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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.
- Left and Right and Forward. This is a video analysis of Boson X that trialled a rapid approach to making videos.
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.
- CW 1: On indies fighting not to starve
- CW 2: Where is Cart Life now?
- CW 3: Why would you replay a game?
- CW 4: Indie Game: The Movie
- CW 5: Gameshows
- CW 6: Are consoles heading for destruction?
- CW 7: Papers, Please – we weren’t too keen
- CW 8: Gone Home – thumbs up (companion notes available)
- CW 9: Suzy and freedom – problematic but interesting (companion notes available)
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.
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.
Good night, and good luck.