I’ve decided that I stand by the conclusion reached at the end of the previous entry, that writing in depth about videogames is like dancing in depth about architecture — which is to say: an interesting enough project for every now and then, but not worth cultivating as a habit.
However, I do like marking my progress — like getting my summer reading sheet stamped at the library! — and letting my fans and biographers see what I’ve been playing. So the most superficial and least interesting part of this habit is, for the time being, going to persist. Like, subscribe, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
I’m putting all the video trailers on the page, so to keep things compact, I’m making them small. You can zoom ’em up or not, as you like.
5/24/13: Humble Weekly Sale: Alan Wake, $1.00. (I already owned and had played Alan Wake, but was interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff in the bundle, which included the sheet music from the orchestra recording sessions.)
• Alan Wake (2010): Remedy Entertainment (Espoo, Finland) [~ 20 hrs]
• Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (2012): Remedy Entertainment (Espoo, Finland) [5 hrs]
I’m listing the original game here because I found myself replaying it in its entirety (including the DLC, which I had skipped on my first go-round back in 2012), in preparation for playing the follow-up game.
I enjoyed and admired Alan Wake a lot more this second time around because I played it on a harder difficulty setting. This surprised me, since I have a tendency to choose “easy” mode on games where I’m more interested in the story than the challenge of the gameplay. It turns out that once the gameplay gets hard enough, the center of gravity shifts, and this can lift up the whole experience. Alan Wake aspires, unabashedly, to deliver the dramatic content and atmosphere of a TV miniseries, so my original instinct had been to treat it like a TV miniseries that happened to have a game in it. But viewed that way (i.e. played on “easy” mode), the drama is a no better than clumsy, dorky, fannish imitation of its models, and the gameplay is a tedious and repetitive routine that clogs up the narrative flow. Whereas when the gameplay is turned up to the highest difficulty level, it becomes a weighty thing-unto-itself, no longer inherently repetitive (because if something requires one’s full attention it never seems repetitive) — and the drama, by receding to the status of window dressing, becomes the most lavish and delightful window dressing imaginable (a Macy’s display with a moving train and animatronic teddy bears). By treating the game less like a storyteller it became a much better storyteller.
So that’s a lesson I’m going to carry with me. No more “easy” mode, at least not until I’ve played a game for a while on “normal.”
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is just the stump of a canceled sequel, not really a full-fledged thing, but hastily dressed up like one, and artificially prolonged, to make it salable. There are good ideas implicit here, and the combat gameplay is still pretty good, but clearly nothing is at its final stage of development and I couldn’t help feeling that my time was being wasted.
(The developers are Finnish, but the character Alan Wake is an American and his whole life has taken place in America so the title is pretty funny.)
5/28/13: Humble Indie Bundle 8, $7.00. Eleven games, many of them interesting. A great deal. Prior to this past month I had already completed:
• Little Inferno (2012) [fascinating for being a satire on time-wasting games that attempts to transcend satire into earnestness — but none of that changes the fact that, at heart, it’s kind of a time-wasting game]
• Thomas Was Alone (2012) [a memorable gimmick if nothing else: a thoroughly unremarkable “get the rectangle to the goal” game given a strange meta-poignancy by absurdly incongruous anthropomorphic narration and emotional music]
• Dear Esther (2012) [experiential tone poem, walking around a richly atmospheric Hebridean island rendered in meticulous detail. Tremendous sense of place was enough for me; I was perfectly happy to disregard the soggy boggy narration and needless scraps of story]
• Hotline Miami (2012) [ultra-brutal killing spree game in loving imitation of the movie Drive. Fetishistic “80s-sleaze-nightmare” atmosphere, very well done but I can hardly approve. Nonetheless I surprised myself by getting drawn into the well-balanced split-second gameplay.]
• Proteus (2013) [another experiential tone-poem of wandering around an island, but this time a transportingly unreal pixelated one, rendered with dreamy simplicity. There’s really hardly anything to it and yet this feels to me like an important piece of latter-day videogame art. It somehow gets directly at one of the basic moods.]
• English Country Tune (2011) [this is as good and as hard a pure puzzle game as any ever made. I consider myself something of an aficionado of pure puzzle games, and this beautiful, merciless piece of work is at the very top of the heap, clearly made just for aficionados like me. I also really like the title, which is offered without comment; I take it to be a reference to Michael Finnissy and/or the general tradition of serious composers doing sophisticated takes on traditional melodies, just as this game is a sophisticated take on the indelible folk melody that is Sokoban]
The bundle also included Awesomenauts (2012), but I’m skipping that one because it’s online multiplayer only, and I don’t play that.
So, remaining to be played this past month were:
• Capsized (2011): Alientrap Games (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada) [abandoned after 2 hrs]
• Tiny & Big in Grandpa’s Leftovers (2012): Black Pants Studio (Kassel, Germany) [4 hrs]
Capsized is one of the countless games “with physics” where the imprecision of the physics means there’s no distinguishing between struggling with the game’s challenges and struggling with the game itself. To me that’s a vital distinction. After two hours of insufficiently specific frustration, I quit.
Tiny & Big has a lot of art-school verve in its aesthetic, and is built around a clever and promising mechanic: slice the environment, then push and pull the resulting pieces around. But then it doesn’t really develop, as a game or as a story. Its scope and duration felt like an indulgence rather than an idea. But it was still short, so why complain.
• Intrusion 2 (2012): vapgames (= Alexey Abramenko) (Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia) [7 hrs]
• Oil Rush (2012): Unigine (Tomsk, Russia) [abandoned after ~ .5 hrs]
Intrusion 2 is another “with physics” game, but this time it works completely. The chaos of contending with the physics is always part of the fun; the character is easy to control and thoroughly responsive — he’s just up against a world of mayhem, of increasing zaniness. Where the crazy cartoon inventiveness of Metal Slug always felt slick and commercial, this has a certain gleeful childlike abandon such as only a one-man indie project can have. And I’m no great enthusiast of boss battles but even I can tell that these battles (especially the final one, which took up a third of my play time) are something really special, carefully crafted with deep and obvious affection for all things boss-battle-y. Definitely my favorite game ever from Bashkortostan.
Oil Rush is a real-time strategy game, not really my cup of tea to begin with, and one where absolutely nothing about it is appealing. The wretched writing and voice acting was the first straw; the fact that simply pointing the camera where I wanted was infuriatingly counter-intuitive was the second. I allotted it half an hour to give me any glimmer of a reason to soldier onward, which it resolutely did not.