There have been a few games released over the course of the last few years that purport to be based around the life of a streamer or YouTuber, and I’ve typically shied away from them.
When Hammerfist, developers of the Deep Space Waifu series, reached out to me and asked me to take a look at their new game based on online video culture, though, I was interested. Hammerfist has a distinctly “punk” attitude towards game development that I rather like — and I was intrigued to see how they would approach this subject matter.
What followed was a rather entertaining game that can be beaten in a couple of hours, but which provides an enjoyable experience along the way. Hit the jump and let’s take a closer look.
In TubeLive, you take on the role of a guy who’s sick and tired of his mindless day job; the only inspiration that gets him through to the next day is the possibility that he will see the girl he has a crush on at the office.
However, a string of missed opportunities leads our hero to believe that he needs something greater to attract the attention of his love — and as it would happen, a force known as The Algorithm makes itself known at this point. It suggests that our hero try their hand at making videos online; it’s a sure-fire method to get the attention of their crush, it suggests.
From here follows a game that is probably best described as a lightweight “tycoon” game — and I mean that in the modern sense, rather than the in-depth business management sense it used to mean back in the late ’90s and early ’00s. In other words, what we have here is a game about grinding enough money and other resources in order to acquire things that will allow you to get more money and other resources.
This isn’t to say that TubeLive is a mindless game, however. While it’s certainly lightweight fluff from a mechanical perspective for the most part, there are a lot of things that keep the experience interesting along the way — not least of which is how it makes use of its subject matter.
You’re playing the part of an aspiring online gaming star, after all, so what would a simulation of that life be like without games? With that in mind, TubeLive provides a selection of games for you to play any time you choose to make a video, each of which is implemented as a simple, timed minigame in which you need to score as many points as possible against a strict time limit.
These games never get especially complicated; most of them involve clicking on things to kill them, clicking the left or right mouse button to kill incoming threats on either side, or moving the mouse around to catch objects before they disappear from the screen. A few of the games actually have completely identical mechanics but different presentation; perhaps a sly dig at the fact that online streaming trends tend to favour very specific types of game rather that a broad range of genres.
As you play a game, your points are split between your three main “stats”: Visual, Hype and Sound. At the end of making a video, you’ll gain experience in each of these areas, and the level each of them is at determines how many points you will acquire for each of them when they come up in a game. In other words, as you progress through TubeLive as a whole, your scoring potential becomes significantly higher — though it’s also worth noting that certain game types naturally draw lower scores overall, so it pays to be aware of this when you’re picking what to play.
The total score you get across the three stats determines the video’s overall rating, and the scoring potential of the game is taken into account for this. A naturally low-scoring game has a much lower threshold to be considered a success, for example, while games where you can gain a lot of points require you to really push yourself in order to make a mark on the online video circuit.
From here, gameplay involves continually making videos — which costs slightly more money to do each time — along with purchasing upgrades both for yourself and your room and taking care of yourself. You have three “survival stats” to keep an eye on: hunger, which can be sated by raiding your fridge; energy, which can be replenished by sleeping; and love, which can be filled up by interacting with your scraggy old mog of a cat.
Despite the term “survival”, you won’t actually die if any of these get too low; you’ll simply be unable to work on a video or at any of the part-time jobs that allow you an alternative source of income. When replenishing any of these stats, there’s a “clicker” minigame whereby rapidly hammering the mouse button will restore the stat in question more quickly; since the game times how long it takes you to beat it in terms of total “days”, efficient stat restoration is a must.
Various items of furniture can restore your survival stats more quickly, and there’s even an upgrade which allows you to live life in “Zombie Mode”, which means you never need to eat, sleep or feel love from your cat ever again. Efficient from a mechanical perspective; rather sad from a narrative perspective.
That description can be applied to the whole TubeLive experience, really. Hammerfist has a real knack for combining silly, cartoonish absurdity with oddly sincere earnestness; while the game as a whole is clearly poking fun at the whole idea of YouTuber and streamer culture, it also doesn’t shy away from the realities of this life for many people — loneliness, anxiety, mean comments from complete strangers on the Internet, the intellectual wasteland that is stream chats on popular channels — and presents these in a rather matter-of-fact manner that is simultaneously amusing and drenched in a certain amount of pathos.
Unlike many “tycoon” games, which simply give you a long-term goal, TubeLive has an overarching story that concerns your attempts to rise to the top of the popularity charts and impress your crush — who, it seems, has been interested in you right from the start, but being a socially awkward nerd you naturally don’t figure this out until very late in the day.
The narrative is structured with a series of subscription milestones you need to reach, at which point you will participate in a “Street Streamer Battle” against a rival. These involve playing the same games that you play on your videos, but against an opponent, competing for total score. This starts as a fairly simple process, but each rival has their own gimmick they introduce into the mix — one is obsessed with VR, for example, so for his battle you have to play with blurry double vision — and the final conflict against a villain who is simultaneously a real bastard and utterly pathetic when you think about it in the perspective of the “real world” sees you not only having to compete against a formidable opponent, but also dealing with him cheating like nobody’s business.
Once you beat a rival, their gimmick becomes available for you to use at any time when you make a video; these generally provide you with bonuses to your score in exchange for taking the disadvantage they inevitably provide. At the time of writing, some of these gimmicks actually become available before you’ve battled the streamer in question; I assume this is some mildly faulty game logic, but it certainly doesn’t break the experience, since you end up with the same lineup of options available to you by the game’s conclusion.
Bonuses to your stream don’t come free, mind; the currency for applying them is “Likes”, which you acquire from comments received after each video. And like everything else in the game, there are ways of manipulating this; unlocking a Controversy powerup, for example, allows you to quickly gain more subs at the expense of Likes, while adding some production value to your videos (mostly a ridiculous flaming logo at the start of each one) allows you to rake in a few more Likes per upload.
The reason I say Hammerfist are “punks” of game development is that their work is endearingly scrappy and rough around the edges, but full of real heart and soul, and it feels like this game in particular has something to actually say. There’s a grungy PS1-style low-poly aesthetic going on, particularly with the character models, which gives a severely uncanny feeling to almost everything you do, and the actual sense of narrative and atmosphere running in the background has some real sincerity to it — along with a healthy dose of cynicism. The soundtrack, too, consisting of ’80s-style synthwave in a similar fashion to Deep Space Waifu, has an odd sense of melancholy to it while simultaneously being highly infectious and addictive to listen to.
This game isn’t glamourising the life of YouTubers or streamers by any means. It’s poking fun at it and highlighting what a ridiculous existence it can end up being for some people — but it’s also showing that it’s not always an easy ride, either, particularly if you find yourself getting embroiled in that enemy of a quiet life online: “drama”. Or indeed trusting “the algorithm” to keep you on top when you’re riding high on a wave of seeming success.
If you do play this, be sure to take the 2-3 hours it takes to see it through to the end. It hits home way more effectively than I expected it to. That’s all I’ll say for now!
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