Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights


Dabbling With… Ape Out

The fifth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Confession: Sometimes I do not check out the stuff people say is definitely cool.

Soooo... I hadn't even seen a trailer for Ape Out (Cuzzillo, Foddy & Boch, 2019) before seeing it out in the wilds of the Devolver Digital room.

Confession: I didn't play it. But I wished I had.

In Ape Out, you're an ape escaping from captivity, no doubt in line for some nasty experiments. Its closest cousin is probably Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games, 2012) in terms of being a hyper-violent game where you play a protagonist who can be killed easily so must kill or disable all enemies quickly. Hotline Miami is fast, requires memorisation, and a single mistake can end your run; Ape Out is procedurally generated so requires reaction not rehearsed dance and is, necessarily, a little more forgiving.

Ape Out, however, is a genius fusion of game feel, sound and visuals. Everything is silhouettes and jazz and the effect is best described as Saul Bass Title Sequence Simulator 2019. Paint the corridors red... until the game palette changes and then you could be painting in orange or purple.

Ape Out has been in development for five years; it was a runner up in the student category in the 2016 IGF and it had already been worked on for two years at that point. Jesus. I'm tempted to buy this right now and make it game shortcut #120 on my desktop.

From the Devolver page on Ape Out:

Ape Out is a wildly intense and colorfully stylized smash ‘em up about primal escape, rhythmic violence, and frenetic jazz. Build up nearly unstoppable momentum and use your captors as both weapons and shields to crush everyone on your procedurally generated path to freedom.

Ape Out is available on Switch and PC (Steam, GOG, Humble, itch.io).

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


Dabbling With… Empire In Ruins

The fourth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

The last proper tower defence game I played was Defense Grid: The Awakening (Hidden Path Entertainment, 2008) so it's been awhile. Enter Empire In Ruins from Hammer and Ravens.

On the surface, and I stress on the very surface, Empire In Ruins looks like classic tower defence. You build towers, aggressors come at you along defined paths. Towers can be upgraded, but they also find themselves under attack and need to be repaired. You have powerups at your disposal which provide a temporary boost, but take time to recharge. Super.

Hammer and Ravens themselves call it "the bastard child of 4X and tower defence" and it's certainly not straight up tower defence. There's a huge amount of tweaking that can be done to each tower, in terms of their behaviour, all of which will be too much for the first-time player. I didn't need to drill down far to get through the demo level. You have limited builders to make the new towers and, if they're out on the field when the new wave rolls in, they can get killed, which makes it feel a little RTSy. I was shown some enemies carving out new paths along the map; I'm told they can also tunnel to escape your towers.

There's a campaign map in which you are reclaiming lost territory (hence the "empire in ruins") and losing a battle will set you back. I did not get to see this in the demo, but you have to manage your reclaimed territory carefully - you can be betrayed and each region is vital to keep resources flowing to the front line. There's also a tech tree to research.

Empires in Ruins has been in the works for several years and is still in development. Do check out the website if it sounds like your kettle of fish.

From the website:

Empire In Ruins is a new take at strategy that merges the Tower Defense genre’s detailed, recognizable gameplay with elements of Turn-Based Empire Management, in a hybrid never before seen.

Conquer, build, defend and lead the grumpy Sgt. Hans Heimer in his own personal vendetta against “the system”.

  • Plot driven campaign – betrayals, diplomacy and nasty twists
  • Turn based strategy – quell the rebellion, kick back the enemy and restore the law.
  • Empire management – conquer back the provinces, strengthen your command, chose your best governors and grant your military campaign a steady flow of resources
  • Tower defense-based combat – fight your battles in a new, advanced tower defense style that winks at advanced real time strategy
  • Arcade play mode. Because… FIGHT!
  • Low brow humor, low brow humor everywhere! – Don’t smile, it’s punishable.

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


Dabbling With… Becalm

The third episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Down in the Leftfield Collection were a number of "chillout" games whose job was to make you take a moment. The one that I found resonated the most was Becalm (Colorfiction, 2018). I would guess I sat in front of it longer than most - because it was frickin' lovely.

If you want to know whether there's levelling up, how many bosses you have to beat and the range of weapon combos available, well. You're in a boat. You can look around. That's it.

The boat coasts lazily through one of three environments: tall reeds, alongside a river bank and an ice field. The abstract, painterly style selects from a vivid colour palette. which gives a strong impression but refuses to define. It reminds me a little of Eskil Steenberg's Love. The music and ambient sounds do a great job in transporting you somewhere else.

Becalm strikes me as the kind of thing you could leave running in the corner of the room while you go about your daily tasks. Try it.

From the blurb on Colorfiction's website:

Becalm is a short 5 minute meditative experience where you drift in a sailboat through magical waters. This is a special boat, you won't have to steer, worry about logistics, capsizing or pirates. In this trip the goal is to relax and... becalm!

You can download Becalm from Steam for free but also get it from itch (PWYW). You can also follow colorfiction on Twitter. (Current version on Steam has some VHS filter applied and you can throw bottles; I think it's better without the filter... and the bottles. This was not the version on the Rezzed floor.)

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


Dabbling With… Doggerland Radio

The second episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

I heard the birth of Doggerland Radio three years ago.

Under the comments of Into the Black: The Movie, Amy Godliman picked up on my criticism of TheRaptureIsHereAndYouWillBeForciblyRemovedFromYourHome (Connor Sherlock, 2013). She wrote:

I’m glad you bought up TheRaptureIsHereAndYouWillBeForciblyRemovedFromYourHome as I had an interesting experience with that myself: I started playing not knowing exactly what it was so I found the spoken excepts fascinating, little surreal snippets of narrative with no beginning or end that added really well to the game’s atmosphere and gave this really well suited feeling of everything being suddenly interrupted. Then I realised I recognised one of the stories, and that they could all be collected one bit at a time by following the right colours, and all that atmosphere just evaporated.

Anyway, great video essay, and in my case useful video essay too as this subject is pretty much exactly what I’m exploring for my MA at the moment, so I’ll probably be re-watching this quite a few times over the next two years. Thanks.

I highlighted the key phrase. Two years later, Godliman hits me up on Twitter about her mysterious Doggerland Radio, produced for her MA degree, referencing our brief comment exchange:

It took a little longer than two years, but I'm done now.

You're welcome to attend the opening this Friday, or any of the five days the show is running. Though I'll be carrying it about to any games event that'll have me from here on.

I couldn't make it.

Fast forward to Rezzed this week. I'm talking to Alan Hazelden in the Leftfield Collection and, over his shoulder, I see a desk in a darkened corner. There's a radio squatting on it. My eyes spied the title above the table: Doggerland Radio. Oh my GOD. This is IT.

Okay, so I was excited because I knew what kind of project Doggerland Radio was. It was what Godliman wanted TheRaptureIsHereAndYouWillBeForciblyRemovedFromYourHome to be.

Power up the radio, slide on the headphones and turn that dial carefully like a safecracker to find broadcasts orphaned in the static. Maybe you'll catch a little opera, the sound of a steam train pulling into the station... or maybe even the shipping forecast.

On a purely personal level, it reminds me of childhood. In the UK, radio is now digital, and I'm not sure how many children these days play with radios. I had no television and certainly no computer when I was young, but I did have a tape recorder with a radio. I spent a lot of time twiddling with the radio, trying to find a station I hadn't heard before. Hiding underneath the crackle, I'd occasionally catch the semblance of something unfamiliar and, if I turned the dial just right, I might be able to make it out...

Godliman revealed, to my surprise, that the Doggerland Radio stations are always running regardless of whether you're listening. I expected the software behind the box to trigger audio files as you hit the right spot on the dial. No, it is much smarter than that, so it always feels like you're tuning into the middle of something, conveying a fragmented impression of the fictional Doggerland.  (There is a real Doggerland but don't expect to find clues from a submerged landmass.)

There's more. On the table is a map, some stones - and an old novel. I ignored the novel initially and, as I was ready to leave Doggerland Radio behind, I opened the book. It was out on loan from the Doggerland Library and... had passages censored. Wait, what's this? An envelope tucked in its pages? I half-expected it to contain some love letter from a dead age, "Dear Joan, My heart is bereft without you..." blah blah. Now there was something inside, but it wasn't a letter. If you happen to drive through Rezzed this weekend, I'll let you find out for yourself.

While I was a little sad that the radio needle did not move as I turned the dial, the work done by Paul Hayes on the engineering and coding here is superb. It effortlessly evokes the sensation of fiddling with an old radio; you come across these little spots where the static hums and roars violently - for no apparent reason. Wonderful touches.

Look, I don't know what I participated in but I loved it. And I'm afraid you won't be able to grab Doggerland Radio in the shops or even download it from Steam. All you can do is hope Godliman brings it to a games expo near you.

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


Dabbling With… Omno

The first episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

First up is Omno by Jonas Manke. Literally so, as this was the very first game I played at Rezzed today. Omno is a work-in-progress but everything points to it being an easy-going exploration adventure game.

The graphics and sound are solid, I really liked wandering around. Stomping, dashing or teleporting is delicious. You stomp to get energy from rocks or creatures - fortunately, the creatures aren't hurt by this, but they get so frightened they drop white blobs of energy. Although I have to admit to feeling a tad cruel.

There's a faint collectible aspect to the game - it tells me when I've discovered creatures, explorer rocks or new areas. I don't mind this too much provided it doesn't power the action or overpower the experience.

It's part discoverable systems because I was a little lost for a couple of minutes, but it was good lost. From what I gather this is not representative of the full game however what there were a lot of jumping puzzles which involve having to go back to the start if you've made a mistake. The dash jump takes some of the pain away. However, I was getting better at knowing whether to jump or dash jump as I moved through the demo. Maybe a little muscle memory is all that is needed.

No evidence of narrative at this point but apparently we'll be able to read glyphs in the real game.

I didn't see anything here that was brand new but I'm in. Looks like the kind of game you'd chill out with at the end of the day.

Blurb from the presskit:

OMNO is an atmospheric adventure about a journey of discovery through an ancient world of wonders. Taking players through lush forests, across a sun blasted desert, over a frigid tundra, the power of a lost civilisation will even carry the hero to the clouds. Along the way there will be creatures great and small to observe and interact with - shy rock-like crabs, helpful turtles, maybe even a friendly dinosaur to ride?

The world of OMNO is filled with puzzles, platforming challenges and hidden secrets. The player’s magic staff is the key to powering forgotten relics, and will allows players to dash lighting fast across platforms, glide over land, sail above the clouds and more.

Check out the game's site or look it up on Steam.

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


The Farfield: What You Voted For

The Farfield is an occasional series where I write about something other than gaming.

“I think when people voted to leave the EU they wanted an end to free movement, free movement will end. They wanted us to end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK, that will end. They wanted us to stop sending the vast sums of money to the EU that we do today – so take control of our money, our laws and our borders – and that’s exactly what we will do.” - Prime Minister Theresa May

Read More »


Podcast: The Floor is Lava

Ivan Brett is the author of The Floor is Lava, a book which contains 99 games to play with family and friends. They're organised in chapters for different situations and moods like when you're stuck in a traffic jam, something to play after dinner or perhaps you're just looking for a straight-up party game. From Cat Eats Mouse, to Shut Your Eyes and Adjectival Animals - there's a lot of great stuff in here.

Ivan also hosts The Floor is Lava podcast that acts as a companion to the book. In each episode, he invites a guest on to play a bunch of games. And there are definitely no videogames to be found. Ivan and his guest can be duelling with words, spinning mad fiction or simply debating the finer points of the world's top five milks. Each game really only has one rule: that it must be fun.

I had been feeling it had been awhile since I had engaged with the more broader definition of games. No colourful graphics. No whoosing and beeping. No controllers. No fancy tech at all. When Ivan announced he was looking for podcast guests I put my hand up without hesitation.

So this week I am the guest on The Floor is Lava and on a scale of one to fun it was fun! You can get the podcast through Stitcher, iTunes or Spotify. Alternatively, you can listen via the embedded Stitcher player below.

Check out Ivan Brett's website and you can follow him on Twitter here.


Transmission: Puzzle Special

90 minutes. Eight games.

Stream this week - Thursday 21 March, and will begin at 9:30PM UK, 10:30PM Central Europe, 5:30PM EST. My Twitch channel can be found at twitch.tv/electrondance.

I will discuss the following titles:

Previous Transmissions are available on the dedicated E/TX YouTube channel.

Update 22 March! Here's the archived stream up on YouTube!


Side by Side: BOTOLO

Side by Side is a video series on local multiplayer games. This is the last of three bonus episodes.

Joel Goodwin and his son Kai fight over possession of a ball in the abstract sports game BOTOLO (Steam, itch.io). This is a brilliant game with solid feel and a crisp yet slightly organic style - even if I do keep thinking I'm the ball all the time. This is as much about a battle of wits, of feigning action and inaction, of knowing how your opponent plays.

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

Watch the video here or direct on YouTube.


Discussion: Hypocrisy

From something I call February's newsletter (sign up if you want to read it):

Hi, I’m the Into the Black guy. I ask why people want achievements and shiny things to reward exploration in games. It’s all BALONEY. Rewards kill the JOY. They invite DISAPPOINTMENT. I will keep on using CAPITAL LETTERS to distract you from my hypocrisy.

Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.