Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


The Citadel Reborn

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

23 Dec 2013. Boson X and Dissembler developer Ian MacLarty tweets, "Have you had a go at PuzzleScript? Citadel looks like it could have been made using it (without the lives and timer)."

He's talking about the game I released in 1993, a Sokobanlike made in a time I'd never heard of Sokoban. I reply to MacLarty: "BUT THE LIVES AND TIMER ARE CRUCIAL (lol) I haven't checked out puzzle script; walk away from potential time sinks... Maybe l8r?"

The jerk fires back, "I don't imagine it'd take you long to learn. Oh and it also allows the player to *undo any number of moves* ;)"

Over four years later, last Wednesday to be precise, for some reason that I can't fathom, I started tinkering in PuzzleScript for the first time. On Saturday, I released a game on itch.io.

The Citadel is back, kids, and you can play it in your desktop browser right now. Let's talk a little about that.

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

The Citadel

Wikipedia says Sokoban was a really early videogame work, created in 1981 by Japanese developer Hiroyuki Imabayashi for the NEC PC-8801. I can go with that. The canonical definition of Sokoban (Hiroyuki Imabayashi, 1981) is “move a bunch of box-shaped crap from A to B within a space so small it’s a bloody joke”. Wow, that definition is so woolly it could even nab Cosmic Express (Hazelden & Davis, 2017).

Anyway, in real Sokoban, players quickly figure out immediate consequences of the rule set. Walls are block graveyards as the player can only push not pull. Similarly, put together four blocks in a square and they congeal into a rigid mass, a game over state if they’re not where they’re supposed to be.

Regardless of whether Sokoban was responsible for spawning them or not, games which involve pushing blocks around are sometimes called “Sokobanlikes” even though they may be wildly different in nature. Maybe you can pull. Maybe the blocks are not important. Maybe everything is connected.

I think the first Sokobanlike I played was a German title called Zebu-Land (KE-Soft, 1991) in which blocks were an obstruction between the player and the exit. I didn’t finish it as I was soon wowed over by a richer and bigger Polish alternative called Robbo (Avalon, 1989) in which there were bombs and obstacles of many kinds; perhaps too action-orientated to be properly considered a puzzle game but all those extra ingredients made it extra tasty.

But I didn’t finish Robbo either because it spurred me on to make my own spicy Sokobanlike called The Citadel (Joel Goodwin, 1991) which I covered in depth some time ago. I later repurposed the code to craft Orson (Joel Goodwin, 1995) which was almost pure Sokoban. I found it miserably boring. Creating Orson levels made me die a little inside and I was exhausted after making ten.

This is where it started: my hostility to the Sokobanlike.

It’s true to say that the naked Sokoban experience is too stagnant to keep my attention beyond a few levels. But there’s more going on here than it seems. Something more psychological.

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I Hate Playing With Myself

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

In 2008, a recommendation on Rock Paper Shotgun led me to Cursor*10 (nekogames, 2008) in which the player has to make it to the 16th floor - but the player's life only lasts a short time. With each new life, the player is accompanied by the ghosts of their previous incarnations, working side by side to reach a common goal. If you need to click a box 100 times, it’s a damn sight quicker if a previous life is there to assist you with the clicking. It was the first time I’d seen this sort of mechanic, but unlikely to be a world first: Braid (Number None, 2008) released later in the same year utilised a similar mechanic.

But I’ve seen this design pattern again and again over the years in puzzle games. Today my mission is to explain why I hate it.

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The Zen Lie

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

Spelltower (Zach Gage, 2011). It’s like the best word game, the best, I heard.

I installed it on my Android, gave it a spin. I had a good time. Briefly. Either my game was too short and unsatisfying or it was really long and taxing.

The last game I played kept going and going. After, I think, a couple of weeks, I made the call. I never opened the app again. The game died in stasis.

And I came to the sobering conclusion that maybe I didn’t want it to be so hard.

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The Box Impossible

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

After bouncing off Snakebird, I pondered the question: was it an objectively good puzzle game?

What does that mean - to be a “good” puzzle game? Perhaps it depends on what it means to be a "puzzle game"?


I was starting to do that waht is gaem thing in my head. I didn't want to scribble down an academic definition citing power players like Roger Callois, Bernard Suits or Werner Herzog, but I sure wasn’t gonna let The Room or Monument Valley crash this party. You’re not invited.

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Head Meets Tail

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

It starts with Snakebird.

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Alone and Beyond Help

I tend to have brief, madly passionate affairs.

With mobile games.

The last affair I had was with Lara Croft GO (Square Enix Montreal, 2015) which I couldn't stop wrestling with over several weeks of commutes. On a difficulty curve, it was positioned around taxing-but-not-that-taxing which made it a pleasant diversion from the usual brainkilling puzzle fuckery of something like Cosmic Express (Draknek, 2016), a previous squeeze. But I was done with Lara and, after taking a break from commuter gaming, I cast around for something new. I embarked on Linelight (My Dog Zorro, 2017) and Cityglitch (mindfungus, 2017).

On a whim, I also picked up Six Match (Aaron Steed, 2017) after seeing it mentioned on Twitter. It looked like a garish lo-fi slot machine, complete with sounds like Mario hoovering up coins. I played a bit but it just... it just didn't do anything for me. Still, after becoming frustrated with the touchscreen controls of Linelight and finding I could only invest in playing Cityglitch for short bursts, I was forced to go back to Six Match to break things up a bit.

Today, Six Match is my new fling. And I want to talk about Six Match because its odd mix of mechanics induce an unusual emotion in the late game: loneliness.

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When Good Luck is Bad Luck

Last year, I wrote a little on first-person stealth game ECHO (Ultra Ultra, 2017) about how its slow, undemanding opening was to my taste. I didn’t talk much about what happens when the action picks up, unless you happened to catch the end of the second Electron Dance Transmission.

I’ve now completed ECHO and find myself considering how I often squeeze through skill-based games with luck - and how I wish I didn’t.

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The Sleeping Palace


The big gimmick of ECHO (Ultra Ultra, 2017) is cited in every review, interview and video about the game: you’re trying to stealth and shoot and jostle your way through hundreds of opponents who all look like you and learn from what you do. But don’t go rushing in expecting the world’s best enemy AI - just a clever mechanic.

The big gimmick of ECHO that ain’t cited in every review, interview and video about the game is how long it takes to get to the action. It’s War and Peace long. It’s heat death of the universe long. But it’s not just long, it’s good.

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Atari Video Computer Soul, Part Two

I've been revisiting the games on my old Atari VCS. The first part was posted a couple of weeks ago.


The Atari VCS had a few alternative controllers: paddles, driving controllers and keyboard controllers.

The paddle controllers were based on potentiometers, effectively giant knobs that players turned between two extremes. The driving controllers looked identical to paddles except you could keep turning them without end and they were bundled with the one game they were needed for, Indy 500.

The keyboard controllers offered a matrix of buttons; they were used for just a handful of games including an educational Basic Programming, but the return on investment for the customer was low and these controllers died off early. The keyboard controllers were resurrected as a “touch pad” bundled with the VCS release of Star Raiders in 1982.

As a child, I wanted everything. We had paddles and driving controllers but never did get to experience the keyboard controller. I doubt we missed out. Good call, parents.

I’m not sure there’s much fun in emulating a paddle controller with modern hardware, so I was pleased to discover, buried amongst my VCS memorabilia, a set of working third-party paddle controllers I’d picked up in the early 90s.

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