Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

17Apr/1917

Discussion: Hytale It Out Of Here

Welcome to the late late late March newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

The Hytale trailer from December now has 47 million views. I’ve shown it to my children and their reactions were halfway between the Keanu Reeves ‘whoa’ and the Stargate ‘what a rush’. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll quickly get the idea if I tell you a bunch of react videos are called ‘Minecraft 2 announced!?!!???!!??!!!!!?!??!’

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

16Apr/190

Dabbling With… Nth Dimension[al] Hiking

The fourteenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

The very second game I played at Rezzed was Nth Dimension[al] Hiking by Zachariah Chandler. Nth Dimension[al] Hiking is quite forward about being a discoverable systems/exploration game and that it wasn't for everyone - although I would stress there really isn't "a game for everyone". It has a curious pixellated look with chunky scan lines, resembling the old Freescape games from the late 80s, although I'll note the player-character is not subject to scan lines, helping it stand out from the environment.

I got nowhere. Maybe it wasn't for me.

I tried to escape the bus stop at the beginning but no dice. The only achievement I did have was catching a bus. And then the game ended. I had a feeling I wouldn't write about it, despite it looking like the kind of thing I dig. And I walked away from the game. It was done.

Later, I saw someone playing it who had made more progress than I. They were... flying? How were they doing that? Of course, I had to go back for a second go. The mistake I had made was to assume this walking simulator-type game only used the button A; in fact, other buttons on the Xbox controller were critical to make progress. Once I expanded my mind to include other buttons, the game began to open up to me. Then I got stuck again after I'd hopped across a couple of floating islands.  And I walked away from the game. It was done.

And then the unthinkable happened. Something which has never happened before and will never happen again at Rezzed. I went back to play the game a third time.

I broke through my second impasse and managed to reach the much larger, and more beguiling structures. My guess is that the structures are simple in design but the scan line/dithered look painted in hard shadows makes the world feel far more unknowable, almost alien. However, Hiking doesn't feel hostile or threatening like, say, NaissanceE (Limasse Five, 2014), despite having similar problems with navigation and putting the player at some distance from the action.

It's an odd little thing which is still in development. A preview build can be obtained on itch.io for Windows, Mac and Linux.

 

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

15Apr/190

Dabbling With… Wardialler

The thirteenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was a game which presented you with nothing more than a blank LOGIN prompt. Unusual for games at the time, it eschewed a title screen in favour of putting you in the moment. Faced with a LOGIN prompt - what do you do next?

It was 1985 and we were playing Activision's Hacker. In 2019, I sat down at the Leftfield Collection to play Wardialler, and its similarly stark presentation in green text reminded me of Hacker: MEMORY OK. READY.

The trouble with Hacker is that it offered the fiction of breaking into a top-secret system a la WarGames, but failed to follow through. It was an early discoverable system and what you found on the other side of the LOGIN prompt was a weird fetch quest game which didn't feel anything like hacking. Wardialler, however, is much more WarGames.

I am not implying Wardialler is the only hacking game in existence. The key to a real hacking game is making the user type on the keyboard (or perhaps its the green text and fixed-width font). We've seen Hacknet (Fellow Traveller Games, 2015) really go to town with the concept and Duskers (Misfits Attic, 2016) also does a great job of exploiting the command-line interface to heighten terror.

Wardialler is an interesting halfway house. It doesn't take too long to figure out how to get hacking and this generally comes down to finding out what kind of system you're dealing with and the matching exploit. In the section I played, I didn't have to do much more than that: it's almost like digging out a password. A lot of the initial information comes from an enormous repository at the hackers' site which, I think, tests the player's patience a bit too much. Imagine forcing someone to read a chapter on pure lore before getting into the action. (No one mention the prologue to The Lord of the Rings.) There was a notebook beside the Wardialler seat, inviting you to write copious notes; I did, because I needed to note down commands, servers, exploits, people's details...

Still, Wardialler only implies hacking because it seems to be much more interested in narrative (it is the second time in this series I am reminded of Subserial Network). I completed a simple hacking operation which then led the protagonist (I think?) to recount a memory (I think???). And then the game reset. I broke into a few other systems but didn't really achieve much of note.

Without playing more, I'm not sure how to view Wardialler: as a hacking game or a twine with an elaborate interface. But I was intrigued to see more.

Wardialler is a solo project from Paul Kilduff-Taylor, one of the co-founders of Mode 7. There's no website for the game at present: if you want to know more, all I can do is suggest you follow him on Twitter.

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

14Apr/190

Dabbling With… Exhaustlands

The twelfth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Ludum Dare has a lot to answer for. Such as Exhaustlands (Sand Gardeners, 2018). It was made in three days so no-one should be expecting world-class polish here.

Let me be absolutely frank. I didn't have the first clue what this driving game was about. And how could I? There were post-it notes everywhere, coloured stickers, a map you were encouraged to draw on... bugger me, I'm just going to grab the wheel and see if I can figure out what is going on. And when I write "the wheel", I mean the wheel.

The children's toy as controller was a curious addition to the original Ludum Dare game and I'm not sure the controller helped the Exhaustlands cause: it felt too contrasting to its somewhat darker theme and caused grief with some players. I was one of those players. Still, if you go pull the game down from the internet, you needn't worry about that.

There is more to Exhaustlands than what I saw or understood. I engaged with it on just one level, as a driving exploration game. I was on the road, travelling across a dark, moody monochromatic map peppered with ASCII buildings. Travelling from point to point would take awhile. More than once I began to suspect I was on an infinite road to nowhere, when I'd hit a sign or a fork in the road. Uhhh, how big is this game?

The realisation there was more to the game came late. You could "enter" buildings and there was an overarching goal - heck, you're meant to be fighting fascism. But the only memory I take away is a lonely drive through a remorseless, unrelenting darkness, unsure if there was anything out there at all. I should not be surprised to discover that Into the Black was an inspiration for the developers. (I was surprised.)

Some days you send signals out into the void. Some days, the signals come back.

From the itch.io page:

It is a time of war.

The RESISTANCE is dwindling, and the last remaining members take refuge in an abandoned power station in the heart of the EXHAUSTLANDS.

The FASCIST army moves closer everyday - unstoppable and hungry.

Under the cold BROWNIE COVE sun, members of the Resistance journey out into the lands to explore the area, and prepare to do battle with the approaching DARKNESS.

Space is running out, time is running out, faith is running out. But they can do this.

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

13Apr/190

Dabbling With… Cyberpet Graveyard

The eleventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Alright, you know it. It's Nathalie Lawhead time.

I have an imaginary love/hate relationship with Lawhead's work. Whenever I see one of her works ambling down the street towards me, I always think, ya know, that's not my kind of thing, I'll just cross to the other side and let it pass. But sometimes I don't cross the road and then I have these feelings:

  • this is very mad
  • this is very happy

Then again, I still haven't tried out Everything is going to be OK (2017) nor RUNONCE (remember_me) (2019) in which you get a "downloadable friend" that you can run once... but never again. Forget about Citizen Kane, I was worried RUNONCE was the game equivalent of Bambi's mother getting shot dead.

Anyway, I did not cross over the road at Rezzed. I sat down in front of Cyberpet Graveyard (2018) in the Leftfield Collection.

And now I wonder if I should just write [THIS PARAGRAPH INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK]. To blab too much about a work like this kills it, a bit like what happened to Bambi's mom. It is very silly. And if I tell you about why it's silly I'm going to be robbing you of those moments where you, too, get to think oh gosh this is silly. It is about cyberpets that were developed for a 90s game, yet they were so "unlikeable and unwanted" they were never released. But, finally, digital historians have rescued them.

Cyberpet Graveyard doesn't present itself as a single application but more of a collection of broken files - a forgotten digital wilderness to explore. Windows File Explorer literally becomes an exploration. This also means the usual line between the game and desktop is disrupted, because the game inhabits your desktop. This all sounds serious. It is not serious. It is very silly.

Cyberpet Graveyard is also about CD-ROM technology, reflecting 90s tech nostalgia in a similar way to Hypnospace Outlaw (Tholen, Lasch, Nelson & Cochran, 2019) and Subserial Network (Aether Interactive, 2018). I think I'll write something about that in due course. But not today.

On a sadder note... because Cyberpet Graveyard is a folder on the desktop rather than a Game With Title Screen, the PC at Rezzed had the signature look of "game crashed to desktop and there is no developer here to fix it". Many times I went back to Leftfield to take pictures of it in progress and the seat was empty. I was concerned that players were passing on the "broken game" not realising that was its intended state. However, on Saturday, more commonly as the Day Families Come to Rezzed, Cyberpet Graveyard seemed as busy as Dicey Dungeons. So maybe everything is going to be okay.

If you want to check out the silliness, go download it for free.

 

From the blurb accompanying the game on GameJolt:

At some undocumented point in the early 00's there was a critical malfunction in the cyberpet factory. This meltdown led to the miss-creation of several unlikeable and unwanted cyberpets. Nobody knew what to do with them. They never made it past quality assurance, and therefore never made it to CD-ROM.

🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧

Due to the unsettling nature of these virtual companions, they were eventually banned to the cyberpet graveyard. The cleanup crew hired to capture and ban everything did a groundbreaking job, because these cypberpets would never to be loved or loved by again.
It is only until now that digital archeologists have uncovered the remaining files of these strange unwanted creatures.
Thanks to their efforts you can download this forgotten relic.

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

12Apr/190

Dabbling With… Recompile

The tenth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

One of the best gifts of a videogame expo are the surprises. Like this: you sit down in front of a game you don't expect much from, yet find yourself falling under its strange spell.

In the Tentacle Collective room, I was hoping to have a crack at Dicey Dungeons (Terry Cavanagh) but it was permanently mobbed. Dicey's neighbour, Recompile from Phigames, had an open seat so, sure, I took it. I'd pass the time with a game I felt didn't stand out too much. A third-person platformer set in a now-familiar digital landscape: hard neon edges, metallic sheen. A child of Tron, I've always been a sucker for this aesthetic. Recompile was pretty.

If you're expecting me to tell you about some groundbreaking mechanics, I've got nothing. Recompile went through the platformer fundamentals - jumping, switches, shooting. As you explored, twisted, glitched areas reassembled into structures. What this doesn't put across, though, was that there was real punch to the execution: it felt good. And then Recompile gave me the power of the "infinite quantum jump" and, well, I was sold. Instead of the basic double jump, it gave me an infinite jump. I could infinite jump wherever I wanted. Bloody Hell.

And the greatest thing in the Recompile world was jumping crazy high into the air then letting yourself fall. The impact creates a shockwave on the ground, rippling out across the tiles, making you feel like you're a goddarned superhero. And after that, the demo gave me the ability to hover. There was a real danger I might never leave my seat.

One of the best gifts of a videogame expo are the surprises. And this was how Recompile became one to watch out for.

From the Recompile website:

Combining traditional Metroidvania mechanics with a dynamic branching narrative system, Recompile challenges players to explore, fight, hack and survive. Discover the many secrets beneath the ancient digital landscape, and prepare for system-wide reconfiguration.

The game's entire narrative takes place within 1 second of real time.

Recompile is scheduled to be released on Steam for PC sometime next year.

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

12Apr/190

Dabbling With… The Twisted Tower

The ninth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Pocket Money Games were stationed near an entrance to the Indie Room at Rezzed. They had four titles out.

I tried a couple of the more casual ones, SPD and The Twisted Tower. SPD was a Temple Run type of experience and I've never loved that genre too much but The Twisted Tower, however, had that just-one-more-go hook that good casual games tend to have.

What I saw of it was straightforward. Witch must avoid baddies and collect all gems. The game arena is effectively 2D but there's a 3D aspect to it: it is a set inside a tall cylindrical mansion and the balconies are all rotating in different directions and at different speeds. And if you encounter a beastie just once, then your little witch is toast and it's time to start over. I got through three levels I think before I decided to call it a day; you don't want to hog the seat for too long unlike those people who insisted on playing through the entire demo of My Friend Pedro.

It felt like all the parts of The Twisted Tower clicked nicely into place. The spinning balconies create this tension where you do not know if you're going to run into a monster, or if a monster is about to drop over a ledge that you want to jump up onto - especially as you're having to make split-second decisions. It felt a little bit like a lost arcade game and it deserves an attract mode. It's quite possible this is a riff off another title that I'm unfamiliar with - let me know if this rings any bells.

The curious thing is there's no information out there about The Twisted Tower. Pocket Money Games tells me it is out on PC, Switch and Playstation later this year - so hopefully more information will be inbound then.

Right now, your best source of news is the Pocket Money Games website and their Twitter account.

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

10Apr/190

Dabbling With… Balloonbound

The eighth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Balloonbound from Awkward Silence Games is an in-development local multiplayer game. This is a competitive game where your goal is to pop your opponent's balloon so they plummet to their death.

I had a blast with this. Oh yeah, I played this a lot. Somehow the quirkly physics combined with environmental randomness such as other balloons and weapons added up to something rather special. Your basic arsenal is an infinite supply of DEADLY PAPER AEROPLANES which you can throw with great force if you charge up the shot. You also have at your disposal a lethal KICK.

I can't be sure, but if you were a consistent loser, it seemed the game would kit you out with a more powerful weapon instead of DEADLY PAPER AEROPLANES, like a GUN WITH BULLETS. This really isn't a game about different weapons. The weapons almost seem incidental when you have two naked wimps kicking at each other's balloon ineffectually, floating up there in the clouds. Weapons often make the rounds come to an end quickly, but they seem more for comedic value than tactical. One of my opponents got a water gun at one point which didn't seem to puncture my balloon but was really annoying. But then I got a flamethrower and he was literal toast. That was my favourite moment.

There's a slight issue where the playfield refuses to scroll beyond a certain limit and the two players were permitted to drift off the edges of the screen. When this happens, you don't know where they are and what they're doing. It wasn't clear why the game imposed this constraint but hopefully that'll be dealt with in the final release.

(Note: Awkward Silence Games is Dean Moynihan who wrote One Chance, a game which Electron Dance touched on many, many moons ago.)

From the itch.io page:

BALLOONBOUND is a fighting game about a bunch of dudes floating around in their undies throwing paper airplanes. Coming in 2019.

Features:

  • Local multiplayer death match: Last man floating
  • Fast paced, balloon based combat
  • A bunch of weapons
  • Unpredictable  weather
  • Customizable characters and balloons
  • Naked dudes

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

9Apr/192

Dabbling With… Garden

The seventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Garden from Biome Collective was another chillout game. At first, I thought I was going to experience something like Mendel (Owen Bell, 2018) where I'd be splicing together different plants to make something new, but what was presented at Rezzed was more of a musical game.

You could pick up alien seeds - there were four types - and plant them wherever you wanted, multiple times. Each of the four plants prouced their own sound which meant you could make something that sounded quite musical if you did a good job arranging your "garden". Alternatively you might just do what I did and plant seeds everywhere and create cacophony.

And that's pretty much it. The visuals and audio were solid although my personal highlight had to be the wriggly alien grass cursor. No details right now about release dates or target platforms. However, Biome Collective suggests there will be more to the game than just planting music:

Garden is a calm, peaceful and beautiful place to be. It gives players a choice about how they engage by combining immersive atmospheric experience with deep strategic gameplay and exploration. The game is not about winning, but achieving a mindful balance with your garden and the ecosystem.

I guess we'll wait and see.

 

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

8Apr/190

Dabbling With… Annwn, Again

The sixth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

I already brought up Quantum Soup Studio's Annwn: The Otherworld last year after its appearence in the 2018 Leftfield Collection.

A remake of a 1986 title called The Sentinel, your goal is to take down The Watcher on each island. The Watcher hovers at the highest point of the island, its gaze searching for you. In the Otherworld, you have no physical presence: your soul can only exist inside of a motionless totem. You soul cannot "move around" but you can generate more totems to transfer your soul into. You need energy to build totems which you must drain from trees or existing totems.

The constraint is that you can only build on or drain from island tiles that you can see, so any part of the island that's above your totem is out of reach. You have to use the totems as stepping stones to climb the island gradually - once you reach the top, you should be able to drain The Watcher's energy and end the level.

Last year, Annwn's procedural generation was producing islands which were very difficult to defeat and it made for an uncomfortable few days at Rezzed for Quantum Soup's Chris Payne who watched players struggle. This year, however, the problem has been licked and the demo on show in the Tentacle Collective room was much tighter with three islands of progressing difficulty.

I was impressed with the stress this relatively simple design exerts on the player. As Payne has commented, The Sentinel was "so simple and elegant that it's hard to riff on the core gameplay". It is drenched in tension. You feel The Watcher's gaze inch closer and closer, yet to look behind to see how close would waste precious time and possibly lead you to ruin: I cannot help thinking this is a natural Orpheus and Eurydice mechanic. You can grow a new totem quite fast yet it feels like an absolute eternity.

The complete game is currently available on itch.io for PC but has not been released on Steam yet. Payne is still making adjustments to the game based on Rezzed player feedback.

Here's the game blurb:

Annwn: The Otherworld is a surreal stealth strategy game, played across an archipelago of mysterious procedural islands. Venture into the celtic Otherworld, a realm of dark gods and wandering souls, in search of your lost love.

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