Electron Dance

Discussion: Ham on the Holodeck


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  1. “Now let us not speak of this again”

    Ah ha ha ha ha ha

    “And this focus on the bad game story eclipses the truth that few stories in any media are actually brilliant works of art”

    This is a most excellent point. Rubbish stories have been made great by excellent literary or visual execution in other media for generations, there is absolutely no reason for games to be any different.

  2. Crap, that’s twice I’ve been anonymous when I didn’t mean to be. I take full responsibility for that comment, despite appearances.

  3. “Rubbish stories have been made great by excellent literary or visual execution in other media for generations, there is absolutely no reason for games to be any different.”

    Yeah, I’d even go on to say that the story per se isn’t the brilliant work of art in anything. Even in a novel it’s not the story but the execution–the story as a plot summary isn’t the great work of art. Similarly one might say something about the banality of the sentiments in games that aim for poetry–cast a cold eye on a poem like “When You Are Old And Grey and Full of Sleep” and you realize that it’s saying “Someday you, hot chick, will realize that what you really needed was a nice guy like me but it will be TOO LATE” and, ew. But it’s still a great poem because boiling it down to the underlying sentiment boils off everything that makes it poetic.*

    On the other hand someone was regaling the intfiction forums with how interactive fiction had never managed to achieve an amazing moment like the climactic revelation in Spec Ops: The Line, which he described, and I was like “Holy hell I’ve seen that as #7 on a list of the ten worst movie twists ever, tied with itself because it was in two movies, if that’s the best videogame stories can do it’s sad.”

    Anyhow there should be games with stories that are important to the game and also games where the story is just a hook and also games with basically no story at all. Anyone want to talk about Stephen’s Sausage Roll?

    *”OK, Weiner, so if what you’re saying is that a game can be poetic even if the underlying message is banal, what are some games that you find poetic in this way?” Ooh. Um. Er. So if I name poetic games I’d start with Walk or Die and then maybe Kentucky Route Zero and Ruins and Balloon Diaspora, and absolutely Nightsky, but none of those really has the easily-distilled banal message, maybe? Knytt Underground kind of does, and is effective with it. For some reason what’s coming to mind now as banal message effectively communicated poetically through game is Fathom by Adam Atomic. And Gravitation by Jason Rohrer. I hate myself for that.

  4. @kfix I toyed with writing “Now let us not speak of this again (except in the coments)” but I preferred the blunt finality!

    @Matt A good point that the “reduction” of any plot is, effectively, raw material, that is not interesting. It’s a tweet, possibly a good one, but it’s a tweet. But having believable characters, cause and effect that makes sense, interesting philosophical implications… all of these add more to a plot. But you see what’s going on here, right Matt? There’s an assumption about what “story” is.

    I’ve seen the skinning of a game, its thematic canvas, likened to “story”. Environmental storytelling isn’t real plot, it’s more like context. What of these elements would we consider story? I’m sure the literary academics have some idea, but I doubt any word/film definition of story would translate cleanly to games.

    I don’t mean to start a war of words about “what even is story” because we all had enough of that with games. But it’s actually buried in most of the discussions on “story in games” and a fundamental part of all those arguments where one side claims to be the better medium for stories.

    Because like what you put forward, what’s great about Spec Ops is not the final revelation but the execution, how far the game goes to serve its theme, that bleeds out through the fourth wall. Having a story “in a game” indeed allows you to do things with story that is not possible as a straight story. (I’m playing around with something called Intra-System: Trust Issues which cannot be understood with a single, short playthrough.)

    But I do like your poetry analogy here because a lot of indie gaming, particularly the free stuff, is better approached as short-form poetry. Oases has no big message but is trying to convey a feeling, an idea. I’m not a big lover of poetry, mind, so I don’t know where this leaves me. Fathom still makes me sad! I see ANATOMY more of as a short story. But Cart Life is still special to me.

  5. Coincidentally I just saw something for Intra-System: Trust Issues when I was looking for something else–maybe a review of Stephen’s Sausage Roll? And I followed a link to a free games review. But it’s Windows-only! Sob.

    Sorry if I keep blabbing off-topic about Stephen’s Sausage Roll but I don’t usually play AAA games so it’s a novelty! Currently I’m stuck on the same Grand Tower Pippa Warr was, and kind of resenting the “Hey! Here’s a level that’s much huger than one you’ve ever seen before!” but I assume that there’s a reason for gating my progress in this way. I’m at the “Successfully cooked one sausage using a novel technique” stage. Only slight issue I have is that, though the overworld is clever it’s hard to replay solved levels–you have to hit “Load Game” from the main menu and select the level *before* the one you want to do and then go and find it in the overworld, when from what I’ve seen there’s really nothing that would be lost from letting you select the solved level and send you straight there. (LEVEL SELECT SCREENS IN EVERYTHING.)

    Eh, there was going to be something on-topic about story before all this stuff but Imma just hit “post.”

  6. The post does say “Ham” so I guess sausages are somewhat on-topic.

  7. I’m not all the way through the Errant Signal video about the Last of Us that you linked, but I want to disagree with the premise that the story and gameplay in that game don’t really fit together well. Sure, it’s not doing anything different per se, but the very tense stealth segments, interspersed with some soft cut scene breaks, make the rising tension palpable and I’d say the mechanics and story work pretty well together in that game, compared to games where mechanics and story are somehow exactly at odds.

    I think a big failure in a lot of recent game analysis is that it’s too much about the story, though. And I’m saying that as someone who really likes story. Games are a unique medium, and whenever possible, we should be talking about how the gameplay provides meaning, too, not just the explicit meaning in the story. The problem is that not very many people have the language to explain how gameplay makes meaning.

  8. “The problem is that not very many people have the language to explain how gameplay makes meaning.”

    Absolutely. One reason people talk about the story is that story is the most verbal part of the game. Even when the story is told non-verbally it’s the easiest to translate into words. Like when someone talks about, dunno, rap lyrics (or any other poetry for that matter), they’re more likely to have something to say about the metaphors rather than the rhythms. The vocabulary to discuss that is pre-made.

    Only the few, the brave have the courage to natter on endlessly about level select screens instead. Even that’s turn-based though, it doesn’t get at something like why the feel of the jumps in Cave Story is so good, say, or what makes a maneuver in Fishbane so satisfying. (I have a thing to say about that, actually–it’s that your basic maneuver consists of two actions in rapid succession, jump and throw, in addition to the horizontal movement, and the subtle variations in timing this requires give a sense of fluidity even with standard pixel platform physics.)

  9. Somewhere I have an entire article in me about how video game jumps work. Why some feel better, fairer, more satisfying than others. You can actually write a lot about a the meaning in a platformer, but it’s esoteric.

    (Also, I hope I didn’t double-comment just now. Sometimes Edge just seems to eat my comment here for no reason.)

  10. I soooooo want to read that.

  11. This week dialled all the way to the shitty setting soon after this video went out as the house stuff ratched up (we get the house next week, move the week after) and I got sick yet again with an all-new never-heard-of-before blight.



    I’ve given Infra-System a break for the moment, but it’s a short game. The trouble is I don’t feel like I’ve understood it yet and it gets a bit tedious repeating it again and again trying to dig out some new clues or story.

    My puzzle skills are completely focused on Cosmic Express right now (on the final level, used a walkthrough to do it, then realised it wasn’t as final as I thought). No Sausages for me. But Cosmic Express lets you replay a level any time! Which is essential because you have to do the same level in different ways sometimes…

    I guess that’s why you stick around, Matt, we’re willing to listen to your level select screen REAL TALK.


    Ah I think that’s just a nasty juxtaposition I didn’t pick up on before posting it. I implied a connection between “even if the story has nothing to do with the gameplay” and “The Last of Us” but I didn’t mean to suggest that. Sorry! I was thinking more about other games like… and my mind goes blank. That paragraph was just intended as a general assault on the critics’ “story focus” which Raigan Burns was bothered by. (Which you agree with!)

    Good luck with your piece on jumps. If it’s anything like my ideas for articles, it’ll be ready to read in 2023.

  12. >ready to read in 2023

    Yeah pretty much. LOL

  13. I find a good way to deal with situations like that is just to post the article in fragmentary form in someone else’s comment section.

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