In this edition: the mundanity of excellence, violence as narrative, and the price of secrecy in game development.
In this episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel "HM" Goodwin fall in love with island survival game Miasmata (IonFX, 2012).
01:00 "I think this is probably one of the better games that I've played in the last couple of years."
03:10 "The game gives you just enough information to get in a lot of trouble."
04:10 "The strength of the game is that you feel lost in the beginning but the atmosphere powers you through..."
10:50 "I felt like I had done something really great."
23:30 "Nobody had a bag on the island? Like nobody? At all? Like, nobody thought to bring one? Or make one?"
26:30 "...and I literally rolled backwards away from my desk."
31:50 "The game was made by two people so it's amazing that the game is as complicated as it is."
37:10 "And I was really upset, I'll be honest."
42:50 "Some of the environmental narrative aspects are really quite... they're a bit crude."
44:00 "The game is so good at creating this atmosphere of loneliness..."
46:50 "But it is one of the most striking things I found on the island."
50:20 "It's really a meditative game in a way."
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In 2012, Jenn Frank wrote about how she rediscovered some floppy disks carrying some of her Norn creations from the artificial life simulation Creatures (Millennium Interactive, 1996). She saw them as coffins. She sent her Norns into stasis on floppy disks but they never woke up; she had murdered her brood.
Save games. A thorny subject for sure. In 1981, we might have asked whether a man was not entitled to the control of his own leisure time. ‘No!’ said the developer from his office cubicle. But we are not in 1981 any more. In 2014, I should be able to do anything I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want, multiple times. Not only can I do whatever I want but I can also shout at people on the internet for doing whatever they want. This is liberty.
The save game is one of the most important innovations in game design. It’s also a promise to the developer that we’re coming back.
But why do we sometimes break that promise?
When British mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, it was reported his answer was, “Because it’s there.” The desire to climb does not have to make any sense, have any rhyme or reason. The mountain was a challenge that called to Mallory. It’s very existence was enough to seduce him to its slopes in 1924 – and the mountain claimed his life. Mallory’s body was recovered in 1999.
There is a similar pattern in our desires to take on challenging videogames. Playing Super Meat Boy (Team Meat, 2010) isn’t making us smarter and doesn’t teach us anything about the human condition. We might argue that it improves reflexes but this is the kind of comforting babble we tell people who don’t play games. Players need no such justification.
Oh, wait! Except when we do!
Some reviews of Kickstarted puzzle game Full Bore: The First Dig (Whole Hog Games, 2013) find its rewards not shiny enough. “Gems […] have no apparent value other than raising your completion percentage,” writes Britton Peele for Gamespot. “Why should you spend time collecting them, other than because they're there?”
In other words, why should we spend time solving puzzles in a puzzle game?
I made a Twine game called Truth is Ghost. Richard Goodness badgered me into making it because I didn't enjoy Twine games.
I'm not going to say much about it, other than to warn you of its profane and violent content. I will be writing a post-mortem on the design and Twine development itself next month. Truth is Ghost is one of 16 different exhibits in the Fear of Twine exhibition. In the exhibition, you'll also find work by Pippin Barr, David T. Marchand, Jonas Kyratzes and Amanda Lange. As well as the world-famous Eric Brasure. Electron Dance is also hosting the official Fear of Twine forum over on The Appendix.
Here's the teaser for the game:
Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega are Clothmen, in secret service to The-God-To-Be. A simple assignment to apprehend a renegade Clothman goes sour - but can they stop bickering long enough to stop Ms. Morgana?
This is the concluding part of No Alternative, the first part was posted yesterday.
What if someone wanted to market a hypothetical “non-game”? Channels for marketing and distribution have matured for games but are there any channels for publicising or selling “non-games”? Are developers being coerced into calling their works games for commercial reasons?
A couple of years ago in an essay called A Theoretical War, I touched on the Holy War over the meaning of the word ‘game’. The war has not gone away. Each time some ‘alternative’ release reaches across the divide – such as when Proteus (Key & Kanaga, 2013) or Depression Quest (Zoe Quinn, 2013) hits Steam – there’s an outbreak of unpleasantness. This battle to control ‘game’ even has a parody Twitter account, TheGamePolice.
Outside of the mainstream, there’s a strong belief that no one needs to define or control what gets to be called a game. Everything can be a game. But let’s put aside a technical discussion on definitions. The word ‘game’, in popular culture, has connotations. It is a complicated word that means different things to different people.
Last year, Darius Kazemi published a slideshow called Fuck Videogames in which he suggested not everyone needs to make ‘games’. He admitted he had dropped the term himself, pitching his own work under the banner of ‘weird internet stuff’.
Here’s a question for you. Are there problems with calling everything a game? Here’s another. Are there developers who would rather not call their software a game? I consulted Kazemi, Ed Key (Proteus), Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn (Tale of Tales) and Dan Pinchbeck (The Chinese Room) on whether we need an alternative.
I finally did it. I finally made a forum for the site.
The Electron Dance Appendix is now open for business. Have a look at the welcome post if you're interested. I haven't added a forum link anywhere on the site yet - I'll figure out where to put that later.
(I'm having a few internet troubles right now, it's a miracle I got this post out.)