PEGBRJE: Headspun and nullpointer
In a brain and in a computer. What’s the difference?
Headspun is a narrative FMV/adventure simulation by SUPERSTRING, an indie company out of London, England. Players play as Ted, representative of the ‘left brain’ of Theo, who has awoken to see the Cortex in complete disarray, with his coworkers dead and the building on fire. Upon reaching Control he finds Teddy, the subconscious ‘right brain’ and Ted’s alter ego all in one, thankful that Ted is back so that they can get to work repairing the Cortex and get Theo up and running once again.
If it wasn’t completely clear, this game is a massive metaphor set within the confines of a brain as if it were a logistical operation. Theo has just awoken from a coma, and it is up to Ted and Teddy to somehow get along and bring all of Theo’s neural operations back up to speed. The game plays in two parts, with the majority of players’ time being spent on an adventure simulation set within an FMV environment. Players will watch real cutscenes through Theo’s eyes as he learns where he is and what happened to him beforehand. Ted and Teddy will weigh in on each current state, while also instructing Theo on what activities to do to gain ‘credits’ that can be spent in HR to fix up neural sections, purchase employees and finance hobbies. All of the tasks that Ted can find are completed by employees over the course of a set amount of time, so it’s up to Ted to best manage Theo’s time while trying to repair the Memory Banks.
It’s not necessarily a new approach to the human mind, but it is easily one of the more extensive and thorough. Combining a simulation to repair the brain with an FMV is certainly a different approach, but it adds a sense of differentiation between Theo’s mind and the world that Theo is attempting to understand. Players feel as if they are truly within the mind of Theo, making him subconsciously decide on what to do with his ‘spare’ time. These activities can be split into active and inactive tasks, with actives such as reading, crosswords and weightlifting. Each come with their own bonuses while generating stress that can only be removed by idle/inactive tasks. Trying to do too much will overly stress Theo out and cause his productivity to drop drastically, slowing down all forms of progress the player is attempting to make, so it is necessary to find a balance between activities.
This brings me to a point that contains more spoilers than normal, but I feel is a big reason why I spent so much time within Headspun; the conversations had about the innerworkings of the mind and just how fragile it is. Theo is suffering from serious memory loss due to the ‘accident’, and while he should be able to slowly regain his memories it is the interactions between the people around him and the subconscious characters that bring to light just how serious brain damage is. Upon fixing the Memory Bank, Ted finds Arnold (the memory man) in a state of panic, discussing how the memories are not lost but the stories that link them together are fragmented and illegible. It opens the door of discussing exactly what memories are to individuals, and how they are interpreted by the brain. The subconcious remains the same, indicated by how Ted and Teddy haven’t changed, but the memories that dictated a lot of Theo’s personality and understandings have been lost, which leads to Ted and Teddy unable to make proper decisions that aren’t related to the memory loss. Even then, they are unable to firmly understand where to go, and both have completely different objectives to indicate an inner turmoil that Theo had been experiencing, perhaps long before the coma. Ted and Teddy do not get along due to their polar opposite nature, but they both look out for Theo regardless of his condition and it’s these interactions between the two main sub consciousnesses and the rest of the staff that make for such an interesting story to accompany the management tasks.
Headspun wasn’t a game I was fully prepared for upon entering, with the graphics somewhat confusing me at first and the gameplay not completely apparent. Given a little time, however, to establish the nature of the title, the stakes at hand and the narrative that is being discussed and it becomes an engaging title about the importance of mental health and protecting the one organ that ties us all together. If you enjoy management styled games, Headspun is not as punishing due to its strong focus on FMV narration but will give you something to enjoy throughout. However, the combination of management and FMV narrative helps push it to new heights and engagement.
Notice: this is the dazed edition, which includes extras which are nice.
‘nullpointer’ is a fast paced cyberpunk shooty shooty dungeon crawler by prophetgoddess, a solo dev out of the United States. Players are unnamed protagonists living in a neon-lined virtual world, fighting through unending waves to achieve victory, or at least a high score. There’s nothing stopping players from going forever, except for their own skill, and perhaps a little bit of luck.
nullpointer falls into the realm of arena shooters in terms of gameplay elements, with no notice of ammo in sight. Players get to choose which gun they start the game, and from there it’s all up to players to survive against the onslaught of terrifying shapes that are shooting bizarre bullets. Jumping is nearly unlimited, freeing movement to bounce around everywhere and ignoring any reason to bother staying on the ground. The dungeons as they were are very focused on verticality, with direction being focused on going up and down rather than limiting players to only the 2D that they may be familiar with. This solidifies the fastpaced them, where players can gleefully hop around up and through platforms, dodging bullets and firing their own without a care in the world. Well, a slight care in the world, seeing as there’s only 10 HP to start with and that can disappear quite quickly if not careful. Thankfully, this can be upgraded along with other aspects to make the dungeon run even longer, with just the right amount of levelling.
The art direction is the aspect that caught my eye first, as it is reminiscent to 90s techno-electronic shows such as Reboot with its neon lines and ascii-adjacent art style. The bullets are just little bits of 1s and 0s, to keep with the theme that players are in an actual computer of the cyberpunk era. It makes sense then that enemies are just gatherings of data into a shape, shooing their own bits of 0s and 1s at the player to destroy them completely. In the same vein, the floor is covered with bizarre vegetation of various neon colours, which sometimes accidentally hides enemies or items thanks to just the giant contrast in colour. I can’t lie about the number of times I was taking damage thinking the floor had turned on me, when in reality I had jumped on top of an enemy, looked down and saw just neon yellow flowers and figured I was ok on that front.
It’s hard to elaborate much on nullpointer because it lays out everything it wishes to do from the start; give players a gun and have them fight through endless dungeons of cyberpunk ascii. Thanks to the simplicity and high-octane combat it succeeds at creating an atmosphere akin to many arena shooters of old, lacking in need for ammo and only requiring constant movement and speed to succeed. The graphics might throw players at first, but after the mild adjustment it becomes a thrill ride of attempting to get the highest score possible. Good luck out there.
Headspun: Dazed Edition
Cortex is in ruins. After waking from a five week coma, Theo Kavinsky finds his life in disrepair, and with no memory…