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Welcome to the third and final instalment of Drinks in Games! We’ve gone on a virtual bar crawl, we’ve trekked through the most beautiful drinking locations in games but now it’s time to look at the drinks themselves. Which game has the perfect pint? The best beverage? Grab your glasses and allow me to take you through some of my personal favourites…
Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Starting off the list with milk may seem like a weird choice but let me explain. Chateau Romani is the beverage of choice in Majora’s Mask. It’s sold in various Milk Bars across the region, which is something I would like to see more of in real life. However, some gentrified areas refer to the beverage as ‘Milk of the Night’ and charge 200 rupees for a bottle, a steep price for some cow juice. They also refuse to serve it to children, which makes me wonder – what is in the mysterious milk?
Upon consuming Chateau Romani you’ll feel energised within an inch of your life. Your magic meter rejuvenates and you’ll burst at the seams with unlimited power for THREE DAYS. I’m glad they don’t give this to children. It’s clearly not normal milk, this milk has been tainted. Suddenly the 200 rupee price tag doesn’t seem so extortionate considering you’ve got a bottle of LSDairy in your bag. This drink puts the ‘moo’ in ‘moonshine’ and I want a pint of it.
Onto a much more conventional entry here, a classic if you will. Tapper was a game you could find in the majority of arcades across America in the early 80s. The task sounds simple enough – you’re a lone barman and you have to serve frosty Budvars to your thirsty patrons. However, the game reflects bars in real life and hundreds of people will try to get a drink at the same time leaving the poor bar staff overwhelmed.
Like most people who have seen any western film, I have a weird desire to be served a cold beer slid down the bar into my clutch. However, I can’t help but acknowledge the most satisfying part of playing Tapper, when you finish your busy day and pour yourself as many beers as you like. Imagine the taste of that first pint after you’ve finished a day of serving them. Bliss.
Extra fact, Budweiser had to change the drink served in Tapper from their classic Budvar to a rather ambiguous ‘Root Beer’ due to various complaints about the game encouraging dangerous levels of alcohol consumption and subconsciously pushing drinking on the public. Which I think is a load of Budvar.
Slurp Juice is a consumable item in a little indie game called Fortnite that you might have heard of. A bright blue liquid found in bushes, treasure chests, vending machines and of course llamas. Like most drinks in games, Slurp Juice will rejuvenate some of your precious health points – there’s nothing too extreme about the effects of this beverage. So why does Slurp Juice make it on the list? Because of sheer audacity to call a drink ‘Slurp Juice’.
Nobody knows what the drink tastes like or what consistency it has, it’s just a jar of ominous goop that will save your life. I wanted to find out more about the lore behind Slurp Juice so I messaged Fortnite expert Ben Walker (@bnwkr) for some insight. He revealed that the drink is made by Slup.Co, a huge conglomerate that has cornered the beverage market in Fortnite. They make a number of mysterious Slurp based products and their factory is located in the Slurp Swamp which makes me question the contents of the drink even more. Ben confirmed that though no taste notes are listed in the game, Slurp Juice was actually served to players at the Fortnite World Cup and it was a raspberry flavoured slushie.
I haven’t had a slushie since the days of those giant Tango Ice Blasts you’d get for £248824 at the cinema so I’m game to try Slurp Juice. Though I’m worried I’ll get addicted to the bright bev and become ‘Big Chuggus’, an in-game character that resembles Bane with a Slurp addiction. It also sounds like what Elon Musk might call the Tesla Truck.
Sounding like a beverage that you’d consume before being blocked on Twitter, ‘Shadowbanish Wine’ is a rare brand of booze found in the Cyrodiil province of Tamriel. This wine was created by an alcoholic alchemist, an alchomist if you will. Made as a gift for the Legion soldiers, the drink allows them to see in the dark which must help enormous amounts in a world before the invention of electricity.
There is a very finite amount of bottles but some can be found in the occasional chest every now and then. Collectors will offer you a pretty penny if you bring them a six pack but after a long day traveling across the region to retrieve the sacred booze I think you should enjoy it yourself. Thanks to the drink’s weird ability, you’ll be able to stumble out of a tavern in complete darkness and still find your way home. You could even stop for a khajiit kebab on the way.
Once again I didn’t want to be the only contributor to this boozy adventure, so I took to Twitter to ask other virtual drinkers
The thing that I find funniest about Nuka-Cola is the fact that the Nuka-Cola Corporation named their whole business and product line around nukes just a few years before the entire world erupted into nuclear warfare. What are the chances of that? Someone in the marketing department is due a promotion if they weren’t disintegrated by the radiation.
Before the Great War, Nuka-Cola was the beverage of choice across America. Much like the large conglomerate the drink is parodying, Nuka-Cola targeted children with their marketing and pumped their drinks full of sugar. A recipe for success. Alternative flavours started to appear left and right, from a refreshing cherry version to the intimidating Nuka-Cola Quantum. A bottle that glows bright blue, doubling down on the caffeine and calorie contents. If that sounds too sweet for your blood then have no fear, there’s a Diet Nuka-Cola for you waist watchers out there.
If you are coming across these bottles post-war then they may not taste as good given the radiation and dirt everywhere but you can’t put a price on the taste of pre-nuclear nostalgia. Actually, you can, the bottle caps from Nuka-Cola have become the currency of this dystopia. I would head straight to the shutdown factories and start filling my pockets with any leftovers, taking the time to use their mixing machine to knock up some of the Nuka-Cocktails. A few Nuka-Bombs will take my mind off the wasteland situation.
My Summer Car is the driving simsation that’s taken over Twitch. People drive endlessly through poorly rendered backdrops, only stopping for food and drink. That’s where my interest lies, it has been brought to my attention that there’s an ale in the game people can enjoy on their break from driving. Simply listed as ‘booze’ in the game, I had to find a clear image and zoom into the label to find the brand name. ‘Kännikala’ is a Finnish expression that roughly translates to ‘drunk fish’ – exactly what you’ll feel like after four bottles.
Much like alcohol in real life, this drink will reduce your stress levels drastically whilst also playing havoc on your bladder. Are you wanting something a bit harder? The game has you covered. There’s another alcoholic beverage called ‘Spirit’ or ‘Bereznik Spirytus’ when zooming in on the label. This drink can only be found in your friend’s bathroom which should start the alarm bells ringing, it’s an imported spirit from Poland that’s 96% proof which breaks all alcohol laws in Finland. Consuming this paint stripper will net you an achievement for blacking out called ‘Methanol Man’ which could be my new wrestling name.
When it comes to writing these drink lists, this game is suggested time and time over. I even delayed writing this article so I could go away and play VA-11 Hall-A and I’m so glad I did. The game is incredible, you are a cyberpunk bartender in the year 207X and your job is to serve the patrons of your intergalactic dive bar. The creators describe the game as a “booze ’em up” and that’s spot on – you can create a large range of cocktails from just five ingredients.
Looking down the extensive menu we can find such gems as the Brandtini, a classy and clean number for the upper echelons of space society. Not quite my bag though, my interests lay a little more in the ‘Fringe Weaver’, the strongest drink on the menu. Described as ‘ethylic alcohol with a spoonful of sugar’ I want to take one sip of this cocktail and attend some form of space disco. You are welcome to join.
A feature of VA-11 Hall-A that I love is the fact you don’t always need to pour someone a drink to fix their problems. You can simply sit and talk to customers for a while and sometimes that’s all you need to get through something. You don’t always have to turn to the bottle, whilst it has been fun looking through drinking culture in gaming please don’t forget alcoholism is a real issue. Look after yourself out there, I’m off to go put more hours into this great game.
We have sadly reached the end of our journey, which drinks did I leave out? Please feel free to tell me on Twitter (@panoparker)!
Writing Drinks in Games has been a lovely distraction from all the awful news lately, so thanks to Loading Bar for letting me rant on about booze. Please check out the rest of the series and let me know what you think!
I hope you all stay safe and hopefully, some normality will return soon. We’ll be back in real pubs talking about our favourite games before you know it. The first pint is on me.
I’d like to start off by thanking any of you lovely locals that joined me on a virtual bar crawl. I want to carry on our celebration of drinks in games with another favourite hobby of mine: sitting in a field with a bag of cans and taking in the scenery. It’s a right of passage during summer to head to a nearby park and knock back a few lagers with your friends. Unfortunately, there’s a global pandemic on and people are having to cut down on the pilsner picnics this year.
Allow me to fill that void once again, grab your bag of cans and come with me as we galavant across luscious locations in games. From barren deserts to coastal caverns, these are environments you’d enjoy whilst cracking open a cold one…
Ghost of Tsushima
Having just played through this gem it’s safe to say I’m a big fan. I was very close to putting Sekiro on this list, both games have an incredible usage of sake and interesting characters to share a drink with. When it comes to the locations, however, I think Ghost has the advantage. In Ghost, you go steel to steel in intense stand-offs underneath waterfalls and in golden fields of flowers. In Sekiro you fight giant apes that fling excrement at you.
Ghost has a photo mode so incredibly detailed it could put Roger Deakins out of a job. That’s important because the world you find yourself in deserves something better than disposable Kodak. When it comes to picking a drinking location I actually thought about the story of the game. I was thinking about some of the beautiful shrines that take you to all corners of the map by scaling treacherous terrain. Worthy spots to quench your thirst but drinking in this game should be reserved for something special.
Sake is a traditional Japanese drink that is made from rice wine, originally served after a victorious battle. Nowadays, it’s mostly enjoyed after large meals and successful business meetings. My suggestion is that Jin Sakai, the Ghost, should travel with a gourd full of sake ready to commemorate any ‘business’ he takes care of with his katana. It goes without saying that Buckfast is the perfect tinnie* for these occasions, nothing says traditional Japanese rice wine like Buckfast. After duels, big battles and reclaiming villages throughout the isle of Tsushima – Buckfast.
A few generous swigs then back on your loyal horse, riding off into the sunset before another day of fighting two equally terrifying threats: a Mogalian empire and a rough hangover.
*NB: Buckfast counts as a ‘tinnie’ – anything you can buy from an off-license is available for grabs on this trek. Also, Buckfast once released a tinned variety in Dublin so suck on that sack of wet eggs.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is absolutely stunning, I don’t need to tell you that because every reviewer worldwide did the job three years ago. There are so many awe-inspiring areas dotted around Hyrule that I struggled to narrow it down to one entry. You’ve got the fields, the rocky peaks of Eldin valley, the majestically named Tabantha Tundra and even Gerudo Town where you get a side quest to make the perfect pint. All great suggestions but then it quite literally dawned on me…
The hill from the opening. Imagine you’ve just woken up after a 100-year nap, you step outside your cosy little cave and see the sun rising over the kingdom of Hyrule. Pass me the elven equivalent of a Guinness and let’s start the day correctly. If you can ignore the ever-looming threat of Ganon and his darkness surrounding the castle, the view is absolutely breathtaking. Forget the fact a whole kingdom’s fate rests on your shoulders and get a little buzz on – you’ve been asleep for 100 years, a few more hours won’t hurt anyone.
Similar to Breath of the Wild, Death Stranding puts the player in the shoes of a lonesome protagonist tasked with a duty well above their pay grade. Sam rambles around the huge map delivering a number of packages to clients all over, he’s a glorified Royal Mail employee that deserves a break. Given the size of the cargo Sam carries on his back, he’s working up a sweat out there and what better way is there to rejuvenate those valuable electrolytes?
MONSTER SPONSORED ENERGY.
This product is firmly placed within Kojima’s post-apocalyptic Mars-like environment, the righteous symbol of American culture will live on where other brands fall and wither. After a long journey across the landscape, Sam could climb to the nearest mountain top and take it all in for once – this time his only luggage is a four-pack of MONSTER ENERGY and a bottle of Glen’s Vodka (other forms of paint stripper are available). On the surface, Sam just appears to be a MONSTER ENERGY influencer that’s loyal to the brand, when in reality he’s mixing vodka into the tins and getting battered.
You’ve seen how he can stumble all over the place and now you know why. Sam Bridges is constantly half-cut and developing an addiction to MONSTER ENERGY. The giveaway being whenever he urinates it creates a small mushroom on the floor, slightly alarming from a health perspective but could possibly get him into The Avengers.
I thought about going under the sea for the Bioshock mention in this list but you can’t really enjoy the scenery down there without getting seawater in your drink and subliminal messages in your head. You are much better off in the ‘haven’ of Columbia. One quick ride on a steampunk silo and you arrive in a city above the clouds.
Take a walk around the place and you’ll see barbershop quartets, zeppelins and a fairground to mosey around whilst you look for a corner shop. The issue with buying booze in Columbia is that the majority of consumable bottled liquids will set the user on fire, electrocute them or give them control over a bloodthirsty murder of crows. However, if I had to choose a drink for a 19th-century sanctuary in the sky then it would probably be something quintessentially light with undertones of industrialism, like Stella.
Have you been to a rooftop bar in London before? They charge you extortionate amounts because they’ve put some seats on a small terrace and chucked a few fairy lights around the gaff. You pay £7+ for a pint and double figures for a cocktail, get your Instagram picture of the view and pretend you’ve had an experience worth telling everyone about. If you were drinking in Columbia you would have the best view in the world without breaking the bank.
Just don’t get too wasted, we wouldn’t want you to stumble through dimensions chasing after a girl and creating a plot that’s an all-round ballache to follow now, would we?
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Though a short stay in a tavern may seem enticing, I would much prefer to awkwardly walk my way up the side of a mountain and embrace what the land of Tamriel has to offer. Before departing you’d need to visit a local shop and barter for your tinnie. By ‘barter’ I mean place a bucket on the shop owner’s head and steal yourself a drink of your choice.
For this entry I thought to myself: what modern beverage could resemble the taste of mead? The answer to that question is a warm can of Boddington’s with a cigarette floating on top. It won’t be nice, but it will be authentic. Picture this, you’re on a mountaintop and you’ve just slain a dragon, whilst gathering up the bones you knock back a Boddy and exhale a dragon shout that reeks of tobacco.
You can look over the local villages like a proud hawk, perch over the edge of a waterfall and take it all in. After a few drinks, you could reach into your seemingly endless backpack and pull out an array of locally sourced meat, bread and crabs. Life as a Dragonborn is a pretty cushty deal.
Nier: Automata is an incredible game, well it’s actually more like three incredible games wrapped into one edgy package. If you haven’t played a Nier game before, they entwine great combat with a world that will make you question your own moral compass. In Automata, you initially play as an android created by humans made to destroy machines. It goes without saying, the story can be hard to follow and that’s where the booze comes in…
Everything in this game involves doses of religious and philosophical babble. The ‘antagonists’ are called ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’. The lead character goes by ‘2B’ which sounds like a rapper with a Shakespeare fettish. Even the giant robots that dominate postcodes are called things like ‘Marx’ and ‘Engels’. It’s all a bit much. I would honestly need a few tinnies to get through each day of fighting these mechanical metaphors.
There’s one location that comes to mind as the perfect place to blow off all that steam you’ve built-up. A theme park! Imagine getting leathered and taking a spin on roller coasters operated by cute singing robots. It’s Disneyland. Cracking open a few Special Brew whilst listening to marching bands, singing songs and balloons. It’s Disneyland. After all that fun you can travel a few miles to an outbound orgy – all robots of course but it’s good to know they get to have fun too.
You’d have to be one of the human settlers in order to go on this fabricated night out I’ve proposed because if you were an android, consuming alcohol and trying to hump your way into the night wouldn’t end well for your circuitry. Would make for one hell of an alternative ending though…
Once again I didn’t want to be the only contributor to this boozy adventure, so I took to Twitter to ask other virtual drinkers
Not for the fainthearted this one. Do you like gothic steampunk settings? Do you like dimly lit dungeons and castles that would make Luigi sprint away with his Poltergust between his legs? Do you like the Souls series and often tell people about how much you like the Soul series? Same. Bloodborne is great.
The views are mind-blowing, Miyazaki’s team somehow turns all the horror into a painting that you can wander through aimlessly. That’s only if you can somehow slay the bloodthirsty creatures that parade the streets in the cover of darkness. Let’s say that you’ve made it to a clearing after cleaving through a few werewolves, you’d want a drink to mark the occasion…
The local tipple in the surrounding area is blood. Hunters inject it into themselves in order to stay perky. I can’t imagine it’s the nicest thing to drink and there’s always a chance you could end up like Father Gascoigne – a priest who got too addicted to the stuff and became the beast he would once hunt. I think a substitute is due and the closest thing to actual blood must be a Bloody Mary. You can get the tinned variation in certain highstreet retailers and they are pretty good hangover cures when you’re on the go.
Here in Yarnham, you slay beasts, light lamps and drink a Bloody Mary or two. There’s brunch every other Sunday.
Compared to the rest of the entries on this list, The Witness is a quiet break from all the chaos. Over 300 puzzles await you on a deserted island, nothing but you and a few acres of cryptic conundrums. Wade through the calming waters, galavant around the tree-covered hills, explore the coves. All this whilst solving mysteries – it’s all very therapeutic.
So what drink would you incorporate to complete this Sunday afternoon special? A vodka cranberry of course. I’m sure you have seen this cultural reset but just to be sure, a user posted [this video] to TikTok of him skating down a road whilst drinking Cranberry juice. He’s listening to Fleetwood Mac and clearly doesn’t have a care in the world, that’s the exact vibe I’m trying to recreate here on the island.
My only fear is that I’m probably not smart enough to solve the puzzles, meaning I could never leave the island. What started as a beautiful, relaxing experience has quickly turned into a nightmare Cast Away situation. At least it’s one of the better Tom Hanks films.
That’s about it for another Drinks In Games list! In terms of honourable mentions, a few people asked for Minecraft. That makes sense, being able to create your own world to drink in is pretty cool but also endless to write about and I honestly couldn’t be bothered.
Thank you for coming on this lovely stroll with me, I hope you make it back home safe! If you want to talk about booze in games then you can find me on Twitter
Sometimes I see a nice sunset in a game and think to myself ‘I would love to have a pint there’ then proceed to lift my cumbersome body and stagger towards the fridge for a cold beer. My in-game counterpart doesn’t have the same anthropomorphic advantage. They remain sober after so many days of saving the world, whilst in reality I’ve got a little buzz on and a takeaway menu dangerously close to me.
Whilst waiting for my food, I thought about all the places in games characters could visit for a refreshing drink. Allow me to take you on a tour of pubs, taverns and bars where NPCs and protagonists can bump elbows and share stories over a frosty one…
Final Fantasy VII
Drinks: Draft Beer and Cocktails
Food: Party Food
Atmosphere: Slightly Militant
This is probably my personal favourite bar in gaming, I’d be considered a local down at the Seventh Heaven. Playing the original as a child and the recent remake, I’ve accumulated many hours drinking and playing darts in this honourable establishment. Tifa owns and operates this bar whilst assisting an undercover group of militants, there’s never a quiet night.
There are a number of vibrant cocktails on offer, from the Cosmo Canyon to the Lifestream. There’s a jukebox in the corner that plays Certified Bangers and a dartboard to spark up some local competition. In terms of mini-games, Square Enix need to put less effort into the squats and more into the darts. I want to feel like van Gerwen when I nine-dart Wedge and leave him regretting the day he ever challenged a man with too much time on his hands.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite playing darts, Tifa can knock you up a wide range of grub which the citizens of the slums deem ‘very good’ – that’s the equivalent of a Michelin star around here. The final feature of the bar is a retro pinball machine, however if you attempt to play the machine you may be lowered into the basement of the bar and initiated into a group of freedom fighters. They really need to put up a sign.
Streets of Rage 2
Drinks: Bottled Beer (viable weapon for the proceeding scrap)
Food: Apples and Chicken
Atmosphere: Lively Locals
Say what you like about the atmosphere on these streets but you leave Barbon’s bar out of it. This lovely little speakeasy is a welcome break from the city hustle, the bartender makes a mean old fashioned and the grand piano suggest they have occasional music nights – this place exudes class.
If any riff-raff become lively and start causing trouble in the establishment then I’ve heard the local police officers are quick to resolve things, though the owner does make a habit of dealing with trouble himself. This would leave an NPC free to join in the action if they so wished to, for the price of a few beers you can leave this fine boozer feeling like Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse.
Food: Depends On Chef’s Ability
Atmosphere: Late Night License
I’m not the biggest fan of the series myself, however I’ve spent my share of hours creating functioning neighbourhoods for my masses before destroying their lives in some form of therapeutic disaster simulator. In Sims 4, you can construct your own swanky bars and restaurants if you have the coin. Isn’t life in the Sim universe already challenging enough? Then you throw an addiction to alcohol into the mix? You can’t flaw the sense of realism in this game.
WAIT… a small amount of research has revealed to me that Sims don’t drink booze? They rely on juice to get by? It’s good to see the developers are trying their best to avoid leaving another generation reaching for the bottle but we are a lot wiser than that. You think Sims don’t drink? You couldn’t be more wrong.
Have you HEARD a Sim talk? They are chatting incoherent babble, don’t tell me it’s Simlish please – give me a four pack of Guinness and two whiskeys, I’ll be fluent in ‘Simlish’. The second you log-off for the night, the Sims get wild. The juice is packed with alcohol and they are all on it, looking for a bit of WooHoo. The morning rolls around and they’ve all pissed themselves and need help getting out of the pool. All this means their ‘juice’ is some strong stuff and I would love to visit a Sim’s bar given the chance.
NB: The same nightlife rule applies to Animal Crossing, all the villagers gather in a wooden shack and down moonshine to drown the sorrows created by Tom Nook’s capitalist agenda.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
In complete contrast to the last, this entry is less about a wild night out and more about embracing the solace. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture takes place in a lonely English country town called Little Tipworth. Lonely because all the occupants have experienced a slight holy acquisition.
Which means the pubs are empty. There are two in the town so take your pick and mosey on over to your own private-public house, the drinks are free. Assuming in this circumstance I just popped out for a smoke and missed the rapture – I would want a pint.
During the events of lockdown and coming out of it, I’ve been to a few pubs who practise social distancing and learnt to enjoy a pint on my own. It doesn’t really get more alone than this but if you’ve got a few podcasts to listen to I’m sure you’ll be fine. Forget about the fact you didn’t get accepted for a better life.
Did I mention the free drinks?
Food: B.Y.O.B – Bring Your Own Bullymong
Atmosphere: Bandit Banter
Pandora is a horrible yet unique world, bandits roam the streets, beast rule the land and there’s a war taking place between massive military manufacturers. Through all this chaos, in a city fittingly named ‘Sanctuary’ you will find Moxxi’s Bar. It’s a welcome alehouse that plays the music low, pathing the way for prominent voice acting to take place. I would share a beer with a number of the vault hunters, but it would be Handsome Jack you’d want to hear stories from.
Named after the voluptuous cougar that owns the joint, Moxx-tails are the drink of choice. We’ve got everything from the eloquently named ‘Penargilon Kangaroo’ to the more simple ‘Brick’s Fist’. Once consumed they grant a number of bonuses that any budding vault hunter could quickly become addicted to.
If you are wondering what these concoctions could taste like then check out the Borderlands-themed drink created by the guys at Loading Bar.
Also note the bar can sometimes fly on ship so that’s takeaway pints confirmed in the Borderlands universe.
After a certain amount of time, I thought I better ask some friends to ensure that this virtual bar crawl I was assembling was approved by other functioning alcoholics…
Drinks: Real Ale
Food: ‘No Food Today’
Atmosphere: Traditional Taproom
Mac Devitt’s is a pleasant pub tucked away on the cobbled coast of Lochmarne in Ireland, though the location may be fictional I can tell you it’s pretty close to most rural Irish bars. There’s one bus a day from Dublin that runs there and when you arrive there’s a warm pint of real ale waiting for you – served properly in a pint glass. None of this London nonsense where you get a cold Guinness in a chalice.
You can take out a room with a marvellous view, at night there’s a sunset that would make Kevin McCould blush. If you’re looking for food then you are in the wrong place, their menu simply lists ‘no food today’ but like most small villages by the sea in Ireland you are never too far from someone who will sell you fish. Walking there after the pints is the issue.
They don’t get much more wholesome than this, Mac Devitt’s made me think about other adventure game boozers like the biker bars in Full Throttle, The Drunken Druid from Simon the Sorcerer and the location I probably had my first underage virtual beverage in – Scumm Bar from Monkey Island. The nautical soundtrack still plays in my head till this day.
Drinks: Pilsners and Potions
Food: Hearty Meat and Potato Dishes
Let’s be honest, when I mentioned the word ‘tavern’ earlier this is where your mind went. This or Skyrim, Amalur, Dragon Quest – basically whichever huge mythical RPG you chose to spend your days roaming around. The reason I chose Witcher for my virtual pub crawl is simple… Gwent.
I want to sit down with my tankard of mead and enjoy a few rounds of Gwent against the locals. Scamming coins here and there in order to purchase a chicken dinner straight from the back room of the tavern. I’d wait for a witcher to show up and then hand out ludicrous fetch quests purely for the thrill of it.
There are bards, dancers and the occasional fisticuffs, entertainment is bursting out of the seams of this place. I’ve heard if you walk down the back alley there are people who can stock your gourd full of exotic potions for the right price – just don’t try to ride home after.
We’ve reached the end of our first crawl, we’ve sunk many pints and I think it’s time for a water and bed. I’m sure there are plenty of locations you’d love to see added to the list, so shout them at me on Twitter.
A few people mentioned GTA, Mass Effect and other clubs so my next article might have to be a night out on the virtual town – clubs and greasy places to eat after your night. Until then, drink responsibly and always tip the bar staff.
Revisiting familiar media is a natural reaction to troubled times. Given that we’re in the middle of an international pandemic, it’s fairly safe to say that times are, indeed, troubled. Many of us turned to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as surely as we turned to banana bread and Tiger King. While my friends were re-reading Twilight, I spent my home-bound weeks replaying The Witcher 3 for the eleventh time.
To say The Witcher is familiar to me is a bit of an understatement: I read Sapkowski religiously as a kid and was absolutely astounded when the first game was announced. Seeing Geralt in a 3D on my screen was a dream come true (my other dream was to see him in 3D IRL, that did not come true yet). To emphasise how much of a nerd I was, I’m going to confess I came second in a local The Witcher writing competition when I was 16. The main prize was The Witcher 2, but all I got was a Geralt-themed Razer mouse mat that I was too ashamed to claim.
So, after finishing the game (and getting the same ending for the eleventh time), I decided to use my Witcher expertise for good. I’m here to help those of you who may have missed the Slavic undertones in your favourite quests. All three games are ripe in references to Eastern European culture, from lines that NPCs yell at you as you pass them to entire questlines. Hopefully, I’ll be able to shine a light on the hidden meaning behind the world, the quests, the characters and the monsters of The Witcher 3. I bet it’ll make you appreciate CD Projekt Red even more!
The world of The Witcher 3 is heavily influenced by Slavic folk. It doesn’t shy away from established fantasy optics, but it has its own, distinct visual language. The result was a familiar-yet-novel experience for audiences outside of Poland.
From thatched huts, whitened with lime or chalk, to decorated dowry chests, the Northern realms are full of references to Slavic culture.
If you ever dreamt of transporting yourself to Velen (sans monsters, of course), Lublin Open Air Village Museum is where you need to go. You can even get that Witcher rush of adrenaline if you come too close to one of the feisty goats that roam the Museum freely.
Colourful, decorated huts of White Orchard and Velen are directly inspired by the village of Zalipie in southern Poland, just a 90-minute drive from Kraków.
The folk decoration of Pająki — colourful hanging ornaments made of blotted paper and straw —are immediately visible at the White Orchard Inn at the very beginning of the game.
The free city of Novigrad takes inspiration from the formerly-free city of Gdańsk, with devs going as far as including a model of its famous crane. Just like Gdańsk, Novigrad is a bustling trade city and an important international port. Gdańsk’s architecture stands out amongst Polish cities, and there’s a clear parallel between Gdańsk and Novigrad both layout and architecture-wise.
The cursed tower on Fyke Island is also a real place (though far less cursed IRL). Called Mysia Wieża (Mice Tower), it’s tied to a folk story related to a 9th-century proto-Polish ruler named Popiel. As the legend goes, the greedy king Popiel’s corruption and misrule led to a rebellion. As he locked himself in the tower, a host of mice scurried in and ate him alive.
Similarly, in The Witcher, we find out the former inhabitant of the tower, a selfish nobleman, refused to share food with his subjects, who in turn stormed the tower and murdered everyone inside. His daughter, left in a magical slumber by a mage, was eaten by rats.
The landscapes of The Witcher are heavily influenced by Poland, too. From Teutonic Order-inspired ruins scattered across Velen and White Orchard, through towering mountains and flat pastures, to hollyhocks adorning villages.
The aforementioned Fyke Island hosts another quest that heavily borrows from Polish legends and literature. At some point, a character named Pellar (Guślarz) will ask you to assist him in an ancient ritual called Forefather’s Eve (or Dziady). Dziady is a Slavic feast commemorating the dead. It’s also the title of Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poem that’s considered to be one of the masterpieces of European romanticism.
Similarily to the Forefather’s Eve quest, the plot of Mickiewicz’s masterpiece centres around ghosts being summoned from beyond the grave by the villagers to help them reach salvation.
Bald Mountain is not only the site of a quest based on a Polish folk story but also a real place (sans the cool tree). Bald Mountain was actually an ancient Pagan cult site, where Slavs held Dziady feast regularly and where Polish witches gathered on Midsummer (in Poland known as Kupala Night).
The main storyline of Heart of Stone is inspired by the Polish legend of Pan Twardowski, a nobleman who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers, with the intent of never fulfilling his end of the bargain. Using a magic mirror he got from the devil, Twardowski summoned the deceased wife of King Sigismund Augustus. Due to a clause in the contract between the devil and Twardowski, the latter was supposed to give up his soul in Rome which he planned to never visit — but was outwitted by the devil who took his soul in an inn named “Rome”.
While Heart of Stone is heavily influenced by the legend of Pan Twardowski, the character of Olgierd von Everec is closely tied to Kmicic from Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel The Deluge (Potop). Just like Olgierd, Kmicic is a rowdy nobleman who becomes increasingly likeable over the course of the story.
One of the side-quests of Heart of Stone takes you and Geralt’s friend Shani to a village called Bronovitz for a wedding. Bronovitz (Bronowice) is also the setting of The Wedding, a play by Stanisław Wyspiański. The play itself was inspired by a real wedding that Wyspiański himself attended. Bronowice is now one of 18 districts of Kraków.
The monsters and the characters
The word “witcher” (“wiedźmin”) itself comes from “vedmak” (“wiedźmak”), which literally means a male witch and was mostly used as an insult. The profession of a witcher, however, is Sapkowski’s original concept.
Multiple creatures of The Witcher series are inspired by Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon mythology (amongst many others), however many are taken directly from the Slavic pantheon.
Noonwraith (or Południca) was believed to be a spectre of a woman dressed in white that roams fields around midday, kidnaps children and causes madness. She was meant to cause bouts of confusion, neck aches and dizziness, which all match the symptoms of heatstroke.
One of the toughest in-game enemies, Leshy (Leszy or Borowy), is also one of the best-known Slavic deities. Humanoid and masculine, he was to guard forests and swamps. Even though some believed Leshy to be evil, in most cases he was thought to behave towards humans as humans behaved towards nature. He could have led travellers astray as much as guide them safely out of the forest.
Some believed Leshy to be married to Kikimora of the swamp — however, the Kikimora of the Witcher world differs significantly from Pagan beliefs. Kikimora was an evil presence that woke newborns up at night and harmed domesticated animals, but she was also considered to be the sleep paralysis demon of Slavic people. She was portrayed as an old, small, thin woman, which contrasts with the portrayal of Kikimoras as spider-like monsters in The Witcher series.
Godlings (ubożęta or bożęta) were, unlike the Kikimora, considered to be a positive household presence. Godlings were protective sprits that brought luck and prosperity in exchange for leftovers, gifted to them on Thursdays. They weren’t, however, seen as children like Johnny and Sara from The Witcher 3 — more often, Godlings were portrayed as small bearded men.
There are many other creatures, characters and monsters inspired by Slavic culture and mythology in The Witcher games, enough to fill a book (or at least a couple of articles). The merger of the fantasy cliches like ghouls and vampires with Slavic beliefs is what makes the world so enticing to fans worldwide. Eastern European folk stories are familiar enough to be palatable to the mainstream gaming audience while remaining distinct. CD Projekt Red have done a brilliant job translating these cultural differences into a cohesive work of art.
With Cyberpunk 2077 coming soon-ish, I’m excited to discover references the Polish CDPR devs surely hid in the game. Watching the recently released gameplay footage I already spotted a nod to a long-standing Polish meme and I hereby promise to cover it (and, inevitably, many others) after the release of the game.
Over the years it has cemented itself in the bestseller lists and very few come close to how impactful it’s been in tabletop gaming. Considering its success, it’s interesting how unassuming and unknown the makers of the game are to the general public.
And it’s because, like a marketing agency nefariously operating in the background, so are the creators of Cards Against Humanity. Why is that? Well, the eight creators behind CAH aren’t in fact game designers, they are a marketing company.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s done so often because it works. And more importantly, it’s worked very well for the CAH company. These marketers are bloody good at their job. Can you honestly name a tabletop marketing campaign? Off the top of my head, all I know are the ones that CAH did.
Just as tabletop gaming was becoming more mainstream (thank goodness) they made more noise and drove more attention to themselves through a slew of PR stunts than any other company has ever attempted.
Not only have they managed to make noise, they’ve done it annually on Black Friday. On a day when all companies are vying for your attention, CAH marketing has risen above the rest and got noticed.
The First Stunt
It first started in 2013, with many companies racing to the bottom with their prices to shift stock, Cards Against Humanity, zigged when everyone else zagged. They, actually, raised the price for their game by $5.
The result? Articles in The Guardian, USA Today, Polygon, Buzzfeed and more. And wide-spread attention on Reddit, a key target audience for the product.
One of the designers of CAH, Max Temkin blogged about their first Black Friday ‘anti-sale’ on Tumblr, sadly now deleted but still accessible via the web archive. In it, Temkin says it took a while to convince his colleagues, but the resulting sales for the day were “A little better than last year”  and managed to hold onto the top spot in Amazon’s Best Sellers charts. Not only that, they saw a bump in sales the day after as buyers were waiting for the price to return to normal.
With quoting Max Temkin, it needs to be stated he was the subject of a number of serious allegations which saw the rest of the CAH management team issue a strong statement in response, launching internal investigations and saw Temkin leave the company.
You could consider that if that first stunt hadn’t worked, there wouldn’t be any bigger, greater attempts. But it did work. The attention that stunt generated enticed the CAH team to create an annual event, doubling down on being pointless, yet news-worthy.
The next year saw a brand new sale. To buy bullshit. Actual, real-life excitement from a bull. Which sold out in under two hours. That meant 30,000 people received boxes of shit.
That’s right. 30,000 people actually agreed to this.
It’s said people were surprised to find out what they had bought…was actually what they had bought.
There is an interesting twist to this stunt though. This is the first year CAH donates money to charity and while I’m cynical enough to believe it might be for the added media attention it does add a more lovable roguish aspect to the stunts.
I won’t go into detail of all the stunts, from 2015 onwards, CAH has allowed people to give the team $5, allowed people to pay to dig a big hole, released a Pringle’s knock-off named Prongles, had a 99% sale off of items CAH had around their office and last year pitted their writing team versus an artificial intelligence to see who was funnier.
As the years have progressed, so has their revenue. Last year’s AI battle brought in over $170,000 to the company on the day and I’m sure countless sales of the two expansions that were created from it.
Quantity and Quality.
2017 things get more interesting. The makers of CAH take it up a notch with two additional campaigns that get them noticed.
The first is a continuation of their classic stunt playbook. The day after the Superbowl they post an article about the failure of their Superbowl ad. Not only does it poke fun at traditional advertising strategies but also names one of the world’s largest agencies, Wieden+Kennedy and claims they were “burdened by conventional thinking”.
If ever there was a moment to announce you’re opening up as an agency, this was it. Yet, they didn’t. They drew a lot of attention and then went back to the drawing boards to see what they could come up with next.
And once they had got their traditional Black Friday shenanigans out of the way with, they started with the second of their additional campaigns this year. With a much loftier goal:
Cards Against Humanity Saves America
With a taste for bigger and bolder, CAH struck again with a bigger marketing campaign called Cards Against Humanity Saves America which shifts gears to be a more purposeful campaign. Which, if you’ve ever been to a PR or Marketing panel event in 2017 (or since, I mean seriously…) you’ll know was all the rage.
It was simple, you pay $15 and you’ll get a tiny bit of land at the Mexican and American border to disrupt Trump’s border wall plan along with six more surprises.
However, to be fair to them, they weren’t tepid in their language. They went into it in full force.
Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a twenty-billion dollar wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing.
CAH Press Release
In many cases, brands will make the mistake of trying to be progressive without actually taking any real action or using a completely beige language.
Your marketing experts did neither.
And it worked. They saved America got lots of media attention and sold out after a few hours.
If you’re interested the campaign website is still live today and you can read more about the surprises, which all tackled pertinent issues at the time. However, it seems to be the last politically driven campaign the company has released. Whether the work that went into it didn’t equate to sales, or if the partisan tone didn’t sit well with half of their audience, who knows.
Cards Against Familiarity
With 2020 offering a wealth of inspiration, what’s next for the party game for terrible people? When you’ve offended everyone there is to upset to get noticed, promoted stunts that haven’t happened and seen your game stocked by every major retailer on the high-street where’s left to go?
For the game that set itself apart as the party game for horrible people, it’s a little jarring to see it rebooted as a family-friendly title, but with blockbuster films, video games and mainstream all targeting the lucrative PG13 audience.
A smart agency would certainly be pitching something similar, it’s marketing 101 to expand your audience segment but surely stems outside the boundaries of the company’s core values.
What’s more interesting though, is this comes out a couple of months after the company got into the news for allegations of a sexist and racist workplace. News that may have bypassed the many parents who have heard about CAH in passing & can now buy a version that all can play during the coming holidays.
Whatever your feelings towards the game, not only has it consistently sold, the people behind the game have out-marketed the rest of the tabletop industry for years. And it’s not the product that’s achieved that. The one lesson all the edge-y games on Kickstarter who hope to repeat their success should learn is, having some dark humour in your game doesn’t guarantee success.
No, it’s the years and years of wild marketing ploys, schemes and stunts that keeps people talking about you.
You thought you played Cards Against Humanity? Think again, they played you.
Board gaming isn’t impossible during lockdown – we had quite a lot of success with some cleverly placed cameras in zoom calls, an absolute blast with The King’s Dilemma over Tabletop Simulator, and some incredibly tense Scythe battles in Scythe Digital; but something was still missing for me.
As TableTop meetups were impossible, and I still had piles of board games amassing throughout lock-down that I wanted to dig into – when a copy of Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space arrived I decided to take a new approach, and create a digital version. The idea was to learn a skill, alongside learning a new board game in a totally different way.
For anyone unfamiliar with Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space (as I was until I purchased it during lockdown); it’s a hidden identity, secret location game published by Osprey Games. During the game, players must navigate a space station, with humans attempting to escape via escape pods – and aliens attempting to kill all the humans before they’re able to escape. As a print & play version was already available, the idea would be that this software would only have to handle the logistical side of the game that would be difficult to handle over zoom – namely the distribution of hidden roles and in-game items – and so I got to work.
As a Unity developer by day, I had already decided on which engine I’d be using for the project – and after a little bit of digging and asking around on Twitter I was pointed to Photon Unity Networking (PUN). PUN offers developers a free plan for up to 20 concurrent users, a whole bunch of data, and an API that handles all the boring stuff – perfect for rapid prototyping.
There’s a great Introduction to Multiplayer tutorial, written by Ray Wenderlich, and the PUN 2 Asset from the Unity Asset Store comes with some great examples of using Photon with Unity. If you’re a developer looking to quickly prototype an online game, it’s the perfect place to start.
After finishing tearing apart some examples to get a working lobby, and implementing a primitive solution for distributing roles – I started to get carried away. It turns out the very same principals used to achieve this initial task gave me the building blocks I needed to go ahead and digitise the whole game.
I quickly discovered there are a lot of small decisions involved in digitising a board game; especially when adapting a game with a large amount of hidden information. With EFTAIOS, it was important that players have enough data in order to make informed decisions about other player’s locations and roles – but not so much that the discussion, and thus the social deduction & player interaction element, is lost. This shouldn’t be a puzzle that players solve independently.
After a small amount of testing, I opted to add a player log to keep track of player movements and actions; which despite offering players the same information that they would receive in the tabletop versions, was provided in an easier to read format. A slight compromise on my original intentions – but giving all the players the same data-set to read from and discuss really helped the game continue to flow when playing remotely.
One of the other ways I attempted to keep the original flavour of the game, was to ensure player’s couldn’t deduce another player’s role by the number of mouse clicks they were doing. Despite the alien players having a greater range of movement, and the ability to attack – ensuring that you would have the same number of mouse clicks regardless of role was key from the start.
Digitising board games also opens up a bunch of avenues that could enhance the overall experience. There’s still features I have planned for this little project; by utilising player data in interesting new ways. In particular, opening up the possibility for playing back a game timeline is super exciting, and would create a great visual aid for new players to understand the flow of the game – as well as an interesting conclusion for games with “close shave” situations.
This project took me a few weeks on and off – definitely longer than I had ever planned – but it was a super rewarding experience.
If you’re a board game obsessed programmer like me looking for a new hobby project I’d definitely recommend it.
More than anything, it’s a great way to get your friends to play your favourite game now that the zoom quizzes are starting to become a little bit tired.
Up until March 2020 it seemed like I’d get asked a lot about opening a gaming bar. While opening somewhere for people to gather may not seem like the most sensible idea at the moment, here’s my attempt to answer the most common questions with lessons learnt the hard way over the last 10 years.
Do you need a special licence to demo games?
No…Not really but you’ll have noticed those terms and conditions that flash up at the start of games detailing how the retail copy is not for public use? So how do you get copies that are suitable? (Why did it always mention the strangely specific Oil Rigs!?)
Your best bet is to approach each company and let them know what you’re doing and prepare to be flexible. As the gaming hospitality industry continues to grow, it is more likely that someone may expect a cut of that gaming fee.
Do you make a lot of money running a gaming bar?
No…There’s a reason 4 pubs are closing every day in the UK. It’s not because the owners got rich and retired. But, like building a village in Animal Crossing or running a theme park in Rollercoaster Tycoon, there’s more to it than just making money.
How much does it cost to open a gaming bar?
A lot. “I only need about 10k to open somewhere?” The quick answer to this is no chance, there’s been a few campaigns and plans pitched suggesting just a few thousand is needed to get something open. While you might get open for that, the key challenge is being able to stay open.
Times have changed and tenants do have a lot more leeway negotiating a lease. In general, you’ll need to pay three months rent upfront, the same again as a deposit and cover the legal fees.
It is helpful to keep in mind that small things can make a dent. For example, speed pourers are only around £2 each, but even with our tiny bar, 30 of them are needed, meaning £60 is gone.
The first order is always the most painful as you will have needed to stock the bar with a whole lot of different things. If you look at a bar shelf and add each bottle up as £15 each, you can imagine just how much money you’ll need to stock a bar in the first place.
Other guaranteed bills will be:
Building Insurance – Protecting if the windows get smashed starting around £300
Public Liability Insurance – Covers you if someone falls over and is required by law
Premises Licence – Alcohol Licence which you need to sell drink, if a place doesn’t already have one, this will need to be applied for, they aren’t too expensive but it’s a yearly expense.
Business Rates – Council Tax but for business, you can check how much this would cost for by putting the postcode in here.
Other crucial ones you can forget are the many one-off charges, the first time you stock up will be by far the most expensive as there are so many things you need to have but may not buy very often.
How much money does a gaming bar need to take to survive?
An easy way for you to judge how much you may need to take a look at the rent cost and multiply that figure by 5, that’s a good starting point for what you’ll need to sell. You can use this to help build your forecast and work backwards.
Do I need experience to open a bar?
No but it’s useful!If you haven’t jumped behind a bar before, a few hours a week serving drinks while you get your master plan together will help you test whether you really can handle it. People will ask you stupid things, some people will attempt to scam you, so getting the chance to experience all this before to start your endeavour will benefit you in the long run. It’s smarter to earn while you learn.
Can you play games all day?
Yes if you can afford staff! However, working on the floor yourself gives you a much greater advantage of learning what your customers want first hand: What are they playing? What do they order? What you had in mind starting out and what people want once you open, maybe two very different things.
Normally the three-year plan* is year 1 the business runs you, 2nd year you run the business and by year 3 it should run itself. That’s when hopefully you can kick back and work on triple prestige status on COD. *I’m in year 10 and still find reasons to have to work so don’t hold me to that…
Where do I start if I want to open a gaming bar?
Ask questions! Go and speak to people who run similar-sized businesses in the place you want to open, most people are quite friendly and would give you an honest answer. Some important questions to ask include, how long have they been there? What lessons have they learned? Try to learn about any mistakes or lessons they can pass on to help you avoid the same issues.
Prepare for lots of people to offer to save you money after the fact
I lost count of the number of times I’ve paid out for something only for someone to stroll in the next day and say they could have offered or provided the same thing for less. Sometimes people will just offer to help after the fact to feel good but you’d be amazed how many friends of friends or relatives you might have with the skills you’re looking for who will understand you’re starting out and need every penny. Do you best to research things and once it’s done there’s no point getting down if you’ve put the coffee counter in the wrong place, make it work and change it later.
Tell people what you do!
“Why did that website cover you?” Because back at the start, I was based all the way down in Cornwall, there wasn’t much chance of the press hopping on a train to pay a visit or stumbling across what we do. Reaching out through social media/email/phones to chat about what makes the thing you offer unique is half the battle won. Start with places you are a fan of. For example, if you listen to a podcast, it’s more impactful to send a message that already acknowledges what they do and how it might fit what you offer.
How cheap is beer?
It normally surprises people that the cost of drink is around the same price, if not more, than a supermarket. Plenty of places raid the supermarkets at Christmas when spirits are cheap. An average branded pint (Think Brewdog/Goose Island etc) is going to cost you £1.90 on draught so when you draw up your forecasts, try and find a supplier to get accurate prices which are probably more than you think. The benefit of real suppliers (not filling your boot at Tesco) is that proper suppliers can help with incentives like fridges and ice machines provided you agree to only buy from them.
How big a venue do I need?
“They were always busy, how are they closed?” The bigger you are, the more costs you have with staff, rates and it’s harder to keep track of costs. While you may have a venue that is seemingly packed full of people, sometimes very few of these people are spending money. Also, while you may make decent amounts of money while it’s busy, you have to consider that there will always be quieter periods.
Can I call it Loading?
If you want to open your own Loading, you can get in touch about that drop an email to Bigboss@loading.bar and lets talk.
I spent a total of 2 years working around the idea of Loading, finding suitable premises and preparing it for opening. Rarely, is there a right or wrong time to do it, so if you’ve read these points and think there’s nothing you haven’t already considered, go forth!
That’s about it, if you have any other questions feel free to fire an email and if by some luck my advice leads to you having a chain of gaming spaces that take over the world just remember to send me a card with some thank you money. 😀