Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Comixology

I don't know why this escaped me for so long, but Amazon has it's own site for selling comics in digital format and it's awesome. Comixology offers all the major comic series plus a lot of indie comics and graphic novels and the recommendation feature of the site is excellent. It has its own app for reading the comics that I like quite a lot and some publishers allow you to download DRM-free backups of your comics (for example Greg Rucka's Lazarus, a series I highly recommend). If you're in the US, you can purchase a flatrate that allows you to read as many comics as you like for a small sum every month, but that excludes DC and Marvel comics to my knowledge. Still, it looks like quite a nice deal.

I spent five minutes of Comixology and already had gathered a wishlist of at least twenty titles... It's great if you do not have a comic shop near you, if you just want to look into the first issue of a new series that you might be interested in oe if you just don't have the shelf space for printed comics.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Magnus Archives

The Magnus Institute, based in London, investigates paranormal occurrences - if and when the witness accounts they gather are considered genuine. After the death of the long-time archivist, John Sims takes over and is currently working his way through a mountain of sloppily archived entries, recording them on a old tape recored after digital devices have proven unreliable.

I was on the lookout for a podcast to help me with acute Knifepoint Horror withdrawal and I went through a ton of horror podcasts that were ... horrible. Or just didn't fit what I was looking for - a no frills-production, just someone telling a story.
The Magnus Archives does exactly that and it's deeply unsettling. Especially when the story arc starts to come together and picks up speed and both John and the listener start to connect the dots between at least some of the witness accounts. Most of the episodes work very well as stand alone stories and I like that a lot, but I also like the big story and how much time it takes for it to happen. I do hope that there will continue to be episodes that have nothing at all to do with the main arc to prevent X-Files syndrome (everything is connected!) because that makes it even creepier when there are things that fit into the arc.

There is quite a lot of body horror in The Magnus Archives, be warned. But I highly recommend it if you are looking for inventive, creepy and disturbing stories.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bryce Canyon

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We had the choice between Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon and as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon is, we decided to go to Bryce in the end. It's one of the most beautiful places I know and offers a ton of lovely hiking opportunities. We had one day of rain, but that gave us the opportunity to see Bryce in all kind of weather - sunshine, filled with fog, with clouds hanging over the rim.

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a hike down into Bryce
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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Black Hat Jack

Black Hat Jack: The True Life Adventures of Deadwood Dick as told by His Ownself by Joe R. Lansdale tell the story of The Second Battle of Adobe Walls, from the viewpoint of Deadwood Dick a black cowboy. It's a work of fiction, but it's well grounded in facts and blends history and fiction very well.

The story is a simple on, a stand-off between a couple of cowboys and buffalo hunters hunkered down in a trading post and somewhere between 300 and 1000 Native Americans who fight because of the senseless slaughter of buffalos. But it's written well and thrillingly and it can be easily read in one sitting - I certainly didn't want to stop before I learned how things turned out. There is a LOT of blood and gore and brutality in the story, on both sides, and a lot of casual racism (not the author's but the characters'). It's rare that black cowboys are given a voice at all and I enjoyed reading a story doing just that.

It's pulpy and bloody, but still gives food for thought. I highly recommend reading up on the real Nat Love / Deadwood Dick and the Second Battle of Adobe Walls either before or after reading this story.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Roadtrip!

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Utah, on the way back from Bryce Canyon

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Arizona

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Nevada, on the way to Valley of Fire

All photos taken with our smartphones, from the car. I will never get used to just how enormous the US are, at times it's like someone has installed a matte painting over the horizon. Especially with those fluffy clouds. It's ridiculously beautiful.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jacaranda

The nun’s letter intercepted Juan Miguel Quintero Rios on the road to Port Bolivar. Her handwriting was small and precise, and easy to read—even in the back of a bouncing cart on a rough-paved road made rougher by the lunging wind. No natural-born American, that one. Irish, the padre guessed by her name and her habit. What she was doing on the Gulf was anyone’s guess, and how she’d learned of him, he did not know; it was the only question she left unanswered in her carefully composed response.

He did not care, but he was curious.

Despite that one omission, her small bundle of papers contained a wealth of new information. At first she’d told him only that the hotel hated, and it hungered. Now, in this most recent message, she told him the rest.


Jacaranda is a short novel that would work 100% as a Deadlands oneshot. It has the same mix of Western and supernatural, there even is a Texas Ranger. It's set in the Clockwork Century alternative universe, a steampunk-heavy zombie apocalypse that I like very much. But Jacaranda has no zombies and a lot more straight up supernatural horror than the rest of the Clockwork Century novels.

It also works just fine if you have never read any of the other novels and are just in the market for a really good ghost story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Wasteland Weekend 2016

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Wasteland Weekend ... it truly is in the middle of nowhere, outside of California City

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our camp - we are the Clan of the Boltcutters, a group of post-REVolution Vuvalini, warboys and -girls and various nomads and people identifying with the new goals of the Citadel

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people drawing smut for each other

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a wanderer from the Wastelands and I (on the right, history person known as the Brain Picker)

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some of the Wasteland vehicles ... people really put a LOT of work into their cars/bikes, costumes and their camps

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the Jugger competition ... those people are insane...

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Wasteland City main street, bike and camp on the left belong to Warspawn (who have this amazing The Ace, he was perfect in every way)

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the camp of the Rain Dogs

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I forgot to ask their name, but they were cool

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I was delighted to find a library. I bartered a Kurt Vonnegut book for some candy there.

Wasteland Weekend was awesome. I really want to go again in a couple of years, if I can swing it financially at all. I had a blast there and I miss the other Boltcutters a lot, meeting them was the best thing about the whole weekend!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Wasteland Weekend!

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This time I have a good excuse for my silence - I was on vacation to the US. Apart from seeing the Mojave Desert, Bryce Canyon and Valley of Fire, I was at Wasteland Weekend, as a member of the Clan of the Boltcutters . Here we are in front of the Thunderdome! I'll post some more once I sorted through my photos and once I am over the jetlag...

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Life is Strange, part 2

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I'm on episode 2 of Life is Strange by now and I'm getting to know Chloe. She can be manipulative and she will get me in so much trouble, but I like her a lot anyway. I'm still chewing over my decision to tell Kate to go to the police, but really, not going wouldn't have made things any better. None of the options were good there.


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The game really does a great job of capturing the feeling of being between teenager and adult. Adult maybe on paper and maybe to anyone who asks, but inside you're still trying to figure out how stuff works and wonder when you will just KNOW how to do all the things adults are supposed to do.

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Shadowrun: On Co-GMing

I GM a Shadowrun group for a campaign that is the baby of one of the current players. He and I GM together, but right now I run all the sessions and he's playing and doing some of the planning with me. He also has stories that run in the background, so to speak, that I don't know about, which is usually fine with me. But the other day I got blindsided by one.

We were doing a Play by Skype with another player, between Fog and Kiki, who are in a relationship that is a bit rocky to say the least. Fog is a full PC, Kiki is an NPC/sometimes PC. They fought and Fog took off for some time to think. Kiki went back home and then just disappeared. Nowhere to be found.

And I was like: WHAT? I had no idea this was coming and my brain went into overdrive, trying to calculate how this would impact the stories I had planned. Since Fog is a fairly central character to the group and his freaking girlfriend had just dropped off the face of the earth, the impact would potentially be huge. I asked, as the GM, what had happened to Kiki in a private chat and got a glib 'I don't know' as an answer, which I know to read as: 'I know, but I'm not telling you'. And I lost it, I was so incredibly pissed.

I mean, I'm totally okay with not knowing the reasons behind this. But I am NOT okay with having such a bomb dropped on me out of the blue when I do a lot of work of planning how the campaign is going to go in the long run as a GM. This had the potential to mess up my plans big time and it came from my co-GM. I seriously don't know why he didn't just tell me before. We usually do that for stuff we have planned, even if it's just: 'yo, this thing might happen, just a heads up'. In the end, we talked it out and we're good. The way this plays out is that the group won't be able to find Kiki anyway and I can just handwave her disappearance and the search for now. It will come up again, of course, but it's not derailing everything.

The reason why I was so angry was not that this might have overthrown all my planning. That's basically in the job description for any GM: plans won't survive contact with players. I like this about GMing. But if you have a co-GM, do not drop something like this on their head without warning. It's not necessary and disrespectful of the work they do. Much better to share and come up with a way to fit the story into the campaign together.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Shadowrun Hong Kong

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art by CeruleanRaven, click photo for their Artstation site


I really enjoy the Shadowrun games by Harebrained Schemes and they get better every time they publish another one. Hong Kong is by far the best and the main reason for this, as far as I am concerned, is the story and the characters. You can talk to so many people in this game and you should. You will get information necessary to playing the game, of course, but you will also get interesting stories and background on all the NPCs, not just your team. Really, do take the time to talk to everyone. They all have led interesting lives and it's fun to explore their stories. Ten-Armed Ambrose in particular has a lot to say, just keep poking at him.

The detailed environments and the excellent music are more reasons to play the game. Steam now has the deluxe upgrade for sale that gets you not only the game but also the soundtrack and a PDF copy of the artbook and I think it's well worth the money.

I'm on my second playthrough because the first time round, I couldn't save Raymond and that bothered me enough that I want to give it another try. The game really makes you care for your team and for Raymond, your foster father.

The bonus mission is worth playing, too, but will ask you to make a decision that I found very hard to make and I was unhappy with both outcomes. Not because they were badly written, quite the opposite. If you tick anything like me, be prepared to swallow a very bitter pill.


The game basically asks you to decide between Duncan (or Duncan and Raymond if you saved him) and your team. You can either go back to Seattle with Duncan and Raymond and never see your team again or you can stay with your team and really fuck up Duncan's life in the process. He will be so angry at you (and with good reason) that he takes off and you never see him again. This was the solution I picked because I did not want to make things a mess for my team just for Duncan and I still feel it's the best choice. But it really, really hurt. When I started this game, I did not expect for it to make me cry, but this is exactly what it did. Well done, Harebrained Schemes, well done.

As a tip: if you happen to have Gaichu on your team and do the run to discredit Neville Ma, by all means do take Gaichu with you because it will be hilarious.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Stranger Things

Stranger Things by Crimsella on DeviantArt  


 Netflix has a new series, Stranger Things, and I highly recommend watching it. It has some of the most believable and talented child actors I have seen for a long time and I get a very strong Stand by Me vibe from it. It's a coming of age story on so many levels and I always enjoy that. It also has horror movie, thriller and conspiracy movie elements thrown in and strange as it sounds, that works really well. Each group of main characters works on a different level - the kids for example are in a fantasy story, but the sheriff is up to his neck in a conspiracy thriller and, with two episodes left for me to watch, the threads are only just coming together.



STRANGER THINGS: JOYCE BYERS by aquiles-soir on DeviantArt


Winona Ryder is excellent here. I haven't seen her in any movie for ages and the role that I remember her most in is Mina in Bram Stoker's Dracula. This one is ... very different and I almost didn't recognise her.


The first episode starts with the boys playing D&D and that scene is hilarious. I never played much D&D and I started pen and paper RPGs only in my twenties, but the scene still was so very familiar from pretty much every game I have ever played.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Suicide Squad

I saw Suicide Squad last night. It was ... a movie.

I had zero expectations, but I wanted to see Harley Quinn, Deadshot and El Diablo and they were cool, so that was good. I would have traded at least 30 minutes of random fight scenes against faceless minions against a much longer scene in the bar because every time the Squad interacted, it was awesome.

I would have loved some good creature design. The Enchantress had a cool look in her original form (not as sexy squirming June!Enchantress) and I wish her brother and her minions were somehow based on that design instead of being whatever the hell they were.

The Joker was bland. I have no other word for it. His look was not bad, but every time he opened his mouth, I couldn’t hear him over the sound of my brain going meeeeeeeeh. The movie would have worked just as well without him.

I think I would watch another movie with that team because they did have great chemistry, but man, get someone to write you an actual STORY that makes sense.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Lost Ember



The first teaser for Lost Ember, an upcoming indie game by Mooneye Studios, a small team from Hamburg. I'm waiting for their Kickstarter so I can back them because it looks gorgeous and I want to know what they can do with their ideas. Subscribe to their newsletter over at their site to keep up to date!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Ghost Parasite

Stanley has been depressed lately, seriously so. After consulting with two mages, he finds out that it's because he has some sort of awakened parasite, a spirit that feeds on his negative emotions. The group comes up with several plans to help him: duking it out with the spirit when it comes to feed on him, putting Stanley on a suborbital flight to banish the spirit (spirits can only exist in the Gaiasphere), looking for the spirit's true name to destroy it, putting so much cyberware into Stanley that he's no longer interesting for the spirit and, courtesy of the Technomancer, having him spend a month in the Resonance Realm. Which Stanley wasn't exactly excited about and I got the distinct impression that it was aclose call between that and getting killed by the spirit.

The spirit didn't feed on Stanley that night, so suborbital flight to St. Petersburg it was. While Stanley does some touristy things there, the group does detective work and finds what probably was the first victim of the spirit, at least in Seattle. A ganger living in Puyallup. They go there and search for its true name in a squatted house, admist people so high on Tempo and other drugs they don't even move when the group kicks down the door to the apartment. But they come up wit nothing.

The best scene was when Zach, while waiting in the parking lot for the others, decided that he needed to help a guy with a run-down car. The owner was inside the soup kitchen, getting a meal and Zach opened up the engine hood without asking. He does that, going straight from: I want to help that person! to I'm gonna do it! without actually asking if his help his wanted. He's seventeen, maybe he'll survive long enough to learn. The owner of the car came back and, with Zach obliviously studying the insides of the car's engine, he closed the hood and leaned on it. Fog and Kiki came back just in time to safe Zach from getting a beating or worse.


Some OOC highlights (both by Zach's player):
A McDonald's run solely by drones: MechDonald's
Players find a cat. GM: Do you know anything about cats? Player: Sure, I have Botany as a skill!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

DMing is a Performance Art

I came across a post written over at Monster Darlings about DMing and how it absolutely is a performance art. Go over there and read it, it brings up a lot of interesting stuff.
Don't Take Away the Player's Turn is another good post there.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Neverending Nightmares

I love Edward Gorey, so when Steam recommended Neverending Nightmare to me, I was immediately interested. It's not like they mention Gorey, not that I have read it, but it really is heavily inspired by him and his style.

If you are looking for puzzles to solve and fights to win, then this is not your game. If you're into exploring a setting and getting creeped out by artwork and atmosphere, go ahead and buy this. You play as Thomas, an asthmatic boy living in a huge mansion who is plagued by nightmares. Basically, you fall from one nightmare into the next. The artwork does a very good job of creating an oppressive atmosphere, with the edges of the screen always hidden in shadows. Thomas cannot move very fast (well, he can, but then he gets short of breath) and this adds to the atmosphere, too. It's a game about anxiety and depression and there are some really disturbing self-harm scenes, so be warned.

Do take your time with it and pay attention to the details in each screen, everything is wonderfully creepy (those paintings..).

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The only splashes of colour are things you can interact with and blood, used to great effect.
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The stuff of nightmares:
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pokémon Go at the Library

The library doesn’t have ist own Pokéstop, but it has one close by that is reachable from everywhere in the library. So we are going to places lures in it every Wednesyday afternoon for half an hour or one hour and invite people into the library to catch Pokémon. I really would love to get a Pokéstop for the library itself, but right now Niantic has disable that feature.

It’s a really easy, low-maintenance way for us to get people into the library who don’t normally go and to attract attention. I’m very curious if people will come. We’ll do this for at least a month, to give it enough time to go round by word of mouth.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Arcology Run

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The group did a run to get someone out of the former Renraku Archology, by now a low security prison/social housing project that's pretty much a black box where poor people go in and almost no-one comes out. They had some serious problems and some inspired solutions for them and in the end, they found their target and smuggled him out successfully. By the time they were on their way down, with more than 50 floors to go, morale was not so good because they knew perfectly well that the way down wouldn't be one bit easier than the way up. They had pissed off a lot of people and they had been attracting attention all the way.

Then I told them that there was a mass panic, with people running away from the way they were headed. They ducked into a room and with a drone, they went scouting. It turned out that there had been a fight and security had send four massive drones to break it up. Think Boston Dynamics mule, only bigger and with cattle prods. Normal people would be like: oookay, we're going to lie low. The group was like: holy shit, let's steal those drones!

They spent about 15 minutes (in-game) discussing this and coming up with a plan. By the time they were done, the last drone was on its way into the elevator and their rigger, wearing a chameleon suit, just made it into the elevator with the drone. The rigger isn't very good at her job because she's been a rigger for two weeks or so and she has been driving the group nuts with less than well-thought out plans and actions. But now, she shone, with some help from the group's free spirit. She followed the drone into its garage undetected, rigged it and then activated patrol mode in the floor the rest of the group was waiting. With that, they had basically a get out of jail free-card for the rest of the trip.

This cut the story much shorter than I had planned and I could have gotten them into trouble, for example by letting the professional runner team that was on their trail (but pretty far off) just find them. But I honestly see no reason for that. Their exit may have been a bit anti-climatic, but they came up with a good solution for their problem, they didn't make any mistakes while executing their plan and frankly, it was beautifully done. That should be rewarded. I do love getting my players into trouble, but it would simply have been unfair in that moment.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Deadlands: Runaway Train

Cast of characters:

Caleb Jones - ex-soldier and your humble narrator
Thomas Edward Silver - British scientist/monster hunter (??) and greenhorn at getting by in the Wild West
Otto Kaltenbrenner: German scientist and definitely, absolutely sane genius
Ghost: Kaltenbrenner's metal dog
Doctor Frances Grey: physician and by now seasoned adventuress
Kenneth Lake: Southern gentleman and poker player
Dim: lumberjack, very big and not very bright


I wasn’t looking forward to Chicago. Too much military for my taste, makes me feel like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Good thing we left quickly. On a train full of scientists, all headed for Dodge City and Hellstrom’s science convention. What could go wrong.

We chaperone our own scientist, Eliah Bailey. He’s a coloured man, but none of his fellow scientist seem to mind, I guess he really is a genius, for no-one to comment. Specially since they have plenty of gossip to share about each other and take plenty of pot-shots at everyone when they can. There’s not much love lost between them all. We got introduced to a couple of them, one of them even had a machine butler, he called him Max. A robot, he says Max is. Whatever he calls it, it’s a damn sight to see.

I was pretty interested in the guy who used to be a Confederate soldier and prisoner of war and says he has been granted his freedom to visit this convention because he impressed people with his inventions. I’d guess he rather traded one of his inventions for his freedom and good for him. There was even a woman scientist and no-one seemed to mind that either. She can probably hold her own against anyone who would mind.

Mr. Bailey had asked Kaltenbrenner to mix some kind of concoction into the engine grease and while Mr. Silver and I kept the engineer busy, he did. There’s a strict rule against tampering with the train, but we quickly learned that Bailey wasn’t the only one who hadn’t paid any attention to that.

But before that, we spent the night standing guard in the baggage coach to keep anyone from sabotaging Mr. Bailey’s inventions. Talked for a bit with Doctor Grey and of course she asked me why I had bowed out of visiting her family. All I could come up with is that it was a private matter. Close enough to the truth, but not really an answer and we both knew that.

I was saved from more questions by a ticking sound and after some searching, we found a bomb. Three sticks of dynamite strapped to an alarm clock, with two minutes to spare. Didn’t fiddle around with it, just threw it off the train. Killed a few sheep, but the train just drove on. We tried to search for a trace of the dynamite with Doc Grey’s dog, but no luck.

I had had a dream, seeing the train burn like a torch and it felt like one of those dreams again. Might have thought that the bomb had been the reason for that. During breakfast, a couple of other scientist revealed that they had tinkered with the train and each invention was designed to make it go faster. Each one on its own would have been fine, but everything together made the train go much too fast. Doc Grey and I were back in the baggage coach and had our hands full trying to keep all the crates in place. Pretty soon it was hard enough not to get crushed by them. The train was close to jumping the rails.

The others tried to remove the inventions from the engine. Hard to do when the train’s going seventy miles per hour. At least one scientist had a helpful idea - mechanical ants, as big as kittens. They clambered up on the engine and shut off the inventions, slowing us down to a safe speed. I really hope that this is what the dream meant.


Chicago was one hell of a ride. When we got off the train, some Pinkerton detectives invited me to accompany them. Thought about running for a second, but when you run, you’ve given up any chance of talking your way out of it. Turns out I didn’t have much talking to do. They took me for Caleb Jones alright. The man was a bit more than met the eye - he has done work for the Pinkertons and not small stuff, the way I read the letter I got. He, or me, is asked to continue that work, by someone who calls themselves The Ghost. I can’t ask what’s exactly my job, so I’m making it up as I go along. Got a Gatling automatic and a armored coat, so that’s a plus. The letter mentioned keeping an eye for for Doctor Grey because she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. I’m pretty sure she has seen plenty.

I just wanted to get out when I turned myself into Caleb Jones. Didn’t think that I’d ever meet someone who knew the guy and if I did - I’ve talked myself out of worse situations, I thought. Might be hard now. Unless I want to just up and run. That’s always an option, but right now I don’t want to and I think I can handle this.

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During the scramble to get the inventions off the train, Kaltenbrenner tried to send his dog to remove the one attached to the train's wheels. He picks him up and shows him the wheels: 'Do you see that device on the wheels?' And the dog goes 'No.' Next, he suffers a catastrophic failure of his magnetic paws when Kaltenbrenner tries to send him up on the engine's roof. Who's a clever boy? You are, Ghost!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Life is Strange

Finally - Life is Strange came out for Linux. I downloaded it from Steam immediately and started playing. It felt a bit slow in the beginning for me, but by now, I'm hooked on the story. And the music. The music is so good, especially in the cutscenes.

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The graphics are lovely. Not super detailed, but just enough details to create a certain mood. In that respect, it's very similar to Firewatch, which I love with all my heart especially for that kind of graphics.

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And, after seeing Max' journal, I really want to start my own again. I used to keep a journal every day for years, but I fell out of the habit one day and I wish I hadn't.