By Joel Jordon
The undo button in Corrypt that allows you to rewind from mistakes made while solving puzzles as many times as necessary is a good replacement for something like the death mechanic used in most games, for which the checkpoints are often arbitrary. Undo is a mechanic that punishes you in a way that’s less noticeable, with the time it takes for you to use it and get back to where you were only adding up if mistakes aren’t dealt with immediately. Leave a box in an unreachable place and go to solve some other puzzles, and you’ll have to use undo until you get all the way back to the time you stupidly left the box like that, resetting all the puzzles you solved. This prepares you for the game’s mechanical twist.
By Joel Jordon
It’s great how much you could take for granted at Indiecade East, held this past weekend at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. You could take for granted that the people there love games and are, overwhelmingly, open-minded about them and want to see new things done with them. The academics there from NYU, Parsons, and elsewhere are all as far away as possible from stodgy academicism. They are grown adults who have dedicated their lives to studying play and designing games, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re all fun and funny in person. You can take for granted that they take for granted the value of games, and while it’s apparent they’re exploring the expressive potential of the medium I also get this sense that they just see the inherent value in bringing play back into other adults’ lives.¹ Groups from NYU and Parsons competed against each other at the iron game design challenge, and the Parsons group designed a physical game in the spirit of Johann Sebastian Joust, the kind of playful social game I mean that everyone here seems to appreciate.
By Joel Jordon
My views on videogames have been shifting rapidly recently. In the past year I’ve been leaning away from the idea that narrative should come first in games and more toward the idea that, through engagement with the seemingly formal characteristics of games—their mechanics and rules—through play, a story or feeling can emerge. But I also understand that it’s problematic to define the essential characteristics of a medium like that because it can be exclusionary of art that takes other forms. See some of the ongoing debate on this in the comments below these articles: Designing for Grace, Two Cultures and Games, and What Is a Game? It Depends Who’s Playing.
By Joel Jordon
I’ve never made a list like this before because I would normally struggle to name ten games released in any given year that I really enjoyed. This year, however, was a banner year for indie games. So-called triple-A games will always be around as blockbuster movies are always around, but the space for other kinds of games, which is much-needed, is expanding rapidly. As many small games proliferate, the path is opened for the exploration of so many more unique ideas in games. It seemed to happen so suddenly. Before this year, I hadn’t played more than a handful of great indie games. On this list of ten games, eight are independent. Lines are being drawn right now on the debate over whether and how narrative should figure into games, and these are some of the first games engaging with this question from new angles. It may not be fully realized right now, but this is sure to be a moment in the history of videogames that will be looked back on as changing and defining so much of what came after.
By Joel Jordon
The artist Wassily Kandinsky‘s energetic abstract compositions are a clear antecedent to Dyad‘s visuals. After the first time I experienced Dyad‘s aesthetic at PAX East, I handed the controller back to the game’s creator, Shawn McGrath, who asked me what I thought of it. The game had had such a strong visceral effect on me that I was having trouble saying anything, so I just laughed. This must be a testament to the effect well-composed abstraction can have on a person.
But Kandinsky seems to have provided more than just visual inspiration for the game—the essence of the philosophy he applied to painting is applied here to videogames. In the same way that Kandinsky’s abstract paintings condensed visual expression down to nonrepresentational forms and colors, Dyad condenses play down to its fundamentals. Read more…
When the player rotates the camera in Lollipop Chainsaw to attempt to look up the protagonist’s skirt, she covers herself. Talk about confronting the player for his voyeuristic gaze.
by Joel Jordon
Dark Souls is keen on ensnaring the player in its many environmental traps. In one area, after the player goes carelessly to grab some treasure, the floor gives out and drops him or her down to not just a pit but a pit within a pit that contains poisonous water and a number of many-eyed squid creatures. Because the poisonous water not only poisons the player but also slows his or her movement down drastically, these squids’ attacks are very difficult to avoid, and one of their attacks involves spraying acid that actually breaks the player’s equipped weapons and armor, making them useless until repaired. If the player still manages to kill these enemies somehow, he or she is nonetheless stuck wandering while poisoned in this pit within a pit and will find only what appear to be two more pits—these ones bottomless—and no escape. These two pits turn out to have thin areas on the sides of them that can be walked along, and the walls that appear to be directly behind them turn out to be set slightly back to make room for hallways that open up to ascending stairways, but by the time the player discovers these, the game has already thoroughly proven the environment is in control here.