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I haven't finished and released a game since Art of Theft all those years ago, what with my glittering writing career getting in the way and everything, and Art of Theft was itself an attempt on my part to get away from solely making text-heavy adventure games and towards the challenge and gratification corners of the triangle. So yes, Poacher is a 2D platformer that tries to do the mix of story and gameplay thing that I always prefer games to have.

The protagonist is Derek Badger, a stout, middle-aged Yorkshireman with a shotgun, who is poaching rabbits at the local lord's estate when he discovers the entrance to a mysterious underworld and gets embroiled in an aeons-old conflict between a race of ghost-like spirit entities and their evil counterparts, the Dark Ones. I was trying to come up with an alternative kind of hero, a character who was relatable, heroic without seeming self-righteous, and capable without seeming cocky or being overly idealised in his masculinity. I liked the idea of a pragmatic, unflappable, down-to-earth working class sort encountering all kinds of bizarre magical events and creatures, none of which seem to cause any fear or astonishment because his no-nonsense north of England attitude is ingrained in him to the very bone. Derek does the right thing without angst or hesitation, but there's an enigma about him, because his accent is so thick the other characters find him almost impossible to comprehend.

As for the gameplay, my intention for it came out of playing one of those insipid shooters that has you spend ten hours in cover doing the pop-up shooting gallery thing but every now and again they make you man a turret or ride a vehicle with a completely different control scheme, in an attempt to relieve the monotony that serves only to enhance it somehow. I can't remember which game it was because honestly I could be describing fifty different possible candidates, there. But it made me wonder if there was any realistic alternative. If your core gameplay gets boring after a while, is there anything you can do to help that besides add gimmicky set pieces?

So what I set out to do with Poacher was to stick with the same basic controls throughout - move, jump, shoot in four cardinal directions - but to give each section of the open world a distinctly different gameplay "feel". So some areas are more about vertical travel and some horizontal. There are bits with lots of swimming and puzzley bits where you have to shoot switches to set platforms or make liquids flow out of pipes. I guess I had to switch things up a lot to keep my own interest in it all alive, but you might like the result. Maybe. Also there's boss fights with giant rolling skulls and bunny rabbits.

Poacher is pretty much done, give or take some testing (I'm determined to watch at least one person getting to the secret extra hard boss fight) but after that I guess I'll stick it online somewhere somehow. Cross that bridge when we come to it. Hope you enjoyed this extremely self-indulgent column where I should have been talking about Sonic. But did you see that photo on the first page of this column? Was it a picture of Sonic? No, it wasn't. Neither was it a picture of a young Rolf Harris on his way to a 1920's newspaperman cosplay convention. Asshole.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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