Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

3Oct/176

The Sleeping Palace

echo-opening

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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22Sep/1716

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.

atari-cartridge-boxes-2

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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14Sep/1718

On Omegaland

omegaland-talos-principle

In the trailer, Omegaland (Jonas & Verena Kyratzes, 2017) looks like nothing special. Well, it looks like a nothing special Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985) clone. But knowing the Kyratzes back catalogue, what the trailer didn’t say intrigued me more. It didn’t say why you should play this game. It didn’t say what it did different. It did nothing to really encourage you play it.

And, as you might expect in our postindieapocalyptic landscape, it didn’t really do big business and I don’t think I’ve seen it garner any attention on gaming websites. It’s difficult to share: uh, look, here’s a trailer from the acclaimed Kyratzes stable! It shows a brilliantly derivative game! More derivative than any other derivative game has gone before!

Oh of course there’s more to Omegaland than a Super Mario clone. It feels a bit Pippin Barr, but really long. A bit too long.

It’s not earth-shattering and you’re not missing out on the Mona Lisa of Games. But what are you missing? Why did I struggle with it? And why do I think the ending was the best bit?

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7Sep/177

Atari Video Computer Soul, Part One

This is an appendix to the Where We Came From series, suggested by Eversion developer @zarawesome.

atari-cartridge-boxes-1

In the beginning, there was the arcade.

In the arcade, you would find a platoon of brash, noisy cabinets, screaming over each other and pleading for your silver. They were more seductive than the penny fountains, one-armed bandits and claw machines, these coin-hungry bastards that understood addiction all too well. Sometimes it was better to find a forgotten machine alone in a café, with less competition from the environment; it could be what it was intended to be.

But the expense of an arcade lifestyle meant a console was destined to find a place in our homes and become our first videogame soul. For most, this was the Atari Video Computer System, known today as the Atari 2600. In 1980 my parents bought one and it was always referred to as "the Atari" until we sold virtually all our cartridges two years later to fund the purchase of an Atari 800 home computer. Then it became forever known as the VCS. I still think of it as the VCS.

We moved house recently and one of the boxes pulled out of storage contained the VCS. It wasn’t the original woodgrain VCS from my childhood but the later cheap-looking version, sometimes dubbed the Atari 2600 Jr., produced when Atari thought slapping their shitty silver branding on a thin plastic slate was the epitome of cool. This was a machine I'd bought in my student days when I wanted to recapture those past, ancient glories.

I decided to put the VCS through its paces again and see if the games were still fun - and what my children would make of them. In an era of Minecraft and Angry Birds, could square blocks still entrance? And would the machine even turn on?

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30Aug/1735

Grade F

wire-mcnulty-bunk

It was Jason Statham that did it.

Until his appearance, I hadn’t realised how much it fucking bothered me. But don’t people fucking swear all the time? I’m not some motherfucking prude, I can swear when the fucking mood takes me. And oh boy, does it. Now it wasn’t because Spy was a film about gals and I can’t stand fucking women swearing. It was every fuck in the movie, especially Jason Statham. As if inserting the word “fuck” into a sentence would autofuckingmagically make it hilarious.

It succeeded in making the dialogue sound like it was written by a fucking kid who has a hard-on for profanity because it sounds real, man, fucking real.

Oh, hello, videogames.

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Filed under: Longform 35 Comments
27Jul/1723

The Lever

intra system trust issues 1

A recent addition to the indie sub-basement was an unassuming title called Intra System: Trust Issues (Smoke Some Frogs, 2017). Now I’m not here to announce this is some remarkable sleeper hit, something that deserves to be a major headliner.

What I can tell you is that it’s pay-what-you-want and peculiar enough to hold my interest. It’s a souped-up branching narrative adventure with voice acting. It has you direct a stranger through a series of rooms which may or may not be death traps. It has an interesting twist which I’d like to talk about in terms of narrative game design.

I’m going to be talking spoilers. If you want to have a dabble first, it only takes about 15-30 minutes to get through the whole thing although you may choose to replay.

For everyone else, read on.

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19Jul/1729

Gaze of the Abyss

Manifold Garden

Earlier this year I wrote an essay called Art of the Impossible about Fragments of Euclid (Antoine Zanuttini, 2017) and William Chyr’s as-yet unreleased Manifold Garden. In classic Electron Dance fashion, I ended on a throwaway thought that bore closer inspection. I moaned about the tendency for beautiful art games to rely on what you might call “tried and tested” mechanics to drive them. I don’t think of them as tried and tested, more like “unambitious and disappointing”.

Find a key, unlock a door. Touch the hotspot. Memorise a sequence.

Does this sound familiar?

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28Jun/178

Free to Prey

prey_coral

I find a secret route into an area that was locked down. Unusually, this feels exhilarating as I’m still not familiar with the game’s signposts. There’s a genuine sense of discovery. Can this last? Perhaps I am just enjoying a longer than usual honeymoon period, where the lack of education about the game’s design imbues it with mystery and surprise?

Of course, I consider backtracking. I’m not exactly running with a powerful character and perhaps this is not the route I’m supposed to take. There's an office ahead; I want to at least see where this leads. Ah, a few corrupted operators. Annoying but not difficult to dispatch.

I'm inside a small maintenance crawlspace and the only other exit to the office is blocked with boxes. Corrupted operators continue to stream through the open windows, so I refuse to enter the office until it's safe. God, how many more of these? Suddenly

WHOMP

all the boxes jolt forward as if something is trying to get in. I assume it’s just another operator. And again,

WHOMP

Boxes go flying and-- what… what the hell is that trying to get in? It’s as big as the door! I put up a good fight but The Thing From Beyond the Door kills me. Reload, it kills me again. I reload again. And again and again.

Just as I’m on the verge of throwing in the towel, I spy a window on the opposite side of the office. I sprint across and throw myself through it - and fall a few metres to the floor below.

I hold, staring up at the window with the gloo gun in hand. I wait.

Moments pass and it seems I am safe for now. But where has this one-way trip taken me? There’s only one thing to do: keep quicksaving and carry on.

This is Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017). Backtracking is for wimps.

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23Jun/1727

The Warning Orchestra

prey_door

I know we like to talk about AAA games being dumbed down and over-tutorialised but to an outsider they can still seem like a blistering attack on the senses. These days, I find the early honeymoon hours often start out with bewilderment rather than wonder as I blunder around for an hour. There's a limit to how much tutorial my brain can internalise in such a short time span.

When I embarked on Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017) it was the same old routine of relying on WASD muscle memories then working through the game’s many systems. Its surface writhed with information: personal and suit health in the bottom left corner; pop-up inventory matrices whenver I examined someone or something; objective updates blasting out across the top of the view and nav markers skating across the screen whenever I turned my virtual head to admire the sheer depth and attention to detail in the Prey environment.

There was another layer of feedback embedded in the game which is not unique to Prey. Feedback I’ve come to resent. Let's call it the warning orchestra.

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Filed under: Longform 27 Comments
27Apr/172

Credits Provide Closure

I didn't hire Matt W to write off-topic comments for Electron Dance, but he does it anyway and they're usually worth the pixels they're displayed on. I decided to rescue one particular neglected rant-in-the-comments from Matt and give it its own post. Actually I decided to rescue it last year, but we all know Electron Dance time is the slowest possible time. Anyway, before we get into the rant, Matt would like everyone to know Closure is good and you should play it (if you like platform puzzlers). Happy reading.

closure-1

Here’s how Closure works. For most of the game, there’s three separate sets of levels that you proceed through linearly. When you start up, there’s an in-engine level select where you walk through a door to one of those sets of levels, then walk to a set of doors to the last level you unlocked, and then a little animation plays as your character turns into the PC for this level. This is kind of annoying to go through every time you boot up especially the “turning into the PC animation” is redundant after the fifth time. But once you’re in the levels, when you finish one you just go on to the next.

When you finish all three sets of levels, another door in the level select screen unlocks, taking you to a new set of harder levels. And when you finish those a giant door in that level select screen unlocks. Therein lies the problem.

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