Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

13Nov/1811

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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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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18Sep/1640

Arithmophobia II: The Numbers Strike Back

mountblade-gwaul

So I had this week's post Arithmophobia in my head for months as “write some words on how RPG numbers put me off playing” using The Story of Thor and Dark Souls as examples from different sides of the numerical wall. It was meant to be short, more about these individual games, but something happened on the way to the Publish button: I started to question why those numbers were important.

I had no conclusion so instead turned the ending into an invitation to discuss. And a lot of people got in touch, through the comments and on Twitter. This has been great and helped sharpen up my thoughts.

This post is a more structured take on RPG stats than the original Arithmophobia, touching on different aspects such as grind, feedback, accessibility and more. It was supposed to be short. Who would have guessed that evaluating the role of numbers in an RPG turns out to be a goddamn rabbit hole...

To show I’m not biased against numbers, I’m going to number every subsection. P.S. I also have a PhD in mathematics.

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11Dec/15Off

Chekhov’s Collectible

GTA 3 hidden package

“One of the weirdest / saddest design exp I had: [Bioshock 2] playtesters carefully loot every container for hours, then report hating every moment.”

-- Zak McClendon, Lead Designer on Bioshock 2

The car smashes through the glass front of Easy Credit Autos and I brake to a halt. I hop out of the car, run to the back of the showroom and grab the package. Nothing happens. No one wants this package. No one even gets upset at the damage, which will be repaired without fuss while I am away.

I was a moth to the dull flame of the hidden packages of GTA III (Rockstar, 2001), pieces of virtual tat that simply add one to a meaningless counter. I continued to burn rubber for hour after hour until I had found every last package.

They’re just one example of the now ubiquitous collectible. Today I’d like to introduce the collective noun for the collectible: a fucking plague.

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29Oct/15Off

Talos, 3: Where The Words End, The World Ends

This is the final part of a three-part essay on The Talos Principle which includes commentary from writers Jonas Kyratzes and Tom Jubert. The first part and second parts were posted earlier this week.

Talos-P3-World3-2015-09-06_00006

“There was nothing here when I first arrived. Did you know that?”

After completing The Talos Principle, I immediately bought The Road to Gehenna. Whereas I played Talos over nine months, I was more aggressive in working through Gehenna, tearing through it in a matter of weeks... although I fear the word “tear” has overstated my skills. It would be more accurate to write I “oozed through it like syrup”.

Gehenna is incredible. It’s so good that I now tend to think of Talos as a prequel to Gehenna.

Spoilers for The Talos Principle and The Road to Gehenna follow.

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28Oct/15Off

Talos, 2: I Am The Words

This is the second part of a three-part essay on The Talos Principle which includes commentary from writers Jonas Kyratzes and Tom Jubert. The first part was posted yesterday.

Talos-P2-QR-2014-12-12 01-43-36-50

“I see now that none of us are yet ready. The cycle exists so that we may improve ourselves. But the one who reaches the summit is not our superior, for they stand on our shoulders to reach it.”

-- The Shepherd v82.6.0174

When I first saw the QR texts, I sighed. Jesus, not another game with it’s-not-exposition-honest-guv graffiti on the wall! I initially paid little attention to them, reading them out of a completist need to do everything. But gradually I realised the walls held stories.

Spoilers for The Talos Principle follow.

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27Oct/15Off

Talos, 1: The Words Made The World

This is the first part of a three-part essay on The Talos Principle which includes commentary from writers Jonas Kyratzes and Tom Jubert.

Talos Beams

“In the beginning were the Words, and the Words made the world. I am the Words. The Words are everything. Where the Words end the world ends. You cannot go forward in an absence of space. Repeat.”

The most glorious moment in The Talos Principle (Croteam, 2014) is one that comes again and again. The moment occurs when a “sigil” is liberated from a devious puzzle, but the sigil itself is an empty token of advancement, the kind of dull trinket that games thrive on. No. The sigil has no power.

Turn around. Don’t speed on to the next challenge, just stop. Turn around and survey the glorious red and blue stitchwork you've sewn across the puzzle. Look at this ingenious thing you have made and be proud.

Spoilers for The Infinite Ocean and The Talos Principle follow.

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