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by Eric Swain

3 Mar 2015


Knee Deep (Prologue Games)

“Our hurdles are design related, not tech related.” So says Thomas Grip of Frictional Games at his keynote during IndieCade East. The whole of IndieCade East was devoted to talk about narrative in one form or another. Whether it was the structure of how narrative is conveyed in the medium like in Grip’s talk or the craft of delivering narrative information or discussion of what narratives get told by games, these were the topics of the talks. Additionally, and more important perhaps was discussion about what narratives get lost in the industry.

Consistently the most interesting part of IndieCade East is the Show & Tell exhibit portion on Saturday and Sunday. There indie developers get to show off works in progress, little experiments, games that are ready to play, or something you won’t ever get to play in any other environment. Generally, narrative-based games don’t show well in a convention-like environment, but here’s three that caught my eye.

Valiant Hearts and Never Alone are what I would call docu-platformers—puzzle-platforming games that seek to educate the player on some aspect of history or culture. As such, they share a striking similarity in approach. They purposefully avoid being literal or realistic, instead cherry picking certain aspects of World War I or Iñupiaq culture that can be easily integrated into the typical puzzle-platformer gameplay. They then use collectibles to expand upon those gameplay moments.

Last year I described each card in Android: Netrunner as a sort of “interactive political cartoon.” The card game from Fantasy Flight Games is set in a dystopian cyberpunk world in which mega corporations advance hidden agendas while hackers break into secure servers to steal information. The world of Netrunner is ripe with political themes relevant to its fiction and to the real world alike. If each card is a political cartoon, then each deck is a political paradigm.

Take the Anarch faction of runners (hackers), the most recent recipient of a Netrunner deluxe expansion, aptly named Order and Chaos, featuring three new faction identities and a slew of new cards to add to their arsenal. What is an “anarch”? The term conjures up images of masked protesters inciting violence or punk rockers with mohawks, leather jackets, and an attitude. Indeed, there are in fact people in the real world who identify as anarchists but whose political activism only goes as far as refusing to vote. I think we can safely assume the existence of an anarchist aesthetic at least among some disaffected youth.

Last weekend, I played the board game Bora Bora, designed by Stefan Feld, whose game Castles of Burgundy is one of my favorite board games of recent years. Bora Bora is a Eurogame, which for those that run in board game circles know usually indicates a carefully balanced game with a low running time and probably no dice (though this game actually does use dice). Eurogames are also frequently economic development games that ask players to collect resources and develop an engine to drive an economy. They are also known for their wooden pieces, which often represent resources and people.

People themselves often serve as a kind of resource in Eurogames, since frequently the limited size of a population in such a game determines what jobs can be assigned and what then can be produced on a given turn. As far as people go in Eurogames, like many things in the genre, they are mostly abstracted concepts. They represent the ability to implement an action or to produce a particular good. They represent “work” itself and have little to no personal identity in general. Indeed one of the more general identity markers assigned to human beings, their gender identity, is rarely a concern in Eurogames.

It has been months since I played Alien: Isolation and going back to it now feels strange. It’s still the most impressive big-budget horror game to come out in recent years, but compared to Resident Evil HD Remaster, it also fails to live up to the horror standard of 1996.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Double Take: Marty (1955)

// Short Ends and Leader

"Paddy Chayefsky's adaptation of Marty may be a period piece, but it's a heck of a piece nonetheless.

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