Electron Dance

The 2013 Review


It’s the last Electron Dance post of 2013, so it is time to take stock of what I wrote and what you didn’t read, you stupid filthy dingbats. And did you know Electron Dance was on the Sunday Papers nine times this year? I know, poor show!

Also revealed: the top ten posts. Everybody likes Top Ten posts, right?   

Top Ten

  • The Five Stages of Starseed Pilgrim (6,500 views). How far can you push an essay on Starseed Pilgrim without spoilers? Oh boy, this far.
  • The Secret of Kairo (3,500 views). Having read too many smart people write that Kairo was fun but the story didn't make any sense, I took matters into my own hands.
  • Into The Black (3,000 views). There's a lot to be found inside Obsolete, if you're willing to look outside it.
  • Shooting Spirit (2,500 views). I hand the microphone to six 2D shooter developers who explain what’s so great about 2D shooting anyway.
  • Fish Out of Water (2,500 views). I played Dishonored and was shocked by the state of AAA game interfaces.
  • The Ethics of Selling Children (2,400 views). My very own Twitter controversy. This multi-layered essay exposes my discomfort with our bleeding edge writing: “some shit that happened to me”. Sorry about the word confessional. My bad.
  • Léon Loves Tetris (2,000 views). The 2D shooter and the FPS are identical save for one problematic difference.
  • Faith of the Pilgrim (1,800 views). A full deconstruction of Starseed Pilgrim – warts and all. The longest essay of the year.
  • Entropy (1,700 views). How Space Giraffe is Starseed Pilgrim.
  • The Long Road to Verona (1,600 views). Travels with my son in Euro Truck Simulator 2.

Other Work

  • Michael Brouge’s VESPER.6. Popular post from a parallel universe where VESPER.6 is the F2P sequel of the meditative VESPER.5.
  • Move Right. A surreal and surprising examination of the surprising and surreal puzzle-platformer suteF.
  • The Author As Content. They said the author was dead. They were wrong.
  • The Stanley Paradox. Who told you The Stanley Parable is about player choice? They were lying to you.
  • You Complete Me. I don’t like Twine. This is okay.
  • If All You Have is a Knife. Can you offer players the freedom to play their way yet lend their choices moral weight? Dishonored says no.
  • The Worst Way to Die. A story about a frightening Teleglitch glitch.
  • Oversight. The first high-profile Kickstarter fails so I write “told you so”. Doug Wilson hits back with FACTS.
  • La Peste. All of the stories in Dishonored are tedious and dull... except for one.
  • Across the Rooftops. Dishonored is the new Thief.
  • The Pink Room. Was it Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me that made me love Sword & Sworcery?
  • While the Tape Loads. Experiences used to be individual and savoured. Now they are part of an endless, chaotic stream.
  • The Beautiful Dead. Environmental storytelling is not going to save videogames.
  • The Beast. Four terrifying encounters with the beast of the sublime Miasmata.
  • Broken Glass. How much time should you submit to a game before giving up on it?
  • Stanley Scores Reviews. Using the voice of the narrator of The Stanley Parable, I poke fun at the conversation about review scores.

Dialogue Tree

Interviews from the desk of Eric Brasure.

  • Jonas Kyratzes "Why am I working myself to death for, you know, a few cents?"
  • Richard Hofmeier "I relate more to failures, I think most of us do."
  • Charles Battersby "Even though my Commander Sheperd is a woman, she is actually a transvestite."
  • John Sharp "The thing that's perhaps a bit of a lie from those people is that not everybody is going to be Team Meat."
  • Gnome "There was a period where you could build your audience, and I believe that this period is mostly over."
  • Davey Wreden "I really don’t know how people are going to respond to this. I don’t know."
  • Alan Williamson "Maybe the market wasn’t as big as we thought it was."
  • Pippin Barr "As a teenager I was quite anti-art, and sort of always telling my parents that I thought that art was ridiculous."

Bottom Dollar

What articles have done appallingly badly?

  • The High Five. I hate reading people write about how important or how much fun a particular event is: intentions aside, it just comes across like I'm so special. Knowing this, what was I to write about my visit to IndieCade East? I decided to use the experience to articulate my concerns about being "friendly" with developers, although it still fucking comes across like I'm so special. Indie Statik's article on the same topic eight months later was tweeted around like a zillion times. The problem with The High Five, like a lot of my articles, is that I don't like to reveal my hand until late into the words; the idea is that the ending is a surprise, a payoff, like a last-page twist in a murder mystery. I don't even know if this works as a style because the lead-in might be too mundane. People who trust you will read to conclusion but the first-timer won't. I suspect this writing structure hinders growth of the site.
  • The IndieCade East 2013 Podcast. I really gotta stop doing these developer interviews because they are nothing but a time sink and never do well.
  • Learning Curve. I didn't know what to expect from this. It's retro and personal. Seems like people who like it really like it, but traffic is low. We may be getting some pre-Christmas slowdown, so possibly not be representative of the appeal.
  • Blood on the Boards. Quite often writing about a little-known game yields a drop in traffic so hard that it leaves a dent in spacetime. This is that article. Although the article is not about the game Boson X but about toxic high score play.
  • The Island. I love Miasmata but this hasn't translated into the kind of articles people want to talk about.
  • Polis. Slightly confused article about my Metro 2033 experience. Maybe I should stop writing articles that look like reviews.
  • The Rabbit Hole. Little-known game time again. This piece on Myriad is really about what you miss if you dismiss games on shallow impressions.
  • The Accidental ARG. Put together after painstakingly researching all the emails and notes I made during the Xmaspiration ARG in 2011, I wanted to use the ARG to highlight the danger of developers wasting players' time even with the best of intentions. Looks like it was too much detail, not enough meat for the audience.
  • A Third Option. An article that spends far too much time in fictional passages about alien vampires was bound to bomb. All I really wanted to say was that dreams convey the difference between videogames and storytelling media like films and literature.
  • Auto-Critique 1. A throwaway article about how I write for Electron Dance. Style choices and other writerly conundrums.
  • The Labour of Love. As Joe Martin terminated the Unlimited Hyperbole podcast in an apparent fit of pique, it gave me a chance to describe how mentally destructive it is to keep a thing like this going.

Video Work

I cut back severely on video work this year as videos devour the hours but give little back in terms of clicks and followers. Not going to stop me from finishing the big video I have been working on since August, though.

  • Expo Man 2013. I've mentioned that developer interviews at festivals/conventions don't do well, primarily because you're competing with the rest of the web. So I've decided to stop going to Eurogamer Expo. If this video had done really well, I probably would have carried on next year. But I was so convinced this wouldn't happen, I called it "The Final Expo Man" in the video itself.


Projects & Direction

With Eric Brasure, I launched a new podcast called Counterweight this year. We wanted no joking around, just two guys discussing a single topic for 45 minutes. I had a lot of work to do if I expected to match Eric's confident podcasting performance and I've been improving as the podcast has developed. We’ve decided to focus on particular games rather than “topics” which were variable in both quality and attention. Recently, I started adding companion notes to (a) catch everything I didn’t say on the podcast, (b) encourage commenting and (c) encourage people to pick up the podcast if they hadn't already. I had hoped that CW would be an easy week for me every month – but the amount of work I’m now doing around the podcast means that it's not really saving me any time.

Since I interviewed Clara Fernández-Vara last year, I’ve wanted to launch a spiritual follow-up to the Game Studies Download. Developers make up a significant proportion of the Electron Dance audience, so why not give them a diverse cross-section of links tailored for them? Thus Marginalia was born, in which I source links from a panel of contributors. I wanted articles relating to craft, inspiration, business and academia.

But let’s come clean. Marginalia is work. Corresponding with the contributors, checking links and videos, writing the whole thing up... it all costs time. Making things worse, it’s one of the least popular things that air on the site. It doesn’t get shared much and I’m unsure whether the links are piquing interest at all, or whether I’m just not pimping it enough to developers. Numbers have not been great.

I was going to pull the plug a few months ago as I wasn’t expecting take-up to be so slow and Eric talked me into keeping it going, because it’s still early days. So it gets a stay of execution for 2014.

Open Mike was an idea that Richard Goodness proposed during the visit to New York in February. I wasn't in favour of a site forum, so he negotiated for the halfway house of the open comment post. It was launched when comments were pretty active on the site however, as comments have been drying up, interest in Open Mike has waned. I tend to find it stressful, as I feel like a compère, responsible for keeping the wine of discussion flowing. The last thread had just ten comments, portraying the site as a comment graveyard, so I’m suspending Open Mike for now. I’ll resurrect it if I feel the comments return to their lively days earlier in the year.

The site is always a revolving door of emotions. The first half of this year was absolutely epic but in the end I had to take a month off, it was becoming pretty brutal juggling all the projects while trying to write normal articles while trying to respond to comments and Twitter and emails while trying to do the rest of the things we all call life. And since then, the site has undergone a traffic implosion hitting the worst couple of months in two years. Electron Dance was on course for hitting 100K views this year but the brakes slammed on in September and it's clear the site isn't going to make it.

Some of you may have seen a sudden splurge of self-doubting tweets last week. When people stop coming, you re-evaluate everything. Maybe this kind of site has run its course? Perhaps there are too many free blogs professing to be intellectual powerhouses of videogame discussion now? Is my writing tired because of the hours I keep? Am I churning out too many articles on specific games, becoming more review-like? Am I even up to date any more, as I no longer find joy in reading other writers on videogames?

I don't have any answers to these questions. At the start of 2013, there was a feeling that the site was going places and it was time to expand its mission. As the year closes, it feels like I'm gradually preparing for its demise. I will say there are a few important projects I want to execute before I'd ever wind up the site, so Electron Dance will continue into 2014.

Coming 2014

Electron Dance returns on January 14 with Learning to Stop the conclusion of Learning Curve. There are also the remaining games from the last Warm Up to write about. I can't promise whether I'll play Pathologic or Mass Effect but I promise to get The Great Series out. I'd like to think some people will adore the series while others will find it offensive. No, that's a lie. I'd like to think you'd all find it offensive. Here's a reminder.

And for those of you who have made it this far down, here's three exclusive screenshots from the series launch video that won't tell you anything about it at all.

ws-video-fotonica-explosion wsvideo-but-tyrants ws-video-believe-in-the-power-of

Good night, and good luck.

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Comments (16) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Keep it up…I should read and share more, because this website is a good one.

  2. Yeah, keep it up! I’m always reading, if not commenting; this is one of my favourite place to read about video games (and discover them, I’m clueless when it comes to the smaller indie games you usually cover). You seem to have some dedicated followers, judging by the comments here and your regular appearances on other websites, and that is more valuable in my mind than the anonymous, ponctual crowd. There’s that difficult balance to find, between staying faithful to yourself (which is why some people stick with you) and trying to lure in new potential dedicated followers, but ultimately you should remember that you are writing for them (the dedicated ones, I mean), more than the guy who only stays for one paragraph because of a RPS link. Urgh, it was a bit convoluted, but I think the point comes forth: I hope you keep writing!

    And I, for one, like the Marginalia pieces, even if I do not read all the links.

  3. Well… I liked the Accidental ARG.

    And please don’t stop writing about little-known games.

  4. @Sean: Thanks. Your favourable Anodyne review is in the post. ;-)

    @Sylvain: Thanks for the encouragement! I’d say my side that there is only so much time I have and there are other things I want to do (like get back to creative writing). If Electron Dance “peaks” and stops growing at a certain point then I’ll probably start to consider whether it’s time to transition to something else. I just don’t have the time to handle full on marketing / PR and I imagine this holds me back. I think I’m reaching in the wrong places for new visitors – I’m not sure how appropriate RPS as you say.

    @mwm: thank you my one ARG reader :-) at least the next ARG has been fully planned in advance. It is simple and short.

    I’m not going to stop writing about small games but I’ve noticed that most of the time when I make an article about “a game” – whether it be AAA or free Ludum Dare – it often does badly. Writing about general ideas does far better. What I’ve learnt is not to front load the game if possible because that just dissuades clicks even if there’s something interesting at the bottom of it. I never intend to write reviews but this year I’ve written a ton of stuff that looks like reviews.

  5. I always liked the Open Mikes! For most of the last month I haven’t been playing anything, though, because there was pretty much literally always something I needed to be doing instead. Not that I always did it, but the “listen to music and hope to start working” paradigm was much better for me. Since coming through the other side of a truly awful term at work I’ve been able to play a bit more, getting back into Fallen London and I think the other thing I did was kind of an epic solo session of Magic Realm, which is not really of interest to anyone else.

    And I pushed out a post-comp version of Faithful Companion for beta testing! I was up awfully late last night squashing bugs, the most annoying of which were not even my fault. (Online link: .)

    I was going to ask you folks whether I should kick the Humble Bundle people a couple of dollars for Gemini Rue but I literally found a Misha Mengelberg sale. (Perhaps not so much “sale” as “me exploiting the pricing inefficiencies of some MP3 purveyors.”) Hey, I got comment 20000 on the site! That makes me unreasonably happy.

    Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to all! I really value your writing and the space for conversation you create.

  6. Just wanted to say, I don’t post here much (I usually can’t add anything to the discussion) but electron dance is one of my favourite sites. I think I come here more than any other site, barring my email and RPS. You know how the internet was meant to be this place of intellectual debate where people could share ideas and learn from each other and have a good time – and then there was this huge disappointment when it became nothing but porn and trolls? Well, this place delivered on that promise. This is the only site on the entire internet where I read the comments – and they often improve the discussion! That boggles my mind.

    You said you feel like you’re presiding over ED’s slow decline and death. Obviously, I hope that’s not true and things pick up. But regardless of how things go, I just wanted to let you know what an amazing job you’ve done.

  7. In truth my commenting has dropped off because of what’s been going on in my work life. Next year will be… well, different to say the least.

    I continue to read everything you write and turn it over and over again in my brainmeats.

  8. I’ve been so busy the last week or so and, finally today I am free. I can relax. And now I’m ill. Thank you 2013.

    @matt – I knew everyone involved liked the Open Mikes, but the conversations were drying up with fewer people taking part compared to the original threads. This was something that happened across the site as we went into autumn. I used to publicise on Twitter that Electron Dance had great comment discussions but as the comments became fewer, I felt uncomfortable with that and removed it entirely. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but it was just another point of evidence that interest was moving away from the site – or that the hardcore of supporters were not expanding, so when that hardcore group got busy… there was no one to fill the void.

    If the comments spin up again, I’ll bring back Open Mike. I feel like I’ve created too many admin jobs when it comes to the site – following up comments, doing the social media dance and managing the site itself. There’s more maintenance going on than actual writing and so I was looking for things to prune going into the next year.

    @James – Thanks, that’s comment is just too nice and I should put it on the About post! Numbers still tell me that a core of 100-200 people read every post, but numbers just haven’t breaking out of that much. The site takes a toll every month which means I need a sort of mental carrot to entice me ever onwards. I’m aware of the dour nature of the post; it just came at a bad time and December has just been a gruelling month. (I’m totally excited for the Series and I’m almost tempted just to go on extended hiatus to get it done.)

    @ShaunCG – Cheers, Shaun. Don’t worry, I’m not picking on any individual for the slowdown of Electron Dance. I BLAME YOU ALL. =)

  9. The Open Mikes had a tendency to drift miles away from my personal interest when two or three guys would pick up a really niche topic. Elsewise, it was often interesting, but always bloated; a definite chore to dig through the entire log, even if Richard had started putting his essays on his own site.

    Posted in 2013 on a site that says it’s 2014.

  10. @mwm: Thanks for the honesty as it suggests that the forum or directed thread (eg. What do you think about Bioshock Infinite?) might work better. I wasn’t really considering what the density of essay-like comments might have looked like to somebody casually browsing.

    Still not inclined to support a forum, of course, as it might really turn to high maintenance and / or ghost town. Maybe I should hire Amanda Lange as a community manager.

  11. I’ve really enjoyed some of the Marginalia links – I’m not a game developer (outside my own head, at any rate) but I’m fascinated by game design and there are always some interesting thoughts in there, and a good sense of connection.
    What I don’t tend to pick up on is anything audio – I’m quite likely to be catching up on the site during a coffee break at work, so a 45-minute podcast doesn’t really fit there.

  12. Thanks for dropping a comment in here, Phlebas. In terms of Marginalia, the plan was to product a link list you might not see elsewhere, something that doesn’t overlap with anyone else’s link roundups. It might yet find an audience but I’d say if it’s still doing the same numbers in December 2014, it won’t survive into 2015.

    Podcasts take longer to play out for that very reason you state. We’ve not had any epic podcast action (the Papers Please one is about the most popular Counterweight which has been listened to 300 times). I’m happy to keep it going for now.

  13. Chiming in to say I like the podcasts, but I have a particular podcast listening pattern in that I save them for if I’m doing art or cleaning, so I don’t usually listen to them right away.

    Some great work this year.

    I still haven’t tried Starseed Pilgrim.

  14. Thanks for chiming in, Amanda. I usually have a gut feel about how well a written piece is going to do within a few hours of posting; it’s not the same for podcasts where it can take weeks before popularity or lack of shows it’s hand.

    I still haven’t read your Infinite piece yet, but I’ve just started playing the darn thing so it would seem rude to do so at this point.

  15. I too haven’t been posting in the comments due to work, but that’s hopefully back to sanity now and I will soon be making a glorious, contrarian return.

    Anyone who doesn’t read Harbour Master’s work is missing out on the best of the best (though his spelling is appalling – its HARBOR, silly). Traffic numbers are what they are, but I’ve never been a big believer in the wisdom of crowds. Some of my favorite Electron Dance work was evidently some of the lowest-visited; some of it was evidently some of the highest. Mostly I think it’s important for the world to understand that I was being sarcastic when I said Call of Duty: Ghosts would be the most important game of the year in HM’s Expo video.

    I look forward to more dancing electrons in 2014! As for traffic, we have lax gun laws in America. I’d be more than happy to arm up and get people to visit the site by force.

    Happy New Year, Joel!

  16. Thanks for stopping by, Steerpike, and sorry I didn’t drop a comment here earlier. I haven’t been dropping comments too much on Tap recently, either! My reading is far behind although I’ve tended to keep up with Tap. I actually feel quite overdosed on reading and I’ve been trying to cut back. There’s always this sense that I might be missing that “one key article” that unlocks a game design mystery.

    Some of my lowest-visited work is definitely some of the most passionately supported! I’m sure the video I have been working on for 6 months will be loved by some, but still remain obscure. I don’t care. I knew that going in. Eyes open!

    Happy New Year to you too, sir.

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