Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kentucky Route Zero Critical Compilation


GDC Vault - Designing for Mystery in Kentucky Route Zero


Interview: Kentucky Route Zero’s Mountain Of Meanings


Global economic crisis, local history, American literature: The two hours of the first episode give you many interesting things to discover (and there is so much more).
Act Two focuses on architecture, philosophy and different perspectives on questions of migration and socio-cultural issues of home.
When we started this series, the discussion about Kentucky Route Zero consisted almost exclusively of David Lynch references and the question about when the next episode was going to be released. Luckily, this has changed.


The Endless Night of Kentucky Route Zero
Later in the game, when Conway says something is going to happen “in the morning” the very idea is laughable. There’s two episodes left of Kentucky Route Zero, and I get the feeling that morning is somehow never going to come. Even if it does… it won’t really come. I’ll still be in the bar, at a party, in the dark, or on the Zero, marveling at the impossibility of dawn.


To varying degrees, all video games seem to see themselves as mere shades of the Platonic ideal of the video game: the holodeck.
Then, we have games like Kentucky Route Zero, which don’t.

And while Kentucky Route Zero does ostensibly exist within a video game space, it is more interested in the function of spaces within that space. It is based on the expressive forms of experimental theater, installation art and modernist literature, not on the ideal of the holodeck. It creates non-Euclidean spaces that cannot exist, not as an expression of the possibilities of video game space when unshackled by the constraints of the real world, but as an outright rejection of the common standard of video game spaces.


Design Live - Kentucky Route Zero - Livestream Playthrough and Analysis


Design Live - Kentucky Route Zero - Livestream Playthrough and Analysis 2


By elevating the player above a single-perspective experience, Kentucky Route Zero actually enriches its capacity for narrative agency. You aren’t confined to a single viewpoint through which to access and assess the narrative, but are, instead, present through all perspectives.
The characters feel believable because you are crafting not just how a character responds in a present moment, but also what their backstory is. You shape these characters across planes in time in a way that makes them feel complex, multi-dimensional, and real. In Kentucky Route Zero you not only construct what the past was, but define why it has bearing on a character and their actions in the game’s present. That these actions occur simultaneously to your attempts to situate them brings the multi-dimensionality of the characters directly to the foreground of the game, and makes it the ludic function by which players advance.


Ranging from despondent, bitter to hopeful, each choice holds a mirror to the player, asking them a basic question that games rarely if ever bother asking: “How do you feel?”

By doing so, Kentucky Route Zero is able to achieve something important: It includes the player in its narrative process even though the narrative is linear. Every choice you make in the game affects your experience of it and how you contextualize the characters within it more than the actual plot itself.
As dawn approaches in Kentucky Route Zero, maybe the sun shall shine not just on the ever-evasive quandaries of the world that its characters seem to grapple with, but also on aspects of our own selves and who we really are when we interact with seemingly static choices in a world fated by its script.


I love that Kentucky Route Zero does so much to make me feel richly invested in its world without making me feel like it's only through my presence there that the world matters. I want to see more and more games do this. Because if my story is the only one that matters, then nothing matters, since it's only through our connections with each other that the meaning in our stories can reveal itself.


Bright light filters in from the wide front windows of the Emporium Arcade Bar in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy, the two halves of indie developer Cardboard Computer, sit next to each other, each nursing a pint full of dark beer.


There is an important part in Kentucky Route Zero Act II when Shannon says, "Are we inside or outside?"
You can choose between three answers: "Inside." "Outside." Or "Both."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Someone elses article about Shattered Memories

I’m finally ready to talk about Silent Hill Shattered Memories.
As you may know from reading my top picks from last year[1], I found the game to be one of the most emotional and beautiful games I’ve played in a while.  I even went so far as to say that the “game…understands the series and videogames as a medium so well that it alienated nearly the entire Silent Hill fan community.”  I was not being hyperbolic.  I meant every word I said.
So let’s talk about that reaction.  Climax’s previous Silent Hill game–Origins–was very Silent Hill By The Numbers and is widely considered one of the least interesting titles in the series for that very reason.  Shattered Memories, on the other hand, throws out nearly everything that makes Silent Hill be Silent Hill, and that led to an appropriately chilly reception.  Rather than being a case of a developer latching onto a series to boost sales no matter how inappropriate the idea is (The Room, anyone?), I believe that the alterations and changes were not made lightly.  Climax had the opportunity to give us Another Silent Hill game that would be everything we expected and would sell well, but it decided to brave internet flames to give us an example of a videogame that does something different.  I would like to take some time to briefly (for me, at least) discuss how Shattered Memories uses its Silent Hill-ness in order to futher its themes.
There will be spoilers.
I tend to get fairly idiosyncratic interpretations of games, so take anything I say with a grain of salt, but I actually think the Silent Hill brand is pretty necessary to the game.  Thematically, the game is about the process of therapy as a method of uncovering past trauma in order to finally deal with it properly.  Cheryl’s character has some preconceived notions about how the past was, how the people in her life acted and how they treated her.  As is the case with many of us, she dealt with this trauma at too young of an age to make a rational, empowered decision and it’s caused some major psychological issues.  She has this notion of who her father is, who her mother is, why she feels abandoned, etc.  Dr. Kaufmann’s goal is to force her to break through her prejudices and see her parents for who they “really” are–flawed and human.  To realize that, for example, the divorce wasn’t something done *to* her, but the result of two people who simply made some mistakes.
Without playing the games, without having lived with these characters for 10 years, one can certainly understand and appreciate the story–it’s extremely well-written, I feel, and the emotional resonances of the story do still exist.  That’s part of why the game needs the variable dimension–if the questions are answered honestly, it’ll confront you with things that you may feel guilty or ashamed about.
But if you’re a Silent Hill fan, the personal resonances become deeper, because you *have* lived with a picture of Harry for 10 years.  The first time you saw him, in SH1, he’s a devoted father willing to go through hell to find his daughter.  Dhalia is a manipulative woman in league with the demons and willing to inflict abuse and neglect upon her daughter.  Shattered Memories’ Harry is not the Harry we have come to know and love.  Mine was a drunk.  Yours may have been promiscuous.  Either way, there’s supposed to be a feeling of wrong.  Did you pay attention to the backlash over the new character design?  People criticized the fact that, this time, Harry wears glasses.  Ruined forever.
You are, through the entire game, supposed to be telling yourself:  That’s not Harry.  That’s not Dhalia.  That’s not Cybil.  They changed these characters.  They changed them into something completely different and that is not how these characters are and why did they change my favorite characters and why didn’t they just use new characters if they’re going to shit all over them?
For Cheryl, Dr. Kaufmann is doing the psychoanalytic equivalent of shitting over her family.
As far as my limited understanding of therapy goes[2], there are two related concepts at work here–repression and resistance.  Both are pretty easy to understand and you may already know them.  Repression is when a traumatic experience or a desire proves so difficult to deal with that you banish all traces of it from conscious thought.  This rarely goes well.  The trauma will appear elsewhere.  I don’t believe it to be so straightforward as Freud’s conception of repression–few people do anymore–but pretty much everyone agrees that if you go through some tough times before you’re ready to deal with them, and you’re expected to deal with them on your own, you’re going to have a bit of an interesting worldview.
But the problem is this:  It’s YOUR worldview, dammit, and though you may be miserable and crazy, you’re damned if you want it changed or taken away from you.  And that’s where you get into resistance.  You may not like the way you think and feel and act, and you may be going through therapy to change those things, but no one said it was going to be easy.  No matter how comfortable you feel with your therapist, no matter how open a person you may be, no matter how much you desire to change or receptive you may be, there are going to be times where you’re going to want to fight your therapist or spend the full hour saying nothing and staring at the window.
Very little of the action in Shattered Memories actually happens.  What we are seeing is a literalization of resistance.  The Raw Shocks are the most obvious manifestation of this.  Any time a character is about to reveal a truth about the situation, any time Cheryl is about to have a breakthrough, the world freezes and a bunch of monsters chase.  When you get caught, the monsters appear to caress Harry.  A lot has been speculated about this, often in Electra-complex terms–there’s definitely some strong overtones of this throughout the game[3].  There’s other theories that the creatures are offering simple comfort.  Whatever your interpretation, it’s undeniable that the creatures aren’t trying to kill Harry–they’re just detaining him indefinitely.  The creatures are agents of repression.  They appear to protect Cheryl from the truth.  More importantly, they prevent the player from continuing.
Let’s never forget this: Shattered Memories was pitched at tailoring itself to the player from the beginnig.  The very first thing you see is a warning screen which, rather than the normal survival horror intro letting you know that the game you just paid $50 for contains violent images and you should shut it off forever if you don’t want to see blood, alerts you to the psychological profiling.  “This game plays you as much as you play it.”  It shows its hand: If you don’t want to be manipulated, don’t play it.
In the original Silent Hill, Harry braves hell in order to find his daughter, with no thoughts towards his own safety.  Dhalia manipulates him, prevents him from finding Cheryl, is ultimately responsible for all the horror.  Dr. Kaufmann abuses his position in order to grow his power, callously using everyone around him without any care for their feelings.  Cheryl is a sweet little girl who’s been wronged, who is scared, and who can’t take care of herself–who needs her daddy to take care of her.  Those are the preconceptions the player takes in with him or her.  Take out the supernatural elements and view the characters as archetypes.  Harry is separated from his daughter and, even in death, longs to be with her.  Dhalia drove Harry to a ruin which ultimately led to his death and Cheryl’s unstable mental state.  Dr. Kaufmann is a sadistic, angry, often frightening man who yells at and berates his patients.  Cheryl herself is having a difficult time making her way through the world and anxiously awaits the return of the one person who can make her whole.  Those are the preconceptions that Cheryl brings to therapy.
Shattered Memories plays you as much as you play it.  It manipulates you.  That backlash you feel?  The feeling that this Harry isn’t the real Harry, that that’s not who Dhalia is–that’s resistance.
You’ve got your ideas about how Silent Hill works, the game is challenging you, and you’re fighting back.  I don’t even think that the “real” Dr. Kaufmann is as angry as he appears in the game.  I think he’s just a stubborn therapist who knows that the best thing for his patient is to force her to confront what she does not want to, and she sees him as a raving lunatic.
We’ve all seen player/character identification before: The example I always give is when Mario falls down a pit, the player simply says, “I died.”  We’ve all seen games which directly involve or address the player–the final battle of Earthbound, for examples.  We’ve even seen games which give the player the same exact experience as the character–the .hack// series is one.  Shattered Memories, in my interpretation, does all of those things.  It places its psychology scenes in first-person not only to delay the reveal, but because the game desires to analyze you.  Because you are the one answering the therapist’s questions, you are, effectively, taking on the role of Cheryl.
Shattered Memories not only uses videogames as a medium for telling its story, it uses the Silent Hill franchise as part of its palette.  Most of the complaints had to do with the fact that it’s widely perceived that the game simply uses the franchise/characters in order to boost sales of an unrelated game; it would have had a better reception if it had used all new characters to tell its story.  But that’s clearly not the case.  The game is quite literally about the inability to see people you believe you know in a different light, from a different angle.  Our unwillingness to do so mimics the characters’ inability.  We need to have preconceptions of these characters; we quite simply need to have some baggage.  Giving this storyline to completely original characters would not have made it nearly as effective; the player would have been more of an observer than an active participant.  The fact is, the only way the game could have furthered its themes more intensely would be if the game had been from the perspective of Princess Peach, thinking about Mario’s journey to save her.
2. I may have a Lit degree, but I have more credentials about talking about psychology than Cooper Lawrence does about videogames, and she even got on TV and everything.  A large component of that lit degree was spent on psychoanalytic criticism, so I’ve got some Lacan and Jung and other writers under my belt.  Meanwhile, I’m in therapy myself; my therapist is aware of my interests and will often discuss the underlying concepts of what’s going on in our sessions with me.  I may not know enough to write a paper for an academic journal, but I’m not working from entirely false information here.  And that’s why our side is better than the moral guardians’.
3. My friend Rai pointed out that Silent Hill 3′s main theme, “You’re Not Here”, always felt a little too sexual for the game’s plot.  The song is intended to be sung by Heather/Cheryl–there’s a video which i believe is official depicting her singing it.  The most important character to her is her father, who is definitely a source of strength for her, and it’s natural for her to miss him, but the lyrics are clearly addressed to a lost lover.  In light of Shattered Memories’ plot, the song takes on a completely different meaning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


a major barrier to the exploration of emotional resonance in games is the puzzle-solving orientation, in which all game objects and actors are reduced to the status of things to be used in order to achieve an end

thus, soft chambers is invested in discovering ways to disrupt this orientation
whereas the traditional approach to 'closing distance’ has been to attempt 'immersion’ of the player within the game world, soft chambers believes it may be more fruitful to explore ways in which we can allow the game to spill into the player’s world


the norm for videogame development is the negation of the self; indeed, we are encouraged to pride ourselves on this negation, on our dedication to our labour against the demands of our body, our relationships
as we explore the development of games that are more caring of our players, we wish to explore modes of production that are more caring of ourselves


because videogames are the aesthetic form of rationalization, replacing punching with hugging or building with growing is not enough
but it is a start


Is Deus Ex Still The Best Game Ever?


Errant Signal - Blendo Games (Spoilers)


The story of the last two games—Soul Reaver 2 and Defiance—then becomes the process of rectifying history, of restoring it to its proper flow. Put another way, the return of the soul to its proper, divine status is the objective of vanilla Gnosticism; in Legacy of Kain the objective is the restoration of history’s proper flow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


No Place for Hideo


Sometimes when I play with someone new to games, they’ll ask me ‘How did you know that was the solution?’ and the answer is simply because I’ve been here before. On the surface it looks like skill, but in reality it’s a sign that we’ve learned to be obedient. A lifetime of playing games has taught us to be followers, and it is now a major factor in slowing down innovation and experimentation in games.
Researchers in Copenhagen and New York have both looked at building point-and-click adventures with replayable puzzles that redesign themselves each time you play, for instance. Others have looked at giving RPG characters emotions that affect how they behave in battle, protecting their loved ones, becoming distraught if they see close friends die.
`Core’ gamers are a tamed breed – companies know how they think, what they want, and how to make them feel like their needs are being met. They are the people who never ask why a door can’t be opened, they never ask why Mass Effect characters can only die in cutscenes, they never explore the same conversation tree twice expecting new dialogue. At the start of this piece I talked about playing with people newer to games, or the people who are routinely made to feel embarrassed for playing ‘casual’ games, and how it can seem that they make strange decisions that break the conventions we would never dare to. This is not a reflection on them for playing without preconceptions – it should be a reflection on us, as people too entrenched in what games are to be able to think about what they could be.


The desperate situation in which the denizens of Hyrule found themselves seems to be a result of their own belief. They waited for a hero when none were forthcoming, dooming themselves with blind faith. Despite enacting this same familiar fairy tale journey, Wind Waker takes this warning to heart. It’s a fairy tale against fairy tales, showing reverence for received stories even as it warns that they should not be blindly trusted.
The final scene shows Link and Tetra (back to her old piratical self) embarking on a journey to find a new life and new land among Wind Waker’s endless seas. Link rides on his old red boat, but its magic is gone. It’s still a vessel but no longer a guide binding him to a predetermined path. This time, Link’s in the lead, and the stories these kids tell will be their own.
By letting go of the past and its recurring players, the King, our storyteller, breaks the recurring Zelda cycle and frees them from its grasp.


This is the nine most popular posts on Electron Dance.


Errant Signal - Life is Strange (Spoilers)


Romance in Games - Can We Play with Lasting Relationships? - Extra Credits


Made-up Game Awards


Resogun Post Mortem Part 1


Extra Credits - Four Realistic Predictions - What the Future Really Holds for Games


Mario 3D World Review


From Bioshock to Portal, twenty-first century games have emphasized the antagonistic relationship between the player and the game world that that player occupies, indicating the illusory nature of player choice and decision making in gaming.
Device 6, of course, certainly has its own own unique vibe among the sea of “games about games.”
This may be the ultimate solipsism of video games, the promise that each one of us can be a hero, that each of us is, in fact, Prince Hamlet, whether we chose to be or not, as we save the world or the princess, thanks in part to our own unique effort—an effort taken on by hundreds and thousands of players who feel uniquely chosen themselves. And that’s the rub. That’s the recognition that Device 6 provides the player and that differentiates it from the other “games about games.”


Although I had been interested in EVE and its stalwart community prior to reading about what has come to be known as “gaming’s most destructive battle ever,” it wasn’t until I saw game-maker CCP erect a physical monument in Reykjavik for those lost in battle that I got hooked. That was the first time I had seen any physical commemoration of an in-game event by any game company.
This white paper, subtitled "A Comparative Analysis of Real Structural Social Evolution with the Virtual Society of EVE Online," enumerates the ways in which the development of a social infrastructure within New Eden mirrors that of “real-life” civilizations. In the analysis, the authors credit the need for the Council of Stellar Management since the political development of the society of EVE has surpassed the point of tribal and stratified structures, reaching a point of complex social hierarchies and government institutions that designate a civilization status.


A Brief History of Graphics

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

List of video games that have grown the most with time

Many games grow with time. Some become outdated and bested and do not. But perhaps it's not that simple. Super Mario Bros is certainly outdated and bested by its many successors, yet  in hindsight it seems even more impressive for its time. This list is more on-the-fly than well-thought-out, although I've taken the above into consideration while making the (chronological) list.

Super Mario KartI haven't played any other racing game which I've enjoyed as much as Super Mario Kart, and that  includes Mario Kart 64. So I guess it has to be on this list.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time/Super Double Dragon
My two favorite sidescrolling beat em ups have yet to be beaten!

Super Probotector: Alien Rebels/Contra
Yep, still my favorite run n guns.

Soul Blade
I thought that after having a bunch of Soul Caliburs around, this game would become moot. Well, I still love it. It has a slower pace compared to the newer titles, and I enjoy it much as I enjoy Street Fighter 2 after many years.

Micro Machines V3
We need more (racing)games with the main mechanic of Micro Machines! The running game Speedrunners utilizes it, and so should others.

Super Mario 64
They got so much right on the first try at 3D platforming it's crazy. The manveuering and camera controls aren't the best by todays standards, but the platform design is still super fresh.

Planescape Torment
Was not disappointed when replayed a couple of years ago. Still my favorite RPG.

Fallout 2
Although it's very buggy and I don't wish to play it again, the open world structure of the game is still very impressive. I don't like open world for the sake of open world, but this game has reactivity and makes the open world feel like one world, manages to fill it with narrative and soul.

Unreal Tournament
This is probably just me, but I still love this game and don't bother with any other area shooters, basically.

The Legend of Zelda: Majoras Mask
Could not appreciate the adult themes of Majoras Mask first-time around. It seems to have gotten a bit of a revival in the critical community the last couple of years due to its artistic integrity.

Metal Gear Solid 2
What made me appreciate Metal Gear Solid 2 on a whole new level and really see the MGS franchise in a different light was this article. Since then, the game has for me become the pinnacle of subversive play.

Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill hasn't delivered very much in the last 14 years, and I've gotten tired of most horror anyway. So this game, couched in psychonalytical themes, is still the gold standard.

Parsec47/rRootage/Noiz2sa (Kenta Cho)
After a couple of years playing a lot of shmups, I started getting tired of the lack of procedurality in most games. These three have a lot of it, and thus it never completely feels like starting over and just waiting to getting back to the level you were on before to give it another shot. Sadly, I've been searching for this type of game ever since and come up with, well, Geometry Wars, and nothing else I enjoyed.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
The formula was completed with this one, I believe. After that it was just a bonus, and not always a good one either.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
It was the first Zelda game for a new console that I played "as a grown-up". It couldn't have been anything else than disappointing, since the Zelda franchise (basically just A Link to The Past and Ocarina of Time) was such a big part of me growing up. I haven't replayed it since its release, but I have come to view it in a different light due to all the critical writing on it. And in retrospect it has perhaps even more weight, considering that the games that take place chronologically after Wind Waker don't have Ganondorf in them. So in a sense it's a goodbye to that villain.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

List of good games with bad review scores

Games that are enough critically recognized as to be ranked on metacritic/gamerankings and are far from critically acclaimed but would certainly get a higher review score from me if I were to review them. Well not necessarily, but all of these games have a special place in my heart and didn't get very good aggregate review scores, even if some of them are indeed critically acclaimed nonetheless. Most of these games mostly focus on story and narrative, to the detriment of graphics, sound, and general production values.

Pathologic (66%) 10/10 - my score
One of the most astounding and intriguing gaming experiences in my adult life. I'm awaiting the remake with anticipation, which will have a better translation/localization and more resources for the technical side of things.

Dear Esther (71%) 10/10
Very beautiful and haunting, even more so with the updated graphics of 2012. The music still rings in my ears.

Unrest (69%) 9/10
An adventure RPG which has some of the most intricate political intrigues I've ever seen, and you're dropped right in the smack middle of it all. But it's not just clever, there is actually a lot of wisdom in the game as well. It leaves much to the imagination, but I can live with sparse graphics and a lot of text when it's done this nicely. I'm awaiting the first AAA-title with this kind of narrative ambition and focus.

Consortium (66%) 9/10
This one's fresh, so I might be infatuated beyond the point of reason right now. It's a very suspenseful one-room (or rather one ship) title with lots of depth and interactivity. The characters may look alike, but they are very fleshed-out due to backstory, the events in the game, and the voice actors. The sci-fi mystery of the game is super exciting, the lore is well-written, but perhaps the game doesn't have much worthwhile to say in the end. It's leaves one puzzled in a different way than say Pathologic or Unrest, two titles which are really existentially relevant for me. And it doesn't touch me the way games such as Dear Esther or The Novelist do for example. Maybe it's a case of having more style than substance, which is definitely the case with Device-6, an awesome experience, but yeah, I wish it would lead to something more in the end.

Knock-Knock (57%) 8/10
From the creators of Pathologic, this kickstarted experiment is definitely something else. I didn't even understand all main gameplay elements (how do I progress in the forest?!), but the experience in itself was different and worthwhile, always leaving things unsaid, the mystery unresolved. Maybe it attempts something similar to P.T, a game which has murky affordances, players never sure why they got a specific ending or how they made the game progress. There is potential in that kind of experience, and some of it is realized in Knock-Knock.

The Novelist (69%) 8/10
A game about responsibilities, about marriage, about child-rearing. A sober yet affecting story about the inadequacies of people and life in general. Main mechanic of the game is kinda forced (why would I be a ghost in a game that has nothing to do with ghosts otherwise?) and doesn't need to be there for justification, but I was touched by the fates of respective family members. It's not as fresh, well-made and designed as Gone Home, but there is a moving story here too.

Journal (59%) 8/10
A game about a young girl and her troubles, with divorce, disease, school, etc. Slice of life game with much warmth.

Borderline Cases

Due to nostalgic blindness:
Hexplore (66%)
One of my favorite games from my childhood. It's an ok dungeon crawler but these are dime-a-dozen. Still, I love it.

Castlevania 64 (72%)
I realize it's not the best game out there, but it's actually still one of my favorite Castlevania games, up there with Symphony of the Night. Another case of just having the game and loving it at a time where quality wasn't as important for enjoying myself.

Because the score isn't all that low:
Jazzpunk (75%) 9/10
Super childish game which made me laugh out loud quite a lot of times. That doesn't happen often, so I have to commend the game!

Because the game isn't all that good:
Contrast (64%) 7/10
Even though I would only give the game a 7, my seven is probably much more worth than the seven of the general video game community. The game had its magical moments and touched me with its story and presentation of it. But, as often is the case with the games on this list, the technical side of things wasn't very good. Buggy as hell.

Dark Eye (67%) 7/10
A pain in the ass to play, since progression comes down to clicking all interactable items on all screens quite often, and you get stuck because you can't find all items to click on, basically. No really, it's horrible. But if you manage to get the tempo up and play through it, it's certainly one of the most chilling subdued horror games I've played. The slowness of it all almost makes it more creepy.