Something strange happened to my e-mail recently while I was playing Michael Brough’s headfuck game Corrypt. The Electron Dance inbox seemed to glitch out and I ended up with several mails corrupted. Amongst the wreckage of shredded headers and splintered streams, I discovered one of corrupted mails bore a new attachment, named “vesper6.odt”. At first I thought it was a fictional piece – but I now believe this is a document that has slipped across from a parallel reality.
I present it to you now with hyperlinks relevant to this reality.
I’m trying to figure out whether Michael Brouge has sold out or whether he’s tricked his audience into a giant psychological experiment. Perhaps the sad truth is all games are experiments, from the earliest methods to keep the coins flowing into the slots to the contemporary buzz around “freemium” and the like. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s go back one year.
Michael Brouge created the game VESPER.5 for a Super Friendship Club game jam with the theme of “ritual” and it picked up plenty of attention, even becoming nominated in the IGF awards this year. The surprise of VESPER.5 is its simplicity. It's an explorer game with a twist. The player takes control of a monk who is allowed to explore the game’s pocket world and there is no apparent goal beyond that. The twist is the player is only afforded one move per day, between which the monk meditates. Completing the game can take months.
I didn’t really grasp the importance of the ritual but kept it up because I intended to see it through. I never expected to write about it because I didn’t extract anything meaningful from the game. I was taken by the idea that Brouge could force players into a slow, long-form experience but what that could mean eluded me. I was silly enough to assume I would be impervious to its effects; I was wrong.
The game became annoying. Every day, I had to wait for the monk to retrace his steps and that process became longer the deeper I got. Eventually I ran out of patience and just wanted it to end already. That day finally came and then: crap. From Twitter:
It is almost two weeks since I whittled VESPER.5 down to one final move. I still have one move left.
I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. It took a while, but I did find the strength eventually:
Tired and disaffected with the PC. So it was the perfect time to take the final step of VESPER.5. It is done. And now it is time to sleep.
Even today, there’s still plenty of talk about VESPER.5 and Polygon wrote about it in March. The game still has legs. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when Brouge confessed to me that a sequel had been in development since attending GDC this year.
Considering my "I'm in Japan" post was hijacked for a bundle fatigue rant I'm not sure you all need another comment thread so soon. Time to prove me wrong?
The floor is open. Wondering whether I should auto-delete comments that contain the term "E3".
Cards on the table time, folks. Here’s the question for the big prize. What is the 2D shooter about?
Well done! It is indeed about the shooting of stuff but let's peel back the outer layer of this onion. I also want to discard some of the games where the primary mechanic is navigating obstacles rather than shooting, such as Scramble (Konami, 1981) and Zaxxon (Sega, 1982). When we take the genre as a whole, we notice that shooters usually require players to destroy as much as possible.
Space Invaders (Taito, 1978) lays out five ranks of aliens which march across the screen and taking the occasional decisive step towards the ground. If a single alien makes it to the bottom, the game is over. Aside from the distracting saucers, the player must blast everything.
Something more recent? In arena shooter Death Ray Manta (Rob Fearon, 2012) the player must dispatch every green bunny and pink robot to proceed to the next Manta stage. Even something like Everyday Shooter (Queasy Games, 2007), where each level only lasts as long as the background track, encourages the player to wipe out as much as possible for the purpose of acquiring extra lives and creating safe space.
I'm reminded of this short exchange from Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994):
Mathilda: Léon, what exactly do you do for a living?
Mathilda: You mean you're a hit man?
What is the 2D shooter about? It’s about cleaning.
Marginalia is an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Clara Fernández-Vara, Amanda Lange and Miguel Sicart. Kickstarter, free audio and how to keep a level head. Plus a gaming controversy from 1985 that was similar to the ludology/narratology debate.
This is the second part of The Shooting Gallery trilogy. In the first part, Shooting Spirit, developers of 2D shooters described their interest in the form.
I adore Iain McLeod's giddy shooter Spheres of Chaos 2012. The game is a reworking of McLeod’s original Spheres of Chaos, which debuted on the Acorn Archimedes computer in 1992. It shares genetic ancestry with Asteroids (Atari, 1979) although that association is misleading. The key strategy in Asteroids is to stay in the centre of the screen, whereas this is not recommended in Spheres of Chaos 2012.
It's an echo of the arcade shooters from three decades ago, even sporting an attract mode showing a breakdown of the enemies and their point values. Most of the game's muffled audio seems to have emerged from an old, broken arcade cabinet and when the player rattles the pointy powerups with a stream of bullets, it sounds like the program is out of tune.
The game often overpowers the player's senses with vibrant patterns of colour rippling out from every explosion. But my favourite moment is when the player's craft is destroyed and spinning orange shrapnel explodes across the playfield, blotting everything out. Eugene Jarvis, the developer of Defender (Williams Electronics, 1980), commented in the Chicago Tribune that the explosion of the player's ship in Defender is the biggest because “no one wants to play a game where they slip and hit their head in their driveway and die”.
No post this week as I am in Japan. I may even be in Disneyland Tokyo as you read this.
If you're pining for something to pass the time, try Rooster Teeth's Rage Quit video on Surgeon Simulator 2013: Ambulance & Space Missions. It made me laugh.
In this episode of Dialogue Tree, Eric Brasure talks to Davey Wreden, creator of IndieCade nominee The Stanley Parable.
05:05 “It taught me a hell of a lot about how people internalize something that you’ve made.”
08:00 “I don’t really identify with that stuff as much as I used to.”
15:20 “I think that in fact videogames are probably as ideally suited for comedy as any medium I could imagine, just by virtue of the fact that we have so many unquestioned assumptions about the form.”
24:10 “My most cherished games that I play lately just make me feel uncomfortable with myself.”
25:15 “We’ve put up boundaries between one another that don’t need to exist.”
39:05 “I didn’t sleep well for that week.”
41:35 “Let’s get to what’s on my mind now, and not what was on my mind four years ago.”
43:55 “I really don’t know how people are going to respond to this. I don’t know.”
Download the podcast MP3 or play it right here in your browser:
- Featured music: Broke For Free, “Night Owl”
- The Stanley Parable
- Ridiculous Fishing "byrdr" ARG (PocketGamer.biz)
This is the first part of The Shooting Gallery trilogy.
Cinema and literature have shown they can weather the storm of time: The African Queen can make contemporary audiences laugh, Nosferatu is still disturbing and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice remains a favourite. But videogames are cursed. The cutting edge corrodes with frightening speed and the once-pioneering designs of yesteryear give way to frustration when compared to leaner, smarter modern work.
But sometimes this zeal for the new bites off more than it chew. The text adventure reportedly died a long time ago – but there’s still a thriving interactive fiction community. The industry also tried calling time on the point-and-click adventure – but take one look at Wadjet Eye Games, for example, and we’ll see it’s still possible to build a viable business with the point-and-click. Just because a particular form has dropped out of the mainstream favour, it doesn’t mean it is dead, antiquated or has nothing more to offer.
The 2D shooter experienced a similar fall from grace and yet, like the point-and-click, continues to enjoy a commercial life. However, unlike adventures which are story-driven, the 2D shooter has earned less critical attention. A shooter is a shooter, it seems, end of story. This seems ridiculous when faced with successes such as Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Everyday Shooter, or even efforts to sketch out new territory like Leave Home. Vlambeer made a big splash with the intensive Super Crate Box and their aerial combat shooter Luftrausers is on the horizon.
Before I began writing about videogames, I had dismissed the 2D shooter as “passé”. Today, I am a passionate advocate for the shoot 'em up. But what is so fascinating about the 2D shooter? Let’s ask some shmup developers like Rob Fearon, Kenta Cho, Matt James, Charlie Knight, Jonathan Mak and Stephen Cakebread that question.
Welcome to the first edition of Marginalia, an eclectic compilation of links tailored for game developers. Links contributed by Clara Fernández-Vara, Amanda Lange, Miguel Sicart and Doug Wilson.
Yes it's that time once again - open comment time. I know Matt W is itching to talk about "bundle fatigue" but other than that, it's all up for grabs.
There are now 200 comment slots waiting to be filled below. Don't worry if you use them all, I'll keep topping up as required.