Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

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.

Flotsam_Screenshot

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!

31Mar/175

Dabbling with… The Signal From Tölva

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

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This one is a bit of a cheat because I've played and completed The Signal from Tölva (Big Robot Ltd) as part of the beta testing - it's due out in April. Mechanically, it's a streamlined open world game where you can lead robots into skirmishes. It doesn't overdo the collectibles.

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Tölva is very much hand-crafted which makes it interesting to explore. Some of the debris strewn across the planet is amazing, even if it doesn't do anything. It makes you ask questions like what even is all this stuff.

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I tend to think of the game as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in space, although don't come to Tölva expecting exactly that - you'll get disappointed fast. It's just that it occasionally thrums with the same vibe, a harsh realm in which alien secrets are entombed, secrets that are beyond your ken.

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I think many will find the backstory hard to follow - I certainly had a hard time piecing together many of the little log fragments I found scattered across the surface. I spoke to Jim Rossignol of Big Robot about this yesterday and he explained that he liked ambiguity (I do too) so much of its opacity is deliberate. And he suggested that the game is easier to figure out on a second pass. But can anyone be bothered to do that?

Er... I might? I really liked my time on Tölva, so all I need is an excuse to return.

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

30Mar/172

Dabbling with… EXO ONE

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

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At first, EXO ONE appears to be one of those marble-based physics games, something like InFlux (Impromptu Games, 2013), which aren't typically my cup of mead. The tutorial is a bit rough around the edges and is harder to grasp than the game itself.

If you escape the tutorial, you find yourself alone on some far-flung planet which I found stunning. EXO ONE appears to be a "walking simulator" game but with a ball to roll around instead. You can also leap into the air and glide if you've picked up enough momentum. It felt a bit like an open-world driving game where there are no dangers - think FUEL without any goals whatsoever.

While I'm told each planet's surface stretches to infinity, I'm not sure I'd call it a game for explorer-players; it's more about the experience. Of what I saw, EXO ONE was a scout-and-trigger game, where the player seeks hotspots to make progress. But compared to some more genteel experiences which are perhaps better titled "crawling simulators" EXO ONE gets away with it. Apparently later worlds will offer different environments like, say, a water world.

The game is still in development - you can find out more from the EXO ONE website.

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

23Mar/178

Pay What You Should

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The history of computer games has coincided with the history of neo-liberal economics - thus, the lack of a safety net has been perceived by many as a state of nature, as opposed to what it is - an explicit set of policy decisions functioning as instruments of ambient violence directed against the poor in order to help the rich grow richer.

--David Kanaga, Road to the IGF: David Kanaga’s Oikospiel, Book I (Gamasutra)

Surely you all remember David Kanaga? Kanaga’s renowned for his collaborative work, constructing a unique musical dimension for titles such as Dyad, Proteus and Panoramical. This year, however, he released a title which is very much his own, Oἶκoςpiel, Book I. I haven’t played it yet, but I do know it is a dog opera and was up for the IGF Nuovo award.

Having read the first instalment of my book which explores the causes of and responses to zero price gravity in indie games, Kanaga pointed me towards Oἶκoςpiel’s unusual website which appears to be a toy for game pricing.

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Filed under: Short Notes 8 Comments
21Mar/172

Side by Side: Magicka 2

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is the second series, episode 6 of 10.

Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance and Gregg Burnell of Tap-Repeatedly aim at the monsters yet totally kill each other dead in Magicka 2!

  • We agreed it was funny
  • We agreed it was fun
  • We agreed it took a while to show it's true colours
  • We agreed to agree

If you enjoy the series, please like our videos and subscribe to our channel.

Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.

9Mar/179

Art of the Impossible

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I played an amazing looking game this week, Fragments of Euclid by Antoine Zanuttini, a short first-person puzzler that appears to be set inside the art of M. C. Escher.

For me, however, it's more like a dry run for William Chyr's Manifold Garden, a game I've been looking forward to for a while now. Manifold Garden is also a first-person puzzle game with Escher-inspired impossible geometry. It should be no surprise to hear I discovered Euclid through Chyr's Twitter feed.

Can Euclid tell me something about Manifold Garden?

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