Rob On Stuff

Death Ray Manta, Switch. Out now.

Honestly, words can’t easily express just how made up I am that this is a thing and it only took *checks notes* a whole lot of effort from a bunch of really good people who probably don’t know how much this has brightened a miserable year. So nothing much then.

But yes! Thalamus Digital (sorry, there’s no white box/Oli Frey art) have only gone and pressed some buttons and you can actually buy Death Ray Manta on the Switch right now.

It’s got an incredible synthpop soundtrack from Oh Stevie (listen/buy it here), a couple of quality of life adjustments by Andy (who built the guts of the original and who made all this stuff happen alongside Thalamus) and, of course, that wonderful painting from one of the legendary Pickford Bros, Ste Pickford. What a team! I still can’t quite believe it.


I am totally made up. Proper chuffed. It’s also been a reminder that I might be naff with UI in just about every respect but I can’t half make the videogame bits look incredible. It really sings on the big tele!

Once again, massive thanks to the other Andy at Thalamus Digital for looking after the game and, of course, to everyone who bust a gut to make it happen. And to you, dear reader! Because you’re great too.

Rob On Stuff

Alienated In Games

I wasn’t expecting an interview with Gillen to put quite so much into perspective for me this week but here we are.

Even though I write about videogames, I write videogames, I play so many hours of videogames, there’s huge chunks of culture around videogames that entirely alienate me. There’s a perpetual discomfort to being in games for me. I very often feel like I don’t belong here.

None of this is specifically about the Gillen interview, none of this is new, it’s just when I’ve been feeling a wee bit listless of late I kinda lost the why of this stuff. Why I’m forever ill at ease in a space I’m really in the deep end of. This interview was like a bolt to the brainbonce.

This isn’t a rebuttal, this isn’t a response. It’s “I read an interview, thought ‘I’ve never felt like that’ about some stuff and one thought led to another and off the old brain went”. Could have been anyone, anything, really.

Right. Disclaimer out the way.

Videogames were never about rebellion for me, not in any way. I just kinda liked them! They’re pretty good. I stuck with them from the earliest to now because, well, I enjoy them.

You know, kinda like I read books and comics, listen to music, plough through old films and TV and all the rest of it. I enjoy it.

There’s no statement to make, no “take that, I like videogames hah”. Just from the moment I first saw one, I thought “hey, that’s pretty good”. That’s really as far as it gets. It’s as far as it got in the early eighties, it’s as far as it gets now.

I’ve never felt like videogames are mine, never wanted them to be. The very first time I played on a home computer, the computer belonged to my mum’s hairdresser who’d visit (this probably sounds bougie as fuck in 2020 but I promise, it was a very working class thing). She was mid thirties, easy.

The people I’d swap games with, later go to computer clubs and the like with, they were fifteen, twenty, years older, more, than me. I grew alongside videogames never once thinking they were anything but for everyone who wanted to play them. I still giggle at the headteacher at my school in 1984 offering to copy me games for 50p and a tape. Dude!

I wasn’t bullied because I liked videogames or Doctor Who or any of the things I fixated on. I was always rather aware that I was being bullied because the people who bullied me were shits. They bullied people. That’s who they were. So there’s never been anything there for me either. Absolutely nothing to prove to anyone there.

I’ve never felt pressing buttons made games any more immersive – any more meaningful – than any other art form.

I can get as lost and involved in a 2 and a half minute song as I can a game. I can feel a profound something, depending, from any other medium. Pressing a button or moving a joystick isn’t a multiplier. It’s not more special, it’s just pressing a button.

Controlling an avatar is just, you know, a thing. Nothing much more.

I am in awe of the industrial scale that is the how of mainstream games getting made. I would struggle to argue more goes into games than any other medium. I look at the work that happens to make artworks at scale, at the huge amount of disciplines required to make a film, the sheer breadth of skills that gets an album into the world.

I don’t see much evidence for games being the mostest. Thing is, even if they were, I’m concerned about the welfare of the people making them, not where games slot in some sort of imaginary ranking of the arts. I genuinely don’t understand why I would give a shit about anything else there.

I don’t think games had to prove anything to anybody. That I read the same arguments in 2020 as I did in 1983 doesn’t help in that regard.

Yeah, they make more money than blah, they’re more than films because buttons, actually we are an art. I mean yeah, games are an artform. We established this when I was in short trousers, the rest has been decades of bluster.

Also, that whole Ebert thing games went through? Shame on everyone. Dear me.

I’m a firm believer in accessibility. Difficulty options and the like? They’re just large print books, subtitled films, hearing loops but for games. They’re enablers. They help games be more. They help more people enjoy things. I kinda like more people enjoying things. It’s nice.

I don’t believe everyone should make games. I don’t believe everyone should learn to code. I want this stuff to be easy for the people who do. I want people to be able to dabble and muck around without ever commiting to a career or finishing, marketing, selling a game if they don’t want any of that.

I’ve seen first hand how much better games are for that, how much more breadth and depth the medium gains.

I want games with varying levels of passivity, of moods and commitment. I want games to be wider, broader, more welcoming than I can reasonably imagine without getting a really big headache.

And the past decade has further cemented my belief that not having games be wider, broader (especially not having wider and broader games whilst retaining an omnipresent culture that thrives on abuse, aggression, gatekeeping and all too often flat out hate), is unreasonable and makes everything worse.

I am very tired of everything being worse.

There’s more reasons games as a space alienates me, I’m sure. Some very specific, some rather ephemeral or vague. The stuff I’ve listed here? It’s the background noise of existing here.

Like, I’m no saint here either. I’ve more than mucked so much up myself, made things worse when I didn’t have to, the lot. I’m guilty as all get our of some of the nonsense that alienates me now. Fair cop, guv.

I’m also going to reiterate that I’m absolutely not suggesting Gillen is terrible or anything like that, or that he stands in opposition to any/all the above. Like I say, just one of those interviews where I thought “you know, I don’t recognise these feelings” and it brought all *waves hands* this stuff into sharp relief. I’m not like the Anti-Gillen or something, just my gut reaction to some of the things normal to others, unfathomable to me.

A bit of a “oh yeah, that’s why I often feel I don’t belong” because I don’t even know how to feel anything else about games, and so much nonsense feels all too often like entry requirements to being here.

Rob On Stuff

Death Ray Manta, Switch. October 19th. From Thalamus Digital.

It is one of my most sincere wishes that everyone in games finds themselves as fortunate as I have been when it comes to people to work with.

I’d genuinely struggle to understate how rough the past few months or so have been. It’s been a lot. Stress, physical/mental health not exactly being great, partner unwell, all manner of stuff going on with the kids and to top it all off, a global bloody pandemic.

It’s been rough going and I’m grateful to have scraped this far as well as I have.

I’m sure even just one or two of these things would be enough to seriously hamper a console release of a videogame. And sure, if it was left to me, I doubt the Switch version would exist at all right now.

It is a testament to the kindness, compassion and consideration of everyone who contributed to Death Ray Manta, both the original and the Switch version, that October 19th will see it finally reach a console audience.

I have largely had neither time or energy to work on anything. If anything at all, I’ve been the one slowing things down. That everybody involved took so much of a burden from me to make this game happen, I’m thankful, yeah? Get yourself friends, collaborators, publishers who understand that you’re not saying nope to doing something because you don’t want to, or you’re being awkward, none of that — just understanding that right now, I really need to be doing other, more urgent, things.

It’s honestly humbling, sometimes mystifying as to why me, why my work, how I got so fortunate, but I’m so happy to see this silly little game getting another outing.

Huge, huge, HUGE, thanks to Andy at Thalamus, Andy, Ste, Mike and Jen whose work you’ll be playing, looking at, listening to if you grab the game for your collection.

Huge thanks to everyone who has supported me in some way (despite the odd wobble of mine here and there) that makes this thing being released into the world a perpetual reminder of how fortunate I am. Whilst I often don’t feel like I belong in games, I’m under no illusions – I’ve always, always felt folks had my back, felt welcome in games.

And, of course, reassured me that there’s more than an audience of 1 for my silly laser toting fish videogames. That was certainly unexpected.

Death Ray Manta is out October 19th from Thalamus Digital. You can pre-order now, I think.

Thank you, everyone, for letting silly old me get this far. I hope you enjoy the game and appreciate as much as I do all the folk involved in getting this release out there.