Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


The Lost World

It happened without warning, as it often does. My wife’s hard drive died.

This was 2016. Everything of value had been on a separate data drive which was, of course, backed up. But this was the Windows drive which we never bothered to back up. It rarely seemed worth it and, personally, I like the opportunity to start afresh on a new drive.

But then I remembered Minecraft... and the blood drained from my face.

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Reverse Shock

This is the third in a series of short musings on Control. The first was Behind the Poster and the second was Use of Weapons.

There will be spoilers.

Black Rock Quarry in Control is a visual wonder. Few games get me to marvel at rock - caves were the worst part of INFRA (Loiste Interactive, 2016) - but, my God, I was screenshotting up a whole folder of rock formations. Here’s some rock. Here’s Jesse standing in front of some more rock. Here’s Jesse looking into the distance, by some rock.

Combat in Control was settling down, a little too much. I was comfortable with most fights and had become somewhat complacent. Bored, even. But the quarry threw a screwball into the process.

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Phase Two

At Rezzed in 2016, I dabbled with a game called Vignettes, which I described as “a Vectorpark game not made by Vectorpark.” It was simple but genius: rotate object in 3D space until its silhouette matches the silhouette of another object – into which it then transforms. And repeat to find more objects. It was a little rough around the edges, being an early build, but intriguing.

Not intriguing enough for me to snap it up when it came out on mobile in 2017. Nor desktop last year. My imagination couldn’t fill in a particularly daunting blank: what else could there be except rotating objects into objects ad infinitum?

Unable to answer this question, I waited two years before trying Vignettes (Skeleton Business, 2017). And that’s a shame.

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Save Everybody

“He’s here! Alpha level, near the service shaft!” came Neil’s distorted voice through the walkie-talkie. Neil was one of the sharpest guns in SubSec but it was unlikely he could take down the Orange Ghost alone.

Sonia was on Delta, a full minute away from Neil if she sprinted up three levels of stairwell. She could take the service elevator but it was a sluggish thing designed to shift fragile equipment. Someone had mentioned getting a fast elevator installed to relocate security in a time of crisis. Money doesn’t grow on trees, they had been told. At least not until the city-in-progress had been completed.

Gunfire crackled over the walkie-talkie... and then it went dead. That probably went for Neil too. Oh God. That SubSec elevator had been Neil’s idea.

Sonia spotted the service elevator was now on its way down from where Neil was killed. She had a hunch who was inside.

She took up position behind a pillar opposite the elevator, aiming her handgun at the doors. Sweating, she watched the floor indicator. Beta. Gamma. Delta. Ping. The doors opened with a grunt.

There he was. The strange man in his orange exoskeleton covered in alien writing. The bastard who had slowly been killing his way through the other waystations and offices across the globe, searching for the underwater city-in-progress. He looked uncertainly out of the elevator, raising an assault rifle that had seen better days.

Sonia fired three times. Two hit the chest plate of the Orange Ghost's exoskeleton, but the third found his forehead. He slumped against the wall and slid down. His rifle clattered on the floor.

Sonia ran over to make sure he was dead, just as a small silver display on the Orange Ghost’s left arm flickered. Some text appeared. It looked like QUICK 10 AD? Or maybe LOAD? She leaned down to

Sonia spotted the service elevator was now on its way down from where Neil was killed. She had a hunch who was inside.

She took up position behind a pillar opposite the elevator, aiming her handgun at the doors. Sweating, she watched the floor indicator. Beta. Gamma. Delta. Ping. The doors opened with a grunt.

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Use of Weapons

This is the second in a series of short musings on Control. The first was Behind the Poster.

There will be spoilers.

The first boss battle is with a floating person called Alberto Tommasi. Al pushed me to the brink. I considered quitting Control, despite the hefty sum I had exchanged for it.

Boss battles are often exercises in choreography where you have to improvise your footsteps against a partner who knows every move. Learning to dance through bruises and blood. Al would float around, throw a rock at Jesse and she would always get it in the face. The rocks came quicker than I could make Jesse dodge. After a couple of hits Jesse was ex-Jesse.

And then I watched the loading screen for two minutes.

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A Donation for The Button

What can I say about Interactivity: The Interactive Experience (Aetheric Games, 2019) outside of its unbearably long name and its unrealistically shiny environment powered by Unreal?

Interactivity belongs to that category of “games about games” and is reminiscent of The Stanley Parable (Wreden & Pugh, 2013). At first I thought it was a little bit too Stanley, but it charts its own course. Frustrating in places but the frustration is also sometimes the point. I liked it.

It’s quite short but I’m about to spoil it with extreme prejudice - and by that, I mean spoil it to commercial death - so you should go check it out if you want to draw your own opinions first.

Advance ye not who fear the spoiler.

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Discussion: Expect the Expected

Welcome to the November newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

Sometimes I think the worst thing that happened to Valve was creating Steam because it took all the artistic videogame fire out of its belly. Say hello to the sleek new Valve 2, videogame rentier.

Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.


Behind the Poster

This is the first in a series of short musings on Control.

When I want to write about a game I like, it takes way longer than you might think. There’s an obsession to assemble an artwork of words that befits the title, something that feels as unique as the experience it delivered. That process never feels like a natural consequence of a great game; it’s not as if a game is an untapped seam of minerals and all I had to do was mine it for words. I’m looking for an essay that gives me peace, that looks like I've bled the memory directly onto the page. Write. Delete. Write. Delete. Go to bed. Format the drive. Start again.

I feel some remorse over my brutal carelessness towards a game which inspires derision. I can be cavalier with the words as all you have to do is swing that axe and the job is done. But what about the shrug game, the “meh”? How much brain juice needs to be expended on something that’s, uh, okay, I suppose? I will send my finest soldiers to the four corners of the world in search of exotic prose that conjures the most average of reactions. Now that’s real tricky, I think, as I write up my feelings after three hours of Control (Remedy Entertainment, 2019).

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Go the Distance

I am a skillful operator in the field of self-deception. I said I was going to give my mobile gaming a rest. I needed to do other things on my daily commute instead of playing games, like look out of the window. That might sound like a joke to you, but I haven't seen a train window since I acquired a smartphone six years ago.

I uninstalled all the puzzle games I had been working on but there were a few evergreen titles that had to stay. There’s Dissembler (Ian MacLarty, 2018) for example, whose daily challenges can easily suck me in for weeks. But there’s also the roguelike Hoplite (Doug Crowley, 2013).

The last time I was on a Hoplite roll, I stopped playing because, after hours of commuting hours sacrificed to the sweaty swipe, I couldn’t earn the “Speed Run” achievement.

Cards on the table. 2019 has not been kind to me. I needed not merely a distraction, but a small victory.

I decided to take on Hoplite again. And this time... I would win.

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Remade In Their Image

I thought I had no preconceptions when launching Feather (Samurai Punk, 2019). It was something about being a bird. Possibly an exploration game.

Turned out I was not far off the mark: I was indeed a bird who could fly anywhere I wanted on an island. Oh, I also saw these throbbing hoops, inviting me to fly through them.

Did you catch it? Did you spot my reaction to the hoops? Let me zoom in, Bladerunner style, because it’s quite faint. Enhance: Oh.

I assumed the hoops were a form of collectible. That I must fly through each to complete the island. Oh, of course. Another game selling out its explorer fanbase for the goal hunters. Oh.

This isn’t the punchline because more experience with Feather revealed I was wrong. The hoops were not collectibles at all and Feather was completely not that type of game.

Yet I wondered about that instinctive rejection and what it was a symptom of.

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Filed under: Longform 23 Comments