David in Telling Lies

Okay, kids, get out your pen and paper; you’re taking notes.

Telling Lies is a voyeuristic narrative full motion video game by Sam Barlow. You scan a government-collated database of recorded conversations, looking deeply into the stories of, and relationships between characters.

The desktop and Retina software in Telling Lies

Surveillance Software

The game takes place in a “desktop simulator” that feels a bit like an Ubuntu Linux desktop environment. The meat of the game takes place by searching for clips in Retina, a pretty plausible piece of surveillence state government software. The videos you call up are, for the most part, one half of a two-way video call. Unhindered access to these personal videos is what makes the game ultimately feel voyeuristic. You know that you shouldn’t be watching this—these people didn't exactly consent to the government recordings. But, you just want to see how their stories unfold, and feel closer (or more distant) from some characters.

The game’s main character, David, is played by Logan Marshall-Green, supported by three other characters played by Alexandra Shipp, Kerry Bishé and Angela Sarafyan. David is a vastly complicated character and plays at the center of the giant nest of lies and half-truths that make up this story. I most closely followed the relationship between David and Ava (Alexandra Shipp’s character), a climate change protester that David gets quite close with.

The videos you find and watch feel, well, deeply personal. When you’re watching these actors in movies or on tv, they feel distant and non-impactful, no matter how compelling their delivery. Here, you almost feel them looking right at you, as they deliver their performances right into a camera for you to see. This delivery makes the videos feel truly raw—almost like they are government intercepted recordings of video chats—and can go on for minutes at a time.

Ava in Telling Lies

The evolution of the story

Sam Barlow, the game’s director, is a master of non-linear stories. His first indie title, Her Story, uses a similar video query interface. Where Her Story first experimented with the mechanic—by querying and reviewing small segmented snippets of a few police interviews—Telling Lies evolves it. You’re now watching full videos, hunting for keywords that not only help you progress your understanding of the intertwined plots but also finding the other half of the call you’re watching—seeing the other side to the story.

Throughout the game, I filled up four pages of my notebook, covering anything from notes on characters, new keywords to search, to quick scribbles from piecing together sudden story revelations. You’ll want to take notes too, either using the in-game note tool, your own notes app, or classic, analog pen and paper. (I recommend the latter.)

You see, the story isn’t laid out on paper. Nothing exists to say, “here’s the plot.” The only thing that guides you is the game’s initial query of LOVE. This gives you a few videos to skim for keywords and gather your initial impressions. Then it’s up to you to build your knowledge and understanding of the characters, their relationships, and their stories, and uncover their lies and half-truths. My experience won’t be like yours—we might have different conclusions about people’s motivations here, and that’s what makes this interesting.

Gameplay Tip:

If you query a video and feel like you’ve missed something, you can always scrub backward to earlier points in the video to see more.

This game feels like a love story to FMV video games, an all but dead genre, and shows more games like this can exist today. Which is why I’m posting about it here—It’s not a true indie title, with a credits roll of hundreds, but it feels like an indie-scale game gone right. I want more things like this, and want to see more of this from small creators.

Telling Lies is available on Steam for Windows and macOS.

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A therapy session is in progress, in the game Eliza—a game which explores parametric AI-based therapy.

Eliza is a visual novel by Zachtronics, the developer of puzzle games Opus Magnum, Exapunks, and other Zachlike games.

The visual novel explores the potential impact, ethics, and effectiveness of an AI-driven digital therapy program, Eliza. You take control of Evelyn, a newly hired proxy for the Eliza program.

AI doesn’t make the world go round

Eliza sessions are delivered by Proxies, contract workers who serve as a therapeutic human intermediary between the two way conversation of AI and client. An Eliza proxy wears AR glasses, getting a realtime stream of patient vitals, sentiment analysis of the patient’s words, and scripted guidance on what to say to a patient.

The Eliza sessions are held by human proxies because the company behind Eliza, Skanda, feels that interacting with computers feels impersonal and unnatural. Theoretically, a realtime conversation feels more natural and less contrived—it’ll challenge a patient to open up more, so Eliza can listen.

However, patients are incredibly aware that they’re still interacting with an AI. Sometimes, they’ll even break the “fourth wall” and say that they’d just wish for an actual human exchange with the person that’s delivering the Eliza-based therapy.

Evelyn talking with Erland, in the Eliza server rooms.

Can a chatbot provide effective mental healthcare?

The game exists in a world affected by a mental health crisis, not unlike today. (I’m personally someone affected by this, too. As someone going through therapy, this game feels close to me, in a way.) Many people in-game are seeking treatment, and Eliza seems to be the option for most, not because it’s good, but because it’s cheap.

You see, therapy is a process of listening, understanding, and challenging a patient to change and improve. Eliza’s treatment seems to land at either end of ineffective and adept at this, depending on the particular patient. For example, Eliza will happily listen to a long-winded essay from a patient, yet its follow up response is banal and unempathetic: “it seems that something is really troubling you.” It’ll fail to drive deeper on the pain or augment the conversation contextually—it’s just an AI’s lexical notation of what the patient is exhibiting.

The biggest miss for Eliza is in the “solution” department, which is a glorified ad for more Skanda services and partnerships. After a patient has poured their heart out during their appointment, Eliza gives cold and scripted recommendations for an app and a pill. In a way, this kind of highlights a big issue with a service this—if you have cheap therapy as a service, is the company really invested in addressing your root issues? Or, will they just do the absolute minimum to keep you happy and keep you as a customer?

At a cafe, discussing Eliza's role in the future.

What if you get to change things?

But what’s your role in all this, as a proxy? Well, chapters take their twists and turns. It turns out that not only was Evelyn a previous Skanda employee, but she was also a principal engineer for the Eliza project.

And that’s what makes this game compelling. It sets up an AI-driven near-future dystopian world and then sets you up to explore what that means. How does your role in this change if you made Eliza? What would you differently? What would you do to change the future?

Each chapter introduces some sort of plot-shift, that twists your feeling of the overall effectiveness of Eliza, your alignment and empathy for Evelyn, and your sentiments toward other involved characters—like the Skanda administration and other ex-employees.

And here’s where the game really hits close to home for me. If you’re on the inside of a large company and can see something is going wrong, and you want to try to change that momentum, what really happens if you speak up? Sure, you internally know that speaking up is the right thing to do, but, likely, you could just be seen as a troublemaker, and ultimately pushed out. Your in-game relationship with Nora (an ex-Skanda engineer, turned artist) and Erlend (the new engineering leader of the Eliza project) make you grapple with the feeling from differing perspectives.

The obligatory zachtronics solitaire game in Eliza.

An effective new entry from Zachtronics

Yeah, it’s dramatically different from anything you’d expect from a Zachtronics style game, but that honestly makes it worth the play. They approach the subjects of engineering, AI influence, and ethics from an informed perspective. There’s no handwaving and namedropping of just the right keywords to make it “seem” competent. It’s apparent actual programmers and engineers wrote and influenced this game, and they know their audience will be technically minded.

It’s different from other visual novels I’ve played too. It’s fully voice acted. It’s got a Zachtronics style UI, suited to the story they’re telling. With this, it manages to feel like a visual novel of their own, not that they just decided to do something new and build a game on top of RenPy or Twine.

And, overall, Eliza is effective at exploring the philosophical and ethical issues of our world, today. It doesn’t try to give you the answers or arrive on any novel conclusion—it wants to make you think. I bet you’ll come out of the game feeling totally different than I did, and the game gives you the freedom to experience that.

At the very least, you still get to play another solitaire game from Zachtronics.

The red-robed desert wanderer in Journey.

This is a game you need to experience once. Not only that, it’s a game you need to experience again. Journey is a game about piecing together a past, enduring the present, finding unexpected companionship, and, well, the journey you take along the way.

Journey is an adventure game by thatgamecompany. It was initially released on PS3 in 2012 and released on PS4 in 2019. It’s out for PC now—and I got to experience it for the first time.

Journey is beautiful, mysterious, unexpected, gripping, and jaw-dropping. It’s so beautiful, it looks like you’re playing a painting. You start in a vast desert—the sand shimmers and cloth flows with a staggering level of realism. The soundtrack is killer, and tightly fits the mood and tempo of your game.

Honestly, I think this is a game best experienced in the dark, so if skimming these screenshots convince you, stop reading now and jump in if you’re at all interested. Go in with as little detail as possible. You won’t be disappointed. (I have tried to avoid as many spoilers as possible in this article, but I share more than I knew about the game when I first experienced it.)

The red-robed traveller, during a cutscene in Journey.

The figure in red

You take control of a nameless, faceless, red-robed figure in the desert. There’s no dialogue, checkpoint, or visual clue to tell you what to do—other than a tall dune with fluttering cloth off in the distance. So, you do that game thing™—move forward and walk.1

After cresting the hill, the game cinematically guides you to experience new story beats. You first find a glowing symbol that you pick up from a strange rock, which gives you a scarf. Then, you encounter torn cloth fragments—you can’t speak, so chirping at them energizes your scarf.

The ancient glyphs round it all out in this starting area—you don’t know who you are, and you don’t know your past. There are so many questions, but you just advance onward and make it up as you go. You’ll find more glowing symbols to grow your scarf, and you’ll find more glyphs which tell you about your story.

The red-robed traveller, with a second companion, after completing a puzzle with them, in the second stage of Journey.

The second figure in red

In the second area, as you’re still discovering your role in the world as this red-robed desert wanderer, a new figure appears. It’s you, but not. It’s acting with agency, seemingly doing its own thing until it takes notice of you. It runs over, and chirps—you chirp back. This is new.

To be honest, I was taken aback when I first found the other desert wanderer—I am averse to multiplayer games, and I was worried that I would ruin this person’s experience because this was my first time playing Journey, or that they would somehow be a nuisance in my gameplay. It turns out, no—they’re there to advance the story with you. The only way you can communicate is by chirping and helping. You can refill their scarf by chirping loudly, and they can refill yours. Touching each other also refills both of your scarves. It’s endearing.

The two travellers meditating.

What we owe to each other

You don’t know anything about the other wanderers that join you in in your adventure. But a sort of social contract exists—you’re on this journey together, and that means helping your fellow wanderer through whatever it takes. I probably was all too slow for one of the first wanderers I encountered—I wanted to explore the vast desert. Another wanderer chirped insistently at me to help me find something I missed. I took that, and helped another companion later in the game find something they missed.

I kept wondering about who I was playing with—what are they thinking about, why are they here, how much did they know about the game. And then I’m also reminded about how much that doesn’t matter, because right now I’m experiencing the story with this red robed, anonymous figure.

All this without chat, without language, and without knowing who you’re with. It’s not about you, your politics, your language, or your country.

It’s about the journey along the way.

A screenshot of the third stage in journey, with mechanical parts embedded in the sand.

Journey is out now for PC on the Epic Games store and is also available for PS3 and PS4. I played through journey twice2—each time taking about 2 hours— and had the soundtrack on repeat for days afterward. Go play it. Seriously.


  1. Sarcastic use of ™, of course. Walking comes with the medium. I mean the game’s named Journey. Quiet, now. 

  2. There’s probably still things I’ve missed. I need to play it again. 

A level in High Entropy, featuring fire, a lift, and turrets.

I smash a window to alert a bot to my presence—it notices me and plots a path to my location, a dingy storage closet. The only available path I’ve given it is through flames. You see, it’s not exactly a smart bot, it’s just heeding its programming to attempt to neutralize me, the intruder. One pass through the flames isn’t enough to do it in, so I dodge it, give it a few additional thwacks with my wrench, and tease it through the fire again. The scorched bot falls to the ground, its systems permanently damaged.

The game checks off a puzzle objective: neutralize an enemy using fire.

This is High Entropy, a puzzle game by binarynonsense.

Level 0 of High Entropy, before you sit in the chair

Take the elevator, please

High Entropy takes inspiration from many games, borrowing mechanics but using them in its own way to form a cohesive puzzle system.

The game takes place in a “test chamber” structure, like the seminal puzzle game, Portal. You enter a puzzle from one elevator, complete a list of objectives, and make your way to the elevator at the end of the level. You pick up keycards, master keys, and other similar knickknacks to make progress.

The game’s Fallout-style lockpicking mechanic takes the challenge and advances it another degree. You have to find bobby pins scattered throughout the level, and as a consumable resource, you only get a few attempts to access doors for different paths or items—occasionally forcing a restart if you want to 100% the level.

The PC terminal interface in High Entropy.

The game also doesn’t shy away from being inspired by immersive sims, like Deus Ex. The very first passcode to unlock a door is 0451—as is tradition. PC terminals are used to read emails and notes for the puzzles. There’s also the occasional spam email to ignore, naturally.

DOS-style command lines also form another part of the puzzle. The industrial office spaces here often have access controlled doors, security cameras, or laser trip beams securing these test chambers, and you use the PC to control them. You usually have some sort of note or tip nearby if you forget the syntax, but one-shotting a netmap followed by a telnet to disable a security system leaves you feeling like a bonafide pentester.

This game rewards exploration and discovery in the form of origami cranes. To 100% a level, you need to seek out all the hidden rooms and puzzle elements. Because there are several possible solutions to later levels, the origami cranes ensure you’ve seen what you need to see to prove you can solve all the routes—but still leaves you the ability to pick your own path forward.

The Orange Box?

The level design of High Entropy basically amounts to polished yet pragmatic minimalism. In the version I played, the aesthetic is really just polished greybox1, but it is used skillfully in a manner that makes the design feel intentional, not unpolished.

It owns the format, and it’s used in a way that evokes a rough industrial office building format, giving the nod to the gridded concrete walls you see in Portal. It works—I had too many good looking screenshots to pick from.

Level thirteen of High Entropy, looking down on bots walking in circles around the floor.

Puzzle Quality and Mechanics

The last levels of High Entropy are more significant in scope and amp up the duration. You’re expected to use every mechanic you’ve learned in the earlier levels, and getting 100% doesn’t just mean finding every path, but also following the right routes at the right time. Some hit a level of difficulty where it feels better to quit out and revisit it again in a few hours. Of course, it does feel rewarding to eventually finish a level you’ve been stuck on, once you’ve figured out just what you’ve missed.

Around level thirteen, I realized the game is also being optimized for speedrunning2. Restarting a few times to sequence my route in just the right order, I realized that the walking bots are timed so you can flow through some rooms in just one-cycle of the bots.

A more dense level of high entropy, introduing lasers, turrets, and an unpowered elevator.

It’s excellent work for a one-person game. Sure, a few puzzles could make better use of player hinting. I got very stuck in a 100% attempt of level seven—an area I was trying to access was pitch black, and there was nothing to hint to me to look there. Scratches, wear patterns, or a telltale light would have helped me to discover the new route to take. After about twenty minutes of searching, I found that I needed to hop on top of a vending machine. The game is typically successful with this, though. It also offers interactive outlines for things you can interact with, but often the outlines don’t appear until you’re already close enough to the object you need to interact with, so they don’t actually help with discovering things you’re missing.

I played High Entropy version 0.3.1. My play time was just over three hours. It is available on itch.io for windows, but a full release will be available on Steam. The game is a test build, but don’t let that deter you from playing—a story mode is coming soon for the Steam release, which will probably add an overarching narrative for the existing puzzles.


  1. Greyboxing is a game development practice where levels are wholly brushed out using literal “grey boxes,” rather than starting from minute one at a high level of polish. This enables quick iteration and testing and reduces losses from changing or reworking a level.  

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speedrun 

A screenshot of Once Upon A Time in the West, showing the lodge where the events of the game take place.

You’re approaching a lodge in the wilderness. As you near, you see the flash of two gunshots, followed by sharp drum beats and a jump cut to black.

These are the first moments of Once Upon a Crime in the West, a narrative murder mystery game, by developer National Insecurities, exclusively available in the Humble Monthly Trove.

On the twelfth day of Christmas


As you enter the cabin, you encounter an array of highly-stylized corpses strewn about and find the bartender impaled with a knife in his eye, beckoning you in. It’s the twelfth day of Christmas, and it’s a good one—“except for all of these dead folk,” the bartender quips. The bartender instructs you to use a magical camera—conveniently left on a nearby table—to step back and relive scenes from the previous eleven days, to figure out just what happened here.

The Bartender, Elijah, stabbed in the eye. (Once Upon a Crime in the West)

You’ll meet a spread of characters with different personalities and reasons for being at this cabin over the twelve days of Christmas. Some are there to get away. Others, mercenaries, trying to find who killed the old sheriff of Old Town. You’ll also meet the new sheriff of New Town—who might also be the new sheriff of Old Town? (It’s hard to keep track.)

You should already be able to tell this isn’t a game that takes itself too seriously. The game is rife with black comedy, witty writing, and silly on-screen gags. Scene changes are accentuated with sharp drum beats and quick cuts. The bartender, Elijah, throws a coin in the swear jar every time he swears—a gag which does not get old. Even the people staying with you at the lodge are hardly fazed by an on-screen death during a poker game—instead joking about it after a moment of reaction.

Some of the cast, playing poker. (Once Upon a Crime in the West)

It’s familiar, but not too familiar

Sure, this game bears substantial mechanical similarities to Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn, but that doesn’t detract from it. The colorful and stylized low-poly character graphics are a sharp departure from Pope’s title, and this game has an entirely different spirit and gravity to such a similar situation.

In a way, it’s also a step up in difficulty from Return of the Obra Dinn. After you finish watching the events of the prior eleven days of Christmas, you’re left to deduce what happened by linking polaroid pictures of characters together. The game doesn’t hand hold you during this point—you need to rely on your notes and memory of the dialogue to make these connections. Perhaps the game should allow you to rewatch previous scenes, but this also feels like an extra challenge, one that’s extra rewarding once you’ve made all of your logical conclusions. (If you get stuck, I do have a screenshot of the solution—I can quietly provide it so you can finish out the game. Keep your game open, there’s no saving.)

Gameplay Tip

You can play the scenes in any order, but it seems best to start from the First Day of Christmas. Also, I did encounter some oddities when just starting the game, after placing the camera and scrolling to switch days—the game wouldn’t respond to my scroll wheel. If this happens, you may be standing too close to the camera, somehow. I was able to get it to work if I stepped back.

Once Upon a Crime In the West is available for Windows, exclusively in the Humble Monthly Trove. My playtime was about two hours. It’s worth a shot if you enjoyed Return of the Obra Dinn, or are just up for a comedic murder mystery.

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