Sylvio 2 is coming this fall, and I couldn’t be happier

One-man-developer Niklas Swanberg of Stroboskop announced that the sequel of the open-world, puzzle, horror game, Sylvio, will be arriving fall of 2017 for PC, Mac, and Xbox One.

Following the success of the first Sylvio Kickstarter, Swanberg took to the crowd-sourced website again in December 2016 to fund Sylvio 2 for SEK 130,000 (roughly $14,400), but was unsuccessful ending at SEK 83,919.

Fast forward a year, Swanberg took a few steps back from the failed Kickstarter, and put work into a “remastered” version of the first Sylvio, followed with a console release in Jan. 2017 for Xbox One and PS4. It’s assumable that the console release must have given him the leverage he needed to pave way for a much needed second installment. 

Like the prior game, Sylvio 2 follows Juliette Waters, ghost recorder and EVP-specialist. In the first one, set in 1971, Waters gets her hands on a reel recorder and stereo microphone. Eager to test out her new gadgets, she heads into an abandoned park called Saginaw in hopes to capture some EVP recordings. She eventually becomes trapped in the park, and must use her equipment to not only solve a long lingering mystery about the park’s closing and abandonment, but also find a way out. This time around in Sylvio 2, Waters returns to Saginaw park, but now armed with video equipment.

The player uses the equipment to capture audio and visual of the afterlife. The recordings come out distorted and fragmented, requiring the player to review the audio and visuals using the rewinding, fast forwarding, and slowing down features of her equipment to decipher and put the messages together. It’s a mechanic that allows the story to be told in a marvelously creepy unconventional way.

Sylvio was one of my favorite game experiences of 2015.

Sylvio can be best compared to a dream: it feels familiar, but equally has an unknown—almost unfinished—feeling. The world is sprawling and empty, all of which adds to its eerie atmosphere. Like trying to remember a dream, you can grasp onto fragments, but things in between seem to be missing. There’s logic to its world, yet doesn’t make any sense at the same time.

It’s been criticized for its graphics, controls, and lack of fleshed out mechanics. But similar to how I feel about Deadly Premonition, its lack of detail, its design flaws, and quirks—whether intentional or not—adds to a distinct aesthetic of the game. Its the bigger picture of both these titles that have made an impact on me. Sylvio offers things that I simply have never seen in a game of its genre before, especially in a story telling and world building sense.

The horror in Sylvio is entirely owed to its pacing and atmosphere. It never had a jump scare; its uninviting environment made me equally curious, making me want to explore every corner, but with a lingering sense of caution. I loved this game, and it’s stuck with me long past initially playing it. I can’t wait for the second one. 

I didn’t want to use this blog to have news pieces, but I saw this as an opportunity to gush over a game I’ve been wanting to write about and share for a long time.

Also, Sylvio went on sale today on Steam.

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An earnest reflection on my console bias and video game consumerism.

I was there at the midnight release of the Nintendo Switch. I was a consumer. I’d like to believe that I don’t have a bias of systems. I want to say “if there’s an exclusive I want to play on a specific system, I’ll do what I can to make it happen.” It’s why I bought an Xbox 360 from a kid in the hood on an ATV off Craigslist to play—what was an exclusive at the time—Deadly Premonition, and why I inevitably settled on a PS4 when Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and Bloodborne were announced for it. And of course, I shouldn’t have to list Nintendo’s exclusives. But I can’t quite say that I was at the midnight for the Switch solely for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I sure as hell can’t say the same for why I had the Wii U day one. If I were to be honest, this goes beyond bias, but actually touches on my PTSD trying to get my hands on a Wii when I was 15. But more seriously, I think at its core, it’s just about consumerism.

Now, at the time of the Wii’s launch, yes, Twilight Princess made me want to get that system (even though I owned a GameCube and could have easily just experienced it on that). But it was the Wii. It had bowling. It was a no-brainer. And like the old story goes, it was very successful upon its release. That made it extremely difficult to find, and I hadn’t got my hands on one until close to a year of it being out. In a silly nerd-like way, it traumatized me. I hated not having it as soon as I could, and was quite frankly, jealous of my friends who did. I spent weekends scouring all the stores in my neighborhood, calling them, just to see if one was in. It eventually went beyond me just wanting a new system (and a game that I could have already played anyway), but it became a vendetta; a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was pathetic. I fell victim to Nintendo’s infamously effective way of supply-and-demand. The hype was raised due to sparsity, and I didn’t just buy into it, I became a slave to it.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not one of those “Nintendo or nothing” fans. Yes, I worked at Nintendo of America; Yes, I bought the Wii U day one; Yes, I blindly pre-ordered and paid the Switch off without a single feature, or even the user interface being announced. Well, hm, actually, shit… Let’s move on.

I talk a big game on my minimalistic habits, and try to be mindful of what I buy and don’t. I’ve come a long way since I was 15—now being 26. But at the end of the day, for whatever reason, Nintendo games, Nintendo products, they just add a great deal of value to my life. I’d be damned if I didn’t say BotW hasn’t inspired me, gotten me excited, or sparked a sense of instant nostalgia that I haven’t felt playing a game in a long time.

Now to make it clear, I don’t buy that many games. I do when I can. And though this analysis of myself would otherwise suggest I’m a consumer with no self-control, I do actually have a pretty strict discipline as to when I allow myself to consume media (comics in the morning, video games on the weekend, and Sundays are specifically for point-and-click adventure games). I also limit myself from buying something new unless I’m done with what I already got. But there’s something to say when I can’t control the unnecessary impulse to buy into—what appears to be—Nintendo’s very good marketing ploys. And again, like Twilight Princess, I could have played BotW on my Wii U.

I sure as hell didn’t feel that urge to get a PS4 at midnight, and Sony consoles are what I was primarily raised on. I waited almost two years until I settled on picking one up once the price was right and more games were out. That fact alone tells me that I don’t entirely have a bias on my conscience.

And who the fuck am I kidding? I think the Switch is cool. That’s why I wanted it. Whether or not I needed it day one, however, is the truly debatable nature of this week’s rant.

This was intended to be a “what am I playing this week,” but instead this post tripped over itself, down a stairwell leading to a dark basement of self-reflection and acceptance. Especially when I realized that what I was playing was what, in most cases, the same as everyone else.

NOTE: To even the plane, I managed to borrow an Xbox One from someone just so I can play Quantum Break (I actually purchased a copy just to do so). And eventually, somehow, I’ll play D4 with a Kinect.

– kurt

What I’m reading this week:
The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
Doom Patrol by Gerard Way and Nick Derington
Mother Panic by Jody Houser and Tommy Lee Edwards
Moonshine by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

What I’ve been playing:
Little Inferno
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Why Grim Fandango made me who I am.

Everyone has that one thing. That thing that shapes who you are without you even really being consciously aware of it. For a lot of people, it’s a particular movie, cartoon show, or album that just fills them with a rushing sense of nostalgia, or a reminder of something that defined a period in their life. For me, it was a video game. That game was Grim Fandango. If you’re aware of what this masterpiece of a game is, then reading the rest of this article may be just a reminder to how sweet you are for having known what it is. Otherwise, indulge with me and my analysis of how this game subconsciously defined who I would eventually become, despite its commercial failure.

For the sad souls that have somehow slithered through their lives not knowing about this game, Grim Fandango is an adventure game directed by Tim Schaffer, who is now more commonly known today for his work at ‘Double Fine’ which put out Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. In Grim Fandango, you play as Manny Calavera, a travel agent for the recently deceased. It’s his job to give them a form of transportation through the land of the dead to their final resting place. It isn’t until he meets Mercedes Colomar that he must travel across the land of the dead himself to save her.

Released on October 30th, 1998, I distinctly recall my father purchasing Grim Fandango in November of the same year. At the time, my 8 year old self wasn’t sure what it was, or what kind of game it was.

I knew what an adventure game was by the standards such as The Legend of Zelda. And at the time, I was obsessing over the uprising first person shooter genre of games such as Duke Nukem 3D or Quake. Was Grim Fandango a first person shooter? I didn’t think it looked like one. In fact, I didn’t think it really looked like a game at all, but more like an animated film about well dressed skeletons.

Grim Fandango was brought home and installed on our PC in the basement. My sister, who was 14 at the time, was much more familiar with the genre and style of adventure games (being that titles like ‘D’ and ‘7th Guest’ were her favorite games; I was too scared of them). She began playing Grim Fandango while I sat from a distance only showing mild intrigue. I remember wanting to play, and being interested, but I let my older and intimidating sister have her fun while she laughed at the dialogue and characters. It wasn’t until she couldn’t figure out how to open the main menu of the game and save that she had lost interest for the time being, thus allowing me to sneak into scene and give the Grim Fandango a try.

I wandered around the town aimlessly speaking to characters, collecting items that I had no idea held relevance to the progression of the story in any way. I was completely immersed in the ability to choose whatever I’d like to say. I found myself spending the next hour choosing every single possible dialogue entry to hear the entire tree that had been written for that conversation. It felt so open and free to whatever I wanted to do, and though my choices were actually limited to only a couple of lines, it still felt as though I had been given a freedom I had never experienced in a game before. In Duke Nukem, I could choose to compliment the strippers, but I had only one line to say, and I didn’t have a say in even choosing it.

But the moment that Grim Fandango really blew my 8 year old mind a way was when I had made the decision to shove the festival bread I collected earlier in the game down Manny’s mail tube in his office. It was at that moment, I think I was changed forever. It almost felt as if I was creating the story; I was creating the events happening, not consciously aware that it may or may not have a consequence in the game. Though shoving the bread down that mail tube truly had no consequence in the end, it’s the principal that I was allowed to execute this very random thought of mine. Even more brilliant, is that action foreshadowed the solution to a puzzle later in the game.

Now, to most reading this, you probably think this is all old news, given that adventure games and this mechanic had existed since text adventures. But admittedly I was young, and my feeble pre-adolescent mind could not handle that style of gaming until I approached the later years of my first decade of life. Sadly, and also amazingly, I wasn’t truly able to comprehend and really play games of this depth and design until I was 8, and Grim just so happened to be my first exposure of it. But I had only caught it in its tail end of the genres decline. Leaving me with, what most argue, the greatest adventure game ever made.

WELCOME TO RUBACAVA.

I grew up into my teen years finding an absolute fascination for old crime and pulp films, as well as literature. I became obsessed with the works of Raymond Chandler like The Big Sleep, and Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon.

I had fallen in love with films of the same titles, and then I had finally come across the movie that was Casablanca – which Grim Fandango is most heavily influenced by. Like Grim Fandango, I became oddly infatuated with Casablanca, and found myself coming back to it again and again, studying and researching it.

But as this love and fascination for older films and pulp fiction had developed, never was I consciously aware where that love stemmed from. When I was 8, I did not declare “that because of Grim, I will love and seek out film noir.” In fact, the connection between the two didn’t even become apparent to me until my early twenties.

I also had a fascination with what would be considered darker themes in life, such as the afterlife, and death. As a young artist, I always enjoyed drawing skeletons, and all things spooky, once again, never consciously aware that if I were to take all my separate and many interests and combine them, that it would essentially create Grim Fandango! I didn’t even really notice how much of an impact the conceptual artist of Grim, Peter Chan, had made on my art style alone! And of course, and lastly, the impact it made on my undeniable love for all things adventure games.

Conceptual artwork by Peter Chan

1998 – THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA OF VIDEO GAMES

I consider 1998 to be the most important year in gaming in terms of what I think became the standard of modern game design with titles such as Resident Evil 2 and Half Life that weren’t only a commercial success, but critically considered ground breaking. Both of these games are also amongst my favorite games of all time, that both eventually spawned sequels that make my top 3 (being Resident Evil 4 and Half Life 2).

Though Resident Evil 2 didn’t change the landscape much from its predecessor, it is the most successful in the series, selling nearly 5 million copies alone on the playstation platform. It brought the horror survival genre to the forefront, making zombies cool again, which despite its undying popularity today with new zombie franchise games being announced left and right, films, and TV shows. Zombies were not that apparent in the late 80’s and 90’s. Mainstream horror was more focused on teen slasher films at the time. I’m willing to go so far to say that the success of Resident Evil paved way for what is now this renaissance of zombie movies, shows, and games.

Then there is of course, arguably one of the greatest games ever made, Half Life. Which not only set the standard for the first person shooter genre, but reshaped the way stories could be told in video games. In 2004, Half Life had sold 8 million copies. It was an enormous success. It can’t be denied that every FPS to come out since Half Life, learned something from that game.

So… how did Grim Fandango hold up with its fellow 1998 games. Sales are estimated around 100,000 – 500,000 units worldwide. In which by those standards the game is considered a commercial failure. Following Grim Fandango’s failure, LucasArts (its publisher) cancelled the sequels to past adventure game classic such as Sam & Max Hit the Road and Full Throttle.

1998 was a year of broad diversity in new genres coming out, old genres being redefined, and also, classic genres dying out. 1998 was a year that had huge influence on game design for years to come. Being an 8 year old and experiencing these games on the cusp of beginning to define myself early on was a remarkable age to digest all this.

WHY GRIM?

In the midst of over a dozen other influential ground breaking titles that could have defined my interests, may it have been Resident Evil with its obvious Romero Zombie film influence, or Half Life that could have made FPS’s and science fiction my favorite genres, it was Grim Fandango that became a timeless never ending influence and inspiration to my personality, career choices, and interests.

Obviously Grim differs in the obvious compared to HL and RE2. So what was it? Was it that sense of freedom I felt while choosing what I can say, or do? Was it that I could play at my own pace and not feel rushed to kill the next enemy or more importantly, not die?

Grim Fandango captured atmosphere and style that could never be replicated. A world so beautifully realized simply from all of Schaffers interests at the time: mexican folklore, and old film noir. Peter Chan managed to hone in on what made the world of Grim what it was. All the while Peter McConnell’s instalntly nostalgic and memorable soundtrack completed the back drop. I really can’t say this in any other way, but I think Grim Fandango is perfect. Most folk like to make a stink about its clunky controls, but hey, thats only a product of its time period. Lets not forget, that Resident Evil also shared that same control scheme.

I think Grim could and should be studied for years to come, not only for its design, but its ability to execute a story on the same level as classic literature and film. And though Grim Fandango ended the genre for over a decade, it’s also Tim Schaffer that may have even brought it back from the dead with his recent kickstarted success “Broken Age.”

Also, I can’t end this without mentioning my shock and excitement that Grim Fandango is being remastered for the PS4 and PS vita. I’m hopeful for a PC remaster as well.

Anyway, I gotta relax. I do like other games… and other things… for that matter, I swear.

KURT