Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


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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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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Twilight’s Last Gaming 2019/4: Stephen’s Sausage Roll

I don't do Game of the Year, but I can do the games I enjoyed the most this year. This is the final of four.

I began adapting The Ouroboros Sequence into a book earlier this year - this seemed like a project I could complete more quickly than The Weapons of Progress. However, Ouroboros was a journey to a destination unknown and attempting to reformulate it as a book cast a harsh light onto some of its gaps. One of these was Stephen’s Sausage Roll (Increpare Games, 2016) a game drizzled with sausage hype yet there were plenty of people who got stuck and downed tools. I had played it twice before but never made great progress, having little success in training the puzzle monkey in my brain to understand its architecture.

But I knew what to do as Ouroboros had delivered a terrible revelation. I needed to start Stephen's Sausage Roll again from the very beginning, and approach it with a mindful attitude, engaging instead of just trying to finish it. That completionist drive is a terrible mindset for a puzzle game. If you always focus on the horizon, you'll find yourself tripping over every crack in the broken pavement, every gnarled tree root bursting from the ground.

This project started on August 30 and within two days I had swept through the first two "stages" of Stephen's Sausage Roll. I was heartened and somewhat amazed that puzzle monkey brain seemed to understand the mechanics so well; I was building from first principles not recalling solutions. My old nemesis, The Great Tower, gave me some pause, but I ploughed through it a second time and I was ready for virgin territory: the third, snowy stage.

Naturally, progress slowed but was constant and my determination never faltered. In time, I made it to the fourth stage and Electron Dance reader Matt W kept submitting ROT13 commentary at me on random threads. I was never alone. Eyes were always watching.

I found Stephen's Sausage Roll fascinating. The mechanics were, in theory, simple, but full of terrifying nuances that you needed to master to stand a chance of defeating it. I dabbled in Monte Carlo - brute force exploration - at times such as in brainbleed levels like Crunchy Leaves, but mostly I felt like I solved them. It made me feel like a winner.

Then: the fifth stage. It was crawling with puzzles. With so many sausage mechanics now on the table, I suspected Stephen's Sausage Roll would soon run out of road. The end was nigh.

You absolute fool.

The crucial level, around which the entire game pivots and becomes something else, is an innocuous seemingly-impossible level called Dead End. It contains a secret that is so unexpected and deliriously incredible that I laughed out loud. It's a bit like "that secret" in The Witness but... more profound in some ways?

Nothing was ever the same again after that. Sure, I finished the game. But nothing was ever the same again after that.

Stephen's Sausage Roll is available from Steam or Humble for PC, Mac or Linux.


Twilight’s Last Gaming 2019/3: INFRA

I don't do Game of the Year, but I can do the games I enjoyed the most this year. This is the third of four.

INFRA (Loiste Interactive, 2016) is a wacky, strange one. You are structural analyst Mark, sent out to review some crumbling infrastructure. Initially, it appears to be a loosely linear first-person adventure in which your primary goal is to take photos of structural issues with a few simple puzzles to inhibit progress. Despite not being an open world, INFRA has a subtle exploration quality to it which I found beguiling.

Perhaps I should've known when a corridor was "blocked" by some colleagues who were chatting in the office that maybe this was going to be a rough ride. Because INFRA repeatedly turns to obtuse puzzles that often have unreadable feedback. And the story, which initially sounded quite realistic, warps into the ridiculous. It also has an unappealling obsession with luminous green mushrooms.

I spent 33 hours in INFRA over a period of eight months. How did I keep going? Well, there were such sights in the game - I genuinely enjoyed the places that INFRA sent me to, while hating the hoops it made me jump through to reach them. The end was, admittedly, a struggle, because the whole game is set over a single day and INFRA's dark night offered little in the way of cool visuals. How realistic were INFRA's environments? I couldn't tell you. Early on, I suspected the developers had done their homework. But towards the end, I had the feeling they were just very good at winging it.

Despite its janky design, INFRA is an incredible achievement - a huge and expansive explorer's dream. And it became one of my son's favourite games of all-time because of all the fascinating places we got to visit and explore at our leisure. Personally, I'd jot it down as one of my top love/hate games of all-time: if I'd played more Outer Wilds this year, I suspect it would've edged INFRA out of this list.

INFRA is available from Steam.


Twilight’s Last Gaming 2019/2: Eastshade

I don't do Game of the Year, but I can do the games I enjoyed the most this year. This is the second of four.

There's no argument that Eastshade (Eastshade Studios, 2019) is a beautiful game. It isn't beautiful all of the time, no. It's not great at close-ups, nor panoramic landscapes. But get Eastshade in the right mood and, boy, you can screenshot a Twitter thread for six months.

Pitched as an open-world game based around painting vistas, it morphed more into an open-world game with fetch quests. Which makes it sound more like your regular open-world game. But that forgets Eastshade has no violence. Frankly, you've got nothing else to do except wander around and paint pictures, so why not help the occasional local with their problem? Is Kai at the apothecary a bad 'un? Who is the thief at Sinkwood inn? Who is responsible for the drumming in the forest at night?

Eastshade is like spending the time inside a children's book; few of the characters you meet are villains and most times people are just misunderstood. Thus Eastshade isn't big on moral quandries but it has a few - I rejected one quest outright as I wanted nothing to do with it. It's more about a sense of place, doing good and embracing community. It's not perfect because it never truly engaged me and for a game about painting it did a great job of sending me off on errands that didn't involve painting.

But Eastshade feels unique and was definitely worth the journey. I will be writing something more substantial about Eastshade in the near future.

Eastshade is available on PC from Steam or itch.io, and also on Xbox and PS4.


Twilight’s Last Gaming 2019/1: Guildmaster Story

I don't do Game of the Year, but I can do the games I enjoyed the most this year. This is the first of four.

Guildmaster Story (WZO Games, 2019) is an honorary entry in this year's Most Enjoyed List because I lost the will to play after a certain point - but the Will O'Neill kept me going.

Guildmaster Story is a basic Match-3 game with a story told in cutscenes between the levels. I played on mobile which was a free-to-play affair with certain levels designed to encourage players to splash cash on powerups, otherwise you'd spend eternity trying to get lucky enough to make progress. The Steam version does not support the microtransactions, so it's probably less wearying.

But the genius here is O'Neill's blackly comic writing which translates Silicon Valley capitalism and the gig economy into a fantasy setting. For example, adventurers doing menial tasks for XP is a stand-in for interns who take no salary. There are some clever juxtapositions here and a real fire propelling it forward. Initially you're hoping that anti-hero protagonist Ganyo might turn things around and become a genuine human being but as the game progresses your dreams become much more mundane: you'll be satisfied if he suffers a horrible death.

Sure, some of the comedy is on the nose but it's so well done I wrote a month-long Twitter thread on the it. It even seems to taunt you for playing a game with microtransactions, you fool.

Guildmaster Story is available from Steam, Google Play and the App Store.


Side by Side: Disobedient Sheep

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is the final episode of the fifth series.

Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance and Gregg Burnell of Tap-Repeatedly look after some Disobedient Sheep in Sickly Dove's upcoming local multiplayer sheepdog simulator. In the standard co-op mode, players endeavour to keep the sheep out of trouble. Trouble can mean boulders rolling through the field, anchors falling from the sky or - even better - some dynamite thrown amongst the flock. It seems someone is a little too eager for the silence of the lambs. Additionally, there are numerous competitive modes such as competitive survival, where you must bark your opponent's flock into danger, and King of the Hill.

Joel was so impressed with this back at EGX Rezzed he quietly shuffled it out of the Dabbling With series in favour of an exclusive, detailed look in Side by Side. Developer Laurie James was kind enough to send him a pre-release copy for the series.

From what we understand, the game was pretty much done when Gregg and Joel played it and it was slated for a September release. Some issues unrelated to the development have kept it in a holding pattern and we planned to wheel out this episode on release week. Sadly, it looks like the release has slipped into 2020 - but there's nothing stopping you adding this to your Steam wishlist!

If you enjoy the series, please like our videos and subscribe to the Side by Side channel. Although this is the final episode of the series, there will be a bonus episode in January.

Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.


Side by Side: At Sundown

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is the fourteenth episode of the fifth series.

Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance and Gregg Burnell of Tap-Repeatedly go back to a game they encountered three years ago at EGX Rezzed - Mild Beast Games' At Sundown: Shots in the Dark.

Labelled a "hide-and-seek" shooter, players are invisible while lurking in the dark in this top-down multiplayer deathmatch. They can give away their location if they fire their weapon - provided a flash of lightning doesn't do it first. This makes At Sundown tense but when the tension pops, you often find players run around like headless chickens firing in random directions, desperate to fend off an invisible pursuer.

While At Sundown and concept-a-like Invisigun Heroes both entered the public consciousness in 2016, Kickstartered Invisigun Heroes beat At Sundown to release: Invisigun Heroes was done and dusted the following year while At Sundown just made it into digital stores this January. The two games are by no means identical but Gregg, having played both, admits he prefers At Sundown.

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

Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.