What Does the Soul Look Like

Undertale’s metafiction isn’t wholly new, but conflating metafiction with sentience is certainly, well, something. That is to say, Undertale speaks to, and judges a player for, progressing through its narrative. Not diegetically as some kind of commentary on the form, but from a point of object permanence. Stretched literary values assert Undertale as a living, real place. Therefore it treats a player as a literal infiltrator of Undertale’s peace.

Layers deep into this conceit the game comes to muster and essentially asks: why play this game, why do these things? I see this a question of taste, of aesthetics; altogether something that has more to do with my life situation. Of course, no character cares about why I literally bought, installed, and played Undertale. They just want me to leave them alone. Making this play a question of ethics, because of the asserted agency and reality of the videogame at hand, makes the metafictional implication of asking like, any possible meaning of finishing the game outside of its conceit basically subtext. Because as far as Undertale is concerned, its awareness is a natural structure.

Basically the post-undertale game is like “The Monster at the End of this Book.” Myself, the reader, share in the static reality of this book with Grover. He’s allowed to turn the page, change the contents of the book, because he exists of it and inside it. Though the “change” is relative to reading it. The page he nails shut is always nailed shut, and so on. Grover pleads in vain for the reader not to turn any pages out of fear for the monster at the end of the book. Spoilers for an iconic classic of literature: the monster is him!

Continue reading

Advertisements

Point & Click Kafka and Stylistic Limitations

The Castle by Franz Kafka is talked about as a deathly serious novel contemplating alienation. Or that which, at the time, explored a pressing anxiety of new kinds of ruling hierarchies holding the same kind of power nobility held without traditional orders of birthright. It was prescient, maybe. Many see the novel as a predictive model of life under repressive regimes. Others see the banalities and inefficiencies of bureaucracy.

Continue reading

How to Learn Stuff

I grew up playing loads of edutainment games. I know why. Though my household was scraping by, my dad saw something new in a computer. He wanted to be part of whatever that was. Which would never be convincing enough for my mom, on its own. The way to grift any parent is through their kids. That was the beating heart of the edutainment industry: getting parents on board to market videogames directly to children.

Edutainment, like any good tech venture, didn’t bother to interrogate if what they were doing worked better, just whether it was a convincing replacement. In a retrospective it feels kind of gross. Every parent wants their kid to learn stuff! So like cure-alls and star registries, the desire to give, to do, outweighs the fact that these things don’t do very much.

Continue reading

I Wish Videogames Was a Building We Could Live Inside

The Pear Game is immediately arresting, filled with chunky animations, deep hues, and brimming with careful personality. The player controls, well, the titular pear. They can run around, double jump, wall climb, crouch, fast fall, dash—a robust platforming system anticipating complex platforming. As I ran around the quaint little town my mind wandered to all of the time I spent in Mario hubs, gestating in each thing the game let me do, relieving stress by mindlessly rolling feelings through my hands and out of my mind. I got a handle on how to move the pear efficiently in the air and on the ground.

There’s no platforming in The Pear Game. Because the game’s physics and contextual interactions, hitboxes etc, feel very loose and unreliable, I felt this possibility unconsciously. There’s even a palpable sense of shame in how the game works and plays. Like the entire design of the game changed to accommodate an unfixable aspect.

Continue reading

My Wrath, of Me?

What impressed me about the visual novel Her Lullaby is the amount of compassion offered to different machinations and manifestations of intensely violent acts. Its horror functions in a rare way: it’s clearly and reasonably stated. No esoteria, no unknowability, no othering. This is less immediately scary than I’m used to. It’s less shocking, the way a slasher story is often framed as a natural disaster. Instead there’s a bridging of states, not a flat confrontation with fragility, but a burn up into fragility always being there.

Continue reading

wow, our inevitable doom explained in thirty minutes

the evolution of trust is a little web game that’s gone viral. i’m staying hands off but the dev is established already and has done other semi-viral things. i don’t know if they’re in the same style. of all things it’s a game-lecture, though these kinds of succulent rants go viral any day of the week. whatever sort of sweeping generalization, like the ones about how millennials don’t have respect or whatever. what we have here is a more exact, concrete version, of the ever marketable, endlessly viral, declaration that people these days suck.

which they do. though i cannot say the scope of that, i can only notice a shift among english speaking people, especially in america. it is important to emphasize that american culture problems cannot be translated to problems every culture has. america’s problems socializing aren’t humanity’s problems.

the evolution of trust claims through its systems and objectivity that it’s about inevitable human nature relating to how collectives function. however overwhelmingly this game is presenting extremely american values and american-founded information. but of course given that the author is a fellow american and cites paragraphs of american academic literature, we graze on this result.  is it that we assume an american perspective is neutral one? so it seems unnecessary to disclose, or to clarify that angle?

Continue reading

Reduction Critique

Typical shmups ask a player to (albeit in simplified form) pilot an aircraft. They present wars of impossible odds, in which a skilled individual defends, well, something. This kind of really obvious framing is something I might take for granted, though because it’s a strong tradition, it has an especially clear expressive goal. I hesitate to call it a power fantasy because most shmups really do have impossible odds. This framing may be alarmist and reactionary, but they are, at least, coherent within their expressed intent, by expressing near impossibility with extreme difficulty.

rRootage doesn’t have any sort of straightforward thematic framing device while remaining clear and communicative. You pilot a pixel surrounded by wireframes that fires a giant laser at a shape-like assemblence that emits a collage of shapes. It’s quite beautiful actually, makes me want to be writing about that instead (maybe in the coming weeks…). Without representative graphics drawing connections to real life counterparts, I feel a hyperfocus on the play loop. I think about what the gliding movement feels like to me, I think about the lines I have access to, I’m focused on the peaks & valleys of stress and emotion a shmup incites in me.

Continue reading

A Living Videogame

I kinda paused at the idea of making a videogame as a gift. A short pause. I know there’s really nothing wrong with that. Surely it’s as personal as anything, and I think I’d enjoy being on either side of such a gift. That reluctance isn’t my own, it’s absorbed from being in games. A sense of what games can do and what they’re for pushes away meaningful expressions dedicated to someone else. It feels like this because videogames are always polishing, always focus testing, always trying to reach as a broad an audience as possible. Can something like that truly reflect an individual?

Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy! is a stranger game than it would normally feel like, because it was made as a gift to the developer’s girlfriend. Nelly, the protagonist, was made in her likeness. A pretty clearly masculine Spoonbeaks Ahoy is not explicitly romantic, the author’s nevertheless romantic interest spends a majority of play time outsmarting portrayed-as-vain and material-obsessed women. There’s a feeling of crypto-sexism because the, male writer, accents how much more special Nelly is compared to other women and even other characters in general. His motivations are really transparent. From a mile away, it’s obvious how an expression of “you’re not like other women” is degrading, undercuts solidarity, though it’s used so frequently in fictional romantic contexts.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading