Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


The Abandoned Church

This is the second part of a five-part series on INFRA. The first part was Optical Delusions.

Mark climbs the tower in the steelworks so he can repair a mobile transceiver. Luckily, as a videogame avatar, he has a head for heights, because up there you can see everything for miles.

Stalburg looks pristine. It’s easy to forget the rot that brought you here.

The city can be an impersonal, alienating environment, living and working amongst permanent strangers. It can also be a potent stew of diversity and change. Small towns don't change, they just grow old and die. A city constantly reinvents. How can you resist the siren call of a sprawling metropolis?

Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and be blown away.

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Goodbye Cruel World

Developer droqen is most famous for the endless vertical scrolling platformer Probability 0 released in 2012. Okay, fine, if you insist, it’s actually Starseed Pilgrim from 2013 he’s most famous for. I wrote about that game without spoilers, with spoilers and then I made a short movie about it (without spoilers).

On April 1, 2021, he released the game Cruel World which was commentary on cryptocurrencies, abusive to players and only on sale for 24 hours.

Today, it’s back on sale again, some players interpret the abusive design as meditational and I’m not even sure if it is about cryptocurrencies any more.

Welcome to this week’s edition of “the author is dead”.

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The Unbearable Now: On The Witness

On the theme park island of The Witness, you solve puzzles. Solving puzzles leads to more puzzles. Keep working. Keep digging. Keep solving. Again and again and again. But this process cannot continue forever. Where does The Witness end? And why?

At last, it is here: The Unbearable Now is a spoiler-filled interpretation of The Witness (Thelka, 2016) that’s been months in the making. It is laced with a few choice expletives, but definitely no gore. Or nudity.

Watch the film below or direct on YouTube.






Move Right

This is an incomprehensible essay about Ted Lauterbach's complex and surreal puzzle-plaformer suteF. Spoilers within.

A: The Abyss

Chapter A - Move Right

The first level of suteF is called “Move Right”.

In 2011, I thought suteF was fabulous. Two years on, maybe I’m going to change my mind. Have games aged so quickly? Now we're in an age where getting hyped about another puzzle platformer is an illness to be cured. So, ugh, look at this game wearing its tutorial on its sleeve. I am getting flashbacks of One And One Story: “Once again, I remembered I must not fall from too high.”

My little guy has coughed up a little blood but I send him over to the right side of the screen without much hesitation. I like that he’s a little plump compared to the average game protagonist. The level ends.

Then I get offered a tutorial ghost who seems intent on teaching me what to do. However the level after that, the ghost, “Bob”, is intent on showing me where he comes from. He dashes out from     

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Léon Loves Tetris

This is the concluding part of The Shooting Gallery trilogy. In part one, developers of 2D shooters spoke about their interest in the form, and part two explored the evolution of the 2D shooter.

Cards on the table time, folks. Here’s the question for the big prize. What is the 2D shooter about?

Well done! It is indeed about the shooting of stuff but let's peel back the outer layer of this onion. I also want to discard some of the games where the primary mechanic is navigating obstacles rather than shooting, such as Scramble (Konami, 1981) and Zaxxon (Sega, 1982). When we take the genre as a whole, we notice that shooters usually require players to destroy as much as possible.

leon loves tetris

Space Invaders (Taito, 1978) lays out five ranks of aliens which march across the screen and taking the occasional decisive step towards the ground. If a single alien makes it to the bottom, the game is over. Aside from the distracting saucers, the player must blast everything.

Something more recent? In arena shooter Death Ray Manta (Rob Fearon, 2012) the player must dispatch every green bunny and pink robot to proceed to the next Manta stage. Even something like Everyday Shooter (Queasy Games, 2007), where each level only lasts as long as the background track, encourages the player to wipe out as much as possible for the purpose of acquiring extra lives and creating safe space.

I'm reminded of this short exchange from Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994):

Mathilda: Léon, what exactly do you do for a living?

Léon: Cleaner.

Mathilda: You mean you're a hit man?

What is the 2D shooter about? It’s about cleaning.   

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The Five Stages of Starseed Pilgrim

If you're interested in 100% guaranteed spoilers and analysis, you best take a look at the next article, Faith of the Pilgrim.

Update 2015! This article has now been turned into a movie.

Alexander “Droqen” Martin's Starseed Pilgrim is another one of those games.

It's another Fight Club game, like At A Distance. A game you can't talk about. A game it's even dangerous to acknowledge the existence of. Don't go spoiling it y'hear. Don't go causing no bother, now.


“Hey, have you played–”


No one wants to spoil a good half of Starseed Pilgrim, which is about learning and discovery. Just half, mind you. The other half, which is just as important, is mastery.

Those reviewers brave enough to take on the task of communicating something about the game without, well, communicating something about the game become linguistic contortionists. Adam Smith tries on “Starseed Pilgrim throws its abstractions into the player’s face like a glass of cold water,” and Chris Priestman offers “a game that parallels the act of scribing, but replaces the words with symphonic gardening,” Phill Cameron suggests the “revelations cascade with the speed of a glacier” while the game “smirks and inverts”. John Teti hopes to motivate you with “Dirt is only boring until you plant some seeds. Then it becomes an experience.

Don't worry, I'm going to end up performing the same kind of trick as these fine fellows. I'm going to share my experience of Starseed Pilgrim without explaining anything whatsoever.

Let me tell you about the five stages of Starseed Pilgrim.    

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The Ethics of Selling Children


I had finished writing a mail to Ed Key, the developer of Proteus, and the pointer hovered over the Send button. I proofread the mail a couple of times and everything looked good. It was time to click the button.

But I hesitated. Even though the wording was perfect, something was wrong. Doubting myself, I leaned away from the monitor and nudged the pointer off Send.

It did not take me long to realise the stupidity of what I was about to do. Twenty minutes in the making, I deleted the mail in less than a second.

This is a story about confession.    

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The Author As Content

super kaizo

If you wanted to piss off literary critics in 1967, you probably should have written an essay called ‘Death of the Author’ like Roland Barthes did. The author, he maintained, is irrelevant to understanding a text. Those critics who want to wring the truth out of the author, to unlock the One True Meaning, are lazy cretins. Producing art is only half the job; it is the audience who breathe meaning into it.

This idea has not gone unchallenged over the years although it is now commonplace for patrons to figure out their own interpretation of a work of art. In videogames too. Aram Zucker-Scharff wrote a piece in July called Indie Devs vs New Games Journalism: “As a result, a critique from the reviewer’s experience will always be far stronger than an attempt at interpreting the developer’s ideas. Let the text stand alone.”

There was discussion about Cardboard Computer’s Ruins over on Tap-Repeatedly about intent versus whatever shit went on inside the player's head. Gregg B let his rage fly with this barbed anecdote:

I love subtlety but there’s a fine line between reading things that aren’t there and identifying things that are there by design. The former I really hate, mainly because at uni I did an animation short which, looking back was utterly pretentious but there was meaning in it and I stood in a presentation and explained what it all meant. I nearly failed. Another lady on my course — my arch nemesis — filmed water going down a fucking plug hole and said in her presentation “It’s open to interpretation” and she passed with rainbows, stars and miles and miles of smiles. I’m not bitter at all.

Calm down Gregg and have a nice cup of jasmine tea. While we’re waiting for the flavour to diffuse, I want to chat about the author, the artwork and whether these things are as separate as we like to imagine.   

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Dialogue Tree: Albatross

General Custer

In this episode of Dialogue Tree, Eric Brasure interviews Ben Abraham, co-founder of Critical Distance and ex-curator of This Week in Videogame Blogging. In this interview, Ben discusses founding Critical Distance, the curation process, inclusivity, transparency, the pressure to write quickly about new games and a whole lot more.

(Originally broadcast July 23, 2012 through Second Quest.)


02:00 “We had this conversation in an IRC chat room over a few weeks...”

03:10 “No one really had the... temerity, I guess, to put their hand up.”

05:50 “[Michael Abbott] was only really able to do that because he was on sabbatical for a year.”

09:50 “Some kind of institutional support has been really key in the really prolific game critics...”

14:50 “I mean, it blew my mind.”

15:50 “It can be really isolating, I think, just toiling away, writing stuff and having it be read by almost nobody...”

17:55 “...because it meant that whenever anyone disagreed with me it became quite personal.”

20:30 “I got really, really sick of it. I'll be completely honest, I never want to do another one ever again.”

22:45 “We've had our share of controversies over the years.”

23:30 “It looked just like another dudebro club.”

30:50 “We love linking to new pieces about old games.”

38:00 “...a lot of critics who have picked up the tools and started playing with them...”

41:20 “It's really interesting that a sports site has included lots of videogames writing as well.”

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


You can subscribe directly to Dialogue Tree via iTunes or RSS.


A Slave Obeys

Dishonored - Morning from The Pub

Arkane Studios' Dishonored skidded onto the scene last week, a game that echoes Looking Glass Studios' seminal Thief although sports skill upgrades a la Deus Ex. Inevitably there was both great praise ("awesome") and great disappointment ("short").

Over on Minnesota Daily, Simon Benarroch wrote how Dishonored lets us down because it doesn't encourage the player to take advantage of all the skills and items on offer. An interesting argument in itself, one I've considered before with other games; what good are all these wonderful toys if players do not use them?

But Benarroch then confuses the situation:

It wanted so badly for you to have all the options all the time that you never really had to stop and think. Because you can do everything exactly the way you want to, it becomes clear once again that you aren't really creating your own narrative, but playing someone else's.

Blink, blink.

Because you can play exactly the way you want to, you aren't creating your own narrative.

I've spent five hours on Dishonored so far and only just started the second mission of the game. I’m being Thief-style thorough and will definitely not finish in the standard ten hours, a figure derided as “too short”. So I admit I’m not approaching this topic from the perspective of experience.

Nonetheless, my reaction to Benarroch's essay was this: What? 

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