In 2012, Jenn Frank wrote about how she rediscovered some floppy disks carrying some of her Norn creations from the artificial life simulation Creatures (Millennium Interactive, 1996). She saw them as coffins. She sent her Norns into stasis on floppy disks but they never woke up; she had murdered her brood.
Save games. A thorny subject for sure. In 1981, we might have asked whether a man was not entitled to the control of his own leisure time. ‘No!’ said the developer from his office cubicle. But we are not in 1981 any more. In 2014, I should be able to do anything I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want, multiple times. Not only can I do whatever I want but I can also shout at people on the internet for doing whatever they want. This is liberty.
The save game is one of the most important innovations in game design. It’s also a promise to the developer that we’re coming back.
But why do we sometimes break that promise?
Here are my companion notes to this week's Counterweight podcast on Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013). All my notes and thoughts that may or may not have made it in the podcast. Big spoilers here.
Puzzle games have a delicious quality. They are honest. The design never lies because everything you need to know is on the screen. There are no special switches and no powerups are required. The answer is in front of you, it’s right there, if only you could see it. Look again. Look harder. This is possible, you know it is.
Actually, now I think about it, the game is taunting you, mocking you. Are you still stuck on this level? Still? Don’t worry, I can wait, sweetie. You just take your time. I’ll have a cup of earl grey over here while you think your brains out.
That honesty? Passive-aggressive is what it is.
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"
“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.
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.
Before recording a Counterweight, I write up a cornucopia of notes to prepare. However, if I have my notes in front of me during the podcast, my brain decides I have to "write an article in audio" and I stop listening to what Eric is saying. Now, I realise no one else listens to Eric either, but it's bad form for a podcast so I hide my notes when we record.
In this specially extended episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel "HM" Goodwin tackle Gone Home (The Fullbright Company, 2013). In a first, Joel tells Eric to check his privilege. Spoilers within.
02:00 "It wasn't what I thought it was going to be - I'll be honest."
12:00 "And then you get the first audio journal and it suddenly morphs into a completely different game."
16:20 "I like it when games misdirect the player."
20:20 "Let's be clear about this, Gone Home still uses ... gamey conventions to work, right?"
23:10 "...would that have done well, say, ten years ago? That we're talking about the audiences moving on, not simply just the designers."
34:20 "I have never been in Casablanca in 1943 but Casablanca the movie works for me."
38:50 "I tended to feel this was a very good TV movie."
43:00 "There's a lot of gay cinema and gay literature out there which makes it seem like coming out is like the worst thing ever..."
47:50 "...you don't have to use your brain a lot in Gone Home?"
49:20 "That moment doesn't exist if you don't get that journal fragment..."
52:30 "It came across as being positive but I couldn't really swallow that."
56:10 "I really do look forward to playing the next game from The Fullbright Company."
Download the podcast MP3 or play it right here in your browser:
- Gone Home: Exorcisms and Buried Strata (Michael Peterson)"...the game’s discoveries come through environmental storytelling, only for the narration to belie that."
- Perpetual Adolescence (Ian Bogost): "But it’s also not unreasonable to ask how these players could have been so easily satisfied."
- The Transgression - You Can Do Better (Austin Walker): "I didn’t want to write about something this actually terrifying, I wanted to write about the one clever jump scare."
- On Gone Home (Amanda Lange): "A few blogs have gone up already saying things like 'I wanted to identify with this game, but I can't, for X reason.'"
- What a Difference a Year Makes (Matt Sakey): "It also made me walk around my house for a while and pretend I was a stranger."
- Robert Yang interviews Steve Gaynor: "So you’re saying that space feels game-y to you, when it’s technically the most realistic?"
The Stanley Parable (Galactic Cafe, 2013) was released last week and I ploughed through it over two nights, reaching a number of the game’s “endings”. I only dabbled with the original Half-Life 2 mod incarnation once, during IndieCade East earlier this year. But rather than fire up the mod as soon as I returned to Electron Dance HQ, I elected to wait for the remake.
There’s no doubt that the game is fun and you can almost smell the sweat and passion that’s been invested in its development. It might be best referred to, as Amanda Lange put it, “a work of absurdist surrealism”.
Okay, all good. But what does The Stanley Parable mean?
If you’re ready for spoilers, read on. If not, then you can choose to– oh GOD I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE THIS JOKE.