Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

12Apr/171

Dabbling with… State Machine

The penultimate episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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State Machine, I'm sure I've heard of this. But the memory lingers just out of reach. The game looks a little lonely and the hotseat is empty. The slightly washed-out pixel graphics just don't have a big draw, I guess. Maybe we're now post-pixel. Hang on, this is more like post-post-pixel we've been post-pixel since, what, the late 90s? I'm getting distracted.

Looks like a JRPGlike to me. I'm on a tiny boat, can talk to a robot, there's a small conversational tree.

We land on an island, I begin to wander around, yeah it's definitely looking like some sort of JRPGish thing. It's not serious, some jokes. I encounter a robot who has been built for cutting down trees and surprised to laugh out loud at the conversation.

I board the robot, start cutting down trees. I see I am aquiring wood. Agh! This isn't a JRPG, is it? This is some sort of Minecrafty thing in 2D! A Stardewvalleylike. But, Jesus H. Christmasburgers, it's really painful getting the robot to do someting, so indirect and slow. I wish the game had a better way of---

Ah.

state-machine-from-website

It's a Zachlike! I can program the robots to do things so I don't have to micromanage their behaviour. Well, okay.

I eventually get stuck as to what I'm supposed to do next. Start up three turbines to get access to the other part of the island, it says, and I get one done but can't quite figure it out how to do the others. It's a pressured situation in this hot seat. The alpha build already broke once and I had to start again. Maybe it's broken again. That's it. I'm not at fault. It must've broken.

I take my leave. Only after leaving Rezzed I remember why I should've remembered State Machine - it's a game from Terry Cavanagh and Ruari O'Sullivan.

So that's State Machine, a JRPG-Stardewvalley-Zachlike.

State Machine is still in development although planned for release in 2017.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

11Apr/172

Dabbling with… A Light in Chorus

The eleventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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Take one look at A Light in Chorus from Broken Fence Games and you’d be forgiven for confusing it with Scanner Sombre (Introversion). But this was another game I knew nothing about other than seeing the odd RPS headline pop up on Feedly. I went in proper dead cold.

A Light in Chorus, like Future Unfolding, tries to offer something unfamiliar with minimal instructions, although whether this minimalism survives the game’s evolution to release, I can’t say. So here’s the thing. Similarly to Everything I struggled a bit to understand what I was supposed to be doing but, unlike Everything, it didn’t seem to matter a damn. I found the experience - in a word - awesome.

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I gleaned this was about the discovery of the Golden Record from one of the NASA Voyager probes and, I assume, an attempt to reverse-engineer the origin of each sound. Playing a sound conjures an environment to life, constructed from tiny pellets of light; stop playing the sound and the pellets return to whence they came. And these literal soundscapes can be explored...

I unravelled a little of what Chorus seemed to be asking of me but never gained complete confidence. It didn’t matter. It was enough to just explore the dotted soundscapes which ranged from the inviting to the eerie. And the way the environment can switch abruptly between these states makes it a little unsettling. Absolutely marvellous.

Again, with something that feels fresh and different, how long the ideas can be sustained for is anybody's guess. But, ya know, I’m pretty excited for this one.

A Light in Chorus is still in development.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

9Apr/170

Dabbling with… The Room: Old Sins

The tenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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I've had a funny old relationship with The Room series from Fireproof Games as newsletter subscribers may remember. While I love their intricate and tactile nature on touchscreens, I'm not sure the progression of the series played to its strengths, but rather weighed them down with the need to navigate larger areas. Regardless of my personal reservations, the series has continued to be popular.

Now somehow I had acquired the impression that, after three The Room titles, Fireproof Games were moving on to something else. Thus imagine my surprise while wandering the Indie Room at Rezzed to see the legend The Room: Old Sins splashed over an array of tablets and PCs. A tablet was available and I didn't need much coaxing to pick it up and run with it.

I played to the end of the first section of the demo, Foyer, and it appears to be as Roomy as every other Room title. If you haven't played with any of The Room titles, it goes like this: examine objects, find little knobs and switches to unlock surreal clockwork mechanisms, absorb Lovecrafian story, use eyeglass to see hidden weird stuff. Egad, I don't know why but I love the eyeglass but this probably goes back to initial experiences with Undying (Dreamworks Interactive, 2001) which had a similar ability called scrying that the game all but shouted at you "here is a place to use it!" Sometimes the most mechanically simple and untaxing button-pressing can be rewarding. Who knew.

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I spoke briefly to the developers on the Rezzed stand and it did not sound like there were any big departures from The Room template. The biggest change, it seems, is that there are no loading screens and everything is built into a single hub, a dollhouse. It also sounds like this is a story distinct from the previous titles.

If you were hoping the series was going to do something new and exciting, I'm not sure you're going to find that here. But if you're looking for more classic Room action, then you've probably only got a few months to wait.

The Room: Old Sins is planned for release on Android and iOS later this year.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

8Apr/17Off

Dabbling with… Future Unfolding

The ninth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

future_unfolding_rezzed

OMG I’m cheating again. See, I’ve already been playing around with Future Unfolding (Spaces of Play, 2017) at home. And, well, Future Unfolding keeps its cards close to its chest.

What I mean is that it’s difficult to say exactly what the game is. Not that it offers never-seen-before mechanics or innovation that will carve out new genres for others to follow. Future Unfolding is a top-down adventure game with beautiful presentation.

However, the eventual goal completely eludes me and this sense of exploration of the game as artefact is what keeps me interested. That said, there’s plenty of spatial exploration to be done and the game map slowly fills in as you progress. Still a lot of empty space on my map…

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The only down note is something better summed up by Philippa Warr in her Rock Paper Shotgun review:

I got into the habit of exploring an area by skirting the edges of the forest, hugging the rock walls to make sure I hadn’t missed anything there and then exploring within. It’s a very different thing to the earlier mindset of running about and converts the experience from something freeform to something more mired in functionality or completionism. That feels wrong here.

The sense of just exploring for the sheer joy of it slowly gives way to the realisation that Important Things are out there which can only be dug out through brute-force search sweeps.

But that's the only thing. I'm still looking forward to discovering what makes Future Unfolding tick.

Future Unfolding is currently available for PC and Mac from various portals including itch.io.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

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7Apr/170

Dabbling with… Four Last Things

The eighth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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Look, anyone who watched a great deal of Monty Python’s Flying Circus will definitely see the spirit of Terry Gilliam’s animated sequences in Four Last Things (Joe Richardson, 2017). From what I can tell, the whole game is a point-and-click affair based on renaissance paintings - cut up and animated with the very best of comedic intentions.

However, Gilliam’s animations drew from many sources and generated humour in their unexpected surreality. I love the ridiculous arc of the Killing Cars skit which is about cars that jump out from behind houses and crush their victims (to ease congestion, it seems). The whole sketch is wonderfully bizarre.

Four Last Things doesn’t have this. Of what I saw, Four Last Things offers largely static screens and the humour is far less visual than Gilliam’s work. This isn’t to say Four Last Things is some sort of disaster, a dead joke walking.

The humour is all in the text. In the short time I spent with it, I smiled many times. From the opening sequence which chides the player for believing they have agency to the bit where the protagonist begs the church to forgive their sins. There’s definitely a Monty Python flavour to it.

I was sold. And it’s already been released on Steam.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

6Apr/171

Dabbling with… Flotsam

The seventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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Taking your game to an exhibition is an intense affair, especially if it’s a work-in-progress and this your chance to make a good first impression. Despite good intentions, exhibitions are littered with buggy first impressions and developers are often coding in fixes on the fly. I came across a good number of bugs while working my way through Rezzed this year. But it’s good to be tolerant of such issues as, from a player perspective, you may not get another chance to see the game in action for a while.

Flotsam from Pajama Llama was in early alpha, rife with not just bugs but inadvertent user misdirection. Initially, it looked like some sort of garbage collection game, with the player sending a boat out to retrieve debris from the sea. When I sent the boat to retrieve a person, the game asked if I wanted him to join my town… and it all became clear. This was a town building game, Banished (Shining Rock, 2014) on the sea.

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Resources are the titular flotsam collected from the sea and a few survivors can be found amongst the waves to start your pocket Atlantis. The sea theme means there are some interesting departures from the standard city builder: you cannot just build on open space, you require a form a scaffolding to build on; while towns are navigated relatively peacefully on foot, venturing into the blue beyond can only be done via boat. I also saw a whale which I’d assume was a threat.

Bugs and UI problems frustrated my attempts to make progress and I didn’t get very far but, at least, was able to piece together the basics. What Pajama Llama will make out of Flotsam remains to be seen.

You can find out more about Flotsam at the Pajama Llama website.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

4Apr/178

Dabbling with… Everything

The sixth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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Mountain (David OReilly, 2014) was a game about a mountain. It wasn’t about you, it was about a mountain. OReilly’s followup is this year’s Everything, which is a game about everything. It isn’t about you, it’s about everything.

Everything was on show at the Leftfield Collection as well as the Rock Paper Shotgun zone. I dabbled with it at Leftfield. I didn’t know what Everything was and I still don’t.

Someone had already started the game so after picking it up the first thing I did was look for a reset game option. Couldn’t find it, so no tutorial and I had to figure out what was going on for myself. I was partially successful. The game had been abandoned in space and I assumed I was blessed with an omniscient first-person view. Wrong, actually I was one of the objects on the screen - all of which looked kind of alike - and the view was third-person.

In time I figured out how to “ascend” to superstructure and “descend” to substructure until, eventually, I reached an ice continent where I could become trees and a hut.

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I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do but Everything told me how many things I had become, with percentages for each category. Well done, keep going across the universe.

Everything also asked me join two different things and dance, but I never got that to work. I stopped playing eventually, still unsure what I was meant to find engaging, and left the game. And that’s pretty much Everything I can tell you.

Everything is available on PS4 and Steam.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

3Apr/170

Dabbling with… Beacon

The fifth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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I played Monothetic's Beacon at Rezzed in 2015, where it was one of the additions to the Leftfield Collection. While the aesthetic was pleasing to the eye, what was on offer was a sort of pot boiler run-and-gun shooter. There was no reason to suspect Beacon would be any more than the its aesthetic.

Two years later, Beacon is back at Rezzed, but this time exhibiting in the Tentacle Collective room rather than as one of the Leftfield. (While I’m here, let me explain that the Tentacle Collective is the brainchild of the team behind Terra Tech, Payload Studios. They buy up a large space and then invite indies to share it with them at cheaper rates than it typically costs to be part of the bustling Indie Room plus they get great support from Payload who get the hardware up and running. I had assumed Tentacle Collective was about a publishing relationship but its purely an exhibiting one.)

The latest version of Beacon has much better execution and feels like something I want to play. It’s a sci-fi roguelike, where you’re stranded on an alien planet after a crash landing which, er, killed you. There’s the usual mix of finding weapons and powers to support your mission plus a funky metagame I completely missed where you can splice the genes of fallen enemies into your new “clone” at the start of the next attempt.

The aesthetic reminds me of Flashback although Beacon's graphical fidelity is more sophisticated. I enjoyed its simple blasty nonsense and now very much looking forward to a public release of Beacon.

You can find out more from the Beacon site.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

2Apr/173

Dabbling with… From Darkness

The fourth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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From Darkness (Gold Extra, 2017) is certainly the type of project you'd expect to see in the Leftfield Collection. The trouble is, as always, the Leftfield Collection is part of a gaming exhibition. Certain games, slow and conteplative experiences, will find it difficult to make an impact in such an environment.

I was having a bad day on Thursday. I'd arrived late at Rezzed and was flustered by some news I'd received on the train. The first game I had sat down in front of turned out to be Jonathan Whiting's Nest, a game I had promised myself never to play, as I saw it as a sort of prank on the player - a very good prank, but not one I wanted to indulge. You know how Bennett Foddy trolls players with painful mechanics? Well, this. If you don't know anything about Nest, then go ahead: download it.

So after that, I was looking for something more rewarding - and sat in front of From Darkness. It wasn't some kind of thriller but an "interactive documentary" about people caught up in the "resource wars" in Eastern and Central Africa, wrapped in a fictional narrative of a woman looking for her daughter.

The first area was quite threadbare, devoid of detail, with white, nondescript models of huts standing in for the fictional narrator's imagined Africa. I walked around, triggered some monologues and saw some short animations. The second area was filled with video interviews that activated as I approached them. My early impression, then, was of moving from hotspot to hotspot and waiting for prerecorded media to run its course. But the third area looked like a colourful mockup of a Nairobi neighbourhood and I was tasked with finding a woman called Fatuma. I stopped at this point because I'd felt I'd been at it for long enough, even though it was clear that the concept was "evolving" with each step of the journey.

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Only a small proportion of my time was spent actively doing something and the rest was watching or listening. With a mouse and keyboard in hand, it can seem difficult to let go of these tools and let information wash over you. A certain recent puzzle game challenged its players to do just that; I'm sure a good number of them shook their fists at the screen. Those who are more tuned to interactive fiction or visual novels would probably find From Darkness an easier ride.

It felt like putting a modern interactive art exhibit inside a computer and maybe I would have preferred actually moving around a real space to greet these videos. Then again, when I'm in a museum and I see a small auditorium in which a film is running on an endless loop... I tend to keep my distance.

I'm still not sure what to make of From Darkness. It seemed like the sort of title I should explore at leisure at home rather than in the more pressurized environment of a gaming exhibition. And perhaps I will.

From Darkness can be downloaded for Windows, Mac and Linux for free.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!

1Apr/173

Dabbling with… GNOG

The third episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2017.

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GNOG (KO-OP Collective) has been a presence at the distant edges of my awareness, having been in development for a while. It's due out on PS4 soon and at Rezzed I was finally able to discover what kind of thing it is.

In a word: Vectorpark. If you've ever played with Windosill (Vectorpark, 2009) or Metamorphabet (Vectorpark, 2015), then GNOG is in that wacky toy category, a secret box if you will. GNOG presents you with an collection of mysterious packages, each of which appears to contain a toy which you must "solve". This basically means twiddling with knobs and switches to discover it's secrets which suggests I could even drag in The Room (Fireproof Games, 2012) as another touchstone... but I'd gladly award GNOG the gold badge in the surreal category.

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I found it challenging although this was partly down to my unfamiliarity with a Playstation controller. Much of my progress arose from random clicking of items but, as I have often said, this is not necessarily a bad thing: secret box games are all about little revelations and a dialogue between developer and player, less a mechanical framework to navigate. The second box, which contained a toy spaceship, definitely required a little more thinking than random jabbing to figure out. I had a sneaking suspicion that the packages could have held other secrets other than the main solution but I have no idea if that's true or not.

GNOG will be coming to PC and Mac via Steam at some later date. Check out the website if you want to know more.

Interested in other games I've dabbled with? Check out the series index!