Cyberpunk media you won’t be asking to refund

So, the Cyberpunk 2077 saga somehow became more of a shitshow. Sony has pulled the game from the Playstation 4 store. It is also offering refunds to anyone who bought it.

Meanwhile, I’m still playing games from that Be A Better Cyberpunk bundle I wrote about on Tuesday. And I’m far from alone. The bundle has smashed its goals and raised US$43,797.07 from 680 contributors. The US$10 version has brought in another US$5,066.57 from 437 contributors. Both remain available until Dec. 24.

I’ve checked out all this bundle has to offer (it’s a hell of a lot). Here’s a look at everything I didn’t cover last time.

More cyberpunk video games

Why not start off with a game that is actually five games. Rooftop Cop by S.L. Clark gives you a choice of five widely varying styles of gameplay to enjoy. The first involves you playing as a cop and giving people tickets. Not my favourite of the bunch, but I believe the point is to criticize, not celebrate. This is a world where cops have gone wrong, after all. The second is a capture-the-flag game in which the world slowly melts once you capture the flag. Not a lot of replayability there.

The third game has you steal a bunch of stuff while breaking through floors to access lower levels of a building, from which to pilfer more goods. This has the feel of some sort of tower-based NES game and was quite enjoyable. The fourth game is sort of pixely survival horror. Two people are on a raft floating on water between what were once buildings. You can’t steer, but you can add to your raft and throw batteries on a fire to increase its strength. You can also rescue people from passing buildings, but I admit I was not good at that. This was my favourite of the bunch, but I played so long I ran out of memory and the game crashed. Ah well. The fifth game has you walk. Slowly. I quickly stopped.

Moving on, 2901//Freelancer by notsleeping is a time-management simulation. That means it lets you do whatever, but you have a limited amount of time to do it. That whatever includes drug trafficking, scavenging, and make ends meet however you can. In case that doesn’t make it clear enough, rest assured this game is strictly dystopian. It leans into the income-disparity side of cyberpunk. The graphics bring to mind the Atari 2600 and I love it, though it can be a little tough to tell what’s going on. Still, this sort of game can really suck me in, and I’m excited to play more of it.

A Nightmare’s Trip by Sky Hour Works is a short visual novel that follows a creature from a child’s nightmares while the creature is on vacation. The nightmare creature is an adorable cartoon thing, as are a lot of characters in the game, and I find it easy to relate with how overwhelmed he feels while navigating the massive city he’s chosen as a vacation spot. Though games about riding the subway and visiting densely packed tourism centres hit different in 2020. The gameplay is simple: click to advance the text and click on dialogue options to select them. I’ve always enjoyed visual novels because they combine my loves of gaming and reading and this one is no different.

a screenshot from A Nightmare's Trip in which the main character describes going feral while eating breakfast
I accidentally go feral all the time too man. This screenshot is from A Nightmare’s Trip.

Welcome to Glitch City. Population: I actually have no idea, because any of these weird objects could be a person. Nilson Carroll’s browser-based RPG flaming/million is all about embracing the sort of glitches you might find in an old-school NES game. It’s a cool concept, but one that needs more patience than I have given the circumstances under which I am writing. I.e.: hastily. I love glitches though, so expect me to cover this game in greater depth at some point.

An Outcry. Prologue Demonstration 2 is by Quinn K., who also has a work of poetry available in this collection. This is a narrative-based horror RPG that deals with some heavy topics, such as transphobia (basically every character misgenders you), fascism, and suicide. Prepare yourself before playing if you choose to do so! I will say though, the soundtrack is fantastic, so even if you don’t play be sure to check it out.

Bit Rat: Singularity by bucket drum games is a hand-pixelled, story-driven puzzle game. Few combinations of words are as appealing to me as those are, even without the cyberpunk angle. You play as an AI yearning to escape from the highly secure network you exist on. You do this by rerouting data streams, hacking humans, and hanging out with rats. I found the puzzles to be pleasantly challenging and I enjoyed that you can undo every action you take.

My Executioner And I is an ongoing project by Taylor McCue. The tagline had me excited (and a little nervous) to play: “Military weapon fuses with trans woman, discovers being able to fire lasers doesn’t do much to help with PTSD”. The game is basically text only at this point, but the story is interesting, if rather heavy. I won’t spoil anything, but it deals with suicide and invasive surgery. The game will be free to play upon completion, but even this work-in-progress version is compelling. I’m excited to see the finished product.

Tools for the cyberpunk in your life

If games and other entertainment media weren’t enough, this collection also comes with two things that itch refers to as “tools”. They’re basically interactive software that aren’t really games. Both deal with music.

2901//Drum_Dream Vol2, which is by notsleeping like the game with 2901 in the title, lets you mess around with breakbeat samples. You get several samples to work with, as well as a few other sound effects. I did not successfully create something pleasant to listen to, but that’s okay. It’s about playing around more than anything. I imagine someone more musically inclined than me would have a lot of fun experimenting with all the options.

Metagroove by Crescent Moon Games is a little more my style. It’s an audio visualizer that lets you customize the hell out of its appearance. It gives you a ton of options to work with to create an aesthetic. You can either import a song to play, use system sounds, or bust out a microphone and visualize your own speech. You can also import your own text and logos, which I obviously did.

the media are plural logo sits among trees and rocks that are glitching out in a scene from the cyberpunk music visualization tool Metagroove
The Media Are Plural logo hangs out among some scenery that is glitching out in Metagroove.

The written word

The collection comes with five pieces of written material, of which three are short stories, one is a poetry collection, and one is a zine. All come as pdfs.

Lilian by Taylor Davis is the shortest among them. The story, which Davis says they wrote at the last minute specifically for this bundle, centres on an android who feels they must atone for something. Cuisine for the Modern Synthetic Being by vin; androgyne is told from the perspective of an android as she recalls embracing cannibalism and lesbianism. Both these stories are in the first-person perspective of the android who is self-reflecting. Superstructure by Jess Levine is the longest story at 10 pages. This is classic cyberpunk, featuring a gritty city, a too-cool hero on the wrong side of the law, and a weird kid with talent beyond their years. All three are captivating reads that I would recommend you check out.

The bundle’s poetry collection is The Inexorably Real by Anne Pierrot. Despite its name it’s actually by Quinn K. (who also brought us the game An Outcry. Prologue Demonstration 2) and features drawings by Kitet Frogwife. As stated above, the poems are meant to be the work of a character in the game, which helps build the world. I love when media properties have stand-alone works that can be enjoyed on their own, but which can be experienced together to widen the world they set out to build. These poems are accessible and fun, and the drawings just add to the multimedia experience.

Finally, we have The Queer Cyberpunk’s Guide to Tapletop RPGs by Nathan Blades. This zine is part personal essay, part how-to guide. The personal essay portion gives you Nathan’s background both as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and the TTRPG scene, and it also serves as a sort of argument as to why the two mesh so well. From there, it provides an in-depth how-to on mystery writing, a tarot character generator, some pre-made characters for you to grab (with photos for you to paste onto your character sheet!), and recommendations on which games to check out.

Armed with that knowledge, let’s look at the cyberpunk TTRPGs the bundle offers.

You have to play these offline games online too in 2020

I’ve always liked tabletop RPGs in theory, but I’ve never managed to successfully take part in one for more than like one session at a time. I did not manage to change that in the week that I’ve had this bundle. However, I did read the guidebooks (all of which are much more digestible than the mainstream encyclopedic stuff I’ve seen in the past) and can offer my first impressions.

I probably could have played Psyber Knights by Meinberg. It’s a single-player TTRPG in which you are a Psyber Knight in training. All you need to play is the rulebook, a deck of cards and maybe something to jot notes on. Psyber Knights looks emotionally intense, and it comes with a safety disclaimer to ensure players feel comfortable pausing or quitting the action if it becomes too much. During each segment of a game, you draw three cards from the deck that correspond to different things depending on the trial. For example: the first trial has you reflect on your own body. The real evil a cyberpunk rebels against is self doubt.

The Flower Court by Jay Dragon also comes with safety disclaimers. You and your group play as members of the nobility who have come to the eponymous Flower Court mainly to flirt with and court one another, but sometimes murder is involved. No doubt sessions could get emotionally and physically intense, so it’s a nice touch to see the guide put safety and consent into players’ minds from the get-go.

The gameplay sounds unlike any other TTRPG I’ve experienced. You basically play as terrible spoiled rich people trying to either get married or kill someone. Each game is a one-off and the character archetypes are predetermined, although there are many to choose from so not every game will have the same cast. There’s a ton of free roleplay opportunities where you basically talk or flirt as though you were a real upper-echelon debutante. To play, you basically whisper a question to someone, which they answer publicly. Then, a coin flip determines whether the question gets revealed. After a round of such questioning, you secretly send either a valentine or rejection to someone. Lying and anonymity are both accepted here. After the final round, you either propose to your lover or attempt to assassinate someone.

You can probably tell I am extremely interested in this game based on how much I’ve written about it. In 2020 while looking for work, I like sounds of the escapism that pretending to be a shitty rich cybersnob for an evening would provide. These characters are alien to me, and I enjoy acting out a persona so unlike my own. Finding the right group of people to play this with, however, will not be easy.

a screenshot from the game 2901//Freelancer
Here’s a screenshot from 2901//Freelancer. You see what I mean about Atari 2600?

Maybe I’ll have better luck trying to persuade the squad to play Rennasistance: The Rough Cut Edition by Liam of Sandy Pug Games. This game is a work in progress, but one that already shows a lot of promise. And it too offers innovative gameplay. You play in the one part of a future world where the bourgeoise have not been defeated, where the ruling class has outlawed music. Naturally, snippets of your favourite real-life songs are what you use as magic. The guide gives players robust instructions on how to chop up a song to create the snippets to use in game, so there’s no technical know-how required beforehand.

The game also emphasizes that whether you succeed or fail actions is less important than how you succeed or fail, which is determined by the vibe you choose once the act is done. There is a lot of complexity here and it feels like something that would be a lot of fun, even if you and your friends can’t agree at all about music. Imagine if you use a clip from a song you know your friend hates to save them. Hilarious!

Public Utility Mechs by Pammu and Sin has you play as the drivers of public transportation routes in the Philippines 50 years after an alien invasion. The invaders are tall, fair-skinned beings who have used nanotech to match their physiology to that of humans. They insist they have always been the stewards of the Earth and that your war against them is an insurgence. Your vehicle can transform into a mech to fight off these aliens, who despite not successfully taking over the Earth also haven’t abandoned the mission.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise given that setup that this game is a political commentary on the present-day Philippines, the struggles of everyday citizens and the colonialism its people have had to endure for centuries. For people outside the Philippines, it presents a unique way to learn about the culture. It also recontextualizes colonialism to point out how absolutely absurd it is. Sounds like a fantastic game to me.

Finally, there is Silicon Skin by Will Uhl, a “sexy android drama for deviant hotties,” according to its subtitle. This is another drama-based game focused on social interactions and conflict rather than on battling and multi-session storytelling. One player is the admin (basically the game master) and the others play as robosonas. Each robosona player determines several elements of their character, and one must tie into another character’s robosona. The admin picks a setting, then each robosona introduces themself by making a bad choice. The aim of the game is to create tension and conflicts, and you can ensure your preferred outcome to a conflict happens by willing them into being by wagering tokens on them. The winning bidder decides what happened. The game ends when each character sates their intense desire (one of the elements you determine when the game begins) or when the drama fizzles.

I could see sessions of this game being hilarious with the right group of people. There is little setup, so this seems like an easy game to play over Zoom or at a small gathering. All you really need is an active imagination and some chaotic energy.  

The sounds of cyberpunk

You could use the albums in this collection as background music for one of the above TTRPGs (except Rennasistance since it has its own musical element, though you could use the songs as your spells), or do what I did and just enjoy them on their own. All three albums – Queer by TV Band, Electric Pawer by 3D63 and Analog Hack by 3D63 – share a similar futuristic funky techno style, complete with some glitchy computery noises. All three albums are instrumental and work great as music to study to, or to listen to while writing articles with a fast turnaround times about an important coming-together of indie cyberpunk creators. Ask me how I know that.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about these albums since I treated them as background noise and didn’t give them deep listens. But if you like the aesthetic of cyberpunk, all this music captures it in audio form. I expect to listen to these albums many times. And if you’re in the market for music for your cyberpunk video game, you now know two artists you can contact.

Game over

Thank you for drastically lowering my site’s bounce rate by reading this whole article. I have run out of words. Just go buy the bundle, play some of those TTRPGs with me, and be a good cyberpunk.

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