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by Eric Swain

19 Mar 2013


What I have been calling, the First Person Walker, is a subgenre that rose to prominence last year. It has defined itself through its minimalism. Instead of dealing with all the baggage that established genres come with , the FPW reduces interaction to its barest elements. In doing so, it reduces the complexity of our relationship to the other elements and tropes in games.

Dear Esther is the immersive sim reduced to its barest essentials. Thirty Flights of Loving is the simplest form of the cinematic action game. The last of this triumvirate of games released in the previous year in which you do nothing but walk, though, is Proteus: the minimalist open world explorer.

by Eric Swain

12 Mar 2013


Two concepts have entered my thinking as of late. The first is the idea of uninterrupted spatial travel in video games and the second is the using cinematic concepts as a way to describe games. On the surface these seem like incompatible ideas held together by some form of cognitive dissonance on the player’s part. Video games are described as cinematic, yet cinema edits out the time when nothing or unimportant action is taking place. Video games show everything. They show the whole journey.

As time has moved on and technology improved sufficiently to realize designers’ dreams gaming has marched inexorably towards creating large consistent and open worlds for the player to explore. We are in the cities of renaissance Italy, the frozen north of Tamriel, the ridiculous parody of urbanization of Steelport, etc., etc. But one must ask, what is the point of these continuous worlds? They are there to make you feel immersed in a fictional land by surrounding your digital self with digital space. Yet, there is a lot of space that feels empty when traveling in these games.

by Eric Swain

26 Feb 2013


You are a fly sitting on a moss covered rock. You are a detailed fly and are granted a far closer look of yourself than you probably ever have had before. Then you begin the game and take to the air. You travel upwards traversing between branches, avoiding falling leaves, and escaping the sticky threads of a spider web. Once, twice, and with a final effort, you break free, You continue to fly up and up. A gust of wind occasionally tries to push you this way or that. It hits you head on, and you weather it before continuing on. The sounds of nature are your soundtrack. The chirping and calls of birds, the buzzing of your wings, and, yes, the occasional gust of wind.  The camera pulls further back the higher you fly. You pass the treetops and out into the open sky.

The Death of Ase by Edvard Grieg has started playing. Soft yellow rays of light stream down from above. Soon the blue skies fade into darkness and the stars come out. The music swells at this point, something classical and perspective expanding. Soon the fly is only a few pixels large. The stream of air that it leave in its wake is more easily discernible against the backdrop. The concerto continues on. The strings playing a backdrop to the heavens. The fly passes nebulae: the pillars of creation, the horse head. The stars fall below the screen. The gasses of the nebula part for your fly. The yellow light has changed to a strong golden hue and now into the pure white of heaven. The fly leaves behind a contrail now turning shadowy, accepting the light head on. Suddenly a bright sphere appears from above. You look on, still pushing up, as the music heads into its final few notes. You cannot turn away and fly up to the sphere. A filament appears, its buzzing still audible behind the music. Then with a muted ch-chink of glass breaking followed by a sizzling sound, the screen fades to black.

by Eric Swain

12 Feb 2013


Dear Esther seemed to have ushered in a new genre of game last year: the First Person Walker. In its wake followed other notable games like Thirty Flights of Loving, Proteus, and the upcoming HD release of The Stanley Parable. Also, are the entries of its sister genre the Third Person Walker with Journey and Bientot l’ete. Much has been written on whether or not it and its brethren are games or not, but not a lot on what the game actually accomplishes.

Dan Pinchbeck, Dear Esther’s creator and a researcher at the University of Portsmouth, set out to see what would happen if you stripped everything possible out of a game and left only the bare bones of interactivity behind. It was an experiment to explore the intersection and interrelation between gameplay and storytelling. The result is a game that strips out any ability to interact with the world other than observing it. Many have dismissed it by calling it a guided tour of an island, but really it is an apt description of, if not what it’s about, the player’s behavior in the game.

by Eric Swain

5 Feb 2013


Rufus and Goal from Deponia (Daedalic Entertainment, 2012)

This post includes puzzle spoilers for both The Secret of Monkey Island and Deponia

I don’t like to keep harping on a bad game, but my mind keeps going back to Deponia. Deponia is very obviously influenced by The Secret of Monkey Island. Both games follow hapless rogues on a humorous adventure to get the girl, and there are also similarities in tone, timing, and structure. However, those same similarities that remind us of the other game cause Deponia to collapse in on itself. It doesn’t live up to Monkey Island’s standards, and, of course, it doesn’t have to.  However, it fails to meet the standards that it sets for itself. In trying to be like Monkey Island, it only makes the ways in which it is not that much more obvious.

In fact, the experience of playing Deponia is so close to that of playing Monkey Island that I second guessed my own evaluation of the latter game, a game that I first played not too long ago (I was a Sierra kid.). I feared that maybe The Secret of Monkey Island was a classic by virtue of the era in which it was released and that the game didn’t hold up that well to a modern eye. In going back to check, I found, though, that no, it still holds up amazingly well. In fact, looking at the game through modern critical eyes reveals how surprisingly modern the sensibilities of that game are. It was so far ahead of its time in some respects that I doubt many, if any, could have realized that it was ahead of its time rather than just the next step forward.

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