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Is there any frozen food? Distrust – a review

Is there any frozen food? Distrust – a review

Is there any frozen food?

No, there isn’t. There is a chocolate bar.

One of the stories I like to tell a lot about materials writing is about a time I was writing an elementary lesson for a coursebook. The target language was There is/there are and food vocabulary. The most typical examples of these language points together can produce dialogues like the one above.

As I looked at this, I asked my co-author in frustration: ‘When would someone actually say lots of things like this?’ We went through the options: someone at the shops calling home and… that was about it. I jokingly said ‘I suppose it could be a conversation during a zombie apocalypse. One person is scavenging, and the other is keeping guard.’ That become the germ of the idea for English for the Zombie Apocalypse, as a matter of fact.

But only recently I did find myself having lots of conversations like this, once again with my game-playing friend Julian. We were playing Distrust, a cooperative videogame set on an abandoned science base in the Antarctic.

This experience rounds off a very cold winter of games with Julian. We reviewed We Were Here Too a little while back, which was another cooperative talking game also set in the cold (well, actually a warm but scary castle that serves as a refuge from a blizzard). Since we both live in a climate which rarely goes below 5ºC in the winter I suppose this is our escapism.

Distrust is an game in which players control a group of parka-clad explorers after a helicopter crash at a frozen base. You can play on your own (controlling one or more of the characters) or with up to three friends online (each person would need the game of course).  I played with Julian online, and we were communicating via an external app called Discord (like a skype, for video games).

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The aesthetic is very much based on John Carpenter’s The Thing (a favourite of Julian’s – I’ve been a bit chicken to watch the whole thing). You each move around different levels of the base, wandering from building to building and trying to find fuel, medical supplies and – yes – food to survive. You need to get pieces of equipment to get to the next part of the base. This could be wirecutters, or a keycard. As you do this, your health, warmth or stamina can go down unless you attend to those needs. And because you only have a certain amount of time before you starve or freeze to death, your best bet is to split up and communicate to find things.

It struck me, as we were playing, that the amount of language needed wasn’t so complicated. We were saying things like:

Where are you?

There’s a bed here.

I’m tired.

I’m very hungry.

I’ve got some food.

I’ve got some wood.

All pretty much A1 level English, so this game feels like one that lower level students could actually do with a bit of preparation. However, once we got the hang of it the need for actually communicating became less and less. I could click on my partner’s character and see what was going on. Eventually we were in sync and our talk became more like:

You go do the top buildings, I’ll do the bottom ones.

Got it.

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Of course, the cold and hunger are not the only things you face in the game. There are also eerie alien type creatures that appear after awhile, especially when you get tired. Then another aspect of the game kicks in, where your character gets a side effect from the cold and stress. You might go colour blind (and the screen changes colour), or suddenly your character will start quoting Shakespeare as madness sets in. These were really fun when they first occurred and created more reason to talk, but they didn’t force the cooperation as much as I thought they might. I wondered if one of the afflictions might not mean that we were seeing different things on the same map (hence the title Distrust), but it didn’t seem to be the case. We never turned against each other, but that’s perhaps because we kept dying before getting to the second or third level. And when one of you dies, it’s REALLY hard for the other one to survive that much longer. We found ourselves ending the game pretty quickly when someone succumbed to the cold or hunger (i.e. the other person gave up and lay down in the snow).

On the whole, Distrust is an enjoyable and tense little game. We did have some connection issues, but that could have been more down to our internet connection than the game itself. As we played, I did wonder how this could work for students. It’s not something you could really use in class and it really only could be played with a maximum of (I think) four people at a time each with their own copy of the game. And as I said above, the communication isn’t really as primordial as games like We Were Here Too or Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, which lean into information gap much more heavily as a core game mechanic. I should also say that we found Distrust hard to beat. Each time the game loads, it randomizes the map and where things are so each playthrough is different. Either Julian and I are hopeless explorers or we got unlucky (I suspect it was mostly the former, sometimes the latter).

However, the setting and general tone make worthy of our attention here at Extreme Language Teaching. It’s also good, I believe, for lower level English learners. And it’s a great context for little conversations using “Is/Are There” and countable/uncountable nouns :-).

Distrust is available on Steam and costs around 12 euros.

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We were here too – a review for teachers

We were here too – a review for teachers

Things have been quiet around here at ExLT of late, shall I tell you why? Well I was stuck in an ice blizzard. My friend Julian and I got separated from the other two explorers in a fast-pacing, lethal snowstorm. As we shuffled through the snow, we noticed we were merely walking in circles. Our final hour drew near and we were certain all hope was lost. Unexpectedly, we ended up at a place we never thought you would find in Antarctica: A giant castle.

That’s the premise of the game We Were Here Too, which I actually have been playing with my English-teaching friend Julian but in the comfort of my own office. We Were Here Too is a first person cooperative adventure. It’s tagline is ‘Talk. Solve. Escape’, and it’s the talking and solving part that brought it to my attention of course.

Visitors to this site might remember that I was awfully keen on a game called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. You can read my review here. For me, that game put into practice the best videogame implementation of the information gap, where one person has information that the other needs (and vice versa, ideally) that they have to communicate by speaking. Many language teaching activities are based on an information gap, and it was exciting to see this being put into practice in a medium that seemed perfect for it.

We Were Here Too works on the same principle. Two people play online at different computers. Each of you are in different parts of the castle, and you need to work together to solve puzzles to open different doors and, eventually, escape.

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First of all, the rooms are very beautiful and intricate – sometimes with a sense of menace or foreboding. Perfect for an extreme language teaching experience! There are suits of armour, great stone altars, pentagram chambers, hanging tapestries and more that you need to look at carefully for clues.

Here’s what Julian had to say about the experience.

The visuals are indeed impressive and each level boasts slick graphics and atmospheric sound design. As Lindsay says, players play in pairs, each one exploring a different chamber in a different part of the castle, but both are trapped and have to help each other get to the next chamber by describing their surroundings via walkie talkie and finding the relevant clues. This can be harder than it seems, and the real challenge is in communicating the small details. Often there is a time limit and the difference between life and death can hinge upon describing a symbol or an object with great precision before the lava swells up and engulfs the players. This was one of the aspects I enjoyed most, when there is a sense of dread and time pressure building up and you have to solve that puzzle before the time runs out, barking instructions at your partner on the other end of the walkie talkie, or asking for the necessary information to align your cube correctly on the altar. We died many times at certain points in the castle before finally discovering that one factor which solves the puzzle and stops the lava, a eureka moment – I love those.

The more I played it, the more I thought the experience wasn’t just an exercise in information gap, but also in circumlocution. Julian and I were constantly having to describe symbols, boxes, paintings and objects that we didn’t know the words for. For example, how would you describe this to someone who has to select it from a group of symbols?

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We tried to describe this as a man with a fork for a head, fork arms, riding a unicycle and wearing two bow-ties.

So how would this work with learners? Unlike Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, in this activity you really need to be each on your own computer and in a different place. So doing this in the classroom is a no-no. It was actually quite hard even for Julian and I to do, so I’d say it’s best recommended for higher level students. I could see doing this with a one-on-one class, but again each of you needs to have the game.

So I’m going to put this in the category of ‘fun-games-to-play-for-teachers-interested-in-how-ELT-techniques-might-work-outside-ELT’. How does that sound as a ringing endorsement? But let me hand back over to my partner-in-castle-escaping for the final words.

We found some technical problems running the game on Mac so we changed to Windows. It worked very smoothly apart from an in-game problem with the audio, so we switched to an alternative method of communication which is easy enough (Discord, Skype, Facetime, hands-free call). This surely was a minor glitch that can easily be solved (maybe Windows was not using the in built mic by default).

In sum, We Were Here Too is a great game for dipping in and out of and fun to go in and complete a 15 minute level at a time. The level design is good and the puzzles vary to an extent from room to room, and one of the great successes of the game is the importance of effective communication – your success will very much depend upon how well you listen to your partner as much as how well you explain your surroundings. Even when there is no time limit, there is still a sense of urgency due to the claustrophobic setting, making this a very engaging experience. If you like puzzles and collaborative games, you will love this. Try it, if you dare, but remember to keep your head, and only play with someone who you would trust…with your life.

We Were Here Too is available for PC and Mac on Steam. At the time of writing, it cost around €10. However, there is also an earlier game by the same designer called We Were Here. This one is free, so you could try it out first.

Leap into 2018 with another adventure from ExLT!

Leap into 2018 with another adventure from ExLT!

It’s coming to the end of another year, and at ExLT we’ve been thinking about parties. A lot. So much so that we designed a new adventure for your classes. It’s an activity in which you and your students plan the best end of year party of the past 100 years – with the help of a time machine!

The Time Machine New Year’s Party invites your students to scour the world for the best venue, entertainment and guests to create the most memorable New Year’s Eve ever. Like all our adventures, it’s available for the low price of 0.99€, but the first 100 purchases are free!

GO HERE TO FIND OUT MORE.

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out our other adventures and books, including the End of the World game that we released last year at this time.

Happy 2018 everyone!

Two Halloween treats for teachers at ExLT!

Two Halloween treats for teachers at ExLT!

Halloween is always a special time for us here at ExLT, and this Halloween is no different. We have a new adventure lesson that’s perfect for candlelit classes around the end of the month… The House!

In this Extreme Language adventure students piece together the shocking story of the first owner of The House. They then use pictures to create their own stories about the other owners of The House. What secret did they have in their past? How did they meet their end?

This is a relaunch of a classic ELT activity and it’s a great way to get students to use their imagination and practise their narrative writing. Oh, and it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE until October 31. Just head over to the House page for details.

We’re also putting English for the Zombie Apocalypse on sale again for the scary season. If you go to the store page and enter the code zombie2017 you can plunge your students into the undead apocalypse for 50% off the regular low price.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tales from the Island

Tales from the Island

It’s been a few months since we launched our latest adventure here at ExLT, the Island. We’ve been really happy to hear from teachers who have been using it, and the reports have been great.

Our colleague Shaun Wilden (full disclosure, he is my co-host on the podcast TEFL Commute) used the Island a few times this summer with different groups. He did a great follow up to it, which he has allowed us to share. These are two animated videos made by Shaun’s students. They are giving a press conference about their experience on what they called… Bear Island!

 

Shaun and his students made these videos using a website called Plotagon. You can find out more about Shaun at his website.

Thanks to Shaun and his students for sharing this with us, and allowing us to share it with you!

The Island is an ExLT adventure. On the Island, students role play a series of situations as they are shipwrecked on a mysterious desert island. They create a character and go through a series of short roleplay speaking activities. These roleplays include discussions on what to do and how to survive, an expedition to make a map of the island, recovering supplies from a sunken ship and recording a distress call.

The Island available now at our store for only 99 cents.

Wikipedia: The Text Adventure

Wikipedia: The Text Adventure

West of House This is an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

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Computer game players of a certain age (or who are fans of shows like Stranger Things and the 1980s in general) will recognize the sentences above as coming from one of the first interactive text adventures: Zork.

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The way Zork worked was that you would type a command to move the story along. So, for example, faced with the situation above the player might type Go west (to go into the field), Go east (to go to the house) or Open mailbox.

When the player enters the house, it yields a number of intriguing objects, including a brass, battery-powered lantern, an empty trophy case, and an Elvish sword of great antiquity. Beneath the rug a trap door leads down into a dark cellar, which is revealed to be one of several entrances to a vast subterranean land known as the Great Underground Empire. The player soon encounters dangerous creatures, including deadly grues who only prey on their victims in the dark, an axe-wielding troll, a giant cyclops who cowers at the mention of Odysseus, and a nimble-fingered thief who makes mapping the maze difficult by removing or scattering any items that the player might drop to leave a trail.

That last paragraph (and the image) are both from Wikipedia, of course. Ahh, Wikipedia. What student or teacher hasn’t dipped into its vast trove of articles to research a project, prepare a quiz or reading text or simply settle an argument about the name of a capital city or author of a famous book?

Why am I talking about Wikipedia and Zork in a blogpost for Extreme Language Teaching? Well, this week I discovered Wikipedia, the Text Adventure. This free web-based game converts Wikipedia into a text adventure almost exactly like Zork.

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To play, you simply type the location you want to start in. You’ll get a description and then options of where to go next. So, for example, I started by typing ‘White House’ and I got a short description of the White House. I then typed ‘go northeast’ and went to the Executive Residence, then I went to the East Room.

In each place you visit, you can EXAMINE something for more information or TAKE something which will go in your virtual backpack. During my quick tour of the White House I ‘took’ the Jackie Kennedy garden and a staircase from the Green room.

Looking at this, I did think it could be fun to do with students but it’s summer for me now so I haven’t had the chance yet. It’s basically only text, so it wouldn’t need a particularly strong wifi signal to use in class. Maybe each student could start in the same place, and then after 5 minutes they share where they ended up and what things they took with them. If you got really creative, you could set the same starting point for everyone and challenge them to get to another, geographically close, point in a given time.

Or you could simply play around with it to scratch your 1980s videogame nostalgia itch, like I did.

Wikipedia, the Text Adventure is a free webbased game by Kevan Davis. It was launched in June 2017.