Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

28Feb/1932

Tail Meets Head

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

Do I hate Snakebird? I don’t love it.

It was October 2016 and I had been playing Snakebird (Noumenon Games, 2016) for about a month. Finding it impossible to make progress around twenty levels in, I strapped the game to a concrete block and threw it into the choppy waters of the Thames. And while I did this, others continued to carry the Snakebird banner high, proclaiming its brilliance. I didn’t get it. I really didn't get it.

I wanted to know why. I scribbled into my book of half-baked ideas an article about why I don’t like Snakebird. But the exercise would be pointless without an answer to the question.

Time passed. I had many notes that sketched out areas of potential interest and I found myself more interested in the player side of the puzzle game equation rather than the design side. I wanted to think about how puzzle games might be failing their players instead of players failing their puzzle games. Failure can become very personal, hardening players against continued experimentation in the puzzle genre.

I grew frustrated with the whole concept, though. I could never weave these ideas into a complete whole. I was looking at an infinite number of darts thrown at an infinite number of dartboards by an infinite number of monkeys… but not one bullseye.

Screw it, I thought, I’m going to write the series anyway, even if I don’t have any conclusions. I’ll call it The Ouroboros Sequence because Snakebird is behind the whole series and I knew I wasn’t going to be any wiser about my disaffection for Snakebird after reaching the end. The truth was in the title, up there in every episode. No revelations would be coming. We’d end in the same place as we started. Disaffected with Snakebird, reasons unknown.

And yet. And yet.

This journey has not been a waste of time.

We have returned to the beginning, to Snakebird. But things are most definitely not the same.

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4Feb/1938

Hole In My Chest

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

Consider the puzzle game as a mythmaker.

A plucky naive player sets out on a great journey. At first, they face simple trials through which they develop the confidence they will need to triumph against terrible odds. They encounter such incredible challenges that they feel they’re never going to make it. They emerge from this fire transformed and are now the true hero, the one to slay the final puzzle dragon.

But it’s a Sith dragon brandishing a lightsaber and despite the player’s transcension to herohood, they are no match for this terrifying foe.

The player, reluctantly, turns to a walkthrough for help. They copy out the moves.

The myth is dead.

It doesn’t feel heroic, it feels shitty. It feels like that dragon stabbed you through the fucking chest.

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30Jan/1926

All Roads

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

Back in the day when I was a beautiful youngling, skipping levels in arcade games like Pac-Man or Space Invaders was out of the question. You played from level one, every time. And early puzzle games did not escape the gravity of tradition; you played from puzzle one, every time. At least when I was making Sokobanlike The Citadel, I assigned each level a password so you didn't have to play through the whole game whenever you wanted to have a go. I still clung to three lives and a time limit, though.

In time, the Age of Player Punishment gave way to the Age of Contemplation. We've gone so much further than just skipping levels. Today, unless you’re playing something like a Puzzlescript game, your fancy puzzler is unlikely to force you through a list of non-negotiable challenges. I’ve previously discussed the level select as a tool to review the past; what we’re going to do today is discuss it as a road into the future.

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29Jan/197

Andromeda 14

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

Thursday March 16 2017 might sound just like any other day but you could not be more wrong. Take the first damn bus out of town wrong. It was a real red letter day just like when Gordon Freeman popped up in Half-Life 2. This particular Thursday was the day that saw... the release of Cosmic Express (Hazelden & Davis & Tyu, 2017). Be still my beating heart.

At the time, I did not realise the world had shifted axis. I didn’t rush out to buy this masterpiece because, frankly, I’d already poured my Christmas free time into Recursed (Portponky, 2017) and RYB (FLEB, 2016) and I wasn’t in the mood for another puzzle game. These were the dark days before I had focused my mind on a year-long project writing about puzzles called The Ouroboros Sequence.

Away from the electric puzzles in the real world, we had been house hunting. I’d become obsessed with this Traditional British Sport, studying local price trends, watching for new properties, jumping up and down in excitement whenever I saw a price drop. In truth, I hated house hunting with the kind of passion normally reserved for a Dark Souls boss but... if we were going to do this, we were going to do it right.

Then Cosmic Express designer Alan Hazelden sent me a free Steam key for the game and I was a little... resentful? Please, for the love of God, Alan, do not put this on my bloody plate. My cup of games runneth over.

But I saw others getting excited about Cosmic Express and exchanging stories of grief about how the puzzles were trolling them personally. I was jealous but had other things on my mind. On March 23, I tweeted “When you're reading other people's conversations about @Draknek's Cosmic Express and wish you were playing already.” Rezzed and a holiday in the Lake District were just around the corner.

On March 27, we saw yet another house. But I also loaded Cosmic Express up on my phone, as I felt bad that I hadn’t made use of the free key. It’s not like I was playing anything on the phone anyway.

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13Dec/1833

Dead in the Water

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

The Steam store page for genius puzzle game Recursed (Portponky, 2016) highlights two reviews.

One is my very own, published on Rock Paper Shotgun. I wrote “Recursed’s brilliance is how it spawns complexity from a few simple constraints.”

The other is from the one and only Jonathan Blow who worked on a puzzle game you might have heard about. “I played for a while,” wrote Blow, “but it seemed really slow / simple.”

I’m only going to warn you once. Strap yourselves in.

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13Nov/1829

The Monte Carlo Player

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

Monte Carlo simulation is a statistical technique where we let a computer rip through hundreds or thousands of randomized experiments, revealing a rich timescape of alternate futures from which we can make deductions. It’s a way of breaking an impasse of uncertainty in a problem. For example, we can use Monte Carlo methods to determine the fair price for a complex financial option whose payoff depends on the future movements of a stock.

And it struck me, as I was making random stabs at a level in Stephen’s Sausage Roll (Increpare Games, 2016), that puzzle enthusiasts engage in a similar exercise.

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8Nov/188

Tears for John Marston

On the suggestion of Andy Durdin, I'm reposting this essay from last week's newsletter onto the site. We've already had a little chat about it on the newsletter discussion page.

Did Rockstar impose 100-hour weeks on its employees or not? I don’t know, especially since Rockstar told its staff to fill the airwaves with happy stories of their Utopian Workscape. On their own time, I assume. I'm pretty sure they won't have enough free time to read Jason Schreier’s 10,000-word Kotaku investigation which alleges Rockstar employees were certainly put through serious crunch.

But whether Rockstar whips employees into 100-hour weeks or not is besides the point. We already know long hours are endemic to the AAA industry. Crunch and burnout are staples of a career in big box games. We’ve been told the tales about Telltale, EA, Team Bondi... but has any of this naming and shaming made any difference? My dismissal of the latest AAA death march team story might be mistaken for apathy. It is not.

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24Sep/189

Side by Side: Birdsketball

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is the fourth series, episode 9 of 11.

We reckon this is probably the most entertaining game of the series for spectators - and probably our second favourite game of the entire series, our favourite being rolled out in the final episode. Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance and Gregg Burnell of Tap-Repeatedly shoot some hoops, score some goals and flap those little wings in Birdsketball from Waynetron.

Very reminiscent of Pong, Birdsketball is crisp and handles wonderfully. Oh my God. So. Much. Fun. You have got to watch this.

If you enjoy the series, please like our videos and subscribe to our channel.

Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.

17Sep/183

Black Hole Heart

I went into the mobile title Holedown (grapefrukt, 2018) blind, having only heard a constant stream of praise and excitement for it from game dev Twitter. I’m not usually one for the herd so I kept my distance from it until last week, needing something new to fondle during my commute.

Holedown turned out to be the latest spin on Breakout (Atari, 1976) or what is more commonly referred to as a “brick-breaker” these days as I guess Breakout is totes old and some variations like Peggle (PopCap, 2007) maintain only a tenuous link to Breakout. The last Breakout game I really loved was Shatter (Sidhe Interactive, 2009) although I should admit I got a little buzz, more recently, out of Peggle.

Holedown, though, had me by the throat and wouldn’t let go.

Well, for three days, at least.

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9Sep/1814

Graveyard

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

Riddle me this. Aside from being logic puzzle games, what links the following titles?

Correct! They are all games I intended to finish but, instead, I never click on their desktop shortcuts, rendering part of my desktop a puzzle graveyard. But are they really dead?

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