Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

16Mar/154

Dabbling with… Her Story

The fourth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

Her Story at Rezzed

Before attending Rezzed, I wrote down a list of games I wanted to play at the exhibition. But this list contained just one entry: a game called Her Story.

In the most popular essay I wrote last year, Stop Crying About Choice, I name-dropped the excellent one-move IF parser game Aisle (Sam Barlow, 1999). I absolutely adore this game. If you play Aisle once, you'll only see some dim outlines of a story, and you need to play again and again to slowly colour in the whole picture (although it's a little more complex that that). Aisle becomes a game of guessing new verbs to tease out interesting new endings. That might not sound like fun, but it was fascinating stuff, particularly when some endings would spark off ideas for new verbs.

The reason I was so interested in Her Story is because it is the next project from Sam Barlow, the developer of Aisle. The trailer definitely piqued my attention but gave me no idea how the game would actually play.

It turns out that Her Story is a database of video footage taken from seven fictional police interviews; the interview subject is a woman whose husband disappeared. At Rezzed, I sat down to play the game and suspected Barlow was standing behind me, watching me watch this woman. (Yes, he was standing behind me.)

Her Story is very much the "industrial version" of Aisle. Players enter search keywords and video clips are returned that feature this word. Players expand their understanding by finding new video clips through new keywords. It doesn't take long for small questions to start developing. But there are larger ones that hang over the experience. Are we trying to solve a mystery or just trying to understand who this woman is? What does it mean to have a "searchable index" of everything someone has said? How does that transform that person?

I only spent a little time with Her Story, but was impressed with its intelligence and how open it felt. There are no clear navigational paths through its structure and no hints that "yes, you've solved the first part of the story". It's just you and the archive. It occurs to me that progression through the story could also be naturally gated, where crucial keywords do not make themselves known until you've descended deeper into the footage. I'd always fantasized about a game that left you to figure out a mystery without having to broadcast "the truth" with an expository cutscene at the end. Is Her Story that kind of game?

I spoke to Barlow after playing. Originally the game was a straight-up mystery but Barlow recognized it was more interesting as a woman's story told through the lens of the police interview. He also hopes to leave the player largely unguided, to let the player feel they have figured out the story rather than the game doing it for them. But Her Story is still in development so nothing is set in stone.

So, yeah, I want this game. It is currently slated to be released "early 2015" but I suspect we're about to depart "early 2015" for "mid 2015". I didn't need a police database to tell me that one.

For more information, check out the Her Story site where you can also preorder the game.

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15Mar/150

Dabbling with… DEEP

The third episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

deep

I was blundering around the Leftfield Collection when I recognised Christos Reid who I knew from pub drink shenanigans with Joe Martin. I said HI and he told me he was just standing in temporarily for Owen Harris who was there exhibiting DEEP, an Oculus Rift title. Great. An Oculus Rift title. Do you know how many Oculus Rift games I've played? If you guessed "one", then you guessed one too many.

Harris returned and I thought, well, it would be rude not to, right?

Except DEEP is dependent on not just the Oculus but also a custom piece of hardware that looks like, uh, a bomb belt without the explosives. Getting the belt attached and set up was a delicate operation - we're talking prototype here - and Harris asked if I'd ever tried any diaphragmatic breathing. I said no and he said, well, let's see how it goes. It's essentially breathing with your diaphragm and your belly expands as you take in a deep breath. The belt's job is to tell the game when you've taken a deep breath, and you only move in DEEP when you do so. The game is therefore best understood as a deep breathing meditation.

At first everything was blurred because I took my glasses off. I just assumed I wasn't supposed to wear them inside the visor. After putting them back on, everything became crystal clear. I'm not sure whether it was the laptop hardware involved or the limitations of the Oculus Rift, but the resolution made it seem like something rendered on the Sega Saturn - and frame rate was noticeably sluggish. Remember, first VR experience. But in-game movement is slow and gentle, which means the chances of getting sick in DEEP are extremely low.

I'm not going to write about my love for VR and how it's going to change everything everything because I didn't get that at all. But in DEEP, I learnt several things:

  • One is that I could still feel a game/reality discontinuity; even though I was inside a virtual reality environment, I was still completely aware of being at Rezzed, although that awareness was more subdued.
  • Second, it is a lovely experience to crane your neck around to see things in a computer-generated environment and I found myself staring upward towards shoals of fish most of the time.
  • Third, DEEP successfully exploits the ability of games to get players to push themselves beyond their normal tolerances in pursuit of fun, as I am sure I was holding my breath for much longer periods of time than would normally be comfortable.
  • Fourth, the game gets quite frustrating when the belt slips and no longer measures your breathing effectively.
  • Fifth, diaphragmatic breathing really makes you feel fat when you're doing it in public, although VR helps suppress such tinges of embarrassment.

When I walked away from DEEP, I was disappointed I couldn't quite articulate to Harris all of these thoughts buzzing around my head. Above all, it was a delightful experience.

The game is still in development and will require special hardware to operate. Here's a video that should give you at least an idea of what it plays like.

For more information, check out Owen Harris' page on DEEP.

deep-visuals

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14Mar/153

Dabbling with… The Marvellous Miss Take

The second episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

marvellous misstake

The Marvellous Miss Take (Wonderstruck, 2014) is a 2D stealth game. (Although you get a 3D view, it's most definitely 2D in function.)

I'm not familiar with the heist genre that seems to have popped up while I wasn't paying attention. I've not played Monaco (Pocketwatch Games, 2013), you know.

I found Miss Take interesting because it was zippy; it's a stealth game that is not unwieldy. If you get caught, you can quickly start again. It's about relying on tactical wits, responding to the moment-to-moment situation rather than waiting things out. The game implores you not to wait and watch for guard patrol patterns, because they have no pattern: they walk randomly.

I played for longer than I expected, so it was doing something right. There's something a little weird with the pathfinding - I clicked the exit from the other side of a small wall and Miss Take just ran into the wall instead of around it. The game sees the world in terms of floor space - you click where you want to stand - so clicking on a "stealable" is dangerous because the game often thinks you want to run around to the floor space on the other side of the wall.

But these are minor quibbles that most players would quickly get used to.

The game is already available. Here's the launch trailer.

For more information, check out The Marvellous Miss Take site or go to the Steam page.

miss take pkpic

All Episodes

  • TRI - a first-person puzzler
  • The Marvellous Miss Take - polished 2D heist/stealth game
  • DEEP - deep breathing meditation in VR
  • Her Story - explore video footage of police interviews to solve a mystery
  • CAVE! CAVE! DEUS VIDET - art-fi visual novel in which I understood nothing that was going on
  • One One One Two Three - minimalist card game that plays out in minutes
  • Aerobat - incredible 2D shooter, I can't rate it highly enough
  • Screencheat - wonderful local multiplayer FPS
  • Planet of the Eyes - a puzzle platformer that didn't hold my hand
12Mar/150

Dabbling with… TRI

The first episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2015.

tri

TRI (Rat King Entertainment, 2014) is a puzzle platformer I hadn't heard of before; I thought it must have been an early access game but no, it's actually gone full release.

In TRI, you get the power to make triangles wherever you want - within certain constraints - and use these triangles to get around, reach places you otherwise couldn't.

After a rather long tutorial session in which you do a lot of jumping and mantling, I was ready to give up on the game, thinking there was nothing exciting to see here. But wait, there is! Somehow the puzzling in TRI is really kind of nice. The game doesn't seem to offer one true solution to each level, so you're always cobbling together something that seems *approximately* right, but you're not quite sure.

There are hidden collectibles everywhere which offer more concrete challenge in the earlier levels I played and finding some of those are quite fun. The cutscenes and vocals are not really anything to write home about, and those bridging scenes linger too much for my liking. There is a slight element of "looking for the portalable whitespace" particularly in the collectibles.

May well return to this one at home.

For more information, check out the TRI site or go to the Steam page.

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8Mar/1517

TV Games Are For Boys

This is the concluding part of The Petri Dish trilogy. The previous parts were on the inexplicable anger of complete strangers and the inescapable clutches of cynicism.

tv-minecraft-hate-table

It seems I’ve been terrified for nearly three years.

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4Mar/150

Side by Side: Super Pole Riders

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is episode 14 of 17.

This week Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance and Gregg Burnell of Tap-Repeatedly get their poles in a twist in Bennett Foddy's Super Pole Riders, another game from the Sportsfriends package. Two players pole vault for victory - if they can slam that ball into goal. Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.

  • "And then I'm pole vaulting the wrong way, it's like, what am I doing?"
  • "I need a replay! That was awesome!"
  • "No! Yes. No! Yes. No!"
  • "You'd get a bit of a rhythm going... but I tend to just fluff it up right at the end."
  • "I'm not playing this game with you any more, Gregg."
  • The original Pole Riders prototype is available to play online for free at foddy.net.
  • If you're enjoying the series, please like our videos and subscribe to our channel.

The series theme is the delightful "Adventures in your sleep" by The Blake Robinson Synthetic Orchestra.

26Feb/156

A #MinecraftFamily Update

I'm still wrestling with the third part of The Petri Dish as well as Ethan Carter Vs Verde Station, so here's a few notes from all the Minecraft play going on at home, a followup to The Family That Plays Together.

minecraft-canyon-moon

  • Since beginning Minecraft a few months ago, both my children have really improved their mouse/keyboard skills.
  • My 6yo son doesn’t want to play creative, but he finds wandering around in the night or underground in the dark too tense.
  • My 4yo daughter initially required us to build things for her in creative: now she’s bringing up the menu and choosing materials herself. However, even though she is in creative and nothing will chase her, she had a big fright when a creeper tried to get past her and we had much tears. She hasn't played Minecraft since, so I hope that's not the end of that.
  • "Developments in Minecraft" is a regular topic amongst the family. Just today I proposed a high-speed rail link through the Nether to the dinner table forum.
  • My wife’s approach to house-building is entirely different to mine. I think about the building itself, form and function. She thinks about the view the building captures, it's location. She started out with a mountainside residence, progressed to a beach house by the ocean, and her latest is bolted onto an existing cave. (I was planning a “cave house” myself at some point.) Her structures come out looking really different to mine.
  • Okay, there's this towering mountain with a beautiful lavafall. My wife climbed it and said it would be a great place to create a mountain retreat. It seemed like quite a climb and getting all the materials up there would be a hassle. When I raised the topic of whether we should build a rail up the side of this natural feature (which I thought we should not), my wife was incredulous. You don't build a railway to a remote mountain hideaway!
  • When my wife plays in my Minecraft world, she goes off in search of materials to fuel my addiction to construction. When my wife plays in her world, she isn’t as interested in building which means excavation in caves lacks a certain purpose. She loves caves, but it seems she needs me to give her caving a purpose.

minecraft-bracken-canyon

  • We have tackled several caves together, including Bracken which I subtitled “scary old mine”. A whole section was infested with poisonous cave spiders and we both came close to death many times. Normally it’s just negotiating the environment and hunting for the source of water/lava noises that costs time – but we had a bloody war in the bowels of Bracken. Sadly, this particular cave was largely shallow meaning it generated very little return in terms of resources. (In contrast, another cave called Banach Dark consisted mainly of an underground gully which was rich in redstone, gold and diamonds.)
  • We took on the Nether together for the second time just this week and spent the whole time watching each other’s backs. Initially, we had no idea zombie pigmen were neutral to players and set about slaughtering them.
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24Feb/154

Side by Side: Nidhogg

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is episode 13 of 17.

This week Joel Goodwin of Electron Dance and Gregg Burnell of Tap-Repeatedly totally get the point of Messhof's Nidhogg, where two warriors sword fight their way for the glory of being gobbled by the purple wyrm Nidhogg. Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.

  • Joel describes Nidhogg as "Stab, stab, jump, jump, throw sword, pick up sword."
  • Although playable as a title called Raging Hadron after it was commissioned for No Quarter in 2010, it took four years before Nidhogg was released commercially. Like Joust, it was a game that only surfaced in exhibitions which lent it some mystique.
  • Messhof on Twitter.
  • If you're enjoying the series, please like our videos and consider subscribing to our channel.

The series theme is the delightful "Adventures in your sleep" by The Blake Robinson Synthetic Orchestra.

20Feb/150

Links: Passive Generational Indemnity

  • What if interactivity is the new passivity?
  • What does it mean to be offended by the Hatred trailer?
  • What makes a game last a generation?
  • Paid or F2P?
  • Where indeed is Cathy O'Neil's vagina?
  • If FGM is barbaric, should we consider male circumcision the same way?
  • What can the French indemnity of 1871-73 teach us about today's Eurozone crisis?

Find your seven click escapes below.

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17Feb/158

A Glitch in the Parkour Matrix

i know this - what you are doing is wrong

I had a little fun with a game called I Know This (Two's Complement, 2015) thrown together for this year's Global Game Jam. It's a celebration of faux hacker scenes in movies, particularly the hackers got to play in a "3D file system space" (see Jurassic Park, Disclosure) which demonstrated a dramatic (!) lack of HCI understanding by Hollywood directors. Like a lot of jam games, it's a rough experience so it's not necessarily a ton of fun.

One aspect stood out though. In one challenge, you have to hack together a complete sequence of program code before the countdown crunches down to zero. Apparently inspired by the site hackertyper.com, as the player types on the keyboard, legible code appears as if by hacker magic, making the player feel very l33t. But I Know This turns it into a game by demanding the player hit ENTER after each completed line of code; failure to do so causes red gibberish to appear that must be deleted.

i know this - hacker parkour

It feels more fun than it has a right to be, typing like a hacker, but there's a problem. Every time you start typing red error text, the cool factor dies and it becomes a slog to slowly delete the bad characters. The fantasy is too readily skewered by what feels like a pedantic design.

And then I sensed déjà vu.

Games that want to emulate free running or parkour also run up against this kind of wall. A failure in parkour usually means the flow of movement is broken and it doesn't feel cool any more. "You," the game continuously reminds you, "are just as mundane as you thought you were."

mirrors edge - the hole

I'd like to think it would be possible to turn this hacker mini-game into keyboard parkour which works but, if games like Mirror's Edge (DICE, 2008) are anything to go by, it's probably a wish that will go unfulfilled.

mirrors edge - the fall