Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

27Oct/140

When Is It OK To Spoil A Mechanic?

kompendium-extra-exuberant-struggle

My latest Rock Paper Shotgun piece went up a few hours ago. It contrasts Michael Brough's local multiplayer epic Kompendium with Alexander "droqen" Martin’s Starseed Pilgrim, highlighting how both games have a spoilery exterior that prevents you from talking about them in too much detail.

Here's an excerpt:

We were locked in a duel with unknown rules – so we talked rather than competed, exchanging theories about what we were supposed to do. Even though each game in Kompendium is a fight to the win, the ambiguity of its rules means players often start out in a cooperative struggle against a common enemy: the opaque system.

Of course, there’s a dangerous point after this where the fog lifts more quickly for one player than the other and they acquire the knowledge to win. I figured out “March Eternal” before Gregg did and had to consider whether to explain to him what I had figured out. I considered it and then I destroyed him.

Why not go and read it?

23Oct/1413

Vault the Grave

vault-the-grave

Look, this is going to be a short post as I am still working on resurrecting my PC. The above image from Watch Dogs (Ubisoft Montreal, 2014) snowballed on Twitter this month. Perhaps the one with 2,000 retweets is the original although I've found a mention of this unfortunate juxtaposition back in June on the Giant Bomb forums:

How about after his tear jerking moment at the grave, you are immediately presented with a "Vault" prompt on the tombstone. I hoped over my niece's grave 4 times, having a good laugh at how silly it was.

It's true. Over the grave of the protagonist’s niece hovers a ghost. A ghost called Vault. This means we can finally discard that monstrosity ludonarrative dissonance and instead write the game vaults the grave.

It’s a brilliant example of where systems clash with narrative intent but... also misses the point.

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23Sep/1414

The First Open World, Part One

This is an appendix to the Where We Came From series.

mddclone-bridge

For Mercenary, author Paul Woakes, has created what can only be described as a world simulator. The first release using this technique is sub-titled "Escape From Targ".

– Mercenary: Escape from Targ instructions

Paul Woakes’ debut title on the Atari 8-bit home computer was a tense and memorable re-imagining of Battlezone (Atari, 1980) called Encounter! (Novagen Software, 1984), using vibrant raster graphics instead of the flickering green wireframes of the Atari arcade original. It quickly became a favourite for Atari owners who liked their action games to be fast and responsive.

From A.N.A.L.O.G Magazine #20 (July 1984)

From A.N.A.L.O.G Magazine #20 (July 1984)

Shortly after, hints of Woakes’ followup title began to seep into the news sections of computer magazines. What could Atari owners expect next from a developer whose first title had conquered the action genre?

A first-person 3D open world offering intrigue and complete freedom to explore a planet.

In 1985.  

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5Aug/144

Wot I Think: Quarries of Scred

qos-pelagic2

This week I've written a proper review of Quarries of Scred (Noble Kale, 2014) for Rock Paper Shotgun. Go have a read.

But I'm going to add a little bit more here, a Quarries anecdote from the weekend. Minor mechanical spoilers.   

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16Jul/1419

Screw Your Walking Simulators

naissancee

It’s while I’m pacing through the haunting, empty megalopolis of NaissanceE (LimasseFive, 2014) that it occurs to me. I’ve had enough of the derogatory phrase “walking simulators” even though some are attempting to adopt the term as a positive label. Ya know... that doesn't mean I have to like it.

This kind of crap goes a lot further than “walking simulator”. Game have also been characterized negatively as toys. Or a theme park rides. It's all about the magic ambrosia known as “interactivity” which is as well defined as a drop of water in a puddle, because “sitting, walking, listening, looking, playing, just fucking being is interaction”.

Attempting to rigorously define interactivity is about as joyous as rigorously defining the word game into your preferred pigeon hole. You might see healthy debate in this conversation. I see a black hole event horizon through which my will to live is disappearing.

Anyway, that's enough of that. Especially as you've probably figured out that today I want to discuss “himitsu-bako”.   

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1Jul/1415

#warningsigns: A Short Film About Videogames

ws-progress

A detective searches for answers after investigating a mysterious series of crimes. But the answers find him first.

#warningsigns is a short film about videogames and the future. Twitter has already issued its verdict:

"a subversive and challenging video about games, gamedev and journalism"

"interesting and unsettling, something I'll have to watch again"

"intelligent and masterfully crafted"

"#warningsigns is terrific"

"I lasted three minutes"

And Kieron Gillen has also put in a nice word. You should set aside fifteen minutes to watch the entire film. If you have the bandwidth and screen estate, please note you can watch at 1080p HD resolution. The film, preview screenshots and credits can be found below.

A year in the making. Turn out the lights and settle down. This is #warningsigns.   

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17Jun/1436

Faltering Faith in Twine’s Teaching

HM is on sabbatical for June and guest writers are filling in for him. This week it’s the turn of Dan Cox, who has previously written for Nightmare Mode and been a strong supporter of Twine. He has authored both a Gamasutra series on Learning Twine and a video tutorial series. He has also figured out how to use Google Drive to host Twine, explained how Twine authors could distribute and sell their work through itch.io and, most recently, been working on getting Twine to work on Ouya.

legoland-buck-palace

In many ways, I’ve come to think of Twine as a religion of sorts as I’ve watched the tool and its greater community grow these last two years. It has its followers, rituals, and customs. It has its saints and celebrities. There are numerous sites and people dedicated to promoting it and, of course, it definitely has its detractors. Yet, if I view my own relationship with Twine in this light, I think I might now describe myself as having lost my faith.

I am no longer comfortable with some of the community practices. I feel that Twine's two core promises, that it doesn’t require programming and is for everyone, have changed. What I once promoted as tenets of the Twine “faith” I no longer believe or celebrate. I’ve increasingly become worried that the Twine community might be headed in the wrong direction.  

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5Jun/146

The Self and Software

Last month, while writing an article for Rock Paper Shotgun, HM asked several developers for their thoughts on the physical interface between player and game. Robin Arnott, the audio engineer behind Deep Sea and Soundself, responded with a short essay. Extracts of this essay appeared in the completed article, but today Electron Dance presents the essay in full.

soundself-1

The original motivation behind Deep Sea was a dirt simple question: how do I maximize immersion? It was a curiosity drive! I started out knowing from my own experience that fear can short-cut the rational mind and touch players at a pre-cognitive level. But all the design decisions, like blinding the player, or playing back their breathing to obscure the critical information, all of that was me blindly reaching into the darkness and holding onto what seemed to work. I'm very fortunate to have stumbled onto some ideas that worked incredibly well, but the great irony of Deep Sea's development is that I didn't know why they worked. It took about two years of watching people play Deep Sea for me to reverse-engineer my own game and figure out the why.     

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21May/149

Of Mice and Gamepads

musclecat-showdown-controller-photo-george-buckenham

Okay, this is an actual first. I have written an article for Rock Paper Shotgun.

Since the last Warm Up, I’ve had this idea about using Luxuria Superbia (Tale of Tales, 2013) as a starting point to discuss how controllers define the kinds of games we can make. But then recently I was asked if I’d like to write for RPS and came to the conclusion this piece on the physical player/game interface would suit them.

But I made it bigger. I did some Q & A with Doug Wilson, George Buckenham, Robin Arnott, Steve Willey and Tale of Tales to beef it up into something more substantial than a personal opinion piece.

Here's an excerpt:

Wilson can only see Microsoft’s recent decision to make Kinect optional for Xbox One as a negative development. By reducing the number of players who own Kinect, the financial risk for developers increases and, inevitably, chokes off the supply of games. “Console-based motion control and physical play was already largely ‘dead,’ but Microsoft dropping the Kinect is a symbolic moment – another nail in the coffin. What Microsoft lacked was developers who knew how to think beyond the immersive fallacy and subvert technological constraints. As I see it, Microsoft could have done a better job supporting and incentivizing Kinect developers.”

The finished article is up on Rock Paper Shotgun right now.

(And, yes, this is precisely why Oil and Water was late last week.)

1Apr/1437

Stop Crying About Choice

inland-empire

In his epic Dark Souls Diaries series, Matt “Steerpike” Sakey wrote about a key moment when he felt guilty for killing an NPC he had intended to save. Sakey didn’t have long to mourn. Rather than leave him to wallow in his misery, one commenter told him there was actually nothing he could do. Don’t feel bad about it.

Player guilt is so easily destroyed, it seems, if we learn everything is a foregone conclusion. We are fascinated by what lies behind the curtain and the fear that the game might be making a fool of us, exploiting us through an illusion of agency. No one wants to be Stanley of The Stanley Parable (Galactic Café, 2013), the developer’s puppet.

We crave the weight of consequence yet revel in its destruction. How do we make sense of this contradiction? 

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