Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


Countdown 2016, 9: Man on the Edge

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

Aspiration Preview III

Have you read The Aspiration posted between 25 January 2011 and 23 March 2011?

Alright, I have to tell those who have never read it, The Aspiration is one of the best pieces of writing on Electron Dance. Its nine-part run led to a huge swell in subscribers.

I knew Neptune's Pride was not a good fit for me, personally, but Kent Sutherland was such a nice guy that you couldn't say no. Don't worry, you can trust me, I'm a nice guy, just have a go. Okay, sure Kent. I expected to retire early because Neptune's Pride was already notorious for dominating its players' lives. I had a one-year old son and another child on the way and it would be impossible to commit the time that Neptune's Pride demanded.

Yet my life was trapped inside this game for four weeks. What started out as a bit of harmless fun and role play gradually disintegrated into a hellish experience which felt, at times, like riding along the jagged edge of a nervous breakdown.

Aspiration Preview II

I don't think I've ever played anything like Neptune's Pride. And I have no intention of playing anything like it again.

I wrote a diary every single day, keeping track of what was going on in the game and in my head. This eventually became the Neptune's Pride diary known as The Aspiration. It is gripping, painful and, most important of all, funny. Go read it.

Postscript: I often think about turning the series into a film, a streamlined account of what happened but I fear the scope of the project would absolutely destroy me.

From the comments:

  • Badger Commander: "Man, this is getting vicious."
  • Switchbreak: "I think had this blog not existed I would have seen you as an entirely benevolent force the whole time we played. Only now do I discover the depths of your machiavellian schemes!"
  • Armand: "Epic stuff so far HM. I really should go to bed, but I can’t tear myself away."
  • BeamSplashX: "I’m excited to see how this ends, got chills up my spine."
  • Badger Commander: "To my mind this was an even better write up than the one on RPS."

Countdown 2016, 8: A Long, Long Time Ago

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

Armageddon Empires Map

Have you read the incomplete Armpit Empires posted between 29 April 2010 and 1 April 2011?

I didn't want this Advent calendar to just be all the "best bits" of Electron Dance. Today I'm linking a curiosity from the very beginnings of the site: Armpit Empires!

After a recommendation from RPS that Vic Davis' Armageddon Empires was fun, if you could just get over its bastard GUI and learning curve, I bought a copy. I think a few empty nights on a business trip is when I found the time to break the back of the game - and I was sucked into it. I had no history of deckbuilding games so I couldn't be bothered with any of that, so just relied on the default decks that came with the game.

Soon I became too good at Empires and the game lost its challenge. I decided to turn my knowledge into a series of tips with a humorous edge to them. I also referred to myself in the third-person back then and used the pseudonym "HM" - some old-timers still use this handle or "Harbour Master" out of habit. I planned ten short posts but only wrote nine of them. For at least two years I still thought I would go back and finish the series but I didn't want people to unsubscribe from the RSS feed after reading Part X of a series they never heard of.

I still find it amusing; it's not aged in that sense. That whole episode where I lost the game to a spider-drone - a miniature unit used for surveillance - was actually true:

If even the most pathetic excuse for an enemy unit arrives at your unsecured base, such as a relatively harmless spider bot, it will slip in and heat laser every man, woman and child to dead death smouldering crisp. All your base belong to them. And it will be your fault.

But unless you've played the game, probably no one knows what the hell I'm talking about. My intensely happy memories of Armageddon Empires made me buy Occult Chronicles but I always get hung up on the rules. One of these days you will get that brilliant piece I've wanted to do for a long time which compares Occult Chronicles to Elder Sign: Omens.

(You know, I'd probably lurvvvve Netrunner if I knew anyone in the reals world who played it.)

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Uh, there are virtually no comments. Or views for that matter.

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


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