By Mento 0 Comments
Welcome back to another brief glance at the many games in the LA Game Space Experimental pack; a batch of games given to Kickstarter backers and, for the time being at least, anyone who wishes to drop $15 on their site. As I'm sure you're all aware at this point, Patrick has posted a Quick Look Solo video that focuses on some of the higher profile games in the package. There's plenty more that weren't in that video though, so I hope you stick with this series to see what else is on offer. Honestly: Inputting, Depth, Alphabet and, as we'll see in just a moment, Perfect Stride are easily worth the price of admission. The rest are just bonuses, really.
Another big theme pertaining to these six games in particular is the idea of video games as art. I'm not talking about a game that looks good, either because of modern graphics technology or really striking visual design, but in terms of what we perceive to be art and the cases made for and against the possibility of including video games within that definition. Some of the games here are very art. Quite aggressively so, in fact, to the extent that I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing or what the heck is even going on. I could wrack my brain for hours trying to ascertain a purpose to it all, or simply shrug my shoulders and accept that no easy, straightforward explanation exists, and - like most art - is entirely left to the beholder's own interpretation. I might also be giving these developers the benefit of the doubt about their broken-ass games too, so really any number of options exist.
Anyway, enough ruminations on the potential artistic integrity of this interactive medium. We got a lot dumb shit (literally, in one case) to cover as well.
Micomonocon is an ASCII-based rhythm game in which your bespectacled protagonist discovers a musical band of apes on vacation and decides to be their manager. Success of each track is contingent on being able to follow the beat, which is once again focused on tapping a whole bunch of keys on the keyboard in time with the music. By the second stage this has become almost impossible, but then the game is fairly lax on missed notes and the like. Really, it's just an excuse for monkey pandemonium.
The visuals are certainly odd. The artist claims Teletext, Commodore 64 (and other early computers) and embroidery as her inspirations, and I can see where each fits into this art style. The game itself is a goofy little exercise that gets way too chaotic way too quickly for my liking, but the opening stage where you're trying to cajole the multi-colored apes to perform a rendition of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" (to the apparent joy of local law enforcement officials) is kind of amusing.
It's rough stuff and not perhaps one of the highlights of this package, but it's definitely not your run-of-the-mill Guitar Hero clone either. Considering how many Indie game developers seem to fall in with Indie musicians, I can see the humble rhythm game genre finding all sorts of weird and cool applications like this.
A Moth in Relay
Remember what I said about art being art? I feel the first rule that always comes to the forefront, at least when talking about games, is that art has to be "challenging". Not jumping over dozens of spikes without dying challenging, but "you try to figure out what the hell is going on here" challenging. Something that engages one's confusion lobe and has them grasping for answers and context where there are none to be found.
I think A Moth in Relay is one of those types of experiences. I obviously can't say for sure, since I'm completely in the dark here. Made by the other folk responsible for Kentucky Route 0 (I covered Tamas Kemenczy's Coureur de Bois in Part 1), A Moth in Relay is about, I believe, the relationship between a programmer, a giant moth and an outdated and somewhat kaput "Mark II" computer. The computer is the narrator, and provides descriptive bon mots like "missing file code in line 4" and lines of hashes, dashes and backslashes. The game provides multiple choices at specific junctures, but there's no way of understanding what any of them mean. It's possible the game actually changes on subsequent playthroughs as well, either based on decisions made in earlier runs or through some sort of randomized function.
If this all sounds completely incomprehensible, then I've accurately conveyed what it's like to play this game. If it makes more sense for a programmer I couldn't really say, but given how little there is of any actually logical scripting language - and three years of game design school means I can recognize it, if not entirely understand what it does - I'm fairly sure it's all just gobbledygook. Tinkering with all the different choices and paths might eventually give you enough little snippets of English text to extrapolate what is actually going on or possibly even replace the junk text with something legible, like Fez's clever use of ciphers and little background hints, but I'm not sure I have the patience to figure it all out.
I wish I could say A Moth in Relay was a single incomprehensible aberration in this pack of games, but there's a couple more that are equally inexplicable. Pachalafaka is one of them, a game that purports to be the bastard child of graphic novels and video games that "tries to articulate the fragile point where sequential art becomes interactive." In reality, I moved a little thing that looked like a cross between a flower, a musical clef and Gogo Dodo along a cliffside until I stopped at the end. There didn't seem to be a whole lot of options beyond that.
All right, there was one other thing: There's a little white bulb thing you can collect that brings you to an odd looking creature who claims that the world is doomed. At which point I could no longer continue. I figured I'd be better off avoiding it on the subsequent playthrough, but there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go and the brief FAQ that comes with the game explains nothing.
There may well be more to Pachalafaka. Some elusive sequence of events that gets me off that cliffside and further into the rest of its watercolored doodle-y world packed with all sorts of surreal visuals and eccentric characters to meet. But... I don't know. I don't think this particular sextet is going to be the best material I've ever written a blog about, because I refuse to bang my head against the wall trying to beat these games when their entire purpose may well be to bewilder and confuse and cause one to raise existential questions about the hows and whys of the universe. Or it's just broken. Or I'm too stupid to figure out what key to press to move on. Who the heck knows? Next game.
Now this is more like it. Arcane Kids' Perfect Stride begins inauspiciously, as the main character awakens in his boarded-up bedsit and strolls out the door and off a cliff into a psychedelic world of magical skateboarding mayhem. Perfect Stride gives you a little bit of a tutorial before dumping you in a Myst-esque open world of odd geometrical objects, grandiose buildings and many huge busts of bald dudes and fills this world full of quarter- and half-pipes and collectible glowy triangles. This actually feels like a damn game, which I can certainly appreciate after all the above.
The way to build speed in Perfect Stride is to take long glances to the left and right in quick succession: your speed builds as you wave the camera back and forth, which not only quickly accelerates the player to an obfuscating level of celerity but further exacerbates this lack of control with the wildly swinging viewpoint. Failing to keep weaving around like a drunken lunatic drops your speed and thus makes it impossible to make it far enough up the side of a building or across a larger jump for whatever goal you're chasing. It's a balancing act that tasks you to find the absolute point where you feel like you can still control (and perceive, for that matter) what you're doing. There's a few handy tools like a rewind function to ensure that it never gets too frustrating either. It's really a lot of fun just to whiz around these environments, and that's before you start factoring in the titular Perfect Strides: what are essentially glowing lines to follow that require you be at the top of your game in order to pursue them all the way to their conclusion.
It's admirable that a small Indie game can manage to capture the kinetic arcade joys of the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games, before the overwrought THUGs and the far-too-realistic-to-be-fun Skate games consigned the skateboarding genre to oblivion, while adopting so many surreal mechanics and an oddly self-effacing and derogatory attitude - occasional gaps in the skybox reveal an endless text wall of "Fuck You", though whether this was meant for the player or to negatively encourage the other developers (the game is still in Alpha) is anyone's guess.
Perfect Stride is, for the "too long; didn't read" crowd, absolutely one of the reasons to buy this pack. Watch it in action on Patrick's video, since a mere text explanation doesn't really cut it.
Poocuzi is, like LA Death Disk, a game that can't really be played with a single person. At heart a competitive multiplayer game, the scatological goal of Poocuzi to let off a deuce in a hot tub while feigning ignorance and hoping you don't get caught out. Likewise, the other three opponents need to let off deuces of their own (failure to do so incurs a massive penalty that's worse than getting caught) and attempt to shift the blame onto others.
Mechanically it resembles one of those sophisticated parlour or board games where the player's deviousness is at the forefront, but rather than trying to conceal one's murderous intent or successfully poker face their way to riches, they're trying to not take the rap for baking brownies in shared company. It's pretty funny, though I can only speak for the notion itself and not on how amusing the game might be in practice.
Strangely enough, the LA Space Game site has instructions to create a special ass controller that allows you to #2 by surreptitiously lifting yourself off it briefly, in some way trying to enrich the verisimilitude of crapping yourself in a jacuzzi. That seems like it'd be a little too much work for something like this - the game functions just as well with four keys spread across the keyboard that correspond to holding it in (and letting it go once the key is released) as well as an additional key each for casting aspersions on other players for their lack of decorum. Like I said previously, though, it's all academic until I've had the chance to do this with three other human players and I really daren't ask anyone I know to play a game where we all poop in a hot tub. How would one even broach the topic?
I kind of wish I didn't have to end on such a bummer, but spiralsky is another like Pachalafaka and A Moth in Relay where I simply couldn't figure out what to do. The player is free to walk around a 3D environment full of odd geometric shapes and an annoyingly loud, discordant, screechy soundtrack and... I don't know. Observe the artistry? It's another game that defies description and perhaps defies all notions of a satisfying video game experience for the sake of artistic aspirations.
Honestly, I'm hoping there aren't any more of these. I sort of get what they're going for (or at least I think I do) but I do think a line can be drawn between an interactive art installation and a game. A game tends to have a purpose and a goal and neither of those really engender art, which is why we have things like spiralsky to tip the balance. Or there actually is a game in here and I can't find it. Excruciating.
Anyway, that's the next six games in this pack accounted for. I'd say Perfect Stride is the only one worth a look but what do I know? I'm usually fairly quick at picking up a game's mechanics and quirks, but I'm a big enough duder to admit when I'm completely befuddled. Maybe the next lot will be a little more explicable. Or maybe I should try researching a few of these to see if there actually is a point to them. I'll keep you posted, but until then thanks for stopping by.
|Part 1 - Alphabet, Control, Coureur de Bois, Depth, ESNF Fortune Teller, Game Space Space Game.|
|Part 2 - Guilded Youth, Inputting, LA Death Disk|
|Part 3 - Micomonocon, A Moth in Relay, Pachalafaka, Perfect Stride, Poocuzi, spiralsky.|
|Part 4 - Sunshine, To My Favourite Sinner, uu, VideoHeroeS, Irrational Exuberance.|