Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

20Jun/186

The Developers Who Won’t Hold Your Hand

Starseed Pilgrim

Reviews of Starseed Pilgrim were fixated on its sense of mystery rather than its challenging core. It became an indie title notorious for inscrutability and dividing players into two camps, The Ah-Ha-I-Geddits and The Emperor-Has-No-Clothesies. Starseed Pilgrim was intended as a B-side to another game, Probability 0, so becoming the latest indie game talking point in 2012 was a surprise to its developer, Alexander ‘droqen’ Martin. But its design was no accident.

“There was an article marvelling at the way Half-Life 2 guides the player through its first level through design that makes the 'right path' apparent. The wrong paths were, of course, dead ends, and the seemingly open level is actually very linear,” Martin tells me. “Anyway, I thought that was gross and stupid and decided that was the antithesis of everything I wanted to accomplish.”

“I didn't add instruction because I believed in what I can only describe now as 'discoverable systems'. Systems, rulesets, that are interesting to discover yourself and which you wouldn't want to have spoiled by instruction.”

While the AAA industry gravitated towards telling the player exactly what to do sometimes to the point of alienating them (Dead Space’s ‘cut off the limbs’ anyone?), indie games have been consciously exploring what happens when the player is left to their own devices. What are the benefits for players - and the risks for developers?

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19Jun/180

Transmission: Cultist Simulator, RYB, Domina

One hour. Four games. (Well, actually, my dress rehearsal overran so take "one hour" with a pinch of salt.)

Stream this week - Wednesday 20 June, and will begin at 9:30PM UK, 10:30PM Central Europe, 4:30PM EST. My Twitch channel can be found at twitch.tv/electrondance.

I will discuss the following titles:

Previous Transmissions are available on the dedicated E/TX YouTube channel.

10Jun/1816

Penetrate the Night

Cultist Simulator (Weather Factory, 2018) shambled out of the gloom into the daylight on May 31, 2018. That wasn't even two weeks ago and according to Steam I have played 21 hours of Cultist Simulator.

I dabbled with the game at Rezzed and my take, today, is a smidgen different from that one. Cultist Simulator has a simple but critical flaw.

It is... addictive.

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3Jun/189

Reflections on a Design

This is the ninth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

Archaica: The Path of Light

Last year I developed an interest in the qualities of beam reflection games. I’d never really had a hankering for them until I tried Archaica: The Path of Light (Two Mammoths, 2017) and it got me thinking about whether the ideas contained therein were actually unique. The levels were tight and buzzing with ideas: beam splitters, beam generators, mixing different colours of light, portal-type objects that teleport lasers…

What were the origins of the reflection puzzle? I began to dig.

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31May/1810

Discussion: Missing Moments

From this month's newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

I am troubled that my own play style means I am rarely able to indulge a game when it is hot and I’ll miss out on something. Even a small thing, like how I’ll never understand how truly different the launch version was to the much-patched version now on Steam.

Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.

27May/1813

Been Around The Block

This is the eighth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

Haven’t you got any more ideas?

Do you really think the world needs another block-pushing puzzle? What makes pushing blocks special? Can you for the love of God stop churning out the same game, again and again and again?

Yeah, I didn’t want to play block pushing games any more. But one day I played Full Bore (Whole Hog Games, 2013) and it changed my mind about everything.

What is puzzle innovation?

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23May/180

Transmission: Beacon, Asemblance & more

One hour (ish). Six games (ish).

Stream this week - Thursday 24 May, and will begin at 9:30PM UK, 10:30PM Central Europe, 4:30PM EST. My Twitch channel can be found at twitch.tv/electrondance.

I will discuss the following titles:

Previous Transmissions are available on the dedicated ET/X YouTube channel.

Update! Here's the stream available on YouTube.

16May/188

Play to Death

I don’t like Stardew Valley (ConcernedApe, 2016). There, I said it.

Which is interesting, considering I have never played it.

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30Apr/1810

Discussion: Derezzed

From this month's newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

Add to this heady mix the sense that Rezzed, once a unique sidequest for those who liked off-the-beaten-track stuff, was becoming more establishment with every year. Amazon and Argos, for Chrissakes, had a presence on-site.

Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.

28Apr/182

Dabbling with… Annwn

The final episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

Hey, it’s 1986 and people are loving this new title from Geoff Crammond called The Sentinel, a little more unusual than your platformer or shooty potboiler. The Sentinel places you on a 3D landscape where you have the power to extract energy from objects on the landscape – such as trees and boulders – then use that energy to create your own. The land is watched over by the fearful Sentinel; if the Sentinel sees you, it will drain your energy and end you.

To survive, you must reach a point higher than the Sentinel to do unto it what it would do unto you. But you cannot walk anywhere; you have to create repositories (“synthoids”) to throw your consciousness into and slowly ascend the landscape.

It is no longer 1986. We haven’t seen a great deal of Sentinel-inspired games over the intervening years. Psygnosis published Crammond’s PC followup The Sentinel Returns in 1998. And John Valentine created a free PC remake in 2005 called Zenith.

But at the Rezzed Leftfield Collection this year, Welsh studio Quantum Soup were showing off Annwn: The Otherworld, their version of The Sentinel. What I saw followed the same beats as the original; a watcher scanning the landscape, with the player tasked with extracting energy from trees and boulders to create totems into which you project your consciousness. And there’s this gut-wrenching tension as the Watcher turns to look at you…

…but to underline its work-in-progress nature, the demo build was unfortunately adept at procedurally-generating levels that were impossible or near-impossible to survive. I tried several times but at best I managed to climb up just one grid square. The Watcher or his hounds always got me. But lest this sound downbeat, I found Annwn intriguing and it was drenched in the kind of creepy, abstract vibe that I love too much to be healthy for a person.

I will definitely be following its progress. Annwn: The Otherworld is currently planned as a PC title and can be followed on Steam and itch.io.