PEGBRJE: BADBLOOD and Boreal Tenebrae Act 1: “I Stand Before You, A Form Undone”

Stealth murder and Surrealism. Also, I won’t make a Taylor Swift joke. I have a Reputation to upkeep.

Credit to the NYU Game Center for this gif, because I couldn’t have made something better myself. Also because I couldn’t record something cool…

BADBLOOD is a split screen multiplayer murder game made by Winnie Song, professor at NYU Game Center. Players are in a 1v1 against another of their choosing to see who is the best at murdering the other within an abandoned field, hiding within the tall grass awaiting the opportunity to strike. But, some may ask, if it is local split screen they can always see you right? Won’t the opponent cheat? Exactly.

For fans of Screencheat, BADBLOOD will feel familiar as another title in the niche I like to call ‘games designed to be cheated’. Both players are able to view the other’s screen while maneuvering through the grass, but the orientation is off; north isn’t the same for both players. It may appear that the enemy is bottom left corner, but in reality that is bottom right corner thanks to the orientation shift. Landmarks are also few and far between, with ponds and thorns the only real assistance players can use — the screen’s colours are altered as well, so that won’t help. It becomes a game of righting oneself to the alignment of the enemy via cheating, yet the enemy is also attempting the same thing so it becomes imperative to slow their cheating as well. Players can zoom in on their character to reduce both of their line of sights, resulting in less cheating on their screen but less vision to work with for themselves. Even if the location is found, enemies do not appear on the player’s half of the map unless the eye is fully open and lit, done through certain activities like charging the dash attack. The only vision players will have is the rustling of the grass, and sometimes that can’t be trusted.

The characters players can choose from themselves appear to be similar with visual differences at first until one gets into game and sees the special ability icon. This ability is unique to each of the characters, allowing them to specialize in certain tactics to give them an edge. For example, the Hunter and his dog summons his… well, his dog, who will wander through sections of the map for a while to locate the enemy. The mechanic has a ‘flash grenade’ of sorts that is put down so the enemy who walks across it is without vision. These add just another layer of complexity to the player’s hunt, requiring them to not only figure out what the enemy’s special is but to cheat in order to locate when it has been put down and where it is while keeping track of their own special, the enemies location, and their own stealth.

This is a lot of information to process for two killers in a wheat field, but so far nothing mentioned says anything about the actual act of murder players are trying to perform. Simply put, the attack action is a gamble; miss, and the character is on cooldown, panting from the tension of attempting to attack a target and the release of completely whiffing the job. During this period is when it’s most scary, as players cannot move until the cooldown is complete leaving themselves wide open. This is to ensure that players don’t just wander around and swing at everything instantly, which would immediately kill the mood of the title which has so far focused so heavily on its ‘stealthiness’ in a cheating environment. There is also the dash attack, mentioned earlier, that sweeps across a few tiles of grass to kill anyone touched by it, but not only leaves players winded but reveals them. It’s a risky move to pull off, but is also the safest if one is unsure of where their enemy lurks.

BADBLOOD is simple, in the sense that it’s extremely easy to understand the core concepts and pick up and play. However, a few rounds in and it becomes a game of subterfuge and trickery, fooling your opponent into misaligning themselves or forgetting where their trap went and stumbling right into it. It’s designed to encourage cheating, yet also punished those that can’t balance their cheating with their own gameplay habits. It’s brilliantly done for how little there appears to be at first glance, especially since the levels themselves can be random as well to alter the state of the game. There is also a second game mode in which only 1 player is the murderous one first, and they alternate between in a cat-and-mouse scenario.

If you enjoyed Screencheat, but are looking for something a tad more stealth oriented, BADBLOOD is definitely a game to try out. Games only last a few minutes, but can be played over and over and over again.

Boreal Tenebrae Act 1: ‘I Stand Before You, A Form Undone’ is a surrealist adventure trip made by Boreal Tenebrae, a Canadian indie developer. Players enter a world from the PS1 era, a town full of blocks that have arrived from somewhere foreign to…. Well, I’m not really sure.

Players originally follow as Bree, living in a small town under siege by bizarre static pillars with the hope of finding another named Sarah. What exactly has caused Sarah to disappear is Bree’s goal to find, and it is somehow linked to those pillars. At first it appears that BT is just a narrative puzzle game, where players will search for different items and tools to solve problems such as the first goal of getting past the Lion Cop who is blocking off the closest pillar while a Dr. Moose and others stand idly. Upon completion of this however, the world dissolves in a static and opens to a new character; Sarah. This game is not just about Bree, nor just Sarah, but the entire town and its collections of stories as they deal with this apparently ‘not uncommon’ phenomenon. Each story allows players to collect tapes and discs in order to hear more bits about the story, uncovering character goals and dreams while piecing together what in the blazes is going wrong with this town besides everything. I did a small stint as a ghost and talked to a cat for instance; that was fun.

What set BT apart for me was it’s inclusion of the Blue vs Red text colouring for the items. I did not play many titles from the PS1 era, but those I remember were not big on communicating intent when it came to puzzles. BT, on the other hand, informs players immediately when the object they are interacting with will either push the plot forward or yield an item, coloured red and blue respectively. It was great to feel slightly lost while wandering, to find an item with the red text to signify that this was possibly a direction I needed to go, especially in the Sarah’s bizarre world of ringing phones and a severed bear head. Puzzles utilized items more often than not, so being able to search areas that highlighted their names as blue would help in this regard as well, such as crafting the Molotov in the opening puzzle.

Boreal Tenebrae is not a game I can spoil all that well due to just how little I felt I understood, although I felt as if that was the point. It’s main story and driving elements are its dream-state surrealism mixed with whatever ‘static’ is, which gave it an otherworldly feeling wrapped in a tiny town. I will say that I’m still not a fan of fixed cinematic cameras, but in the spirit of the PS1 it is completely understandable to include a staple design feature of the console. As another game taking inspiration from Yume Nikki, those that enjoy dream-surrealist narratives or loved the world building from Mable and the Wood I recommend giving this a shot to see if it’s for you.

Links to both titles!

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.