5 Questions for Twitch Streamer and YouTuber Rachel Howie

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Rachel Howie as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

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Whether she’s exploring the verdant expanses of Breath of the Wild or slaying overpowered monsters in Dark Souls, Rachel Howie is an established force in the Twitch video game community. Wielding years of experience as a YouTube presenter and a lifetime of video game fandom, Rachel entertains and informs across Twitch and YouTube under the handle “DontRachQuit.”

As both onscreen performer and video editor, Rachel is a one-woman multimedia content creator, bringing humor, enthusiasm, and some wicked button-mashing skills every time she picks up a controller and live-streams her gaming exploits.

And this month, she’s even raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through their Play Live program!

Rachel was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Rachel Howie

1. How did you first get into video games? What genres or styles of games most appeal to you?

Growing up, I was always obsessed with Nintendo. My older cousins had a SNES, and then later an N64, and I was just absolutely obsessed with it. Because I was far too young to play much more than Jungle Hijinx on Donkey Kong Country without screwing up all my cousins’ progress, I’d beg and beg them if they would play so that I could watch and learn all the secrets. Perhaps a prelude to my future career in streaming!

So I have my cousins, or I suppose, my uncle, to thank for getting me interested in video games. He had a 120 star save file in Mario 64 and my little eyes just lit up with admiration every time I started it up.

When the Pokemon anime started on TV, I begged for my first console to call my own, and my parents got me a little yellow game boy pocket with Pokemon Blue. I must have been around… 6 years old? I had to ask my Dad for help because I literally couldn’t figure out how to exit Blue’s house. Good times.

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[She even named her dog after a Pokemon!]

Nowadays, the genre I am most invested in is Action/Adventure and RPG. I love anything that offers me the ability to create a custom character and just get lost in a world full of people who need my help. Throughout the past 15 years, I’ve played copious amounts of World of Warcraft, and I do enjoy MMOs, also. However it is hard just to nail myself down to one genre, as I do enjoy all sorts – Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda, WoW, Pokemon, The Binding of Isaac, Okami, Portal, the Ori games, Kingdom Hearts, and I’ve been super into Beat Saber lately on the Oculus!

2. Puzzles are frequently an integral part of a video game, either as obstacles or as the entire focus of the game. What’s one example of a game that utilizes puzzles effectively and a game that fails to do so?

I absolutely love puzzles. The first thing that springs to mind is probably because I’ve been playing the recently released Resident Evil 3 remake, and that is last year’s Resi 2 remake. The very idea of having enjoyable puzzles inside a horror game may seem pretty strange, but in Resi it just works. It’s a great change of pace from the ‘shooty shooty zombie, run run run Mr. X is comin’, regular gameplay. So I’d definitely put the Resident Evil series as a whole forward as a game that very effectively incorporates puzzles.

If we wanna talk entire focus of the game, Portal 2 is king. Seriously. What a game.

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I find it difficult to think negatively so nothing springs to mind immediately when thinking of a game that tries puzzles but falls flat. The obvious answer I suppose might be The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s water temple on the N64, but this is purely linked to the Iron boots being equippable from the start menu – something fixed perfectly in the 3DS remake.

3. Visuals play a huge role in several of your endeavors, as editors are visual storytellers who help illustrate a given narrative and Twitch streamers provide a sort of visual performance art alongside their gameplay. What’s the key to accomplishing both styles of storytelling effectively?

If we take video editing first, it really is quite simple. An edited video will be made to fulfill a brief, it has a purpose – what it will be used for and whether it’s supposed to invoke a certain emotion, or response from people. The key is knowing exactly what you are making and keeping that in mind with every single cut, every title card, every sound effect or piece of music. Watching back your work is also important, and trying to visualise how it might be perceived by a third party.

Twitch streaming, I feel, is even simpler. Live content is natural, or rather, it usually is. There are plenty of streamers who put on high-production value shows or perform as a character during their streams. I honestly just wing it! I’m a naturally pretty expressive person who tends to have 150% emotions and this just seems to work so well for streaming.

I also love, and try to encourage, mascots and channel memes into things like alerts – so the visual style ends up very lighthearted and fun, full of hype to celebrate when people are kind enough to financially support. When I was creating my branding, I wanted something that people could identify with me that also described my vibe, and the kind of content I create. So I went for bright colours, and yet a strong, sharp edged font – the perfect marriage of fluffy dogs and Dark Souls!

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4. What’s next for Rachel Howie?

The tail end of last year was a bit of a roller-coaster for me. I was forced into a corner and had to give up on a job with a team I loved with all my heart, and leap into something that I wasn’t exactly ready for. I had been streaming on Twitch and creating content in my spare time for three years previously, and it was borderline sustainable income, so giving up a reliable salary was absolutely terrifying. However I have not regretted it in the slightest. My Twitch channel got partnered, my YouTube is steadily rising, supported by Patreon, and I’m exploring new avenues like podcasting. Heck, I went out and got a puppy! Life is pretty scary at the moment, but it’s also never been so exciting.

I’m going to continue working hard on my channels, and continue to try and help everyone through this uncertain time with my goofiness and relatability. I’d love to start going to more events, such as Insomnia and Comic Con, as ‘DontRachQuit’, and slowly carve my name across the industry. Also it would be really great if I could manage to finish this deathless run of Dark Souls before I grow old!

5. If you could give the readers, writers, gamers, content creators, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

The most important thing I’ve learned over the past 6 months, is that life is too short not to try and follow your dreams. You are the most important thing, and your happiness is paramount. It’s all fine and well putting others before yourself, but if that’s just going to make you unhappy, I’m afraid it’s not worth it. Just be yourself, treat yourself, and do what makes you happy. Never stop trying, never stop learning – failure is just another opportunity to learn. Keep trying, you can do it!


A huge thank you to Rachel for her time. You can follow her on Twitter (as well as Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch) for updates on all things “Don’t Rach Quit,” and if you enjoy her videos and streams, please consider joining her Patreon! I can’t wait to see what video game she conquers next!

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A Shift in Puzzly Perspective

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I’ve had 3-D puzzling on the brain for a few days now, after a conversation about video games with a well-informed friend of mine.

What do I mean when I say 3-D puzzling? Well, I don’t just mean a puzzle that exists in three dimensions. I mean a puzzle where the solving experience requires all three dimensions.

Think about your average maze or a jigsaw puzzle. Although they’re three-dimensional objects, the solving is two-dimensional. Yes, there are certainly variations on these themes, like maze cubes where you navigate a marble from one place to another, or 3-D jigsaw puzzles that allow you to reconstruct famous landmarks. But these still rely heavily on two-dimensional solving.

Compare that with the iconic puzzle video game Portal, for instance. Portal requires you to accomplish different tasks, and you can only do so with your portal gun, a device that allows you to connect two different locations on the map.

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That requires a complete realignment of your perspective, because you can walk in a straight line through one portal and emerge above, below, or at a 90-degree angle from where you started. This isn’t two-dimensional thinking anymore.

Between 3-D printing techniques and the constantly evolving engines behind video game systems, we’re seeing more and more examples of three-dimensional thinking in puzzles, and I’m perpetually amazed by what creators and designers come up with.

Check out this video of gameplay from the new puzzle game Etherborn:

Your character navigates elaborate three-dimensional landscapes, and gravity is wholly dependent on how your character is oriented at the moment. So you need to be clever enough to use the landscape in order to move your character in very unorthodox ways.

It’s fascinating, a step beyond some of the puzzles seen in previous games like Portal and Fez. (In those games, gravity still only worked in one direction, whereas Etherborn breaks even that fundamental baseline.)

I think this sort of puzzling appeals to me so much because the change in perspective that comes from solving in an additional dimension completely rewrites the rules we thought we knew.

Imagine for a second that you’re inside a corn maze. Now think about the paper mazes you’ve solved. See the difference? In the first scenario, you’re beholden to the meager information you get from following each path, whereas in the second, you can plan a route from above because you have much more information. You can see dead ends and avoid them.

The three-dimensional scenario is far more challenging than the 2-D solving you’re doing with the paper maze.

ThinkFun managed a similar feat with Gravity Maze, a puzzle game that required you to move a marble from the starting cube to the ending cube. The main challenge was that you had to build the path with only the given materials, and then just drop the marble in. All the puzzling happened at the beginning, and then you became a bystander as the marble traversed the solution you built.

This isn’t just plotting a path like in a normal maze, it was understanding a chain of events you were setting in motion, like cause and effect. It’s like building a simple Rube Goldberg machine and watching it go.

But whether you’re manipulating portals, shifting perspectives, dropping marbles, or solving corn mazes, you’re pushing your puzzly skills into new dimensions. And that’s just the puzzles we have now. Imagine what comes next.


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To Solve This Murder Mystery, You Need to Break the Game

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

Our readership isn’t a predominantly video game-savvy audience. We have lots of app users and lots of pencil-and-paper solvers in the PuzzleNation membership, but fewer gamers.

So you may wonder why I periodically write about video games when it’s a niche interest for the majority of our readers. That’s an entirely fair question.

As a puzzle enthusiast, I’m constantly seeking out new ways to build puzzles and solve them. Brain teasers, word problems, riddles, and mechanical puzzles all fit under the umbrella of “puzzles,” but they’re all very different solving experiences. Similarly, there’s a huge difference between a pencil-and-paper puzzle and an escape room, a murder mystery and a scavenger hunt, an encrypted message and a puzzle box.

But they’re all puzzles. And that’s what I find so fascinating. There are endless ways to challenge ourselves in puzzly fashion, and video games are constantly innovating when it comes to puzzle-solving.

[Image courtesy of Zelda Dungeons.]

Whether we’re talking about navigating past guards with well-placed arrow shots in the Thief games, navigating the labyrinth of the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or maneuvering around a room in mind-bending ways with your portal gun in Portal, video games can take 2D puzzle ideas and bring them into the third dimension in amazing ways.

A friend recently told me about a game called Iris Fall, where you actually manipulate light and shadows in order to solve puzzles. That’s not just ingenious, it’s beautiful as well.

There are even games that let you change the rules of the puzzle itself in order to solve it.

[Image courtesy of Born Frustrated Studio.]

And another game in that vein recently came to market, a detective game called File://maniac.

In this murder mystery, you’re tasked with tracking down a devious murderer who happily taunts you with messages as you pursue them. But instead of pursuing leads and accomplishing tasks in more traditional detective-game format, you actually have to manipulate the files of the game itself as you play.

Yes, the very coding and organization of the game is the basis of the puzzles and codes for you to unravel.

Heather Alexandra at Kotaku explains more:

Getting rid of a locked door might require placing the door’s files in your recycling bin. Finding the password to a lock means opening up a handful of notebook files and searching until you find the code. It’s a different sort of puzzle solving, one that encourages the player to be aware of the game world’s artificiality… playing around with the actual game files creates a fun mixture of puzzling and “exploration” as you poke around folders and directories.

[Image courtesy of Go Go Free Games.]

It’s a brilliantly meta concept. Whereas many games and puzzle experiences are all about immersion, ensuring you forget you’re playing a game and encouraging you to dive into the narrative and gameplay itself, File://maniac demands that you not only remember you’re playing a game, but forces you to think like the designers of the game to circumvent each challenge.

It’s like being trapped in a maze, then being able to shift your perspective to an overhead view of the maze and navigate yourself out with omniscient ease. It’s a total perspective shift, and the a-ha moment of figuring out how to change the rules to your advantage is an immensely satisfying reward.

Do you know of any games out there that create unique and unexpected puzzly experiences? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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A Puzzle Game That Lets You Change the Rules of Puzzles!

[Image courtesy of Linux Game Consortium.]

Solving puzzles through different mediums can lead to unexpected and challenging solving experiences.

One advantage that video game puzzles have over their pencil-and-paper counterparts is that, while the paper puzzles are a one-stop shop for a puzzle experience, there’s no adaptation, no evolution, no development for the solver or chance to build upon what they’ve learned through multiple solves or repetition.

In video game puzzles, on the other hand, repetition is the name of the game. New skills and techniques are immediately tested by clever twists on established puzzles, so you’re never resting on your puzzly laurels.

For example, while discussing the classic puzzle platforming game Portal, my friend once described it as a game that reprograms your brain with each puzzle you solve, transforming alongside the player. (This is also a hallmark of many of the puzzle games offered by our friends at ThinkFun.)

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

That sort of reprogramming is at the heart of the puzzle experience in a new game called Baba Is You.

In Baba Is You, the gameplay consists of objects to move and manipulate, as well as word blocks that form rules for the game itself. You start off by being able to move Baba, a small rabbit-like creature, around obstacles, with the goal of reaching a golden flag. So, the word blocks read “Baba is you” and “flag is win,” which both tell you the starting rules and the goal.

[Image courtesy of Kotaku.]

By changing these word blocks, you change the rules, effectively reprogramming what you can do in each level.

Kotaku explains this concept well:

One clump might say “Baba is you,” which means Baba is the character you control. Another might say “Rock is push,” which means you can push rocks, or “Wall is stop,” which means you can’t walk through walls…

You rearrange individual words to solve the puzzles. There are usually multiple options, depending on where the words are placed. In the above example, you could remove “stop” from “wall” and pass through the barrier. You could attach “wall” to “is push” instead of “is stop” and push it out of the way. You could make yourself the wall by pushing the word “wall” before “is you.” Or you could make the wall the win condition and touch that instead of the flag.

[Image courtesy of Kotaku.]

So, essentially, you solve each puzzle by obeying the rules, changing the rules, and then obeying the new rules. And since puzzles are all about figuring out how to accomplish tasks by adhering to certain rules, this creates a fascinating new style of puzzle. It’s almost like improvisational comedy or Calvinball, except it’s not played for humor.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a puzzle game that lets you alter HOW you play as drastically and as simply as this. You literally make and break the rules here, depending on how clever you are.

Baba Is You is available for PC and Switch, and I look forward to seeing more diabolical puzzling like this in the future.


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100 Games to Know!

PAX East is one of several conventions under the PAX brand, all of which are dedicated to gaming. Created by the folks behind the popular webcomic Penny Arcade, PAX East has become a premier destination for video games, board game creators, and gaming enthusiasts from all walks of life.

One of the panels this year featured prolific puzzler and game creator Mike Selinker, author of The Maze of Games and creator of numerous popular board games and card games, including Unspeakable Words, Pathfinder, and many others.

He hosted a panel entitled 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play, and over the course of the hour-long event he ran down 100 board games, card games, and video games that he considers to be essential knowledge for every game fan and game designer.

He stressed that this was not a list of the 100 best, the 100 most important, or the 100 most fun games, and that virtually every person’s opinion would vary.

And then he laid out a fantastic list of games in many styles and formats:

  • Tabletop RPGs (Dungeons & Dragons, Fiasco)
  • Electronic RPGs (The Legend of Zelda, The Secret of Monkey Island)
  • Deduction Games (Clue, Mafia)
  • Tile Games (Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Settlers of Catan)
  • Tabletop puzzle games (Scrabble, Boggle)
  • Electronic puzzle games (Myst, Bejeweled, Portal, You Don’t Know Jack)
  • Platformers (Super Mario Bros. 3, Katamari Damacy, Limbo, Braid)
  • Simulators (Madden NFL, Starcraft, FarmVille, Minecraft)
  • Traditional card games (Fluxx, Gloom, Uno)
  • Deck-construction games (Magic: The Gathering)
  • Electronic action games (Mario Kart 64, Halo, Plants vs. Zombies)
  • Rhythm games (Dance Dance Revolution, Rock Band)
  • Strategy board games (Ticket to Ride, Pandemic)
  • Tabletop war games (Stratego, Axis & Allies)
  • Open world video games (Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft)
  • Creative tabletop games (Cards Against Humanity)

Several favorites of mine made the cut — like Mafia, a brilliantly simple murder mystery card game requiring nothing more than a deck of cards — and he had excellent reasons for including every game and excluding others.

Although plenty of worthy games didn’t get mentioned, I can’t come up with any game styles that Selinker missed, nor can I come up with any particular games that were egregiously excluded. I love Qwirkle, Timeline, and Castellan, for instance, but I feel like each of those gaming styles were well represented.

[He was careful to cover his bases.]

Can you think of any that the keen eye of Selinker missed, my fellow puzzlers? Let me know!

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A puzzle mystery three years running…

It’s January, and for some cryptography enthusiasts and high-level puzzle solvers, their Christmas gift has finally arrived in the form of another Cicada 3301 mystery.

Two years ago, a curious message appeared on the message board 4chan:

“Hello. We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test.

There is a message hidden in this image.

Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through.

Good luck.

3301″

Intrigued Internet users quickly discovered that this message concealed numerous other images, clues, and puzzles. It was the start of an elaborate chain that led to hidden websites, as well as GPS coordinates across the globe. (Many of these puzzles and clues were accompanied by an image of a cicada, giving the mystery both a name and a symbol.)

Obscure knowledge (poetry, mathematics, literature, and history have all contributed to various clues), advanced cryptography skills, and some serious tenacity were required to navigate the labyrinthine maze laid out by whoever masterminded Cicada 3301.

Eventually, the savviest and sharpest code-breakers found their way to a secret website, one that vanished after a certain number of crafty solvers discovered it. It then shut down, never revealing to the outside world who was behind the puzzles or why they’d created them.

A year later, on January 5, 2013, another series of puzzles appeared, utilizing different solving techniques, different GPS coordinates, and admitting another select group of puzzle solvers to a secret website before it too shut down.

As of this posting, new puzzles have appeared all over the Internet, though Cicada 3301 enthusiasts believe the vast majority of them to be the work of hoaxers and admirers. (Only one clue so far, a message on Twitter from an account previously used by Cicada 3301, is considered legitimate.)

As you might expect, theorizing abounds regarding the reasons behind the Cicada 3301 puzzles. With the advent of viral marketing and ever-savvier customers, there’s always the possibility that this is an incredibly elaborate video game tie-in or corporate advertising project. (It definitely reminds me of the down-the-rabbit-hole ARG style of that puzzle hidden within the game Portal I wrote about last year.)

But the sheer complexity — and the intrinsic level of secrecy regarding how the puzzles and websites have been managed — has led conspiracy theorists to suspect the CIA, the NSA, or some other government entity. Another leading theory is that a bank or private security company is behind Cicada 3301, recruiting topnotch cryptographers to improve security features and thwart cybercrimes.

It may sound silly or a bit too Last Starfighter-ish, but recruitment-through-puzzle-solving is nothing new to the intelligence community. Crossword puzzles were used to identify potential recruits for Britain’s Bletchley Park, one of the key cryptography centers during World War II.

Whatever the purpose of Cicada 3301’s puzzles, there’s no doubt that puzzle solvers and codebreakers the world over can’t wait for another shot at a challenge like this.

[For further information, check out this NPR story, sent to me by friend of the blog Cathy Quinn!]

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