Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


Countdown 2016, 7: Conviction

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read Amateur Dramatics posted on 17 May 2011?

Uh, this one might have started with indignation again and it's related to Vaulting the Grave which turned up a few days ago. Some players and critics get upset when a game doesn't make them feel completely immersed and the façade falls away to reveal its clockwork mechanisms.

In many cases, I feel like the fault lies with the players for not trying hard enough. Players forget they are supposed to play a role and the theatre of a game will not survive a player's persistent rebellion. Do you want games that allow you to do everything or allow you to play the role? These are extremely different goals. In movie-focused AAA, most games are heavily weighted towards role play than making your own story, no matter what people would have you believe.

Believing that ludonarrative dissonance is a serious problem does not automatically make it a serious problem for everyone. But it can make it a serious problem for you.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Ben Abraham: "one of the interests that grew out of my permadeath run was exactly this issue you’re talking about: grooming better audiences, or ‘auditioning’ the best ones, as you put it"
  • BeamSplashX: "we really can’t have it both ways, but audiences demand it more and more"
  • Gregg B: "Hundreds of thousands of people love [Minecraft] but I can’t get my head around the role. "
  • Jordan: "Everything contrived is an attempt to replicate something genuine and often spontaneous"

Countdown 2016, 6: Gold Star For You

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read The Dishonest Player posted on 20 February 2014?

Another slice of Electron Dance indignation! I'd become upset that Full Bore, a puzzle game I thought was pretty damn good, was insulted for not having enough in the way of rewards for completing puzzles. I thought the joy was in solving the puzzles? And it wasn't the first time I'd seen this sentiment.

So I wrote about The Dishonest Player who says they want depth and none of that cheevo bullshit yet throws the toys out of the pram if the game doesn't pat them on the head whenever they complete a challenge.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Shaun CG: "I’m conscious that it may sound like I’m becoming another Dark Souls bore" me too Shaun
  • James Patton: "My question is, if you dangle a reward in front of your player, which do you fall into?"
  • BeamSplashX: "Max Payne 2 makes it a point to put rewards at the end of every hallway- the original did not"
  • Matt W: "What about a book of crossword puzzles? Do we feel unfulfilled when we haven’t done every puzzle in the book?"

Countdown 2016, 5: The Mystery in Mafia

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Tommy looks concerned

Have you read Those Honeymoon Hours posted on 29 November 2011?

Christopher Lampton talks about the "sublime confusion" experienced at the start of a computer game, before you've bedded in and learnt how it works. He thinks this confusion is essential for a game to be great.

Those Honeymoon Hours used Mafia to demonstrate this concept. I approached it from a different angle, that of sadness when the player goes professional, having become comfortable with its systems. Bring on the save scumming. Bring on the min-maxing. You can't get away from this and I'm not sure it is a good idea to try: think back to Arithmophobia recently where the predictability and familiarity of numbers was celebrated by RPG enthusiasts. But Those Honeymoon Hours are sometimes the best.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Pippin Barr: "I absolutely cherish that early period when it’s all strange and new."
  • Steerpike: "I wonder if it would be possible to make a series of games that are nothing but first moments."
  • Amanda Lange: "You know, I feel this, but at the same time, I kind of don’t agree."
  • Badger Commander: "I played through the beginning 4 times and then sort of got bored."

Countdown 2016, 4: Fish in a Barrel

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read Vault the Grave posted on 23 October 2014?

Quite a lot of Electron Dance articles start with irritation, particularly at indignation. So I'd get indignant about indignation.

I'd had enough of people who liked to bash AAA games for small things. My take was: Jesus, this game does so much and you're going to point at this tiny thing and declare AAA game design broken? I saw the Watch Dogs "grave vaulting" example being shared around on Twitter and I lost my shit.

I wrote Vault the Grave to convey WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PPL without actually saying that. There is a tragic end to this story. Whenever some wants to laugh about silly AAA design, they remember the grave incident then link to my article. You know, like Polygon. Somehow I keep being linked but no one gets the memo.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Random Internet Person: "It’s not more weird than tugging a virtual puppet through a dollhouse cemetry is in the first place."
  • Amanda Lange: "What if Ludonarrative Dissonance… though it certainly is a THING, never really mattered?"
  • Victor Breum: "I think it is right for these things to be ridiculed and called out, because they make the game worse."
  • Mike Grinti: "But big ridiculous games, even when they’re not even the best big ridiculous games, have value and artistic merit."

Countdown 2016, 3: Lost Love

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

[Screenshot bearing words "Now that you're gone"]

Have you read The Last Dream posted on 30 August 2011?

The series Where We Came From was, on the surface, a bunch of articles about videogames in the 80s. The origin of Boulder Dash, the creation of Lucasfilm Games, the paper manual and more. But The Last Dream then comes in and says, well actually this is a self-indulgent series about my childhood. And all this nostalgia for retro games is really about childhood, that yearning for the last dream in which we get to say goodbye.

From the comments:

  • BeamSplashX "I think gaming’s past is safe in some regards- geek chic brings in a lot of imitators but it’s also a backdoor into keeping older games cool for the masses"
  • Badger Commander: "Gah! Nice read, I disagree with quite a bit of what you are saying"
  • Ava Avane Dawn: "even the sadness I used to feel over that lost place is hard to find when I boot up the games"

Countdown 2016, 2: The Line

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read Hypnosis in the Sand: Why Spec Ops Fails posted on 29 August 2014?

Spec Ops was a lovely surprise which made me want to write something about it. And after I started writing, I couldn't stop. Spec Ops is a classic example of trying to get players to do things they don't agree with yet somehow remain in character - and that's where the issue lies. The great Immortal Defense is also cited as it treads similar territory.

From the comments:

  • John Brindle "it’s one of the only AAA games where you commit war crimes / which the game acknowledges are war crimes"
  • StranaMente: "They knew that the players would have felt the hands of the designers in that scene, and wanted the players to blame that choice on them."
  • Steerpike: "Pathologic does it rather famously; most people who had serious gos at the game found themselves thinking as and taking actions from the perspective of their chosen character well before the shocker ending. "
  • Badger Commander: "Don’t bother – it is rubbish."
  • Badger Commander: "Also, just finished Battlestar Galactica, the music in it was deeply annoying."

Countdown 2016, 1: Walls That Talk

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read The Beautiful Dead posted on 12 November 2013?

During the rise of the "walking simulator", I felt that environmental narrative was acquiring far too much prominence, sometimes verging on worship. So I wrote about the role of environmental narrative in videogame storytelling and how, really, it was just a very good kludge.

From the comments:

  • Jonas Kyratzes "Mamet’s advice is cowardly, empty-headed bullshit"
  • Amanda Lange "Wow. That last paragraph. Love it."
  • Eric Brasure: "Dark Souls does this amazingly well. Joel, just play it already."
  • Robert Yang: "Hahaha you hear my voice in your head? Awesome."
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Discussion: The Water Downstream


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


How I Made: The Drake Incident


Oh, I've got an idea for Dark Souls film, I thought. It'll be short. We'll not do anything crazy like half an hour about The Witness. But, somehow, things never go according to plan. Because there is no plan. There is just:

  • oh my god this is way harder than I thought

Here's a little behind-the-scenes insight on The Drake Incident.

Read More »


The Drake Incident: A Dark Souls Story

Ding dong, the Bell Gargoyles are dead. I ring the bell. Where next for my lonely undead hero...?

Watch the film below or direct on YouTube.


If you're interested in how the film came into being, which is partly through luck and partly through bloody-minded determination, here's How I Made: The Drake Incident.