Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

22Aug/180

The Glory of the Infinite Sea

This is the first part of the Subnautica Season. This essay contains spoilers for the early hours of Subnautica and describes the limitations of the game’s environment.

John Lilly

The guy who says he can talk to dolphins

Said he was in an aquarium

And there was this big whale

Swimming around and around in his tank

And the whale kept asking him questions

Telepathically

And one of the questions the whale kept asking was

"Do all oceans have walls?"

“John Lilly”, Laurie Anderson

In the beginning, there was the escape pod.

And lo, it was good. It was so good, I wanted to live inside the pod forever. However, my rations consisted of two weetabix. For dessert, a slice of starvation.

There was no choice but to leave the womb so I popped open the overhead hatch - and beheld the great glory of the infinite sea.

Read More »

Filed under: Longform No Comments
8Aug/186

The Laboratory of Logic

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

In the “secret” addendum video to The Unbearable Now, I briefly mentioned I liked how the panel puzzles in The Witness (Thekla Inc, 2016) felt like little laboratories. That is, each puzzle was a self-contained experiment and it was practically encouraged to review them.

In fact, most logic puzzles can be framed as laboratories in the same way, but few games embrace this as well as The Witness.

Read More »

25Jul/1815

Repetitive Strain

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

Chromatron 4

Sooooo… I was trying to put together a few words building on some of the Ouroboros comment discussions. It started out as a short thought experiment but I kept expanding on it until I realised this was sort of a deep dive. Welcome to inside baseball, puzzle edition.

Do not think of this as My Magnum Opus Thesis of Puzzle Design but just a guy trying to get a handle on certain concepts. I’m happy to be shot down, have a contradiction identified or be told I’ve forgotten something.

Let's talk about the “laboriousness” of turn-based logic puzzles, because if a puzzle feels like hard work, you’re more likely to throw in the towel rather than complete the thing. The idea of a puzzle as a chore keeps coming up. Compare the "laboriousness" of Sokoban to something like a contemporary laser reflection puzzle.

But what do we mean by laboriousness? What causes it?

Read More »

15Jul/1812

Virgin Lands

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

Opus Magnum

In the last two Ouroboros essays, we’ve talked about how puzzle design iteration is innovative and examined a particular design lineage.

In this article, effectively the final part of a trilogy on puzzle innovation, I want to head away from well-worn genres and talk about designs which feel more fresh.

Read More »

10Jul/180

Figure It Out

A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build

A few weeks ago I published The Developers Who Won’t Hold Your Hand which discussed design considerations around a growing subgenre of games that leave the player to figure out the mechanics. I made use of droqen’s term “discoverable systems” because, frankly, we didn’t have one.

This was based on a number of interviews comprising over 5,000 words in total. That meant I had to cut a lot of words, even interesting stuff.

But recycling is good for us, so I’m presenting some of these lost words in a separate post.

Read More »

20Jun/186

The Developers Who Won’t Hold Your Hand

Starseed Pilgrim

Reviews of Starseed Pilgrim were fixated on its sense of mystery rather than its challenging core. It became an indie title notorious for inscrutability and dividing players into two camps, The Ah-Ha-I-Geddits and The Emperor-Has-No-Clothesies. Starseed Pilgrim was intended as a B-side to another game, Probability 0, so becoming the latest indie game talking point in 2012 was a surprise to its developer, Alexander ‘droqen’ Martin. But its design was no accident.

“There was an article marvelling at the way Half-Life 2 guides the player through its first level through design that makes the 'right path' apparent. The wrong paths were, of course, dead ends, and the seemingly open level is actually very linear,” Martin tells me. “Anyway, I thought that was gross and stupid and decided that was the antithesis of everything I wanted to accomplish.”

“I didn't add instruction because I believed in what I can only describe now as 'discoverable systems'. Systems, rulesets, that are interesting to discover yourself and which you wouldn't want to have spoiled by instruction.”

While the AAA industry gravitated towards telling the player exactly what to do sometimes to the point of alienating them (Dead Space’s ‘cut off the limbs’ anyone?), indie games have been consciously exploring what happens when the player is left to their own devices. What are the benefits for players - and the risks for developers?

Read More »

10Jun/1818

Penetrate the Night

Cultist Simulator (Weather Factory, 2018) shambled out of the gloom into the daylight on May 31, 2018. That wasn't even two weeks ago and according to Steam I have played 21 hours of Cultist Simulator.

I dabbled with the game at Rezzed and my take, today, is a smidgen different from that one. Cultist Simulator has a simple but critical flaw.

It is... addictive.

Read More »

3Jun/1819

Reflections on a Design

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

Archaica: The Path of Light

Last year I developed an interest in the qualities of beam reflection games. I’d never really had a hankering for them until I tried Archaica: The Path of Light (Two Mammoths, 2017) and it got me thinking about whether the ideas contained therein were actually unique. The levels were tight and buzzing with ideas: beam splitters, beam generators, mixing different colours of light, portal-type objects that teleport lasers…

What were the origins of the reflection puzzle? I began to dig.

Read More »

27May/1813

Been Around The Block

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

Haven’t you got any more ideas?

Do you really think the world needs another block-pushing puzzle? What makes pushing blocks special? Can you for the love of God stop churning out the same game, again and again and again?

Yeah, I didn’t want to play block pushing games any more. But one day I played Full Bore (Whole Hog Games, 2013) and it changed my mind about everything.

What is puzzle innovation?

Read More »

16May/188

Play to Death

I don’t like Stardew Valley (ConcernedApe, 2016). There, I said it.

Which is interesting, considering I have never played it.

Read More »

Filed under: Longform 8 Comments