Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


Countdown 2016, 20: Commercial Break

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read A New Art Form that was posted on 19 Feb 2011?

I'm not sure I convinced anyone with this one particularly with the hyperbolic title. You'd probably assume I was going to talk about how games were a new art form. WRONG-O. I was talking about game trailers and it was that infamous Dead Island trailer that drove me to it. Yes, the Dead Island trailer that had nothing at all to do with the game.

I still look for interesting trailers that do different things. The Stanley Parable ones were fabulous, the recent Botolo launch trailer is too cool for skool and, while not offering new ideas, the execution of the Oxenfree trailer is sublime.

In contrast, I found the impressive trailers of No Man's Sky uncomfortable because there was a gaping black hole in them: what could this massive universe game possibly be about? Could it really do everything implied? All promise, all self-fulfilling disappointment. That's why I had originally decided not to buy the game on release... a decision I reneged on (through weird logic: as I assumed it was crap, it was likely I would enjoy it).

Go read it! (Although the Singularity ARG videos seem to have disappeared.)

From the comments:

  • BeamSplashX: "Maybe all game trailers should seek to be that if they don’t want to include any real footage."
  • Steerpike: "That Dead Island trailer sure riled a lot of emotions."
  • Chad M: "I can’t blame anyone for liking the trailer."

Countdown 2016, 19: Coming of Age

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Dynamite Headdy (Megadrive)

Have you read The Retired Gambler that was posted on 03 May 2011?

I hadn't read this one in years, even though it still turns up in the Electron Dance Highlights. It takes the creeping suspicion that I am getting too old for games and makes me wonder if that is actually hiding a different problem... well, not a problem at all. I've been planning a return to the subject of players getting old for a few months and perhaps you'll see an article in this vein next year.

But most striking is the very final line of The Retired Gambler. I don't think I could write a final line like that today; it just feels too unnatural, unearned by the words that went before, a whiplash-level of subject change! I wonder what you will think of it.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Badger Commander: "It is my belief that pretty much everything we do in life is some way a game"
  • BeamSplashX who is no longer 22: "Although I’m 22, reading opinions like yours have made me more aware of when games are wasting my time"
  • Jordan: "Is a game most identified by a measurable outcome set by its parameters, or simply by the act of playing?"
  • Josh W: "games like VVVVVV fill a place in my emotional landscape; the semi-meditation space they share with tetris"

Countdown 2016, 18: I, Dev

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

The Citadel calc pos code

Have you read the three-part Learning Curve that ran from 10 December 2013 to 14 January 2014?

In the wake of The Ethics of Selling Children, I'd been trying to stay away from writing personal stories, particularly about growing up. But I felt the time had finally come to tell the story of my indie developer years. Yes my dark secret was that I had been a games programmer... 30 years ago.

The trilogy of articles cover my growth from zero to competent programmer, the commercial game I developed to prove I could actually achieve something with all this knowledge and then... how it all came to an end.

On the whole, I was trying to recreate other people's ideas but there were signs that I was aware of the limited visions for the computer game towards the end. In fact, it's not mentioned explicitly in the articles, but I was starting to think of games "for adults". I recall being fired up, wanting to show an "adult" videogame did not meant simply it included references to sex.

I had assumed this would only be of niche interest but I'd packed in enough curious details to attract a wider audience. How I made a game without a computer, the day I was cloned, the titles of all those games I didn't make like Suicide Dancing.

Go read it!

Also, there was an addendum that followed a year and half later. @Zarawesome has suggested I remake my commercial game using PuzzleScript. It may happen!

From the comments:

  • Nicolau: "Great piece. Feels like something you’ve been writing mentally for years."
  • Badger Commander: "You can see exactly where our paths split. You saw code and became fascinated. I saw code and became bored instantly."
  • Richard Goodness: "Well, Joel, I guess you were the original Zinester."
  • Matt W: "It’s a bit odd to find out that all the time the chap I’ve been chatting about games with was a bleeping savant."
  • James Patton: "Wow, what an article. It left me feeling both sad and hopeful, which I suppose was the point."

Countdown 2016, 17: Etched in Memory

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Yakushima - Wilson's Stump (Okabu Trail)

Have you read The Rings posted on 15 Feb 2012?

As the personal essay rose to prominence in the game critic space, I moved away from this pattern, seeing it as a kind of crutch. That is, are the ideas I'm trying to articulate good enough to stand on their own without the lead-in anecdote? The Rings is an example of the personal essay I used to do, with half its length about climbing the island of Yakushima.

The Rings is about accepting consequences in games. I don't know if I could write this today, perhaps suspecting I was padding a short idea into a long one using a personal story.

See if you agree.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Michael Brough (brog): "Nobody reloads from saves in a multiplayer game."
  • Badger Commander: "How do I fix that, tell me HM, how do I fix that?"
  • Gnome: "Oh, and people -especially on the internet- are indeed strange"
  • Steerpike: "With gaming – and everything – we all do tend to look back and remember the grass as greener."
  • LiberalEurope: "There was a point, late-game, that I was worried the game might never end. We had broken so many rules, but we nonetheless found ourselves trapped in the game."

Countdown 2016, 16: Everyday Hate

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

Have you read Punchbag Artists originally published by the now-defunct Resolution Magazine on 4 Oct 2010?

Originally written for zero pennies and imaginary exposure, this was a big hit. How do developers deal with destructive criticism? People seemed to dig the message although there were criticisms that Derek Smart was sharing the stage with Dan Marshall, Chris Park, Edmund McMillen, Paul Eres and... Gabe Newell.

Yeah, even I was shocked that I got a proper reply from Gabe Newell for the article, having been writing about videogames for only six months.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Pippin Barr: "I particularly think that more good writing from the “developer” side is sorely needed, and this humanising kind is a favourite."
  • Christos: "Flaming responses and personal attacks to game developers are for me the result of such “problematic” mappings"
  • Gnome: "Oh, and people -especially on the internet- are indeed strange"
  • BeamSplashX: "Oh god, the RPGCodex invasion into Second Person Shooter was just shame, shame, shame."
  • ShaunCG: "I suppose the explosion in popularity of Charlie Brooker and Yahtzee must have driven it to some extent."

Countdown 2016, 15: Revolution to Control

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you watched #warningsigns posted on 1 July 2014?

#warningsigns was conceived as a launch video for a big Electron Dance series... except then I turned that series into a book which has still not seen the light of day. So the video became a standalone project although remained representative of the book.

#warningsigns was devoid of narration yet had to tell a story. Every scene was pondered over. Everything had to mean something. But this was the video to end all videos. It took a year to make and production devoured so much time I decided I would never make another video for Electron Dance as long as I lived.

I knew it would never be a big YouTube hit - it got several hundred hits at the time - but it was just something I had to do, had to get out of my system. Despite being exhausting, today I have no regrets because I continue to find #warningsigns hypnotic and engaging.

It also bears ten copyright claims.

Go watch it!


What Happened Next

I made a brief return to filmmaking a year later for Electron Dance's five year anniversary. This was despite swearing in the newsletter I would never do video work again. I personally prefer reading to viewing (it takes me forever to watch anything Chris Franklin puts out) but chose to mimic the video essay format for this one-off: write an essay, recite it over some game footage.

Of course, having made #warningsigns, I could never just make "a simple video essay". I threw in some music and visual tricks to make it more interesting... and discovered people liked this, they liked it a great deal.

And that was the end of my self-imposed video celibacy.

From the comments:

  • Amanda Lange: "Wow, powerful stuff. Reminds me of “Who Killed Video Games”…"
  • ShaunCG: "Stitching the overall thrust of argument together is going to be fun"
  • Richard Goodness: "I have watched the movie. I need to digest it and perhaps watch again."
  • iDragonarion (on YouTube): "I strongly agree with the message of the film, as well. I'll be going through the material for months."
  • John Gottschalk (on YouTube): "The fonts are terrible, but I really dig this, especially the Mother metaphor is very on point."

Countdown 2016, 14: A Clean Shot

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.

defender wave complete

Have you read Léon Loves Tetris posted on 12 June 2013?

I wanted to make the comparison that what underpinned shooters was the same primal impulse that drives players through Tetris. But this is our starting point not our conclusion. There are consequences for the modern 3D shooter:

If you wonder why game stories are getting so dark, maybe it's because writers are having to work overtime to justify why it's actually okay to kill a few hundred NPCs that look just like real people. Developers can't keep aiming for photorealism if the primary mechanic that makes them money is cleaning.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • Alex: "I wonder where this leaves games like Spec Ops and Max Payne 3"
  • BeamSplashX: "I don’t find the dichotomy of heroism and violence in games troubling in a real life context; the ability to discern fantasy from reality is the important thing to consider there."
  • Gregg B: "I finished watching Generation Kill this week and there’s bugger all shooting in it and that follows a US Marine Corps battalion during the invasion of Iraq."

Wot I Think: Recursed

I thought it was about time I wrote something again for Rock Paper Shotgun. Right now you can read my Wot I Think about Portponky's difficult yet brilliant puzzle-platformer, Recursed. I've been playing this on and off for a few months.

If you found Inception’s dream within a dream within a dream too difficult to follow, you’ll be hopeless at brain-shredding puzzle game Recursed by Portponky. In Recursed, you can easily find yourself inside a room inside a room inside a room… while, uh, carrying the room you’re in.

Go read it!


Countdown 2016, 13: Mercenary

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read The First Open World posted on 23 September 2014?

I didn't cover all of the Atari 8-bit games I wanted to in the Where We Came From series. Three years later, I decided to cover one of the games that didn't make the cut. Originally meant to be a single article, my examination of Mercenary stretched over three parts. Mercenary is an example of an opportunity lost in videogame history: a non-violent open world adventure.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • ShaunCG: "A part of me wishes that I had been old enough to play some of these classics back in the 80s."
  • James Patton: "I had no idea this game existed!"
  • CdrJameson: "Elite’s universe was massive, but pretty bland."
  • Phlebas: "No wonder I’m easily disappointed these days."

Countdown 2016, 12: Starseed Spoilers

Welcome to the Electron Dance Advent calendar. Each day will bring another post from the archives.


Have you read Faith of the Pilgrim posted on 11 May 2013?

Although The Five Stages of Starseed Pilgrim was widely appreciated, I followed up with a detailed analysis of how Starseed Pilgrim worked. Most of the reviewers and critics had been determined to keep the secrets of Starseed Pilgrim locked away (and we were left wondering if they had actually discovered all its secrets) but I decided to Hell with that. Especially as way too much coverage was obsessed with the mystery of the game, which was not why it was great.

I spilled all of the beans and was not shy about what I saw as problems. I'm just as proud of Faith of the Pilgrim as Five Stages but it's the latter that gets most of the attention.

Go read it!

From the comments:

  • BeamSplashX: "Considering the amount of times I had to reassemble my mind with it constantly being blown while reading this, I’m actually rather glad I didn’t tackle this myself."
  • Morld Pil: "This captures a lot of my love/hate relationship with Starseed Pilgrim."
  • David T. Marchand: "We usually don’t want FPSs where it isn’t clear who you need to shoot. Nor do we like adventure games where we know we have to tie a rope to a stick but we also need to figure out how to tell the game that’s what we want. My opinion is that Starseed Pilgrim is exactly this."
  • Phlebas: "I disagree about some of those points of unfairness."
  • droqen: "The game doesn’t punish you for giving up, but everyone talking about it sure does. You punish yourself, though it’s not your fault."