Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

23Apr/156

Ethan Carter vs Verde Station

ethan-vs-verde

Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012) is a bit long in the tooth but it gave birth to the popularity of the “walking simulator”. Look, gang, if you really wanted to be offensive about it, you should call these games dog walking simulators, where the player is the goddamned dog.

Ordinary people felt free to dance naked on the streets and proclaim, “Let’s kill the gameplay!” But the original Dear Esther is 7 years old and if we’re still pumping out games where people potter about triggering monologues and weeping at eye candy then it suggests this revolution merely spawned an army of imitators: “Comrade, I make also great revolutionary walking simulator!”

And so to today's question: are there any new ideas in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (The Astronauts, 2014) or Verde Station (Duelboot, 2014)?

Careful, team, MASSIVE spoilers lurk below. If you want to duck out now, here’s the short version: I enjoyed secret-box-on-the-cheap Verde Station but had problems with it’s-not-gameplay-honest-guv Ethan Carter.

Read More »

14Apr/153

Side by Side: Duel

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is episode 15 of 17.

This week Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance and Gregg Burnell of Tap-Repeatedly tackle head-on a game called Duel written by relative unknown Joel Goodwin. Uh, what? Did we just actually cross an ethical line there? Gregg and Joel are "reviewing" their own games now? Brilliant! I bet you can't wait for the next episode where they shill for Satan.

In Duel, two players have to ram each other into oblivion - if they get the timing right. And if they can see each other. Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.

The series theme is the delightful "Adventures in your sleep" by The Blake Robinson Synthetic Orchestra.

9Apr/1511

Lol in Hell: A Short Solium Infernum Tale

This month we're celebrating FIVE YEARS of Electron Dance!

Here’s a story from 2012 that was never published.

A long, long time ago I wrote a nailbiting Neptune’s Pride (Iron Helmet, 2010) diary that kept readers up all night called The Aspiration. This diary took a serious toll though; my mental health over the month of the game was put through the wringer and I knew I never wanted to play such a game EVER THE HELL AGAIN. I later wondered whether an obsession with Neptune's Pride diaries was contributing to a problem of survivorship bias.

However, I was press-ganged into a match of Solium Infernum (Cryptic Comet, 2009). It's a turn-based affair, not something that exists from minute to minute. I was still anxious, though. Solium is about duplicity. About paranoia. But I wanted to repeat the success of The Aspiration, so felt like I should go for it.

But our game stopped after three turns and never got going again. I wrote up a detailed diary for those three turns and I think it's time to reveal it to the public.

Read More »

2Apr/150

The Best Electron Dance Posts of All-Time EVER

This month we're celebrating FIVE YEARS of Electron Dance!

such applause

Welcome, welcome all. Today I present the most definitive of lists, the one you’ve waited five years for.

This is the nine most popular posts on Electron Dance.

Read More »

1Apr/1513

Five Years of Electron Dance

hanabi17

When I wrote the first post 354 on VVVVVV, I never thought I'd be possessed with the hubris to write a post called Five Years of Electron Dance, let alone have enough readers to justify it.

There's only way to deal with this: I'm going to let it get to my head and get drunk and take off all my clothes. Does this mean I can monetize my audience? Should I run a Patreon? Let's talk about what this means and answer five questions about Electron Dance you never wanted answering in the first place.

Read More »

24Mar/1510

Counterweight 16: Leaving Las Videogames

indiecadeeast05

It's the final episode of Counterweight which also means it's goodbye to Eric Brasure, co-host of Trekabout and the award-nominated (and defunct) The Next Stop Is... podcast.

As Eric hangs up his videogame cape for good, we take this moment to reflect on why anyone should bother in the videogame space. You won't make money and everyone will hate you. Our last conversation lurches from topic to topic but the common theme is a lingering, sad sigh over everything videogames.

It's been two and half years since Eric joined the site and I'm sad to see him go, but it was my decision to end the podcast. I like the way Counterweight turned out and I think our best podcasts were the ones on Bioshock Infinite (oh the anger) and Banished (how technical can you get), but Counterweight was one of the few dissenting voices on Papers, Please (we felt it had problems).

Thank you to the devoted few who enjoyed listening to Eric and myself talk into the mic.

Download the podcast MP3 or play it right here in your browser:

 

23Mar/150

Dabbling with… Planet of the Eyes

The final episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

eyes-problem

I played Cococucumber's Planet of the Eyes under duress because it looked like another puzzle platformer.

Another. Puzzle. Platformer.

This takes me back to PAX East 2012 which I never attended so bloody hell I don't know how this flashback is working. Andy Nealen at The Indie Rant: "And then in the second week I said you can do whatever you want. There are twelve people in the class. So what do you guys think I got from eleven people? Any guesses? Puzzle platformers. Eleven fucking puzzle platformers."

But hold the phone - against all odds, I warmed to Planet of the Eyes. What happened? Why did I show such weakness?

Eyes was minimalist when it came to the usual puzzle platformer tutorial. I'm paraphrasing the minimalism here but it came across like this:

PRESS X TO GRAB

HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED STARSEED PILGRIM GOOD FUCKING LUCK

Sure, this game isn't Starseed Pilgrim. I don't mean that in a bad or derogatory way, just in a "I made a really bad comparison" way. I was told how to push and pull things around and that was that. I kept expecting a little bit more, some shimmering hotspots or glowing nav markers or even some linear gating to drive me towards one goal at a time. But no. And then I got stuck.

I got stuck at this long ladder and there seemed to be no way to progress. I kept backtracking but saw no way through and no tutorial popups. Had I missed something? Maybe it was time to quit. I was at a games exhibition. If a game didn't do the business, something else would.

In desperation, I tried something else and... it worked. I was buoyant. The game hadn't signposted my next move making me feel like I had really solved that damn puzzle. In truth, it wasn't particularly "tricky" but the game had left a larger knowledge gap between tutorial and non-tutorial than usual.

eyes-lasers

I solved a few more problems and most of the solutions didn't feel that neat and tidy, as if I was gaming the game. Some players like to feel they've slotted the correct pegs into the corresponding holes, but that kind of design seems claustrophobic after a while, offering players no room to breathe.

The level finished. I was sad. The other demo level was more about timing jumps than manipulating the environment. I didn't really need to be told what to do here but the challenge felt pitch perfect for me, like I was always just making it to safety. If I had played that second level about twenty times then that exhilaration wouldn't survive, but the first time definitely felt special. And although it used checkpoints, I found the checkpointing not particularly frustrating.

After the second level finished, I was sad again. Especially as there was no more content available but maybe that was a good thing, preventing attendees from hogging the game for too long. It wasn't enough, though, to know how well the design would turn out in practice. Would most of it be linear, like the second jumping level? I had a more worrying concern, though.

I don't know if Eyes will be able to keep up that show-not-tell momentum in its level design and if I was a betting man, I'd put money on its reticence being designed out. I like that it left me alone and I used it as an example when talking to Sam Barlow about Her Story: games which do not handhold in earlier builds inevitably do by final release. Would Her Story do this after more rounds of testing? Would Planet of the Eyes?

Well, at least, the game still has "robot deaths" in it's feature list. EYE guess EYE'll keep an EYE on Planet of the Eyes which has already been greenlit.

Here's a trailer if you want to see it in action.

All Episodes

  • TRI - a first-person puzzler
  • The Marvellous Miss Take - polished 2D heist/stealth game
  • DEEP - deep breathing meditation in VR
  • Her Story - explore video footage of police interviews to solve a mystery
  • CAVE! CAVE! DEUS VIDET - art-fi visual novel in which I understood nothing that was going on
  • One One One Two Three - minimalist card game that plays out in minutes
  • Aerobat - incredible 2D shooter, I can't rate it highly enough
  • Screencheat - wonderful local multiplayer FPS
  • Planet of the Eyes - a puzzle platformer that didn't hold my hand
22Mar/150

Dabbling with… Screencheat

The eighth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

1586457_orig

Alright, local multiplayer FPS madness! This is what I signed up for. Screencheat (Samurai Punk, 2014) is great. Each player gets a piece of the screen to look at, which means you can see what the other players are getting up to - hence the title. But that's the point as every player is invisible. You have to look to see what players are doing otherwise you don't know where to shoot.

It's a pretty weird experience, as you're not just taking care of your own movements but trying to track that of others in each panel. Colour-coded areas makes it easier to see who you should be watching but rest assured no one feels safe and you're never quite sure if someone is stalking you RIGHT NOW.

screencheat

Players spend most of the time being scared and shooting in the wrong place - so it's the perfect ingredients for comedy. Everyone looks stupid, especially if you're the person unleashing the Bear Bomb. Although you could play with just two players, I think you need at least three for proper hardcore chaos to develop. (I don't know if it would make a good subject for Side by Side as we have discovered some multiplayer games are more difficult to warm to with just two players, a la Gravity Series)

Here's the release trailer, but it doesn't quite convey the chaos and paranoia.

Screencheat was developed by Samurai Punk and released last October. Go to the Samurai Punk website to find out more.

All Episodes

  • TRI - a first-person puzzler
  • The Marvellous Miss Take - polished 2D heist/stealth game
  • DEEP - deep breathing meditation in VR
  • Her Story - explore video footage of police interviews to solve a mystery
  • CAVE! CAVE! DEUS VIDET - art-fi visual novel in which I understood nothing that was going on
  • One One One Two Three - minimalist card game that plays out in minutes
  • Aerobat - incredible 2D shooter, I can't rate it highly enough
  • Screencheat - wonderful local multiplayer FPS
  • Planet of the Eyes - a puzzle platformer that didn't hold my hand
19Mar/152

Dabbling with… Aerobat

The seventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

aerobat-pk-explosion

FRIDAY MORNING. 11AM.

It looked so unassuming, like the li'l jam game that could. It didn't look sultry. It looked... lonely. All the other kool kids were with the other kool games. The seat was empty. I took the seat.

I clicked the button, a plane flew off an aircraft carrier, then crashed and disintegrated into bits.

Ah, okay, here's the tutorial.

It was a wax on, wax off kind of a moment. Fly high. Fly low. Now HURL MOUSE ACROSS THE DESK. Don't worry Daniel-san, this isn't Starseed Pilgrim, this is all going to click in just a moment.

I started again. A plane flew off an aircraft carrier and, this time, shot across the sea. I kept it steady, kept it together. Maybe I turned around and smiled, hoping to see the developer clap at my efforts. But he wasn't there, there was no one there.

An alien horde slid into view and I knew just what to do. I threw the mouse across the desk. Then my plane spun into the sky and sang alien death in colours.

HELL YEAH IT CLICKED MR. MIYAGI

Then my plane hit an alien. And crashed and disintegrated into bits.

And I played again and again and again and the minutes flew by, how many, I know not, but many. You couldn't tear me away from this thing, because I wanted to get into the top ten scores but I was too rubbish. I needed more wax on, wax off.

aerobat-rezzed

Matthew Yeager's Aerobat is a game about crashing and disintegrating into bits a lot. But it's also a game that's about mouse violence. It might work with a touchscreen, but would bomb on a controller. Aubrey Hesselgren told me it "felt like flicking a yoyo" and he's not wrong.

Aerobat is a true mouse game. It's the game your mouse has been waiting for all these years.

Take a look at the trailer.

I don't think you looked hard enough. Look at it again. I want it. You want it. Your mouse wants it.

But you'll have to wait as Aerobat has not been released yet. Go to the Aerobat website to find out more.

All Episodes

 

19Mar/152

Dabbling with… One One One Two Three

The sixth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

one one one two three - sample hand

So this game wasn't actually on display at Rezzed.

I had just deserted the Arcadian Rhythms crowd for the toilets when I spotted Aubrey Hesselgren lurking in the Rezzed boardgames room. I went in to say HELLO as we'd been nattering over Twitter about work/life balance whilst I was travelling in by train. Hesselgren then offered to show me a game he'd been working on but I felt bad about ditching Team Arcadian, so said sorry I have to go, that's it, wave wave, ta-ta. But, really, this is the kind of random encounter that exhibitions are good for and anchoring myself to one group of people for the whole day was just cutting off my social nose to spite my social face. I changed my mind and went back.

Hesselgren introduced me to Dr. David King who'd been working on the game with him. As I am a PhD myself, I knew instinctively that King was a PhD when I met him; we did a secret handshake to confirm and Hesselgren was none the wiser. The three of us gathered on a patch of artificial turf outside and Hesselgren explained their game, One One One Two Three, to me.

It's quick to play yet the ramifications of its simple rules are not initially obvious. Two players are handed the same set of five cards, and a pair of Othello counters are piled between them. Each card represents an action and the players choose one card to play each turn. If your colour is facing up after both actions have been played out, then you win that round.

At first, the game seems random but then you realise that both players have the same five cards. Remembering what your opponent has played, thus what they have left in hand, becomes a vital ingredient in winning. As a result, the scoring for each round varies: the first three rounds are worth one point, the next is two and the final round is three. Hence, the name One One One Two Three.

The structure of the game reminded me of the infamous Monty Hall problem. Behind three doors is a big prize, but behind the other two is a pile of crap. You choose one door. The gameshow host then opens one of the other two doors, revealing a pile of crap. He now gives you the option to stick with the same door or switch to the other unopened door. What blows people's minds is that you have a higher chance of winning if you switch.

one one one two three - game over

The key to the Monty Hall problem is that it's all about utilising new information that has been made available. One One One Two Three appears to be a game of random choices, but each round supplies more data; you have to figure out at what point the game pivots from random chance into something you can win. I only played a couple of rounds but I could see the game being a mental workout. Hesselgren was always deep in thought during the latter rounds.

I think there are two things that hold the game up. First, I could not understand the game at all when Hesselgren explained it and had to go through a "tutorial game" to see how it worked. Even though the rules are simple, their purpose is not clear until you really get into it. The rule-whole is much more than the sum of the rule-parts.

Second, the cards need a redesign. The cards for "flip the bottom counter" and "flip the top counter" look almost identical. Colour coding might help and possibly adding words in (I note the first prototypes were handwritten phrases like "flip bottom"). I couldn't "read" the cards quickly and it made the game more awkward to pick up than it could have been.

Hesselgren is also working on a mobile version where the cards rotate as you flip the phone over for your opponent's turn. Take a look at the following Vine.

Hesselgren and King are still testing out changes to the rules (the latest is a potential sixth card for bluffing power in the final round) so the current set of rules is not final. However, you can play right now if you're willing to make the cards yourself from templates. Just hop over to the One One One Two Three website and go to the Print & Play page.

I printed out my set just yesterday.

All Episodes

  • TRI - a first-person puzzler
  • The Marvellous Miss Take - polished 2D heist/stealth game
  • DEEP - deep breathing meditation in VR
  • Her Story - explore video footage of police interviews to solve a mystery
  • CAVE! CAVE! DEUS VIDET - art-fi visual novel in which I understood nothing that was going on
  • One One One Two Three - minimalist card game that plays out in minutes
  • Aerobat - incredible 2D shooter, I can't rate it highly enough
  • Screencheat - wonderful local multiplayer FPS
  • Planet of the Eyes - a puzzle platformer that didn't hold my hand