You probably already know this but: I spend a lot of time thinking about how games. A lot of that is why games are great, and how they could be better: intelligent, emotional, stretching the form. And when I’m doing this, I’m pretty much always reaching for examples, pinnacles of what I’m talking about, without falling back on the clichéd ‘games are so art’ examples. Passage (of which I’m not a huge huge fan, being honest with everyone, and which one commenter rightly called me out for using, in my Disney/Death Escapist article) and Braid (which is a wonderful game, but mostly for the mind-bending nature of the thing rather than any emotional response it provokes) and all that. ‘Literary’ is the word we’re going to use here, if that’s okay with you. I’m forever drumming my fingers on a desk and trying to summon the name of some game that does the whole literary thing. By which I mean: the fluent expression of real, muted human emotions which catch you and knock you over a bit so you have to take a minute to think. Books are best at it, in my experience, but it’s a response I always associate with games as well. Only, y’know, not any specific ones, because I’m rubbish. So this is a mental note: …But That Was [Yesterday] is the example I want to use from now on. Go and play it for yourself, I beg you, and then come back and tell me how silly I was to waste your time. Because I admit, [Yesterday] is a very particular pleasure. It draws pretty directly from Passage, being a game where you can only walk in one direction (and using that as a metaphor for time) but its closest relative, returning to the literature idea, is probably Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity. It’s similar to Eggers’ novel thematically: being about memories, and grieving and healing, and the relationship between the two and physical movement. Its flaws are familiar too: it’s showy, quite ‘difficult’, and exactly as pretentious-intellectual as the title suggests. But most importantly, it’s similar in the ways it transcends those flaws: a fragile beauty that summons those moments we were talking about earlier. The thing is that, most of the time, the game only requires you to press a single button (→), with little challenge to reflex or mental agility. Frankly, it drags a little at times. A typical 30 seconds goes like this: follow a prompt to press ←, stop pressing → or any other key for 5 seconds, wait for the obstacle to roll back, and then press → again for another 25 seconds. Boring, right? But two other things are going on in that half-minute. First, the game is so nicely presented that you can swallow doing nothing for a few seconds to take in the cartoon minimalism and listen to the breathy score. Second, the subtext. To take another look at that 30 seconds: a bark from your doggy companion brings you back into the moment, and while you’re catching your breath and remembering for just five seconds that life can be good, the black cloud of all those bad memories rolls back for a while and you can go on again. This is [Yesterday]‘s main trick, this single game mechanic turned into a big fat metaphor. And as it explores those memories, shows you just the slightest edge of them, it quivers with real human emotion. And if the art and the music have got you attuned properly, you might quiver too, a bit. And because it’s understated, because it’s a little bit clever and artsy like that girl you fancy from the coffeeshop, it might just tickle the right part of your brain and your senses and those pesky feelings. It worked for me. Finally, one of the clever little variations it pulls on that single-mechanic theme caught me just right and it managed to pull the breath from my lungs for a single, long moment. That literary sensation. And afterwards, I felt just a little bit clever and pleased with myself, like I was someone from a book or a good film or something. Maybe, if I wasn’t such a carved-out-of-rock troll of a human being, it might even have brought a tear or two.
A new thing for our good friends Gamersyndrome: this time the start of (what I hope will be) a beautiful new feature: THE MONEYLESS GAMER. Basically, I have taken the realisation that I’m someone with very little money to buy games and spun this into (what I hope will be) a good thing. Flash games, demos, deals, everything. All in one handy corner, with lengthy discourse attached. For #001 I do Time Fcuk. Example quote: “It takes the head-against-wall element of trying to grasp at the logic of a puzzle game and makes its key motif. Where Braid used this brain-crunching confusion to hint at a higher meaning, here it is transformed into a masochistic and – not unlike, say, the game version of certain Nine Inch Nails songs.” It’s… well, it’s better if you play it, really. That Edmund McMillen knows how to mess with people.
Today is a very Alex Spencer-heavy day on the internet. Rejoice! Part I.In which I write a (not to give too much away, but completely loving) review of PC pointy-clicky game Time Gentlemen Please for good ol’ Gamersyndrome. In it, I say witty things like: “Time Gentlemen, Please is a point-and-click adventure game where your inventory will simultaneously feature a skeleton arm dipped in Hitler’s bloody fetal matter, glasses stolen from a Neanderthal geek, and some condoms. It follows (very closely) in the grand tradition of the classic Lucasarts adventure games now seeing a resurgence.” Read the rest here to see how much of the game I resist giving away. If you’re looking for a walkthrough (avast, intrepid Googler), this review features some very, very soft hints. Part II.I which I write a (similarly loving) review of the forthcoming Image graphic novel Beast for sexy, sexy Comicsnexus. “At its heart, Beast is both indie-as-can-be slice of life and classic genre story. The two meet and touch, but its not a mash-up in the way, say, Jamie McKelvie’s urban fairytale Suburban Glamour is.The story moves along leisurely, letting the actions of Colette, our protagonist, set the pace.” And read the rest here, to find out whether I can resist stealing this joke from Penny Arcade. For those of you counting at home, the scores are probably 8, and 9. Which way round? YOU DECIDE!
Dunno if this’ll actually become an at-all-regular feature, but I’ve got a few recommended URLs to share, so I might as well stick ’em up. This is a bit old now, but Kieron Gillen of my adored RockPaperShotgun.com recently wrote a series of reviews for a WHSmiths’ 7-in-1 Magnetic Family Board Game set. Both funny and, oddly, genuinely thought-provoking. But more importantly, taught me the Mr Chess joke. The Mr Chess joke now rules my life. Not his best, but Simon ‘chewing pixels’ Parkin’s latest gaming-themed story is up at GameSetWatch. I can’t help but imagine Parkin as a little elfin boy, and he’s never less than interesting- in this case, I’d imagine, even to non-gamers. Check it out. Something I found through my tasty comics affiliates, Comicsnexus.com, this is called ‘Neil’s A-Z of Awesomeness.’ No (well, very little) reading. Awesome. ‘Nuff said. Amanda Palmer writes an open letter explaining how “an Indie musician can make $19,000 in 10 hours using twitter (yet get $0 for a big, somewhat-successful album”. I don’t think this horse is flogged quite dead yet, so…the music industry seems a little broken. I got it from Warren Ellis’ blog, and it’s not (as far as I can see) NSFW. Which is a miracle in and of itself. Most addictive game of the week goes to the genius concept of Broken Picture Telephone, an online combination of . As massively multiplayer a game as I’ve ever played, and with a lovely community. It also has a quite brilliant ‘Boss Alert’ mode. You will play it and it will consume you. …Narrowly beating out the wonderful Learn To Fly, a game about penguin who just wants to fly, dammit. The caveat that came with it (via, again, chewingpixels) was ‘give it till Day 7’, and I advise the same. Apple Trailer of the Week…obviously goes to the new Studio Ghibli film, Ponyo. Not 100% sold on the concept from just this trailer, but the design on the lead character (and all his tiny mini-versions) are just beautiful. And, finally, in the spirit of Twitter’s Music Mondays, this fine song features both guest vocals from me (try and spot the sneaking Brummie invasion- it’s subtle!) and the chorus “You’re a bitch, you’re a whore.” Lovely stuff.