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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.

by Eric Swain

15 Jan 2013

Who are you in an adventure game? Often you are presented with an identity that matches the world—a pirate, a detective, a college student, royalty—but that identity exists regardless of the actions you take in the game and how they define that character. What is it that you the player do in an adventure game? You break into places you aren’t suppose to be, you steal things, you combine your stolen goods with other stolen goods, and you generally get in everyone’s business, whether you’re wanted or not.

So, in the standard adventure game, who are you? A thief, a busy body, an interloper, and a problem solver. This is not an identity conducive with most of the professions and characteristics given to our avatar by the game [Maybe the detective?—Ed.]. Even if your actions exist in service to an overarching goal, it isn’t always apparent how the little things that we do get us closer to it.  We know that, as the player, everything will eventually lead to the goal, but the character shouldn’t.

by Eric Swain

19 Dec 2012

There’s a lot to like about Primordia, especially if you are a fan of point-and-click adventure games. There are many things it does right and the elements that detract from it are the common complaint against the genre. For me a point-and-click adventure game succeeds based off of two primary principles. First, how well does the game manage the common pitfalls of the genre: puzzle obtuseness, progress stifling and time wasting. And secondly, how well does the game present and integrate what its about into what I am doing?

That’s a more nuanced way of describing, ‘do I get stuck a lot’ and ‘is the story any good?’ In both regards Primordia feels like a giant step forward. A number of features improve the experience and allow the story to come more to the forefront with every puzzle having something to do with the world of characters within. There are no puzzles for sake of puzzles. But of all the features Primordia included the most interesting is the developer commentary you can activate in the options menu.

//Mixed media

Pop Unmuted Podcast: Resilience, Melancholy, and Rihanna's "American Oxygen" with Dr. Robin James

// Sound Affects

"Pop Unmuted talks to Dr. Robin James about her book Resilience and Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism and Rihanna's latest hit "American Oxygen".

READ the article