I’m not the greatest fan of games where you have to rummage through cards to make the best hand you can so I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying Loot Rascals a great deal.
It helps, in no small part, that I adore its ability to front itself as a videogame through the eyes of a child. It may well have (and does, to be fair) a very keen eye for elegant mechanical design that comes with a certain expertise and grown up knowledge, this much is true, but it’s shot through with the kind of joy and wonder that we normally steal away as for children only.
It seems very much a game that’s borne of a sort of Very British Adventure Time. If someone were to tap me on the shoulder and point out it was built from one of the (largely quite wonderful) stories in the Adventure Time comics, I would not be surprised. There’s that same glee and acceptance of childlike things as stuff that maybe, as an adult, you don’t need to put behind you. That it is absolutely still OK to laugh about something being called ‘Big Barry’ because, y’know, it is. It so very much is.
I can’t and don’t care to make any mechanical comparisons to other card games, deck builders or whatever. I’ve bounced off plenty with them often feeling arduous or steeped in layers of obscurity and nerd-dom that I don’t care to scratch at. I only really care that Loot Rascals is the sort of game I end up playing because I spent time thinking about it. Not thinking about the cards or the strategy or whatever, I think about playing it because it’s a joy to play.
It looks good. It makes me smile. I enjoy my time with it. It has robots and I’m very big on robots right now. That’s all I need.
Partially, I enjoy my time with it precisely because Loot Rascals is a game built around making your time with it as pleasant as possible. I would, in some ways, describe it as the perfect Popcap game – you know, before Popcap became whatever they are these days under EA. It’s light, it’s breezy, it explains itself in a fun and accessible way. It’s a friendly game and full of things I find so sorely missing all too often. Sometimes I don’t want a slick techno UI and a thousand graphics settings, sometimes I just want a computer game to be nice to me. This is something that once upon a time, Popcap excelled at. It’s nice to see someone else run with games as a kindness to the player. It’s nice to feel like someone wants me to play, doubly so when so many works seek to exploit me either financially or at the expense of my time.
And of course, in true Popcap-as-was style, its gentle nature hides a mountain of smart, considered design decisions. It’s sort of the act of beautifying surface stuff like menus, button presses and so many other things in a certain way so that it ultimately obscures the sheer amount of craft that goes into building a thing like this. It exists, fully formed, as a videogame that hides its mechanical nature, where you only see the beauty and parts of a game the designers want you to see.
You might have guessed that I like it, anyway. I’m not for a single second suggesting that Loot Rascals is the only game that follows this sort of route either, it just excels at it, y’know?
I realise at this point that I’ve barely touched on what the game itself is. It is a game where you walk across a map that’s different each time fighting monsters by trying to build the best hand from the cards you’re dealt. Along the way, the player is able to grab cards deposited by defeated monsters, find special cards tucked away on the map often surrounded by monsters a tad more difficult to defeat. In the tradition of roguelikes, the player is also tasked with progressing to the next stage of the map so there is always a goal.
There is a day and night cycle where battling during day may prove easier than battling at night, your cards being split between attack and defence mean likewise, the player may become an easier target at certain times too. As far as I’ve played it feels gloriously balanced, it doesn’t take long before I found myself running into fight after fight, traps, dangers and well, some weird things that land after a certain amount of turns has passed. Whatever they are. I’ve seen them. They’re not nice.
And maybe that doesn’t make for a good sell to folks who are neck deep in card shuffling games, I’m not equipped to make any sort of comparison to others anyway. So perhaps it may be the case that Loot Rascals is a game for people who have shied away from wanting to build the best deck of cards to fight a monster when a laser sword and a punch would normally suffice. Maybe it is that.
I hope not though. I hope it gets to be something more than that because it’s quite a special little game that deserves to be played as much as the game wants you to enjoy spending your time with it. Which is to say, a lot.
The first screen is The Factory Gates. It’s 8:30am at The Chip Factory. Time to get to work.
One of the first, and most difficult, games to really hook me was Hewson’s Technician Ted. A platformer that, like many games of its time, clearly owed more than a passing debt to Jet Set Willy. Just y’know, harder.
When I think of Technician Ted, I think mainly of two things. Firstly, Thursday nights where my dad’s friend would come round and we’d sit there, load Tech Ted up and play it together for hours on end. Through practice, we’d both gotten quite adept at the game and were able to help each other move from room to room and task to task. The game required you to complete 27 of these tasks before 5:30pm. Whilst the tasks themselves were a matter of hitting two objects in order, actually doing that was quite a problem because…
Secondly, Technician Ted was a tremendously hard game even by the standards of the time. Part of the reason myself and my dad’s friend played it for so long was entirely because it was so bastard hard. The rooms were fiendish in their design, requiring a sort of knowledge of animation frames usually only reserved for fighting games in these modern times. How many frames to leap a gap, what position an enemy should be in, what animation frame the enemy should be on. It was, and still is, a tremendously brutal game.
Whilst a great deal of the game is learnable with ease, the task order is never explained. After the first few tasks you’re left to have a look around to find the next one to complete. Amd just getting round is also bastard hard. To compensate the game does provide you with a lot of chances to avoid a game over situation.
Unfortunately, some tasks drain your chances if you’re not fast enough. It’s a game of constant, never-ending pressure and pixel perfect platforming skills. Nowadays, I’d barely have time for it and my tastes have moved on somewhat. In 1985, it was one of the best things I’d played.
It was, shut your face, the Dark Souls of platformers before anyone had even thought of making Dark Souls exist. Not that it’d work out so hot on a 48k Spectrum anyway but hush.
But y’know, plenty of games were hard and unfair in 1985. It’s hardly the most prestigious badge of honour to award a game and hardly the most interesting talking point though Technician Ted was a monstrous bastard variant of hard.
I never finished Technician Ted at the time. I’m not even sure it’s possible without some sort of absurd superhuman ability that I don’t possess. So I’d never really saw the last few screens.
Ok, that’s not entirely true because I’d have seen them in Crash magazine or wherever, despite us hand mapping the game as we went along I’d read magazines cover to cover, pore over maps, tips and just about everything printed about games. Just I’d never clocked them, understood them though. Never realised.
You see, Technician Ted is a game where you turn up for work and have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing. Only your mate will tell you some of what to do but even he doesn’t really know where everything is. Which is odd, right? You’d think someone would know something.
The end of Technician Ted, you have to leave the factory after clocking off. So once again, make your way to the factory gates. This time, however, you’re heading in the other direction, out of the gates then on to collect your pay.
So you walk out through the picket line to the last screen stepping underneath a union’s flag as you do.
To get paid outside the factory gates by a man waving cash around.
No wonder nobody will tell you anything. No wonder nobody knows where things are or what to do. You’re a strikebreaker, a scab.
120 quid. Cash in hand. For a days work. Not bad for 1986, if you can live with your conscience.
No wonder Ted could afford a holiday in Spain for his next outing.
No Man’s Sky is pretty much the game I expected it to be, pretty much mainly the game I wanted it to be.
Obviously, I’m fairly happy with this. Fairly happy with it to the tune of around 12 hours or something so far across two days. That’s pretty happy, I think.
I knew, when going in, it’d be a game that had kinks. Not just because it’s a small team job, although obviously that is a factor. No, because I’ve not played an open world game yet that doesn’t have some really strange quirks. No Man’s Sky is unsurprisingly no different there.
If you were to ask me what No Man’s Sky is as a game, I’d say it’s most of my favourite things about Just Cause 2 transplanted into an almost endless series of backdrops. Most of, not all. There’s no boats (yet?) in No Man’s Sky. The thing with Just Cause 2 for me was I very, very quickly found there wasn’t really that much of a mechanically interesting game there, all told it was a fairly limited and fairly rudimentary handful of things to do. It took next to no time to get bored of clearing out the fortresses and what have you yet I still racked up a few hundred hours on it.
Why, if the game as game wasn’t really all that did I do that? And the answer is, I just really like looking around and climbing hills in videogames. I first discovered my love for it in Codemaster’s slightly wonky Fuel. There was, again, a game that’s gamey bits were a bit more empty, a bit tattier than they needed to be. Yet hundreds of hours racked up in it because of hills. I’d clamber up a hill, watch the sunset, find a way down. Zip through the forest then find another hill to climb.
Just Cause 2 had a lot of really nice hills. No Man’s Sky is just all about the hills. And caves. And space. And what a space it is. I realise that it’s probably a generational thing here but No Man’s Sky is, so much, Old Man’s Sky. It’s the covers of books I grew up reading, it’s a prog rock album cover become game. It is a chance to exist in a future I believed in that never came. I feel like I owe an apology to everyone who has to endure my Steam activity right now as I upload screenshot after screenshot of this game because it is, and I’ve maintained this from the first trailer on, a videogame I always wanted to exist. I’ve never been so fussy as to what the game itself would be as long as it made that sci-fi dreamscape real.
As long as it looked like this.
It’s about 30 years late by my clock but I’ll take it. I’ll take every landscape that looks like it’s fallen out of a lost Roger Dean poster, every Monolith, every Trumbullian space travel effect, every Chris Foss spaceship. I’ll take all that. I’ll walk those hills, I’ll fly through that space. I can barely believe it exists. It feels, more than any game I’ve played in years, like it’s held together by magic and dreams. This is what I crave from games, always.
I know, heart of hearts, that the game is a rudimentary open world game that’s Capital I Indie sized. I make games, I can see the seams. I know, because I don’t know how you couldn’t know, that the inventory slot system doesn’t really make much design sense and just about serves to nudge you to do what the game wants you to do. I know it’s a game that’s now up against literal megagames where it’s all the content, all the things to do. It exists in a world where the open world has been filled with a thousand minigames and missions, it exists in the same world where Destiny has put all the FPS into one FPS. And here’s this game where you walk up hills and do a bit of trading or something. You look around, you climb the hills until you’re bored of the hills and then you get into a spaceship and find more hills. It is, whether by design or limitation, a game that’s simultaneously the future and the past of videogames.
It makes so much more sense as a game that picks up from where we left off 25-30 years ago than it does a game in the now. It is the game Elite never strived to be, it’s the sort of videogame world as Paul Woakes dream, more a Mike Singleton dream than a modern dream. It’s a gap filled.
But it’s only now, really, that the gap could be filled and look like this. So achingly beautiful, so able to bring those book covers, those album sleeves, those posters and imaginary worlds to life.
No Man’s Sky is not without its flaws, without its wonky decisions here and there. I don’t care though, not that much anyway. I just want to be here, amongst the space dinosaurs. I want to be where the islands hang in the sky, where the storms are radioactive, where the space freighters burst into view, where space travel feels like opening up a wound into the heart of all time and space, pushing inside it to taste infinity.
I know some people might crave more, more game, more mechanical stuff, more things. I understand that. I appreciate that. But I just got a glimpse of a future game I always hoped would exist. I want to climb more hills, look for more space dinosaurs, explore ruins of a lost civilization and fly into space to find more.
It might not be enough for you but it’s everything for me.
Sex things aside, I’ve always thought it such a terrible title for an especially good game anyway but I guess it is memorable so that’s something. Memorable for being daft is still memorable, right?
Anyway, Cruising On Broadway is the supposed first part of the Broadway series of games (thankfully not the Cruising series of games or else that would be proper suss) and funnily enough the only entry into the Broadway series of games. Sometimes I think about mailing the author and asking him what, if any, other Broadway games were planned but I like the mystery too much. It’s the same thing for Mire Mare, it’s probably best we leave this stuff to history. What could be is always better than what will or would have been.
Cruising On Broadway is a game of line painting, sort of like Amidar but with less pigs and entirely less rubbish. And faster. A lot faster. You scoot around the lines at breakneck speed trying to change the colour, as you do so, a chaser is on your tail too. It’s a simple set up – colour the lines, don’t get hit by the chaser else it’s game over. No lives, no forgiveness. One chance. How many boards can you clear before you get caught? Probably four given that’s how many there are but they do get more difficult when you loop them.
If ever you wanted to trace back my love of high-speed, one life arcade games – this is it, the first of it, the one that started it all. Cruising On Broadway is the first point where I thought ‘this stuff, it can work’ and oh, it does. Nowadays we’re used to this sort of speed around, don’t die, quick restart stuff. Back then? Well, we were feeling all sorts of stuff out but it wasn’t usual. Well, it was definitely unusual for a game to do that and not be rubbish anyway. Doubly unusual in the case of a 16k game.
It works, anyway.
But what a weird dead-end this turned out to be. It’s the kind of game where you’d expect there to be plenty of different takes on it over the years but there’s surprisingly few. It took until a few years ago for someone to make a PC version (and it’s great, I’d love an expanded version on a console) and roughly as long for the also excellent EscapeVektor to explore similar line painting and chasers territory.
Cruising On Broadway is a game that doesn’t entirely deserve its almost forgotten status. Yes, it’s simple and yes it’s 16k and the sound is, well, Very Spectrum but it’s a ferociously fast and compulsive videogamey videogame that squeezes a lot of entertainment out of a very simple quickfire premise. It cheers me to see this sort of one life, fast paced videogame make a comeback the past few years but I still find myself going back to Cruising On Broadway often.
Like I say, I’d love to see this on a console given a COBEX or Geometry Wars style makeover. Keep it fast, more boards, more chasers. That’d do me just fine – don’t faff, just colouring and chasing, lines and speed. No wait, that sounds bad. You know what I mean. Videogames, not the other thing. Videogames.
I’ve no shame in admitting that I bought Nonterraqueous because it had a really, really stupid name.
Nonterraqueous. It’s a wonderfully bollocks attempt at a Latin-esque wordmung, ‘not of the Earth or Sea’ the inlay proclaims with that sort of faux profundity we tend to imbue our most nonsensical of videogame things with.
‘Not of Earth or Sea’ Of air then? Or scones. Perhaps it’s made of scones. Whatever ‘it’ may be, is it a planet? A computer? A donkey. It doesn’t matter because like many of the best pop songs can mean everything and nothing, who cares if Nonterraqueous is a nonsense? It’s a wonderful, intriguing, effective videogame name.
I’ve no shame in admitting I bought Nonterraqueous for its cover. A giant silver sphere smashes into an armed robot thing, exploding the robot’s chest as it does so. The word NONTERRAQUEOUS typed across it as if a bulletin, a report to someone, somewhere. To whom it may concern, the robot is smashed to pieces. Mission accomplished. Over.
Spheres are on of my favourite sci-fi/horror things anyway. The spiky blood siphoning of Phantasm’s spheres, the yeti controlling, window smashing Doctor Who variety (or the fod hugging Shada variety), the Windsor Davies led Terrahawks variety. In videogames too, Equinox, Iridis Alpha’s Gilby, I’m easily pleased. Smash a sphere into a robot? Alright. This is acceptable.
I’ve no shame in admitting I bought Nonterraqueous because of the promise of over 1,000 screens. It’s 1985 and getting more than one still felt like a luxury. Of course, I had my doubts that they’d be 1,000 interesting screens. I’m not stupid. Still, worth a look.
I’ve no shame in admitting I bought Nonterraqueous because it cost £1.99, the cheaper end of the videogame spectrum but not insignificant all the same when you’ve only a few quid to spend.
I’ve no shame in admitting it wasn’t a very good game. It’s obtuse, unfair and kills you on a whim. The thousands of locations? They’re pretty much indistinct. I could barely tell the difference between room 5 or room 16 or any other rooms. Playing it now and it’s vastly more unfair than I remembered it being and I remembered it being pretty unfair.
It’s been over thirty years since I first picked up Nonterraqueous, bought for all the reasons I listed above. Thirty and a bit years since I discovered it maybe wasn’t the best videogame ever made. I’m still pretty happy with my decision, with my reasons, to buy it.
Thirty years on and I still hold that each and every one of those reasons up there, separate or all together, are really good reasons to buy videogames. As anyone who’s eyeballed my Steam purchases at any point knows, I still do it. I still buy games because the accompanying art is cool, because it’s got a silly name, because it’s got a vague promise that verges on worthless but might be interesting, because it’s cheap. I buy games, often, because they’re there.
I dunno. I can see how being more discerning works for folks, I really can. It’s never going to work for me. I’ve forgotten plenty of really great games I’ve played over the years but I still remember Nonterraqueous, flaws and all. It’s one of many games that gave me a love for the slightly janky fringes of videogames, where maybe ideas outstrip talent, where maybe just thinking of something cool doesn’t mean it’ll end up cool but let’s do this anyway.
I love all that stuff, it’s the best thing about videogames as far as I’m concerned. You never quite know what you’re going to get but sometimes, you stumble upon something really, really great. Sometimes, like with Nonterraqueous, you sort of don’t.
I know it’s 2016 and we’ve got this distance now and much like when I was growing up there was this thing around the sixties being amazing and hip, it’s no surprise to see nostalgia do its thing on the eighties.
We’ve got this distance, enough years now that the eighties are a hazy memory. They’re film franchises you grew up with, kids toys and Saturday morning TV, Nintendo and Atari, Commodore vs Spectrum, VHS idents, laser grids, Miami Vice and Top Gun.
And sure, sure, they’re aspects of the eighties I grew up in but they’re fragments, a pick and mix selection of ephemera, memories, nostalgia. They’re not the eighties I grew up in really. Not by a long chalk.
I grew up in a declining industrial town on the other side of the river, the air stank and there was nothing to do, nowhere to go. The sort of place where ‘the hills’ you go and slide down on your backside are motorway embankments because there’s nowhere else, nothing else. The dull crushing mundanity of the everyday, every day. Saturdays were for escaping World Of Sport, hopefully having enough money to pop on a bus to somewhere else than face another day of Dickie Davies, Sundays were for roasts and family and nothing of use nor ornament on the television.
Days tripped by with nothing happening, nothing interesting, nothing much at all.
That was life on the estate, really. We’d swap books, comics, annuals and computer games between ourselves to stay entertained. Who had what fluctuating depending on who had parents in work at the time. Sometimes one of us had more than the other, but who knew where anyone would be six months down the line? There was always the flea market for grabbing books cheap anyway. And when you’re out, back by seven because all the good kids are back in by seven round here.
Then one day, the eighties were over and that was that. Like the seventies before them, the days ticked away into the void. Sometimes something happened. Mainly, nothing ever did.
It’s hard to divorce the videogame of Frankie Goes To Hollywood from Liverpool in the eighties, from living through the eighties and all that entailed. Frankie Goes To Hollywood:The Videogame cements itself to a time and a place in ways few videogames are concerned with doing by virtue of placing one foot, not in a film collection, but in the real and running from there.
Given little instruction from the publishing house, Denton Designs worked to fit Frankie Goes To Hollywood:The Game alongside Paul Morley’s mythos of Frankie Goes To Hollywood:The Band (because all good pop bands are built on myths). Frankie was a game about the many ways of escaping from the mundane through the filter of a 1984 computer game made in Liverpool, the concept coming mainly from Denton artist and designer, Ally Noble.
“That was Liverpool at the time, people leading crap lives but there was always light at the end of the tunnel. Ally was a typical Scouser socialist. The idea of a game where you start off as a meaningless non-entity, one of the down-trodden masses, and become something wonderful, that’s her all over” – John Gibson, RetroGamer Issue 64
The eighties sucked away a lot of hope for a lot of people, more so in the north with a government barely concerned with what happened up there. Liverpool was a city still struggling with its own past regardless, the effects of a city brutally bombed during the war, housing troubles that tower blocks and utopian new towns failed to remedy, joblessness on the rise after a decade or so of factory closures and so much more. Heseltine offered Liverpool a garden festival, a sticky plaster for a gaping wound.
It was a city rebelling.
The mid eighties saw the city under Militant. Labour wanted rid of Militant, the city stood conflicted over them and all bound by the confines of a Tory government who you just knew weren’t going to let Liverpool gain no matter who was in charge.
“As trains entered the tunnels that led into Lime Street station, a legend scrawled in paint on the wall by the side of the track greeted every traveller coming from the south. It read in big, black, letters: “Fuck Off All Cockneys*”, a message that remained untouched for 20 years” – Alexei Sayle
And whilst a more exciting life clearly existed, out there on the housing estates, day-to-day life was boring still and it would be boring for years. A lack of money and a lack of hope does that. Sure, there’s always someone slept with someone else and did you hear about what such and such did and on and on. There’s always the everyday life of everyone else to occupy yourself but it rarely, if ever, relieves the boredom.
There’s got to be something different, surely? There’s got to be an escape from all this.
Frankie wants you to consider that escape. What if, whilst going about your day-to-day life, something different happened and what if that led away from this stuff? What if you could escape and it didn’t take money, it didn’t need jobs.
At the beginning of the game the player finds themselves on a housing estate. The sort of place where nothing happens, a regular terrace. There’s milk out for the cat, washing on the line, armchairs and TV, a row of ducks on the wall. Welcome to the suburban mundanity of the every day.
The player is informed they are 0% a real person.
Soon enough, the player finds a body. someone on the estate has been killed and it’s up to the player to solve the murder. A set up that would be enough for most games to make an investigation the bulk of things, not for Frankie. The murder is the catalyst for discovering an entire world amongst the everyday. A shock to the system to start looking outside the confines of the estate. Portals to other places open when normal, everyday objects are touched or examined. By exploring the world outside, discovering more and more, the player gradually becomes more and more of a real person.
Because this is still a Frankie Goes To Hollywood game, the goal is to end up being allowed entrance to The Pleasuredome. We never find out what The Pleasuredome actually is or what happens inside of it but we do know that to reach it, the player must walk through the corridors of power to get there.
No-one ever said that a game had to be subtle with its politics. In order to ‘win’ in Frankie, the player has to become the best person they can be and then infiltrate the political elite and well, who knows after that. Worth a go though, yeah?
As the player works to do so, works to solve the murder that was the catalyst to getting away from that housing estate, works to become a real person – portals to other places reveal a series of minigames. We are in videogame territory, remember?
In Raid Over Merseyside** the player is tasked with shooting down bombers to save the art galleries in Liverpool, which can be taken as an allusion to both the devastation caused by heavy bombing during World War II and the crushing weight of a city council battling spending squeezes in the then and now.
In other mini games, the player finds themselves traversing a sea of holes. Liverpool long wrestling with the legacy The Beatles left for it. In another, the talking heads of leading politicians babble at each other, battle with each other and you leave it entirely unsure if anyone came away victorious.
When it’s all done, murder solved, games played, the corridors of power walked, maybe the player can become 100% a real person? Frankie say no. No-one can ever be 100% because there is always doubt, niggles, something not quite there. Nobody is perfect, nobody can be perfect. And as you’ve explored the halls of the political elite to join a select few in The Pleasuredome, you will do so as imperfect. And BANG! The game will finish.
You are 99% a real person.
Like I say, not subtle. Not entirely deep and profound either. And in parts, Frankie isn’t the greatest or most enjoyable game to play. It’s a slow game, an opaque game where you know nothing and discover everything as you go along. It’s a game happy to just let you meander through it, find the challenges in your own time. It’s of course bound by the limitations of the eight bit hardware it ran on and of course that can make some of this all the more cumbersome to work through.
That is as it is.
What matters is that it never shied from mooring itself in Liverpool in the mid eighties, to be informed by the politics, the struggles, the concerns of the day. To be set on a housing estate, to be concerned with the closing of art galleries, the bombing of a city, the haunting of a sixties musical legacy in a modern world.
I’ve read plenty of pieces on Frankie over the years and I’m surprised at how, to many folks, it’s just this strange thing. They say it’s surreal and disconnected, a license that made no sense to anyone and a game that somehow made even less sense than making a game around the license. An obtuse work that stands out for being obtuse.
Out of all the games I’ve played over the years, Frankie makes more sense than many.
“The way we became instantly famous and successful, selling millions of records, was quite a shock. One minute I was signing on, as I had been doing so for years, the next minute I was travelling all over the world. I flying to New York and going on TV, or meeting Andy Warhol, Billy Idol and Madonna. It was quite a hard adjustment to make” – Holly Johnson
Sure, it makes no sense through the lens of the eighties as VHS idents, Miami Vice and laser grids.
Through the lens of the eighties I lived through? The housing estates, the politics, the dreams of one day getting away from all that, to feel like a real human being instead of whatever this life makes you feel like? Where making music, making videogames were options to get away from all this too? It makes perfect sense. This is a band whose tee shirts famously bore the slogan ‘Arm The Unemployed’. It’s fitting.
We’re so not used to videogames having something to say that we don’t know how to address or talk about one that does. We’ve rewritten the history of videogames to assume they never had anything to say when plenty did. But then again, we barely know how to talk about the eighties anyway, preferring as we do to focus on aesthetic over lives so I’m not entirely surprised either.
Frankie say relax. I’m sure we’ll work that one out one day.
Frankie logo via The Logo Factory * Whilst it’s a fun anecdote, if memory serves correctly the graffiti read ‘Cockneys die’ rather than just wishing them a good fucking off. ** Also a nod to the then recently released Access Software game ‘Raid Over Moscow’, natch.