Electron Dance
30Apr/13Off

The Five Stages of Starseed Pilgrim

Note: If you're interested in 100% guaranteed spoilers and analysis, you best take a look at the next article, Faith of the Pilgrim.

Alexander “Droqen” Martin's Starseed Pilgrim is another one of those games.

It's another Fight Club game, like At A Distance. A game you can't talk about. A game it's even dangerous to acknowledge the existence of. Don't go spoiling it y'hear. Don't go causing no bother, now.

sharing-secrets

“Hey, have you played–”

“FECKING SPOILED NOW INNIT WHY DONCHA JUST TELL ME WHO KILLED LAURA PALMER AND THROW KEYSER SOZE INTO THE FECKING BUNDLE”

No one wants to spoil a good half of Starseed Pilgrim, which is about learning and discovery. Just half, mind you. The other half, which is just as important, is mastery.

Those reviewers brave enough to take on the task of communicating something about the game without, well, communicating something about the game become linguistic contortionists. Adam Smith tries on “Starseed Pilgrim throws its abstractions into the player’s face like a glass of cold water,” and Chris Priestman offers “a game that parallels the act of scribing, but replaces the words with symphonic gardening,” Phill Cameron suggests the “revelations cascade with the speed of a glacier” while the game “smirks and inverts”. John Teti hopes to motivate you with “Dirt is only boring until you plant some seeds. Then it becomes an experience.

Don't worry, I'm going to end up performing the same kind of trick as these fine fellows. I'm going to share my experience of Starseed Pilgrim without explaining anything whatsoever.

Let me tell you about the five stages of Starseed Pilgrim.    

Stage One: Bewilderment

The shortcut is on your desktop. It's been there for days, accumulating several shades of dust. Some tweets said it was the best game ever of ever. Jonathan Blow even brandished it to headshot critics and academics with a double-barrelled hyperbolegun. You're having review flashbacks, palpitations. No handholding. A glass of cold water. Symphonic gardening. Embracing fate. Dirt is boring. What they are all trying to convey to you is the same truth: God is in this code.

There's a lot riding on this fucking executable.

starseed-pilgrim-dormant-shortcut

Fuck it. Click, click.

There's a priceless moment in Starseed Pilgrim where you think perhaps it's going to be okay. The bit at the start, where it's like a children's playground in No Danger City, Safeland. The screen has walls. There is only one way to go, one thing to do. It's teaching you the fundamental mechanics of movement and tunnelling. A tutorial, right?

starseed-pilgrim-beginning

I got two words for you.

Sucker. Punch.

After that, you get this.

starseed-pilgrim-sucker-punch

Welcome to the real Starseed Pilgrim. See those pink columns on the right? Doesn't it look like the game is giving you the finger?

Whilst we are rightly proud of games that throw players into an exhilarating adventure devoid of signposts, the cosmic truth is some players will not survive such tough love. Perhaps without those flashbacks of reviewer praise promising it's all going to be okay, many players wouldn't even bother experimenting. What is this shit, they might ask rhetorically, before remembering that Bioshock Infinite is coming out soon.

The game has needed its champions.

So you play. Experiment, some things happen. And very quickly it's over. You're back at the start. Hmm.

So you play. Experiment, some things happen. And very quickly it's over. You're back at the start. Hmm.

So you play. Experiment, some things happen. And very quickly it's over. You're back at the start. Hmm.

Maybe you close the executable. Maybe you leave it fallow for a few weeks. Maybe you don't come back again because Bioshock Infinite is now on sale and you can collect shiny coins like it's Mario all over again.

Or maybe you do come back.

Stage Two: Acceptance

The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

Sorry, that's a speech from Babylon 5. What I really meant to write was this:

The rules of the game eventually show off a little bit of flesh. You still don't know the why, but you can now articulate a small chunk of the how. You understand how some of the tools work and what the game seems to expect from you. You understand there is a cycle, a rhythm to the game.

So you play. Experiment, some things happen. And very quickly it's over. You're back at the start but... a little richer than you were before.

starseed-pilgrim-game-censored

There's still no purpose to it though. You're just playing with the pretty colours and sounds because Jonathan Blow told you to. The stubborn sense of mystery persists, the white void humming with question marks. The game hints at larger purpose and tries to nudge you, persuade you to think a little bigger darling. You might even notice a challenge that looks like a motherfucking joke right now.

It's just taken you five minutes solid to raise a little “wealth” but you've reached the point where you need to try something new, something different. You decide to risk your new found “wealth” on a little gamble. Okay, maybe a couple of gambles.

Desperation is starting to etch its way into your resolve. Tense, nervous headaches. A little sweat on the forehead; you can't go back to the internet and tell them all you got stuck. Is there really more to this game than the cycle?

OH MY GODDD

Stage Three: Euphoria

Well, that investment paid off with a sweet dividend. Now you've got a real goal! Sort of. It's a personal goal, like something a life coach would tell you to do for self-improvement. It's good for the soul because God is in the code.

starseed-pilgrim-other-game-censored

It doesn't matter. Don't listen to those naysayers in your head with their nihilistic shit talk. You're beginning to commune with your tools, become one with the mechanics universe of the Starseed Pilgrim.

That's when a bunch of spanners turn up in your cogs. You discover those mechanics you've become confident with are not constant in the wild. There is not just one mechanics universe but many, each one disrupting your burgeoning mastery of the game in violent ways. In each new mechanics universe you are a child again, humbled by a seemingly inconsequential perturbation that destroys everything. The butterfly effect of game design.

But you persist because there is more to know.

Stage Four: Denial

You're sliding into desperation again because the mask is starting to slip. You're going to have to confront the truth. All that dirt you swept under the rug... well there's more dirt than rug now. Keep telling those lies to yourself.

starseed-pilgrim-illegal-graphic

You're running out of things to do and the game doesn't look “finished” at all. But you know there's one thing you haven't done yet because it's insane. You tried doing it once and realised you were so ill-prepared for that level of clusterfuck that it was better just to forget the whole thing. Maybe some as-yet undiscovered Super Mechanic is still buried in there. A power that will make the insane motherfucking joke of a challenge seem like a piece of chocolate cake drizzled with custard.

But eventually you discover the walls of the game. There is nothing left to do. These walls, unlike those of the tutorial, are like hands on your throat. You have to take on the insane challenge for real. You have stop playing around like a little kid in a sandbox, mumbling “oh the beautiful symphonicity and colourosity of it all” and take it seriously.

This isn't fucking Proteus, so man up.

Stage Five: Obsession

Ha ha. What you called “mastery” during those early days of Starseed Pilgrim is total amateur hour compared to the crazy stunts you are pulling off now.

You grow. You grow a second brain just for the pilgrimage. You become efficient and find ways to better your future before you get there. You hone your understanding of the mechanics. The smallest details become important to you, like a craftsman now, an artist. One step in the wrong place can break your artwork; the difference between success and starting the cycle again is often so slight.

You take your skills to the other mechanics universes and conquer them too, tweaking your response in just the right way to see you through.

But there are a few challenges which seem beyond you. You try again and again and somehow never succeed. You get close – but it's never close enough. The darkness is too overwhelming and you meet with failure every single time. No, no, fuck no!

But wait. My lord, you have a cunning plan!

You go to Twitter and ask the two guys who were gushing about the game an important question. Did they finish Starseed Pilgrim? Because, after all, if they didn't it means they're full of shit! Play this game! It's awesome! But humanly impossible!

Cool. You've found the escape pod. Relief ripples through your over-stretched mental muscles. You're not trapped any more. Take that, game. Take that, Droqen. Take that, Take That.

You invite their confession. You are ready for their truth.

oi-did-you-finish-starseed-pilgrim

Oh man. The truth hurts.

oi-yes

That “yes” feels so denigrating, three letters of sneer. Today, you are nothing. Embrace your fate.

Again, try again. Again. Again. Try again. Failed. Try again. If at first you don't succeed, try a million times again. Don't worry about the entropic heat death of the universe, it can't possibly take that long. You'll get there eventually. So there's no super mechanic but all roads lead to Rome. Just hope you're not on the longest possible shittiest road to Rome.

Keep the faith. Keep trying. Keep devoting the hours. God is in the code.

And suddenly: let there be light.

OH MY GODDD

Starseed Pilgrim, nominated for this year's IGF award for Excellence in Design, can be purchased directly from Droqen or via Steam.

Next week: A many-splendoured fully-spoilered analysis of Starseed Pilgrim.

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Posted by Joel Goodwin

Electron Dance Highlights

Comments (61) Trackbacks (2)
  1. ** NO SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS THIS WEEK PLEASE **

    Please save them up for next week! The above article is a simplified version of my experience and I’m pretty sure other players will have their own “five stages”.

  2. Oh dear. I so wish I had time to get lost in this game right now…

  3. phlebas, I definitely give it a big thumbs up as it’s an incredible game. Next week, I will also draw attention to what I see as some problems. Although I guess you won’t be reading the spoiler notes =)

  4. God, thinking about playing this game makes me tired. Thinking about playing any game makes me tired. I’m just going to go over here and lie down for a few minutes, it’s been a long day. What, Jonathan Blow is over there? Why is Jonathan Blow on my couch? Why does Jonathan Blow look like my dog?

    Who wants to play a round of Mille Bornes with me?

    Not you, Jonathan Dog. Go lie down.

  5. My first thought on seeing your screenshots: “oh, that looks like Mr Driller!”

  6. I love Jonathan Dog! I love Milles Bornes!

    I loved the hell out of this piece.

    Man! It’s great to get some *style* around here! Write the body, motherfuckers!

    Perhaps I shall write the Five Stages of Bioshock Infinite. Stage one: Fuck you, Ken Levine.

  7. Joel, this might be the sexiest article on Electron Dance. Even more so than either of Chaud’s games. Or maybe shouts of revelatory joy are just orgasmic by nature. I don’t think Pilgrim’s for me, unfortunately, but it does mean I can read the spoilers with impunity and have a funky good time.

    @Shuan:
    You just reminded me that I never got around to playing Mr. Driller. Damn you.

    @Richard:
    Is the final stage “Rondo of Blood”?

  8. @Beamo It was, but you’re right about the sexiness of this article, and now I’m thinkin’ bout Mr Driller so it might just end in kissing. I’m on record as describing Levine as “pretty” although I might have been only half serious.

    Late Night Electron Dance, awwww yeah.

    (It’s 2 in the afternoon)

  9. So I was going to say something about how I would not expect game academics to be keeping me up on the best cutting-edge new games, because the strength of academics should be in providing in-depth analysis that takes a relatively long time to prepare, and then I saw this exchange:

    “Why have I not been hearing about Starseed Pilgrim for months from game academics? Aren’t they supposed to be smart and on the forefront?”
    “doesnt the larger (now) field of game academics teach only fundamental conventions and technical skills that have come before”
    “Maybe. I do not know what they do, honestly.”

    Jonathan Blow’s public persona can be kind of abrasive, is what I’m saying.

  10. People like Blow and Fish are assholes. A lot of times I find them to be Fun Assholes. I find this exchange goddamn hilarious because of its dismissive, I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it attitude. In two tweets he not only dismissed the priorities and relevance of an ENTIRE field of inquiry, he also mocked their inability to get the word out about what they do, exactly. Now, that’s certainly a massive claim for Blow to make, but…the priorities of academics and developers–and, possibly, critics–are all different.

    Whether or not that difference is a bad thing will be left as an exercise for the Reader.

  11. Although I love this piece, I am actually surprised it’s been such a hit. Not quite as big a hit as Into the Black or Ethics, but still a lot of people saying nice things.

    @ShaunCG: Oh Shaun. I think there’s probably no overlap between Mr Driller and Starseed Pilgrim. I say that having NEVER played Mr Driller.

    @Richard: I think your stage one is a bit on the nose. Plus, isn’t that a little more stage three or something?

    @BeamSplashX: And lucky for you the spoilered alternative piece next week will be a dehydrated, fun-lite parallel universe version of this one. At least it sounds like that in my head.

    I cited Jon here twice because I thought he was turning the Starseed Pilgrim hype a bit inside out. I’ve written about SP *after* it’s become fairly well-known so I can afford to write some reflective snark, of course. I’m a correction: if I was writing back in January, the tone would be completely different and I’d be advocating far more.

    (Just to be clear, I wasn’t implying that Jon Blow was actually been sneery at me. That’s merely the dramatic impact of his brief tweet.)

    I’m doing better at not getting worked up about inflammatory stuff that emerges from successful guys like Jonathan Blow or Phil Fish. You get to a certain level of success and you stop forgetting to turn the filter on. That happens here on Electron Dance too; with every extra 100 followers on Twitter, I get a bit more relaxed about what I can say. With 10 zillion followers, I’d tell you all to fuck off probably. =)

    At the same time, I try not to read too much into these random ventings. Amidst the increasingly fraught and hostile comment discussion taking place on Jonas Kyratzes’ Greenlight post, Jon Blow managed to engage Jonas in an incredibly civil discussion. And he made Braid. I like Braid.

    Twitter, sometimes, makes us all assholes. Richard, you out of all of us should know that =) Matt, you’d have no idea.

    Having said all this, I’m watching Indie Game: The Movie this week, so all bets are off.

  12. @HM:
    Ooh, be on the lookout for Laura Michet’s nanosecond-long cameo in that. Also, something fun-lite might be good for me, considering my fun-heavy diet.

  13. Yes, with more than 140 characters to work with I should really have found room to say “Part of the problem is that Twitter eliminates all nuance.” He wound up having a reasonable discussion with some game academic who pointed out that the comment, as it read, was insulting to the intelligence of game academics.

    I liked Braid too! But I didn’t get to play it until 2012 so I got a lot of Jonathan Blow the Public Persona before he was able to build up credit with me as Jonathan Blow the Game Designer, which is probably unfair to him.

  14. Matt, I forgot the smiley off your “you’d have no idea” line. Unbelievably I went to bed thinking about that missing smiley. Thinking about how, by morning, the discussion had turned nasty and Richard was in here saying “no Matt he didn’t mean any harm” and you’d be like “well he could put a smiley on it it’s just a couple of characters, this isn’t Twitter”. Fortunately those thoughts did not follow me into my dreams.

    Beam – I guess this is my chance to engage with the ghost of Laura Michet. The only trace of her these days is watching the Steam popup telling me she’s playing some new game. *sniff*

  15. Hmm, now starting to wonder if anyone thinks the “let there be light” line is actually the discovery of a new super mechanic. I was only trying to articulate reaching the achievement. Maybe I will tweak something.

  16. Ha, no worries, no smiley was necessary. And I’m a confirmed Twitterphobe (though the sort of Twitterphobe who will sometimes take the time to scroll through a month of archived posts to find context for a conversation), so even if it was serious I would wear it as a badge of honor.

    “Hmm, now starting to wonder if anyone thinks the ‘let there be light’ line is actually the discovery of a new super mechanic. I was only trying to articulate reaching the achievement.”

    AAAAH SPOILERS

    (smiley)

  17. Well, be fair to me. I’m not an asshole because of Twitter–Twitter just enables me. I’m just a bitter misogynist at heart who is jealous of the attention given to others. THAT’S why I’m an asshole.

    In all seriousness: There are a lot of times I’ll go see a band play, and I’ll be so energized and pumped that I’ll go home and play guitar for an hour just because they remind me how fucking wonderful playing music is and they make me want to do that too. I pretty much never get that when reading game-related articles. If I’m ever inspired to write, it’s because a Zinester has written something awful again and I want to rip it apart.

    But this piece made me want to rock out–immediately after reading it yesterday I sat down and banged out a good thousand words on Infinite, and frankly the rest of my piece on it is super clear. I know you’re a bit bemused by the attention that’s being given to it–but this is such an invigorating piece.

    You know, like…it’s a Personal Narrative that Talks About The Feeling Of The Game that ISN’T a poorly-written, narcissistic, condescending, solipsistic, bullshit screed (c.f. Would You Kindly, Gaming Made Me: Fallout 2). Starseed Pilgrim is a very difficult game to describe because it completely encapsulates the “dancing about architecture” problem–its grammar is the way its mechanics work together, and that’s something that’s much more easily experienced than explained. And yet its Meaning can be a bit more easily described.

    I think about what Ebert said about Groundhog Day (by the way, has anyone ever read “People Who Were A Game Designer Include Harold Ramis”, which is one of my absolute favorite pieces of games writing and can be found here http://lunaran.com/page.php?id=214). He mentioned that many different religions are able to find deep resonances in the movie. From a Christian perspective, the movie is about Murray’s character starting out in a life of sin and, through love and compassion for his fellow man, eventually earns redemption and Heaven. From a more Buddhist perspective, Murray’s character is caught in an endless cycle of suffering and desire until he manages to find peace and move on by accepting and loving things as they are. Like that.

    I find games to be an extremely good meditative focus. Say what you will about Skyrim, but I’ve heard plenty of meditation tapes which start off by describing nature, which is where Skyrim takes place, and its design allows me to shut my brain off and just kind of om for a little bit. I’ve got Vesper.5 and Pilgrim next to each other on my desktop–never finished Vesper5 because for some reason it corrupted or something and anyway I can’t seem to run it, I don’t have good luck with computers–and I think it’s apt because they’re both zen games in their own way.

    So I guess I’m saying, God is in the machine. The game is about the search for ineffability. Fact is, you, my friend, just completed yourself a Hero’s Journey, with Blow representing the old wizard dude who gives you Knowledge to do your Quest. You set out on this journey–a Pilgrimage, eh, eh?–hacking away, and in a moment of discouragement–in a long dark night of the soul when you’re not even sure if the grail you’re searching for exists, you’re told not only that, no, enlightenment IS there, you’re also on the right track. And then you achieve it, you grab the fire, and you bring it back to the village letting us know IT’S OUT THERE.

    I just love this piece so goddamn much.

    [Also re my comment earlier about not reading much that makes me wanna rock out, while I definitely felt this moreso than normal with this one, I’ve been reading so much better shit since I defected and became an Electron Dancer. And I didn’t feel like I had to pass any bizarre initiation rituals or nothin’! Basically what I’m saying is I Appreciate You Folks.)

  18. (also, in rereading People Who Were A Game Designer Include Harold Ramis, I’m getting massive Cart Life vibes!)

  19. Have I mentioned, by the way, how furious I am that the ‘Pilgrim does not include Steam Cheevos? I mean they aren’t real Cheevos and they don’t count, but I *wanted* them.

  20. @HM:
    The trick is Facebook. Alternatively, she blogs at http://blog.lauramichet.com if you want to engage in cross-bloggery, a suggestion I made mostly so I could say “cross-bloggery”. Which also sounds like a fantasy law firm.

    @Richard:
    You seem to be a bit Darth Vader in terms of writing, then. I’m not sure where I fall in the spectrum. I appreciate the existence of unconventional games, but don’t get nearly as much out of experiencing them as I know they offer. Also, “cheevos” can only make me think of chive-flavored Cheetos.

    :), just to be sure.

  21. This was a fantastic read and even more impressive given that you didn’t spoil a damn thing. So I ought to check this out, it sounds up my street. I love the idea of experimenting with abstract and alien systems to work out the vocabulary and ruleset of the game and I also love how the game expects you to rise to that rather than copping out and flashing and splashing over your screen. Ew.

    “So you play. Experiment, some things happen. And very quickly it’s over. You’re back at the start. Hmm.”

    That’s kind of how most firefights in Bioshock Infinite go to be honest, only success is a mix of attrition and often just fudging it.

    @Richard: Stage One. I laughed out loud when I read that this morning.

  22. @matt w: I guess we won’t be seeing you in the comments for next week’s spoiler piece. I’m going all the way with it… right to the end.

    @Richard: Well I’m glad it had that effect on you. I must admit I don’t get that fired up myself by videogame writing much nowadays – decent game diaries can get me yapping like a puppy, but that’s about it. I find I have too many things to read and it becomes akin to work; I imagine its that unfortunate context that prevents me getting too engaged. (Still, you piqued my interest in Cargo Commander.) I’m a bit like Adam Cadre, maybe? He writes well-received IF but can’t stand to play it himself.

    I’m sure I’ve read the Groundhog Day piece, although the site doesn’t look familiar (redesigned, I guess?).

    Stage five is not zen but it will catapult you into a state of flow.

    I have no idea what Steam Cheevos are.

    @BeamSplashX
    Richard is much more like Darth Vader on Twitter, I think, although he would probably cast himself as part of the rebel forces. Thanks for letting me know about Laura’s continued online existence. I have already been a nuisance on her site.

    @Gregg
    Thanks. I’ve seen some responses suggesting that people who felt they’d done all they could with the game hadn’t really progressed through “Stage Five”. Starseed Pilgrim cannot in anyway be classed as casual; I don’t think it’s for people who don’t have much endurance for a lack of signposting. If you’re good with that and willing to get a little lost – willing to put it down for days at a time – you might find some special magic here.

  23. I’m gonna be definitely writing a Cargo Commander piece–I was thinking about your comment about how Cart Life has all of these little details in it, and while CC isn’t nearly as dense, and it’s more of a Videogame than CL is, it’s a surprisingly existentially bleak game. Since writing that little piece I did, I’ve discovered so much more to it, and I’ve got some overarching ideas. Unfortunately, it’s such a hard game that I’m having trouble getting much further in it :) Part of the problem is my PC isn’t great. One of the major goals in each level involves, essentially, a huge amount of enemies in a maze (much more fun than it sounds), but my computer ends up getting skippy at so much on screen and the control gets shitty and I die because my graphics card is essentially a potato chip with circuit lines drawn on it in felt tip marker.

    Adam Cadre is one of the few IF authors I love, and I’ve actually been following his blog for the past 13 years, before “blog” was a term, even. I haven’t enjoyed his newer stuff, but that’s largely because I haven’t been in a place with the patience for IF. I’m developing another wave of love for adventure games thanks to Cognition and Resonance, so I’m assuming IF and I are just On A Break.

    But I remember I saw a Lydia Lunch interview, and she said that she doesn’t do much in the way of reading other peoples’ work. She has enough of her own shit she does, she said, and other peoples’ stuff is a distraction. Now. As a critic, I have some issues with that–given the context of the work I do, especially, paying attention to other peoples’ shit is kind of where I get material from–but I don’t think it’s a bad sentiment at all. It’s extremely easy to distract yourself with other peoples’ stuff.

    I don’t know if I’m Darth Vader, but I do know when I write articles, I’m like the Sarlaac, which keeps its prey conscious and alive while it slowly, painfully digests it over decades.

    Cheevos = achievements. It’s a very Gamerz term for them, and because I am an irritating person, I find it such a hilarious term that I must use it every chance I get. Right now I am playing Resonance. It has more Cheevos so it is a better game than Jefferson Starseed.

  24. @HM: Yes, it’s annoying; I’d really like to participate in the discussion but it’s probably going to take me something like a year to finish the game.

    And Richard, thanks for the pointer to Laura Michet’s new place! I’ve already appreciated her piece on “Is it a gamz?” (I’m also going to troll you by thanking you for pointing to GMM: Half-Life 2, which you got me to read.)

  25. @matt w That wasn’t me, that was Beamo! But I will accept the compliment you intended to give to him.

    (This is extremely similar to the story of Jacob and Esau…)

  26. @matt:
    I can be Richard if that’s what you’re into.

    Electron Dance: Still NSFC Certified

  27. Man. I even scrolled up to look. OK, Richard, you just get the thanks for the Gaming Made Me piece then.

  28. @Beamo Would you, uh, be Richard for me?

  29. @Beamo: Cheesy, lacking in nutritional value but overwhelmingly popular, particularly among gaming nerds?

    Just started playing the game.
    I DON’T GET IT!

  30. @Richard:
    No.

    (I am now inverse Jon Blow.)

  31. @Richard: I feel like I have to keep eating other people’s words. Not only can they inform you, but by running your brain up against the thoughts of others, strange sparks are generated which are the seeds of future essays. But it feels so much like work these days.

    @Phlebas: Welcome to stage one.

  32. Fuck! This article convinced me to try and get out of the phase one I was stuck in since some time (the let-it-rest-for-a-while-because-I-have-no-fucking-clue), and with a daily diet of 10-15 min. playtime I got to my first revelatory moment yesterday. There’s a whole world waiting for me outside of the frame! Now I have a goal! I don’t know for how long, and I don’t know if I will manage to not-read your next article, because I usually don’t have the patience for that kind of game, and I’m intrigued by that whole God thing, but anyway, thanks for the article.

  33. I’m impressed by how closely your stages describe my own experience of Starseed Pilgrim – I think there’s room for people to have a different ordering of revelations or for the mysteries not appear in some minds in the same light, but it’s spot on for me.

    I guess I’m in early stage 5 and haven’t played for a few weeks (Bioshock Infinite did come out after all) but I’m not convinced that the revelations will be that radical or worthwhile within the rest of the game. I’ve succeeded with 2 of them (ifyouknowwhatImean) and maybe I /was/ noticing something had changed in the Matrix just as I stopped playing which perhaps might hint at some more revelations. I’m intrigued by your final “OMG” – I want to know if it’s worth it I guess, although I have at least one person who I know who’s completed it who’s not convinced it necessarily is.

    Also, I’m just reflecting right now (mainly stirred from having followed Jonathan Blow’s Twitter of late) and for all of the revelations that I really enjoyed in Starseed – I reckon that Bioshock: Infinite was a more valuable experience to me. I think it comes down to, as interesting as mechanical revelations are, they don’t carry as much weight in influencing/benefitting my mind outside of the enclosed system of the game itself. The world, story, themes of Infinite and the chance to inhabit that in a fully realised 3D space is just more potent to me. Starseed allows great moments which along certain lines go beyond what Infinite achieved, but it feels more like a throwaway curiousity – I dabble with these mechanics, go “huh, that was interesting and cool” and then move on to something else in my life.

    Anyhoo, I just answered a question that no one even posed but that thought of which of these 2 recent experiences from 2 very different spaces in the game scene was more valuable to me was interesting one to think over. I think I just showed myself something about what matters to me most.

  34. @sylvain: Glad to see you have broken into stage three! It’s a slow-burn kind of game although I became quite obsessed with it much earlier than the article suggests, although “stage five” took that to an all-new level. I’ll admit I don’t think God really is in the code at all. Everybody lied. =)

    @RagingLion: Absolutely, I think everyone has their own personal five stages. For a while I had written stage four as a “second revelation” which was important to me but it was more of a tweak on the original revelation – denial made a lot more sense when I was revising the words.

    Obviously sometime tomorrow the spoiler piece will be up and in it I will cover the ending because… I like it. All I can say is the final OMG is more reaction than revelation. When it comes down to why I like Starseed Pilgrim, it’s the unique gameplay that grabs me and I liked the game more and more as I progressed. A great thing about the game is that even if you’ve finished it you can still go back and challenge yourself again because the game is random, it’s quite replayable. I understand exactly why people like Bennett Foddy and Jon Blow think should have been on game of the year lists.

    Ha ha, this is an amazing thread to post “I think I prefer Infinite over Starseed Pilgrim” because Richard Goodness might explode as he’s one of the internet’s staunchest Infinite haters. I can’t comment myself as I haven’t played Infinite (my writing about games is rarely timely). My instinct at this point is that I’d find Starseed more memorable, because I see it as a different type of experience while, at the end of the day, Infinite is still another FPS with story stuck in its teeth. I find myself regressing back to a more ludological perspective recently, getting more turned on by clever systems than tried-and-tested ones with a different story. Having said that, I’m going to write something about my love for 2D shooters soon. I am nothing but inconsistent and no one should pay any attention to me.

    But no game is for everyone and some players come away from Starseed totally disaffected with it. I’m always surprised when I hear someone write they liked Proteus but didn’t need to play it ever again after spending an hour with it.

  35. ;OERIGHJWP9DUIFHVN;KEWJRGPAIOUEHRVAOIUHJAERFVOIJH FD XIX DID SOMEONE SAY THEY LIKED INFINITE

    Actually, I’m writing a piece that’s working on a similar point. All I’m going to say is, pick up Cargo Commander–you’re gonna want to read this one. The Indie Royale bundle is still on for today, and it also has JoKyr’s The Sea Will Claim Everything which I keep meaning to give a proper play to. I first played it a couple months ago–after about an hour, the scope of the game increases almost exponentially, and I had an almost agoraphobic reaction to it. Now that I know what to expect, I’m gonna give it another try soon. But Cargo Commander is a game I’ve been rocking a lot–it’s a solid arcadey platformer with an extremely poignant subtext. Everyone should be playing this game, it’s beautiful and a lot of “fun”.

  36. Am I reading it correctly that there’s no direct download of Cargo Commander from the Indie Royale Bundle — I’d have to join Steam to play it?

  37. @matt w That’s what it looks like to me. The website has a few other online download stores where you can get it, although obvs you will have to pay the full price of $10.

  38. Well I was going to be all like “Aw, Uncle Richard, do I have to?” but now I’m all like “Fuck that.”

  39. Whee. Stage three or four now, I think.
    Found something that scared me but I think I know what to do with it now.
    Which makes me nervous.

  40. @Phlebas, nice. Some quick work there! Yeah, I think I know the scary thing you’re referring to…

    @Richard: If only Jonas had come up with “JoKyr” as an online moniker, he would have avoided all the Kyzatrs, Keratzes, Keratin, Pyrite confusion.

    It was time for an FPS, guys. I think I haven’t played an FPS for about two years. So no Cargo Commander for the moment – I’m descending into Metro 2033.

    Those who are waiting for the spoiler follow-up may have to wait a little longer. I just had an exhausting weekend and the analysis is, uh, pretty long so far.

  41. Okay, the spoiler continuation is not yet ready. I’m looking at 5,000 words of terror right now. Hopefully tomorrow evening.

  42. I just…haha, Stage 5.

    I feel like these stages perfectly convey the feeling of undertaking a large work, or getting better at skills. Or really, it’s like a game-abstract form of any sort of “progress in life”. Here’s it roughly with music, though I’ve found it resonates well with game development, too, and I assume many other sorts of endeavors that “scale” in some sort of metric.

    Composing a song. Great, you figure out how to play the instrument, that’s wonderful and fun. Then you can write a few phrases, and get those sounding fine…then you want to write a song. There’s a song, and you get good at writing something for that one instrument…but you find yourself wanting to express more. Put the song into other areas, a game perhaps..and so you need more instruments. Now all the things you’ve done help you, but you need to compose these sounds in a manner.

    You can do this well, but now you see the further challenge of fitting these compositions into a game scene. Turn the notch up one more time. Multiple songs. Needs to fit in multiple areas. Each song needs to communicate something about the game, they form a network with dependencies on eachother…ah, and every step before it is important in learning, mastering.

    Damnit, droqen.

  43. Hello Sean “Anodyne” Hogan! I’m glad you liked it. I admit I hadn’t looked at the writing any way other than as a mask for the act of playing Starseed Pilgrim, but I can see what you’re picking at here. Struggles with any craft follow similar paths and, as we know, players are artists too. Maybe I should add this piece to my new coffee table book “How To Live The Starseed Way: Fifty Writings Guaranteed To Motivate You To Change Your Life For The Better”.

    (The Starseed Pilgrim spoiler piece is complete but needs some revision methinks. So far, snips have brought it down to 5,000 words. Maybe some more revision is needed. I will continue my efforts this evening. I never stated it but did everyone get that this was supposed to resemble the five stages of grief?)

  44. Anodyne was goddamn awesome.

    @matt w There you go, finally I’ve been outed as the creepy uncle of the scene. I guess it’s my own damn fault.

    I am frustratedly flailing somewhere in between stages 2 and 3 I believe. I’ve been obsessing over Bit Trip Runner plus three billion other games. If I ever beat Bit Trip Runner…

  45. Yeah, the spoiler post isn’t going up today either. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be done tomorrow though. Although I’ve been culling words along the way, it looks like it’s sticking around 5,000 words. I imagine with pictures the resulting page length will probably crash browsers across the world.

    Sneak peak that spoils nothing: “I find this a little unforgivable. It isn’t an isolated case of frustrating design, though. There are more examples of player punishment which I’ll cover later – not all with obvious remedies.”

  46. @Sean:
    Has anyone called you Seanodyne yet?

    @HM:
    No spoilers for the spoiler post… makes Sid an unspoiled boy, I guess. AND NO PLAY.

  47. Mm, excited for that post..SP treads new territory, I suppose some frustrations are going to exist in the implementation of the game.

    @BeamSplash

    Not yet. I never thought about that before though.. o_o

  48. @Sean:
    It’ll happen someday, Seanodyne.

    OHHHHHH that’s enough.

  49. It’s been a very long day at the office and, even though I’m home, I’m still dealing with fallout. So there is no chance of getting this article out today. FRIDAY FOR THE WIN.

    This is just getting silly now.

  50. Our experience with the spoilers article is mirroring my experience with Pilgrim itself: Excitement marred by disappointment and no progress.

    I love that this is turning into a nicknaming club.

  51. Metro! Metro! Metro! It’s just so awkward and wonderful. Like an acne’d, brooding, teen genius. I hear that it’s better if you play the game in Russian with subtitles, so you might want to try that. Oh, and lemme know what you think about the library section.

    I’ve avoided this comment thread for a while now. 30 comments? 46? 50? “Looks like work,” I said. And god knows that Richard, no doubt, left 5 essays in here for me to tread through. But, lucky me! Five minutes and I’m caught up.

    I’ve always found it annoying when an author (blogger, writer, drawer-person) misses their own deadlines and makes bountiful excuses to their audience. The missed updates are fine; it’s the explanations that bug me. I’m probably the only person who thinks that though.

    JoKyr is no good. Everyone will get Jonas Kyratzes mixed up with Joseph Kyranzes. As if they didn’t have enough trouble already!

  52. @Richard: Awesome. Do you think you will read the spoilers article? The very first section comes out and tells you the goal of the game. I’ve not structured it as an unravelling mystery, more of “here’s the game, right, how does it all work?”

    @mwm: Just for you, future delays will be announced as “No post today. Fuck y’all.” =) Honestly, the schedule is something I care about a great deal. I resent blogs that go crazy churning out fifty articles in a few days then go silent for weeks. The regularity is important to me.

    (Total ha ha on the dig at Richard. He’s written about Cart Life and Cargo Commander this week, so his words have been drained off the site.)

    I’ve only played a little of Metro 2033 so far and I don’t want to share any thoughts on it just yet. I’m still finding my feet. Likely I will write about in the distant future as the schedule for the next couple of months is already scripted out. You know how things go here =)

  53. I’m not sure if I’m gonna read it or not–I feel like it’s the kind of game that I do want to be blind about. I know *kind of* where I need to go next–I think I’m at that disheartening “I need to do what?!” bit.

    Thanks for the link–I edited that piece and everything! I printed it out and crossed out paragraphs and took about 3000 words out of it! Holy shit!

    I’ve just woken up to an email from GOG.com which says, essentially, hey, remember how you were going to finally get to Kentucky Route Zero? Well here’s like a billion other games that you’ve been wanting to play and should pick up. For those of you who are playing along at home, Resonance is among them, which I finished up this week as well and I thought was really good. And then Cognition Episode 3 is coming out and I haven’t even played Episode 2…I really should have been paying attention to games for all of this time.

  54. A couple more little lightbulbs have come on, but I fear it may still be a while before I dare read the explicit piece. I can do this. I will do this.

  55. I’m glad to see someone else is hanging out here in the sad old no-spoilers section.

    I sort of think I’m at the end of stage four but I haven’t had time to play it for a little while.

  56. I’m here too. I’ve been on a point-and-click kick. I played Primordia for like three hours straight last night. Hot damn that one is good. I’m on the final boss of Bit Trip Runner; once I beat that I’ll give Pilgrim a real try.

    I swear.

  57. You passed me on Bit Trip Runner; I’ve only got up to the stage after the Gauntlet I think. (The one where you have to run the gauntlet in the flipping middle.) And it’s been so long since I really played it that I really have to start over from the beginning of world 3 to get my chops back. Now I feel like the loser at the loser table.

    Actually I don’t feel bad about that, it’s a hard game and I got a lot of pleasure out of it and I’ll finish it sometime if I can. There’s a few games with a few unfinished levels that I feel that way about (Osmos, I guess Cogs is different because I just quit when all the available levels were annoying/boring, Sword & Sworcery I really should finish sometime.) Right now I kind of want to only play soundless games for a while so I can listen to music, or even switch over and do some work. Someone at intfiction.org pointed to Anamnesis and described it as “Fallen London meets Kings of Dragon Pass, or if Christine Love wrote a strategy RPG,” so I think I’m in.

    I have to post a rant about my Bundle Fatigue in the open thread, though.

  58. I haven’t forgotten those still lost in the five stages. But the five stages is so yesterday, I talk about the three phases in the spoiler piece. That’s all I’m telling you.

    Bit Trip Runner sounds like the kind of game I don’t want to play right now. My muscle memory is pretty shabby these days (then again, I got pretty frikkin’ good at Starseed Pilgrim which isn’t about muscle memory but about reacting).

    I might bring the Open Mike thread forward to Thursday because of something else is being planned for Friday.

  59. @HM I’m in the process of winding down the Second Quest–we’re in the final few dungeons, and Bit Trip Runner is one of them. It’s a game I absolutely love because it’s about the only videogame which gives an ACTUAL idea of what it’s like to play music. Guitar Hero feels nothing like playing a guitar; Bit Trip Runner *looks* like music.

    Now I’m excited about Friday!

    I’ve been debating reading the Spoilers piece for a few paragraphs. I have no idea how you’ve structured it, but I do understand a fair chunk of the game and I might skim until I find kind of the next piece of the puzzle that I’m missing. But who knows!

  60. Richard: Have you played Bit.Trip Beat? It took me a while to get into Runner, largely because of being bad at the early stages, and then one day I found myself going jump-jump-jump across a string of platforms and I was In The Groove. Beat gives me that feeling a lot, plus I like the music better and it doesn’t send you back to the beginning of the level when you make one mistake. And its easy mode is actually easier. Of course it contributed to my Bundle Fatigue too.

  61. @matt (and I totally meant to respond to your Bundle Fatigue mention but forgot it was in this same thread, and I would be really interested in hearing about yours because I’ve gotten it too, and I think a lot of people do, I’ve heard a lot of snarky comments about the current Royale and looking at the selection I tend to agree with them…)

    I got Beat for the Wii a few years ago–and by the way, the thought of downloading stuff for the Wii sounds almost archaic these days, heh, boy has the landscape changed in the past 5 years for me. It’s the kind of game I’m fond of. I’d never gotten into Rez–I never felt that the music *quite* matched up to what I was doing, or I didn’t click on exactly what to do, or whatever–and so was pretty suspicious of Beat but I loved it. I can beat the first tune fairly consistently but I’ve never been able to beat the second one. I picked it up for my phone t’other day, and it turns out that Bit Trip Beat is miserable to play on the iPhone. I have Core as well, and that one I’ve REALLY never gotten. (This conversation is making me want to try to replay them though.)

    So yeah–I got Runner through one of the ancient Humble Bundles, played it for about 15-20 minutes, as you do. I had a screenwriting professor in college who said that one of his tests: he always ends up checking his watch at SOME point during the movie to see how long has passed and how much is left. If the first time he checks his watch is any time within the first 20 minutes of the movie, that usually means it’s failed to absorb him and he moves on. My “I have a shitload of games to play” procedure is similar although it isn’t as objective. I’ll play till the first time I die or get stuck, and at that point I reevaluate. I can’t tell you how many little flash puzzle games I have never made past stage 7.

    So yeah, first time I played Runner I gave up a few stages in, and that was maybe a year ago. I tried it again a couple weeks ago–I kind of actually *looked* at my backlog and have been giving a lot of stuff a proper play, and whatver reason, it clicked. Like, clicked to the degree where–I generally wake up a couple hours earlier than I need to and I’ll game for a bit; I have hardcore gamed Bit Trip Runner every day for the past two weeks. There are some stages–3-8 and 3-10 in particular–which took me three and four days of practice to beat. I’m on the final boss, and the concept of me getting perfect scores in all of the levels has set up camp outside my apartment; I’m not sure whether or not to let him in.

    But yeah–I’m not 100% sure what I have to say about the game, but there’s something about it which is inspiring me to such hardcore places. I haven’t been this dedicated about a game in a very long time.