Electron Dance
15May/1923

Remade In Their Image

I thought I had no preconceptions when launching Feather (Samurai Punk, 2019). It was something about being a bird. Possibly an exploration game.

Turned out I was not far off the mark: I was indeed a bird who could fly anywhere I wanted on an island. Oh, I also saw these throbbing hoops, inviting me to fly through them.

Did you catch it? Did you spot my reaction to the hoops? Let me zoom in, Bladerunner style, because it’s quite faint. Enhance: Oh.

I assumed the hoops were a form of collectible. That I must fly through each to complete the island. Oh, of course. Another game selling out its explorer fanbase for the goal hunters. Oh.

This isn’t the punchline because more experience with Feather revealed I was wrong. The hoops were not collectibles at all and Feather was completely not that type of game.

Yet I wondered about that instinctive rejection and what it was a symptom of.

If you want to know what Feather is, my best approximation would be Proteus (Key & Kanaga, 2013). Like Proteus, Feather is partly about exploration, but much more about how you feel. There’s even a bit of The Endless Forest (Tale of Tales, 2006) about it, where you can meet other player-birds but the only direct interaction at your disposal is a squawk. Feather does have its secrets - it’s got a big, delightful one, too - but it is not a game meant for finishing. Feather is a safe place to retreat into, a home away from home.

Collectibles would kill it as an open-ended experience, by providing an endpoint. There is but one achievement on Steam which is awarded as soon as you start the game. Everything after that is all yours.

Feather

But the hoops, man. The hoops. They looked like collectibles. How many people grunted, like I did, at the mere implication of them?

The assumption is not without merit because, as I covered in Into the Black, the developer reflex is to use collectibles to reward explorers. It is not the only function of collectibles, of course: consider the shiny trinkets of VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh, 2010) which signal challenges. But we would be wise to remember the law of the probable collectible, which I totally just made up:

The Law of the Probable Collectible

Game designers have never encountered a virtual landscape they couldn't fuck up with collectibles.

I played Omno at Rezzed recently and it had a collectible called “explorer stones”, which is definitely the kind of choice name that gets my back up. You might as well call exploration games “walking simulators”. They invite the player to leave no pixel unturned. But those pixels are never the same once they bear the sin of the collectible.

Omno

But collectibles are just a particularly simple gameplay system imposed on a virtual environment, common in "walking simulator" experiences. Most games employ far more complex systems.

Any system is just a massive matrix of numbers and developers normally want to expose the player to this matrix. The tension at the heart of a game system is how visible and manipulable the system is. If I have a button that eliminates an obstacle, that’s too easy. If, however, I have to track the movement of the obstacle with a reticule AND press the button, the developer has injected frustration - and this frustration is what makes it fun.

Now when the system is embedded in a virtual environment, which came first, the system or the world? Did the interesting theme suggest a particular system? Or did the interesting system seek a natural virtual home? It depends on the specific design history of the game and, in some cases, the origin story is a story of symbiosis.

But the virtual world is a useful tool that designers can use to convert visible parts of the system into something players can articulate and understand; similarly, it can also be a natural way to camouflage parts you want to hide from the player. The virtual world is a frustration slider, to control player’s exposure to the system.

This means the system, inevitably, infiltrates the virtual world and crowns itself king. The virtual world becomes a control panel for the system. It must display clear feedback and expose buttons and switches for the player to interact through.

In INFRA (Loiste Interactive, 2016), I can often tell when a door might be openable or not on sight. The door's appearence confirms whether it has function in the game system.

Door that cannot be opened in INFRA

The ammunition in an FPS usually looks absolutely identical wherever you might be: a magazine is a magazine is a magazine. When you pick it up, you might get a nice click or rustle as the magazine is collected.

To do away with rigid visual presentation can complicate system interaction creating confusion. If a game breaks the rules of presentation or never erects any rules in the first place, we might be wandering an environment thinking we’ve run out of ammunition, not realising it has been under our noses all this time.

Putting aside the design and GPU expense of having 100 different objects to represent ammunition, diversity in presentation might add something to world-feel but detracts from the systems, which are the core. Everything orbits around them. The people who come for the shooting are gratified there is a lurid, dystopian cyberpunk city to wander around with a few interesting interactions. Maybe there’s an above average story, too. Maybe the player cries on level 17. But if you have problems finding ammo and drop to “bare hands” all the time, you’re going to get mad quite quickly.

Eastshade (Eastshade Studios, 2019) is an open-world game without combat but has spades of errands and fetch quests. The central conceit of Eastshade is that the player-character is an artist who loves to paint what they see. For each painting, the player will need to craft a canvas first. Canvases are crafted from “cloth”, which present as a folded white sheet, and “boards”, a wooden crate.

AR icons indicating items that can be taken in Eastshade

As painting is the centerpiece of Eastshade, these ingredients need to be ubiquitous, and the player ends up nabbing cloth and boards from wherever they can find them. There are other materials you need to gather as well and Eastshade encourages the kleptomaniac impulse of the RPG player - to swipe whatever you feel like from people’s homes, take the candles from their tables before their very eyes. One character even recommends you do this. This isn’t collectibles undermining exploration, this is system undermining world. Are you entering houses or loot drops? Why has a game about painting turned into one of busywork and crafting?

Crates representing craftable boards outside house in Eastshade

It’s the same problem that leads you to stick your hand in every identical-looking trash can in Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013) because there’s a good chance you’ll find some ammunition, coins or even edible food in there. And the more realistic the world, the more standout the systems must be - from glowing auras to nav markers. This is Object X I need to take to Thing Y to do verb Z.

Bioshock Infinite trash can

We should be careful as we’re hanging out a bit too close to the the ludology/narratology border here. Writer Tom Jubert (The Talos Principle, Subnautica) named his blog “Plot is Gameplay’s Bitch”, to reflect the complicated relationship between story and gameplay. We know writers are often forced to reshape stories to support new gameplay ideas and Dan Pinchbeck’s PhD thesis “Story as a function of gameplay in First Person Shooters and an analysis of FPS diegetic content 1998-2007” framed story as affordances for gameplay. All of this applies equally to the virtual worlds in which systems are embedded. While Dark Souls (From Software, 2011) is talked up as the great unspoken narrative, is it a surprise that in a game heavily weighted with systems, that the average player misses the narrative glory all around them?

Naturally, I’m not the only person troubled with the impact of systems on virtual spaces. I can go back to 2006 when Adam Foster, developer of the Half-Life 2 mod MINERVA: Metastasis, rejected Valve’s level design which was hyperfocused on delivering the perfect shooty experience. As he told Bob Watson for Idle Thumbs, Valve's approach was "working out the gameplay first, in a bare-bones, orange-textured series of empty boxes, and then dressing that gameplay up into a realistic, living and breathing world". With Metastasis, Foster would "design and build a realistic location, moulding it around some interesting gameplay as I go along". After Metastasis was completed, Valve absorbed him into the hivemind.

I am resigned to systems remaking worlds in their own image which caused me to baulk at Feather’s hoops before the game even had a chance to tell me what was going on. It was a conditioned response, built over years of exposure to modern game design. I am not sure it is even possible to talk of “fixing” this problem of systems calling the shots. Not because we lack the language or the motivation but simply because having the virtual world behave like a virtual world is tantamount to removing the systems.

I would like to assume that designers are always mediating for a comfortable middleground, where the needs of the system are met without completely reshaping the world. But the open sandbox template now commonplace in AAA has a habit of exposing wiring everywhere, a world bustling with signs and portents.

The trouble is the impact of prevailing AAA design on more lightfooted games. Offbeat works like Feather can be unfairly maligned. Nuanced efforts like Eastshade can introduce overbearing busywork and bury their unique properties. These aren't the biggest issues in the world - Eastshade turns heads because it looks good and, arguably, the systems are secondary - but it's certainly something to chew on.

Footnotes

  • There is always a system. Let’s not kid ourselves. How you move around a virtual world is a system. Can you move through walls? Is there gravity? Is the world finite? It’s a tricky balancing act, but I’m trying to focus on systems that are extrinsic to the virtual world.
  • System-embedding is fine. This is not about the rights and wrongs of putting systems in virtual worlds, because then we’re back at the notgames movement. This is just about the vulnerability of virtual environments to the whims of systems. Some games with their nav markers and minimaps and are still fun. Prey (Arkane Studios, 2017) was steeped in systems yet astounding, which brings me to another important footnote.
  • Players are good at seeing through systems when it counts. Despite the fact we can game these systems, we're still drawn to playing good people as Amanda Lange's 2014 survey showed.

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  1. I feel I’ve been working this one over and over again and my thoughts have still not reached their destination. I’ve now started thinking about the different between AR design – overlaying the world with system data – and changing the world to meet system requirements. They both effect a perceived change in the world but I was wondering what Eastshade might be like without all the quest management or AR icons.

  2. Can you think of an example of an explory game that didn’t annoy you with collectables? I feel there must be a way to reward players that’s more closely tied to the virtual world – maybe if you climb a mountain you see an incredible sunset, for example – but that that’s a lot harder and subtler. Would be good to have some examples of it done well.

  3. Without thinking too hard, James, Miasmata is my go-to example. You are searching for particular items (flowers) but the act of exploration is so intensive it suppresses the collectible aspect.

  4. I wanted Firewatch to be more that sort of experience. It was still very lovely, but I wanted more “free exploration and getting to know the landscape slowly on my own terms” and less “you have completed area A, area B is now unlocked, please go there to find an object which will allow you to progress.”

  5. I admit I had fears that Firewatch was likely to be that sort of affair – it’s the sort of default when it comes to the more heavy narrative games. In a similar vein, I am sad for the game that INFRA perhaps should have been, which I assumed it was. Oh we’re going to have a conversation on this one when I’m done with it.

    I’ve got a copy of Firewatch I think but I’ve never installed it.

  6. What is one’s motivation for going out there if mechanical relief and improved narrative understanding is just too crass for our refined palate? What is out there or on the way? Feather can’t possibly be a home far from home when you play it inside your house, unless atm the house is not a home. But ultimately, media impede anachoresis, -except for the asocial signal its focused consumption sends- and at least you get exercise with a good meatspace walk. Alternatively, if distraction is the goal, then sparsity of goals frustrates it.

    While one can make a case for Apollonian recreation and aesthetic pleasure, you’d also need to make a case for the priming effect of drudgery. Why is walking 50 miles in a marsh of horse-sized pixels to get to a flower absolutely necessary to enjoy a flower? (I have no idea what Miasmata is, so I’ll guess uncharitably) And if you tilt work and denial so far just to get to surprise, you’re basically duping the lootbox experience without actually getting rich.

    Ultimately, without systemic and narrative motivation, you need the pixels there to be meaningfully different to the pixels here. You are asking for more content. That implies either AAA budgets or meaningful procedural generation. You get to Assassins’ Creeds and No Man Skies. And if you want even less direction, you get Headcandy.

    Blueprints has largely allowed the artists to make games free of programmers and designers and all those systems people. Is Aporia or Epitasis a promising avenue? Conversely, is Getting Over It, rubbing its system and garbage world in your face, bad?

    —–

    Systems extrinsic to the world seems like a non-starter in the general. There’s the renderers and cameras and cataract-simulating blooms to hide the size of the budget. But let’s just say we restrict ourselves to impositions on verisimilitude by games daring to suggest what to do with them, and then abstracting and homogenising players’ method of success.

    In this respect, the primarily failure is kinetic rather than visual. We have games that are not about sniping, conducting music, or finger painting, which is all that our input devices can reasonably emulate. Turning a mouse wheel in no way feels like the act of securing a tool, removing the bag from your shoulders and rifling through it, then putting it back on. Journey never burns the skin off your face. And we are generally happy with this removal, because we gain the ability to do lots of fun stuff, and less tedious stuff. I don’t see why we can’t apply the same grace to the visual presentation of systems.

    There is no de-making of an abstract, platonic idea of an infinite, functioning world, there is just singular, coherent world-making. When watching a kitchen drama in a theatre, we are never upset that there is no door leading to the loo. And for good reason, because its absence clarifies the set. We don’t have agency in our theatre seats you say, but that is true of video games too, with the exception that video games make it easier to skip stuff and quit easily. In essence, their USP is the ability to not explore, not complete. A false door in Bioshock Infinite isn’t a sacrifice to the system, it is an artistic decision to describe the function of the world and a direction to the play. One can argue that more loos would improve Bioshock, and thus artists should express themselves more by drawing plumbing, but I’m not sure I buy it. Similarly, there are many societies where people do sustain themselves by rooting through garbage and petty crime- I just saw the former today. One could consider the trashcan a public, ritual humiliation of the player and a poignant reminder of their status. (Disclaimer: I have never played Bioshock Infinite, so I’ll guess charitably.)

  7. I have to admit it’s hard to imagine an open-world game which doesn’t have some form of accretion, acquisition or check-listing. Dear Esther is probably the closest thing that comes to mind, but it’s largely just a very pretty corridor rather than something you ‘explore’ (I’m assuming exploration here requires some freedom for the player to strike out in a direction of their choosing).

    To turn the thing on its head, I *can* think of a game with freeform, ‘open-world’ exploration… which doesn’t have a world. Uplink is a game constituted entirely by numbers and systems; computers are its locations, ip numbers are the paths by which they’re reached. The process of acquisition (be it access or data) is both the entirety of the game and its world, a world that can be penetrated right down to its raw numbers, to the data in its fields. The dialogues and windows, the text messages and buttons, that would in other games detract and eject from the sense of existing in a virtual world are the elements from which *this* world is made (and its systems manipulated.)

    Paradoxically I think this qualifies as a solution to problem the article posits… it’s just the result is the complete opposite from that which you seem to be seeking.

  8. hroom
    First, Google is not helping me decipher “media impede anachoresis”.

    One of the arguments made against people using meditation to relax is that the purpose of meditation is not to relax but to escape the distractions of reality, to better youreslf. And something like Feather I think it’s useful not to see it as a distraction, but as a virtual space in which you feel relatively free and not asked of anything. The game expects nothing of you but it has some toys if you wish to play. We are getting better at making this sort of thing. I routinely hit a lot of titles which are goal-less and, frankly, many of them are uninspiring.

    Work vs reward in games is complicated. Sometimes players seem to think they have been sold short – after their heroic quest of killing 100 rats to increase a stat, they were expecting something more. I remember the reaction to Full Bore, expecting the gems to be some sort of reward when they are really just a sigil indicating Puzzle Here. That was a *really* instructive teaching moment. If Full Bore had been just boxes, then maybe it would be seen as just puzzles. But because it had all the trappings of a narrative game with a sense of place, expectations of reward seem to increase. This is the overjustification effect leering into puzzles: add bags of narrative, and players start expecting narrative rewards instead of the simple joy of solving a puzzle. I didn’t complete Pipe Push Paradise for the story. The work IS the reward.

    Miasmata – one of my favourite games of all time – is all about expanding your map and figuring out how to navigate. It’s tough work and the game frustrates this process with ill-health and a monster. The whole game is about climbing the mountain, not what you find at the peak. Sometimes it is true, the flower is more beautiful because of the climb that brought you there. But what if the climb IS the flower? Jesus Christ, I sound like I’m about to launch my own cult.

    I understand that taking away collectibles is better for the explorers. But what are the explorers exploring? What do they expect to find, knowing there are no switches to trigger, or pats on the back? The answer to that varies with game although it usually does come down to the colour and craft of pixels.

    I’m afraid you are being way too charitable to Bioshock Infinite :) Infinite’s problems are on multiple levels, but it’s a beautiful example of how deploying systems carelessly completely dismantle your virtual world. So much in Infinite is self-destructive. The idea that ammo and money would literally fill every trashcan from here to Montezuma doesn’t make any sense, it has no satirical or comedic purpose. This is just one example of Infinite’s crimes which I picked it out simply because I was following the “all items of a certain type must look the same” design trope that help players acclimate and feel comfortable in a virtual world. Infinite makes you appreciate all the other games you might have thought were crude, but are actually considerate – you’ve seen what can happen when the ball is dropped really badly.

    This article is a bit woolly; it hedges a lot and doesn’t have a concrete point. But eventually I decided to stop revising it and just publish, use it as a stepping stone. I hope what comes out of the comments resemble what the essay should have been. :)

    CA

    As I whispered to James above, Miasmata is pretty much my perfect exploration game. There *are* items to collect but navigating the island is so difficult that it wipes away the collectible aspect. Obtaining items is such a tiny part of the experience and everything you do find is hard-earned.

    I’m not sure I can go with your “solution” as it feels a bit like killing the patient to cure the disease. I was thinking more about how three-dimensional environments might better survive the rules laid down by designers, because too much game artificiality can blunt the experience. A la Into the Black, it is good to throw away the rules and just go wander. The question is whether that can be done by design. I don’t really think so outside of special cases (Miasmata). That what I’m really bothered about is this paradox that I can’t do anything with. I waas leaning towards saying it was impossible until we had far more sophistication – and by that I mean a lot more realism. These systems are often a crude atempt at approximating reality and if your approximation gets better, the virtual space gets better.

    I’ll probably follow up this article in years to come with a better idea of what I want to say.

  9. Great article! I will comment properly some moment or day or month…

    Bioshock Infinite was a lazy job, the game played in the demo is another completely different from the actual game and the ideas proposed is far better than the reality. Nothing that was promised goes to the final version, the final version its awful and a lie. It’s like a bad joke. I have forgotten these trash cans, but in a certain way represents the game perfectly.

  10. Hey Pedro. It seems to me a game that ran out of time and it was too late to amend many of the decisions they had taken earlier. In some ways, it’s a shame. Bioshock was a pretty good game. (I’ve not played BS2… yet.)

  11. @hroom: I’m honestly a bit confused by your comment and I don’t fully understand your point? But this bit stood out:

    “Feather can’t possibly be a home far from home when you play it inside your house, unless atm the house is not a home.”

    Except my “home” is an apartment I can barely keep functional which I will lose if I ever run out of money. And that home is contained within a political system currently run by neo-nazis, which is contained within a world system which is ruining the planet we need to live and which is destroying hundreds of thousands of innocents every year in the name of, what, capital or the status quo or something. And on top of that, my brain is often in on fire. So I want to play games that allow me to escape from that, and live in a world where I can exist and not be persecuted and blindsided by whatever the enormous torture device we call the world is.

    On the subject of collectibles, maybe they do kind of make sense if they’re a part of roleplaying? When you collect canvas in Eastshade, does it feel like part of the fantasy of being a painter, or does it feel like busywork? I can imagine a version of feather where you don’t fly through rings, but you do collect feathers which you find in random places – and then you build a nest with those features. That’s a little roleplaying narrative involving an object that could be called a collectible, but is more of a… transitional object? (I’m thinking of, like, the physical gun prop when you play a shooting arcade game, or a prop like an accessory you use to partially role play in a board game which also has a systemic function.) Maybe that’s why Miasmata works for you, Joel: the flowers have to be collected but are not, precisely, collectables, because they have an important story function which causes the act of collecting them to increase, rather than decrease, immersion?

  12. Joel, Feather is a perfect game to test your hypothesis. You can still download an earlier version of the game from their itch.io site. It is listed as the “Demo,” but it was actually a different game called “Fruits of a Feather” where the island has a different layout and … there’s 200 fruits to find and collect. And a different weird secret to find (I’m guessing, because I haven’t found the secret in Feather yet but the old one wasn’t there when I looked for it).

    So give Fruits of a Feather a try and test to see whether adding collectibles makes the kind of difference to you that you thought it would.

    https://samuraipunk.itch.io/feather

  13. Anachoresis is the retiring, monastic urge. I argued meditative aid is an oxymoron. But maybe there is space for soft cutoffs, devotion to an arbitrary low bitrate stream- either to wind you down, or erase the creep of the real. A more crouched version of moaning with a finger up your nose I suppose. This would explain why programs that have this effect tend to lack detail.

    In a real store, one would never confuse a baby mobile, a doll, a chess set and a storybook. But with software, an ornament, toy, game, and narrative are confused, sometimes structurally, but often willfully because artists need food. The misrepresentation makes me feel cheated out of time and money. Worse, this need often pollutes the nature of things: I market this as a game, so let’s stick a lights-out puzzle in there to erase liability. Now I get to annoy two different market segments. Putting a box on a switch is my version of knee-jerk suspicion hoop.

    Systems beget skills, skills beget mastery in a pleasant process of memory. Miasmata in this respect sounds not cultish, but exactly like Tetris and Quake. Avoiding videogames’ best trick is what makes some people violently reject walking sims, and why adventure games died. Once you’re there, it’s all a matter of finding the core loop that works for you. Nobody plays Quake because of their burning desire to telefrag Shub-Niggurath. People play PPP because arranging things satisfies.

    Talking of Miasmata, I watched a bit of an LP and all I could see was the wiring. The impossible number of stone moai on soft ground to aid triangulation, the dense corrugation of the land to allow you to get lost in something a third of the size of Central Park. This is home to a terrible monster where nobody minds sleeping in open, indefensible locations. And that’s before the silly embodiments of interface like the canteen/dossier, tables of teleportation and myriads of microscopes. I worried when the LPer, in a game if illness and thirst, drank from a swamp, and was kind of annoyed they were fine. I didn’t understand the priorities in general. Making drugs is trivial, thirst and illness are a bit of an issue, but mapmaking is hard? There may be some, possibly political, allegory going that my limited view of the game prohibits me from triangulating, and that makes the design choices more salient.

  14. Since it got mentioned, I have a few thoughts on Miasmata (I bought it after HM’s stream, completed it once and enjoyed very much the exploration) that are partially relevant. Sorry for the non relevant part.

    It definitely has its limitations, but I’d say they have found a good compromise. The first three are weird choices, though:
    – I have screenshots of the sun setting at SSE and rising at NNE (plus sunrise and sunset are at constant times)
    – The moon seems always full and makes almost no light compared to the real one
    – The time zone is off; though, having a compass, this does not kill you
    – The main character is too good at differentiating between different landmarks that are barely visible on the horizon; it would have been nice to have the player match landmarks on the map with those used for triangulation, but how to handle drawing the map wrong when the player makes a mistake? I mean, I understand why they made this choice
    – Obviously, the environment is not as detailed as the real world, so you cannot differentiate easily between shrub 1 and shrub 2
    – Also, in real life you can use the shape of the coast as landmark to orientate
    So it gives and takes away in equal measure. I agree that UI and teleportation tables are silly, but the island is big enough to make crossing it all to get plants too tedious.

    *The controversial statement I wanted to make is that, if you really pay attention and don’t let panic set in, you NEVER get completely lost.*

    I got badly lost twice due to carelessness. Once I was caught out by nightfall and once I deviated to ENE while I was convinced to be moving NNE (in an unexplored part of the map far from the explored part). Both times I was careless, but I managed to find a shelter and then to return to the explored part of the map.
    Getting lost due to fleeing the monster is understandable. Never flee towards an unexplored part of the map and try to swim (it didn’t seem to swim much).

    Also, regarding the monster (hroom you might want to read this is you don’t mind spoilers): gur zbafgre qbrfa’g rkvfg, vg’f whfg n cebqhpg bs gur znva punenpgre’f zvaq; fb ab jbaqre crbcyr fyrrc va bcra cynprf.

  15. It’s-a mi, asmata!!!

  16. Sorry I’ve been away from the comments. I’m just going to drop in a few random replies here to what has gone before.

    James – I think you’re right that something ceases to be a collectible when it has some function within the game other than a tally. Eastshade doesn’t have collectibles so much, because you collect things to unlock further quests, conversations or items. However, there is a friction between what the game wants to be, a quiet island where you can wander at leisure and take in the countryside… or run around doing errands.

    Urthman – Yes, I’d heard of the Feather prototype with its fruit collecting but hadn’t really though of giving it a go. The commercial version is more-or-less perfect for me and I’m not sure I could be fair to the original. I’d be grumbling before I even fired it up!

    hroomMiasmata does have a long list of flaws and depending on how you take to the game, those flaws will either loom large or fade into insignficance. The story of Dead Space, for example, is absolute tosh and doesn’t make any sense – but the experience was really fun so I alright with that.

    FedeThanks for your notes on Miasmata! I can’t really argue too much with you and I complained on the stream about the triangulating with barely-visible stone heads: you end up gaming up it a little. Interesting you found it tedious to get all the plants; I don’t remember getting tired of it, as there are little curious changes in the biomes as you traverse. You are right that, once you get used to the mechanics, you never get lost because you always move carefully. There almost a mindfulness about it. As for your ROT13ed spoiler, I have to admit that was something I disliked strongly about the game. Maybe I could make a post dedicated to Miasmata spoilers. We can talk about it until the cows come home.

    CA – banned

  17. Tedious: Sorry, I didn’t explain well enough. Hunting for plants was nice (I didn’t get all of them, though, as I got no achievement). I meant that I was happy to have the “tables of teleportation”, as hroom called them, because the island is quite big and it would have been a loooong trek to cross all of it to get another sample of the bioluminescent algae when I finally needed it. Thanks to the table, it spent two/three weeks there and I had it on hand when I needed it.

    Znlor lbh xabj nobhg vg, ohg V unir sbhaq n zbq gung qvfnoyrf gur ornfg. Juvyr vg ybjref gur punyyratr, V’yy qrsvavgryl hfr vg vs/jura V ercynl.

  18. Maybe try giving the Fruits of a Feather prototype a go and see how long you can go without collecting any fruit at all. If you really enjoy Feather, the earlier version’s map is different enough that you’d probably enjoy just flying around a bit and looking around.

  19. Sorry, that comment was to Joel from me.

  20. Fede Ah, my mistake – I read your comment a bit too swiftly. Yes, indeed – the table mechanic is weird but, boy, it does take a lot of unnecessary running around out of the game. I don’t think it would’ve worked quite so well without it, you’re right. Oh and I’d never install that mod.

    Urthman Gotcha.

  21. So Lana Polansky’s archives led me to The Secret of Dank Mountain, which I’ve enjoyed a lot even though I did not play it stoned. It’s basically perfect for me in a certain mood–a walking simulator but with gameplay, replayable, short.

    The last two paragraphs of that give away what’s in the beam of light, which I don’t recommend spoiling, but the real secret is that the secret is not in the beam of light. The secret is that the true peak is slightly higher than the beam of light, and there is a sign on it, and when you reach the sign a checkbox appears for “Dank Mountain.” And I found another one for “Plank Peak”! Should I collect more? I’m not sure how I feel about this.

  22. And I went to some pains to climb another peak and was kind of annoyed that there was no sign and no checkbox. What is my brain doing to me?

  23. I just gave it a go, Matt. Quite lovely! And I agree, you don’t need to be stoned :)

    I didn’t read the article and just dove straight in. Nice “reward” at the peak of Dank Mountain. I found “Home Peak” which is just behind where you start. I didn’t go looking for any others – I don’t know where Plank Peak is – but it’s kind of insidious what a simple checkbox does to the brain…


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