Friday 30 November 2018

Dark Ambient Review: Echoes of the Future

Dark Ambient Review: Echoes of the Future

Review by Casey Douglass

Echoes of the Future

Proto U’s dark ambient album Echoes of the Future continues the themes explored in her previous albums: Earth Songs, Khmaoch and The Edge of Architecture. The theme of this album revolves around what a post-Earth event might look like, humanity strapping themselves into gigantic metal vessels and blasting off into the wider universe.
Album Blurb: The space center sleeps as the sound of your boots echo down endless hallways. Rocket fuel reeks from the colonization ships outside, one more to go. You steal one final look at the charred horizon as you enter the last ship bound for a new home. Do we deserve a second chance? A deep space ambient album that invites you to take part in the discovery of cosmic anomalies and abandoned space stations in search of a new home.

As this is a space, sci-fi type album, the expected rumblings, buzzings and beepings don’t take too long to appear. They do this in a way however, that remains interesting and full of texture. Take the opening track Gone as an example. A mechanical “ticking” gets things going, a sound that threads a sustaining rhythm through the other sounds that emerge around it. Added to this are some mellow tones that move from ear to ear and some rumbling thundery sounds. It’s hard not to imagine the view described in the album blurb, gazing through the window of a space station as massive ships start their drives, and float gently away from their docking clamps.

Things change up for the next track Interlinked, where a kind of shimmering hangs in the soundscape. High tones join it that become almost shrill at times. Among the other elements of the track are gentle buzzings, and a fantastic “boiling” effect that to me, sounded like what might happen if you could boil digital bytes, or code, in a saucepan. When you get to the hints of voice transmission near the end of the track, you feel like something has exchanged protocols and a handshake has taken place. Maybe a ship has docked with the subject of my musing below.

Next up is 43258D. This track seemed to bring to mind what it might be like to visit a steampunk-styled planet, one of metal, steam and fire. The muted opening sounds, airy or watery, are joined by a deeper rumbling a little later, and by the midpoint, help create a resonating maelstrom. The fuzzed sound of an astronaut breathing at the end drew parallels with the album art of Echoes of the Future, for me at least. Someone who had entered a strange planet, made his or her way through the hissing corridors and pumping chambers and finally entered a glowing core of stillness and tranquility.

Drawings of Nebula really seemed to be the audio equivalent of looking at some of the stunning deep space photos that we get from the Hubble telescope. There are “radio frequency sweeping” tones pinging off masses of particles, and later, hissy static being joined by wolf-like howls and more human voice-transmission effects. If the fleet or ship at the heart of this album were passing close to a nebula, this track does a good job of encapsulating what that might sound like.

The final track that I wanted to mention, and also my favourite, is Hounds of the Void. This track, for me, had an ominous tone. While the others were awe inspiring, or simply interesting, this track rumbled with threat, which I liked very much. It didn’t cause me to think of the human fleet, but a change in viewpoint to an alien threat. Massive ships, darker than dark, making their way through the universe looking for prey. The track starts with a deep tone that throbs and pulses. These pulses grow and are joined with other higher tones, which might suggest starlight beginning to glint on clustered metal shapes that weren't visible a moment ago. The track seems to contain a metallic shimmer, that sits above the rumbling. There are small tones and voice-like calls/beeps, I couldn't decide which. All I could do was imagine this fleet moving past from a fixed point, the ships looking sharp and dangerous, the soundscape making me feel like I didn’t want to be seen. Absolutely fantastic.

Echoes of the Future is another superb album from Proto U. If you enjoy the more sci-fi/space ambient variety of soundscape that it contains, you really should buy a copy when you can. It’s mellow, smooth, awe inspiring and dark, the spaces it creates both massive and haunting. A perfect album to listen to as these cold winter nights draw in.

Check out the Echoes of the Future page on Bandcamp at this link. You might also like to listen to Hounds of the Void below:

I was given a copy of this album for review purposes.

Album Title: Echoes of the Future
Artist: Proto U
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: 28 August 2018

Wednesday 28 November 2018

DARK GAMING: Trying to Survive Extinction in Frostpunk

DARK GAMING: Trying to Survive Extinction in Frostpunk

By Casey Douglass

Trying to Survive Extinction in Frostpunk

11 Bit Studios’ societal survival game Frostpunk intrigued me from the moment I started reading about it. Its mix of steampunk technology, harsh frozen environment, resource management and societal strife all seemed to paint a world in which I wanted to meddle. So I did, and along the way I found out that extinction level events seem to turn me into a bit of a scheming bastard. This isn’t a review, more a taster of what the game is about and how things can go bad very quickly.

FrostpunkThe main thing to know is that the most important building in the game is the Generator, a massive tower that sits in the middle of your fledgling city, spewing out heat and life-giving warmth to the citizens that huddle around its base. At the start of the game, it’s cold and idle, the first action you need to achieve is to get some coal and to fire that puppy up. Flicking the “On” switch seemed far more satisfying than it had any right to be, the way light and heat bathed the surrounding area with radiance and seemed to hold the snow back. In the early days, I only fired it up overnight as I wanted to preserve my coal supply, but as the weather worsened and certain buildings needed a minimum of heat to function, I had to keep it on. The people also complained, and I didn’t want the people under my care to turn into human ice pops.

FrostpunkThe early part of the game is very much “gatherer mode”, your well-wrapped citizens trudging trenches through the thick snow and bringing back various resources from surface-based debris and deposits. It’s slow work, made even slower by the shift schedule. You can use another important part of the game to alter this however: the ability to pass laws. These can relate to work, health, and other areas, and often involve a choice between two possibilities. One such law is about letting children work in safe work places. I passed this one quite early on. They could trudge to a pile of old wooden crates and bring back the timber just like anyone, and with so few supplies, every hungry belly needed to be put to work, or everyone would die. Once you advance your technology far enough, you can build coal mines, saw mills and other industrial structures, and when you do this, the resource freedom seems heady and powerful. Well it would, if you didn’t have to give thought to your people griping.

You have to keep your people happy, by way of the Hope and Discontent bars. If people are cold, hungry, dying too often, or hear some bad news, your Hope rating plummets and your Discontent one rises. If the Discontent gets too high, you are at risk of being exiled or executed. After some particularly crushing news, a split emerged in the city, and these people were referred to as The Londoners (in the scenario I’m playing at least). These folks wanted to head back to London, feeling that they were better off there in the first place. This group was disruptive, and as the leader of the city, I had to choose how to combat the Discontent they were spreading. It came down to two choices, rule by Order or rule by Faith.

After some thought, I opted for Faith. Sure, some totalitarian state-type shenanigans might have been effective, batons cracking a few skulls certainly sends a message, but I ultimately felt that religion was a far more effective (and insidious) route to control a populace. After all, we’ve seen it done very effectively on our own planet for millennia. I know that I sound like a dictator right now, talking about control and whatnot, but these people were starting to piss me off at this point. So I gave them churches and faith, and let them fall into the idea that something larger than they actually cared. I still cared too, but they needed to accept the reality of the situation, and some were struggling to do this. While this was all going on, my first mech reached the city, and I always love me some new tech!

FrostpunkYou explore the world by way of Scouts. These can find other survivors and loot, and hopefully, get them back to my city safely. Ooh I just called it my city, I think I’m getting attached to it. One such expedition found a mech, a spidery-robot thing that works continuously and replaces an entire workforce. I watched it stomp around at the saw mill I pointed it to throughout the day and night, and this set me dreaming of an army of mechs that would streamline my resource gathering and let me advance my populace at a higher rate.

A test loomed though, one that I wasn’t sure the city would survive. I said “the city” this time, maybe I’m distancing myself from the consequences of what might happen. The weather forecast said that a colder spell was blowing in, one more bleak than any the settlement had faced to date. I had the coal, but I wasn’t sure the Generator was powerful enough to keep people functioning. They were already complaining about the cold, and kept moaning about wanting more heat-effective housing. I was doing the best I could but it’s hard to keep on top of things. I thought this cold front would be the litmus test of my city. The Londoners were stepping up their efforts to unseat me and the medical buildings were full of the sick and dying. There would be deaths. If it all went wrong, I decided that I wouldn’t be the scapegoat. I thought about stowing some gear on my new mech so that I could make a hasty getaway. I might freeze to death once it ran out of coal, but I’d rather that than a bunch of ingrates hanging me from the nearest tower.

As it turned out, it went to shit before the weather-front even arrived. There were protests, nasty graffiti popped up all over the city, and a rush (for me) to build shrines to calm the populace down. I had too many balls in the air and ultimately, I dropped them all. My time had come. Thankfully, due to “services rendered”, I was only exiled, rather than executed. Life in the bitter cold was more than likely a death sentence of its own, but at least this way, I could die without spectators cheering and whooping. On the down side, they kept the mech, so I only have the meagre supplies they gave me. Damn it.


Frostpunk is a grim but beautiful game, one in which you have to balance your concerns at any given moment, and in that lays its fun. You’ve just read about my first play through, and in that journey I’ve learnt a decent amount about what I would do differently next time. The game has a number of scenarios and a new Endless mode, so it seems likely that it will have a good amount of re-playability. Time will tell on that front. All I can say is that I enjoyed my first play through and have already started another. Oh, and just to make it clear, the stuff about running away on the mech at the end was a little bit of embellishment for this piece. As far as I am aware, you can’t do that, but it would certainly be nice if you could.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to let me know if you give Frostpunk a try. Or, if you have already been baptised in the snow of its grim world and feel like helping a newbie out, post some tips below, they'd be greatly appreciated.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Dew, Swan and Peril

No, it's not the name of some trendy new gastro pub, the kind that serves food on the back of a shovel and posts cryptic signs on the lavatories. Instead, each word relates to something I saw when I went for a short walk yesterday morning. Was the swan in peril because of the dew? Well my friend, read on to find out.

It was a crisp start to the day, the kind where you might spend the first moments of your walk wondering if you'd class it as chilly or just about right. In the warming sunlight, it felt quite pleasant, but in the shadowy nape of the trees, it was goosebump time. The photo above shows a field peppered with dew. It doesn't really come out in the picture but all those droplets were catching the sunlight, making the green fronds almost crystal.

A short distance down the path, various dogs' ears scratched and a few "Morning"'s lighter (I carry them in a bag on my hip), I decided to take a selfie, hoping that light as lovely as this could even make me look half way presentable. I'm not sure it did, but nothing ventured, nothing pained. Gained.

I reached one of my favourite spots, a cut through from the path to the river that runs through the nearby fields. It's usually a bit dark and cool, but I hoped for the sunlight to at least make the river look inviting. Not in a "Let's jump in!" kind of way, more the "Hmm, that looks nice!" manner. It did look nice, and I spent many minutes watching the dead leaves fall from the trees around me, the ones that hit the surface of the water sending ripples scurrying from bank to bank.

It was about this time that I noticed lots of ripple activity further up stream, masked by the trees. The water in front of me was calm, but up there looked a little bit more energetic. It might have capsized a mouse on an acorn raft I guess, I don't want to over exaggerate. It was then that I saw a swan gliding in my direction. "Ooh!" I thought. I might have said it. Either way, a sparkle of excitement was felt. I promptly made my way down some of the slope to the bank while grappling with my phone. It was at this point that the small rectangle of plastic and metal flew from my fingers, taking a photo as it did so.

The phone hit the leafy ground and immediately slid, down, down, heading to the water. If you have seen those big slides at water parks where they don't just go down, but have corrugations, the kind that make people's backsides briefly leave the surface, you'll have an idea of what the bank was like. Bank isn't really the word, more a hill into a bank. Well my phone was sliding straight down it, and after a moment's hesitation I slide after it. It came to rest on the only part of the bank at water level in which the water didn't quite reach. My hand grabbed it as my own slide halted; I didn't really know what was under those leaves. Mud as it turned out.

It was at this time I noticed the swan again. He/she had gone nearer the far bank but was still approaching, obviously a bit concerned about this strange person rummaging in mud. I wiped my phone with my sleeve and set to filming, and then I saw more than I expected:

A whole swan family! What a nice surprise, one that I only noticed because I saw the ripples ahead of time and didn't turn away. Even the muddy slide down to the riverside was worth it, as I've not seen them from such a close proximity before. If I had to choose a favourite (and I know I have to), it would be the one at the back preening as it floats along. He/she just looks so chill. Once they had gone too far to film, I turned and realised that I had to work my way up the bank again.

The bank was sheer, all save one tiny piece that was just about reachable with my right leg. It was slippery (the bank, not my leg) but I managed to step my way up higher than I felt comfortable with. I'm happy to say that I don't think I pulled anything; my testicles are still hanging comfortably where they should, i.e low enough that I don't have a squeaky voice, high enough that I could (if I wanted to) wear shorts while commando and not be done for indecency. A result by anyone's standards.

So that was my walk, and here you are, reading about it. Thank you for taking the time to visit. I'm sure you clicked for the swans, but hey, maybe I can bask in their light a little? I think so.

Friday 16 November 2018

GAME REVIEW: American Truck Simulator – Special Transport DLC (PC)

If you are used to driving bulky loads in American Truck Simulator, get ready for the next step up as the Special Transport DLC hits the game. You can read my full review on Geek Syndicate at this link.

American Truck Simulator – Special Transport DLC