Bounty of gaming news discovered in isolated Scottish cabin

By admin Dec 26, 2023

The existence of the Upper Lunch Hut implies the existence of a Lower Lunch Hut, but as far as I can tell, no such building exists. It’s one of many mysteries that surround the edifice, which I discovered during a holiday in the Cairngorms this August, while everybody else at RPS was writing about some tyrannous entity called Gamescom.

First, the approach: having exited a vast pine forest of primeval aspect and supernatural disposition, with distant, daylit clearings leading the eye deeper and deeper into the undergrowth, till it feels at last as though your gaze has become tangibly enmeshed with clutching root and lowering branch – having finally escaped from that terrible, terrible forest, with its single, mournful stream crossed by a bridge of predatory bareness that is surely a haven for trolls, you set out across a grey and purple oblivion of reed and heather, a moorland rising to the border between glens, broken only by the stark red stain of a door. Nearing this otherworldly aberration, this scarlet phantasm, you realise that there is a house constructed around it, a sloping excrescence of withered planks and flaking plaster. What fell secrets could it harbour? Let us go and make our visit.

The inside of a hut for hikers in Scotland, showing a bare wooden table and a window with bright daylight outside

A close-up of the open door to a wooden hut for hikers in Scotland

Image credit: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell/Rock Paper Shotgun

From the inside, the Upper Lunch Hut seems adrift in time. Unpainted, the planks form a discreet vortex of bleached grain, scabby chewing gum and the intersecting rings of a thousand thermos bottoms, centred on the eerie white square of a window that, if my notes are correct, reveals a different landscape every time you peer through it. There’s an abandoned bird nest in one corner, and a desultory feasting table with benches near the door. Did humans ever reside here, or has the structure coalesced of its own accord, willed into being by cosmic fiat? But wait, look closer. These consumed surfaces are actually alive with information. Look there!

The scrawled message
Image credit: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell/Rock Paper Shotgun

The Upper Lunch Hut is no collapsed and forgotten dimension, nor even a homely “place of lunch” for passing walkers with too much time on their hands. It’s a gaming social media hub, akin to a forum that has escaped Google’s spiders and achieved a second lease of life in the material realm. It is a place of discussion and insight, a secretive spawning vat for News & Opinion.

“Life is Roblox”, you say? An apt observation, for the 2006-launched game creation platform encompasses all things, good and less good. Roblox Corporation founder and CEO David Baszucki has just posted a 2023 round-up letter, incidentally, in which he hints at how this great elephant in the room of latter-day “multiverse” projects might evolve in 2024. One thing that jumps out from that post is a push towards accommodating (slightly) older players. According to Baszucki: “in Q3 2023, more than 57 percent of our users were 13 or older and the fastest growing age group on Roblox was 17-24 year olds. And we believe there is much more growth to come with this audience.” Another thing that jumps out is the increasing emphasis on advertising and monetisation tools and support for “real-world commerce”: Baszucki has elsewhere expressed enthusiasm for NFTs.

These grand plans lend a sinister aspect to the phrase “Life Is Roblox”, though I deduce from the non-joined-up handwriting and the loose dotting of the “i” in “Life” that the author is an innocent soul, who wrote the message in a spirit of fun. Still, the reminder of Roblox’s universe-straddling ambitions is appreciated. What more does this bare wooden wall hold for us? Lowering our eyes a few centimetres, we are transported from the anxious realm of the near-future to the nostalgic security of the 18th-19th century.

The message
Image credit: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell/Rock Paper Shotgun

While some might guess “Anno” to be a forename of some kind, the discerning gamer intellect will recognise this at once as a reference to Max Design and Ubisoft Blue Byte’s venerable real-time historical strategy series. Anno is pretty widely beloved at RPS. “It’s an undisputed heavyweight, and an experience I’d recommend to anyone,” Nate wrote of the last iteration, Anno 1800, which appears on no less than three Best of lists – it’s one of our best management games, our best strategy games and our best building games. Sadly, the series is at low ebb: Anno 1800 came out in 2019, and the last major development was the introduction of official mod support in August this year. Series custodian Blue Byte’s last game was The Settlers: New Allies, which Rick found to be “a tedious blend of management sim and RTS that simply doesn’t work”. I’m not sure if there’s another Anno game in the works, which lends this message a resonant pathos that is only heightened by the smiley face on the right. Anno was here? True enough, dear friend. True enough.

But enough strategy. What about this message, a little further down the wall?

The word
Image credit: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell/Rock Paper Shotgun

Again, the fumbling layman might perceive this to be a reference to an actual person called Jak, perhaps an especially narcissistic class clown. But the debonair connoisseur of virtual entertainments will arch an eyebrow at that comicbook font, roll a successful “Lore (PS2)” test, and see the graffiti for what it really is, a homage to Naughty Dog’s old open world Jak & Daxter games, of which the mildly cyberpunk Jak 2 is surely the highlight.

I really miss Jak & Daxter. This was Naughty Dog before Naughty Dog got really into HBO and reinvented themselves as serious purveyors of boutique apocalyptic cinema, a Naughty Dog that still knew how to double-jump and spin-attack. I don’t think we’ll ever get another Jak & Daxter game, unless they hand the rights to another Sony studio such as Ready at Dawn, who created the PSP Daxter spin-off. I’m sure we are all very sorry about that. But hang on, what’s this?

The words
Image credit: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell/Rock Paper Shotgun

It appears the Upper Lunch Hut has played host to both Jak fans and Jak detractors, or “philistines” as they are scientifically known. This is an outrage! Jak is not weird! He is the quintessential tragic hero, the victim of in-game mad science experiments on the one hand, and of the industry’s fixation with being a Grown-Up Art Form on the other. Whoever this kid is, they clearly have a chronic attitude problem and I will be writing a stern letter to their headmaster, followed by another letter to my MP about the perils of unregulated free speech. But before I do that, there is one more piece of enigmatic graffiti to decipher.

The phrases
Image credit: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell/Rock Paper Shotgun

This one takes a bit of thought. How exactly can a house be made of house? Is this a house of fractals? But the apparent paradox is an important clue: it’s the kind of cobbled-together wording you get from player messages in the Souls games. The “ah yes” is undoubtedly a nod to “yes indeed”, the opening words of the original Dark Souls introductory cinematic. What we have here is a couple of FromSoftware aficionados communicating by stealth, so as to avoid rousing the consternation of those Roblox normies and the idiots who think Jak is weird.

While there’s little more to glean from the exchange, it’s possible this is a camouflaged discussion about next year’s Elden Ring DLC, Shadow Of The Erdtree. According to one recent rumour, it’s coming in February, with another expansion following in 2025. Going by Shadow of the Erdtree concept art, the expansion could feature Miquella, brother of the infamous Malenia. Hang on, is that the Upper Lunch Hut I see in the distant far corner of the concept art, just below the weeping Erdtree? Did I actually go on holiday back in August, or have I been playing the Elden Ring DLC all along?

As I concluded my tour of the Upper Lunch Hut – wherever, whenever and whatever it is – it remained only to leave my own mark on this strange meeting of the ways, this waterhole for gamers of all stripes and demographics. But what could I possibly add to the wit and profundity already on show? How to celebrate the place in a manner appropriate to the equally peculiar and timeless traditions of Rock Paper Shotgun? Ermmm. Well, how about this.

The phrase
Image credit: Edwin Evans-Thirlwell/Rock Paper Shotgun

Merry Xmas all.

By admin

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