Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist

…and other mind fucks. Happily for me while compiling a list of weird games for a lecture, a discussion opened up on Something Awful on that very topic. Pleased to see that I had already nominated some of the finest, and also to learn of new wonders to behold.

First: this promo for Octodad is something I will forever treasure in my heart. Video art.

The game itself simulates an octopus in a suit attempting to convince people that it’s a completely normal dad; mind numbingly difficult, pathetic and wonderfully spiteful. I’m more into their using a messed up ’tilted cart’ version of  the game as the sales pitch –  it instantly holds an unreasonable position.

Randy Balma probably started just as a simulation of repeatedly driving a school bus into oncoming traffic high on mushrooms, but as the high highs higher it launches a rocket propelled Big Ben into collisions with space junk. Messhof (Mark Essen) has followed an Art Game path since graduation in 2008 – his latest Nidhogg won big in the 2011 Game Developers Conference. But to my mind he’s lost that intense distaste for all life that marked Randy Balma’s contribution to civilisation. Which I share.

I hadn’t heard of The Adventures of D. Duck before. Apart from appearing to be designed by a traumatised 6 year old it’s a reasonably standard point and click adventure starring grossly deformed animals.


But if you are going to truly Adventure, then go straight to the obsessive compulsive side of the field – the outsider Role Playing Games. Queen of the pack is Dream Diary, hatched by ‘Kikiyama’ in 2005. Like nearly all such outsider RPGs it’s built on RPG Maker, a Japanese authoring kit for depressingly similar landscapes of castles and armed dwarves. Dream Diary, or Yume Nikki probably first gained praise for eschewing all dwarves – which grew wildly when players realised that the AUTHOR IS PROFOUNDLY DISTURBED. Maybe.



For a game where you spend most of your time lost in an 8 bit pixelated nightmare it’s created a rabid community of fans who are obsessed with every aspect of the hero girl Windowed (‘is she a transexual?’), her tiny apartment that she can only leave when asleep (‘post traumatic stress’) and the vaguely threatening wildlife that live in her dreams. Like the ‘Bird People’:


All of whom look like Julia Gillard, but are said by fans to represent childhood tormentors. They’re harmless unless you stab them in which case they’ll confine you to dreams where the only escape is to wake up. The subject of most fan obsession is a cross eyed piano player who looks a little like Michael Jackson meets Ryuichi Sakamoto who crash lands a space ship on Mars so …

Hell, it’s too complicated. Just watch this small bit.

I don’t particularly like RPGs (not into dwarves) but I’m currently working through a French one called OFF. This one has more traditional heroes and battles, but your main character is a baseball batter, aided by angelic hoops and guided by a pretentious cat judge. I managed to get through a city made of meat fountains and fought against a giant bird which lives inside another cat. I’m told it’ll all make sense if I can get to the end of it. It’s that promise of hidden knowledge that drives me on (and probably why people become Scientologists). I’m just a bit tired of fighting whales in the shopping centre.

Normally I choose peaceful stories, like The Woodcutter.

Should have sent a poet.

Then there are the Art Games. LSD Dream Simulator is a Playstation title allegedly based on 10 years of dreams had by a lady called Hiroko Nishikawa. If so, the poor thing dreamed in very blocky low resolution graphics. Walk around blocky streets finding blocky animals floating in the sky, or blocky corpses on the ground. Touch something and another dream starts. They get more dour and morose over the 365 days of game time. Sometimes a bad thing may happen. That’s about it.


Since the days of LSD the graphics have got better but the attention whoring and lack of genuine engagement remains the sure sign of an Art Game. There’s a common texture to Yume Nikki and LSD but the differences are most helpful. Whether it’s a prank like Randy Balma or a warped world like Yume Nikki, it’s the insularity of the game that makes it appealing, the complete disregard for audience. They’re a personality you have to engage as the Other, as you do with real people you first meet.  Art Games want to be agreeable – LSD even comes as a coffee table book. That’s too comforting and controlled, like small talk with a celebrity*.

The phrase Inscrutable Energy popped into my mind today (the birds** are busy at the moment.) I think it requires that the appeal of a work is a bipolar force – the positive is represented the sweet, brightly coloured game like Angry Birds. The negative is much harder to create and to define but it’s equally powerful in inspiring playfulness.

I’ve a couple of projects looming for 2013 in which I’m being asked to justify a theme appropriate for the art of this moment – a hard thing (deservedly hard) for anyone as old and cynical as me. The New Aesthetic is not it. I really think it’s The Inscrutable. Only the inscrutable can withstand the forces that would apply metrics to art and devolve it into recipes and academies. The only power that can defeat Research is The Inscrutable. That should be our goal.

* For reasons I won’t go into I shook hands with Kevin Rudd today. He spoke to me like The Queen addressing a Commoner. I bet it was as tedious for him as was for me.

** It’s hard to answer when somebody asks about sudden inspiration. I tend to say that ‘the birds put it there’ because that’s how it seems to come, and the image is (hopefully) less offensive than claiming to be inspired. Sometimes the birds get too busy – right now a month or so of depression has lifted and the manic chattering of birds is driving me a bit nuts. It’ll end with a bang in about a week from now.

[H.H] Recreating WWVH


The heart of the universe has two chambers – radio WWV in Colorado and radio WWVH Hawaii. They beat as one – the Great Timepiece that Orders All Things. The role once fell to Greenwich Observatory and may one day be with Beijing but for now the artificial voices that sing Coordinated Universal Time are American.

The man is called Lee. The woman is Jane.

WWV is the oldest continuously broadcasting radio station in the United States, starting with Friday night concerts in the beginning of 1920, months before the first commercial station went to air. You can read the history on NIST’s own web site, although one event that strikes me is (according to the official guide) 440Hz being provided by the station in August 1936 ‘at the request of several musical organisations’ prior to officially becoming A in 1939. Musical tuning continues to be offered by WWV.

I’ve studied the official specification put out by NIST for some time, but as you’d expect the obsessives over at WikiPedia have an even more detailed explanation that you can read. The most important elements are the tick, a data signal at 100Hz, tones that alternate between 500Hz and 600Hz every minute; a conversation between WWV and WWVH. At the start of the hour they both provide 440Hz for any orchestras that might happen to be tuning up at that moment. And the voices. Each of these things has a very definite order – a musical score. For WWVH:

  • Every second (except the first) + 25ms play the 100Hz tone.
  • Every second except the 29th and 59th play the click.
  • Every minute play the 1200Hz minute tone.
  • Every minute + 45s play the time announcement.
  • In minute 1 play add the 440Hz tone.
  • In minutes 2, 4, 6, 12, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 46, 52, 54, 56, 58 add the 600Hz tone.
  • In minutes 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 21, 23, 25, 27, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 53, 55, 57 add the 500Hz tone.
  • In minutes 29 and 59 add the station ID
  • In 43-45 add GPS reports
  • In 45 add Geo alerts
  • In 48-51 add Storm alerts

Although I made a simulation back in 2007, it’s time to do it properly. [H.H] has at the start a grand chamber in which many noise making machines can be enjoyed, and the grandest of these is to be the Coordinated Universal Time Machine. It will follow through the whole programme of WWVH – which is the one nearest to me and stronger in my fable. But it’s a struggle:

  • You could: record a whole day and play it through. Horribly large audio file, not likely to download.
  • You could: program it. If minute = 13 then play 500Hz for 965ms. Maybe, but I don’t trust it. You’d have to hope that the code didn’t get delayed and start drifting. Every couple of seconds you’d have to check the clock and try some maths to drift it back again. Not my cup of tea.
  • You could: read the blog over at Unity which points out that the FMOD audio library reads MODs. As in, old Amiga tracker MODs. I never bothered to make MODs because life is too short for hexidecimal, and here it is 2012 and I’m staring at something that looked cool on WorkBench 3.0.

Time to party like it’s 1990. The good thing is that I’m just firing off samples every second, so 60 BPM and a division of 24 Amiga ticks places samples one to a cell. Design the tones to meet the microseconds and trim the block of cells to 60. Each minute then gets its own pattern and 60 patterns make an hour. It’s not thrilling work but I can hear how it will go before it hits the authoring software. It also becomes the basis of a possible performance as part of REDACTED. I said possible.

The real WWVH has announcements about storms and sun spots and things that affect shipping in the Pacific. My machine makes announcements that provide clues about the game – who is where, why we are here and so on. The clues are tricky as they refer to clues given somewhere else that are similar to clues in a third story. To be honest the story in [H.H] is writing itself – an element appears, it connects with something else, forces a design decision. There is actually a character in game lore that forces itself into other games, a kind of cuckoo’s egg. I let it into this one and it immediately started to connecting things without telling me why. The player will need to find out where it’s hiding.

I can with all sincerity say that I have no idea why rabbits.

[H.H] More paintings of demented rabbits

There’s plenty of places where you can find Internet pictures of demented rabbits. But how about paintings based on Internet pictures of demented rabbits?


Easter was odd this year. I am sad to admit I did not paint these with brushes, it’s all done by computer. But I have quite a gallery for the game underway.

PS: sevcom.com has had the same bookmark thumbnail for 15 years. I do try to warn you…

[H.H] Some more tests. Also some ranting just in case.

(H.H. stuff removed to H.H. Blog)


6 Reasons not to buy a new iPad (with no apologies to TIME).

1. Just spent over 400 bucks on reading glasses. That includes a woman photographing the inside of my eyes. Why do I want to buy something that makes everything smaller so I have to go get more glasses to see what I could see well enough before? That sounds like a conspiracy to keep photographing in through my eyes.

2. There is no advantage when playing Dumbass Bubble Popper which is 80 percent of why anyone has an ipad by my own survey or any computer at all. Anyone who is not playing Dumbass Bubble Popper (why?) is browsing the webspace for Twits and FaceBooks. Having a fancier screen doesn’t make your FaceBooks any less embarrassing to read.
3. You can put a bigger camera in it but I still am not going to hold up a stupid big slab of glass when I want to take a photograph. No one with any brains is going to do that. “Hey everybody smile for my dinner tray”. And no, I am not going to edit video on it any more than I would try cut bread with a banana. Making the screen elements smaller while leaving the control resolution the same size? Idiotic. If you want to actually be productive, use a Wacom, not your fingers.

4. YOU TUBE on old ipad.

YOU TUBE on new ipad.

5.  Typing on any touch screen is shitful. Increase the screen resolution? Woo, it’s still shitful. When I meet with somebody using this thing for business I will find out who their competitors are, because I want somebody who is actually getting somewhere.

6. How often do I use this thing anyway? The best loved feature is queuing for it like bread in the USSR. Then it goes into the cupboard next to the Commodore 64 and the Furby. The only real upgrade for a toy computer is a real one, not a bigger one.

[H.H] Bloody hell, it’s actually happening.

I’m kind of embarrassed that it’s taken a stern deadline but… it’s happening. What? Well here is a sketch from 1999.

And here is a modelling test from 2012.

Click to biggen.

This guy is a Big Mouth Singer, and one of the musical instruments that feature in an installation code named Firelight. If you have suffered my company for very long you might think … it that the same project as he’s been wanking on about since 1999? And you would earn a gold star on the forehead!

The difference was in 1999 I simply could not achieve the results I wanted. VRML didn’t cut it and neither did MPEG-4 once that came and went.In 2003 you might remember these guys:

…that ran in AXEL (sorry I don’t have the work anymore). And then there was Anark and then I had to give up for a while.

In 2012 there are the tools, there is a budget and there is a deadline. Because of this it must be finished and because of this many ideas will have to be cut and the whole thing scaled back to a feasible size. But there’s 13 years of sketches and plot lines and discussions and many guest appearances of the things I’ve tried out (yes, including some airplanes). Mostly there will be many instruments for you to play, rooms full of them.

This guy:

also appeared in a 1999 sketch book and as a simple VRML toy that same year. He’s shaping up to be something a bit more exotic this year

I was once a cube!

He plays the drums. Loud.

Firelight will get updates throughout the year, so stay tuned for the real name and venue a.s.a.p!

Twisted history

ADVERTISEMENT : Apparently we may perform on radio station FBI on the 28th April around 9pm or so AEST. This is not confirmed. If so, they have a live stream on their web site. While I have your attention, can I just clarify that we will NOT PLAY AGAIN AFTER THE DATES ANNOUNCED. Anyone asks me about this I will be cross.

It was good to catch up with an old friend the other night, now with wife and 4 year old son. The man (nameless for reasons you’ll soon understand) is living in the USA deeply embedded in the infrastructure of finance, networks and databases that know more about you than you probably know yourself.

But we were talking about cowboy days, late 80s; the BBS scene, hackers and crackers and the other side. We’d met on Twisted Pair, the BBS that spawned Twister, Twister 2, and all the daughters up to the ill fated Twister 5, the collapse of which led to this one way blog. I don’t think it’ll hurt to tell that Twisted Pair had a secret area, in which select people had their fun. Back then it was all Amiga, and I was a lamer HEX hacker, somebody who searched through the hexadecimal of software looking for combinations of numbers that did some thing useful.

The most useful hack I did was the very first version of Lightwave 3D running in PAL. It was part of the video toaster which was NTSC only and so I guess NewTek thought it pointless making it work in European countries. But they coded it so all I did was find the sections that addressed the display memory, redid the maths, and fired it up until all the bits worked. Like I said, nothing fancy, but much appreciated at the time. If you were around you might have seen a ‘booped’ version. Yes, like:

Actually just now I remember I did the same thing for the first Photon Paint but Deluxe Paint was beyond me. Bloody EA had hard wired it all.

We talked about where people had gone and their conversion to honesty. Most of them I only knew by their screen names. Watching his son playing games on a phone we were worried about what our generation had done – our children are looking through a screen at everything, although I think they will rebel and as teenagers go about smashing computers and shaking real hands. Good for them.

I had to tell him what happened to Twister; a mailing list which was rather good, but eventually a phpBBS which sucked rather badly. I told him there was even a splinter called ‘Exiles’ and he thought that was hilarious. BBS community was dead by then, and the forces that broke it are still getting worse; anonymity, envy, celebrity, “friend” counts and the sale of privacy. It probably has to hit bottom before it bounces back.

Nostalgia is anti-historical, it denies events to make a privileged viewpoint. That night we talked about chiggers the way others talk about vinyl, with just as much surety. Everyone thinks they are recalling something authentic when the exact opposite is true.

Right now, I can’t wait to get away from music. Much more interested in chiggers.

Try remember how to individuate.

For some time there have been things that have pissed me off, yet in denouncing these things I have often failed to translate my personal distrust into a coherent, communicable reason for such curmudgeonly thinking. Although you wouldn’t know it, I’ve been held back by the worry that I’m quite possibly just an old git and no better than the infinite number of stupid people online (there I did it again).

Tonight something twigged. It’s a wonderful moment, possibly like for a UFO believer if a flying saucer were to land in front of the UN building. Bear with me while I flick through some old ideas again – I hope to offer a shareable joy.

Google has released a little application builder for their Android mobile phones. It’s more BASIC than C++ and the ‘professionals’ are already deriding it as the source of more fart pianos. But, I thought to myself, at least people can make their own fart pianos, which is more than I can do on my iPhone. At which point the whole thing that pisses me off went klunk.

You see, I’ve been hanging around the community for GameSalad, which is a game authoring tool for the iPhone. This was the tool my students used in my Intro To Game Design class. The GS community has become a tedious place where all the talk is about how to get on the App Store, how to make money on the App Store, who is selling the most on the App Store blah blah blah – as if it’s a musicians’ forum where everybody talks about stocking shelves all day. The conversation has been defined from above by the way the entire iPhone ecosystem is set up.

(Stop press – latest addition to GameSalad – in-game advertising. OH right, of course – no arrays, no string parsing – let’s have ADVERTS first. Because it’s not about game design it’s about money. Not teaching this tool next year – their capitulation to Jobsism is complete.)

Instead the Google application builder lets the phone owner slap together something only they might want and without it having to be stocked. It’s a Do It Yourself process – something that has been missing for some time – something which was once a given feature of computing.

Not just the BASIC language of old computers but more recent tools like Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard on the 80’s Mac, or 90’s AmigaVision. These tools served one user as well as they served many. They were part of the personal computer revolution – a revolution that is now being dissolved in “clouds” and “spaces” – the smiley face return of mainframes. A centralised marketplace has (by constant reinforcement) become axiomatic in computing and that is what the rabid social science people call ‘a violence’. I kind of like that. ‘A violence’.

Aligned words from Dale Dogherty on the iPad:

… I am just pointing out the lack of really good tools available for amateurs and professionals to use to create new kinds of applications for the iPad. HyperCard was not only used by The Voyager Company; it was used by teachers to create coursework; or students to prepare a report; it was used by individuals to develop novelty applications like recipe databases…

… If the iPad is just another consumer platform for consuming and not creating content, then it will just be another way to watch TV …

Which is exactly what it is supposed to be.

Following the Android page leads to MIT’s Scratch project which I’d looked at before and decided wasn’t suitable for teaching game design. But another look, particularly reading this article (warning PDF) has led to clarity. As the MIT crew explain they are trying to inspire creative programming of the sort that’s been missing since the old home computer days, empowering people and reversing a tendency to passive social networking (“I have X friends, I have X cows”). Justifiably proud of their achievements they may have neglected some other people working on the same problem – e.g. Microsoft’s SmallBASIC which leads up to Visual Studio Express or HyperNext which is a free HyperCard replacement. And GameMaker which has just hit the Macintosh.

All of these initiatives are politically important. You can see what happens when in the case of GameSalad the whole dialogue becomes one of seeking approval from a gatekeeper. It’s like the old idea of ‘broadcast standards’ that kept control of television with the major networks. Of course the majors broadcast rubbish in the way the App Store stocks fart pianos – the idea of ‘broadcast standards’ is not about the worth of the programming but control of the programming. Or use the example of bands and record labels if that’s your concern. Recent malarkey with the terms of use in the App Store simply yanks the chain to cause anxiety, break dissent and remind the community of where the power lies.

But along with this self policing governmentality comes a smokescreen of limited and directed dialogue – where arguments are merely about brand allegiance and ‘fanbois’ line up to defend the people that exploit them. A more pathetic version of the way the lower middle class can be whipped up to vote for the controlling upper classes by controlled media.

wonderful great amazing

If you have previously bothered to read this blog you will recognise old themes I have tediously covered many time before. The change is that a coherent protest is starting to form – which therefore promotes a coherent response. And given I am responsible for teaching digital media it is my responsibility to go over this again and again trying to form the most helpful and liberating ideas.

Try to remember how to individuate, to rebel. There are infinite ways – that’s the key – there’s not the correct way. The person that uses FaceBook to coordinate their Friday nights with their real friends should lecture me, who looks at FaceBook like a poisonous snake. For my part I begin to understand why I instinctively took on the teaching of game design. The computer has become a projection, a kind of idol with which we’ve become intertwined. As more and more people have adopted a computer as identity (an avatar, a persona, a mediator) there’s been a push to make it an appliance and therefore an aid to what Foucault termed ‘technology of the self’. This constantly connected, linked to a mainframe, rights managed consuming device serves as a very poor role model – to individuate it to run unique, self serving, (even if badly written) applications is healthy for individuating our minds.

I can sum it up: D.I.Y.
Make software for the self and not the marketplace.

In the way that ‘indie’ was a term introduced to dis-empower independence and ‘alternative’ was adopted by the major labels to market rock, the use of ‘my’ and ‘i’ by the new major broadcasters is an obvious signal of the intention to remove the real ‘I’ and ‘My’ from our creative palette. The only way to regain these is to know the difference and exercise it.

To program, and perhaps to programme to entertain ourselves, not mediated by a marketplace, is effective (and fun) dissent.

The Golden Age of Adventure Games

Conventional wisdom has it that adventure gaming started in 1975 with Crowther’s ADVENTURE, reached a literary peak with the Zork series and a golden age around the Lucas Arts point-and-click period. Myst gets a tick for huge sales figures and then all is seen as a steady decline of the kind that hit the Byzantine Empire. If you want that standard account go to Wikipedia and read the consensus. I’ll wait here.

I think that’s bullshit.

In developing a time line for my new game design class at Kunst Kamp I started by following the mainstream opinion. Start in 1975, then place Scott Adams, Zork etc. etc. and sure enough there’s a nasty gap at the point first person shooters became plausible, roughly the time the first PlayStation goes on sale. OK, sure, shooters started to pick up narrative structures with Half Life as the accepted exemplar.

But then I started to place games I thought were notable. They might not have sold, they might be flawed, but they had something that made me pay attenti0n. Myst for sure 1993. Bad Mojo 1996. Sanitarium 1998. Bad Day On The Midway 1995. Zork Nemesis 1996. Gadget 1994, The Dark Eye 1995 – I’ll even include The 7th Guest from 1992 … although it’s not a favourite. If you are a game historian you can keep piling them on – but already it’s pretty clear: if you are looking at the game and not the sales, this was a great period for adventures.

Adventure games in the 90’s were mean. Bad Mojo had you survive as a cockroach, in Sanitarium there’s one point you need to dig up a child’s corpse to win at Hide and Seek, even 7th Guest starts with a bludgeon murder and has a virus killing children via spooky dolls. The best thing that happened to adventure games was that LucasArts got the hell away from it and did nothing but Star Wars for the next decade. OK they did Grim Fandango 1998. I will let them live.

Examine the difference between Return To Zork and Zork Nemesis. One of these has a decapitation followed by an impalement. 1993 to 96 … even at Activision things got gruesome and fast.*

Adventure games started to look pretty sweet. If by sweet you mean evil.


This still from Bad Mojo (you can click on it) uses the kind of 3D that the best game engines can only do in hardware now – depth of field, soft shadows, refraction. Hey, I didn’t care if it moved, I was busy trying to figure out how to survive. And look what 3D was like at the time:


Be still my beating heart.

First Person Shooters were mindless. These days we’re spoiled by games like Bioshock which have a plot. You can complain about the plot – but at least it’s not another frigging space marine trapped behind crates while creatures from hell blah blah. (Actually DOOM 3 was still like that). The whole time you were running around a thousand metal corridors looking for a red pass to get through some lame airlock you could have been shifting souls at a funfair to get into the fat lady’s tent! You can see the point.

Real ‘Hybrid Arts’ – look I don’t care much for Thomas Dolby or William Burroughs but I swear to god they were a lot better choices for music and narration on The Dark Eye than who the hell that was that did that horrible MIDI music that went with the DOOM series. Hang on, let me look that up.

“The id Software development team originally wanted me to do nothing but metal songs for DOOM. I did not think that this type of music would be appropriate throughout the game, but I roughed out several original songs and also created MIDI sequences of some cover material.”

Bobby Prince, I take that back – under the circumstances I guess you did your best. This is your best.

The Point Is – that the indie adventure game scene has grown out of this period and games such as Samorost are not really throwbacks to the late 80’s as implied, but a flow on from a design period that hasn’t been properly recognized by people outside of the ‘brass lantern’ set. The history has been distorted to fit into a simple rise and fall storyline. That’s something that needs to be redressed.

I’ll put that on my list of things to do.


* Thank you thank you I’m here all week.


I’d just like to comment on first person shooters….  i think you’ve missed the point – or devalued the point so much that you haven’t mentioned it.

yes, it’s true, they’re mindless, but that’s not to say they weren’t (aren’t?) extremely powerful.  Doom 1, 2, Quake and Descent were a massive thing for me in a shortish period sometime around 1995, as a young electrical engineering student (very soon to be subscribed to cliffords list and devour sevcom), when the early 16 bit sound cards were available to someone of my means, and were quickly hooked up to powerful, bassy home built hifi speakers for full effect, and Fasttrack2 and granulab started raising my awareness to making strange electronic sounds on my computer…

at around this time, there were a few of us who sought late-access computer labs with PCs capable of running these games on a network.   these games, networked were incredible!  we would play for way too long, until we started having tunnel vision and forgot how to walk properly, and then i would sometimes find myself dreaming these games all night, like an adrenalised automaton.

aside from that, the non-networked games – doom 2 i particularly remember, could keep you on edge as you ascended levels and encountered new monsters….

in short, these games were very powerful (in a new way) as highly-immersive, sensational audiovisual environments, – doing one thing very well – keeping the player on edge, reacting as quickly as possible, and adrenalised.

two other things
– for music, nobody listened to the midi tracks – you would load your own CD and play that instead.
– another part of the immersive aspect was the control options – doom 2 or quake (and very much descent) were one of the first games i played with a mouse – you would use keyboard for fire, run, backwards etc, and the trick with the mouse was to invert the mouse action, use it only for look-direction – and pretend you held the head of the avatar so that mouse-forward would look down, etc…

these games were very powerful.
having not played many games since, i would understand if their legacy is strong.

at the same time, i appreciate the literary aspects of many more interesting games available now, but i don’t have time to play them.  while i was also quite a reader, these first-person shooters provided quite a different role – a physically immersive escape, and a real thrill, unlike anything achieved in games to that point.

thanks for listening!

Computer games are not movies. Get over it.

There. Got your attention.


What's eating you?

Was rummaging around for treatments of the Little Red Riding Hood story. Last year I got the Kunstlers to read Riding Hood and try to develop plot points, treatment, character outlines and script. Good for them to see how such a simple story still takes sweat to make into a shootable form. So this time I thought I’d give them a basket full of treatments to look at, everything from The Company Of Wolves to this. You know, expand their minds a bit.

And this… in rummage, stumbled across The Path, a recently released game(?) by Tale of Tales in Belgium. The last known thing by these people was The Endless Forest, an online community where players are represented by deer with human faces. That don’t do much. (I recall the Something Awful goon squad attempting to hijack this site and finding the only thing the deer did that was remotely amusing was moo. Hence a mooing macro and much kicking off of antisocial gangs of bleating deer).

The Path is more directed. We have not one but six riding hoods, all dollied up and ready to go get wolfed. Although they’re supposedly sisters at range of ages and personalities each one is wrapped up in some variation of red and black kinky suit and ‘sex me’ boots, a household of over mascaraed emo teenagers with hard synchronised menstrual cycles. The writers plead that the game is ‘slow’, that it’s ‘poetry’, that we should take it as ‘an experience’. All this special pleading can’t hide that the game play is 6 horny teenagers go out in the woods and get murdered. One after the other. Art Hentai.

[vimeo 4014742 nolink]

Pick one pre-teen and set her off down the path, idling along at about 1km a year. This is designed to be boring so you take a shortcut through the woods, where another mysterious girl in white can be seen doing cartwheels off in the distance. You’ll come across derelict cars, gramophones, bathtubs and each time you see one your riding hood will write some emo lyrics about it on the level of  ‘that bathtub is empty and so is my heart’. Each piece of junk evokes an image of your grandmother’s house, which you will store up for later. Eventually you’ll come across a scene where some figure will appear and inspire your riding hood’s hidden lusts. The point where they actually assault her is hidden in a bashful fade, but it’s pretty obvious that after the fade that Red is walking in some considerable pain, and is very likely dead.

I am being necessarily cruel because the majority of reviews are of the ‘this is so wonderfully new so don’t dare hurt it’ type, and I think that time is long up for the infant industry stance. THIS IS NOT NEW. Games that try not be games have been with us a long time now, like Gadget and The Residents’ Freakshow, both from 1995 when the ‘don’t hurt it’ excuse was forgiveable. Both had the same kind of wandering around and not much happening that was slightly disappointing 14 years ago & still leaves one slightly disappointed.

There are no ticking clocks or monsters to defeat. No hard puzzles will ever halt your progress. Most activities in the game are entirely optional and voluntary…

If I was to sit down and list what I wanted from an experimental game, I might write something like this. And I would probably set to making it, until the point where it started to run, at which point I’d be faced with my error. Think of ARGs where puzzles, timing and urgent activity are everything. Take that all out and what have you left? Neither fish nor fowl, less engrossing than a movie or even a good game of poker.

Chris Crawford is a curmudgeon and a stuck record. His Storytron project is stillborn. But he holds the fort about what a game is and is not – without conflict there is no game (WARNING: PDF). You might like to choose another name for this kind of thing – a toy maybe. But a toy soldier can be used in many fantasy missions, whereas The Path stolidly forces you along, from home, to rape, to haunted house. I tried to walk my corpse the other way, towards home. I was punished for breaking the rules, my Red was dumped out in the woods. That’s not even a toy.

I like a lot of things about The Path otherwise I wouldn’t bother with the critique. Example – the overlays of images when the girl is thinking of something works very well. The mood is there, the forest is brooding. I am very pleased to have bought it as an artwork. But  just what is so bad about games? It’s like cooties. Why do we have to hold this ambivalent position of  ‘oh it’s not a game but I just happen to be using a game engine’… come on. Games involve conflict. Embrace it.

At very least – we don’t need 6 riding hoods. We need one hero and a hell of a lot of Jung.