Braid made it look easy: Take one part platformer, one part puzzler, sprinkle in some “deep thoughts” between the levels, and presto—instant critical and commercial acclaim. But Braid only made it look easy. The puzzle-platformer may have become the indie go-to genre of choice in the wake of Braid‘s success, but that doesn’t mean that those kinds of games are easy to make, especially if they, also like Braid, aspire to be about something greater than their puzzles and platforming.
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There’s an episode of South Park in which one of the boys, Stan, starts an anti-bullying campaign. He needs a face for his commercial, so he starts to pressure another one of his friends to be in it. The joke is, of course, that he becomes a bully himself, highlighted by his appropriately inappropriate anti-bullying slogan: “Let’s make bullying kill itself!”
I had that song stuck in my head (oh yea, it was a musical number) as I played through the first few chapters of The Cat Lady, a point-and-click horror game by Harvester Games. In it, a suicidal loner named Susan Ashworth is forced back to life by a supernatural being in order to bring righteous justice to five “parasites,” i.e. serial killers. I knew nothing of the game going in, but I saw the entire arc of the game in those opening moments. Susan would see people die, kill others, and through her close encounters with death she would come to see the value of her own life. It’s a plan to cure depression through violence, not unlike Stan’s approach to bullying.
This post contains spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Seasons 1 and 2
Several months ago (actually almost a year at this point) I wrote a post bemoaning the introduction of Kenny in Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season Two. He was a character from the first season that, as I wrote before, went through the “quintessential Walking Dead character arc,” and as such, he had no more story left to tell:
Evolve is designed around an ideal situation: You knowing and understanding your role within the group, playing with others who similarly understand their own unique roles, all of whom are in constant communication with each other. In that moment, with those people, Evolve is a fantastic and exciting experience, but the real world is often less than ideal, which raises the question: Should the design of a game dictate the nature of the community that plays it, or should the community dictate the design?
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.