Games

ZA Critique: Bejeweled 2

A closer look at the appeal of one of the most popular video games of all time.

It’s one of gaming culture’s odd habits that developers will typically discover a successful game design without really understanding what they’ve got their hands on. You can test something out with audiences and see if people like it, but there is often little time left for the why of the whole process. One of the most prevalent places this exists is in matching games like Bejeweled and the casual knock-offs that expand on the concept. Jason Kapalka comments on an interview at Casualgames.biz that these games are almost primal in their simplicity: connect 3 blocks of a matching color in a randomly generated screen. Most Bejeweled 2 knock-offs just provide the player additional combos for the player so that it is just expanding on the original theme without changing the basic process. You are channeling the innate desire to find order in chaotic systems while balancing the need for finding that order to be easy to manage.

Jesper Juul wrote an excellent article chronicling the history of these types of games. Two games are attributed with kicking off the genre: Tetris and Chain Shot, the latter of which falls more along the lines of making matches while aiming a colored block. Juul defines the rules of a matching game like this, “Video games where the player manipulates tiles in order to make them disappear according to a matching criterion.” The matching aspect is the core mechanic, but it’s the criteria that is constantly changing in these kinds of games. The first thing to be removed from Tetris was requiring the player to fill a whole row with matches. It was too confining and limited the player’s options. Simplifying the matching criterion is a goal that Kapalka also echoes in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun where he points out that typically intellectual puzzles that can only be solved in one way are not as popular as mechanics that are infinitely replayable and don’t require deep thinking. Juul comments that Bejeweled 2’s main innovations was having an untimed mode and making sure there was a method for allowing short play sessions. Statistically people play much longer than the minimum, but they are enticed to start precisely because they think it will only be a small commitment. Not having a timed portion of the game, which could only be played if the game was purchased, ended up being far more appealing than anyone expected.

So if Bejeweled 2’s largest innovation was a few new modes of play, why the insane popularity? Steve Meretzky once said that it should be possible to state the rules of a casual game in three sentences, so it’s not like complexity is generating the appeal for people. The most plausible argument is that people are inherently attracted to applying order to chaotic systems. Iona Miller, in an essay on chaos explains the basics, “In chaos theory, when an attractor disappears due to sudden catastrophic change, the system becomes structureless and experiences a term of "transient chaos" before another attractor is found.” In the context of Bejeweled 2 the attractor is the matching of blocks, the creation of order that is rewarded with points, chimes, and progress in the game. Yet this act also changes the playing field, inducing transient chaos again while our mind searches for a new attractor. Gerald Schueler, a prominent writer and Ph.D, explains in an essay on chaos psychology that it could possibly be a subconscious survival mechanism. He explains several other chaotic realities of our lives, “Perhaps it will rain when we want to do some work outside, or perhaps our car will have a flat tire on the way to an evening in town. The important thing is how we meet this chaos and react to it. According to the findings of chaos theory, times of chaos (i.e., those unplanned, unexpected, and usually unwanted, events that occur to all of us) can be creative. If we look hard, perhaps we can find the new order within the chaos and be better for it.” Bejeweled 2 is a recreation of this relationship with life, a constant barrage of changing jewels that may or may not work out for us. What the game is tapping into is our attraction to finding disorganized situations and making them work.

In the event that you’re noticing this write-up is very quote heavy, it’s because after several years of playing Bejeweled 2 I was startled to find I didn’t have much to say about it. I know, crazy, but it’s true. With the exception of Juul and Kapalka there aren’t even that many people writing about these kinds of games. Other games using the match 3 formula are only taking their idea and adding a few tweaks or kinds of attractors to the game design. Juul points out on his website that making games very similar to Bejeweled 2 allows players to transfer skills, which is key in convincing someone to try a new game in any genre. Perhaps the best explanation I can muster for the hours upon hours I’ve dumped into this game is one Juul comments on: it starts rewarding you immediately. My eyes can roll over the chaotic pile of gems and find connections in moments and these will continue to be produced for me as I go.

The incessant identity crisis of games and trying to appeal to mainstream audiences may be a volatile topic, but there is merit in creating a game that anyone can play and enjoy. Years of playing games means I’ve developed the ‘game grammar’ needed to play just about anything. Trying to pass the controller off to a friend visiting, however, is often as tedious an experience as watching someone phonetically sound out words. The enormous amount of options and chaos going on in the average game takes time to master. Bejeweled 2 isolates the desire to manage that chaos into its purest and most accessible form.

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
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

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

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

rating-image