Thursday, January 31, 2019

Obra Dinn review'd

"Obra Dinn" is like "Papers, Please" in that Lucas Pope's ambitions to create a different kind of gameplay are realized. All critics everywhere noted that "Papers" made literal paper-pushing fun. The same is true of "Obra Dinn's" insurance adjustment.

That being said, "Obra Dinn" represents a deeper success than "Papers, Please", because the game's deepest gameplay offerings are deeper. Comprehending the identities and stringing together the evidence represents a puzzle which requires a lot of thinking and deduction often along non-lateral means. You'll need to write stuff down probably and the true nature of events is ultimately somewhat unclear. "Papers, Please" was comprised of mostly simpler memory and reflexes challenges, although it did have some legit moral surprises.

The thought-immersion required for "Obra" matches with the historical immersion, of which there are several layers:
--the graphical f/x of the game which reflect early computer games, i.e. an alternate history of vgs
--1800's military ship life, the essential knowledge thereof being vital for completing the game's challenge
--the role of the protagonist matching shapely up to the role of the player; there's the unassuming task which you and your character are identically given.
--the again unassuming and historical conception of death: your job is to remember and re-experience over and over again the deaths of 81 people. How that affects you is entirely up to you.

The result is a game which presents an "honest" challenge. "Honest" in the classical sense: there's a legitimate issue, realistic and well-laid, that you have to solve using comprehensible means. And it's challenging because of the genuine nature of the realism. And the moral conclusions you draw from playing it are your own. And it looks like one of those old timey video games from when there were less preconceptions of what was and wasn't possible.

* * *

The big L here is the music. People praise it but it's often quite hackneyed, sort of b-rate Pirates of the Caribbean stuff. I can't get too much into musical analysis, but there is a gameplay loop which is particularly bad:

Finding new memories:
1. intro to new variation on musical theme (ok)
2. strings of excited discovery as you enter the new information into your book (ok, but gets repetitive)
3. tension of low strings and low ringing bell as you discover a new body within the memory (tense and creepy and I like that part)
4. long and drawn out melancholy strings as the "spirit" of the body leaves a slow winding trail as it climbs around the ship like its donnie darko (pisses me off, you have to follow it slowly)

the above issues are totally ameliorated upon repeat viewings of the memories. it's the classic "unskippable cutscene" problem pretty much, being able to skip cutscenes you've already seen (or just want to skip) is what all gamers want, you kinda can't do that for a lot of this game, yadda yadda...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

reviews of some switch games and poetry


I keep on thinking "SJW"s "SJW"s in my head playing this game. How coked am I to use the phrase "SJW"? A lotta 4chan lingo seems to beat the path around the political spectrum, you can't feel too bad... anytway... game is very positive... with a diverse cast of characters and some gender-ish commentary, discusses helpful/non-helpful relationships, the main character has panic attacks, the living embodiment of the panic attacks is the main antagonist.

All and all, the story kinda sucks bc of the preponderance on healthy relationships (with the self mostly) leads to dialogue which is boring feelings-exposition. "I had a lot of time to think, climbing out of this cave [...] That Part of Me was right, I can't do this." Not a bad theme but one that is too literally realized, and cliched, to be interesting.

The art in video games is usually entirely tied to the gameplay and Celeste has enough precision in its movement and fast enough load times to make the glittering, cutesy, sometimes kinda threatening pixel art fit. There's no argument that the gameplay is not excellent and the art not well drawn; but there's not a lot of surprises (in the art). There's one horror bit but it's mostly sparkly colorful stuff which doesn't do much for my desire for mystery. (why not? the core struggle of the game might not be what i'm looking for. yeah there's the weird beasts floating around sometimes, what are they doing there, the mountain has some complexity, even some horror... hollow knight also at its most central concerns was missing something, I think, that for comparison blue velvet has. I might just default to say skin on the table; blue velvet's concerns are human and ironic, pessimistic and strange. hollow knight's concerns are mostly, ancient for the sake of being ancient, or really, about the life cycle, celeste's concerns are psycholgical and personal and wholly optimistic. I'm not up for an optimistic story of personal/psychological achievement when it's not that well written and adorned with sparkly colorful imagery.

BUT the gameplay is good, punishing and rewarding, and makes some genuine innovations: most of the gameplay rewards, the strawberries, are entirely optional and, self-consciously, do nothing. But you will likely pursue them anyway and be frustrated doing it... also while almost all of the levels feel like tests of reflex, many of them are actually intellectual platforming puzzles well-laid. The sense of achievement u get beating this game, adjusted to fit yr own level of achievement via optionalness, is real video gamey storystuff.

Into the Breach

UNLESS there's some mystery inner-story I forgot to unlock then the NIHILISM OF TIME TRAVEL expressed within Into the Breach FAILS TO BE FULLY EXPRESSED. "FTL", the studio's previous game had some, like, optional hidden mysteries within the mechanics, like, you could have a subquest involving a cyborg-infecting virus. Not so with ITTB...

ITTB has bits and pieces of intense cynicism in its expanded-mobile-game length which normally means a secret is there somewhere; Hollow Knight had its share of secrets. ITTB tho doesn't include any hidden content.

The result is a game which uses cynicism to construct a mood rather than a solveable mystery. Bits and pieces will flow out through sentence-length dialogue... minimalism which feels mobile...

Captain Toad: Treasure Trackers

What's notable and IMPORTANT to note is that CT:TT does get hard, and pretty quick. Nintendo games kinda like Pixar often good at presenting simultaneous kid-and-adult experiences. But the thing about all modern Mario games is that hard levels are presented as demonic puzzle cubes and nothing more, as Toad slips deeper and deeper into the bounds of hell.

DOOM (2016 ps 2018 switch)

Released for the switch, DOOM 2018 has the best possible character protagonist; self-conscious and nonplussed. Doomguy is an immortal player who seeks to kill demons, so the game is not ambitious beyond its schedule, SCHEDULE: KILL KILL KILL KILL.

Overall tho the game is just that much uglier for bowing to 3d modern shooter requirements; ammo pickups cynically burst out of enemies and are cynically vacuumed up into your suit, bc the developers knew they had to create interesting gameplay and here's our bandaged-on solution: chainsaw gives ammo, execution mode gives health. The language of this is flickering orange or blue overlays, whereas previous DOOM games afaik didnt stray from steel or demonflesh, so DOOM 2016/8 loses some on visual tone I guess.

Douglas Oliver's "Androissements"

Only notable thing is the book-length poem "Video Hall of Fame" which is Oliver's notable and COMPLETELY SUCCESSFUL, AMAZING ACHIEVEMENT with video-game poetry. The dude was 2 years from old age death when he wrote it in 1998, (book published in 2003, Oliver died in 2000, unknown [unresearched ] when he wrote it -ed)  but the interaction with video game concepts is as varied, clear, and familiar and poetic as it can be. There's a fuckton of it too, and what Oliver does really well is draw out commonalities in level design (industrial zones, damsels in distress, stereotypes, class distinctions, etc.) and considers the subconscious areas these cliches provide.

Pay attention, you druggies,
seekers of the mystic:
when inanition or when
manifold indignities
wreck or minds, the gates
to your temples, though broken,
are guarded by demons.

One thing I really deeply need with video game critical thinking is a deep consideration of games from the experience of playing them, as some of my favorite internet artists do, often to consider the ritual of gaming to be an intense and nihilistic commitment of time, fer example. Douglas Oliver however did it as a member of a generation who didnt grow up with vggames (I think). D.O.'s "video hall of fame" gets the peter webb seal of approval for most considerate and well-formed work of vg-pop-culture poetry known to peter, all of the artists trying to do the same should read this work

commentary on:

Into the Breach's  mechanics and everythin correctly transmit a vision of the world wherein u are constantly on the knife's edge of the End Of The World, better than probably any other game does: a single uncorrected mistake in the game will lead to a complete game over, 1, and 2, every game over is correctly and definitively surmised by the time traveler theme to be an actual end-of-the-world, in one particular timeline, at least.

Time travel and video games have shared that commonality for a while, the idea of retrying a bunch of times as a source of patient horror, as the most common video game story is of a time traveller finally getting it right after thousands of dead timelines like the bodies in hotline miami.

Into the Breach, taking the extra care to make this timedeath story a central theme, and then also not commenting on it too much, ends up not being cliche, a success. Yet like I said some kind of ultra-horrible middle note, a deeper mystery within, would have bit me out.

But. Anyway. I don't feel the anxiety of timelines less travelled, although I acknowledge that creating timelines where things did go right is ultimately futile, probably, although I can see how an organization such as the Rift Walkers could exist where they're doing this. Like maybe the successful timelines become partners in a timelines-spanning organization. Tachyons, baby!

BONUS CONTENT: Stephen's Sausage Roll as well didn't commit to internal memory, a secret, just as Yume Nikki may or may not have an actual coherent secret left to find. You think there might be one, waiting somewhere in the code, but the gamers cry, there is none, there is none... No challenge, no internal meaning, just a yearning for "the email which will close the laptop of my [living]."

Possibility threatens a co-extant, co-strangling sense of pain, red lines, flickering into view. Shuttered memories of past gameplay conversations, definite misses, con visits: all these equate into a nothingness, water in the tank. Shattered memories of expectations, as a young kid, that the gameplay would prove something more, the first tastes of aesthetic.

The way the mind reels around a certain prerender, texture, the sense of a brain spinning, content. That this embodies an internal meaning, sure, circumspect.