In this Christmas edition: why we should embrace luck, why some people like Beyond: Two Souls and how the Jump Point Search algorithm works.
This is the first part of the Learning Curve trilogy.
As the years progress, the human brain archives ancient experiences it decides aren’t so relevant any more. It shoves the past into a blender face first, making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify events let alone organise them into a sensible chronological sequence. Cause and effect are corrupted.
But there remain flashes of important moments and here are some from my videogame childhood: running home in tears when a café owner switched off a Check Man (Zilec-Zenitone, 1982) arcade cabinet seconds after I’d inserted my one coin for the evening; walking back to the bus stop from Porthcawl beach where there was one last videogame arcade to visit, a place in which we discovered Tutankham (Konami, 1982) and Jungle Hunt (Taito, 1982); losing a whole morning to an obsession with my first virtual world, Adventure (Atari, 1979) on the Atari VCS.
I know that we bought an Atari VCS during a stay in London because I recall seeing its box, complete with screenshots and Ingersoll Electronics logo, bundled onto a National Express bus bound for Wales. I know the most anticipated Christmas presents at that time were Atari cartridges. I could usually tell which presents were the cartridges but never opened them all in one go, as I wanted to savour the annual tradition of the Christmas unboxing.
Childhood seems longer than it is. Although I am left with an impression that the VCS dwelt in our house for many, many years, this cannot be true. I have a receipt here that says we bought it in a store called "GEM Electronics" on 23 August 1980, and I have another receipt saying we purchased an Atari 800 on 8 October 1982. I can rescue cause and effect from these receipts. They imply we sold most of our VCS games in 1982, just two years after we bought the console.
The reason my parents sold the console was practical. Primary school wasn’t stretching me enough and I was the kind of child who engorged his brain on Open University television programmes. A primary school teacher even told my parents off for teaching me at home, pushing me ahead of the class, but they confessed it was because I watched adult literacy programmes like On the Move. My parents decided to buy a computer to prevent me from getting bored, to channel my energies. We didn’t have much money, so the VCS was sold to raise funds for a 32K Atari 800 Home Computer with an Atari 410 Program Recorder.
It was hard to say goodbye to those black, chunky cartridges and their colourful boxes, but we didn’t say goodbye to every game. My little sister had told prospective buyers that we didn’t like Basketball (Atari, 1978) so they took her sage advice and did not buy it. I still have this box today.
But I'm not here to tell you about the Atari VCS. I'm here to tell you about my years as a game developer.
Story spoilers start 23 minutes in.
05:20 "Then you get the first platform puzzle and I wanted to throw my computer out the window."
15:50 "But there's also other parts [where] the mechanic is closely tied to the meaning of the game and those are the bits that work."
20:30 "It relies on information and ... intuition in a way that I find very interesting."
22:40 "It grinds the game to a halt not because it's a challenging part of the game but because it's not done well."
27:00 "...because it is such a strange story and it is such a strange out of left field experience for the player to be having..."
32:10 "But also she is playing a game with him. She doesn't care about him, she doesn't care about her parents."
36:40 "I love how stupid they are, though. I love the fact that they are all so stupid."
40:30 "...there's that great line where Suzy says, 'Oh, when I can sell the house?'"
45:00 "This very stark moment and the art he's choosing to use in that moment is pretty terrifying."
Download the podcast MP3 or play it right here in your browser:
- Electron Dance on Marvel Brothel
- Electron Dance on Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer
- Nicolau Chaud interview
- Nicolau Chaud wins second place at Game Music Brasil 2011
- Electron Dance on Polymorphous Perversity
- "What I think is happening is that people don't have much patience for minigames and challenging gameplay in story-based games."
- Apparat featuring Soap & Skin "Goodbye"
Electron Dance will feature something about each of these seven games in the near future.
“Much of it came from our camping adventures we took as kids. Every summer growing up, we’d travel to northern Minnesota with my Dad, uncle, brothers and cousins and spend a week in the wilderness. We’d spend the entire day hiking and portaging from camp site to camp site. It was really tough stuff, at least for us suburban kids. We injected a lot of the emotion and feeling of solitude from those trips into Miasmata.”
-- Miasmata developer Bob Johnson, interviewed at True PC Gaming
You’ve just got to play Toki Tori 2+. Go do that Dark Souls, it’s divine.
Click, click: how can I get excited about a this new release over here when there are so many other new releases?
Click, click: isn’t this exhausting for you as well?
At last, Deadly Premonition is out on PC and now you have no excuse! This is the best Twine I played this month, give it some minutes of your time. Your time. Give it--
Clunk, clunk: is this burnout? Is it boredom? I’m anaesthetised to the constant flow of new new things because I haven’t finished appraising the new things or even the old things. Don’t blink, you’ll miss this. Why would you stop to look? Why would you spend the hours? Nothing gets through the numbness...
...except when it does.
And then I read an unassuming piece on Tap-Repeatedly, last December:
If you like your first person games to be balls-out shooters, Miasmata isn’t for you. If meticulous exploration, flora-gathering, and looking for fresh water doesn’t appeal, Miasmata isn’t for you. It’s a slow, thoughtful game, one that reveals very little in terms of direction, and brings the realities of survival to the fore in a way rarely seen in the medium. Ultimately, Miasmata will resonate with a certain kind of player. I hope that there’s a large enough number of such players out there that IonFX reaps some rewards for risking such an off the beaten path design, because Miasmata is stunningly beautiful and an absolute feast of challenge.
I bought the game immediately. I knew, just knew. But it took me months to find the time to play it. Why would you spend the hours? Why would you? Maybe I was wrong. That’s not what I wanted to discover. When I played, I discovered that it was broken, damaged in transit. I discovered the fault lines in the code, its abrasive, rough edges.
I also discovered the island. Literally, inch by inch.
This is why Miasmata (IonFX, 2012) became the game that meant the most to me this year.
Our Open Mike threads are getting shorter, so the world must be getting less interesting. Eventually we shall reach negative comment space when --- ah, why spoil the surprise.
Comments, please. Apparently a new console was launched this week. I promised once again to make a newsletter but did no such thing. And I'm coughing so hard I think I swallowed a rib.
I guess I fell out of love with the first-person shooter.
I remember I lost myself in City 17, playing a man turned myth becoming legend. I remember I found joy in dismembering necromorphs aboard the USG Ishimura and tried not to think too much about the plot. I remember I crossed the Volga River with hundreds of other Russian soldiers and headed into the crucible of death that is known as the Battle of Stalingrad. I remember I fought the Covenant on an artificial ring world and tore through the Flood.
But in the last few years, I’ve found it hard to find similar enthusiasm to play a modern first-person killer. I found Dishonored (Arkane Studios, 2012) compelling because it was an echo of Thief (Looking Glass Studios, 1998) not because it let me kill just the way I like it. Somehow, the gun-toting cleaner got old.
Was I missing out? Did bullets now fly about in better ways than they did ten years ago? Time for an experiment. The post-apocalyptic Metro 2033 (4A Games, 2010) had been on my radar for some time, a game that seemed to bottle the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (GSC Game World, 2007) aesthetic genie in a linear FPS. Reviews were mixed although Michael Abbott wrote "the things that make Metro 2033 unique and worth playing are the very things routinely overlooked in most critical accounts of the game."
A few months ago I had a gap in my game schedule and inserted Metro 2033 into it. The experiment was on.
Environmental narrative, which Richard Rouse III defined as "the little stories told through the world itself" [PPT], has been around for decades.
Even in a game as focused on play as DOOM (id Software, 1991) world-building through environment was important. The second episode "The Shores of Hell" takes place on missing Martian moon Deimos where the sky is blood-red and the UAC research base is meshed with "Satanic structures", suggestive of the moon having been dragged into the Hell dimension. In the third episode "Inferno", the player descends into Hell itself and fights through structures constructed from flesh with mutilated bodies treated as decoration. Although this graphical re-skinning has no functional impact, they help reinforce DOOM’s holy wafer-thin plot.
We’ve since experienced Valve’s highly-regarded environmental work on Half-Life (Valve, 1998) and Portal (Valve, 2007), and recent indie games such as Dear Esther (The Chinese Room, 2012) and Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013) which foreground what most games consider background.
We're living in the era of environmental storytelling but, despite this, there's often confusion about what it is... and whether it's actually important.
Illness robbed me of time to write last week so just enjoy this image instead.
Much thanks to David T Marchand who notified me that the Boson X leaderboards had been reset. It took me an hour to get on the boards with an all-time high on Gravitron. If you don't know why this is important, you haven't read Blood on the Boards.