character creation limits (which hey, if a SWGEmu CSR is reading this, take a look into RvR leadership!), PlayerX had established a 100% dominance of the guild. The current situation stood like so:

  1. The Guild Leader voting system was broken. While typically officers ran in opposition to a bad leader, there IS no opposition for this one – indefinite control. Clever, though no effort was made to hide the fact, so I’ll take a point away from intellect.
  2. The city mayoral voting system was broken. Housing within city limits was (and usually is) a requirement for joining, but again cities are typically allowed to vote out poor mayors – not so. Instead, instant eviction occurred should someone run opposition, eliminating you from the race.
  3. Lastly and most importantly, out of the thirty or so estimated characters online in the guild at the time, not a single one felt comfortable responding to the Guild Leader’s wild behavior, knowing to do so would be removal from the guild and potential loss of equipment and hard-earned gear (during the housing eviction). Entire savings were tied up in the city bank and storage – if your character was banned from the bank, you were, in short, screwed.
  4. If I’d spent more time in the guild before the discovery, merchants and valuables may have been placed in more vulnerable areas and money spent to establish a place there – luckily, I hadn’t, and my extraction was much smoother than long-term residents.

I held my temper, as adults tend to do. I realized it was NOT a language barrier that I’d experienced, but instead a kid doing his best not to leetspeak and sound important… So I slowly began the long transition of moving my equipment and savings out of RvR controlled areas. I mentioned to the new player I had almost condemned that he should keep looking (to which he wholeheartedly agreed), and let PlayerX/PlayerY blow off his steam, watching as he began to shut out my access to the guild services.

I pointed out that he’d thrown nothing short of a tantrum, and was being obnoxious. Knowing he couldn’t give me the boot without reinforcing the point (or maybe he actually believed he taught me a lesson), PlayerX reinstated the rights he had begun to take away. The storm had subsided for a time – long enough at least for me to secure my stuff and haul out in secret, though I stayed publicly thanks to the friendly folks who had reached out. I also had another reason: curiosity.

I wanted to see how far the rabbit hole went (which it turned out to be pretty far), but that’s a different story. To keep it simple, the “mature” guild had been taken over by a misogynist, angry, and very hostile teen with delusions of grandeur, and as a result, dozens of players were stuck with a reduced, unpleasant experience.

The Mentality That Destroys Gaming

One could point out that there are measures in-game to prevent this that have been abused, so it should be corrected. One could also say that the game mechanics are at fault for allowing such a monopoly, but that wouldn’t be entirely true – there are safeguards, but they were bypassed. Instead of talking about mechanics and the specific situation above, I wanted to write about the real core problem at the heart of online gaming – hostility.

You can search the web for countless cases of gaming gone wrong, and let me be clear – in no way do I believe gaming creates this behavior. The troublemakers and idiots as previously mentioned exist outside of the online world – video games merely give them a way to act anonymously. Let’s take a quick checklist of a few games where the multiplayer aspect ruins the experience:

  • Any shooter like Halo and of course the Call of Duty series are almost synonymous with hostility. Try it – boot up your Xbox, pop in a shooter, and turn on the headset. Start a timer from when you start playing to when you get your first racial slur – it won’t take more than a couple minutes. Extra points if you’re brave enough to do this as a woman.
  • EVE Online, a game that I do enjoy, actually thrives on this behavior. Although those players don’t typically make it too far, there are stories that hit major media outlets that cover those few assholes that do.
  • Diablo 3, and the Blizzard community, in general, is crippled by this. I know a couple that could probably tell you horror stories from customer support – things that would probably stop you from ever picking up a game again.
  • To save us both time, Cracked wrote a series of articles solely covering a wide range of video game douchebaggery (as they call it), which take a funny glance at times when, in reality, a lot of players were probably turned off from their hobby for good.

In the cases above and hundreds more, players are the reason that online gaming can be so unpleasant. For some reason, the innate competition that video games offer bring out the worst of us – and it’s a true shame because this behavior and stigma is what fuels the enormous amount of negative press on the industry.

I don’t really know if there’s a solution to this – I would have liked to propose the end-all fix that removes assholes from what should be an enjoyable pastime for everyone, but that probably doesn’t exist. Until the anonymity is removed, there really is no penalty for the bad apples – one day when all accounts are linked to a central DNA-based username or futuristic Bio-ID I’m sure people will have to answer for their actions, but to be honest, that’s an environment I wouldn’t want to play in.

The Start of the Discussion

I’ve said my piece, and some readers may think it’s whiny. Certainly, there are a lot of players that accept the above as fact and simply say “deal with it” – to a level, I agree. We do have to deal with it, but should we?

In today’s world, we only get limited time to do what we love or to unwind for a while. If gaming is your outlet, should you have to constantly deal with a barrage of abuse and harassment? Of course not. You can’t behave that way on the golf course or in yoga class, so why should a player who is actively involved in (and in some cases rewarded for) ruining other people’s experience online be accepted?

The short of it is that gaming today is a fragile creature. You can argue with the sheer number of sales and the growing digital age that surrounds us, but I counter that gaming is not what it was a few years ago, and won’t be what it is in the next few years. Mobile has taken over. MMOs are on a downward spiral. Even the yearly blockbusters have taken sales hits, and more often than not you’ll hear about the success of an indie, single-player game than the roaring support of an AAA multiplayer title.

How do we ensure that the multiplayer we grew to love sitting on a friend’s couch doesn’t cease to exist? How do we change the mentality of gamers, old and new, to embrace civility and the “live and let live” mantra? CAN it be fixed? Is this truly an issue, or is it simply being overblown? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, so feel free to leave your thoughts below… I’ll try not to troll you too much. 🙂

Lifeline – A Game in Review

Lifeline – A Game in Review


Note: This post was originally hosted on my professional blog on July 11, 2015. It has since been relocated here.


Lifeline – An Interactive Fiction Mobile Game

Last weekend I found myself in a very long-feeling car trip. With a disinterest in reading or doodling, I decided to browse the Google Play store for a fun little distraction to take up the next couple of hours – it was then I stumbled on Lifeline ($0.99 – App Store | Google Play), a text-based RPG for both iOS and Android.

What kind of game is it?

For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, don’t feel bad – text-based RPGs have been long and dead for quite a while now, at least on mainstream gaming. The best analogy would be a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where you’re thrown into the shoes of a character and ultimately make the decisions that determine their fate. It’s a very basic predecessor for the huge blockbuster RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and so on.

Time doesn’t typically hold well for these games. Often they’re confusing for players unfamiliar with the system, and they’re relentlessly punishing – turning left down a passage could lead you to riches, and turning right straight to ruin. Back to the start. I was feeling a little nostalgic, so on seeing so many positive reviews for Lifeline, I decided to splurge and pay the minimal cost for the app.

What is Lifeline?

Lifeline, surprisingly, was something totally different compared to what I’d expected. Most text-based RPGs can be played out at your own pace – assuming there’s a save slot, you can take as much or as little time as you’d like and play through in one sitting.

This is not the case with this quirky little game. Instead, Lifeline uses a drastically different gameplay hook. The second I fired up the game, here’s what I saw:

The opening dialogue for the game.

Instead of the typical intro of “You find yourself in a forest…”, I was getting what was the equivalent of frantic text messages from a strange person in distress. Interesting! After a brief set of messages I was given one of two answers to choose from – I would select, and almost immediately you’d see waiting dots, and within a few seconds a brief, humanlike reply from the other line. This time, you weren’t the hero – you were talking to the hero. A nice twist!

You quickly come to find that the protagonist, a young science student named Taylor, is the sole survivor from a spaceship wreck on an uncharted planet. As if that weren’t bad enough, the hostile environment and stress seems to have thrown the character entirely off balance – suddenly, he’s asking YOU to make life or death decisions for him, and it’s up to you to take the reigns.

The story follows Taylor through the next few days on his voyage across the planet in hopes of finding something, anything, he could use to find his way home.

Lifeline Gameplay

Like I mentioned before, Lifeline touts itself as a text-based adventure where you choose the outcome. The interesting hitch about it is that it happens in real-time… You heard me – real time. Tell your character to work on opening a door? You’ll get an affirmative, and no further communication for the duration of his exercise. Tell him to go to sleep? You better be ready to wait six to eight hours – he won’t text, and you can’t even ping him for a status update. It’s an interesting twist – on the offhand you’ll peek at your phone throughout the day to see if you’d lead your little friend into a deathtrap or if he’d made it through that narrow canyon. Occasionally, something unexpected will happen and you’ll receive a flurry of frantic questions – should I push on or look for rations?

I hadn’t seen a dynamic like this before, so I almost instantly recommended it to a friend.

To clarify, although you get messages periodically, you aren’t forced to answer within a certain timespan. Taylor will wait for you, so this wouldn’t ever interrupt meetings or make you lose progress because you went to a movie. Good foresight by the developer.

Two Playthroughs In – My Opinion of Lifeline

Now that we’ve gotten mechanics out of the way, let’s talk about what I feel to be the notable points of the game.

Character Development

Among the rave reviews in the Google Play store, so many people said they felt a ‘deep connection’ to the character. To this, I say baloney.

The character is in an almost constant state of whining and complaining. While the state is totally understandable given the circumstances, the writing has the complexity of a fifteen year old’s best imitation at a panicked adult – with little to no depth or real character development, there are few things to get attached to.

At nearly every opportunity, he ridicules or disagrees with your answers to his questions. The only time he seems to react positively is when you tell him to do nothing – wait, go to sleep, hide out for a while… For a person in extreme situations, the character himself has zero desire to get himself out of the bad situation he’s in.

The (Illusion of) Choice

Typically, you’ll get a series of quick texts and updates, and then a question for advice. It will usually be something like “Check out the room” or “Move to the hallway”. When you choose the option, you’ll naturally get a complaint, but Taylor will do the actions…

… And then immediately turn around and do the other thing anyway. There are a few ways the game accomplishes this, here are a few examples I’ve seen countless times:

  • You tell Taylor to investigate Path A. He does so, finds nothing, and goes down Path B.
  • Taylor finds something of no significance at Path A. He might note that it’s cold in the room or something is broken, but there’s no opportunity to interact. Now, you’re given the option to go to Path B or Path C. Don’t get excited, though – Path C ultimately puts you back a few steps… You exit the ship and have to re-enter, choosing the same options until you get to the original A/B choice.
  • You flat out die. This is of course a regular thing in text-based adventures, but the difference between a good and a bad one is that the good might give you a chance to recover. Maybe you have an item you picked up earlier that you spend to scrape by – not so in Lifeline. You simply die, and can choose to restart from the beginning of any specific day. More repetitive choices.
  • The choices don’t matter. Go left, go right – oh look, it turns out they both ended up at the same destination!

This, to me, destroys the sense of an actual game. People will argue day and night what makes a game a game. There are some games that have no story and are purely what you make it – a la Minecraft. Others are entirely story, and you’re more along for the ride – Gone Home could be considered in this vein. I’m typically in the camp that a game requires some sort of player choice or skill – Gone Home redeems itself by forcing the player to actually explore and think on their own – you have no such option in Lifeline.

The decay of the pacing gimmick

Novel at first, having to wait 30 minutes to get through a repeated action is certainly not entertaining. Even worse – sometimes you wait four hours to have a “character building” conversation with Taylor, mostly where he complains, walks a bit, makes a fourth-wall breaking joke in an attempt to parody the sci-fi genre, and continues on his way.

On the other hand, sometimes the options won’t stop coming. They’ll be trivial things – a (paraphrased) example conversation:

  • Taylor: Should I check it out?
  • Player: Yes.
  • Taylor: Are you sure? It’s pretty scary in there.
  • Player: Yes, check it out.
  • Taylor: Okay… Hold on.
  • Taylor: I’m in, but it’s dark. Should I look around or go back outside?
  • Player: Check out the hallway.
  • Taylor: I only have a single glowstick left, are you sure?
  • Player: Yes.
  • Taylor: Okay, but this is just like a horror movie, and I don’t like it.
  • Taylor: Well, I didn’t see anything, so I headed back outside.

HIGH TENSION GAMEPLAY THERE!

A Judgement call on Lifeline

The simple answer is that Lifeline is worth about what you pay for it – $0.99. Although it had the tools at hand to be a really interesting and dynamic story, the poor writing behind it turns it to more of a chore than a game. I stay hopeful that the developer (3 Minute Games) will see through a lot of the undeserved praise and learn from the first release – with the engine they’ve built, they could potentially make a very intriguing sequel or successor. At least their site is built on WordPress – that’s a good sign. 🙂

If you’ve got a buck to kill and a low tolerance for excitement, then by all means this is the game for you. For a player with any sort of experience in choice-based games or story-driven gameplay, just ignore the hype and let this one go by.

Positive Points Negative Points
  • An attempt to revitalize an old genre is always interesting.
  • The certainly unique interface is something I haven’t seen before – texting to a hero is a novel concept.
  • The real-time aspect is definitely cool, as it makes the game feel a little more immersive.
  • The ‘choice’ in the ‘choose your adventure’ aspect doesn’t really exist.
  • The Protagonist, Taylor, is a wholly unlikable character. At no point did he redeem himself.
  • Due to poor design, the game time is padded out in that you have to retrace your steps when you get an instant-lose option.
  • The “timed response” gimmick, while initially interesting, loses its novelty after the first day or so.
  • Eventually, the lack of story makes it feel more like you’re dealing with an acquaintance that won’t go away instead of helping a survivor get through a crisis.
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