The Farfield is an occasional series where I write about something other than gaming.
I got around to watching Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2012) recently and found it stimulating. I’m not convinced it says much about the grander scheme of things but, as a character study, I loved it.
As I usually do after watching a slice of television or cinema that I find engaging, I went online to see whether people had taken to it like a swan to water. Turned out it was a Marmite film. There seemed to be as many people who judged it insufferable, pretentious nonsense as those who thought it was high art.
And I experience this sudden pang of anxiety, that maybe the work has fooled me, maybe it is vapid rubbish after all.
HM is on sabbatical for June and guest writers are filling in for him. This week it’s the turn of Dan Cox, who has previously written for Nightmare Mode and been a strong supporter of Twine. He has authored both a Gamasutra series on Learning Twine and a video tutorial series. He has also figured out how to use Google Drive to host Twine, explained how Twine authors could distribute and sell their work through itch.io and, most recently, been working on getting Twine to work on Ouya.
In many ways, I’ve come to think of Twine as a religion of sorts as I’ve watched the tool and its greater community grow these last two years. It has its followers, rituals, and customs. It has its saints and celebrities. There are numerous sites and people dedicated to promoting it and, of course, it definitely has its detractors. Yet, if I view my own relationship with Twine in this light, I think I might now describe myself as having lost my faith.
I am no longer comfortable with some of the community practices. I feel that Twine's two core promises, that it doesn’t require programming and is for everyone, have changed. What I once promoted as tenets of the Twine “faith” I no longer believe or celebrate. I’ve increasingly become worried that the Twine community might be headed in the wrong direction.
HM is on sabbatical for June and guest writers are filling in for him. This week it’s the turn of Emilie Reed, who wrote the blackly comic twine Duck Ted Bundy and has been published in The Arcade Review. This essay has been cross-posted from her website.
It’s probably 1998 or 1999…ish. My pre-adolescent memory doesn’t care much for dates. Like just about every other evening that week, I’m perched on the big green chair in my dad’s computer room, where he keeps his old engineering textbooks, a filing cabinet full of stuff like our birth certificates, and of course, the family PC. It’s an HP in that ever popular mid 90s computing shade of taupe, which frequently bluescreens and whirrs like an air tunnel. This one is probably our second computer, since there’s a picture of me on the desk next to the monitor. Me: a chubby baby bald as a cue ball and butt-naked, standing up on a metal folding chair to reach the mouse and keyboard of our first PC. That one only played floppies, but now CD-ROMs are the order of the day.
Last month, while writing an article for Rock Paper Shotgun, HM asked several developers for their thoughts on the physical interface between player and game. Robin Arnott, the audio engineer behind Deep Sea and Soundself, responded with a short essay. Extracts of this essay appeared in the completed article, but today Electron Dance presents the essay in full.
The original motivation behind Deep Sea was a dirt simple question: how do I maximize immersion? It was a curiosity drive! I started out knowing from my own experience that fear can short-cut the rational mind and touch players at a pre-cognitive level. But all the design decisions, like blinding the player, or playing back their breathing to obscure the critical information, all of that was me blindly reaching into the darkness and holding onto what seemed to work. I'm very fortunate to have stumbled onto some ideas that worked incredibly well, but the great irony of Deep Sea's development is that I didn't know why they worked. It took about two years of watching people play Deep Sea for me to reverse-engineer my own game and figure out the why.
HM is on sabbatical for June and guest writers are filling the void. This week it’s one of HM’s favourite Twine authors, David T. Marchand, who is the brains behind Úrquel: The Black Dragon, Eioioio and the sublime When Acting As A Wave.
Joaquín Guellada recently wrote about Se Busca, the last (and as far as I know, only) game by the enigmatic Sofía Arquero. He described it as “a rather uncomfortable combination (una combinación algo incómoda) of those adventure games whose arbitrary designs knew to dig their own grave and the management games that are so ashamed of what they are they don’t even want to be called by their name.”
Before him, Karen Benotti praised in the game “the double, implausible influence of Monkey Island and the Gods Will Be Watching demo.” A simple enough observation which Guellada merely parrots, though in an angrier jargon.
Essentially, both reviewers agree: the game revolves around managing your time and inventory, developing strategies that allow you to stay afloat, while at the same time it asks you to solve puzzles that involve talking to people, collecting clues and combining items to accomplish your goals. This hybridization may lead us to suspect a certain kinship with Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor. We’ll quickly find out that no such affinity exists.
It’s time for another site sabbatical. During June, I’m taking a break from writing Electron Dance articles to recharge my drained brain-batteries and also, possibly, to play some games.
But I have not abandoned you. I know your weeks will not be the same without something to grind your thinking teeth on. Over the next four weeks, I’ve persuaded several writers to provide guest posts in my absence.
Just one piece of advice: don’t like their work more than you like mine. I couldn’t tolerate that.
When I return, we'll see about getting this video rolled out...
In this episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel "HM" Goodwin discuss celebrated pocket puzzle game Threes (Sirvo, 2014). Yes, we know it's not a PC game.
03:00 "It's just a very well-constructed game and it's also a joy to play."
08:00 "The uncertainty can be devastating to your game."
12:00 "The key to what makes it difficult is the movement."
16:50 "It's a very mindful game and you really have to be present when you're playing it."
24:30 "I'm staring at this... feels like an impossible board."
26:30 "I think you just must be an old man, Joel."
29:10 "2048 trumps Threes straight away."
31:50 "I don't know why people like this sort of thing."
35:40 "Trying to convince someone who's played 2048 to read a 60 million word article on the development of Threes is not going to work."
43:10 "If people can undermine you with free-to-play... then you might need to do that too, but that will change the game you make."
Download the podcast MP3 or play it right here in your browser:
- The Rip-offs & Making Our Original Game (the history of Threes)
- 2048 Numberwang (totally safe for work)
- Why is 2048 more successful than Threes? (Gamesbrief)
The Farfield is an occasional series where I write about something other than gaming.
The trouble with being alive for such a long time is that you tend to feel like you’ve seen it all before. It doesn’t matter what it is, blah blah been there bought the T-shirt. I think I’ve had my fill of vampires, for example. The last vampire thing that managed to grab me is Buffy and that was five years ago on DVD.
But zombies. Ah, zombies. They never worked for me. I watched a few zombie films when I was younger such as Zombie Flesh Eaters and Return of the Living Dead. At some point I also indulged in some of Romero's work; Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead were entertaining enough but never hooked me. I tried out The Walking Dead show but we parted ways after the first series. I never ran around hungry for
brains more hot zombie action.
Except, when I think about it, this is lies.
Okay, this is an actual first. I have written an article for Rock Paper Shotgun.
Since the last Warm Up, I’ve had this idea about using Luxuria Superbia (Tale of Tales, 2013) as a starting point to discuss how controllers define the kinds of games we can make. But then recently I was asked if I’d like to write for RPS and came to the conclusion this piece on the physical player/game interface would suit them.
But I made it bigger. I did some Q & A with Doug Wilson, George Buckenham, Robin Arnott, Steve Willey and Tale of Tales to beef it up into something more substantial than a personal opinion piece.
Here's an excerpt:
Wilson can only see Microsoft’s recent decision to make Kinect optional for Xbox One as a negative development. By reducing the number of players who own Kinect, the financial risk for developers increases and, inevitably, chokes off the supply of games. “Console-based motion control and physical play was already largely ‘dead,’ but Microsoft dropping the Kinect is a symbolic moment – another nail in the coffin. What Microsoft lacked was developers who knew how to think beyond the immersive fallacy and subvert technological constraints. As I see it, Microsoft could have done a better job supporting and incentivizing Kinect developers.”
The finished article is up on Rock Paper Shotgun right now.
(And, yes, this is precisely why Oil and Water was late last week.)