Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


Countdown 2016, 14: A Clean Shot

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

defender wave complete

Have you read Léon Loves Tetris posted on 12 June 2013?

I wanted to make the comparison that what underpinned shooters was the same primal impulse that drives players through Tetris. But this is our starting point not our conclusion. There are consequences for the modern 3D shooter:

If you wonder why game stories are getting so dark, maybe it's because writers are having to work overtime to justify why it's actually okay to kill a few hundred NPCs that look just like real people. Developers can't keep aiming for photorealism if the primary mechanic that makes them money is cleaning.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Alex: "I wonder where this leaves games like Spec Ops and Max Payne 3"
  • BeamSplashX: "I don’t find the dichotomy of heroism and violence in games troubling in a real life context; the ability to discern fantasy from reality is the important thing to consider there."
  • Gregg B: "I finished watching Generation Kill this week and there’s bugger all shooting in it and that follows a US Marine Corps battalion during the invasion of Iraq."

Countdown 2016, 13: Mercenary

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read The First Open World posted on 23 September 2014?

I didn't cover all of the Atari 8-bit games I wanted to in the Where We Came From series. Three years later, I decided to cover one of the games that didn't make the cut. Originally meant to be a single article, my examination of Mercenary stretched over three parts. Mercenary is an example of an opportunity lost in videogame history: a non-violent open world adventure.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • ShaunCG: "A part of me wishes that I had been old enough to play some of these classics back in the 80s."
  • James Patton: "I had no idea this game existed!"
  • CdrJameson: "Elite’s universe was massive, but pretty bland."
  • Phlebas: "No wonder I’m easily disappointed these days."

Countdown 2016, 12: Starseed Spoilers

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read Faith of the Pilgrim posted on 11 May 2013?

Although The Five Stages of Starseed Pilgrim was widely appreciated, I followed up with a detailed analysis of how Starseed Pilgrim worked. Most of the reviewers and critics had been determined to keep the secrets of Starseed Pilgrim locked away (and we were left wondering if they had actually discovered all its secrets) but I decided to Hell with that. Especially as way too much coverage was obsessed with the mystery of the game, which was not why it was great.

I spilled all of the beans and was not shy about what I saw as problems. I'm just as proud of Faith of the Pilgrim as Five Stages but it's the latter that gets most of the attention.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • BeamSplashX: "Considering the amount of times I had to reassemble my mind with it constantly being blown while reading this, I’m actually rather glad I didn’t tackle this myself."
  • Morld Pil: "This captures a lot of my love/hate relationship with Starseed Pilgrim."
  • David T. Marchand: "We usually don’t want FPSs where it isn’t clear who you need to shoot. Nor do we like adventure games where we know we have to tie a rope to a stick but we also need to figure out how to tell the game that’s what we want. My opinion is that Starseed Pilgrim is exactly this."
  • Phlebas: "I disagree about some of those points of unfairness."
  • droqen: "The game doesn’t punish you for giving up, but everyone talking about it sure does. You punish yourself, though it’s not your fault."

Countdown 2016, 11: Community’s End

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

The Infinite Ocean screenshot: "The great madness is coming"

Have you read A Weaponized Machine posted on 11 September 2012?

We'd been deluding ourselves that a unified "indie community" existed, where everyone was happy and no one disagreed. For me, it was the $100 Greenlight fee issue that blew away that delusion. When you see that people like Michael Brough and Adam Saltsman are practically tweeting blows at each other, you know things are not the same any more. I just wanted Mummy and Daddy to stop fighting.

Developer Jonas Kyratzes seemed to be attracting a lot of flak for opposing the fee. In response, I created A Weaponized Machine which meshed a review of his wonderful point-and-click Flash piece The Infinite Ocean with some of the hard words flying around the internet.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Switchbreak: "Fantastic post. It does feel like it addresses something big."
  • Fede: "I really really didn’t expect such a division to bring out so much hate. It was painful to see from the outside."
  • StephenM3: "If any struggling-financially artist depends on a Steam release to find success, then we are all failing."
  • Jordan: "@EVERYONE– This is a good discussion. I wish the topic had been handled with as much civility everywhere."
  • James Patton: "I’m sorry, but I like Jonathan Blow. There, I’ve said it. Burn me as a fascist."

Countdown 2016, 10: Social Work

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Peter Andre on Sky News

Have you read The Ethics of Selling Children posted on 15 January 2013?

There are a couple of reasons I don't like writing meta stuff. One is that, well, people come for writing about games, not for writing about writing about games. The other is that increasingly over the years the online environment seems more unstable, more hazardous and you're just as likely to be stabbed in public by someone you thought was a friend as an opponent.

I was concerned about how writing - and not just in the games critic space - was turning into the ritual of baring your soul, offering your personal life for people to dissect.

I knew some writers would see this as a shot across the bows. And indeed they did. I stayed away from Twitter for a day to keep my sanity. There was some criticism of the term "confessional writing" which I wholly accept today as inaccurate and/or loaded. Some of the comments making comparisons with LiveJournal were considered brutal.

It blew over, of course. Most people continued what they were doing regardless of what I wrote. Is the essay still relevant? You tell me.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Jordan Rivas: "You’ve made me consider my own writing and that’s something I never want to stop doing."
  • Michael Brough: "I talk about money, because it’s a necessary constraint, because there are massive inequalities that may be invisible from the outside, but it’s hard for it not to come across as begging for some."
  • Eric Brasure: "Confessional writing is popular for the same reason gossip is popular. It just has a certain cultural reputation as being classier."
  • Jonas Kyratzes: "I am bothered, however, by how confessional writing can give the impression of emotional and artistic depth where there is very little."
  • Amanda Lange: "Whenever I read these highly confessional “gaming made me” articles, I try to guess what age the person was when they played the game in question."

Countdown 2016, 9: Man on the Edge

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Aspiration Preview III

Have you read The Aspiration posted between 25 January 2011 and 23 March 2011?

Alright, I have to tell those who have never read it, The Aspiration is one of the best pieces of writing on Electron Dance. Its nine-part run led to a huge swell in subscribers.

I knew Neptune's Pride was not a good fit for me, personally, but Kent Sutherland was such a nice guy that you couldn't say no. Don't worry, you can trust me, I'm a nice guy, just have a go. Okay, sure Kent. I expected to retire early because Neptune's Pride was already notorious for dominating its players' lives. I had a one-year old son and another child on the way and it would be impossible to commit the time that Neptune's Pride demanded.

Yet my life was trapped inside this game for four weeks. What started out as a bit of harmless fun and role play gradually disintegrated into a hellish experience which felt, at times, like riding along the jagged edge of a nervous breakdown.

Aspiration Preview II

I don't think I've ever played anything like Neptune's Pride. And I have no intention of playing anything like it again.

I wrote a diary every single day, keeping track of what was going on in the game and in my head. This eventually became the Neptune's Pride diary known as The Aspiration. It is gripping, painful and, most important of all, funny. Go read it.

Postscript: I often think about turning the series into a film, a streamlined account of what happened but I fear the scope of the project would absolutely destroy me.

From the comments:

  • Badger Commander: "Man, this is getting vicious."
  • Switchbreak: "I think had this blog not existed I would have seen you as an entirely benevolent force the whole time we played. Only now do I discover the depths of your machiavellian schemes!"
  • Armand: "Epic stuff so far HM. I really should go to bed, but I can’t tear myself away."
  • BeamSplashX: "I’m excited to see how this ends, got chills up my spine."
  • Badger Commander: "To my mind this was an even better write up than the one on RPS."

Countdown 2016, 8: A Long, Long Time Ago

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Armageddon Empires Map

Have you read the incomplete Armpit Empires posted between 29 April 2010 and 1 April 2011?

I didn't want this Advent calendar to just be all the "best bits" of Electron Dance. Today I'm linking a curiosity from the very beginnings of the site: Armpit Empires!

After a recommendation from RPS that Vic Davis' Armageddon Empires was fun, if you could just get over its bastard GUI and learning curve, I bought a copy. I think a few empty nights on a business trip is when I found the time to break the back of the game - and I was sucked into it. I had no history of deckbuilding games so I couldn't be bothered with any of that, so just relied on the default decks that came with the game.

Soon I became too good at Empires and the game lost its challenge. I decided to turn my knowledge into a series of tips with a humorous edge to them. I also referred to myself in the third-person back then and used the pseudonym "HM" - some old-timers still use this handle or "Harbour Master" out of habit. I planned ten short posts but only wrote nine of them. For at least two years I still thought I would go back and finish the series but I didn't want people to unsubscribe from the RSS feed after reading Part X of a series they never heard of.

I still find it amusing; it's not aged in that sense. That whole episode where I lost the game to a spider-drone - a miniature unit used for surveillance - was actually true:

If even the most pathetic excuse for an enemy unit arrives at your unsecured base, such as a relatively harmless spider bot, it will slip in and heat laser every man, woman and child to dead death smouldering crisp. All your base belong to them. And it will be your fault.

But unless you've played the game, probably no one knows what the hell I'm talking about. My intensely happy memories of Armageddon Empires made me buy Occult Chronicles but I always get hung up on the rules. One of these days you will get that brilliant piece I've wanted to do for a long time which compares Occult Chronicles to Elder Sign: Omens.

(You know, I'd probably lurvvvve Netrunner if I knew anyone in the reals world who played it.)

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Uh, there are virtually no comments. Or views for that matter.

Countdown 2016, 7: Conviction

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read Amateur Dramatics posted on 17 May 2011?

Uh, this one might have started with indignation again and it's related to Vaulting the Grave which turned up a few days ago. Some players and critics get upset when a game doesn't make them feel completely immersed and the façade falls away to reveal its clockwork mechanisms.

In many cases, I feel like the fault lies with the players for not trying hard enough. Players forget they are supposed to play a role and the theatre of a game will not survive a player's persistent rebellion. Do you want games that allow you to do everything or allow you to play the role? These are extremely different goals. In movie-focused AAA, most games are heavily weighted towards role play than making your own story, no matter what people would have you believe.

Believing that ludonarrative dissonance is a serious problem does not automatically make it a serious problem for everyone. But it can make it a serious problem for you.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Ben Abraham: "one of the interests that grew out of my permadeath run was exactly this issue you’re talking about: grooming better audiences, or ‘auditioning’ the best ones, as you put it"
  • BeamSplashX: "we really can’t have it both ways, but audiences demand it more and more"
  • Gregg B: "Hundreds of thousands of people love [Minecraft] but I can’t get my head around the role. "
  • Jordan: "Everything contrived is an attempt to replicate something genuine and often spontaneous"

Countdown 2016, 6: Gold Star For You

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read The Dishonest Player posted on 20 February 2014?

Another slice of Electron Dance indignation! I'd become upset that Full Bore, a puzzle game I thought was pretty damn good, was insulted for not having enough in the way of rewards for completing puzzles. I thought the joy was in solving the puzzles? And it wasn't the first time I'd seen this sentiment.

So I wrote about The Dishonest Player who says they want depth and none of that cheevo bullshit yet throws the toys out of the pram if the game doesn't pat them on the head whenever they complete a challenge.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Shaun CG: "I’m conscious that it may sound like I’m becoming another Dark Souls bore" me too Shaun
  • James Patton: "My question is, if you dangle a reward in front of your player, which do you fall into?"
  • BeamSplashX: "Max Payne 2 makes it a point to put rewards at the end of every hallway- the original did not"
  • Matt W: "What about a book of crossword puzzles? Do we feel unfulfilled when we haven’t done every puzzle in the book?"

Countdown 2016, 5: The Mystery in Mafia

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Tommy looks concerned

Have you read Those Honeymoon Hours posted on 29 November 2011?

Christopher Lampton talks about the "sublime confusion" experienced at the start of a computer game, before you've bedded in and learnt how it works. He thinks this confusion is essential for a game to be great.

Those Honeymoon Hours used Mafia to demonstrate this concept. I approached it from a different angle, that of sadness when the player goes professional, having become comfortable with its systems. Bring on the save scumming. Bring on the min-maxing. You can't get away from this and I'm not sure it is a good idea to try: think back to Arithmophobia recently where the predictability and familiarity of numbers was celebrated by RPG enthusiasts. But Those Honeymoon Hours are sometimes the best.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Pippin Barr: "I absolutely cherish that early period when it’s all strange and new."
  • Steerpike: "I wonder if it would be possible to make a series of games that are nothing but first moments."
  • Amanda Lange: "You know, I feel this, but at the same time, I kind of don’t agree."
  • Badger Commander: "I played through the beginning 4 times and then sort of got bored."