A New Appreciation for Simple Movement

A pair of Xbox Indie games unintentionally exposed how simple movement is hard to get right.

Walking is complicated. It only seems easy because so much of it is automated. Thanks to games like QWOP, which gives me direct control over the muscles I use when walking, I have a new appreciation for my ability to walk two steps without falling.

We turn the same blind eye to movement in video games or at least to the movement in most blockbuster games. Call of Duty, Halo, Battlefield, Borderlands, The Darkness, and any other shooter than came out this year all feel good to play. Most shooters feel good, and over time it’s become something I take for granted. That is, until I played a pair of Xbox Indie games that unintentionally revealed the many potential pitfalls and complications of simple video game movement.

Entropy and Pixel were part of the third Xbox Indie Summer Uprising, a community-driven promotional event that’s supposed to highlight the best games on the service. These two games certainly deserve to be highlighted for their art and ambition as there’s clearly a good game hidden in their code, but the basic movement in both is so bad that I want to stop even before the demo time ends. What’s most interesting about this pair is that they’re bad for similar but opposite reasons.

Entropy is simply too slow. There’s also an odd momentum that keeps your avatar moving even when you’ve let go of the controller. It feels like you’re controlling a very big ball, a weighty object that can’t turn, can’t run, but can somehow jump, though not very high or very far. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game kept to its puzzles, but it often throws in some horrendous platforming.

First-person platforming is always awkward, but Mirror’s Edge proved it was doable with the right amount of animated assistance. In that game, your arms and legs swing into view as you move, giving you important visual cues that indicate speed and height. You don’t have arms in Entropy, so there’s no clear indication of speed, momentum, jump distance, or any other information that would make platforming playable.

Pixel, on the other hand, is simply too fast. The slightest tilt of the control stick sends my avatar sprinting in that direction, usually off a ledge since the game takes place in an abstract floating puzzle space. Combine this with a lack of feedback about my position in world, like footsteps, and you have a game that’s near impossible to play. It doesn’t help that platforms that I’m on are small or that getting past the second level requires a lot of perfectly timed jumps and spins midair. Oddly enough I can change the sensitivity of the right stick, for looking around, but not the left stick, for movement.

Perhaps it’s not fair to compare indie games to triple-A blockbusters (though they’re both competing for my time just the same). In that case, there are other Xbox Indie games that put Entropy and Pixel to shame. qrth-phyl is a 2D/3D procedurally-generated take on Snake with perfect controls. The turning speed is fast but controllable, which allows for precise movement as my snake ties itself into a knot. This is even more impressive when you consider that much of the game has you flying through 3D space, using six axes of movement instead of four.

The horribly but aptly named Shark Attack Deathmatch also gets 6 axis movement right. It actually feels similar to Entropy with its added momentum and slow speed, but the controls makes sense for this game that has you swimming underwater.

That’s the real issue here. The controls for Entropy and Pixel don’t fit their gameplay or their settings. Both are puzzle platformers that offer no precise control. In forcing my way through these games, I’ve come away with a new found respect for the games that get it right: From the precision speed of Call of Duty to the slow terror of Shark Attack Deathmatch, good movement is the cornerstone of every game, big and small.

QWOP is fun but only for a few minutes. I don’t want to think about walking, I just want to do it.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller

18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr

17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr

16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.