Promotional image for 80 Days. Image: inkle ltd
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Inkle's 80 Days is a brilliant game that isn't really a game at all

Is it a text adventure? Is it a puzzle game? Is it some sort of visual novel? This acclaimed gaming take on Jules Verne's classic tale is an innovative approach to storytelling.

Some games lend themselves to easy categorisation. You can play them, learn their patterns and systems, master them and move on. Such ease of categorisation means you can focus on the details, like how a scientist encountering a new type of beetle can centre not on the fundamental questions of what a beetle is or what’s it for, but instead on the minutiae of why it is different to the other beetles. Some games, however, don’t lend themselves readily to categorisation. Sometimes a game won’t fit into any particular category at all - instead it sits there, like a cross between a duckbilled platypus and a Rubik’s cube, giving you that look babies get when they can’t decide if they want to laugh or fart.

80 Days, thankfully, is the smiling sort of Dubik’s Platycube, insomuch as it is an incredibly fun and engrossing game. But it still defies classification. Is it a text adventure? Is it a puzzle game? Is it some sort of visual novel? Does it have poisonous spurs on its hind feet? It contains elements that I’ve run into before, but the whole is something new.

The meat of 80 Days is based around the Jules Verne story Around the World In 80 Days, in which stoic Englishman Phileas Fogg and his manservant Jean Passepartout attempt to get around the world at record-breaking speed for a bet. The game differs quite markedly from the original story, especially the version I am most familiar with (largely because Phileas Fogg isn’t a lion) - but to go into the specifics of how the game differs would inevitably lead to spoiling the surprises, so let’s not do that. Instead, let’s look at what is so odd about 80 Days.

80 Days is a game that you play from a very unusual perspective. The story is largely relayed through text in the first person by Passeportout, as if you're reading his story, but you're not really playing as him, despite the fact that you make nearly all of the decisions that affect the narrative. The nearest comparison would be to a Twine game, or a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but though they share the mechanic of choosing which course of action is adopted by the protagonist they typically do not share the perspective. The game differs from classic text adventures like Zork because you don’t use commands, but rather you're forced to choose from lists of existing options.

In a typical game like this you'd expect to play from the first-person perspective of the main character and choose what they do - with the story typically told in the second person - but 80 Days gives you both control over Passepartout and the world and characters around him. One early example involves negotiating the line at a train station: it can be done merely by choosing the lines in the story that lead to the path of least resistance, or (if you like) you can make things more difficult for Passpartout, and in the process bring out different traits in his character. Other elements, like Fogg’s reactions or descriptions of places and people, can also be selected - so maybe a town is bustling as you arrive, or maybe Passepartout is too busy looking at the skyline, and misses seeing all that.

This is a strange but enjoyable experience, and the prose through which the story is delivered is sparse yet intriguing. Locations, characters and modes of transport are sketched out well enough to create impressions of depth and to fire the imagination, without the sort of detail that might cause them to lose their mystique. The game draws you into its world, delivering surprises all the time.

Unlike the old Choose Your Own Adventure books - which were perfectly happy to kill your character off for making a wrong turn, or even making what looked like a right turn - 80 Days lets you have fun with its narrative. Mistakes can prove costly to the journey, but Passepartout has a range of talents, and fortune often favours the bold. Indeed, the game encourages you to see just what Passepartout can get away with.

80 Days only suffers when it tries to be more conventionally gamey - for example, the inventory and market system feels like an unnatural fit, as though it had been grafted on from a different game with a different purpose. Also the system for obtaining money from banks can be frustrating, with the knowledge that if you do find yourself out of money at any point there’s a good chance you won’t make it home on time. The characters are so lively that it feels sort of out of place to find them meekly waiting for days as money is wired to them.

In some ways the fact that 80 Days is a game and, as such, has challenge and goals to it, is almost a shame. If it merely consisted of reading the adventures of Fogg and Passpartout as they embarked on their different journeys, subject to the whims of the reader, it might in some ways be a better experience. The world of 80 Days is one that I would love to explore in greater detail without that ticking clock looming large, but there is always another boat to catch, always that next connection to make. That is not to say you can’t come back again, though, as 80 Days easily withstands multiple play-throughs, not just over each route but in terms of how you play the characters. Maybe you focus purely on getting from A to B, maybe on helping people out along the way, or maybe you play the game as The Foggster And JP: Lads On Tour Maximum Colonial Bantz Edition. There’s always a new way to approach it.

I still don’t really know how to classify 80 Days. But since I’m still playing it I suppose the most important classification is evident . . . it’s good.

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Now listen to a discussion of 80 Days on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.