Modeling Spatial Game Design with Pinball

As a child I spent an obscene amount of time playing three virtual pinball tables. I’ve forgotten this, or maybe it’s been mentally blocked. I am earnestly talking about twenty hours or more playing Pinball on the NES, 3D Pinball for Windows – Space Cadet for, uh, windows, (yeah that default windows pinball game that isn’t actually 3D) and the casinopolis stage in Sonic Adventure. Pinball, being adapted from analog arcade games, can’t really deviate from a specific ruleset, otherwise it’s not pinball. Its simplicity manifests longstanding and sharp game design ethos. I want to try to unpack some relationships pinball has in a broader sense of gamedev.

Pinball is presented, viewed, and arranged very similarly to single table score attack games, like Breakout or Space Invaders. This is evidence of something analog, hundreds of years old, obviously influencing how we play today. It sounds silly like this but we wouldn’t have R-Type without pinball! While the concept of a score attack arcade game shifts depending on platform demands and influence from material history, pinball is just pinball. Such a strict adherence is an anomaly in game subgenres and mediums.

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Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

The other day I tweeted “indie rock fucking sucks” and that still feels belligerent. Maybe it’s something that’s never wrong even if I’m not being honest. I was listening to early Yo La Tengo, which is alike to Modest Mouse and Dinosaur Jr., and I surely think those bands suck. I enjoy listening to them sometimes but their whole existence is obnoxious. Which I couldn’t quite articulate why for awhile and maybe I can’t really nail it because I’ve never felt intimate with rock music. Still I was listening to The Kingsmen and The Sonics and The Saints and The Stooges for, well, I really have no goddamn clue why I was listening to garage bands that begin with The. I just felt like it. The Stooges are still really fucking good. Anyway I realized the gap between rock music and the so-called hipsterism of indie rock isn’t very wide at all. The point of rock music, at least as presented by british dudes and white americans, was a stance of disaffected appropriation.

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Our Stage

Moirai presents a simple situation: a woman is missing from a small village. Despite being a 3D game, there are no mouse controls. The arrow (or WASD) keys rotate the camera and move the player forward or backward. The unfamiliar scheme combined with the low resolution makes the game feel oddly claustrophobic. After conversing with a few denizens and poking some sheep, I grab a lamp and go searching for the woman in a cave. A character suggests I take their knife for protection, who knows what could happen. My lamp and knife hanging over the camera draw out an uncomfortable dread of what might come. My character rotates too slow to comfortably traverse the winding paths of the cave. Around a corner I’m surprised by a farmer covered in blood and holding a knife and lamp.

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