Electron Dance
21Jan/1614

Discussion: Here Be Dragons

that-dragon-cancer

Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the January edition of the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.

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  1. I have nothing even remotely clever or substantial to say on the main topic, since I neither have children nor have I played TDC.

    I just wanted to say: that Moon Sliver, tho? I love Szymanski’s work. He is one creepy, melancholic motherfucker. It’s all far from perfect, but for being so small and focused, his games do an amazing job of making me feel like the world had ended.

  2. Now I originally played The Moon Sliver for Chekhov’s Collectible, except I forgot to cite it in December’s newsletter :) It turned out it had nothing concrete to offer for the article but it was interesting nonetheless. (I’ve had a copy of The Moon Sliver for a looooong time but never got around to it.)

    The game was really confusing and I bounced off it hard to begin with. It was clear I wasn’t going to see any monster or even people, seeing this was a budget 3D experience, but damn, the atmosphere just sneaked up on me. When darkness began to fall and the weather was howling… it really put me on edge.

    I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, of course, but it was GOOD.

  3. I spotted The Moon Sliver and the developer’s other work a few months ago and it piqued my interest. Even more so now. THANKS JOEL.

    Congrats on the growing success of your videos too, you bloody well deserve it!

    What made you go with liquid cooling on your new PC? Always looked like a headache in the making to me.

    One more thing: I really love that magenta on links.

  4. Gregg, just note that The Moon Sliver is not long (an hour?) and offers no save game. Don’t expect too much from it and you may be surprised. It has problems but it does have its own personality.

    Liquid cooling: I wanted a quiet pc particularly because the fan whirr makes it into the videos at times. The music usually masks it. But the cooler was rattling when I first got it and the core temperature could rise to 95 degrees! It hasn’t behaved as badly as this since the first weekend but it’s made me nervous of throwing time into it. But the problem isn’t reoccurring so I’m uncomfortable with sending it back unless it’s obvious something is borked.

    The magenta was chosen to mimic the logo colour scheme so it all goes back to you Gregg!

  5. Haha, yes, I just always think it looks nice on your emails :)

    Quiet PCs are brilliant.

    I’m very sensitive to computer and console fan whirr myself so when I built my rig I made sure that everything that went into it was as quiet as possible and even spent a while making sure all the fan profiles weren’t too aggressive. I’m very happy with the results though one fan on my case is just starting to make a very low and irritating scratching noise when it’s been on for a while. I’ll probably replace it when I can be bothered. Otherwise, it’s whisper quiet when it’s not under heavy load.

    Now, the Wii U… that sounds like a small aircraft! I hear the PS4 is also quite the noise box.

  6. I am deeply suspicious of That Dragon, Cancer, whilst at the same time being glad for the sake of our medium-of-choice that it exists.

    (I’m mainly suspicious because my experience suggests that when games writers encounter a game that purports to offer a resonant emotional tale derived from lived human experience, whether presented in a realist or expressionistic manner, they’re so excited by the prospect of ‘real emotion’ in a medium rife with infantility that they overlook all sorts of terrible, ineffective writing and design. Hi, To The Moon!)

    (I’m glad it exists because we need more experiments, whether they fail or not, perhaps especially if they fail, because that pushes progress.)

    I don’t plan to play TDC not because I’m unable to relate to it – no kids, no desire to have any – but because everything I’ve read or seen about it bears out my suspicions and also suggests that the actual gameplay is largely passive. Frankly, if I want to try and peer inside the emotional state of those who survive a cancer victim, I will probably turn to another medium. (But see above re. failed experiments pushing progress, eh?)

    Well, this has been another appallingly structured comment from me. Sue me, I’m tired bloody kids kept me up all night etc

  7. Gregg – the new PC is super silent when it’s working properly. I really want to start using it! But all the installs and getting things set up. I’m probably also switching to Windows 10. How many changes can a man take!?!? (This is in addition to figuring out iOS.)

    Shaun – I think we’re of the same mind, I think. Progress is often spotty, with projects-that-don’t-quite-work slowly mapping out the path ahead. I love Cart Life but it does have problems, some of which push players away; but it was a sign that games could be “like this” and still work. I do get suspicious whenever people are dancing around a particular title – Undertale is another one, I’ll just have to check it out some day – that maybe the Key Feature is being blown out of proportion.

    I was a bit more cynical of TDC as “the critic’s game” in a draft of the newsletter. I made the point that suddenly everyone was embracing Spielberg’s once-mocked requirement for a game to make you cry. Then again, this is the age of the Emotional Games Awards. (Those are awards you go up on stage to collect and then you cry.)

  8. Keeping aside from TDC (my reaction is not unlike Joel’s, perhaps, I have kids NOPE NOPE NOPE), but the part in the further notes resonated with a rant I’ve been storing up. Which is: lately I have felt completely alienated from games, or at least new games that I pay for, by the limitations of my computer (a MacBook), because a lot of games are simply unplayable on it.* I have a rhythm game and a racing game that look like simply Unity things and they run about three FPS with lag. Ever tried playing a rhythm game at three FPS with lag? I tried them on my wife’s computer, same model and OS, and they just wouldn’t run. Deep Under The Sky is this cool one-button launch game and I had to quit three-quarters of the way through because I could not ever get rid of the glitch where the graphics turn into random windows from other things I’ve been doing. (Kind of like the LIMBO glitch where it looks like a robot is navigating through a world of wet newspaper.) Papo and Yo always crashes after the opening cinematic. And so on–though often older games work OK, with just the occasional moment of hanging. (I did three more things in Starseed Pilgrim!)

    Some of this will probably solve itself when I switch to a new computer, but it’s wearing to have the hardware roulette come up double zero so much. The wet newspaper glitch seems to happen in enough different things that I’d figure someone would have figured out what was causing it by now.

    *And from everything else too, sometimes, like when I have something to upload to Blackboard twenty minutes to class and it turns out not to be enough time to go through the process of saving the document in two forms and going through Blackboard’s five-clicks-for-everything interface.

  9. Though my son and I did just finish two levels of Deep Under The Sky with the robot-in-wet-newspaper graphics, which was pretty interesting. There’s a metagame there in figuring out what everything is. The big breakthrough was when I realized which indistinct blob was the arrow that points to the thing you’re trying to reach.

    (Deep Under The Sky is really cool BTW, and seems like it didn’t sell well so I do recommend it. Most people don’t have my computer problems.)

    Anyway: Now that the pendulum will be swinging back toward full-priced games rather than disposable experiences, perhaps assuming facts not in evidence, what should I immerse myself in? The last thing where I was like “I could play this FOREVER” was Knytt Underground.* Is Scale going to be good? Is there any chance I’ll be able to run Scale?

    *Oh I forgot! That was the big alienating one. The game usually slows down for me about a minute in, which is usually fine because everything is slowing down, but there’s this one bonus area where there’s a lot of stuff that’s timed to the soundtrack which doesn’t slow down, so suddenly I’m trying to accomplish challenges that are timed for a sprite that’s moving three times faster than I can and it’s impossible. And I really wanted to see that part of the story too, and the people who are making the videos mash through all the dialogue! I can’t really complain about the game since it’s given me so much pleasure, but here I am complaining about it anyway.

  10. Matt, what happened with me is that I was having the hard disk problems. I replaced what seemed to be the offending drive – the OS drive – and reinstalled. Disk problems seemed to disappear. And then… then drives would disappear at random. Then the screen would go black either momentarily – or permanently. Graphical performance seemed to collapse; I could play Bioshock Infinite fine previously but now the fps had definitely dropped and the computer would crash after too much Binfinite. You can imagine how much awesome fun I had doing the scenes for Bioshock Infinite Is The Worst Game of the Year. Oh My GOD. Start AGAIN.

    The PC has been in use for something like 8 years which isn’t bad, I guess. Over that time I haven’t replaced anything and now it’s hardware is out of date when it comes to modern upgrades. e.g. You want a modern graphics card? Then you need a PCI-Express slot V3. Yes, yes, it’s backwardly compatible at the expense of the bandwidth the new cards need. I love how all these future proof interfaces turn out to be not future proofed at all. USB is up to V3.1 and now they’ve invented a new circular connector. M.3 is being touted as a replacement for SATA because it’s not fast enough for speedy SSDs. PCI-Express climbed through a couple of versions already. And of course, every time there’s a change in CPU design, the motherboard interface changes, which means new motherboard. Buying a new motherboard is tantamount to buying a new PC for all the hassle it causes.

    Oh well. We’re still playing some games, right Matt?

  11. Matt – I’ve played a good amount of Deep Under The Sky on Android, on a Galaxy S4, and it generally performs well on that – but there is massive slowdown at the end of each level, when you must tap repeatedly to swim the jellyfish off the top of the screen. It’s a neat game, a much more interesting spin on the Angry Birds formula, and it looks lovely. But there do appear to be some optimisation issues. Shame it didn’t sell well – I gather Colin Northwood’s previous, Incredipede, also didn’t do super well.

    Joel – I think my PC upgrades have generally involved a completely new rig every 5/6 years since I first bought a new PC. Occasionally I can jam in some extra hardware, but once that amount of time has passed you’re usually left needing a new mobo. It’s not quite as bad as you say though – a lot of new standards and connectors take a long to penetrate the market after they’re introduced, a lot of standards are used concurrently in different ports, a lot of hardware is designed with some backward compatibility so you can leapfrog upgrades, etc. Unfortunately this makes even more demands on your time as you research and plan. It’s a bit bum.

    My current PC, new last year, I spent a little over the odds on: I still opted for hardware at the sweet spot of the curve, where you get the most bang for buck before prices dramatically leap, but I went for premium components rather than cheaper alternatives. My hope is that this will be money well spent in terms of how long components last, how long they maintain good performance, etc. We shall see…

  12. Shaun–Yeah, the bug I’ve encountered is definitely a Mac exclusive–it’s happened on another couple things. The LIMBO folks put it in their FAQ, recommending that you restart your computer. When I was playing LIMBO, I used to be able to make it go away by restarting my web browser but it’s been very persistent lately.

    The whole idea of building my own computer gives me the willies, and also it’s not practical, and also also I can’t really justify to myself spending that much money to facilitate playing games. At least we’re playing games… eh, well, I’m playing Brogue and Pilgrim and a couple other things these days. Actually another thing is that I’ve been spending more time writing some interesting (to me) philosophy which is a good reason to be alienated from games.

  13. So I fired up Limbo* to see if it was blocky right now, and it wasn’t, and I wound up replaying it all the way through, and now I have Thoughts, which I will post in this comment section.

    First, forget the story. Second, it has been said, but damn it is a nice-looking game, and you can see why they had one guy spend several years just animating the boy. Third, and this is the Thought, the graphics and the animation are crucial to the gameplay. They give you the sense of moving through a tactile space, and that becomes essential to the puzzles later in the game.

    Like, in something like VVVVVV or Super Meat Boy or Braid or basically most platformers, your character moves in straight lines and comes to dead stops when you release the button and everything else in the game world has the same kind of nice clean and bright physics. And that’s going to be important for getting past things–in VVVVVV you’re falling straight up and then when you flip or bounce you’re falling straight down at the same speed, and that’s what you need to be able to precisely navigate past those spikes. But in Limbo there’s all sorts of wiggles and slips in the physics, and a lot of the later puzzles make you exploit those wiggles and slips, like the moment something’s slowing down after you switch it. If the world looked like the world of VVVVVV this would seem a lot less fair.

    (In fact I had an issue like that in some bits of Thomas Was Alone–the characters are literally rectangles, but there were moments it tried to get physicsy, like you’re on a bouncing platform and you can’t always jump because of the bouncing, and it was difficult because you don’t expect the kind of jostling that makes it hard to jump in that game.)

    Similar thing happens in NightSky, which is a better game than Limbo for lots of reasons. Much of the physics and the sound design too isn’t about setting up the puzzles but immersing you in the world in a pseudo-tactile way. There might be a stack of blocks which isn’t at all hard to get past–you press right–but which bounce under you and kick away as you go. Which at least for me made it easier to intuitively grasp the feel of how you moved in the space. Maybe what’s interesting about Limbo is that your own movement isn’t physicsy in the same way, it’s just left-right-jump, but the animation helped set up the immersion that was necessary in order to grasp the physics of everything else.

    Shaun–I forgot to say that I’m glad you described it as a more interesting spin on Angry Birds! I was a bit afraid someone would tell me that it was just Angry Birds, god, you pretentious indies.

    Unfortunately I died carelessly around level 20 of Brogue. :(

    *Why was I typing it in all caps before? F that noise. Developers, you can’t tell me how to capitalize your game. #ethics

  14. Matt, just coming back to this. I watched Errant Signal’s video on That Dragon Cancer and discovered that, yes, I really don’t want to play this. For example, he included a clip which includes Joel screaming in pain where you can’t do anything about it – and I found it hard to continue watching the video.


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