My original plan for this week was to play Dujanah, which I’ve had sitting around for a while. That all changed when Stephen “thecatamites” Gillmurphy made the surprise announcement that the game he’s been working on for the past few years, 10 Beautiful Postcards, was being released. As a fan of his games, this immediately took precedent. Sorry Dujanah, another time.
In 10 Beautiful Postcards, you play as Miss Pesky, a funny little gal stumbling around a forest when she decides to seek refuge at an inexplicable hotel. She is accosted by Mr. Hotel, a proud franchiser that’s built hotels across the world and he asks her to go out and visit them to give some hotel reviews. And so, she sets out into the bizarre world like a travel blogger, exploring high and low for the enigmatic hotels whilst confronting the societal problems surrounding them.
10 Beautiful Postcards is a walkaround game that takes it to its truest form. Most walls that you see in the game are just suggestions. You can just walk right through them and walk outside of the boundaries of the level, if you wish to. There are actually a few rooms in the game that do have wall collisions to herd you around, so thecatamites totally could put wall collisions if he wanted to. Nah, Miss Pesky is a free roaming spirit in these diorama worlds. Just go through those door outlines to go to new areas and look for the postcards that represent the hotel.
Going near NPCs has them spout out a speech bubble, going into the weird diatribes that’s usually expected from this creator. It’s always fun to read and I gotta say, I really wish thecatamites makes a straight up visual novel. Meanwhile, there are points where characters have prolonged conversations. Instead of advancing conversations, though, there are multiple versions of the NPC that continues the conversation as you move down a path of them. It’s sorta as if it was a comic book conversation with the space between panels removed.
Thecatamites’ collage stylings has evolved to its truest form with this game. 10 Beautiful Postcards feels like checking out 50 Short Games again, except the art style shifts between areas rather than separate games. Small pixel drawings run around areas that seem to have been drawn out in an art program, while others have you running around in an area constructed with felt marker drawings. Some areas are blatantly just drawn on a piece of paper that’s scanned in, taking the game’s imagined walls to its truest conclusion. Occasionally the game breaks out of the free roaming flat land wandering to switch to a travel section with 3D models, which is more in line with works like Magic Wand. Thecatamites’ past games have always felt disorienting and chaotic, but 10 Beautiful Postcards really takes the cake.
New Vaders has once again collaborated with thecatamites to make the soundtrack. It’s a nice variety of tunes that accompanies the different mood areas set. There’s a few downright relaxing songs that gives a pleasant atmosphere while exploring. Then there’s the rock noise songs that adds to the general chaotic feeling of the game. Overall a good part of the experience.
On the art side, thecatamites has also collaborated with Alex Degen, a comic artist with Koyama Press. This collaboration has taken the form of what the game dubs as “ominous murals,” and not going to lie, they always feel ominous. They look like art that you’d find in some hotel lobby or a public building, and all of them contain a ghostly banker-like figure; I forget whether or not it was explicitly stated, but I think it’s Degen’s version of Mr. Hotel. This ominous rich fellow is found everywhere, his dark presence of commerce always felt.
This ominous presence is but an extension of the game’s general theme: the horror of late capitalism.
Amidst the strange ramblings of the denizens of the world of 10 Beautiful Postcards, you’ll get a picture of a world desperately trying to wring out as much profit as possible. Hotels are the proxy of this theme, with hotels being constructed pretty much wherever while trying to figure out new innovative ways to monetize. The land of the birds has become a place where telecommunications are being outsourced, with the birds trying to stream a hotel experience into people’s homes. Mr. Hostel (no relation to Mr. Hotel, I think) thinks of new ways to build hotels, regardless of how impractical and dangerous it is. Pesky’s own dreams have become a hotel, with unused brain power being outsourced to host website domains, like how shitty websites leech off people’s computing power to mine bitcoin.
With that in mind, the stuff you find on Mr. Hotel throughout the game can be seen in a different light. Mr. Hotel is not a quirky fellow with a dream, but an Elon Musk: a quirky fellow that’s actually an embarrassing asshole.
Christ, Elon Musk tweeting about catgirls sucks.
Anyway, 10 Beautiful Postcards is disorienting to play because its world is disorienting. Everybody’s got a hustle, dreaded hotels keep popping up everywhere and there’s no alternative future in sight. Miss Pesky roams free, an observer in this world, rambling like Radiget does in conversations and post-postcard reviews. The game’s bizarre humor acts as a balance for what should otherwise be a dark future.
Personally, out of thecatamites’ work, I still consider Space Funeral to be my favorite because it was a formative experience that made me question: does a game have to have high production values and be perfect to be good? However, 10 Beautiful Postcards has now become a close second, taking that question and just running with it, weaving together a capitalist fever dream told through the eyes of a girl that starts this journey because she ran out of cough syrup.