Top 10 Electron Dance Articles of 2014
Electron Dance is going to sleep for a couple of weeks! Read on to discover the top ten articles this year on Electron Dance. That’s right, I’ve finally written a fucking top ten list. EPIC.
10. Hypnosis in the Sand: Why Spec Ops Fails
Spec Ops: The Line is a fascinating, fascinating game. It talks like a run-of-the-mill military shooter but staggers about like Lost Highway with smashed-up legs. It’s a great sounding board for all sorts of topics.
What developers are trying to achieve in games which feature a strong protagonist personality is player-protagonist communion. This communion could be viewed as a hypnotic trance with the game acting as hypnotist. The game-hypnotist makes suggestions to the player that the player goes along with – and the communion persists. However, the idea that hypnotists can make their subjects do things “against their will” is argued to be a myth, which has some scientific support from Ernest Hilgard’s theory of a “hidden observer”.
9. Why You’re Wrong About Jumping in NaissanceE
NaissanceE is the art game from hardcore hell. Delectable “walking simulator” looks but that visage conceals poison-tipped steel knives. This is “every good marriage requires work”, the game.
But while it sexes you up with the visuals, it knifes you in the back repeatedly. Those bloody fans. Those long stairs. Those beautiful chasms with no guardrail to hold you back. The flailing around because there are no signposts. The entire chapter called “Deeper into madness”. The gaps in the architecture which you explore at your peril. Why would you do this to yourself? Why would you put yourself through this? Why on earth are you still playing?
8. Counterweight on Bioshock Infinite
The Counterweight podcasts are not particularly popular, which is why the series is ending next year. However, plenty of people tuned in to hear me lose my shit over a game. I just don’t normally do that.
“The whole game feels like cooking with a 7-year old.”
Originally the launch video for a rather gargantuan Electron Dance series, #warningsigns became orphaned when I turned the series into a book project. I just went with my gut for this film with middling success. It got about 1,000 views which isn’t bad, but it ain’t great. Much of its meaning is buried so no one really talked about it. Despite muted reactions, I’m still very proud of it, although I’m finally going to pull back on video work after this monster took an entire year to shoot and edit. Film is below, but credits and preview shots can be found on the article, and I also posted some detail on how it was made.
6. No Alternative
I think this article was my admission that I wasn’t a supporter of “everything is games” – and asked several independent developers whether they called their work “games” out of sound financial sense rather than conviction. I didn’t expect anyone to come right out and say, “God, you’re so right, I’m actually a big sellout” but the resulting conversation was cool.
What was interesting was that [our work] flew straight away within the games community and was completely ignored in the arts. It’s telling that about a year after the mod, but before the commercial version (so the mod already had 50,000+ downloads), we put in a proposal to the Arts Council of England to create a kind of punk sampler of games – like ours, Tale of Tales, Stout Games, a few others, and they threw it back saying they didn’t consider it to have any cultural worth – in those terms as well, I’m not exaggerating. Twelve months later they were calling us every couple of weeks asking us to offer advice and do free consultancy on making art work in a commercial digital environment.
5. Faltering Faith in Twine’s Teaching
Dan Cox was one of several writers who kindly stepped in for my sabbatical month. A long-time big Twine supporter, he wanted to air a couple of grievances regarding Twine: first, he suggested labelling Twine as “codeless” was self-deception and, second, that the Twine community was obsessed with marginalization. This lead to one of the best comment discussions of the year which tackled the claims of Twine being code free… but everyone gave a wide berth to the shitstorm lightning rod of the second topic. (Although Cox received plenty of flak on Twitter.)
4. Screw Your Walking Simulators
I’d had enough of calling certain titles “walking simulators” so offered a positive alternative, the “secret box”. The game Verde Station took this to heart and used the phrase a lot when it hit Steam Early Access.
Attempting to rigorously define interactivity is about as joyous as rigorously defining the word game into your preferred pigeon hole. You might see healthy debate in this conversation. I see a black hole event horizon through which my will to live is disappearing.
3. The First Open World
I like writing articles like this occasionally because the modern audience is largely unaware of the explosion of experimentation back in the 1980s when genres and formats had not coalesced. As if we all played Space Invaders forever until Doom came along. As if indie as a thing didn’t exist before the last decade. I mean, fuck that. I don’t usually expect many people to read about those years, but this three-part exploration of Mercenary from 1985 really blew up.
For a three-dimensional world, Mercenary would have been defeated by the graphically superior Rescue on Fractalus! (Lucasfilm Games, 1984) one year earlier, which featured fractal-driven rocky crags to fly around. But there was character to the world of Mercenary, and some wry British humour – for example, the Palyar Commander Brother-in-law’s house can be found in the City, which you only discover if you blow it up.
2. Vault the Grave
If there’s any sort of trend in my 2014 writing, it’s getting angry about people getting angry. I had enough of people taking easy shots at AAA games – using a single incident as a symbol for Everything Wrong With AAA games – that I wrote out against one such complaint about Watch Dogs.
It’s just… picking out examples like these from AAA games is like shooting fish in a barrel. The scope and complexity of an AAA title means there are always cracks somewhere. It doesn’t tell us anything about AAA sensibilities because it’s just a glitch of automated design, accident not intention. And anyone who listened to me have a nervous breakdown in a podcast about Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013) will know full well I really do give a shit about these things.
1. Stop Crying About Choice
This took way too long to write and I assumed it would bomb. I was wrong. It’s called “Stop Crying About Choice” because I was sick to the back teeth hearing about how game stories need more choice, when I thought the average player comprehends all of the possible stories rather than just their own. I set out to convince the reader of that and then let the article self-destruct: perception is king not some silly technical reality.
Choice glosses over some issues – and labelling all stories as hypertext is a problem that I would eliminate in a new rewrite – but what’s interesting is that no one in the interactive fiction community linked to this or discussed it. This stuff is their bread and butter. It’s old news.
Mapping hypertext is often laborious work for the individual, but not for the group. We’ve always taken part in a grand collaborative read but social media, YouTube and organised mapping projects like wikis have accelerated hypertext understanding. These elements of paratext have become part of the reading process.
Despite the obfuscation efforts of developers, players have been painstakingly mapping these decision trees. Look at the walkthroughs. Look at the wikis. Look at the YouTube videos.
The hypertext maps are out there.
- Learning Curve told the story of how I became an indie game developer in the 8-bit era, and how all my dreams came to pretty much nothing. It made me sad.
- An Honest Game on how puzzle games that have no hidden surprises or timers or arcadey aspects are beautiful.
- The Dishonest Player on how the modern player might bitch about being “manipulated” with achievements and collectibles, yet moan when those artificial drivers are removed like a drug addict going without.
- The Trouble With Serious Games was a brief comment on how we still see games as “games” and this obliterates any hope for the average player to see a game as more than score or challenge.
- Oil and Water on a long-standing peeve that mixing genres often leads to horrible results. Consider a text adventure that finishes with a 3D shooter twitchfest – who is your target audience? Who shares those skill sets?
- The Unwritten Life Story of the RTS Grunt. A rant about how we’re supposed to be involved with the human story of an RTS yet these games train us to approach them as systems to be bested.
- In Back Mesa, I admitted Black Mesa was damaging my memories of the original Half-Life.
- Insert Human to Continue looked at Rehearsals & Returns which needed the player to engage, more so than most projects, for the ending to have any meaning at all.
- A Death in Stasis. How we unwittingly send characters to their deaths by saving their game and never come back.
- How to Stop Making Players Lazy. Fear of failure makes players better at your game. They look cooler and play with respect.
ROCK PAPER SHOTGUN
I’ve written three articles for RPS this year. It’s difficult to find the right ideas and also the time to write them, but I intend to continue pitching to RPS as time permits.
- Of Mice and Gamepads. Do controllers define the possibility space of games?
- Wot I Think: Quarries of Scred
- When Is It OK To Spoil A Mechanic? Perhaps we are being too sensitive around some spoilers.
SIDE BY SIDE
I did it on a whim. Play a bunch of multiplayer games with Gregg and make supershort videos on each one. I’m really pleased with the results and I’m getting better all the time at figuring out what makes a video work. If you haven’t seen any, my personal favourites are the exciting TENNNES (episode 1), the tense Tomb of Rooms (episode 5) and our practical joke Joust on Windows (episode 7).
This year I stopped Marginalia. I closed the forum. In the next couple of months, Counterweight is coming to an end. I’m not going to get into any more long, drawn-out series like The First Open World or The Conversation. I’m also putting the breaks on video work after one final WIP project. The future of Side by Side is currently uncertain as views are low.
I’ve been wasting too much time on experimental work and all it’s succeeded in doing is demotivating me. Too much time spent on projects that don’t pan out. I’ve decided to go back to what Electron Dance was supposed to be about: short, tight writing.
If you subscribe to the Electron Dance News (EDN), then none of this is news. If you don’t get EDN, you’ve missed what I think of Rymdkapsel (compared it to Neptune’s Pride) and Out There (tedious grind). EDN discusses future plans for the site and also has mobile game micro-reviews. Probably gonna do that Monument Valley next month.
You can subscribe using the box below or at the top of the sidebar. Subscription also delivers notifications every time I post on the site – if you’re only interested in the newsletter, let me know and I’m sure I can sort something out.
Thanks for everything you read and shared this year. I’ll see you again soon.
Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.
Sign up for the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter and follow on Twitter!
2 thoughts on “Top 10 Electron Dance Articles of 2014”
I’m not sure you can write top ten lists about yourself.
“Look, these are the top ten things about me that are really, totally awesome, no seriously, guys, I’m serious.”
Either way, thanks for writing this entertaining and informative blog. I disagree with many things that you write (especially the “Stop Crying About Choice” article) but I love reading this stuff because seeing someone else’s views helps push me to think about this stuff for myself. Your blog has helped me think about games as a “critic,” not just as a consumer.
Hi Sandy – thanks for sticking around! Ah, I forgot to mention this top ten is in order of post popularity. I’m not sure when you started reading, so apologies if I’m telling you nothing new, but I do an annual roundup each year and list the most popular articles (here’s 2013). I’ve just blown it up into the headline act this year and omitted the views. On Twitter last year, someone wrote my “low” traffic was just extra proof why everyone should be doing video rather than blogging. I’m not sure if that would work. But the suggestion encouraged me not to publish the numbers up top this year. But, for disclosure, Stop Crying About Choice leads the pack with nearly 8000 views. Hypnosis in the Sand is at the other end at 600 views.
I disagree with some of the things I wrote myself in Stop Crying About Choice! But unless you get the seed out there, you can’t iterate on the ideas to improve them. I just hope, in this process, it doesn’t get boring for everyone. Expect more focus on snappy writing next year! I can’t say I “enjoy” pushback but it’s important rather than just blithely doddering along thinking everything you write is right.
Truth is, I’ve tried to shake off labels of “critic” or “journalist”. I’m just trying to write stuff that people find interesting. Even if the writing has some greater value or merit, failure to be interesting is still failure.
Comments are closed.