What is worldbuilding? (Elden Ring)

Oh, you’re seeking the Calcified Veil are you? [dry laugh] Well, you won’t find it here, among the Earfolk… get out while you can, chosen one. There are only podcasts here. [creepy chuckle]

Hello. What I’ve just done is called worldbuilding. Did you like it? Oh, well, never mind. I’ve got someone here who’s much better at it. In this episode of Hey Lesson, we talk to games writer Jon Ingold of Inkle Studios about the process of worldbuilding. What exactly is it? How important is it? And how do the scribblers of games, TV and film use it without falling into a deep cavern of useless lore? We’re interested because fantasy RPG Elden Ring has just come out, with author George R R Martin contributing to the game. How much exactly, we don’t know. But we can ask games journalist Ed Thorn what he felt about this latest game from creators of notoriously difficult Soulsbornes.

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Would you quit the city to work on a farm? (Stardew Valley)

The printer is broken, your manager wants those reports by 5pm, and the guy in the cubicle next to you is humming Baby Shark again. It’s enough to make you want to walk out of this office, take a long bus ride out of the city, and go live on a farm. Well, damn, maybe you can. Stardew Valley is a farming simulator beloved by many precisely because it lets you live out this fantasy. But we know somebody who’s done it in real life. We brought farm worker and lapsed city boy Nader Kaddour on to Hey Lesson to ask: is farm work as calming and rejuvenating as it is in Pelican Town? The answer, as always, is not straightforward. Also joining us for this episode is writer Paul Dean, who has his own opinions about the residents of such a seemingly idyllic village.

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What would alien life look like? (Mass Effect)

Look outside at earth’s life. Trees, birds, flowers, buses. Truly, it is a bounty of the universe. But could other planets host life? And if so, what would it look like? I don’t know, I’m just a podcast man. But one person who might know is Laura Rodriguez, astrobiologist at NASA. This episode we talk to her about the possibility of organic matter on other worlds, and how far it’ll probably be from the alien spacefriends of the Mass Effect trilogy. Also joining us to talk about said spacefriends is Imogen Beckhelling, noted Krogan liker and lore knower of the Mass Effect galaxy. So much knowledge this month! Come on in.

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Why do we love vampires? (Resident Evil Village)

Come into the dark pod castle, dear listener. There’s nothing unsettling in here except some VAMPIRES. That’s right. To celebrate the new Resident Evil and the series’ always-changing formula, we have spoken to horror expert and follower of gothic trends Tanya Krzywinska. She tells us about the origin of the vampire tale, its various mutations, and why it’s so enduring. Alongside that, we are joined by narrative designer and writer Cara Ellison, who has penned a few disturbing biters in her time. I’ve already invited you across the threshold, so start up the show. And as always, fangs for lessoning.

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How did sailors become pirates? (Sea of Thieves)

Load the cannon! Did I say “cannon”? I meant load the new episode of Hey Lesson. It’s all about the pirates in Sea of Thieves. We’ve spoken to author and historian Dr Jamie Goodall about the history of these cut-throat sea-scoundrels, and ask her: how did ordinary sailors of the 1600s go about embracing the life of high seas shenanigans? As ever, there’s no simple answer (turns out there’s no pirate exam) but there are interesting ones! We also welcome back Pip Warr to tell us about her own oceanic misadventures in Sea of Thieves. She is a devious sea dog, we’ve discovered.

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How do you survive in the arctic? (Subnautica: Below Zero)

Come in from the cold, make a cup of tea, and listen to a piping hot episode of Hey Lesson. This time, we’re exploring the icy world of survival game Subnautica: Below Zero. And we’re doing so with one of its developers! David Kalina is project lead on the game and has dropped in to chat about Subnautica’s alien planet and the process of designing its world. As if that’s not enough, we also talk to polar expedition leader and wildlife photographer Françoise Gervais, who tells us what it is really like to trudge through the snowy landscape of the frozen north (and south) in search of the perfect shot.

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Are Japan’s Yakuza disappearing? (Yakuza: Like A Dragon)

With guest co-host Kazuma Hashimoto!

Get your best suit on. We’re off to the classiest, seediest, and most fictional entertainment districts of Japan. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is the latest criminal RPG in the much-beloved Yakuza series. Yet what truth lies behind the flashy jackets and shocked expressions of its characters? Yes, Yakuza games are all melodrama and action, but can we learn anything about the real Yakuza of Japan through these lovable rogues? In this episode we speak to investigative journalist David Kaplan, who spent time in Japan investigating the criminal underworld. He fills us in on the history and current-day reality of these entrepreneurial crime lords, and blesses us with an anecdote involving some unfortunate little fingers…

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The Trial of the Tomb Raider

Featuring guest co-hosts Alex Fitzpatrick, Imogen Mellor and Florence Smith Nicholls!

Her reign of archaeological terror ends here. Lara Croft, known to some as the “Tomb Raider”, has been stealing ancient artefacts and impatiently kicking skulls out of her way for too long. Today, in a special holiday episode of Hey Lesson, we are putting the infamous plunderer on trial for her crimes. Those crimes are mainly being a poor archaeologist and a questionable archer to boot. She will be judged by a (very small) jury of her peers. Two archaeologists, one archer, and a mostly clueless host who is mainly there to ask leading questions. Lara will be tried in absentia, because she is a fictional character and cannot take the stand in her own defence. Yes, this is a show trial. We follow our own customs of law and order here on Hey Lesson. Happy holidays.

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Can you escape from Hades?

With guest co-host Chris Bratt!

Crawl out of that blood pool, you’re in Hades. Don’t worry, not real Hades, only the much-lauded action game interpretation of said underworld by Supergiant Games. It’s a roguelike full of notoriously beautiful Gods and super hot heroes. But were Greek deities really considered so sexy by the ancient Athenians? Who even was Zagreus, son of Hades and lead character of this game? And if we found ourselves trapped in this realm of ghosts, could we ever truly escape? We put all these questions (and more) to archeologist Gunnel Ekroth, a specialist in ancient Greek religious practices who has legitimately burned goat bones to better understand these distant people. That’s dedication.

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Who were the Viking shieldmaidens? (Assassin’s Creed Valhalla)

With guest co-host Alice Bell!

Take another horn of mead, friend. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is out and trying to rehabilitate the rowdy reputation of the Vikings. It pits you against the dastardly Saxons as the axe-wielding Eivor, a raider whose gender is up to you. To find out more about the Vikings and the reason why we’re seeing more women on the Viking battlefields in our popular media, we’ve spoken to Dr Cat Jarman, a bioarcheologist who explains how historians can learn about the people of our past. Clue: it’s all in dem bones.

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