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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.


Twilight’s Last Gaming 2018/3: Dissembler

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 three.

Dissembler (Ian MacLarty, 2018) and I were inseparable for months.

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Twilight’s Last Gaming 2018/2: Subnautica

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 three.

In Miasmata (IonFX, 2012) your primary adversary is the landscape. It is easy to become lost unless you approach the world with care. Nothing else has quite scratched that same itch but Subnautica (Unknown Worlds, 2018) came close. The underwater world of Subnautica is beguiling yet terrifying. Open yet inaccessible.

If the exploration component was packaged in a crate it would bear the legend: "Handle With Care".

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Twilight’s Last Gaming 2018/1: Cultist Simulator

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 three.

I had a peculiar relationship with card game Cultist Simulator (Weather Factory, 2018). It was a bit... S&M.

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