Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Wrap-up

There wasn't really a game I thought was deserving of being called the best game of the year until december month, when I finally played Transistor. Oh, my, Transistor. Oh my. Well, to be fair, I did miss out on a lot of games this year which I wanted to play. In fact, I believe that if I were to have made a prediction at the beginning of the year as to what games would make it to my top ten, I think a lot of them would have consisted of games I've barely touched upon. The Witness would be there for sure (which didn't see the light of day 2014 - better luck next year Jon, I'm sure we'll be BLOWn away!) The Vanishing of Ethan Carter seemed very promising too, although I don't think I actually knew about the game a year ago, and decided on playing it when it hits the PS4 with a friend instead of playing it with low fidelity on my pc. Then there's the Dreamfalls, The Wolves Among Us, the Walking Deads, the Kentucky Route Zeros - episodals which I haven't played because I'd rather do them all in one go when they're a wrap. Both The Longest Journey and The Dream Machine have taken many years to finish, and I've decided that waiting is better than playing a bit here and there.

Dragon Age Inquisition is another game that would have made the top ten prediction, although by now I've accepted that I won't be playing that type of game much more anyway - sad but true. I'm opting out of the 50hour+ games, and going for stuff such as Consortium and Unrest for my rpg fixes. Shadowrun too, for next year. Well, sure, I'll be playing Pathologic and the new Planescape game, which will both be very long games, but mainly I'm just opting out of games which have a lot of filler and to me meaningless violence/gameplay. Perhaps it's no coincidence that two of this years biggest disappointments for me have been The Banner Saga and Wasteland 2 - both oldschool computer RPGs which I helped kickstart. The Banner Saga was simply too epic for me, too abstract, with too little emotion. It has the same problem as had the "Choice of" games, which seemed very interesting to begin with (interactive novels which lots of choices, yey!) but then got me not caring at all about the characters and my motives. Wasteland 2 on the other hand... well, I did play 40+ hours of it, almost finished it actually. But it just wasn't worth it. I know I love those types of games and just using them as escapism, but it wasn't a memorable experience in the end. It gets an honorable mention, basically.

Perhaps I should be skeptic when it comes to my hopes for the old-school pc rpgs that are coming in 2015, but I can't help myself. Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera are two of the games I'm looking forward to the most next year. Then there's the aforementioned The Witness, the PS4 exclusive Everybodys Going to the Rapture, the X360 exclusive Ori and the Blind Forest and Quantum Break, the remakes Grim Fandango and Majoras Mask, the follow-up Metal Gear Solid 5, the question marks Sail Home, Outer Wilds, Gorogoa and Life is Strange, the kickstarter successes Pathologic (O_M_G!), Ice-Bound (by my favorite creator of interactive fiction, Aaron Reed), That Dragon Cancer, The Sun Also Rises, Epanalepsis, Moon Hunters, the kickstarter non-successes To Azimuth, The Black Glove (Bioshock without combat encounters), and Late to The Party (same guys that made Unrest).

So anyway, speaking of being late to parties, I gotta go. Here's the list of my favorite video games for this year.


2014

Missed Out On, Want To Play
[R]espawn
Amphora
Bayonetta 2
Beeswing
Blood & Laurels
Broforce/Expendabros
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Chariot
Consortium
Contact Cowboy
Donald Dowell
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Dragon Age Inquisition/Dragon Age Keep
Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey - Episode 1
Game of Thrones (Telltale Games)
Goat Simulator
ibb & obb (Sparpweed)
Hidden in Plain Sight
Kentucky Route Zero: Act III/Here And There Along The Echo
Marginalia
Mario Kart 8
Quora
Screencheat
Shadowrun: Nightmare Harvest
Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall – Directors Cut
Speedrunners
Soul Axiom
Super Smash Bros
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One - Zer0 Sum
Tennnes
The Deer God
The Sensational December Machine
The Talos Principle
The Terror Aboard The Speedwell (Javy Gwaltney)
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter/The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Prequel Mini-Comic
The Wolf Among Us: Season 1
The Walking Dead: Season 2
Thief Town
Void & Meddler
Framed
The Sailor's Dream
Republique
Revolver360 Re:Actor
Honorable Mentions
// / I’m Really Sorry About That Thing I Said When I Was Tired and/or Hungry (Deirdra Kiai)
02:22AM/Text and Drive: Friendship Never Dies (Albert Lai)
4PM
A City Sleeps
Among the Sleep
Arboretum (Matthew S. Burns)
Bezier (Philip Bak/Niine Games)
Cave! Cave! Deus Videt – Episode 0
Crawl
Cyborg Goddess (Kara Stone, Kayte McKnight)
East van EP/Oracle (ceMelusine)
Echo of the Wilds (Anthony Case)
Error City Tourist/Black Pyramid/Abstract Ritual (Strangethink Software)
Five Nights at Freddy's (Scott Cawthon)
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensons
Girls Like Robots: Nerdfest
Grim Express
Initation/The Way of Yiji (Schizoid)
Lethal League
Level 2 The Virus Master
Luftrausers
NaissanceE
Neverending Nightmares
On August 11, A Ship Sailed into Port (Cameron Kunzelman)
Project Temporality
Rehearsals and Returns
Sleep When Exhausted (Benjamin Willems)
Spelunky
Starwhal: Just the Tip
The Lion's Song (LeafThief)
The Banner Saga
The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo (Michael Lutz)
Three Fourths Home/Letters to Babylon
Tradesmarksville (Molleindustria)
Universal History of Light/The Serpent/The Transgression/Happy Memories/wear & tear/Place and Time/ Vigil (increpare)
Wasteland 2
You Won't Tell Anyone, Right? (Oxeren)
Zest (Richard Goodness)

Close Calls
Broken Age: Episode 1
Chyrza/daymare #1: "ritual"/Dust City (Kitty Horrorshow)
Dog of Dracula 2: Cyber Monogatari
Elegy for a Dead World
hets (ditto)
Journal (Richard Perrin)
Laza Knitez!!
Monument Valley
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
South Park: The Stick of Truth
Sportsfriends
The Journey Down: Chapter Two
Year Walk

10 Bernband (Tom van den Boogaart)

9 P.T (Silent Hills Playable Teaser)

8 Niddhogg (Messhof)

7 Shovel Knight

6 You Were Made For Loneliness (Tsukareta)

5 Towerfall: Ascension

4 Glitchhikers (Silverstring Media)

3 Jazzpunk

2 Unrest

1 Transistor






Tuesday, December 30, 2014

30/12


A theme ought to be omnipresent but subtle. If the audience can identify the theme easily then it's too over-the-top. If there's unanimous consensus about the theme then it's also over-the-top. A theme is like the body language of the work. It should give a strong impression to those paying close attention while operating on a subconscious level in most cases.

A theme is not a moral. It's an open question, not a conclusion. It needs to be an open question because an entire work of fiction needs to be created in its service.
http://kasavin.blogspot.se/2011/12/developing-themes-in-games.html

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The Game Design of Tinder & Online Dating | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Shpx1O88f04

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Extra Credits - Snakes and Ladders - How the Meaning of an Ancient Children's Game Adapted Over Time
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzLYKY1nPsY

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Anti-War War Games
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-228auScq1g

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23 Ways Gaming Makes You a Better Person | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsF68eEyyXs

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Extra Credits - Global Games: Norway - The Challenges of Norwegian Game Companies
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYyzKbXebsE

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Why Do You Still Play Smash Bros.? | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vO-MNP0itT4

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Mass Effect lost its way. It could have been a series that really explored these notions of morality, humanity, artificial intelligence, and merging with technology. And it really does hit so many amazing character and story beats—while Mass Effect has the greatest sense of world-building, I fell most in love with the cast of Mass Effect 2. And I credit Mass Effect 3 for achieving a sense of epic scale, urgency, and drama. It delivers well on its “galaxy at war” premise, making you feel like you’re at the head of a massive operation to save life as we know it. It also has some of the most stunning cinematic production values I’ve ever seen in a video game—let’s just say I was not expecting what happened on Tuchanka.

But in the end, the glue that ties a story and its characters together is the writing and the themes, the stuffing between the lines and all that hums in the subtext. And that part of it was sadly fumbled, regardless of how much fun I was having with all the side stories and character vignettes.
http://www.videogameheart.com/daily/shepard-among-the-machines/

§

After four years of talking with all these versions of myself, the long-distance aspect of my relationship came to an end. My girlfriend and I moved in together. I don’t travel as much anymore—only on holidays to see the folks—and so I had no use for my passengers anymore. I didn’t need their voices or, at least, my awareness of their voices. I made an effort not to think about them.

That is, until I played Glitchhikers.
http://antagonizethehorn.com/2014/11/29/you-are-never-alone-an-essay-on-glitchhikers/

Saturday, November 29, 2014

29/11

§KICKSTARTER
Late To The Party : A Cold War Espionage RPG in the Baltics
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pyrodactyl/late-to-the-party-a-cold-war-espionage-rpg-in-the/posts

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Unrest: An Honest Postmortem of a Kickstarter Success
http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=23830




§MISC
Here’s what happened when Wreden and Pugh dug into the ideas behind The Stanley Parable’s disorienting and utterly impossible building.
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/11/21/the-stanley-parable-architecture/

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The Game Design of IKEA | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKCDJ89ODyM

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queer as in fuck me – a design manifesto
/.../
((Provocation: Queerness resides not within the game but in the way we relate to the game and to each other. Answer: Design games that draw awareness to participation in relationships.))

http://www.mattiebrice.com/queer-as-in-fuck-me-a-design-manifesto/

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Extra Credits - Interactive Video - How Cloud Chamber Makes a Game out of Movies
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dU70hOX5_X8

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What is a game? And why it matters! | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0ReU2tvLFo

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I really liked Bioshock: Infinite, but upon replaying it with an audience, I have noticed one thing. When you aren’t hypnotized by the constant combats and strong visuals, and when you break apart from those to share your observations with somebody else, you perceive the interplay of dialogue and gameplay very differently. By which I mean you realize how award-winning game-changing Nobel-peace-prize-getting they really are
http://www.chocolatehammer.org/?p=4762

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PS4: A One Year Anniversary
http://www.gametrailers.com/videos/quhrmg/the-final-bosman-ps4--a-one-year-anniversary

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Extra Credits - The True Genius of Dark Souls II - How to Approach Game Difficulty
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM2dDF4B9a4


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The promise of home in the past

I've known nostalgia all my life. Even when I was young enough to “barely have anything to be nostalgic over“, as the grown-up would have you very well know. But all children understand that there are worlds upon worlds in their imagination, and that matters which are deemed small by the adult world may indeed be of great value to the child, and go deeper than anyone fully sane thought possible.

And thus, when I finally conquered the Green Hind-legged Boar (Ganon) in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (ALttP) at the age of seven, a sensation of bittersweet longing for not having done so washed over me. In a sense, the game was impossible to finish, since every time I loaded it up Ganon was still alive, and my Hero was ready for another round. But in my heart I knew that things would never be the same, or that indeed they would always remain the same in the game, only that I had changed.

At some point I discovered that there were more things in the game besides my relationship with it that seemed incomplete. Sure, there was always the matter of not having collected all the heart pieces, but there was also something at once more sinister and comforting going on. It seemed as if
the map – and thus in extension the world itself – in A Link to the Past was… unfinished. The corners of the map were covered in clouds, which meant mystery. Every time I booted up the Super Nintendo cartridge and found myself having nothing left to explore, a feeling of melancholy would take hold of me, leaving me treading old ground, yet being unable to leave the world behind. I would just sit there in front of my TV, staring beyond the screen while traversing Hyrule with my well-worn and trusty Pegasus Boots, completely in control of what was going, yet in a sense – not there at all. 

At times I was more aware of what I was doing, or at least had a sense of purpose while doing it. I tried tracing the outlines of the clouds while high atop Death Mountain, the only place outside of the map where the clouds could actually be seen. Up there I felt closest to breaking some sort of barrier, but in the end I didn't manage to get on top of or beyond any of the clouds. When the meticulous method of trying to bomb my way through every inch of Death Mountain failed, I'd resort to shifting between the full world map and a smaller piece of it where my avatar was localized. Having done so, I'd haphazardly press buttons, hoping that by sheer force and willpower I'd finally come across the magic combination that would unlock secrets and dispel fogs, opening up the world to reveal something unseen and new.

When storms were approaching in the world outside of video games, so would the need to return to my Hyrule, my clouds, and what was within and beyond them.



§

Homes are what we make of them. I doubt that the designers behind ALttP had in mind that I as a player would be returning to certain places in Hyrule time and time again, effectively treating it as a sort of camp, stronghold, resting place – home. I found several such places of rest after I started playing ALttP as a walking simulator/interactive screen and/or life-saver. The former resting place of the Master Sword in the Lost Woods, a lush grove, was one such place. Embedded in that location was perhaps the strongest symbol of dissonance between completion and fundamental incompleteness which inhabited the limbo that the myth of my Hero of Time – and my save file – had become.
In the credits of the video game, after I defeated Ganon, I was told that the Master Sword “sleeps again, forever”. Surely I had defeated Ganon, and though the sword which “makes evil retreat“ had retreated, unfortunately it didn't so into its proper resting place, but back into the hands of my hero. The pedestal at the corner of the world was empty and Link was armed, as if evil had in fact not been vanquished. But at the same time that grove in the deepest of Lost Woods seemed much less “lost” to me than the rest of Hyrule, where legions of evil still roamed the Overworld. And so it became a place of rest.1



There was another place that I would come to know as home, also this one bittersweet, perhaps
wabi-sabi2 even. Colloquially it is referred to as the Haunted Grove3. Sounds ghastly, no? It was haunted and haunting indeed, but seldom chilling. This too was a place seemingly untouched by the trappings of the world outside, with bushes blocking it off from prying enemies, further instilling a feeling of safety in the dwellers who'd find themselves there. In a sense then, what I had created was a koja (Swedish word which is used both for tree houses, but also the provisional, impermanent make-believe edifices which children build inside and outside their rooms out of pillows and furniture – to the dismay of their parents). To go there, the fastest way was by “flute-bird-transporting“ to Link's home cabin or to Kakariko Village, and then from there going by foot. Which reminds me – the place wasn't completely devoid of other inhabitants. And actually, the Grove wasn't really unaffected by the dark forces at work in the outside world either. As in the resting place of the Master Sword, here too there were animals which as suddenly as they appeared, vanished. But there was something else, if I could only remember...



Ah, yes. The flute boy.

The Flute Boy is seen playing
for the wild animals of the grove. Approach them, and both the animals and the apparition of the Flute Boy disappears4. Return to the Haunted Grove in the Dark World (after the fall of the Golden Land) and the Flute Boy is transformed into a strange creature (trickster fox), not unlike Link hirself was turned (into an innocent bunny) when first arriving in the Dark World. Link goes on a journey to find the flute which the Flute Boy lost, and when zie brings the flute back to hir in the Dark World, the Flute Boy says zie can't play it anymore, but that zie would very well like to hear its melody one more time. Turns out, this would be hir last wish, as Link's playing of the flute petrifies the boy into a tree. The Flute Boy's apparitions cease to exist, leaving only the tree stump and the memory behind.



§

I don't roam the world of Hyrule anymore5, barely even the
newer versions of it6. After all, Koholint Island and perhaps even Hyrule is at risk of transforming into a nightmare if the dreamer stays too long7. I stopped playing A Link to the Past many years ago, and even though my world today is more Corinthian than Kokirian8, Hyrule still lives through me, still has its pull. Mostly in the form of theories concerning the nature of the world of Zelda and its franchise (especially Hylian Dan's wonderful takes on the recurring themes of Zelda games9), but certainly in and of itself due to my fond memories of ALttP and other Zelda titles. Due to my need to retread and stir up and dig around old ground, and due to the fact that there always will be storms ahead of us, and the shifting tides of what our past means to us.

The Haunted Grove will probably always have a piece of my heart, as will other places I've known as home, as (songs of) healing, as topographical points of mindfulness, as reveries, as empyrean realms, ageless playing pens, to have and to hold, to cherish and behold. I believe that there will always be a returning sense of incompleteness in my life, simply because that's what life is with its directional arrow of time. Peace
will be hard to find, while regret – not as much. Today, I understand The Haunted Grove as a liminal Otherworld, a threshold where childhood bliss and youthful distress share possibility-spaces for both growth and stagnation. It is the center of the hurricane, if you will, a mirror into a lighter world, but a mirror which is neither only a Mask of Truth, nor but a dark, lo-mask of nostalgic untruth, but both. I hold it up toward both the past and the future, the need for a home and the need for travel10.

The grown-up accepts that the clouds of the Hyrule world are mere instrumental tools for the marking of the “game world proper” - a system for demarcating the terminal point of non-experiential, objective reality - but the child with the beginners mind dreams of what lies beyond, and while doing so makes the world within and in the clouds both home and travel companion. From time to time, my present situation harkens me back to Hyrule, implores me to find old homes and stay there a while and listen. And I do, albeit not in any formal sense which involves controllers and cartridges. I barely even know why that is. But what I do know in my heart of hearts is that I will be forever returning to the 32-bit Hyrule of my childhood, and even if I do so by adult means, I'll always meet my younger self there, my link to the past. As Hylian Dan would have put it – we let go of the tree to explore the world beyond it, but the tree is never lost.







Written for Critical Distance’s Blogs of the Round Table for November, Home Sweet Home. Click here to read other submissions for this month.

References:
1 Another observation to make is that on the fan-made maps of Hyrule where the Lost Woods are edited into the overworld, the Grove where the Master Sword rests is nowhere to be seen, because it just doesn't fit. In order to go there, one just has to take a leap of faith and get lost, go beyond the symbolic realm of representation and take on the stuff of legends. As Fado from Ocarina of time says:"Anybody who comes into the forest will be lost." By losing ourselves we find ourselves, right?
2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi
4The Flute Boy's father tells Link that Flute Boy went off in search of the Golden Power and never returned. When Link visits the Kakariko Village Inn, zie is told by the Innkeeper how the Flute Boy had a pet bird who flew with hir everywhere and how they went to Death Mountain but never returned.
5The hero leaves the unchanging world, even though zie is warned that those who leave will one day die.
7 What would that be like, dreaming nightmares into existence? Perhaps something like this:
"In my restless dreams,
I see that town...
Kakariko Village"
81 Corinthians 13:11: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
10Why leave at all? Koholint—sorry, Hyrule, is nothing less than a paradise, an infinitely beautiful and comforting home. The only way to leave the Kokiri Forest—my mistake, Koholint, is to awaken the Wind Fish. And as Link eventually learns, waking the Wind Fish means that Koholint will vanish, for the island is but a dream. But one needs remember that dreams are important, too.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Halloween 12/11

§HALLOWEEN
Spooky Halloween Spectertacular
http://www.gametrailers.com/videos/2rlzn2/the-final-bosman-spooky-halloween-spectertacular

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Extra Credits - Horror That Lingers - How the Uncanny Instills Fear
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSKtTBjSBg0

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Extra Credits - Shiver with Antici-pation - How Horror Games Create a Tension Cycle
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyiAR2BXtKU

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The Evolution of Horror in Videogames | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrZYUN8EoNk

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Errant Signal - Alien Isolation (Spoilers)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uh-FjR4lWOY

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Horror, in general, and escapism, in particular, is often more popular in times of economic downturn, when you want to be somewhere else.”
/.../
There’s a disillusionment from the classic era of cyberpunk that makes a revival now seem fairly natural, I think.” Natural or not, the revival is in full force, and it’s becoming a strong and subversive undercurrent in the indie games space.
http://www.popmatters.com/post/187163-cynicism-recession-and-the-resurgence-of-cyberpunk/



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So, what horror games do I look forward to? There are a couple. I guess I'm most excited about Silent Hills, after all.  Especially after finally playing P.T I'm really excited, which is a first in a while when it comes to the Silent Hill franchise, and when I give it some thought, when it comes to blockbuster horror titles. And although I hope P.T isn't representative of what Silent Hills will be in terms of gameplay, and indeed is both too scary and too puzzley for me to bear as a full-length game, I do enjoy the direction it seems to be taking. It's refreshing, and hopefully will have an engaging story, considering it's Kojima and Del Toro designing the damn thing.

Besides Silent Hills, there is also Epanalepsis, a spiritual follow-up to Catachresis (one of my favorite games/horror games from last year),  which just might be coming out before the longest night of this year. Catachresis was horror just as I love it - not too scary, with a heavy story focus, and a world of nostalgia, or wonder, or sadness, or something else sublime. Not just horror with monsters and flight-or-flight, but a space inhabited with people (or the remnants of such) and thus infused with complex social, secondary and tertiary emotions which in combination with just the right amount of anxiety, uncanniness and fear might spark something profound.

Then there's also Soma from Frictional Games (Penumbra, Amnesia) to look forward. I didn't enjoy Penumbra nor Amnesia very much, but they're bound to make something which I will enjoy eventually, considering how good their theory and blog is. If nothing else, the discussions surrounding their creations are fertile ground for the video game community and the betterment of future horror games, so there's always that.

Finally, Draugen by Ragnar Tørnquist. If there's anyone doing good story in video games, it's Ragnar with hir Longest Journey series. Inspired by Whedon's writing, and treading by now familiar Dear Esther-esque ground, this just might turn out to be quite awesome.


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What about this Halloween then, and the horror games (worth playing, which for example excludes games such as "Among the Sleep") of this year? Well, a lot of short games, that's what. Besides "You Won't Tell Anyone, Right?" by Oxeren, a chilling 15 minutes game dealing with heavy stuff such as abuse, trauma, anger and forgiveness, I would like to single out one artist - Kitty Horrorshow. Hir Chyrza and The Cradle of Eve are among the most disturbing and awesoome Lovecraftian games I've played. Lovecraft (as a genre) has always been something which exalts and inspires me, yet fails to deliver (with some notable exceptions being Eternal Darkness, Nestlings, and a few other games). But these pieces here - wow. Chyrza and Dust City are first person walking simulators, while The Cradle of Eve, Pretty Girl and daymare #1: "ritual" are interactive fictions made in Twine. Continuing with interactive fictions, there is a game which isn't quite horror, but it is Kitty Horrorshow (or well, 1/18th seeing how the game is a collab by 18 different contributors). The game in question is You Were Made For Loneliness, a wonderful entity of unrealized potential - as a game, as a work of interactive fiction, as unfulfilled love, as a missed chance at story synthesis, and much more. Many different strands and voices appear in the game, and although they do relate thematically and complement each-other nicely, there is still something missing there which would make the work a coherent one, say, the voice which remembers actually twining the different voices together somehow, being more than just a vehicle for exploring different voices. But what it lacks in unity, it makes up for in covering the ground which makes up the many faces of love - desperate, across time and space, sinister, earnest, bleak, hoping, caring, yearning. It made me remember what Avellone said about how love is depicted in video games and that they would be going for something else than romance in Pillars of Eternity, something I look forward to exploring:

So if I were to implement a romance subplot in Eternity - I wouldn’t. I’d examine interpersonal relationships from another angle and I wouldn’t confine it to love and romance. Maybe I’d explore it after a “loving” relationship crashed and burned, and one or both was killed in the aftermath enough for them to see if it had really been worth it spending the last few years of their physical existence chained to each other in a dance of human misery and/or a plateau of soul-killing compromise. Or maybe I’d explore a veteran’s love affair with his craft of murder and allowing souls to be freed to travel beyond their bleeding shell, or a Cipher’s obsession with plucking the emotions of deep-rooted souls to try and see what makes people attracted to each other beyond their baser instincts and discovers love... specifically, his love of manipulating others. You could build an entire dungeon and quest where he devotes himself to replicating facsimiles of love, reducer a Higher Love to a baser thing and using NPCs he encounters as puppets for his experimentations, turning something supposedly beautiful into something filthy, mechanical, but surrounded by blank-eyed soul-twisted drones echoing all the hollow Disney-like platitudes and fairy tale existence where everyone lives happily ever after. The really long piece of writing furthest down in this blog post is an excerpt from one of the memories the player-avatar has in "You Were Made...", a piece I think Avellone would approve of.


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Now, finally, for some lists. Best implementations of horror in works of interactive fiction - a short list indeed!

my father’s long, long legs (michael lutz). Slow, meticulous madness and the ways in which it affects those close to it. "Basically a short story about a family in which the father, one day, goes down into the dirt-floor basement with a brand-new shovel and begins to dig…and dig…and dig. And he won’t stop digging."

Shrapnel (Adam Cadre). My favorite work from Cadre, together with the most classic of classics that is Photopia. Shrapnel is the post-traumatic stress disorder of Jacob's Ladder combined with the jumbled identity-mismatch and shifting time-realities of Philip K. Dick.



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Most interesting horror-like games from 2013 and 2014 not already covered:

Knock Knock. There is a wall which separates the spectral from the carnal. Horror is often about the protrusion of one unto the other, when sacred barriers which keep at bay turn derranged and thus derail the order of things, be it the fleshy id-monsters usurping the phantasmatic super-ego in the form of zombies, or the terrors of modernity haunting the body-politics with its savage instrumentality (well, that too might actually be in the form of zombies, this time as wage-slaves, but I had Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs in mind specifically). Knock Knock seeks to further tear down barriers, and one of the ways in which it does this is by asking you as a player to interact with the world outside of the video game, by means which have origins before and outside the designers creative capabilities. A haunting experience, in more ways than one.

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs. The downward spiral of conflating humans with tools, humanity with filth. Here piggy, piggy!!!

Year Walk. Swedish folklore in a forest of mythical encounters. Quite unique and beautiful, albeit mostly an atmospherical experience.






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Example of a player-avatar memory from You Were Made For Loneliness :
Each night I spend in front of this enchanted window innocculates me to the mundane. Each night I become more and more tolerant, inured, and I must dig deeper and find stranger sights, or come away unsatisfied, all my nerves intact. I must go deeper into the woods, link by related link.

The mouth of the woods is bright and vivid, wreathed in the familiar and comfortable. Dubstep remixes, clips from popular television, people hurting themselves comedically. Click one and the cabaret begins, glitter and distraction, vapid entertainment in fast, short doses. Continue clicking, following a winding trail of related videos. One might lose hours in this way and find nothing at all, but there are times, after wandering long and far enough into pale-faced circadian interruption, deep into night and well beyond sleep's reach, a link appears to something unusual, something wrong.

Click this link and proceed to watch two minutes of garbled footage with stop-motion dolls dancing naked in a rusty sink. A MIDI song drones and taps, exhumed from some ancient homepage of internet pre-history. Compression artifacts swim across the screen like a membrane, like ectoplasm, distorting everything, masking anything that moves too quickly. Now all of the related videos are strange, unnerving, uncanny, and there are no more cats to be found in the side-bar, no more dubstep remixes to anchor one to the familiar. Just more strangeness, more smiling digital shadow-plays waiting to take your hand and lead you deeper.

'im in the weird part of (the woods) again'

Most shut their browsers, attempt sleep, tell their friends about some of the fucked up videos they watched last night, joke, laugh, ha ha. But when they return to the woods again they stay close to its mouth, close to light and innocuous distraction, wary now of links that would pull them off the path and into slithering uncertainty.

I do not want to stay at the mouth of the woods.

My list of favorites is a menagerie of jittering 3D characters, melting puppets, mask-wearing figures writhing and moaning in dark, dirty rooms. These are my anchors, the lines that lead me directly back to the stranger inner-depths. Many are contrived, manufactured things, deliberate and calculated to seem disturbing, frightening, psychological. These are trite, but at least they bring one closer to the true exhibits: videos not designed to be unsettling but unsettling despite, videos made with candor and sincerity and put forth by people who don't see the strangeness of their own creations, find beauty where others find quiet revulsion. These are the purest, the most deeply upsetting, the most profoundly addictive. In them, one can see the creator's desperation to communicate, to entertain, to be funny or cute or artistic, and the unnerving results of their failures are their own breed of fascinating.

The authenticity, the honesty, is what makes these so deeply frightening. Like the difference between a slasher movie and a snuff film found in an empty house. It is a difference appreciated by few, feared by most, analyzed by seemingly none.

None but myself. And, as I am soon to find, one other.

A favorite video of mine: a pot-bellied CGI farmer stands shirtless in a field of whipping corn-stalks beneath a gunmetal blue sky. His house, a cardboard prop in the background behind him, is empty and unlit. He waggles his finger, singing a droning song with a synthesized voice. His animation loops around on itself, forward to back then back to fore. His eyes are black holes in his immaculate flesh-colored face. The content of the video is too absurd to be deliberately frightening; its creator's intention is unknowable, but I would guess humor, or artistic experimentation. And yet watching that sky, the dark reeds of the farmer's field lashing as in a tornadic wind, upsets me deeply. I have watched this video at least sixty times. The comments are always the same.

dafuq

nightmare fuel

lyrics?

im in the weird part of (the woods) again

Only tonight, just now, as the song concludes abruptly and the farmer's face freezes in a rictus of artifical unlife, I see a comment that separates itself.

nerva_blood_radio (6 hours ago) says:
i have heard this song whispered. i would let that sky take me and pull me apart.

I stare at the comment in surprise, admiration, curiosity. A warmth in my core, something like elation, begins to grow. Elation, or relief to know that there is someone else who can see beauty in the bizarre, who can find wonder in those things that frighten and confuse and disturb so many others. Someone else who can stare at such displays of unflagging surrealism and wish to be lost within them.

I send them a message, something I have never done.
"Beautiful comment. I wish more people had your perspective. How do you feel about robots?"

Three sentences composed in half as many hours. I am fearful; I have never known how to communicate with people. I betray my strangeness even in simple conversation, and they are immediately repelled. But I must reach this one, I think, because they understand the way I understand. I force myself to be concise for fear of sounding desperate. Finally I send the message, along with a link to another of my favorites, a home-made animatronic mannequin singing its praises for its creator, waxing euphoric, twitching artificially to the sound of a cacophonous synth-music arpeggio that echoes its way up from the deepest point of the Uncanny Valley.

Days pass, and in that time I spend more time thinking and hoping and dreading a response than I care to admit. Then it comes.

nerva_blood_radio:
aaahaa... shes a good signer... so happy—— thank you!!!! i like this one tooOO ... maybe youll like it too... click?.......... bye....

I click the attached link.

The title is a garble of meaningless shapes. The comments are in Chinese characters. In the frame is darkness, enough that I'm required to full-screen the video and shut off my second monitor. Compression artifacts swim and churn, poorly-recorded silence warbles in my ears. My eyes adjust, and I think that what I'm seeing is a cramped apartment. A white square, maybe a refrigerator, dominates the left side of the screen, sentinel of a kitchen that is little more than a linoleum-tiled alcove. The video seems to be recorded from a camera that has been left running on a table. There is no sound except the guttering background silence for seven minutes. Then there is a moan, long and wailing and distant as though from another room. It sounds pained, show a derelict might wail in the throes of some chronic malady. Then, in the last seconds, a shape, a fragmented blob of muted light, shifts to the side at the far end of the 'kitchen.' The video ends.

It was a face, I realize.

A face that had been staring at me from the moment the video began. A face so perfectly blended with the swimming low-res shadows that I had failed completely to notice it, until that slight, final movement betrayed it as a living being rather than a cluster of wan light. For seven minutes they sat in utter darkness, staring at a camera left recording on a table. For the first time in memory I look around myself, into the darkness of my apartment, fearing that something may be there with me.

I have never found anything so chillingly sublime. I return nerva_blood_radio's message to thank them, and link them to another of my favorites.

For weeks, this becomes our relationship. Each night I check for their response, view it, shudder physically, respond. There are times when we link one another to something we have already seen, and there is a delight in that as well, an affirmation of kinship. A few times I become brave and ask questions, 'how've you been' and 'what're you up to'. They never answer these, and I stop asking. Soon we exchange personal e-mail addresses so that we can link one another to videos from more obscure sources. Videos in formats that I've never heard of, requiring special codecs and foreign language packs, videos with viewcounts in the single-digits. With each night that passes, their strangeness, their horror, their beauty increases.

I begin to imagine nerva_blood_radio as a sort of digital goddess, a monstrous cybernetic deity, a slithering wire-queen nestled deep down in some web-strewn data-swamp, divine matron of all that seeks a way beneath one's skin. I begin to worship her. I begin to love her. She, this deity, becomes my muse, my reason to wake, the force that drives me and the sole supplier of my greatest addiction. She had exposed me to a world beneath the skin of all that I had known but to which I felt immediately that I belonged, a world of dancing skeletal mascots and videos washed out by grain and comperssion to the point that they conveyed no real imagery at all, only visual chaos and noise and emotion. Emotion that's impossible to explain to anyone who has never woken up sweating and panting and crying from a nightmare they can't remember. A world of people in cramped apartments like mine all over the world, gathered together to present each other with caught fragments of nightmares and glitchy half-broken tone peoms told not with words but with filthy, empty rooms and twitching shapes.

One night she sends me a video with no description. She attaches it directly to an email message, something she's never done before. No context, no source link, none of her usual stuttered, seductive cadence prefacing what I am about to see. Just a single video file, the name of which is a meaningless scramble of characters. I download it, run it with a homebrew video player which translates the name into blocky white characters at the bottom of the frame as the video begins to play:
crushed_locust_doesnt_die

Pavement, a road somewhere, lined with dust and brush. Wan blue-purple light and slivers of orange horizon (dusk) as the camera moves, its wielder breathing hard, walking slowly toward something. A shape, dark and small, immobilized on the road. The camera-holder approaches the shape and leans down, taking a long, deliberate shot of the thing on the ground. It's a fat locust with a long body and a wounded leg, laying on its side in the dust, the far back tip of its thorax burst open as though it had been clipped by the windshield of a passing car. It struggles weakly along the ground. The cameraman giggles, an oily, wheezing sound, lowering the camera until the lens is nearly touching the black, unblinking eye. The camera adjusts its focus. The black eye gleams. More wheezing, more harsh-breath giggling as the camera pulls back and jostles. A foot appears, rubber-booted and wide. A loud grunt and the foot descends on the body of the locust, slamming down on the pavement with a flat 'clap' sound. The foot withdraws and the cameraman is giggling and lowering the camera to survey the wreckage of the locust's body. It is visibly destroyed, the chitin of its green exoskeleton splintered and broken, seeping insect slime. The body is still for several moments, then continues attempting to drag its way across the pavement, its ruined legs continuing to work and twitch despite the assault. The cameraman's breathing halts. The locust glowers up at the camera from the weeping pit of its shattered eye. The cameraman loses composure, swings his arm to the side, camera in hand, and there's grunting and more of that same flat clapping sound, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. The cameraman is breathing hard. Camera turns forward again, finds the locust, lowers to the ground. The pulpy mess scraped across the pavement gives no indication that it once was a living creature. Tiny pin-points of orange dusk-light glimmer in the smear, and the body is a shattered memory made of a thousand broken slivers of carapace. A single twisted leg is the only discernible shape, connected to the splattered remains by a thick yellow strand. More wheezing, panicked laughter. Labored breathing.

The leg continues to move, but it is not just the fading rictus of death. It continues to move, continues to push, continues to struggle against the road. The cameraman makes a high, loud, protean noise. The image blurs as the camera swings away somewhere. The video ends.

I stare at the dark terminus of the video and my hands are shaking.

My mind hastens to consider the implications. My first question, strangely, is why did she like this? Death and snuff are not her forté. Her lack of preface confuses me as well. What did she want me to think? What did she think?

Then I begin to consider the greater implications of an insect pulverized into nothing but a dark smear of viscous biology, and yet which continues to struggle, continues to move. There is no way the video was faked, I know. It was filmed spontaeneously, unknowingly, perfectly.

I reply: "Incredible. Where did you find this?"

She responds almost instantly. I wonder if she was waiting for me to view it, staring at her inbox and awaiting my reply as I've so often done with her. I feel vain at this thought, arrogant. Does a goddess hang on the words of a worshipper?

Her reply:
he, he, he!!... i cant tell you that... its a secret... a very very special top secret, they do not want me to have it! do not know i have it!... i took it... and i showed it to you... nobody else... just you... :)... he, he, he!!...

I am floored. I feel exalted, a once-lowly element elevated by selection for something beautiful and tremendous. My breath quickens. I must send her something that rivals the splendor of what she has given me, something that will astound and enchant her as she has me. But I can think of nothing. My god-kissed elation begins to turn to panic. I do not have her sources, her seemingly inexhaustible wellsprings, none of the darknets which must be part of her dominion.

I open a dozen browser tabs and immediately point them all to the most obscure, disparate, abnormal and uncanny places I know. I spend hours pulling threads and biting my nails. No sleep. I keep searching, so eager to return the kindness she has done me, to please her and prove my worth to her after she has shown me such staggeringly particular attention.

I fail.

I lay back in my chair and press my palms to my eyes. I have spent hours, but have produced nothing. I have failed the only one who ever understood me and shared my insight and challenged my perception. My body craves sleep, but my mind rages.

From outside my window, two bright beams flash, a vehicle turning. I hear a tire squeal, a trash can upend itself, a vehicle speed away. Curious and dejected, I move to the window and look out into the streetlit night.
A dark shape moves on the pavement. With no deliberation, I grab my cell phone and go outside.

I walk downstairs, down to the street and out across my apartment's parking lot. I go to where I saw the shape, and though it is little more than a twitching, pulpy mass, I instantly recognize it. It is a raccoon, destroyed by the careless tires of an automobile. But it is more than that. I switch to my phone's camera, begin recording video. This is a gift.

The small mound of viscera is barely discernible as a living animal as it bleeds and writhes in my viewfinder, leaving a trail of congealing blood in its wake. A tiny jawbone juts upward at an insane angle, fragments of bone litter its pelt. It should be dead, and yet it struggles, pulls itself along the street towards the grass of the far side, separating itself into twitching islands of dark gore. And as it does so, I film it. I film it for whole minutes.

I return to my apartment. I transfer the video to my PC, and without editing, without changing its file name, I attach it to an email and send it to her. Then I stare at my inbox, awaiting a response. For minutes there is nothing, and my lungs feel as though they're shrinking. Then a window opens up for an instant messenger I wasn't aware I'd left running.

nerva_blood_radio (02:44:39): !!!!!!!
nerva_blood_radio (02:44:56): aaahaa, haa, haa, its so goooood!
nerva_blood_radio (02:45:09): where did you find it???
(I have not used this program since I've known her. I don't know how she got my handle. I don't care.)
mothstatic (02:46:12): I filmed it myself
mothstatic (02:46:16): on my phone
mothstatic (02:47:00): I heard a truck spin out so i went to check it and it had hit the raccoon but it kept moving like the locust in the video you sent me
mothstatic (02:47:11): I came straight home and sent it to you
mothstatic (02:47:31): you're the only one I sent it to

Further minutes of non-response, and I'm wringing my hands and pulling skin from my lip. I want her to tell her why I did it, why I sent it only to her, that I love her and worship her and that without her I would still be at the mouth of the woods. I nearly begin to type, but she preempts me:
nerva_blood_radio (02:54:01): you are so good to me.....
nerva_blood_radio (02:54:16): i love you!!.....
My heart is beating through the backs of my ribs and I struggle to breathe. I struggle this way for a minute, then begin to type, but a final message from her blinks onto my screen and then she disconnects.
nerva_blood_radio (02:55:21): send me more...
nerva_blood_radio has logged off.

Panic and elation are fighting for control of my spine. I shut off everything, take off my clothes, lay down on my futon. I don't manage to sleep until the sun has been up for hours, and when I do I sleep through until dark.

The next day, she has sent me no messages. I return to the woods and spend hours there, digging harder than I ever have, scouring every corner she ever showed me for something new and shocking and perfect to surpass the video I had taken. I can find nothing. Everything is either manufactured or hokey or senseless or ham-fisted. Even those things that used to thrill me fail to compare to the simple, terrible perfection of a ruined raccoon continuing to struggle across a road with a body that should not be alive.

The next day, the same results. I turn up nothing. No messages from her. I see the first headline news clip announcing some unknown phenomenon that is affecting the biology of increasingly large creatures in various countries. I'm beginning to feel somehow like I'm running out of time. In my inept anxiety I bite the skin around my fingernails until it bleeds.

The next day more news has crowded out the dubstep remixes and reality television recaps and autotuned parodies. From a distance, looking indirectly at the thumbnails of all that is presented to me, I divine an overwhelming bleakness. The sense of losing time heightens. I set about my work.

Hours into the night, I have had no success. Then a sudden, piercing sound comes from somewhere beneath me, down a floor, somewhere in my apartment. I begin to hear more panic-sounds, footfalls, shouts and cries. I take my phone from my desk and run outside, down to the source.
Neighbors I have only met in passing have crowded outside an open apartment door. The apartment inside is dark, and a man within is yelling, blathering wet, meaningless syllables. People are muttering words like 'gun' and 'dangerous,' shouting things like 'don't' and 'doesn't have to' and 'talk this out.' I shoulder my way forward until I can see into the room.

A naked obese man is laying back against a bare far wall. His face is puffy and streaked with tears and mucous. Each time someone addresses him, he howls something meaningless. There is a pistol in his hand. When he is not howling, he turns his head to look out his open window, looking remorseful, almost pensive. Then, all at once, he begins to raise the gun to his head. Already my fingers are around my phone, trying to pull up the video recorder. My neighbors are shouting now, jostling me. I hit record, try to find a shot, but I am being moved and churned and I can see nothing through my phone. The obese man says something I cannot hear, but which sounds like 'never' and 'to heaven,' and he puts the gun to his temple, and he pulls the trigger.

The gun barks, more quietly than I'm expecting. My neighbors are screaming. A dark fan of blood has sprayed a greasy feather-shape across the wall behind the man. He slumps down and lays still for a moment. Then his body is convulsing. His legs kick up and drum down hard against the floor, his arms whip and lash at his sides, his ruined skull lolls back and forth on his neck. His body rolls forward, puts its arms up, begins wriggling like a bloated worm trying to move forward. My neighbors continue to scream and jostle me, many of them fleeing the hallway. I stare down at my phone, at a message telling me that there is no storage capacity left. I stop recording and review the footage I have taken, and it is useless. Indiscernible. My heart writhes in my chest when I think of the perfect moment that has just been squandered, which can never be repeated, which would have been the most excellent offering.

The few neighbors remaining in the hall cover their mouths and turn away. Most have left, either in fear or maybe to call the police. The obese man's body continues to squirm and bleed and twitch and drum its heavy feet up and down. I stare at my phone, then at the body, which seems to be trying to pull itself closer to me. Then I see the gun, and my most perfect idea comes to me.

I check the hallway to see if anyone is looking. Everyone has their backs turned. The suppurating body has wormed its way into a corner and is struggling helplessly. As quickly and quietly as I can, I step forward into the room, step over the body, reach down and take the gun, slipping it in the front of my pants and hiding it beneath my shirt. Then I leave, climb the stairs, return to my room, lock my door.

I dig an old webcam out of a large tupperware container filled with cords and obsolete peripherals. It takes minutes to hook up, install drivers. Then I pull open the instant messenger and look for her name. Blessedly, she's online.

mothstatic (01:52:19) says: I have something for you, can we video
nerva_blood_radio (01:52:21) says: yes.

Sirens are howling. At the mouth of the woods, all of the brightness, all of the distraction, is gone, replaced by stern faces reporting on what is happening to the world, what is happening to the bodies. I can hear my neighbors downstairs continuing to scream and lament. I can hear the feet of the body beating the floor.

The instant messenger window expands. I see my own face, bathed in white light, framed by the darkness of my room. On her end, I see only moving shadows, the vague impression of green light streaking in strange patterns, a silhouette shaped like a crucifixion.

nerva_blood_radio (01:54:12) says: you have been so very good to me.
mothstatic (01:54:37) says: You showed me so much. I would never have found any of the beauty you showed me.
nerva_blood_radio (01:55:00) says: this will be your contribution to that beauty. i will ensure you are remembered.
I adjust the angle of my webcam, roll my chair back so that both myself and the floor around me are in frame, because I expect that is where my body will fall. I take the gun out of my pants.
mothstatic (01:56:09) says: are you recording?
nerva_blood_radio (01:56:12) says: yes.
mothstatic (01:56:28) says: I love you.
nerva_blood_radio (01:56:40) says: prove it to me. :)

The barrel is sliding between my teeth. My finger wraps around the trigger. From somewhere deep within the woods, I feel a cold wind rise.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

1/11


The second kickstarter project I backed (the first was A House in California, made by Jake Elliott of Kentucky Route fame) was Hadean Lands. Now, four years later, it's finally here. And I'm not going to play it. It's simple, really - the game is mainly a puzzle game, with very little story and very much heavy puzzle solving. I'm just not into that game of game. Ok, I loved Plotkins Dual Transform even though it basically had no story, but it was short, and experimental, and had a wonderful atmosphere. This game seems to be very long and very heavy. So yeah, sometimes you just have to pass up on games.

This week I've been playing Dragon Age 2 and some horror games, but more on those next week when I do a write-up!




§ARTICLES
I see people walking toward me, but they’re not really people, just strange aliens that don’t quite cohere into any particular shape when I get close. That’s what marks Bernband: nothing makes any more sense as you get closer to it. It’s stranger than that: the further away things are, the clearer they seem. There’s a night that covers the world and gives everything an enveloping calm.
http://thiscageisworms.com/2014/10/21/on-bernband/

§

articles about games, in the end, still garner much less traffic and general interest than other cultural phenomena. serious discussion that happens in the videogame sphere is largely disregarded as niche and unimportant in broader cultural conversations - much to the frustration, by the way, of those of us who do see games' ubiquity and value. and so, in the absence of larger serious cultural attention, the boy genius rules as king.
http://ellaguro.blogspot.se/2014/10/embracing-new-flesh.html

§

The trouble is I am find myself getting a little tired of this kind of subversion. The game looks like a shooter and the player can do nothing except shoot. Now you might point out that the player has another option - do nothing. It is in doing nothing that enlightenment can be found.
/.../
If the player cannot inhabit the role on offer, the game collapses into a system and meaning and metaphor are lost. But this is as much an issue of game education as it is acting.
/.../
A developer who chooses to subvert conventions, thinking that the results will be in the higher metaphorical level, may find players accusing them of being exploitative. The reason is the developer has broken the compact. The player has adopted the role they were supposed to, but the developer has used familiar labels to do quite different things. Now when I press a button in the lift for the basement, the building explodes. The system has been deliberately corrupted.
http://www.electrondance.com/your-game-isnt-as-clever-as-you-thought/

§

What I’ve realized during my time engaging with the online community surrounding games media and development is that minoritized voices often only get visibility and resources when they are talking about their pain.
/.../
I am more than my pain. I am more than my pain. I am more than my pain.
http://www.mattiebrice.com/more-than-my-pain/

§

Persona 3’s protagonist is a supernatural other, a messianic figure capable only of departing from their own realities and connecting to the feelings of others. The PC is a series of masks, but these masks are more than a costume for others to look at, the PC is a reflection of those that speak to them, the masks look outward and see the world in different ways. The PC’s masks are the source of their divine empathy.
http://big-tall-words.com/2014/10/30/masks-upon-masks/

§

Could there be a viable concept of ‘player rights’, and if not, are there any grounds for legally restricting games?
/.../
It is not that players have rights so much as it is that players have responsibilities – and not least of all, to themselves.
http://onlyagame.typepad.com/only_a_game/2014/10/can-players-have-rights.html





§INDIECADE
http://blog.brendanvance.com/2014/10/24/notes-on-indiecade/
http://www.mattiebrice.com/dispatches-from-indiecade/