jeanne dielman

Richard Hofmeier’s Cart Life was recently nominated for three IGF awards which has thrust the game into the indie spotlight, shedding its underdog status.

In the second episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel “HM” Goodwin consider where Cart Life is now.


01:10 “Do you feel entirely responsible for that?”

02:20 “Someone was always playing it. I was amazed.”

04:00 “‘But I don’t like Cart Life.’ Which was kind of a ballsy way to start it.”

08:20 “He’s trying to trick people into playing the game – and not in a bad way.”

09:50 “He didn’t want people to know what was inside… until they went in there.”

14:40 “…press one click to do a very complex action, and Cart Life will not let you do that.”

16:50 “If he had shortcutted any part of that, the game maybe would have fallen apart.”

20:50 “You need to go through that drudgery to hit that high point.”

26:30 “We’re going to be talking about Cart Life for years.”

29:10 “Or will we just end up with something that looks like echoes of Cart Life but not quite the original…?”

33:10 “And I was like ‘You fucker… what did you do?'”

36:00 “I haven’t had another game do something like that to me.”

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20 thoughts on “Counterweight 2: A Better Person

  1. I don’t think Nick Fortugno’s Well-Played talk is available online, but if anyone does spot it anywhere, let me know and I’ll add it to the references.

    I cannot promise this won’t be the last time I put something about Cart Life on the site, but I have no future plans for another Cart Life piece right now!

  2. SECOND! I’m subscribing to this thread mostly because I too need the Fortugno talk! Also because I love Joel and Eric and will listen to this At Some Point! (I’m working on my own Hofmeier article and so have my usual vacillation between wanting to find every single thing anyone’s ever said on the subject and wanting to come with a completely fresh perspective. Probably I’ll get to this after my first draft!)

  3. It does seem bizarre that the developer of Cart Life would care to bring up fun at all. In fact, his outsider status is CARTe blanche to ohgodI’msosorry

  4. @Richard: Oh yes, look at the discussion flowing in the comments, you don’t want to miss this.

    @BeamSplashX: *tsk tsk*

  5. Enjoyed this. The comparison to Psycho is an apt one: just as Hitchcock was so fanatically intent his twist not be spoiled that he made cinemas change their whole admissions policy to cater, Richard Hofmeier is, I think, pretty anxious about reception and preconception re his game. Luckily, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have much reason to be so worried. I played Cart Life having read your posts on it all the way up to the spoiler warnings, and fully expecting to experience something special. Even though I wasn’t able to get to the bottom of it in the short time I spent with it (playing it for an article on a deadline), I was still blown away.

    I’m honestly amazed that people can come away from Cart Life without that opinion: apply yourself properly to that game, fully engage with it, plunge your heart into it, and it will put you through a pretty delectable wringer. ‘Drudgery’ is a misnomer for its button-mashing sine wave of stress, panic, satisfaction, pride, despair, numbness, and the slow, perversely pleasurable burn that you get from exercising for slightly too long or working slightly too hard to finish of a project. Then there’s the haptic dimension: not many games leave you physically tired.

    What impressed and surprised me most about the game, though – perhaps because I approached it knowing I would be analysing the politics of its simulation – was how effectively it told a story and played a character WHILE ALSO being a procedurally deep and fascinating game. These two things rarely coexist – we’re used to having either one or the other, not both. In that sense I think it’s actually bit of a revelation about how to tell really good stories while providing deep player choice. It’s not alone in that field, and its solution is so quiet and pragmatic it really sneaks up on you – but it’s special nonetheless.

  6. Hey John. Is this your first comment on the site? Feels like it, even though I know you’ve been around these parts before.

    The original reason Eric wanted to talk about Cart Life was a perception that the game was depressing which meant the game might go unplayed… and be misunderstood. The Well-Played session turned out to be an unexpected addition to the mix. As I’ve always said, the luscious combination of mechanics and narrative that the story is really rare – if we’ve even seen it at all. (It’s the reason why Beautiful Escape is another high point, because the mechanics work really well with the story there, especially in the brilliant final scene. I’m always interested to see what Chaud comes out with, because he is dedicated to games being mechanically challenging.)

    I’m going to try to stop writing/podcasting about Cart Life now because it’s time for other people to pick that particular torch. And maybe people are thinking OMG NOT THAT CART LIFE AGAIN DID HE PAY YOU MONEY. Thanks for the nice comments about the original Electron Dance articles in your interview with Hofmeier.

  7. Ah! I have also rushed here to the comments and am devastated to discover Nick’s talk isn’t available online. However, I’m delighted to see others in this thread mention that they’re writing about the game even if Joel isn’t. I’ve been meaning to pick up that torch for a while now but I’m going to have to work up to it. Plus, I’d like to make sure I play and the game inside and out first. Most of the discussion I’ve seen is from people who hadn’t seem to have played much of it and subsequently never return to it.

  8. Cart Life isn’t depressing? Get the bad ending for Andrus, and try NOT to be depressed.

  9. Ha, I was wondering if someone would bring this up.

    When I argue “Cart Life isn’t depressing” I’m arguing about the overall experience Some people play for just a little bit, get overwhelmed with a new game paradigm (make your own notes! no in-game feedback! no tutorial! WTF where is my cat!) and think the aim of the game is to torture the player, make them depressed. I think that’s a remarkably short-sighted take on such a rich game which says as much about the connections between people as it does about the lot of those at the bottom.

    Sure, that’s a depressing ending, a really depressing ending… but that does that mean I call the game “depressing”?

  10. I had a mate at uni who used to say that the only ‘depressing’ thing in any media was a bad piece of work. Awful, grim, bleak narratives executed beautifully are a source of joy and sublime experience, not sadness. Even if that’s true, Cart Life can throw up pretty depressing experiences, but I think it’s very limited to call it depressing in sum. It can also throw up real moments of ecstasy. What it doesn’t do is soft-pedal the difficulty of life near the breadline, or the experience of American capitalism.

    (and yeah, HM, I think that /was/ my first comment – who’da thuk it – and kind words are no bother when simply true)

  11. What a wonderful conversation. More please.

    It sounds like the speaker was trying to say something deliberately contentious in order to draw in the audience. I too wish I could experience the entire thing and give him a fair shake, though.

    And yes to John’s comment. The problem with the term “depressing” is it has such reductive, negative connotations. Folks should be more careful with that word. I have no problem saying that Cart Life is sad sometimes.

  12. @WhizWart Even though Andrus’s “bad” ending is sad, I don’t think that sucks the totality of the experience into a depressive black hole. Let’s not forget the second word in Cart Life’s title.

  13. @John

    I like your spin on the “depressing” aspect better than mine. Thanks for breaking your comment virginity this week. It’s appreciated.


    Thanks, I think our second podcast was a marked improvement on the first!

    I wouldn’t assume Nick Fortugno had an agenda to be contentious. He mentioned he usually did Well-Played sessions on games he liked – he cited Joust and Super Hexagon. I spoke briefly to Paolo Pedercini (Molleindustria) on the last night of IndieCade East who asked if I was going to DiGRA this year, because he was hoping we could do the “canonical” Cart Life deconstruction. Well I’m not going to DiGRA and I don’t know how serious he was, but sounds to me that there’s at least one more stab at exploring Cart Life.


    The bad Andrus ending makes me tear up, even when I talk about it to people. I don’t know how many “endings” there really are, because I’m pretty sure there are at two different bad Andrus endings. I would assume nothing about Cart Life.

    On the Sunday morning, Richard Hofmeier revealed to me one of the many secrets that no one has chanced upon yet and, basically: mind blown. I’m not going to share it, because that’s not why Hofmeier told me about it. But, Jesus Christ, the motherfucking stuff hidden in that game. You have no idea.

  14. @HM I got one of Vinny’s endings today–not so much a “bad” ending (although it was technically a failure state), it was more ambivalent.

    I’m not surprised that most people have missed stuff in Cart Life; the average experience seems to be “I pwayed the game for twenty minutes and it made me SO SAD that I had to make a platformer starring Jacques Derrida to cheer myself up” and then never touching it again. Drudgery != fun and all of that. I’m secretly hoping that when you “beat” all of the three characters’ games, that it unlocks the Angry Hot Dog Guy as a fourth character. If only I didn’t hate PC games I’d be pwaying it much more.

    I’m just going to say it: The piece I’m writing on this is going to be so good that I’ve completely put Breakfast In Skyrim to the side to work on it. Apparently when you’re writing about a masterpiece, it elevates your own material!

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