Welcome to this year's bloated annual round-up! It's another chance for me to rub your nose in all those Electron Dance articles you so deftly avoided reading, thus depriving yourself of important educational supplements required for daily life choices. You know who you are. Yes, you. You who didn't read the Chaim Gingold interview. You who thought qrth-phyl was just Snake in 3D. I GOT YOUR NUMBER PAL.
Look, if you don't click open this bad boy, you won't discover your secret Electron Dance Christmas bonus.
I dare you not to click. Think of this as a Twine game with one possible move. What could go wrong?
The Top Five
- Survivorship Bias (2,000 views)
- Game of the Year (1,900 views)
- Who Is Sheldon Pacotti? (1,300 views)
- A Slave Obeys (1,100 views)
- Who Is Richard Hofmeier? (1,100 views)
My favourite pieces weave together several different ideas into something coherent and possibly surprising. It's always hard work but the end result is rewarding. The top post of the year, "Survivorship Bias", is a great example of this. It asks whether the psychological trauma that Neptune's Pride inflicts on players is conveniently glossed over by all these exciting game diaries... and reaches a conclusion by going back to 1972.
In "The Rings", I waded into the "games have become too easy" argument, suggesting players had all the tools they needed to make games harder. But that was nothing compared to the comment-apocalypse of "Less Cause, More Effect" which asked if anyone had played games that had actually changed their lives.
"Parenting Is Not An Escort Mission" was an essay which shook its wordfists at how children are utilised by game designers - as something to be protected. As a personal bonus, I got to know Jenn Frank through this piece. She now favourites my tweets like everyone else on the web.
Nicolau Chaud wrote that "Submergence" was possibly his favourite essay on Electron Dance, which portrayed an unhealthy game obsession as an illness to be purged.
Were you there at the Battle of Greenlight? The introduction of the Steam Greenlight fee caused a brief civil war amongst indie developers, one side finding the fee exclusionary, the other side thinking it common-sense. It resembled a clash of political ideology: a culture of entitlement and laziness versus an exclusive elite who will do anything to keep things the way they are. In response, I wrote "A Weaponized Machine" which masqueraded as a review of Jonas Kyratzes' The Infinite Ocean.
I was genuinely surprised that some Dishonored reviews considered the game to be lacking in freedom. I couldn't let this stand and talked about the so-called paradox of choice in "A Slave Obeys".
Just before Sportsfriends hit Kickstarter, I mused aloud about something I called "The Hokra Problem". Could local multiplayer actually be a commercial success on the PC? Perhaps next year we'll find out.
Hey, did you ever play Mafia? I did, for the first time this year. This fondly remembered game hadn't aged well, but I kept playing it for the most unlikely reason. What was that reason? Well, no clues, but I called the essay "The Don of Cutscenes".
I also ranted on about Santa Ragione's marvellous Fotonica in front of the camera with the surreal "Fotonica Astonishca". Warning: Ends with chilling horror scene that may scare or scar children! This is not hyperbole. I absolutely could not put this video in front of my children.
Turned out I still wasn't quite done with Neptune's Pride, either. A match organised by Electron Dance readers turned out to be really interesting; it involved plenty of role play, a peace pact and an epic betrayal. I decided to award the winner of the game a piece of lost alien technology, created by Jonas Kyratzes. Go read "The Remnant" and "The Remnant Speaks" for the low-down.
After all the wait, Nicolau Chaud's sex game Polymorphous Perversity was released. It got plenty of reactions, a bunch of them negative. In part because it was very male, in part because it appeared to reinforce stereotypes. I wrote a long and detailed piece on the game, "A Letter To Nicolau Chaud (NSFW)" which Anna Anthropy didn't agree with, but I would've been surprised if she had. Don't forget to drop in on the NSFW joke post "Polymorphous Caption Perversity".
Gregg and I totally spoiled Terry Cavanagh's At A Distance in a discussion titled "The Yellow Pyramid". Some great comment discussion on this one, mostly about the ending as not everyone reached it...
In "Destroy After Playing", I explained my disappointment with Jasper Byrne's Lone Survivor, a Silent Hill inspired game I thought I would enjoy. My major beef was the existence of multiple endings... which forced you to replay the entire game to unlock more narrative.
Having spent too much time flitting from short game to short game, I realised I was slowly destroying my gaming attention span. I came clean about this in "Rehabilitation" and explained I was going to do something about it: I would commit to playing longer games. It started with the Dark Souls of platforming, La-Mulana, and comfy warm blanket of joy, The Adventures of Shuggy.
Nonetheless it can't have escaped your attention that short free games are all the rage. I wondered in "Two Dollar Horror" whether it was still possible to sell such short games in this climate. There have been examples over the years such as Windosill, but here I looked at two short-form horror examples Fibrillation and The 4th Wall. The author of the The 4th Wall provided some hard numbers about the financial success of short games.
The release of qrth-phyl had me hankering to cover hermitgames' Leave Home again. The result was the two-part "Returning Home" which examined both games in detail. Matt James, the mind behind hermitgames, called the first part "probably the best bit of writing about Leave Home" and the second "pretty spot on with its deconstruction" of qrth-phyl. Aside from Electron Dance, these two special works of art have received zero critical analysis to date.
Just this month I finally got round to covering one of Michael Brough's games: Zaga-33, a turn-based roguelike. I found the game fascinating and turned my experiences into a three-part diary called "The Alien Cortex Must Die" which has a twist in the ending. I got a bit carried away with a fictional narrative, but you can't blame me. Pippin Barr called the series "epic".
A year without Cart Life
Richard Hofmeier followed me on Twitter towards the end of 2011. Nothing else was happening at the time so I checked out his credentials. I discovered he'd written some game called Cart Life which looked too insane to be real. So I downloaded and played. And... it didn't take long to realise the game was important. It was a couple of months before I realised how important.
I asked Richard how long the game took to make. He said he'd set himself a deadline of 30 days and missed it by about three years. Then he told me how much he liked Electron Dance and had lost the day to reading every article on the site starting with the first article on VVVVVV from 2010... In response, I didn't admit how much Cart Life had affected me but I did confess:
My thoughts are not completely fleshed out yet, but I'm toying with the idea of using the word "rare" in the article. That's all I can tell you right now.
Surprised there's so little coverage of Cart Life online: hope to change that.
I wrote two articles on the game, a teaser called "Game of the Year" followed up with the spoilerfest and total Cart Life love-in "Ahead... The Stars". Doug Wilson called this second article "a vital piece of game writing/criticism" and one of his favourite videogame essays of 2012. Sensing that Cart Life might become the internet's biggest indie game sensation, I roped Richard into a podcast interview titled "Who Is Richard Hofmeier?".
However, it turned out that Cart Life wasn't becoming the viral success I felt it deserved so I went to Adam Smith on RPS and begged him to take a look at it. Cart Life was (maybe still is) buggy as Hell and I was concerned Adam would have a bad time with the game. I needn't have worried because Adam got it - hook, line and sinker. He wrote a stellar piece over on RPS which gave the game the boost it needed. After this, Cart Life was even featured on Kotaku.
I don't know for sure, but I suspect it was Doug Wilson that tricked Richard into submitting Cart Life to IndieCade this year. And it happened, Richard Hofmeier went to IndieCade.
I find it hard to say stuff like this, but I'm just going to come out and write it. I'm not sure Cart Life would've appeared at IndieCade if it hadn't been for Electron Dance. So, job done?
Here's the second video that Richard Hofmeier put together for IndieCade.
There are few quotes from major gaming outlets here. Three of them are even associated with Electron Dance - one is my own, another Eric Brasure and another Adam Smith of RPS. Now go to Critical Distance and search for Cart Life. You'll find just one reference.
Cart Life meshes mechanics and narrative together in ways I was starting to think were impossible. Cart Life ignores magic, aliens, Hollywood logic and talks about ordinary people in ordinary situations. Cart Life is my go-to example when people bring up Citizen FUCKING KANE.
And no one is talking about it. Mission accomplished.
Can you spell miscellanea
I discovered last year that the writer of Deus Ex, Sheldon Pacotti, was writing his own indie game called Cell: Emergence. I bought it as soon it came out, no questions asked or reviews read. I finished the game off within a week but liked it a lot, writing a piece about it called "The Real Interloper". During the initial game install, I'd hit a snag and got in contact with Sheldon to resolve the issue... and was cheeky enough to ask if he was up for an interview. Check out "Who Is Sheldon Pacotti?" to have a listen.
In "Last of the Darwinians" I wrote about my love for Darwinia and how I had waited for a genuine continuation of the game for many years. I had the chance to talk to Chris Delay and Mark Morris of Introversion at the Eurogamer Expo and recorded a half-hour interview with them, "Ideas Are So Fragile: Introversion Software". It's a pretty awesome interview as I asked them about stuff you won't hear so much in other interviews - such as what happened to Chronometer and how easy it is juggling parenthood with indiedom.
Speaking of Eurogamer Expo, I did a shit-ton of interviews there which you can listen to in "Expo Man 2012". It's over an hour long but you won't be asking for your money back. I talked to Alan Hazelden (These Robotic Hearts of Mine, Sokobond), the team behind The Cat The Got The Milk and The Button Affair, the artist on Zineth, George Buckenham (Cubes, A Bastard), Rami Ismail of Vlambeer, Richard Perrin (Kairo), Doctor Entertainment (Puzzle Dimension, Gear Up), David Hayward (Indie Games Arcade), HyperSloth games (Dream) and I also faked some interviews with Rob Fearon (SYNSO, DRM) and Ed Key (Proteus).
I wrote "Destiny" about the relationship between No One Lives Forever and No One Lives Forever 2 which has a twist in the tale. And in the very personal piece "Wa and Ga" I let go of videogames to write about how I felt about Japan in the wake of the tsunami disaster, given that I had lived there for five years.
Two satisfyingly serious series
There were two big series this year, which unfortunately both ran at exactly the same time.
The "Cat's Away Chronicles" was a series of five video interviews with friends and indie developers: Shaun & AJ of Arcadian Rhythms, Gregg B of Tap-Repeatedly, Ed Key (Proteus), Pippin Barr (Epic Sax Game, The Artist Is Present) and Doug Wilson (Johann Sebastian Joust). It's difficult to get people to watch video at the best of times so this series never did spectacularly well and was pretty much the death of video interviewing for me. Regardless, I am quite proud of the series. There was also a podcast that hoovered up all the interesting bits that never made it into the videos.
The other series, "The Academics Are Coming", was about academics making games. It consisted mainly of interviews but this series did not do incredibly well either, despite featuring some well-known names like Ian Bogost and Dan Pinchbeck (Dear Esther). I think the series offers a number of interesting insights. It's really difficult to narrow down a favourite interview but Chaim Gingold, the man behind Spore's creators, was probably the most inspiring.
However, the slow three-part opening, "A Theoretical War", is pretty special. It relates the academic ludology/narratology war to the tedious present-day fighting over the word game. Raph Koster made an appearence in the comments and Jenn Frank wrote a little about it over on her blog.
Eric of Brasure
I asked Eric Brasure to join a few months ago as I thought his excellent podcasts were probably not getting the audience they deserved. When I interview, I try to make it a conversation; Eric's style is more minimalist and the resulting interviews are often quite revealing.
I'm still in the process of republishing his old interviews but here are the ones posted this year:
Your Christmas bonus has arrived
Electron Dance is going on a two-week break, because I am not going to be as insanely stupid as I was last year running a major series over the Christmas period.
However, please accept this small Christmas gift as a thank you for your support over the last year.