Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

21Apr/181

Dabbling with… Lake Ridden

The seventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

"Story. Mystery. Puzzles. A supernatural puzzle adventure." Whoa, there goes the GUILTY PLEASURE ALARM.

Lake Ridden is an first-person explore-y type game with puzzles from the studio Midnight Hub. In the demo, there were runes and stone tables everywhere; the developer who was standing guard at the time cited Myst as one touchstone for the game. In Lake Ridden, your name is Marie and you're looking for your sister who ran off into the woods after an argument - but the demo strongly hinted you were probably to going to release a great evil.

What I saw cautioned me not to ask too much of the story; it looks like a by-the-numbers notes and journals piece with some broad strokes in places. I found the inscriptions on the nose; I can't recall the precise wording but very much like "unlock the door and evil will be released". If you're interested, Midnight Hub have a dev blog about their writing process.

But this kind of thing is my bag, baby. Moth to a flame.

Midnight Hub, however, richly deserve a round of applause for the top-end headphones they brought to the expo. I was stunned after slipping them on: they completely cancelled out the raucous noise of the Rezzed environment and I could enjoy Lake Ridden as intended. I took the headphones off a couple of times while playing, just to check the contrast. Mood pieces often have a hard time in an expo because you can never hear the subtle ambient background noise; the delicate titles of the Leftfield Collection usually suffer from this in a big way. But, boy, did I really hear Lake Ridden.

Lake Ridden is due to be released on Steam and GOG soon.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

19Apr/183

Dabbling with… Above

The sixth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

Mighty Moth is a small Danish studio working on their first title Above: a flying game that has been in development for several years, mainly during the team's spare time.

It's a flying adventure with a focus on fun rather than simulation, sporting a vibrant colour palette that reminded me of the 16-bit era. Lest it sounds too "fun", the plane's handling was more about elegance than a 90s action piece and it was lovely to lazily weave around and loop-the-loop across the sea.

The world map in the Rezzed build was on the slim side: it only included your home island and one other place, marked dangerous. There are creatures out there in the sea. I buzzed around one, trying to gain its attention until it evenually saw fit to snap at my plane. I went down.

It was difficult to see how the full game might play out but there was enough here to feel the heft of it. We should be able to reclaim salvage from the sea using a hook and also build and upgrade our plane.

No definite release date as yet. Visit the Above website for more details.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

18Apr/182

Dabbling with… Hidden Deep

The fifth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

Hidden Deep is the sort of project I find fascinating.

In development for three years, Hidden Deep is a labour of love for its sole developer Łukasz Kałuski. He was brought up on the Atari 800XL and Amiga and, like me, followed up with a short burst of game developement creativity. But he put those gamemaking dreams to one side, unconvinced it would pay the bills... only to return to them many years later during the second era of indie development.

His original idea was to make a mining game in which players would utilise all sorts of machines, but Kałuski became doubtful players would find this interesting. What he did was merge the mining game into his love for sci-fi horror such as Alien and The Thing.

So now we have this 2D game which channels Another World, featuring four marines descending into a fully destructible mine rich with machines... and nameless horrors. There's even a little lifesigns readout for each marine and a Prometheus-inspired mapping orb.

The marines die easily; one mistake with a grapple gun and your man has been smashed against a rock face. It's a deadly game. Which brings me to my concerns about the project.

A friend of Kałuski's worked very hard on the Rezzed stall, talking each player through the careful set of actions needed to get through the demo section of the mine. I saw a gulf between the complex, harsh and slightly unreadable environment... and a satisfying play experience. While the technical structure of the game may be in place, a chunk of vital design may be missing to turn it into something that players can work with alone and this may push back the eventual release date to resolve. Or worse: scale back the ambition.

I wish Kałuski luck on his continuing journey into Hidden Deep. I hope he makes it back to the rest of us, because I want to see this project shipped. Check the website for more details.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

17Apr/184

Dabbling with… Blind Drive

The fourth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

Tel Aviv-based collective Lo-Fi People has been working on a driving game called Blind Drive in which you are blindfolded - and forced to drive.

Yes, this is an audio game. The idea is quite mad: you must listen out for approaching vehicles and swerve left or right to avoid them. Now, it's not exactly driving, because the game only cares if the player moves left or right in response to sound quickly enough and players will realise Blind Drive doesn't care where you are on the road or even your trajectory. Nonetheless, it is effective and the audio is really well done, often making you feel like you've just missed that car or bicycle. Or ice cream truck. It reminds me of abandoned audio-only game Three Monkeys which I encountered at the Eurogamer Expo in 2013; Blind Drive, in contrast, feels much closer to a finished product.

The minimal visuals cleverly evoke a dashboard without actually being one and the focus of the display is a set of white bars that shudder with the roar of the engine, swerving left and right as you do. I don't know how far the concept can be extended - there were several changes to the scenario as I played through, some of which made me laugh. It's held together with dialogue between "you" and some omniscient bad guy using a voice scrambler. It's here that Blind Drive seems off, as if uncertain whether it wants to be a Hollywood thriller or black comedy.

But most importantly, I came away from Blind Drive with a smile.

Blind Drive will be coming to mobile, PC and Mac.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

16Apr/185

Dabbling with… Cultist Simulator

The third episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

You know, I don't think I've played anything Lottie Bevan or Alexis Kennedy have put their hands to. Both are ex-Failbetter Games (Kennedy founded the company) and Failbetter is mainly known for Fallen London and Sunless Sea. The fine architecture of these games is constructed from words. If you do not like words in your games, then do not play them. I like words in my games but I also didn't play them. Sunless Sea was the talk of the town after it was released.... but somehow I never got around to it.

Bevan and Kennedy now work under the guise of Weather Factory and their debut title is someting called Cultist Simulator, which they obtained funding for through Kickstarter. Now even though I follow Kennedy on Twitter, I had never quite figured out what Cultist Simulator was all about. It was a card game of some sort? Lovecraftian? When I heard it was at Rezzed, I knew I had to go seek the truth, no matter where it led me. I had to make up for all those years I hadn't played Sunless Sea.

I'd describe Cultist Simulator as "Lovecraftian card panic". The game presents you with an empty canvas - a desk surface upon which just a few cards and actions lie. Although I'd like to say you "use actions on cards" it feels rather reverse; you pull cards into actions. Through this apparently simple interface, you will embark on a journey into a Lovecraftian world, attempting to become the kind of cultist people want to hang out with. Maybe you can make your Lovecraftian nightmares flesh. Or maybe you can make someone's flesh a Lovecraftian nightmare.

It's as much a survival simulator as anything. You'll be worrying about making ends meet in the beginning, as your funds run out and you descend into starvation. But at the same time you will be studying the Elder Lore, investigating dark conspiracies and developing a following. All from moving cards into actions.

As the game progresses, more actions become available: Dream, Study, Explore, Talk and they keep on coming. The canvas becomes covered in cards. There's one extra ingredient though. Where does all the panic comes from?

Time.

Like my beloved Cart Life, things are always happening whether you're clicking things or not, such as the aforementioned starvation and death. Cards will decay if they are not used. You will character will become despondent if you do not make progress.

Initially, I took it slow. My first character lost his job then quickly died of starvation. I tried the scenario a second time, made more progress but my character was still unable to find new employment thus died, once again, of starvation. I then chose a different character, one who came from a wealthy family. I tried to relax but then dearest Papa perished which left me with limited funds that inevitably ran dry and I died. Of starvation.

Bevan, who was overseeing the fresh acolytes like myself, explained that the game does not yet have a decent tutorial so it was not surprising we were all dying like flies. I was still struggling to put together the pieces, but the game was presenting as a puzzle and this hadn't been frustrating. All this failure had made me want to understand where I had gone wrong and what I didn't understand. It made me want to learn. For the new player, it is confusing. The board rapidly fills with new actions and cards and without imposing some order on the table you will be overwhelmed.

The only negative was this: I couldn't shrug off the feeling that there's a subtle paradox at its heart. You want to bask in all the wicked words yet the time panic reigns supreme. Whilst you can use the pause key to halt proceedings and examine closely everything before you, somehow that feels like a bodge. Eventually, I imagine you begin to recognise certain cards and will no longer feel the need to pause for reading. But I doubt that point will come early as I expect Cultist Simulator will be stacked full of the weird and strange.

This is a minor quibble though, because I admit I was rather smitten. Cultist Simulator is due for release on May 31 and can be wishlisted on Steam.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

16Apr/188

Dabbling with… Below

The second episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

Capybara Games has been working on Below for a long time. Highly anticipated because Below, wrongly or rightly, resembles what we might imagine as a spiritual follow-up to the much-loved Sword & Sworcery to be. At the start of Saturday, I made a beeline for the one machine running Below at Rezzed and discovered someone had already nabbed it. So I simply stayed there, hovering over this someone's shoulder, and waited.

Perhaps it was this watching that was more instructive than playing.

The first player of the day got nowhere. That's not exactly true, but sorta is. He clambered up a crag, found a few caves, none of which allowed him proceed to anywhere interesting. Going below anywhere was out of question. He followed paths and the paths led him to quitsville. I observed that the moving from place to place was a very languid process and could see this was a game that did not want to be rushed. Take in the moment, the drops of rain, the rustle of the grass... the call of the dark.

I sat down and went through exactly the same motions. And after seemingly exhausting the available options, I wandered a little off-piste, and found something new. With this something new I was able to gain access to the Great Below (a name I made up, but sounds terribly apt) and the game proper began. I descended into a deep cave and was attacked by things which made me bleed. And I bled to death.

I didn't play any further. I didn't hear much of Jim Guthrie's sweet music, but... I got a vibe. I'd decided I wanted to play for real one day. I couldn't see any new ingredients it had brought to the kitchen table of game design. But that's all beside the point, amirite? Sometimes a vibe is all you need.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

14Apr/182

Dabbling with… Before I Forget

The first episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

Before I Forget is an in-development narrative game from 3-Fold Games. I guess if you're looking for a hook, some sort of description, we're hanging out in Gone Home territory, but that undersells it.

Before I Forget is a game presenting the viewpoint of a woman suffering from dementia. I wasn't expecting much from it - low expectations are safer, especially with ambitious work - and early on it looked like the game was going to descend into "grab collectibles to reinforce memory". But this was a big surprise. There were two beautiful moments that stay with me, although I will not spoil the details of them apart from to say: the bit with the piano was moving (I could've stayed there for ages) and the challenge of trying to move to the next room was really clever.

The demo was pretty short and, as always with games that are creatively expensive, I can't be sure if Before I Forget will continue to show so much ingenuity. But this was extremely promising.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

8Apr/1815

Agoraphobia

This is the seventh part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

She believes she has exhausted all of the beautiful possibilities in the puzzle rules before her. But there are only 15 levels. 15 exquisite, perfect creations, full of nuance, each offering something unique and precious. It’s too short. Jonathan Blow didn’t make billions with 15 line puzzles. How many puzzles did The Witness contain in the end? 500? 600?

“There’s only one thing for it,” she muses. “Make bigger puzzles.”

The technical term for this design transition is jumping the shark.

Read More »

Filed under: Ouroboros 15 Comments
30Mar/188

Discussion: Moths

From this month's newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

Thus every time I hear the future is multiplayer, I have a sense of dread. But usually that dread is tempered by the knowledge it is air as hot as horseshit. Multiplayer-first titles were a risky business, at the mercy of a curious chicken-egg syndrome: if no one is playing online, then no one is going to play online.

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

29Mar/181

Transmission: Mercenary

Sad news has reached me that Paul Woakes, the creator of the Mercenary series died last year. As you may know, Mercenary was pretty important to me, so I've cleared the schedule: this month's stream will be dedicated to Mercenary. My Twitch channel can be found at twitch.tv/electrondance.

Update - here's the archived stream:

Filed under: Transmission 1 Comment