The Infinite Zenith

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Receiver 2 – Reflections Ten Hours in, Celebrating Ten Years of Wolfire’s Receiver and A Retrospective on Ethics in Media

“You have seen the signs around you – the gradual creeping decay and dysfunction. You have realised that something is wrong with the media and the people around you. You know that you are different. This is why you’re ready to become a Receiver.”

Back in 2012, the Wolfire team released Receiver, a game originally made for the 7-Day FPS Challenge back in 2012. Armed with only an M1911A1, players needed to master the art of smoothly executing pistol reloading as they made their way through a procedurally-generated world in search of special tapes which, when listened to, help the individual to reach enlightenment in an age where mass media has infiltrated every aspect of everyday life and controls how people think and act, resulting in a Mindkill event. Wolfire submitted Receiver to the Steam Greenlight programme, and Receiver itself became available on Steam ten years ago on this day. With this release, the Wolfire Team added the Glock 17 and the Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver. Besides its sobering message about the dangers of placing faith in the media, Receiver also proved to be the epitome of what games are about: players must learn how their pistol works to stand any chance against The Threat’s kill-drones, but even proficiency is no guarantee of survival, as kill-drones and tapes spawn randomly in the world. This came together to create an unparalleled experience where skill and luck came together in a true test of the player’s patience and knowledge. By late 2019, Wolfire announced a long-awaited sequel to Receiver: Receiver 2 would simulate all elements in a gun, and in conjunction with more evolved mechanics, also greatly expanded on the elements seen in the first Receiver. Receiver 2 is broken up into ranks, and as players level up from collecting tapes, the difficulty increases as The Threat makes handling firearms increasingly dangerous, and new enemy types are introduced. Along the way, the tapes collected introduce players to what it means to become a Receiver, the history behind the different firearms in Receiver 2, the importance of gun safety and most importantly, the significance of mental health and an alertness to the mass media’s techniques in obscuring the truth and increasing discord. With more involved mechanics and modernised visuals, Receiver 2 is a worthy successor to Receiver. One of Receiver 2‘s most surprising mechanic is the existence of the Threat Echoes, tapes containing recordings of individuals who commit suicide. Finding these tapes causes The Threat to briefly take control of the player, and it takes swift action to render a gun safe so one can survive this moment of a loss of control. As players acclimatise to Receiver 2 and grow familiar with the mechanics, collecting tapes and levelling up reveals an even deeper warning about contemporary society and the role of mass media in eroding an individual’s mental health. At the same time, Receiver 2‘s message is one of cautious optimism: despite the prevalence of media and its impact, people can still prepare themselves and overcome things with sufficient preparation.

When the Wolfire team set out to create Receiver, developer Aubrey Serr recorded the tapes’ dialogue with the intention of mirroring how cults and religions use techniques to displace one’s knowledge and replace it with another set of beliefs. By controlling information that one accesses, promises of enlightenment, reducing complex issues to black and white and demanding use of specific jargon, religions and cults seek to fundamentally change the way people think such that they lose their agency and submit wholly to that group’s control. In a curious meta-experience, Receiver also suggested that the key to undoing indoctrination was as grim as it was effective: to be indoctrinated by something else. Although the Receivers spoken of in-game also follow a cult-like set of beliefs, they are said to be enlightened, prepared to do what’s necessary and practise gun safety, giving them the tools to resist other forms of indoctrination. The irony, then, is that the Receiver has already been indoctrinated. In this way, Receiver raises interesting questions for players, prompting them to re-evaluate the world around them and in the process, become more aware of the techniques that are used to control people. Through Receiver and Receiver 2, it becomes apparent that the mass media is also complicit in thought control, employing a wide range of means to spread fear and misinformation in a bid to retain their benefactors’ position of privilege. Politicians and corporations alike have specific interests, and to ensure they retain their control over wealth and influence, use the media as a means of placating the masses. By selectively reporting on current events and reiterating specific angles, they can persuade viewers into accepting a truth. Per Receiver 2, the solution here is simple enough: one cannot allow themselves to believe the media, and must always operate with a combination of critical thinking and skepticism. Although Receiver and its successor both warn of the dangers of mass media, the lessons here also apply to social media. Originally envisioned as a means of democritising the transmission of information, social has only served to increase misinformation, polarising people further. Originally, the intention was that notable or interesting content could be promoted by means of things like “trending”, “upvotes” and “retweets”. In this way, content meritorious of being shared would become more visible, and individuals could become heard if they shared helpful, truthful content. However, in practise, extremist and polarising rhetoric spreads through social media with greater speed, and undeserving individuals accumulate more followers, karma and retweets as a result. Owing to the speed of propagation, social media ends up being even more harmful than more traditional forms of media. As people become demoralised by a constant stream of lies, memes and insults, their mental health declines. Receiver 2, however, suggests that even then, one can still find means of resisting the media’s harmful impact and improve their mental health amidst an endless stream of media. Much as how players drill constantly to master the skills they need to survive in Receiver 2, in reality, one can find merit in eating and sleeping well, exercising and practising mindfulness. When faced with political content on social media, it is healthier to approach with a skeptical and dismissive mindset, rather than accepting or responding to it. Invalid opinions shouldn’t be retweeted, but it’s also unnecessary to argue against it. In this way, Receiver 2 continues on in the footsteps of its predecessor, encouraging people to think for themselves, master what they can in their lives and using mental fortitude to critically examine claims people make – competence with Receiver 2‘s controls and mechanics will help one to advance through the ranks and learn more about the story, but the learnings also provide one with increased resilience in real life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to the blog archives, the last time I wrote about Receiver, it was October 2015. Back then, I would’ve been in graduate school, in the middle of the most relaxed term I’d had in the whole of my programme – that semester, I had no courses and therefore was free to wholly focus on my research project. I was very deep into Receiver, and it became my go-to game whenever I had a free moment, allowing me to become proficient with the game’s remarkable mechanics. When Receiver 2 was announced in December 2019, my curiosity was piqued. However, while the sequel looked compelling enough, the price tag was a bit of a deterrent because at the time of its release, my second start-up hadn’t been doing so well, and I felt it wasn’t a financially prudent decision to buy any new games.

  • While finances would eventually be a lesser concern, I remained reluctant to buy Receiver 2 because the game had a known issue: Receiver 2 is built around a levelling system, and leaving the game would instantly cause one to rank down, wiping one’s progress. In this way, Receiver 2 was put on the back burner, and I resolved to wait until the game saw a better discount. To my great surprise, one of my friends wound up gifting me a copy of Receiver 2 during the previous Christmas, remarking it was for being there for him through some difficult times and hearing him out. I am very appreciative of this gift, and having now started the game, I am of the mind that perhaps the game was worth picking up, even at full price.

  • In the present, Receiver 2 has been updated so players only lose ranks upon death, and leaving the game will automatically save the player state correctly. With this critical issue fixed, I was able to begin my journey without the fear of losing progress. The game opens with a brief tutorial, and once players collect two tapes, they are allowed to formally start things. Right out of the gates, I found myself returning to familiar locations, firing familiar firearms. A few small changes have been made: firearms will now have a probability of discharging when holstered or unholstered quickly if their safeties are not engaged, and the firearm’s capacities are restricted compared to their predecessors: revolvers almost always spawn with a blocked chamber, and magazines for semi-automatics will almost always have reduced capacity.

  • Some magazines will also have weaker springs, causing them to fail to push a new round into the chamber. All of these elements demand utmost focus from players, and this was a straight upgrade from the original Receiver, where pistols were always in perfect condition and never misfired. The element of randomness is initially an impediment, and muscle memory resulted in me shooting myself more often than I cared to count. However, unlike something like Kantai Collection, where randomness is meant to punish players, the randomness in Receiver 2 is a valid mechanic, and with a bit of common sense, mishaps can be mitigated.

  • The opening tutorial starts players off with the Colt Detective Special and requires they collect two tapes after learning the basics. Once the tutorial is completed, Receiver 2 begins formally, and players are given free reign to explore the map. It becomes clear that iconic locations from the original Receiver make a return in Receiver 2, except this time, everything’s been given a complete overhaul, and everything in the game looks astoundingly detailed. The apartments have always been my favourite part of the map, and here in Receiver 2, they are portrayed as comfortable, well-appointed luxury condos that I wouldn’t mind calling home.

  • Receiver‘s condos had been minimally furnished and the simple visuals left much to the imagination, so seeing all of the visual improvements to Receiver 2 was the surest sign that Wolfire had put in all of the effort to ensure that this sequel was a straight upgrade over its predecessor. Upon exploring the maps further, it turns out every single section in the game’s been given an upgrade. The sections still flow into one another smoothly, but this time, there’s a small bit of variability as sometimes, doorways are blocked off, forcing one to explore alternate routes.

  • Of note is how the lowest floor of the apartments now has a proper bedroom. In the original Receiver, the bedroom had been host to a very strange-looking tent, but this has now been replaced with a comfortable-looking queen-sized bed. Similarly, the floating bathtub has been properly addressed now. Beyond familiar areas, Receiver 2 also introduces an arcade and hospital, whose unique layout compels players to move cautiously through them as one searches for tapes.

  • The tapes of Receiver 2 are more expressive and varied than their Receiver counterparts, but like Receiver, which claimed that repeated listenings are important towards learning the message and becoming an Awakened Receiver, over time, players will become very familiar with the tapes and their contents. To this point, I’ve ended up memorising all of the original tapes and can recite them from heart as a result of having played Receiver for the past decade. I’ve beaten the original on two occasions (once with the Model 10, and once with the M1911).

  • I originally received Receiver as a complementary gift for having purchased Overgrowth, and while Overgrowth was still in development, I played the heck out of Receiver. After beating the game twice, my interest somewhat waned as I moved on to other games, but in 2019, Wolfire announced that they were going to give Receiver an overhaul, updating the game code so it was compatible with the latest version of Unity. This allowed Receiver to use the lighting effects that were only available in newer versions of the engine and showed Wolfire’s commitment to their game. I did find that following the update, Receiver became significantly more difficult as the game began spawning more kill-drones.

  • Since 2015, I haven’t been successful in collecting all eleven tapes, but I have dropped in here and there to play the game on occasion, and this has allowed me to retain my ability to reload weapons swiftly here in Receiver 2. For the most part, the key bindings are the same, so I’ve had no trouble reloading the Detective Special and Model 10. After ranking up, I also unlocked the original game’s M1911A1 and Glock 17C. The M1911 was my favourite weapon in Receiver owing to its reliability and ease-of-use: it hits harder than the Glock 17 but has a higher firing rate and capacity compared to the Model 10. The Receiver 2 incarnation is a bit of a loose cannon: lacking a safety, the gun is prone to discharging when holstered and unholstered if one isn’t cautious.

  • Learning the techniques for safely handling each pistol means that over time, the starting weapon becomes less of a impediment: if I were to use the Glock, holding the key for holstering a weapon allows it to be put away or pulled out without a risk of misfire, and at higher levels, removing the magazine and ejecting the chambered round will render it safe. In this way, although Receiver 2‘s randomness may still present some challenge, having skill (in the form of knowledge) mitigates some of the risks, similarly to how in reality, where luck may always be a confounding factor in one’s endeavours, but in spite of this, the presence of skill allows one to tip probability in their favour.

  • This is, incidentally, my definition of luck and skill. For a given situation, skill refers to the set of variables one can control for in a reliable fashion through experience and knowledge, and luck refers to the set of variables outside of one’s control. A situation that is skill-dependent is one where, the better one’s knowledge and experience are, the better their odds of success are, and a luck-dependent situation is where probability dictates the outcome, independently of one’s knowledge and experience. In complex, real-world scenarios, luck and skill both come into play. I hold that sufficient skill can offset poor luck, and at the same time, good luck is no substitute for skill.

  • Receiver 2 and its predecessor become excellent examples of the interplay between luck and skill. Luck is where the resources and kill-drones spawn, while skill is how well one can manage their weapon and operate safely. A skilled player will be able to adapt to the stochasticity in where kill-drones and tapes spawn more effectively, improving their odds of completing a rank. Although some spawns will definitely tilt things against the player’s favour and even result in death, a skilled player simply has reduced odds of dying to a kill-drone.

  • Befitting of a sequel, the HUD in Receiver 2 is more refined but otherwise has the same layout. In the original Receiver, inventory is displayed on the lower left hand corner of the screen, and the tape count was shown in the upper right. However, depending on spawns, one could carry as many magazines and flashlights as there were number keys, and this sometimes resulted in a row of flashlights stretching out across the bottom of the screen. Receiver 2 limits the players to five items, minimising screen clutter. Tape counts are now displayed in the lower right-hand corner, and there is a clearer indicator of when a tape is being played.

  • Originally, weapons were holstered into the inventory, but Receiver 2 moves the holster to the right-hand side, giving the pistol its own slot. Help is rendered by means of a menu on the upper right hand side, just like Receiver, but here in Receiver 2, the game helpfully displays a text overlay if something unexpected comes up during the earlier levels. Recommended keystrokes are overlaid on the screen if one’s weapon runs out of ammunition or jams, giving one insight into what they can do to unstick themselves from a problem.

  • The earlier iterations of Receiver 2 did not display an indicator as to what stage one was on, but later versions include an icon. Here, I’ve started out at the Baseline rank, and in the screenshot below, I’ve been promoted to “Asleep”. Ranks break Receiver 2 up into a more manageable state: the original game simply required players collect eleven tapes in a single sitting, and this made the game remarkably difficult. Moreover, because one couldn’t save, one had to complete sessions all at once. Conversely, Receiver 2 allows players to now break their sessions up, and with the save feature working, it’s possible to collect half the tapes at a given level and exit the game to do something else, then return later.

  • Altogether, while Receiver 2 is more involved than its predecessor and features more complex mechanics that can prima facie prove frustrating even to Receiver veterans, Receiver 2 is a direct upgrade that adds many quality of life improvements to balance out this difficulty. Being able to save mid-session is the feature I most value; during graduate school, I often had to give up a perfectly good session in favour of other obligations, but in the present, I can hop into a level, collect one or two tapes and exit to tend to other tasks, then return exactly where I left off later.

  • Here, I make my way carefully through the mechanical room filled with tanks. Receiver‘s rooms were seemingly arbitrarily designed, and in Receiver 2, all of the classic spaces make a return. However, with improved art direction, Receiver 2‘s spaces are logically designed and give a greater sense of purpose. One is making their way through an intricate labyrinth of interconnected buildings, some of which are under construction, and thanks to clever design, all of the spaces flow together better. Outside, Receiver 2‘s skybox and environments have also been overhauled.

  • Here, I’ve managed to spawn in with the Desert Eagle, which is unlocked for being promoted. Players universally agree that, between the small magazine size (only seven shots with a good magazine), heavy recoil and low fire rate, the Desert Eagle is one of the most difficult weapon to use in Receiver 2. However, the Desert Eagle’s limitations are offset by the fact that, on a per-shot basis, it’s the most powerful pistol available in the game: a single shot will be enough to disable a turret, and the .50 calibre rounds have enough energy to knock turrets over. In fact, the in-game tape describes the Desert Eagle as a pocket assault rifle.

  • While careless players will instantly die when the weapon misfires if not holstered/unholstered properly, the Desert Eagle does have a safety, so flipping the safety and holstering the weapon will eliminate any chance of ending one’s round prematurely. Here, I collect five tapes and take a breather to let the tape play; when all of the requisite tapes for a rank are collected, players are transported to a new rank, given a different weapon and go through the process again. However, ranking up means encountering new enemies, reduced available resources and more challenging spawns. The shock-drones make an appearance at the “Asleep” level, and beyond this, foes like armoured turrets and ceiling turrets begin showing up.

  • In classic Receiver, the skybox of the city surrounding the game world is a modified image of Hong Kong. In the skybox, buildings like the Jardine House and Bank of China Tower can be seen. I imagine from an art standpoint, being a glittering, futuristic metropolis, Hong Kong made sense from an aesthetic perspective. In a bit of irony, a year after Receiver was released to the Steam Store, protests in Hong Kong, motivated by electoral reform, paralysed the city. When the original protests did not have any tangible change on the city’s government, dissatisfaction from this would create the very scenario that Receiver describes; following a proposal to implement an extradition bill, some people acted on the cult-like belief that violence was the only way to affect positive change, resulting in the 2019 riots.

  • Receiver 2, on the other hand, is set in a generic metropolis with buildings of a North American design. However, Receiver 2’s backgrounds are rendered with 3D objects now, rather than using a skybox. This creates a greater sense of immersion in the game, since the surrounding city now feels more tangible. The improved visuals also allowed Wolfire to add new effects: at the lower ranks, it’s nighttime, but a fog begins rolling in as one levels up. Lightning and thunder soon appear, and by the time players reach the penultimate level, the city has fallen into decays as fires rage in the buildings.

  • Here, my Desert Eagle has jammed after a cartridge failed to eject. Clearing it is a simple matter of removing the magazine and pulling the slide back, although in some cases, it is possible to clear a jam by pulling the side back and dislodging the cartridge. After weapons are unlocked, players will retain them, and that means even at lower ranks, unlocks persist. In the baseline level, the most common tape players will find deals with how anyone who is aware of the problems with the media is on the first step towards becoming a Receiver.

  • I am very fond of this tape, since there is truth in the statement: there is definitely a problem with the media, and for this reason, any time I hear about international current events, I regard the media’s interpretation of an event with a grain of salt and stop to consider what the implications are if the media was, in fact, being truthful (nine of ten times, their opinions fall apart when a bit of logic is applied). People are generally aware of media bias and untruths, but what is truly disturbing is that adults under thirty nowadays report that they regard all news from social media as having equal or greater trustworthiness than news from traditional media. While these people report that the “unfiltered” nature of Twitter and Reddit news makes it more trustworthy, there’s absolutely no way to easily verify if something is true or not.

  • By their nature, social media is not anything approaching reliable or trustworthy precisely because it is unfiltered. Social media is singularly responsible for increasing polarisation and ignorance in society, partially because anyone can create an account, use underhanded means to accumulate followers and gather retweets to give the impression of trustworthiness. Groups of coordinated individuals can also game visibility algorithms to push lies long before verification can be done, creating mass panic. In response to this stuff, I regard all social media trends as false until later proven correct, and I never share anything that’s remotely related to politics.

  • I am of the mind that Twitter’s “retweet” feature should be outright disabled for political content: originally meant to let people share content quickly, retweets have become the self-proclaimed political pundit’s most indispensable weapon – allowing people to effortlessly share what amounts to political opinion is precisely why misinformation has become such a pandemic. The very presence of retweets significantly degrades Twitter, since they’re treated as a social currency of sorts: quite simply, someone with more retweets is regarded as being more trustworthy, and as a result, people will go to extraordinary lengths to accumulate retweets, even if it means saying something incendiary and untruthful. On the other hand, non-political content should not be penalised in any way: there is nothing wrong with sharing artwork, release dates, relevant blog posts and travel photos.

  • When one judges trustworthiness of political content on the merit of reputation and retweet counts alone, they are more prone to be misinformed. In this way, those that say they “do their own research” aren’t usually any better informed than those who watch the news – there are some folks out there who read into things on their own and place their trust in a source simply because they appear reputable, then end up drawing wrong conclusions. AnimeSuki’s “ramlaen” and “mangamuscle” are both examples of this – the former continues to believe the 2020 election was “stolen”, while the latter argues that, because his knowledge of the conflict in Ukraine surpasses those of military experts, NATO should consider a nuclear exchange as a means of sticking it to Vladimir Putin, even though such an action would result in mutually assured destruction and do little more than highlight mangamuscle’s ignorance.

  • Towards the end of my time at AnimeSuki, I noticed that the political discourse was running out of steam. At the height of the global health crisis, people like ramlaen and mangamuscle were posting multiple times a day, reminding other forum-goers that everyone besides them were wrong about everything constantly, but by the end of last year, these individuals began posting with decreased frequency. This is because the effort of trying to convince people of untruths is an exhausting and unrewarding one, and I imagine that even for those with unlimited leisure time, thinking about politics constantly must be nastily exhausting. I’ve never bothered to stoop to their level and argue against them on the grounds that my time is worth a great deal more than theirs.

  • One interesting statistic I noticed was that more highly-educated individuals actually tend to make more mistakes as far as understanding foreign policy is concerned. This is because individuals with more knowledge and exposure also tend to be more confident in their ability to parse and handle information. In the realm of science, for instance, repeatability and sample size is a critical part of all research. If a pattern or observation is made repeatedly, then there might be merit to supposing there is a correlation, and if the evidence is particularly strong, claims of causation might become possible. Applying this in the context of parsing political information, if all one hears on the news is the same message, then the rational part of the mind would be inclined to say, since all of the sources make the same observations, then the claims must have some merit.

  • In reality, media collusion exists, wherein media outlets will agree on a single narrative behind closed doors so that a specific message is conveyed. This is why when news becomes available at different outlets, they often contain copy-pasted text, and the end result is that even educated individuals would fall into the trap of believing the media (or social media). More knowledgable individuals are actually harder to convince of their wrongness because they have more faith in their cognitive and reasoning, and in the case of AnimeSuki’s two self-proclaimed political pundits, both are in the IT industry, the same as myself. However, both allow their own prejudices and conviction in their superior intellect to render them oblivious to the fact that the information they’ve gathered could have significant flaws, whereas I am aware of the limits to my own knowledge and are respectful enough not to add to the noise.

  • Receiver 2 suggests that making good decisions is not a matter of intelligence, and instead, comes down to a matter of common sense. If one pauses to ask about the consistency of a given claim, it may be the case that the claim is self-contradictory or falls apart. Rejecting the media’s claims and refusing to agree with them in the absence of consistent, solid evidence is something we should be permitted to do in a free society. Seeing organisations like Anime News Network disagree is actually quite telling. In one tweet from their editorial director, it was claimed that “attacking ‘the media’ – even tiny niche publications like ANN – as some kind of monolithic evil has, historically, been proven to get you a whole lot of likes and subscribes…but…you’re demonstrably going to get one of [their number] killed”. In this case, said editorial director hid behind journalistic integrity as a shield to deflect criticisms surrounding Anime News Network’s modus operandi, and when I challenged him, I was swiftly blocked.

  • This action proved to me, beyond any doubt, that Anime News Network’s goal is, first and foremost, to control what people think about anime. It struck me that, if a “tiny niche” outlet couldn’t be trusted to talk about something as trivial as anime in a fair manner, then larger publications certainly had no trustworthiness when it came to things like foreign events (especially where special interests are involved). Back in Receiver 2, I’ve managed to rank up. Observant readers will have noticed the level logo becoming more detailed as I rank up. Ten hours into the game, I’ve become a little more familiar with where things spawn, and one of my favourite cues is how the game uses audio to indicate a tape’s location. Tapes now spawn anywhere, and one can hear vocalisations that become progressively louder as one becomes closer to the tape.

  • On my best run, I ended up making it all the way to the final rank, “Awake”. Along the way, I unlocked the Beretta 92/M9. This pistol’s slide design is such that cartridges are less likely to jam (resulting in what’s known as a stovepipe malfunction), but the magazines are of a poorer quality, so the weapon will sometimes fail to feed. While all of the 9mm semiautomatic pistols work on similar principles in Receiver 2, there are nuances that need to be learnt, and depending on one’s knowhow, some guns will initially appear to be more reliable than others.

  • During one particularly challenging segment, the Beretta I was using suffered from a faulty magazine spring that caused rounds to constantly fail to be loaded. This meant after almost every shot, I needed to tap the magazine and pull the slide back to manually chamber a round. In moments where I only had a lone kill-drone to deal with, this wasn’t a problem, but in later levels, the shock drones begin appearing. Unlike their Receiver counterparts, shock drones can now be shattered by individual rounds, and while they are still dangerous, leaving them immobile and giving them distance is a good means of conserving on ammunition.

  • Receiver 2 introduces the idea of hacking turrets and drones. If one’s weapon is holstered, they can disable a  kill-drone by hacking into it. This fully disables a drone and is an excellent means of conserving on ammunition, as well as minimising the risk of discharging a firearm at close range. Bullets can ricochet off surfaces and injure the player, and firing through windows can cause shards of glass to fall that can cut the player. While one is at full health, these hazards are survivable, but carelessness will result in failure. Here, I manage to collect four tapes and rest in one of the apartments while letting the tape run to completion. A reassuring piece of incidental music plays on every successful rank up, giving players a chance to decompress before the next level is loaded.

  • As one progresses, the environment in Receiver 2 subtly changes. A thunderstorm grips the map, creating a grim atmosphere, and towards the end, it does feel like the apocalypse, as fires rage through the city and the skies glow red. At the penultimate level, I’ve unlocked the SIG Sauer P226, Domovoi Butler’s preferred weapon. SIG Sauer is also John Clark’s preferred pistol brand: in Tom Clancy’s novels, Clark typically carries the P220, which is chambered for the .45 ACP round. This weapon is generally reliable, but differs from the other semiautomatics in that it uses a lever to de-cock the hammer. Once the weapon is de-cocked, it is safe to holster.

  • The high stakes of the later levels comes from the fact that, even though there are fewer tapes to collect, the amount of danger has increased. The Threat’s presence is far stronger, so there’s more kill-drones around, resources are more limited, and firearms are more prone to malfunction or misfire. On my first run of the penultimate stage, I somehow managed to make use of the SIG Saucer and managed to reach the end of the level. Along the way, some of the tapes I picked up contained content that was a callback to the original Receiver.

  • Although Receiver never specified what a fully-awakened Receiver is like, the game offered enough detail to suggest that in an Awake state, Receivers are able to differentiate between fact and fiction and can make their own decisions to affect positive, effective survival. Here, I collected the last of the tapes needed to reach the final rank, and for players who get this far, Receiver 2 will lock them to the Colt Single Action Army (SAA). The Colt SAA is the single most difficult gun to use in Receiver 2, since rounds can only be loaded and extracted one at a time. On my first playthrough, a lack of knowledge in how to operate the Colt SAA meant my run didn’t last long, and even though there’s only three tapes to collect, kill-drones are now so numerous that I wasn’t comfortable in entering a situation with the tool at hand.

  • In the end, I entered one of the apartments, pulled back the hammer, took aim and pulled the trigger, only for the gun to fail to fire. I was spotted, the turret fired, and I was instantly demoted. A series of unfortunate mistakes would then send me all the way back to the baseline rank. Of course, now that the Colt SAA is added to the pool of weapons, I’ll have a chance to train myself on how to use it, and return to this top level in the future, ready to win. My initial thoughts on Receiver 2 are extremely positive, and for me, the Receiver games represent the sort of game that I respect: with a high skill ceiling and a remarkable narrative that covers firearm safety, mental health and maintaining a healthy skepticism of all forms of media, Receiver 2 is a worthy successor that acts as the thinker’s game.

  • What makes Receiver 2 so enjoyable is precisely because it is able to disempower players through the skill curve to create challenge, but at the same time, encourage players to train and improve so that there will come a point where skill can help even the odds, allowing one to prevail. In short, Receiver and its sequel, Receiver 2, rewards effort while saying something meaningful at the same time, making it a frontrunner in what games should strive to do for their players. For now, I’ll wrap the discussion up here; I do have plans to write about the mental health aspects Receiver 2 strives to convey in the future. Next August will mark the ten year anniversary to the release of Depression Quest, which had no business in calling itself a game and found itself entangled in all sorts of controversy as a result of unwarranted praise. Receiver 2 does everything this title could not, and I expect that by then, I’ll have completed Receiver 2 at least once to unlock all of the tapes and their messages, leaving me in the best possible position to discuss what Wolfire succeeds in doing with Receiver 2 when Depression Quest had utterly failed.

Ten hours into Receiver 2, I’ve become more comfortable with operating the new pistols that join the roster. Receiver originally had three weapons available to players, but here in Receiver 2, the Colt Detective Special, the Desert Eagle Mark I, the Beretta M9, the SIG Sauer P226, the Hi-Point C-9, and the Colt Single Action Army all become available. Different weapons have different handling traits, and because of the dangers The Threat poses, players are encouraged to learn weapon safety as soon as they begin. Whether it’s removing the magazine and ejecting any chambered rounds for weapons lacking safeties, leaving the hammer un-cocked for revolvers and flipping weapon safeties on for some semi-automatic pistols, small actions taken can go a long way in keeping one alive: weapons will now misfire when mishandled, and this can end an otherwise solid run. Some tapes will remind players of how important it is to check their targets before firing, never flinch in anticipation of a gunshot, and treat every firearm as though it was loaded. This primer on gun safety, as well as how to render a firearm safe (or armed) from any state, is a reminder of how dangerous they are. With this improved knowledge about Receiver 2‘s weapons, which do indeed simulate every part of a weapon (shell casings may occasionally fail to eject properly, and rounds may fail to load), it’s become possible for me to advance further: I’ve managed to reach the Awake level in a relatively short amount of time, and while I was helped by a prior knowledge of Receiver‘s mechanics, there’s enough going on in Receiver 2 so that returning players will need to spend a bit of effort to familiarse themselves with the additions to the game. For folks who’ve put in the hours, Receiver 2 becomes a superb extension to the first game, and since Wolfire has long addressed a critical bug, in which players level down if they quit, Receiver 2 has become a very enjoyable title that simultaneously informs players of the importance of weapon safety, mental health and the media’s efforts to brainwash, as well as providing a game that genuinely challenges one’s skill. Contrasting multiplayer games, where players can install software to gain an unfair advantage over other players, there is no substitute for skill and competence in Receiver 2; every smoothly-executed reload, and every level cleared en route towards reaching an Awakened state, is satisfying, reminiscent of how in real life, preparation and knowledge can turn a life-threatening situation into a manageable one.

Wolfire Overgrowth: Review and Reflection

“At my last job, the tools had no Ctrl-Z, so I learned to be perfect on first try.” —Aubrey Serr, Wolfire Team

Set after the events of Lagaru, Overgrowth follows Turner after he defeated the alpha wolf and the corrupt monarch, Hickory, avenging the death of his family. Since then, he has wandered Lugaru seeking a new purpose. After bandits begin ravaging the island, Turner decides to investigate and help dispossessed find a new home in a mythical island in the sky. Turner reluctantly help those in need, finding himself entangled in a much deeper conflict involving slavery. Fighting his way through frigid glaciers and distant swamps, Turner is captured by the cats and proves his combat prowess in the arena, before killing off the leader of the cats. Turner eventually reaches the island and after ascending its sheer walls, reaches the top, where he kills its leaders. No longer denied homes, the rabbits aiding Turner find a new home, and Turner himself sets off, continuing to seek his purpose. This is Overgrowth‘s main campaign; clocking in at around four hours, it’s concise and accompanied by a remastered version of Lagaru, Overgrowth‘s predecessor. The game’s defining feature is that its development started around a decade ago, and in its finished form, the title very much feels like a demonstration of Wolfire’s Phoenix Engine, which is a technically impressive system; the main campaign showcases the different physics aspects available in Overgrowth, as well as a highly-evolved combat system. However, with only a pair of short campaigns and a few modes beyond this, Overgrowth comes across as being much more limited in content.

Overall, the combat and parkour system in Overgrowth are the game’s greatest strengths. The context-based fighting system is quick to learn but has a remarkably high skill ceiling: like Receiver, Overgrowth is very punishing. As Turner, players are able to hold their own on skill, but brute force will quickly result in death. Overgrowth‘s campaign rewards players who strategically make use of the environment to survive, as well as those who’ve taken the time to learn the fighting system. Consequently, every successful kill in the campaign is a satisfying one, and the game reinforces this by slowing things down on each kill. It is incredibly satisfying to survive a fight against large groups of opponents, whether they be other rabbits, rats, dogs, cats or the nigh-unstoppable wolves. Each of the different opponent types require a unique approach: Turner can stand toe-to-toe with other rabbits and rats, but cats, dogs and wolves involve strategy in order for Turner to survive. Turner can also make use of weapons to bolster his survivability in a fight, and against superior opponents, the terrain becomes an ally, as well – I’ve won most fights against wolves simply by kicking them off ledges. Similarly, Overgrowth has a particular emphasis on navigating vertical landscape features to reach a destination. While the controls are a bit challenging, once mastered, players can scale sheer walls and jump across vast distances. It is as satisfying to climb to the top of a structure as it is to survive a fight, and on both counts, Overgrowth‘s central features are well-implemented. With a narrative tying things together, it was superbly enjoyable to see the game exit the beta stage and become a full-fledged, if somewhat short, title that could form the basis for a much more content-rich game: it’s clear that the Phoenix Engine is quite powerful, and with the basics finished, I would like to see Wolfire use this engine to its full potential with a game that has a more detailed story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been just a little less than four years since I bought Overgrowth during a Steam Sale while the game was still in its alpha stages: I experimented with the game only briefly and did not have too much to say about it, but now that Overgrowth is technically finished, with two campaigns, the game’s worth returning to, and returning for the first time since 2014, I’m impressed with the lighting effects and visuals.

  • While Overgrowth‘s textures are a bit dated and the lower polygon count is visible, the lighting effects and sense of scale in the maps have seen considerable improvements since the early days of the alpha. Missions in Overgrowth‘s campaign are usually broken up into two types: ascension and combat. Ascension missions involve parkour to reach the top of a map, and combat missions entail fighting a large number of enemy combatants.

  • As a rabbit, Turner can jump great distances, an ability that is useful for both parkour and combat as a defensive tactic; being able to escape swarms of enemies is especially important, since Overgrowth lacks a HUD: Turner will go down every quickly to large numbers of enemies, and against certain kinds of enemies, will die in a single blow. Thus, a large part of the gameplay is picking one’s engagements wisely and making use of the environment to assist in combat.

  • In conjunction with punches, kicks and blocks, Turner can silently dispatch enemies by means of stealth take downs to avoid alerting nearby enemies. The AI in Overgrowth has been meticulously designed and will begin investigating if players are not careful in their approach: once combat breaks out, all stealth goes out the window, and fighting multiple opponents simultaneously is difficult, so like most stealth games, if one can commit to not being spotted, missions in Overgrowth become much more straightforwards to complete.

  • Weapons in Overgrowth come in two varieties: two handed weapons that deal massive damage at the expense of mobility, and one-handed weapons that can be employed very quickly. Weapons can be thrown, although the AI will pick up any missed weapons and use them against Turner, block them with weapons of their own or even throw them back. When used properly, weapons can one-shot most opponents.

  • A Chinese-style junk is visible at this port city: Turner visits a vast range of locations in his travels, and while Overgrowth‘s narrative is constrained by a lack of cohesiveness, it does allow players to see a variety of locations. Wolfire only has four employees, all of whom have backgrounds in programming, development and 3D modelling: Overgrowth is by far their largest title, and so, it is understandable that Overgrowth does not have a more powerful story or voice acting.

  • Water effects in Overgrowth are impressive, but there’s no opportunity to go swimming in Overgrowth: if Turner falls into deep water, he will die instantly. Overgrowth states that rabbits cannot swim to explain this mechanic: while rabbits can in fact swim to escape dangers, this is an action they are absolutely not fond of, since they become waterlogged very quickly. The resulting cold and panic can lead to drowning, and since rabbits can be literally scared to death by a shocking change in conditions (by the way, this is the correct way of using ‘literally’ in a sentence), rabbits avoid swimming where possible.

  • With a pair of swords in hand, I effortlessly decimate all of the crew on board the junk, including the boss that comes out. Blood effects and ragdolls in Overgrowth are fun, adding satisfaction to finishing each fight. Besides swords and knives, spears and staffs are also available. Weapons can be sheathed when not in use, and there are occasions where it’s better not to have weapons drawn, since they can be knocked from one’s hands during the heat of combat.

  • Besides other rabbits and mice, Turner will also encounter dogs, cats and wolves in Overgrowth. Having weapons allows Turner to even the odds out somewhat, but Wolves, being the most powerful animal in the game, can absolutely tear Turner apart. Getting up here from the ocean was no cakewalk, involving all of my resourcefulness to find spots on the shear walls to parkour up. I ended up beating the wolf by using the jump kick, an overpowered move that propels enemies back, and kicked it off a ledge.

  • The jump kick is a fantastic move for creating space and dealing massive damage to enemies, but because it propels Turner back a large distance, as well, there are risks to using it. Wolfire has since patched Overgrowth so that AI will respond more effectively towards jump kicks by evading: it proved incredibly effective against wolves, who could be insta-killed if they were kicked over ledges and fell great distances.

  • I spent a portion of Christmas Day and Boxing Day playing Overgrowth; the cold, snowy environments perfectly capture the feel of a frigid Canadian winter, and I recall the many attempts it took to sneak past the dogs and lure them into single combat. I eventually managed to best them, and savoured the victory: if there’s anything Overgrowth excels at, it’s creating a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with each fight won.

  • Like ReceiverOvergrowth is very unforgiving with its gameplay, and this is compounded by the lack of a UI; to counteract this, Overgrowth allows for near-instant respawns that put players right back into the things. This feature allows one to experiment with different approaches towards a problem until a solution is found.

  • I recall a six-on-one fight in one of the glacier missions where the ability to instantly respawn proved to be superbly useful: guards travel in pairs in this mission, and taking one out while the other is not looking is not possible. I ended up using stealth to take one out before going loud with a weapon with the other. The combat system in Overgrowth is very complex, and while easy to learn, mastering the controls is another story.

  • Turner goes from fighting in the cold glaciers to fighting in a fetid swamp. While lacking the steep drops of the glacier missions, the swamp is a dreary place that is quite easy to get lost in, and the lack of a HUD forces players to keep an eye on visual cues in the environment in order to figure out where to go next. They can be subtle, especially under low light conditions, and so, players might be forced to backtrack and explore.

  • Fighting rats in the swamps turned out to be relatively straightforwards: rats aren’t particularly challenging as a foe. Looking back, Overgrowth‘s development timeline was probably the biggest impediment the game had during its developer cycle. People wondered if the game would ever exit the alpha stage, and while the developers were constantly pushing updates, the game remained in alpha and beta stages for a few years.

  • One aspect of Overgrowth that sees very little discussion elsewhere is the game’s soundtrack. Composed by Mikko Tarmia, the music of Overgrowth is majestic, brooding and fits the game’s setting of a post-apocalyptic world. I would absolutely love to see a soundtrack, which, unfortunately, is not available for purchase at the time of writing. I recall listening to the game’s main theme frequently while writing Objective-C code, and because of our lab’s yearly excursions to Canmore, the soundtrack also reminds me of the mountains and valleys on the way leading into Banff National Park.

  • It attests to how much time has passed, now that Objective-C is being phased out in favour of Swift; when I began my time as an undergraduate researcher seven summers ago, I was a volunteer. My initial applications for funding were unsuccessful, but I decided to stick it out, since my goal was to learn, and two months in, I managed to build a simple model of blood oxygenation and deoxygenation in the lab’s custom game engine. Impressed, my supervisor switched me over to a funded programme, and I began work on a fluid flow model using agent-based approaches.

  • The mission to climb to the top of a tree and reach that glowing bucket proved to be an exercise in patience, and like the ascent to the top of a snow-covered mountain, it was immensely rewarding to actually reach the top and finish the objective. This is probably the “sense of pride and accomplishment” that all game developers want their players to experience; while the way to the top is marked by bioluminescent fungus, Overgrowth offers few other cues and suggestions, leaving players to work out how to get to the top.

  • By my second year, I managed to win the OCSS, a small scholarship for students enrolled in the Health Sciences program to do summer research. That summer, I continued on with my flow model after implementing a selectively permeable membrane system. Work on the flow model proceeded into June, and after spending many summer days tuning it, I was surprised to see my entities moving in a convoluted vessel without being stuck in the walls. I subsequently tried the algorithm out on a nephron model that we had, and it proved successful, so I spent the remainder of the summer trying to mimic renal flow and reabsorption, making use of the selectively permeable membranes in the process.

  • The camp in the swamp is such a visually impressive level with its lighting effects, and while quite difficult to nagivate, it was worth exploring every corner of this map to find the exit after all enemies had been eliminated. During this level, the intense fighting meant that I lost my weapons, but Overgrowth‘s jump kicks are overpowered to the point where they can be used if one lacks weapons. On a map with no ledges, this tactic is not a particularly dangerous one.

  • During my third summer in my undergraduate program, I did not return to the lab until August, having been entangled with the MCAT, but once that finished, I helped get a paper submission off the ground. By my fourth year, my old work with the nephrons eventually led me to build a multi-scale renal model in our lab’s in-house game engine, and I returned to this project that summer with an NSERC USRP award, building a distributed model that allowed different computers to share information with one another. In this implementation, I had one computer handle the renal calculations and the other handle cardiac functions. As they shared data, their visualisations, run locally, would be updated.

  • As we reach the end of Overgrowth‘s campaign, the levels become much more ominous in nature, featuring lavafalls and hellish environments. I fight in an arena here against increasingly difficult opponents, until at last, wolves are introduced. Wolves are terrifyingly powerful – Turner is no match for one in a straight-up fight, so I utilised hit-and-fade techniques, making use of distance to my advantage and waiting for the right moment to jump-kick a wolf into the lava below, which is an instant death. There was an occasion where I mis-timed one of my jumps and took myself out, but in the end, I managed to secure the win.

  • Turner is tasked with retrieving something whose value I cannot quite remember, but what I do remember of this mission is that it involves ascending ever-higher. It was quite the achievement to reach the top of the map and make my way back down: the way down was actually quite tricky, and even with the bioluminiscent markers helping, there were a few occasions where I overestimated how much falling damage that Turner could take.

  • Turner is later pitted against opponents of varying difficulty in another arena, and it was here that limitations in the pathfinding for some of the AI became visible. I exploited these limitations to win all of my matches, and during one match, managed to wrench a weapon from an opponent and turned things around instantly. While the organisers of the match are impressed, Turner will have none of this and proceeds to masacre all within the arena, including the cats running the event.

  • After killing off everything in sight, Turner must escape the cat’s desert city. The streets are unusually quiet, and it’s a good idea to hold onto any weapons one may have for the upcoming fight ahead: a number of cats stand between Turner and freedom, but compared to the fight in the arena, this one is relatively straightforward in nature.

  • Unlike the Wolfire Team, who continued to develop their Phoenix Engine until its reached the level of sophistication that it’s at today, our lab slowly phased out the in-house game engine once Unity made their engine freely available. While our own engine was robust, powerful and extensible, its biggest constraint was that it was not optimised; even simple simulations only ran at around 30 FPS, and more complex simulations would drop down to 10 FPS. This coincided with the arrival of The Giant Walkthrough Brain, and when I managed to build a functional prototype within two weeks, Jay Ingram and my supervisor were impressed with the engine’s capabilities. Since then, my old lab has used both Unity and Unreal.

  • While I’ve remarked that Overgrowth reminds me of Canmore and its surroundings, one should not expect to find such a structure in Canmore. This is the legendary country in the sky that was being referred to throughout Overgrowth. This is the culmination of all of the parkour and ascension skills that players have accumulated over the course of Overgrowth, and even then, climbing up here is no walk in the park. There are long jumps and tricky catches to make: any mistake will send Turner falling many metres into the water below, resulting in an instant death.

  • With the Phoenix Engine in a good state, one wonders if the Wolfire team will hire script writers and voice actors for any titles they might choose to make in the future. Since Overgrowth, I’ve not heard any news that the Wolfire team will be moving onto new projects, and from the looks of things, they will continue improving Overgrowth. In the time since I completed this game, two patches have come out to improve the AI and game performance.

  • I stop for a few moments to admire the scenery up here before continuing on. Once reaching the top, a brief fight awaits Turner. Beating down the tower’s leaders will bring an end to Overgrowth, and while the campaign was very short lived, it was quite entertaining. The fights are easily the best aspect of Overgrowth, especially with respect to how things slow down when a zone is cleared.

  • Overall, while I cannot say I recommend Overgrowth as a game, I can say that the game is a very pleasant reminder of my days as a university student. I bought the game mainly as a token of thanks for the Wolfire team, whose efforts and updates motivated me to delve further into the world of biological visualisations. With this being said, if people do not mind the shorter campaign and somewhat unoptimised performance, and they have a greater interest in all of the map tools than I did, then Overgrowth is not a particularly bad purchase, especially if on a sale; there are a host of worse ways of spending 33 CAD.

Having been in development since 2008, Overgrowth definitely feels dated with respect to its visuals, but the Wolfire team’s efforts have resulted in a superbly mature game engine that handles Overgrowth‘s fighting and parkour system well. The campaign is quite short, and it appears that the flexibility of Overgrowth‘s game engine stems from a desire for the community to create their own content. Work on this engine is why Overgrowth‘s development has spanned the greater part of a decade: I learned of Overgrowth during my first summer as an undergraduate researcher – my old research lab had developed its own game engine in-house to provide a 3D space in which to model and visualise biological systems. The lead developer on this project drew inspiration from Overgrowth‘s map editor, especially the transformation, rotation and scaling tools, to make it easier for objects to be placed in 3D space. This in-house game engine powered my thesis, and while it’s been replaced by commercially-available game engines like Unity, it formed the basis for the work that I would end up doing for my Master’s Thesis. Consequently, while Overgrowth might not be an impressive title from an entertainment perspective, there are features in Overgrowth that directly inspired the work at our lab. Improvements to our in-house game engine’s ease-of-use and navigation eventually led me to build a visualisation of the renal system at different scales, complete with a mathematical model to depict responses of my virtual renal system to various stimuli, for my undergraduate thesis. I watched the map editor demonstration and its accompanying humour eight years ago and found it deeply inspiring for my work; I ended up buying Overgrowth in its early access stage to support the development as a bit of thanks in 2013, after I had successfully defended my undergraduate thesis.

Considerations for multiplayer in Wolfire Receiver

“Complete the mission, you’re the only one left!”

While Receiver‘s mechanics may preclude successful implementation of a multiplayer game-mode, it is nonetheless an interesting exercise to consider different aspects that could go into such a game type to keep things interesting and refreshing. Receiver has been discussed previously as an excellent weapons simulator, encapsulated in a narrative concerning cults and a clever reflection on the impact of media in everyday lives. The game’s core mechanic involves the reloading of pistols, which, compared to other first person shooters, must be executed with a sequence of carefully placed keystrokes. Receiver is a single-player title, but one must wonder how the dynamics would change if the game were a multiplayer; different modes could pit two to ten players against one another (either individually or as teams), as they strive to capture tapes ahead of everyone else, or else be focussed on eliminating other players (or killtrons). The weapon mechanics, physics and game design could lead to players adopting some interesting strategies, as there would not be regenerating health, mini-maps or even rounds left, encouraging players to plan each move carefully. Such a game would involve the need to develop a mastery of weapons reloading: although individual engagements will still depend on sure aim and firing the first shot, there are numerous factors that could make a multiplayer version of Receiver interesting. Players with a greater proficiency with their weapons will be at an advantage, being able to pick off distant opponents with a greater certainty, and increased familiarity with the maps will allow players to figure out where the best shots for ambushes are. If the one-hit-kill mechanic and permanent death mechanic is retained, players will also be forced to play tactically, making use of the maps as cover, and double-checking their corners to ensure that they do not fall victim to an ambush. To ensure a fair start, players would spawn with identical weapons and equipment in a match, with their weapons in the same initial state.

  • This post is titled “Considerations for multiplayer in Wolfire Receiver”, but all of the screenshots come from the singleplayer (i.e. the game available on Steam). The discussion was born from conversation with a friend, who wondered whether or not Receiver‘s mechanics would be conducive towards a multiplayer experience where victory would be determined by a combination of skill, strategy and reflexes.

  • If we follow through with this thought experiment, the answer appears to be “yes”: implementation would probably be the most difficult part, but the addition of other players would make for some interesting gameplay. This is the most tapes I’ve found in this unusual structure: I’ve seen screenshots where three tapes have spawned here before.

  • The main limitation about multiplayer would be map generation, since players could potentially avoid one another by running in opposite directions, and that some sections do not easily allow for vertical travel. One fix for this will be to design new maps permitting vertical travel and  opening up/closing off new areas based on the players’ positions relative to one another. Besides this and networking considerations, the other aspect will be the design of graphical assets for the players themselves.

  • The complete lack of a HUD means that players would be completely dependent on audio cues, such as gunshots and footsteps, to determine where the other players are, adding yet another level of challenge to the game. One aspect that could prove difficult to control are macro input programs, such as G-Hotkey. Countering such programs would represent the greatest challenge in implementation, and using macros could detract from the experience.

  • Having the killtrons in the environment would provide side objectives for the players and could yield some cooperation even amongst competing players. For instance, if the last remaining players in a game are eliminated by kill-trons, then the game might count that as a loss for both teams, so players would need to cooperate and shoot down the killtrons to avoid being penalised.

  • One addition to Receiver that would act as incentive includes adding different, perhaps weapon-specific, attachments for each pistol. The Model 10 might gain a red dot sight for better aiming-down-sights performance at range, while the M1911 could be given an optional suppressor to better improve a player’s stealth. The G17, with its automatic fire and large magazine capacity, would gain hipfire accuracy with a laser sight. Speed loaders might also be available in certain gametypes to emphasise the tactical aspects.

  • Since my last Receiver post back in June, I’ve accumulated an additional 14 hours over four months. The game’s randomised levels and items mean that every round is different, and sometimes, Receiver can be remarkably generous with resources: these rounds usually mean I find anywhere from six to nine tapes, although a single well-placed killtron would still kill me.

  • The aforementioned elements are absent in Receiver because the game would otherwise be too easy: it takes a degree of skill to accurately target and hit specific components on the killtrons, and after 48 hours of gameplay, I’m able to disable the killtrons (both the hover-drones and turrets) with a single round. The turrets are somewhat tougher, as shots may sometimes only disable their motors, and depending on where I need to go next, a follow-up shot is necessary to take out the camera.

  • The tension in Receiver increases as more tapes are collected, and the music intensifies. In some play-throughs I’ve seen, players begin panicking as they collect more tapes, fearing death. It is possible for one to empty out their entire magazine into a distant killtron, and consequently, my recommendation would be to fire carefully earlier on in the game, collecting and conserving ammunition to ensure that they have sufficient ammunition to survive. Here, I come close to my second victory of all time: I paused the game to sit down to dinner, and then resumed shortly after to complete this run.

  • With two completions under my belt, I merely need to beat Receiver once with the G17 and I’ll have found all eleven tapes in one run with every gun. So ends this post: I’m aware that the Wolfire team is unlikely to build or release a multiplayer version of Receiver, but it has been an amusing exercise to see what features and challenges could arise from multiplayer. Up next will be a talk on Charlotte: though I’ve not mentioned watching it, I did follow it during the Summer 2015 season and found some elements worth discussing. This should be done before Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??‘s first episode airs, and I aim to get this particular review out as soon as practical.

From an implementation perspective, this would require a server (implemented as a script in Unity), the means of connecting to said server and spawning the players. From there, state synchronisation and remote procedure calls would be needed, such that the locations of the players and their shots, and current map are sent to all players. Player positions and shots fired will need to be interpolated or predicted to account for network latency. With players being able to consistently see one another, they can then begin interacting in the game environment: the process for creating a multiplayer version of Receiver is considered to be moderately difficult to implement. The main challenge faced for multiplayer is the possibility that some players will use macro software (like G-Hotkey) to gain an advantage, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of any fixes (except maybe to listen for the speed of the inputs and reject them if the interval between each is too short). There are doubtlessly other difficulties that must be addressed, but a multiplayer game mode could prove to be quite entertaining, as it would add the dynamic of interacting with other players into a relatively challenging game. The end result would be a first person shooter that would play out in a very life-like fashion: players would need to develop a mastery for operating their pistols, exercise caution (and perhaps use bounding overwatch patterns to move from cover to cover) and communicate with one another (to provide cover for a teammate while reloading, for instance) in order to stand victorious. Only a handful of possibilities are discussed here, and while an implementation is very improbable, it is clear that a multiplayer component would add new dimensions to Receiver; the result would be a game mode that would demand a combination of skill, tactical thinking and reflexes far surpassing that of a typical multiplayer first person shooter.

Wolfire Receiver: Immersive Gaming Done Correctly

“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” —Og Mandino

A little less than a year after I got Receiver with my Overgrowth preorder, I’ve finally beaten the game touted as a highly detailed gun mechanics simulator with procedurally-generated worlds and permanent death. This unique combination of elements means that Receiver is likely to be one of the most challenging games around, more so than The Impossible Game and The World’s Hardest Game. However, this difficulty arises as a consequence of its simplicity: Receiver forces players to first learn how to reload their weapons properly, and initially coming from most shooters where smashing the ‘R’ button triggers a reload animation, Receiver requires an intricate pattern of coordinated, precisely placed keystrokes to reload a weapon. It takes roughly two hours to fully master all of this; being able to reload any of the weapons from muscle memory without looking at the keyboard is immensely satisfying, but also just the beginning of the game. The next task is to focus on finding eleven tapes scattered though a procedurally generated world where starting resources, enemies and tape placement is random. Even the most skilled player may find themselves entering a room and dying in an instant because of a turret or hover-bot’s placement, forcing them to start over. This ceaseless cycle of death and failure leaves players frustrated, often to the point of rage-qutting. Players with a more open mind will persist, and through reinforcement learning, eventually develop a mastery of the weapon mechanics and a fear of the killtrons’ distinctive detection sound.

  • It might come as a surprise to some, but I’ve spent 34 hours in Receiver, which places it fourth overall in my Steam Library: owing to idling, I’ve got some 971 hours in Team Fortress 2 (and would probably have roughly 40-50 hours of actual play time), making it first. Second place belongs to Skyrim and third place is Bad Company 2, although half of that is playing through the campaign.

  • This much replay value is not bad at all for a five dollar title: a quick computation finds that the game costs 15 cents per hour to play. My personal benchmark for value is a dollar per hour, so if a game manages to cost a dollar per hour or less, then it’s money well-spent.

  • While Receiver makes use of a procedurally generated world, I’ve found that tapes tend to spawn in more or less the same areas. Consequently, there are some places that are better to explore in detail than others. Quite personally, I absolutely love the apartment assets: only furnished with the basics, these rooms feel very cozy and relaxing compared to the emptier, more intimidating and darker lower floors.

  • I understand that my posting patterns have been quite inconsistent this month: my research work’s slowed down slightly, given that I’ve needed to debug my model for minor but somewhat jarring bugs (between supervising and helping undergraduate students out). Said bugs have been fixed, and the model works alright: I’m mostly back on track at present, and soon, work can begin on the project’s virtual reality component.


  • Besides my thesis project, the summer’s epic food quest continues: last week, I attended a superlative Nerd Night talk on Dr. Caleb Brown’s discovery of a new horned dinosaur after enjoying a Reuben sandwich in a British-style pub. Then, on Saturday, I was out for dinner with the family, which, amongst other things, included a delicious wonton soup and pan-fried mayonaise shrimp. Monday saw another excellent steak, and as I am wont to do (ever since 2013), I do enjoy thinking about whether or not reality is a simulation before savouring said steak.

  • I’ve still yet to try a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich, but that’s on the schedule for this summer. Returning to Receiver, one must keep an eye out for tapes everywhere; there are some occasions where tapes will spawn in an apartment’s sinks. Fortunately, to make tapes, flashlights and rounds easier to spot, Wolfire’s developers had the foresight to provide a glowing effect around items to ensure they can be easily seen. While some find the tapes to be uninspired, I personally love them: one of the tapes suggests that listening to the tapes repeatedly confer supernatural powers. Cleverly, those playing the game frequently will eventually memorise the tape’s contents.

  • With enough practise, it becomes possible to accurately hit vital components on the killtrons from a considerable distance outside of their operational range. Bullet physics is accurately simulated in Receiver, so one does have to aim above their targets for distant shots, and a very nice touch is that bullets can ricochet off the environment. I’ve had several instances of a ‘missed’ round bouncing off a wall and managing to strike a killtron to disable it.

  • As vital as a cool nerves, a quick trigger finger and wits are in Receiver, sometimes, blind luck means that tapes are easily found. During one memorable game, I found two tapes right beside one another. There are some tapes with no dialogue, and just chanting. Allowing those tapes to run their course will add to the number of tapes absorbed.

  • There are some games where resources are plentiful, and on one particularly lucky match, I found most of my tapes in an endless expanse of rooftops. I soon passed my record of eight tapes absorbed to reach ten, and noticed that in an open area, there had been another tape lying in plain sight, guarded by a single killtron. I emptied my magazine into it to disable it, and moved in to claim the eleventh tape.

  • Thus, on June 14, a little less than a year after I started playing Receiver, I finally beat the game for the first time. This particularly lucky run took around 25 minutes, and with all eleven tapes collected, the game concludes. 33 hours after I started, I was both lucky and experienced enough to complete an immensely rewarding journey: Receiver is a surprisingly involved game for such a seemingly simple title, and has much more depth than most players imagine. The same might be said of most relevant skills in life: anything worth doing takes time to learn and become familiarised with.

These two seemingly simple developments lead to a degree of immersion in Receiver that even triple-A titles lack; how are these elements able to cultivate a sense of being a part of Receiver? It turns out that the lack of a health system in Receiver, and the ever-present killtrons eventually lead players to associate the killtrons’ detection sound with death. This leads players to immediately withdraw, retreat, hide or ready their weapons. However, some scenarios may lead to panic: being rushed by a hover-drone or entering a turret’s line of sight can lead to some interesting behaviours. One may empty an entire magazine at the killtron and miss every shot, or else fumble a reload while running away from a pursing killtron. Other times, death comes out of the blue, as swiftly and unexpectedly as any jump scare in a horror game. Paranoia may strike in yet other ways: how many enemies are there in the next room? Is that killtron really disabled or should several more rounds be put into it to make certain? Receiver is not even a horror game, and it can frighten players more effectively than most games of this genre. Through reinforcement, Receiver is able to effectively convey the sense that death is swift and often unexpected. This aspect contributes to the immersion in Receiver, forcing players to make full use of caution, as well as auditory and visual cues within the environment, in order to survive. The ever-present, unexpected nature of death keeps players on their toes, giving the sense that players are genuinely trapped in a building with nothing more than a weapon and their wits. This difficulty makes completing Receiver immensely rewarding, and in immersing players fully into its environment, Receiver illustrates how well-designed game mechanics can make a game far more entertaining than graphics alone.


“You see reality painted in shades of black, but beyond your world is another, bathed in radiant light. We have reached out to you with a warning. If you are able to hear our message, then you are one of the few we can help. We call you ‘Receivers’.”

I picked up a complementary copy of Receiver up with the Wolfire Overgrowth alpha. Released in June 2012, Receiver was the finished product from the seven-day FPS challenge, featuring a procedurally-generated levels and, most significantly, portrays the operation and handling of firearms in a far more involved manner than any other FPS I’ve played. The story is revealed as players find audio tapes scattered throughout the world; the firearm players are supplied with are intended to deal with killtrons, which take the form of stationary sentry turrets or mobile hover drones that will attack the player. Initially, it was little more than a curiosity, and attempts to play the game were met with quick deaths at the hands of the killtrons. I spent a fair bit of time looking through the help menu as I fumbled around with reloading my firearm; ineptitude meant that there were several occasions where I failed to pull the slide back after reloading from empty or engage the hammer to allow the weapon to fire. However, in the time that has passed since the Steam Summer 2014 Sale, I’ve sunk in around nine hours into the game, and have finally attained a reasonable proficiency with the weapons, enough to reload and operate all of the weapons (Smith and Wesson Model 10 revolver, Colt M1911A1 semi-automatic pistol and the selective fire Glock 17) from memory alone. With this done, I began diving deeper into the universe Receiver builds, set in a vast, uninhabited building somewhere in Hong Kong following the Mind-kill. Individuals in the Receiver cult have access to the Clear-tapes, which explore more of the story as the player accumulates them.

  • Receiver is a procedurally generated game: every game is different, with a different map layout and character equipment. Some days, players are lucky and will spawn with plenty of ammunition, a flashlight and be close to some tapes, while other days, the game will give the player no flashlight, no bullets or even spawn them right behind a turret.

  • The first main challenge in Receiver is learning how to reload each gun efficiently. It took me around two hours in game to fully memorise everything, but it was well worth it. The revolver is the easiest to reload: one merely needs to open the chamber, shake out spent cartridges, insert new ones and close the chamber, then pull back the hammer. As a double action revolver, pulling back the hammer isn’t necessary, but it does make shooting a faster action.

  • Originally, the M1911 was the only weapon in the game. To reload it from empty, one must eject the magazine. Then, they may hoister the weapon and insert fresh rounds, or a new magazine, then insert it back into the M911. Releasing the slide and chambering a new round typically will follow. A similar process is observed for the G17, although both weapons have differences.

  • The M911 has a hammer and a safety, while the G17 has a fire selector, allowing it to go between semi-automatic and full automatic fire. Early on, I found myself dying because I failed to chamber a round or because I left the safety engaged, but experience is an effective instructor. Consequently, I die less frequently from carelessness at present, although Receiver is immensely unforgiving: taking a single bullet, exposure to even a second of the hover-bot’s taser or falling from a height will end the game and result in a restart.

  • Receiver has simple graphics, but its procedural level generation means that moving between some areas may lead to a bit of lag arising even on a rig as powerful as mine. This lag is only noticeable for a few moments, and the remainder of the game handles very smoothly at 1080p on the “fantastic” graphics settings. The building includes sparsely furnished apartment complexes, empty rooms, large warehouses, rooftops and open courtyards. Tapes are typically found in roughly similar areas (such as in the bedroom here), or in the corners of the larger rooms.

  • Large stairwells and corridors dominate some parts of the building, and the killtrons are usually found in predictable areas. What is not predictable will be their numbers: sometimes, killtrons appear alone and can be easily disposed of, while other times, even the most skilled of players will suffer a quick death after being fired upon by several turrets while being pursued by the hoverbots.

  • For the screenshots, I’ve deliberately increased the distance the player holds the gun away from their eyes to give a better sense of what’s happening on screen, but for most games, I have the gun a little closer so I can better aim down the sights. Even with only iron sights, I’m capable of shooting out a killtron from across a room or courtyard, or even shoot out the signalling lights at the top of a building from across the map. One of the more subtle things in the game that few will have attempted is the fact that light fixtures can be shot out. This is, naturally, not a good idea, given that ammunition in this game is exceptionally limited (some games, players start with one bullet left in the chamber).

  • Those with a careful eye may notice that the massive building in Receiver is actually set in Hong Kong: the Jardine House and  the lower half of the Hong Kong Bank of China are visible. This subtle touch, coupled with a music track that progressively intensifies as one approaches the tapes, adds to Receiver‘s atmospherics. With that said, Receiver is an excellent game that also simulates a sense of loneliness: the player is completely alone inside the building and never engages or aids any other humans.

  • The unique environment in the game allows players to devise their own stories as to what happened prior to the game’s events. In my case, I enjoy thinking that the Mind-kill was introduced by TV Tropes’ administrator and moderators, destroying self-awareness and forcing the population into a no-negativity, mindless consensus. One individual, who had arbitrarily been “Google-banned” from TV Tropes, was spared of the Mind-kill. As a Receiver, they must now must venture back into the labyrinth that is TV Tropes and retrieve the data tapes that will allow them to overcome TV Tropes’ influence, while evading TV Tropes’ ban-enforcement measures, attempting to locate the source of the issue and putting an end to it for good.

  • The most tapes I’ve ever collected so far is six, just a little above the halfway point. Some tapes, I’ve heard more frequently than others, and the mention that individuals who listen to them repeatedly may transcend humanity is a clever bit of meta-humour: those who play the game frequently will doubtlessly hear these tapes repeatedly and even memorise some of the tapes.

As I progress through the game and track down the tapes, the story starts to take shape. The recordings on the tapes produce a vague story, and a part of the joy in Receiver lies in ambiguity, leading different individuals to interpret the story differently. Wolfire intended the story to add to the immersion within Receiver and ultimately succeeds, adding depth and promoting curiosity to what would otherwise simply be the world’s most involved firearm simulator. In my case, I see Receiver as dealing with media influence over human thinking. Society’s general tendency to accept what the media presents as truth to be a problem; the media is a form of business, and as such, is concerned with profits, rather than merely giving their viewers the facts. This leads to sensationalisation, and in some cases, projection of bias, leading to stories that deviate from the truth and impart on viewers a misconception of the issue. I’m not one to blindly believe everything I’m told (in fact, this is why I never got along with individuals who were part of popular cliques), and will carefully assess something before deciding on a position, whether to align with or against something. Back in Receiver, individuals immune to the media’s effects are referred to as “Awakened”, and are tasked with collecting all of the tapes. With a basic mastery of firearms and some understanding of what the tapes entail, my journey to delve to the bottom of the mystery behind the Mind-kill continues.