Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

30Apr/166

Discussion: Dead Words in Amber

Kairo players, did you discover this?

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

24Apr/160

Dabbling with… Wrong Wire

The final episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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And so we end where we started, with a prototype from Introversion Software.

In addition to Scanner Sombre, the other prototype they had on show was Wrong Wire, a bomb disposal game. The obvious touchstone is the local multiplayer game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Steel Crate Games, 2015) in which a team of experts with bomb specification manuals have to work with the one player who has physical access to the bomb. Introversion designer Chris Delay gave me the impression it was a bit of GAH! moment when Keep Talking came out as this prototype was already under way!

Still there should be little to fear. Keep Talking is a party game while Wrong Wire is a single-player puzzle game.

When I sat down, I didn't realise that the previous player had rage quit leaving me with a fiendish bomb as my "tutorial". I thought, bloody hell, this is hard and there are no instructions at all. Once I figured out there was a restart button, all was well.

Wrong Wire was a hand-crafted experience rather than procedurally-generated. Each level posed a different threat and it made me wonder how far the prototype could go, because it didn't seem like a procedural mash-up of the elements on show would produce something necessarily interesting. That is, it came across like the amount of work invested in each level's design was disproportionately high compared to the amount of time you might play it.

Despite some fiddly issues with the controls (no NOT AGAIN, why does clicking here open the little glass door, I was reaching for the wire!) the prototype was an enjoyable series of puzzles to play through. I was definitely more wedded to Scanner Sombre, but I wouldn't be upset to see Wrong Wire on release down the line.

That's the end of this year's Rezzed series. Thank you to those who have been along for the ride!

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

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23Apr/168

Dabbling with… OASES

The sixteenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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I'm not sure there's much to say about OASES.

A damaged plane is diving and then disappears through rainbow rings into darkness. The plane emerges--

--and then Shaun Green wrote in the comments for my entry on Fugl:

Seemed to either procedurally generate levels based on the associated music, or have a bunch of predefined levels that matched up, and you flew a light aircraft around these environments. I liked it, found it quite soothing and pleasant to try and rake my wingtips through little balls and blobs of colour.

I mean, yes, thank you Shaun. That took the wind right out of my wings a little too early.

It's described as kaleidoscopic elegiac ''flyscape'' and I guess that works. You get to fly around a fantastical space for a bit in a lazy, languid fashion - more like swimming than flying - with music and colour your companions. Maybe you'll see giant hands or giant trees. Maybe flowers. There is no crashing, there is no collision. Go on, try. Try to touch something. The plane will just go straight through like nothing was there. And you can play again and again, with a different beautiful flyscape each time.

When I played at Rezzed, it only explained itself after I'd been through the experience once. I wasn't going to mention it here, to allow you to go in cold like I did. Except if you go to the itch.io page for the game, its inspiration is printed right there for all to see. Shaun also mentioned it in his comment. And Kotaku wrote about it. But I'll continue to be coy regardless. You may find the message uplifting or trite but even if you're of the latter persuasion, it won't take away the loveliness.

OASES was developed by Armel Gibson, Dziff and Calum Bowen; it can be downloaded from itch.io right now.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

22Apr/162

Dabbling with… Insane Robots

The fifteenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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While at IndieCade East in 2013, I had the fortune to meet the enthusiastic Rob Davis of Playniac. He was there representing International Racing Squirrels which was one of the IndieCade East finalists. Produced for Channel 4 Education, the game had a deceptive appearance, looking like some kind of a light-hearted racing game; it's actually about managing money and debt. (Check out Adam Smith's piece on RPS if you want to more about it.)

But since then, the only Playniac title I'd heard of was crowd game Cat On Yer Head. I'm afraid you can't get a Steam key for this game as it's strictly non-digital. And you need at least 20 people to play it. It's an ingenious game where you can't really say whether anyone actually wins or loses. That's not true. If the crowd has fun, everybody wins.

I digress. Playniac are back in 2016 with a title in development called Insane Robots. It was initially prototyped as a card game in 2013 and tested out over subsequent years, with Playniac only committing to the digital version in 2015. The fact that it started out as a card game will give you an idea what sort of game we’re talking about here.

Insane Robots is a turn-based battle game where supposedly malfunctioning robots are set against each other in a cruel hex-based arena of death. The core of the game is the robot battle itself, built around an interesting circuit-completion mechanic.

To attack you must complete a circuit. This means you need to put in place two attack components into the attack circuit and the strength of the attack depends on the combined component power. Placing components are actions that cost you “time” in your turn; activating an attack is also an entirely separate action.

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What this means is the real battle is over the circuits as you wind up trying to protect your components while sabotaging your opponents’. For example, you can ‘lock’ a component, preventing it from being swapped out, or ‘glitch’ it to increase or decrease component power as required. But there are only so many things you can do in a single turn, so you need to ponder the best thing to do. You also have to maintain a defence circuit!

I played through the tutorial and the entire first arena. What I found clever was how I couldn’t set up an attack straight away, so the game forced me into making use of secondary actions like ‘glitch’ and ‘hack’ which I otherwise would have avoided during my session. Scarcity was its own kind of tutorial.

There’s a lot going on here and I don’t confess to be an expert at this stage. I don’t know what governs the list of components made available to you every turn or anything about the ‘combos’ you can manufacture from different actions. It also involves an upgrade mechanism, where victories yield cash and cash can buy augmentations.

But anyway, if this sounds like your sort of thing, hop over to the Insane Robots page and sign up for the mailing list. (And extra thanks to Rob Davis for a copy of Cat On Yer Head.)

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

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21Apr/160

Dabbling with… Vignettes

The fourteenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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It’s a cheap description but Vignettes feels like a Vectorpark game not made by Vectorpark.

In Vectorpark games like Windosill or Metamorphabet, you play with stuff to make things happen. The motions you go through are generally unusual and follow little in the way of logic. These are secret box games, to use my own nomenclature. Lots of kooky secrets which you reveal one at a time.

Vignettes has you toy with an object, trying to turn it another. How do you turn it into another? Well my skills from The Witness came in handy here. You have to find a perspective in which it looks like something else and miraculously it becomes something else.

In this early version, there’s a little bit more to it than that but I’d rather not spoil every surprise. It’s fun although searching for the correct transition was sometimes frustrating. Then again, I think we omit to mention that Vectorpark’s creations have their own frustrations. I was playing Windosill with my 5-year old daughter on the weekend and she became lost several times, unable to figure out how to move forward on a stage. (She still treasures Windosill over Metamorphabet though.)

Vignettes is being developed by Pol Clarissou, Armel Gibson & Pat Ashe. Go check out the site for more information.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

20Apr/162

Dabbling with… Time Is An Island

The thirteenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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Now Time Is An Island from Ste Curran and Graham Spence is an interesting one because it’s well known that time is actually a flat circle. Okay so it's... it's a game.

Well, It’s a mini-golf game. Your ball, in this case, is a big compass. Your job is to grab all of the coloured keywords and get to the “exit” - but you have only a limited number of shots at your disposal. Losing any keyword to a seagull or a train will end the level immediately.

No, actually it’s a word game. At the end of a map, you’ll be greeted with a text fragment. The more words you pick up, the more fleshed out the fragment becomes.

Scratch that, it’s really a game about history. Each map shows the island at different points of its history, so you can see how it evolved over time. Each rescued text fragment tells you a little more.

The trouble was only two maps were available to play, which means it was impossible to engage with the deeper aspects - the text fragments and the historical story - and the second map was really hard; you were more likely to quit than persist. A player would sit down and be done in just a few minutes.

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So there’s still work to be done on getting the concept nailed down as well as game feel - while contours on the map would affect the path of the ball, the physical relationship between the map and the ball felt loose, unpredictable. You would let the ball fly and hope everything worked out. This might sound negative but I don’t write previews about titles I’m not interested in; these are merely gripes about the state of the demo not the concept.

Time Is An Island is a curious proposition and I'm intrigued to see what the final, complete vision will look like. I spoke to Spence at length about the game and discerned plenty of big ideas were behind it: the team are still in the process of translating those ideas into a game. Also, pro tip, ask Spence what he knows about maps, because he's literally a mine of information on the subject.

You can find out more from via Time Is An Island website.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

19Apr/165

Dabbling with… Fugl

The twelfth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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Fugl means bird. It also means a voxel flight simulator from Johan Gjestland. In Fugl the game, you play a fugl. A bird, that is. Your job is to fly around. I mean, that's it. Just fly around. To be sure I hadn't missed anything I asked the developer: yes, just fly around.

There were several versions available to play and I took on the tablet version, also known as the hardest one to get the hang of. I was told they needed to tweak the handling some more as it was too easy to fly into death. That's what I did, a lot. My bird kept diving and crashing. Wheeeeee--- crakkkk. Wheeeeee--- crakkkk. I had such a problem flying around that I thought it was some sort of hardcore game.

But then as I started to pick it up a little, the game transformed from Flappy Voxel Bird to whooooooooooyeahhhh. That feeling of forward momentum, of gliding through the air was just wonderful. And the best bit was I landed the damn bird a few times and was able to just sit there and survey the voxel landscape. If you want to know how this game is supposed to feel, take a look at the video below. It makes me want to pick it up right now and fly through those canyons, across that jungle, and splish-splash through the cavern waterfalls.

Fugl offers several different procedurally-generated environments to explore. I actually liked the fact that it took some effort to master the art of flying, even though it was probably a little too hard on the tablet. It would be an interesting marriage of pure exploration and difficulty, without having to add any of that pesky fake collectible gameplay.

It's coming to VR as well - someone was trying it out beside me at Rezzed - but I'd expect Fugl VR to be the perfect Let's Nausea Great! game.

Fugl doesn't have a formal site yet but there is a discussion page at Touch Arcade. You can also follow Johan Gjestland on Twitter.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

18Apr/160

Dabbling with… If Found, Please Return

The eleventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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The absolute best thing about going to a gaming expo is the ability to sit in front of something you know nothing about. Behind each monitor sleeps a fresh new digital mystery. It’s a special kind of magic that is not easily replicated at home because you only ever go after games you’ve heard of, which compromises it. I like to walk into the Leftfield Collection a stranger; I checked the games list beforehand just to be reassured it wasn't full of titles I already knew.

There’s no way you can have my experience. You’re reading to learn about this new thing and if I do a drive-by with “why, I found it quite stimulating, reader” that’s not going to be enough especially as you can’t play this outside of an expo yet. My job is to tell you about it, to spill some beans. Some beans is better than no beans.

So the seat was open for If Found, Please Return without a developer to gently watch over me. It had some simple instructions. I could move the mouse around. Left click to “interact”. The scrollwheel zooms. Okay. It says 40 Days Left. That doesn’t sound good.

The title screen is where we start. It looks like a hand drawn postcard, but this postcard has many layers.

It soon turned out that the left-click “interact” meant the mouse was a powerful eraser, wiping away one layer of story to reveal another, but it was always smaller, you always needed to zoom in to see it. In this way, a story began to unfold, of someone who couldn't stop sketching things around her. I suspected the story branched as at times there was more than one area to zoom into, which made it a novel way of implementing a branching mechanism. Seeing the branches exist so clearly in parallel might diminish some sense of “decision making” but if you remember all the way back to Stop Crying About Choice, I don't consider this a bad thing. Particularly as If Found, Please Return at this point felt more like developing or uncovering a story as opposed to living one out.

The rough sketchbook style was perfect although the restless, blurry nature of the text, while important, sometimes came across as unreadable. Truth was it wasn’t actually unreadable, you just needed to zoom in a little more. Something to get used to.

Of course, if I strip it down and call it a CYOA game, it doesn't sound that special - but the constant editing and zooming makes If Found, Please Return feel like a descent into a bottomless fractal. Further, I had no compass for predicting where the story was going, so I was hesitant and uncertain about what each wipe and zoom would reveal. Turns out I didn't actually reach the end of the demo, I just got lost, so I'm not sure where I was supposed to end up.

If Found, Please Return is a project by Llaura Dreamfeel and artist Liadh Young with Liz Ryerson providing music (while some people look out for Disasterpeace, my ears perk up when I hear Ryerson). Speaking to Dreamfeel the day after I dabbled with If Found, it sounds like the project is wayyyy bigger than what was on offer here, prompting me to ask about a save game option (answer: yes).

Not a clue when this one will be out. But you can find the website for If Found, Please Return on the internet.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

17Apr/160

Dabbling with… Gardenarium

The tenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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Here’s one of those titles I thought I’d have a go at one day but never ever did. I think I was the first visitor to the Leftfield Collection on Friday morning - it seemed some of the games were still being set up - so out of all the games available I plumped myself down in front of Gardenarium (Paloma Dawkins & Kyler Kelly, 2015).

I always had it on my check-it-out list but something about the drawing aesthetic and colour palette rubbed me up the wrong way and I couldn’t see myself writing a post out of it. But I didn’t strike it off. It was always there... at the back of the queue.

Turns out I played through the entire experience at Rezzed, but it was clear what kind of game it was from early on. I saw it as Proteus (Key & Kanaga, 2013) without the procedural generation. There are characters you can talk to, an important collectible element and, uh, something else I’d rather leave you to discover yourself. Perhaps it’s best understood as an exploration game where you get to grow a musical space.

Let me crowbar in a couple of negatives. As you might be able to tell, it is short but I probably rushed a little too much at Rezzed; I’d certainly want to spend more time wandering around. The other thing is some first-person jumping is required and, later on, making a mistake means have to re-do part of the ascent. First-person jumping is rarely a good idea.

Despite these caveats, it is a really lovely thing and the ending is adorable.

Gardenarium is available from itch.io and also Steam for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!

16Apr/162

Dabbling with… Event[0]

The ninth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2016.

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The most annoying thing about Ocelot Society's Event[0] is that I couldn’t figure out how to restart it so had to pick up from whatever situation the previous player had left me with. There were a few games on the show floor in conditions like this, where a simple restart seemed elusive or offered some had either unconventional controls coupled with a treasonous lack of direction (RK3000 was fun but sweet Beelzebub, the controls were an abomination for everyone who stopped by).

I already talked about how Rituals tickled my sci-fi B-movie bone. So if I tell you that Event[0] sees you stranded on a space station with a computer that you can talk to… well, there’s simply no hope for me, is there?

I was a big fan of Verde Station (Duelboot, 2014) a sci-fi Gone Home (Fullbright Company, 2013) on a much smaller scale but still stimulating. As I played Event[0] I was reminded of Verde Station. Especially as someone’s post-it notes were stuck on a wall with explicit instructions on how to open a door; Verde Station used post-it notes to great effect.

Whereas Rituals worked with simpler abstract graphics, Event[0] is high-fidelity. I couldn’t shake the feeling that every rendered cable had taken 24 graphics designers 17 days to create. But what makes Event[0] different from similar games though?

It appears you are forbidden to interact with the world except in one crucial way: you can interact with an AI on any computer terminal. When I say interact I mean type in free text, as if you’re playing a parser-based IF game. There’s no handle on any of the bulkhead doors so, to open them, I just asked the computer to OPEN DOOR.

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Probably I’d get used to it if I played for longer, but I constantly fought the urge to “use” objects during my Rezzed trial. It was clear someone had been ripping out panels and trying to repair or hack the electronics, yet I couldn’t touch any of this stuff. Interestingly, whenever I looked at an item I would get a rough summary of what it was. I’m hoping the fact that I can’t touch anything doesn’t mean the final twist is YOU ARE ACTUALLY THE AI.

I’m not sure Event[0] was suited for an environment like Rezzed, because it seemed a slow, languid experience, where I was trying to piece together an understanding of what was actually going on here. But hey, I’m just glad I got the chance to try it out. It’s now scribbled on my list of games to watch.

Ocelot Society say the game will be released in the summer... hmm. Go visit the official site for more info.

Interested in the other games I dabbled with? Check out the series index!