At The Steps Of The Bone Hut: Norrland

By Quintin Smith on November 30th, 2010 at 4:28 pm.

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. Funny I’d end up posting it on the same day as Kieron posted his own thoughts on uniquely disturbing game. I doubt many of you went ahead and downloaded Norrland, Cactus’ pseudo-8-bit hunting trip, but – and I’m treading on eggshells here – hiding inside Norrland is a… moment. A scared, devastating bullet of a moment, fired in desperation. This moment was my single favourite bit of gaming in all of 2010.

The following is safe for work, but only just.

Just to sketch out the rough shape of Norrland for you, there’s more to it than a sidescrolling hunting trip. It was actually created for Kulturbygden, a kind of youth culture centre in the Swedish city of Sollefteå, and the character you control is an awesomely politically incorrect portrait of a Swedish hick (Norrland being the most Northern and sparsely populated chunk of Sweden).

While the game does see you boldly setting off from your grotty cabin, walking to the right and blowing apart every breathing example of wildlife you encounter with your trusty rifle (which you reload with a series of four button presses in a manner that’s so chunky and satisfying that I need to see it in some AAA games /immediately/), your character actually spends most of his time getting distracted. It’s hard to make it from one side of the screen to the other with needing something to eat, some beer, a nap, a piss or a wank, each taking the form of a minigame, most of them willfully tedious. Though it’s careful not to bore you, Norrland’s built to convey a sense of wry mundanity as quickly as possible.

Except, perhaps, for the animal punching.

Yeah!

Anyway, Norrland’s mundanity is where its retro aesthetic comes in. The game’s been built to look and sound like a distant cousin of an Atari game, which amplifies the game’s backwards setting and frank, unambiguous tone, of which here‘s a NSFW example. But that’s only half of it- Norrland’s aesthetics are more raw and earthy than they are old fashioned. It’s an Atari game that’s had its code dragged through mud and lager. The decaying visuals flicker in the manner of old movie projectors, and the colour palette is like something you’d use to paint an autopsy taking place in a long-abandoned shed. Then there’s the sound- it’s very, very videogamey, with all sorts of twinklings and rattling, but there’s no music and the SFX sound like they’ve been forced through a chipset at gunpoint. Everything sounds important and out of place at the same time, like Norrland is talking to itself.

The overall effect of the visuals and sound is, at turns, ferociously ugly and hugely pleasing, which suits the game perfectly, since what you’re actually doing is repetitive, pointless tasks (rowing a boat across a river, shooting a bird, guiding a hand up and down a penis with your cursor keys until ejaculate comes spraying out accompanied by a long, crashing sound) and laughing at the game’s no-frills writing. A high point are the inordinately messed up dreams which your character suffers each time he has a nap, which are somehow entertaining while making you look forward to waking up and getting on the road again

So, yeah, that’s the sea-monster silhouette of Norrland.

Now, that moment I was talking about.

If you value rare gaming experiences, for God’s sake, play this game for yourself before you read the rest of this article. You can Norrland here, it’s 8mb and it’ll take you about 15 minutes to finish. Go, now, and then come back.

TERRIBLE SPOILERS begin after the man tells you that you can’t dance.

HERE BE SPOILERS.

Did you play it?

So, how about that ending?

It utterly floored me. When this game ended it left me staring at my PC’s desktop with a mouth that could hold a golf ball. There are perhaps two other games that have left me this shocked.

If you neglected my advice and still haven’t played Norrland, (this is the last stop, people) what happens at the end is as follows. You’re proceeding to the right side of the screen as normal, and you have a twisted dream, as normal, except during the dream this man shows up.

You can only respond to him by typing out “Yes” or “No”. His line of questioning is, to put it lightly, disagreeable. Here’s his first question.

Here’s the second:

And things go downhill from there with the momentum of an avalanche. If you respond to any of his questions with “No”, you get sent to this screen:

And if you respond to that with “No”, he just keeps asking you if you’re lying. In order to proceed, you begin responding to all of his questions with “Yes”.

ARE YOU A FAG?

Yes.

DO YOU WANT ME TO FUCK YOU?

Yes.

ARE YOU WORTHLESS?

Yes.

IS YOUR LIFE MEANINGLESS?

Yes.

WAS YOUR MOTHER A WHORE?

Yes.

DO YOU WANT TO DIE?

Yes.

YOU DISGUST ME.

And then:

And finally.

The game literally leaves you hanging. Upon waking, your character kills himself. The above image is set to a sort of heartbeat sound, except it’s not a human heart. It’s something else.

And that’s the end of Norrland. You can spend as much time as you like watching your character swing in the wind, with that alien sound tapping out a slow rhythm of primal continuity, the colours cycling aggressively through greasy tones. Eventually, you’ll press Esc. The scene freezes, fades to black, and the application closes. That’s your videogame. Deep & meaningful indie freeware games might be ten a penny these days, but the aggression and delivery of Norrland is a rare, rare thing.

This ending turns Norrland on its head. You spend the game laughing and fumbling your way through the forest and the man’s private urges, enduring disturbing dreams and listening to him talk to himself (“Beer is good!” “Time for a piss!” “Fucking mosquitos!”), but you never think of him as a person. How could you? The aim of the game seems to be blowing the heads off animals. But that’s just it. If someone asked you what the game was while you were 75% of the way through Norrland, you’d probably say “Oh, it’s just a funny game about a hunting trip.” You, like the character, aren’t aware of the extent of self-loathing and insecurity that’s buried here, and when you discover it and the end it’s like finding a shard of glass in your breakfast cereal. Not just because you didn’t see it coming, not just because your in-built videogame player callousness meant you failed to think of this man as a human being, but because you were fucking laughing at him. The game’s message is, I guess, about our knack for dehumanising underclasses. When Norrland starts, you can’t actually leave your cabin without first lazily deciding to throw your trash in the furnace. Or maybe it’s simply about delivering maximum shock value. I don’t know.

A less arguable dimension that Norrland’s ending adds to the game was pointed out to me by a friend. As you progress through the forest, your objective seems to be to shoot animals before they flee, but it’s not like there’s a visible score. You can also collect firewood, pick mushrooms, and (as I mentioned above) the pissing minigame lets you try and hit as many ants as possible. You can even try and ‘win’ your dreams. You find yourself doing all of this because, well, it’s a game. You don’t really need a reason why.

The truth is that it’s all totally pointless, which is a strange thing to accept as a gamer. Pick-ups that do nothing? That’s bizarre. And through this, you’re forced to accept that you’re just wasting your time, dropping pebbles into the well of your existence. Norrland’s at its most blunt about this if you choose to climb the big tree that appears about half way through. You, climb, and you climb, and you climb.

And then…

…you appear back at the bottom of the tree. There is no view to reward you, there’s only the physical act of climbing, which your hick gives utmost importance because it takes his mind off… what, exactly? There’s a rubber sack poised above your character for the entireity of Norrland, but neither of you ever look up until it finally drops. For a moment, the two of you are inside it together, and then you’re out of there- but the character’s not. You leave him behind. And Hell, it was you that put him in there. It was you that said that he was worthless, and it was you who said he wanted to die.

To my mind, Norrland is the best game Cactus has made, but if you’ve got an evening to kill you should absolutely check out the rest of his work. He’s a talent, this one, and he’s helped significantly to make the PC the most exciting place to be in gaming right now. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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99 Comments »

  1. HexagonalBolts says:

    What you’ve said reminds me of this tendency in literature to dehumanise characters in to something simple that is easy for our minds to understand, for example, ‘good’ or ‘evil’. This is especially the case for a figure such as Hitler, a person who it is easier to vilify as ‘evil’, as some monstrous sub-human, rather than to recognise the nuances of his all-too-similar-to-our-own humanity.

    I think Norrland is so terrifying because it brings you face to face with that ugly reality, the tendency to simplify the humanity of characters or people.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Yeah. It’s true that Norrland draws your character as more of a concept than a human. You don’t think he could have any problems.

  2. Ed Burst says:

    My experience: I gave up because I couldn’t figure out the controls. I managed to work out that the cursor keys do some things, and I think ‘Z’ does something – I tried pressing Escape to see if this would bring up some kind of a menu but that just shuts down the game. I got as far as trying to drink some beer, but I couldn’t work out how to do it so I gave up.

    • Skull says:

      Ed Burst – You have to tap Z repeatedly to drink, in fact you tap Z to do most things in this game. Having said that I am stuck at what to do when the character dreams about sticking a knife into his head. Tapping the left arrow key wiggles the knife about but I cant stab myself!

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Tap left harder! More vigor! More persistence! You really have to /want/ that knife in your head.

    • Skull says:

      Your quite right Quintin – however basing a game entirely around QTE’s does not make good gameplay, although this is certainly an intreasting concept and spin on traditional QTE.

    • The Innocent says:

      The knife part is easier if you tap both left and numpad left.

    • Weylund says:

      @Skull: QTEs are pass / fail, and that’s why they suck so hard. These are more… quick time nothings. Yeah, for a few of them you need to tap a key really fast to go on with the game, but it’s not like in bloody Jericho where you need to tap eight different keys at exactly the right time to be able to jump over a chasm that you could have just jumped over normally. Here you don’t even need to play some of the minigames, or be particularly quick with the tapping.

      Thanks for the recommendation, Quintin. Interesting game.

    • a says:

      Yeah, I gave up at the knife and just read the rest of the article. Too bad I did. =/

    • Premium User Badge

      Saul says:

      I also gave up on the knife dream. I tried really hard, but it just wasn’t working! Seems a common problem, judging by the comments on Cactus’s site. A pity, because I wanted to see the ending. I guess the hunter in my version didn’t have the will to die.

    • Jhoosier says:

      I was stuck at the first beer drinking part. The sounds did my head in and I quit. I wish there were some directions for what to do, I was randomly mashing keys when I found out Z would shoot.

  3. Inigo says:

    Eventually we’ll discover that all of this was simply a thinly-veiled excuse for Cactus to make a game about punching bears in the face.

    • Tim McDonald says:

      You say that as though there could possibly be a higher calling.

  4. Tacroy says:

    I got to the point where you hump a deer corpse, and then I guess either the game glitched out or I’m just no good at romancing the Z-key because no matter what I did it never ended.

    Which, honestly, was as good of an ending for this game as any. I’ll try again later after I’ve got AutoHotKey set up to spam Z.

  5. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s basically Wario Warez as re-imagined to be a cry from the bottom of an existential pit.

    Its visuals, especially with the smears, sort of remind me of a grindhouse take on the 80s aesthetic too.

    KG

    • PlayOm says:

      More like a return to black and white silent film. Would this game really suffer if the graphics weren’t reminiscent of Granny’s Garden?

      Retro graphics have their place, but this looks like a cheap way of scoring indie-cred

    • Premium User Badge

      Jebediah Adder says:

      It reminded me of Forbidden Forest on C-64. Not as scary, perhaps, but I think the twisted, gloomy graphics leave a lot to the imagination, which can be a really good thing when you’re trying to provoke emotion.

  6. themageling says:

    Well, that was interesting. I was so frustrated by the time the guy started asking questions that after a few attempts at convincing him I wasn’t lying, I just hammered out YESYESYESYESYES, and then saw the final scene. It kind of felt like my frustration drove him to kill himself. Or myself? I don’t know.

  7. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    I still don’t see how this game is relevant outside of the “Cactus is weird” angle. Yes, the visuals are interesting, but the game itself is an uninspired collection of minigames without even the slightest hint of challenge. Yes, it makes fun of hicks, but attributing any more depth than that to the game borders on hallucination. Slapping on an “offensive” ending sequence doesn’t change this at all.

    • Razz says:

      This.

      This shit is Lady Gaga all over again.

      On a slightly more serious note, I have no problem with artsy fartsy games with some sort of big “message” or anything but a) I’m just not sure if this is even conveying any sort of message and b) that shouldn’t stand in the way of making a game which is actually fun to play. As opposed to this, which I thought was a fucking drag to play.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      In interviews Cactus has said that being cruel to the player was part of the point, citing David Lynch as a point of inspiration. So, yeah. It’s a drag to play, but deliberately so. Not that I think that’d make the game better in your eyes, but it’s something worth knowing.

    • Wilson says:

      I also found the game a bit bleh to play, so Cactus certainly succeeded in that angle. But I thought it was fairly clear from the first dream you had that you weren’t dealing with a particularly happy guy. I didn’t feel terribly shocked by the ending, just glad that I reached it. It was something of a surprise, but I think only in the detail of it. Something was gonna come at the end of all this, and why not suicide? I would have been more surprised if he had just got back to his truck and driven home.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      I hope you are misquoting Cactus here, because it’s not cruel to the player. At least not in the way a game can be cruel by being hard and unforgiving. The controls aren’t cruel. The visuals and sound are at most slightly disturbing, but not cruel. If being cruel was the point, Cactus did not succeed. The game simply doesn’t have such power over the player. No game has, unless you are actually forced to play it.

      A bad game doesn’t turn into a good game by being deliberately bad.
      Not that I think that’d make the game worse in your eyes.

  8. Basilicus says:

    Are you sure the ending is a deeper window to your character’s soul?

    Because it seems to me to be a bunch of offensive crap thrown together from which you’ve somehow drawn a more coherent meaning than was ever intended.

    And I’m usually on the “window to the soul” side of these arguments. Just not this time.

    • lokimotive says:

      If the game was just running around the woods and the base minigames, I would agree with you, but the dreams seem to infuse the game with a bit more meaning, especially in retrospect. They’re almost universally about self degradation (punching yourself, not being able to dance, Russian roulette) or being trapped (a bird floating between being burned by the sun or the ocean, eventually dying anyway; drowning). Because of that, the minigames seem to take on a bit more meaning (some amount of control).

      In my experience, I was getting mighty sick of the game near the end. Indeed I thought it was repeating. Notice the minigames in real life begin to repeat near the end, you even start killing the same animals. The only thing that’s new is the dreams, and they get increasingly brutal.

      I think Quintin’s analysis is spot on. You could certainly argue that it makes it point with a blunt hammer blow, but I think that point is still there.

    • lokimotive says:

      Actually, on the other hand, you could easily make the case that this is a game that further belittles the stereotypical hick rather than humanizing him. In that case, the game seems to suggest that someone interested in hunting, fishing, beer and porn necessarily has to have some sort of deep seated psychological problems.

      Regardless, though, I sure do like the pretty pictures.

  9. Pijama says:

    Didn’t get the same impression – it struck me more as thinly-veiled existential pretentiousness really…

    I kinda expected something akin to Ergon/Logos after the “character commentary”, so to speak – but nah, didn’t work for me.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      I am so alone. Maybe I can pay some hookers to enthuse about this game with me.

    • The Innocent says:

      We love you Quinns. You’re not alone. Don’t turn out like the hunter in Norrland!

      I’m torn on this one though. I usually enjoy Cactus’ work, but I really don’t know how I feel about this. To be frank, it felt like there were some missed opportunities in forming the “point” here. Sure, let’s say that it’s about how we dehumanize and mock the “lower” classes, but isn’t the game also doing that? At what point was the hunter made out to be anything other than a half-wit bumpkin? And I never felt like I was laughing along with the joke — I felt badly for the guy. Maybe I just haven’t figured it out yet.

  10. The Army of None says:

    That was pretty interesting. Pretty terrible in a great sort of way. Definitely am glad that I played through it.

  11. Weylund says:

    I don’t think the game is about dehumanization or mocking. I think it’s about how we all have something deeper. Even this perfectly awful person has a soul, and one so torn with conflict that a series of dreams drives him to kill himself – and in a slow, thoughtful way. The man carries a gun and yet chose to hang himself.

    I think the fact that so few people get it, judging from the comments here and elsewhere, is exactly Cactus’ point.

    • Sander Bos says:

      “The man carries a gun and yet chose to hang himself.”

      For realz, you derive meaning from him not choosing the gun as his means of suicide?

      Somebody should sent this game to Roger Ebert immediately….

    • Weylund says:

      For realz, I do. I think it takes a special kind of self-hatred to find the right tree, rig the rope, make sure the branch will hold your weight, and hang yourself, especially when the gun is right there.

    • Larrikin says:

      Agreed. It’s amazing how I didn’t think anything of every single dream being humiliating, I just took it in stride. We acted like an awful human being, we fucked corpses and pissed on ants, and it just seemed…logical that we’d have such vicious dreams when we finally took a break from tromping about the forest. That the dreams got worse made sense for me personally as well, as the frustration I felt from the monotony of our day and the nightly shaming took me from being a pacifist and running by deer to just blowing their heads off. By the end of the game, I was frustrated and really did hate us, so well done Cactus?

      That pissing minigame is still absolute bollocks though. It took entirely too long and makes me think he actually offed himself because of some weird STD. Bad times.

    • Sander Bos says:

      @Larrikin Actually the pissing game is the only later game that is actually easy, as soon as you realize that you should just *hold* the ‘z’ key, not tap it.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Haha. You know, in the pissing minigame you can just hold down Z and pee normally. The minigame ends in a few seconds if you do that.

  12. Sander Bos says:

    Note to Treyarch:
    You should consider adding some weird ass survey with some vague hidden meaning (bonus points if there is actually no hidden meaning and it’s just b*llsh*t) to your next game COD:WTFBBQ.
    That way RPS will welcome your game as the next coming of Christ (you can expect quotes like ‘This moment was my single favourite bit of gaming in all of 2011′).

    I never thought I would say this. But can we have more Minecraft coverage please.
    Also, Super Meat Boy is out on PC, whose first boss made me want to kill myself (playing on XBox 360) by the way, to stay on topic.

    • Wilson says:

      @Sander Bos – In fairness, this is only one of RPS, and I expect they would be quite pleased if the next COD did try any kind of weird ass vaguely meaningful sequence at some point in the game. And something like ‘my single favourite bit of gaming’ is always going to be subjective. Even if you don’t find this stuff particularly moving, I don’t see why you need to insult it. I’ll happily take a mix of news about the latest shooters and comments on odd arty games (which may or may not be naff) above nothing but po-faced “this is the latest game, you shoot men in it” posts.

    • Quasar says:

      So you’re not a fan of the ‘games can be art’ argument. That’s fine.

      I, for one, enjoy these posts – I read RPS not only for the wit, charm and intelligence on display, but also for the in-depth analysis of a ten second portion of a totally obscure indie game that I would never have come across. I consider my horizons* expanded.

      *Horizons? Horizii? Who can say.

    • Sander Bos says:

      @Quasar I actually do think games can be art (for instance based on the ‘hundreds of artists making art means its result must be art’), but I would rather point to Braid or Portal as good examples.

      I also like the more quirky games, otherwise I would not frequent this site.

      However, I also think that pretentious bullsh*t should be called out as such, and I do not think this game does not have redeeming qualities or should ‘make you think’. I guess my strong reaction comes from me not understanding why other people would find it interesting, although actually the more direct reason was that I was pissed off that somebody coaxed me into wasting time on this (maybe that is part of the art piece, see how many people we can get to waste time on this).

    • Face says:

      Yo Sander and others,

      I agree with these guys, you’re totally wrong. Awesome articles today, guys! I SO LOVE RPS RIGHT NOW!

    • Wilson says:

      @Sander – I can see how you’d be pissed off at having spent time playing this if you didn’t get anything from it. I was probably on the edge of being utterly bored with it when it ended. Also, I wish there were some simple universal criteria for what qualifies as ‘pretentious’, because I think people are often being very subjective when they use the word. It often seems to me that one man’s pretentious is another man’s window into the soul.

    • skurmedel says:

      You don’t have to read these articles you know?

    • Clovis says:

      I’d say getting such a strong reaction is worth something. If you don’t get a few people to claim something is pretentious then you are probably not doing it right. I don’t understand the motivation to attack something like this.

      Anywho, please keep posting this stuff Quinns. I enjoyed going along for the ride. Now back to our regularly scheduled programs.

  13. CMaster says:

    But I did see it coming.
    The talking to himself. The carrying on for days with no seeming purpose. The masturbation.The ending came all of a sudden, and I didn’t necessarily see the game ending with suicide, but I certainly saw the “here is a sad, lonely man” thing.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Morph says:

    Well that was messed up… (and I somehow missed the bit where you can punch a bear).

    The terrible controls, pointless mini-games, etc. made me think it was about how worthless these Swedish hicks are in the eyes of the designer. Made me a bit uncomfortable to be participating in such prejudice. But maybe that wasn’t the intent.

  15. Longrat says:

    The dreams were sort of enough of an indication as to how the game was gonna end. You didn’t need a degree in psychoanalysis to see that this guy was seriously messed up.

  16. Riesenmaulhai says:

    The really love the art-style.

  17. airtekh says:

    Well, that was … weird.

  18. Ricc says:

    Well, I wouldn’t call Norrland GOTY or anything, especially compared to the excellent But That Was [Yesterday].

    To be honest, I saw this one coming from a mile away. Norrland already has a ton of character right from the start. He is an interesting guy with some problems, clearly, but this game is about him. Not about hunting or collecting mushrooms. I’m surprised you came to a different conclusion while playing. There were only so many ways to satisfactorily resolve the tale that Cactus started spinning here.

    That doesn’t make the game less bold, of course. The ending was interesting, but for me Norrland is simply a character study. And no other medium could do anything like this.

  19. jowelli says:

    This game made me think about life. The daily grind of life is made up of bad mini games we play to survive and to break up the monotony we distract ourselves with drugs, masturbation, shooting things, play video games, whatever or hunt like this hunter. The tragedy of the hunter is that he is way to far gone to change and hangs himself. Maybe his entire life he wanted to wrestle a bear and once he got his bear he realized how unhappy he still was. Some people might reflect on their own life after playing this game and see how meaningless their own life is and make a change for the better. So the question is what is your bear…?

  20. Zhan says:

    I don’t know about the dehumanizing thing. I think I couldn’t care about the dude after he fucked a headless deer. That’s pretty human right? You can’t really say I don’t imagine this dude as a person on at least some level if I was able to judge his actions. And about myself making him do things is pretty off too. You can’t start the game without doing all the actions in the room and every event after that is triggered on a scripted spot. So you really only control his movement, shooting and occasional pick up. It was a neat game but I couldn’t get something more out of it.

  21. Nihilille says:

    I think not being Swedish causes you to miss out on a lot of the humor, I am from Norrland and the blunt expressions are pretty hilarious if you can envision them being said with a Norrlandese accent. I really liked it, but after getting raped by not punching wolves accurately enough I couldn’t bother finishing it either.

  22. zipdrive says:

    I found the game very “meh”, especially the ending.
    Maybe it was too-high expectations from Quinns’ build-up, or maybe it’s my mental make-up, but I felt no derision towards the character (who’s “me” in games anyway, right?), didn’t chuckle once during the game and kept expecting something cool, while considering the dream sequences weird and the other mini-games stupid.
    I also went very quickly to the yes-yes-yes flush at the very end and was dumped in the end screen. Can’t say it made me think whatsoever on the worth of life, dehumanization or such subjects.
    Maybe I’m just broken?

  23. Adriaan says:

    The manual bolt cycling of your hunting rifle is awe-some. That is all.

  24. ZIGS says:

    I’d be nice if RPS told us the controls. A simple “Press Z to do shit” would suffice. Just saying

  25. cactus says:

    Thanks for the wonderful review, Quintin! It made my day!

    Sorry to everyone who didn’t like the game. I thought I made it accessible enough for most to be able to find something to enjoy in there, but I guess the choice of using dull gameplay mechanics kind of ruined it for a lot of people.

    Next time I try something similar I’ll put a little bit more focus on entertainment value!

    Thanks for the comments guys!

    • Melonfodder says:

      I think a lot of people on this blog couldn’t appreciate it for not understanding the Swedish stereotype around Norrland. I personally don’t mind the admittedly shallow gameplay because the gameplay couldn’t be in the way of moving the experience forward, one which I found hilarious.

      For others, well, your games aren’t exactly accessible affairs, even in this case – the lack of instructions makes it a little bit hard to understand what to do at times.

    • ZIGS says:

      Do I detect a hint of sarcasm Mr. cactus?

    • Ninjas says:

      I’m glad RPS finally covered this game here. It’s brilliant, and I really appreciate it.

      I wouldn’t take the negative comments very seriously.

      I think appreciating this game takes a degree of empathy, which is something in short supply on the internet.

    • cactus says:

      No sarcasm intended! I’m just a bit Swedish and not completely sure how to avoid false sarcasm detections. It’s really hard to reply to comments about your own stuff. Sorry about being ambiguous, I mean this message literally, but it’s probably gonna sound even worse than my last comment…

    • Premium User Badge

      Saul says:

      Explain the knife, cactus! I loved the game, but I couldn’t get past that point, no matter how hard I tried.

    • cfoust says:

      Too many people react badly to a game that doesn’t entertain them, but that doesn’t mean you should add entertainment at the expense of your vision. Don’t change a thing!

    • Bionic Sheep says:

      i honestly think the game would lose some of its impact if you made it any less obtuse. you did an excellent job. i love this game.

      not ashamed!

  26. Olivaw says:

    This whole existential “dehumanization of the underclasses” thing is all well and good masturbatory nonsense, but it seems like you’re reaching.

    I sincerely doubt the dude who made this was thinking about all of that when he made it.

    Hell, the only thing that really speaks to this game being about ANYTHING is how the hunter’s dreams and his actions got progressively more fucked the further you got into the game. Starting with his dreams being about dying, then his dream about russian roulette, then the fucking of the deer corpse, then his final dream about how he stabs himself, hates himself, and then he wakes up and kills himself.

    And I don’t know that I would ascribe any grand metaphors about dehumanization to it.

    • Clovis says:

      I sincerely doubt the dude who made this was thinking about all of that when he made it.

      So what? Is the point of art to decipher exactly what the author intended? Artists should include explanations of everything they do on index cards next to the piece.

      I guess I failed too. I thought the game ended at the “You disgust me” screen. I couldn’t get it to continue, so I thought that was the end. I found that pretty interesting. I thought maybe it reversed my role as the player. Before I was moving the dude around, but the questions came across as violently addressed at me. But I guess that doesn’t matter since I did it wrong.

  27. realmenhuntinpacks says:

    That was incredible. The aesthetic’s absolutely beautiful.

  28. duncanthrax says:

    The sounds gave me 25 years worth of flashback. Well done!

  29. Brian Manahan says:

    I said it the first time (it got deleted), and I’ll say it again — Pure tripe. This game looks the horrors.

    • noggin says:

      The game was awesome, I enjoyed the aesthetic, the colours, the sounds, the ending…

      For those that didn’t, let’s hope you picked up a smattering of Swedish at least

  30. Hippo says:

    I liked the reloading mechanism. Reminded me of the Biathlon event in Winter Games.

    The rest? Not so much. It was kind of funny, and I got kind of uncomfortable about the questions, but the actual ending was just.. wtf? Was this it? I tried swinging the guy with the cursor keys, just to see if there was more to it, but no, that was it. So what I felt was that my time had been wasted and not much more.

    Whatever. I would have wasted this time anyway as it’s too late to do anything and too early to go to bed, so…

    And in the end, I appreciate being told about it. I’ve played and liked stuff like Passage, Freedom Bridge and that sniper game where you won by not playing (and I won, I’m glad to say). Passage in particular, really worked for me. The moment where “ym efiw deid” really… boom. Couldn’t go on.

  31. Deacon Blues says:

    Another Cactus game where boring lo-fi shit happens for fifteen minutes and then you die for no reason. What a genius.

  32. Dominic White says:

    Poor Quinns. You shoulda known that even mentioning Cactus is asking for a verbal lynching. Either the internet is actually becoming angrier and more reactionary by the day, or the plucky young indie has been really busy running over peoples dogs around the world.

    • Pijama says:

      Reactionary?

      …Damn, now politics are determining tastes too.

      Just for the record, I am pretty much red as can be, yet it didn’t appeal to me.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      I go with the dog theory. This careless driving must stop.

    • poop says:

      I love cactus + his games but dominic your style of defending anything makes me want to loathe them.

  33. Brimstone says:

    This was an amazing article, and I”m sad that i read it before playing the game.
    Don’t let the haters get you down. There’s room for video games to move beyond the literal to make a point

    I think the statements are ‘reactionary’ because they focus so much on ‘if things aren’t explicit, then they’re artsy bullshit’

  34. fuggles says:

    My game ended with some chap holding two fingers up saying “I HATE YOU”. Nothing happened, I presumed that cactus was just having an anti-gay moment to make a point or genuinely felt that way.

    I had to hit Escape to come here and found that I didn’t get the full ending. Still doesn’t make that 25 minutes worthwhile, but probably reflects better upon cactus.

    Having read the interview, I didn’t feel like I was belittling myself at the end, merely answering YES to see what happened. I don’t believe anyone identifies enough with a game, especially one with ‘awful’ graphics to feel this way. Maybe if you used APB to create an accurate you it would be more impactive, but then it’s just a silly game anyhoo.

  35. disperse says:

    I liked it. The visual and audio aesthetic was great. It made me think, a bit, not too much and only took 15 minutes of my time. I don’t really get the hate.

    But is it ert?

  36. lurk says:

    It’s a bad game built around an incoherent message (if there even is anything there underneath it.) Or maybe I just don’t get it? I alt-f4ed when it called me a fag, after all.

    Art games; the only winning move is not to play?

  37. Kazang says:

    Pretty shit game tbh. There isn’t really any point or gameplay it’s just childish shock tactics and bullshit.
    I did “humanize” the character, but I thought he exactly whatever the guy asking the questions at the end did. His life was a waste and he was better off dead. Maybe you missed the part where the character fucks a dead deer Quinns?

    The only interesting aspects were the art style and generally unsettling presentation. The only “point” it seems to make is that people from Norrland are necrophiliac deer fuckers who kill themselves.
    Real high brow art right there.

    The only good thing I could say about it is that it made me ponder over existence in general, but really it doesn’t take much for me to do that. Making any kind of pseudo philosophical existential statement is not difficult.
    If there is any other point or statement worth making it was lost in translation.

    • Dylan says:

      oh I agree
      its easy to make this so lets not respect it
      oh and not recognize any of the unique aspects this game might have brought to the statement its making
      and lets be angry angry people

      you angry person you

    • Kazang says:

      Angry huh? If I don’t like something it doesn’t make me angry. Perhaps you feel different, but for me the emotions that come with disappointment and not liking something much are not the same as anger.

      The ease of the statement is a not a reflection on it’s truth or uniqueness, however I don’t consider this game unique in any particular way, except for the necrophiliac deer fucking that was the first time I’ve seen that in a game.
      It’s the question of the value of and reason behind the statement.
      It’s like saying water is wet, it’s an easy thing to say and it is quite obviously true. But it doesn’t make the statement art, and what is the point of the statement? Even a 2 year old child knows water is wet, there is no reason to say it.

      What is the statement that this game is making? Was this statement of value?
      When making a game that is not in any way “fun” to play and is only making some kind of point, it had better be a point worth making.

      If the point was purely to make the player go “wtf” then yeah this games succeeds at that, but it has no other merit. Existential questions or thoughts are either poorly presented or accompanied by some shock tactic that does more to hurt it that help.
      Like the deer fucking, what philosophical question is this supposed to raise? That having sex with dead animal carcasses may lead or hint to some kind of psychological problem that can eventually lead to thoughts of self loathing and suicide?
      Wow that really is a profound thought and worth making, truly……..

      Weird and fucked up for the sake of it is fine and has it’s place, but when people start musing that this kind of thing has some kind of higher meaning or design it all seems to fall apart and be revealed to be the shallow creation that it is.
      I think this game is a dull but very well presented series of bizarre events that function to confuse, shock and bore it’s audience in equal measure. That in itself is cool and interesting, but it is not some kind of high or profound art, it’s still just a bunch of incoherent weirdness.
      That is the difference between Salvador Dali and some random guy making a phone out of a stuffed cat, being weird and crazy is easy, doing it well and in some way beyond the superficial is difficult.

      The game plays out more like some kind of troll on the audience than anything else. I can imagine Cactus sitting in his room laughing at all the idiots who think his game is some kind of neo opus of philosophical modern art. When he was just making fun of swedish hicks in a bizarre fashion and trying make his audience feel odd while playing.

      What is the profound statement that this game is making, and what makes this game unique in the manner in it which it makes this statement?

    • cactus says:

      The game is not a joke. It’s good that some people take it seriously. If it was meant to be just dragging Swedish rednecks through the dirt, I would’ve definitely chosen a different soundscape, different colors and had no coherent theme in the dreams.

      Here are some of the stereotypical prejudice that Swedish people know about when it comes to people from Norrland:
      -They hunt and spend lots of time in the woods (picking mushroom, berries and fishing)
      -They own cabins and are loners
      -Having sex with animals is legal in Sweden, though there’s no stereotypical zoophile in Sweden, but someone who lives in Norrland may be seen as having less respect for the integrity of animals
      -If you’re out in the woods, you have to do your needs there
      -There’s a lot fewer women than men there, so masturbation is a given
      -The sun either never goes down or never goes up, depending on season, this leads to depression, sleeplessness and consequently suicide
      -They drink lots of beer, because they are lonely and depressed
      -They are simple and dull
      -There’s mosquitoes, wolves and moose everywhere

      You have to take into consideration that when I made this game I had never been to Norrland, which is why I chose to base most of it on stereotypical prejudice. I was invited up there to show my game without the culture center having played it or even knowing what it was about, though they gave me the theme “Norrland”. The game was made to be played in the gallery, so a big part of the idea was to provoke, yes. But that was not the whole idea. The dreams, aesthetic, atmosphere and tone of the game were the things that meant something else to me.

      I created the game pretty instinctively, mostly just trying to give the player a unique experience that he wouldn’t get from any other game. So “I don’t consider this game unique in any particular way” kind of hurts to hear. I don’t think this is a game that has been made before, but I might be wrong as I obviously haven’t played enough games to make that statement.

      What I’m happy with about the game is A) the atmosphere B) that the game creates a notion (for some) that there’s something more to it than what you see at face value C) that it wouldn’t work in any other medium despite being strongly story oriented. Though some might say there’s no story in the game, which I disagree with.

      I’m a big fan of creators who’s work doesn’t throw messages in the audience’s face, because I don’t think everyone wants a message from what they experience. I know that I don’t. I love the feeling of watching a David Lynch movie, and feel that there’s something going on in it that I don’t understand. It creates the sensation that there are things I’m not capable of understanding in this world, and that makes the world a lot more interesting. Even if this is just an illusion, the feeling is still real and that feeling is priceless to me. I’m not comparing the game to a David Lynch movie myself, because Norrland is a lot more straight forward, but I’m glad that I managed to make people feel that there is something deeper in there, and I’m not saying there isn’t. If there’s ambiguity in what the game has to say, then that makes me feel good rather than bad.

      I’m sorry you didn’t like the game. Hopefully I’ll make something you’ll enjoy better in the future!

    • Kazang says:

      I feel I was being a little unfair on you after what you wrote there and think I should narrow down my criticism to be more constructive and less of an arguement.

      When I said the game isn’t unique in any “particular way” I meant that literally, it has no single facet that is unique, no one particular feature that makes it unique.
      The retro aesthetic, the layering effect that is extremely reminiscent of the title sequence to Se7eN, (A David Fincher film, who is in many ways similar to David Lynch in style.) the industrial grating style to the soundscape is also similar to that of both Lost Highway and Se7eN, emphasis on bizarre and grating switches of scene, the subject matter of loneliness, self loathing and suicide. These are all things that have been covered by many different types of art over the years. As such no one part of the game stands out as unique, as a whole it creates something different, but still just a new twist on old themes.

      Being truly unique in a way that is wholly original is nearly impossible. Originality is just undetected plagiarism, so don’t take it as a fault that I personally don’t feel this game is ground breaking in it’s uniqueness.

      Another thing I will say that it’s main fault was an over reliance on the shock factor, it lacks subtlety which is a key factor in what I feel you were trying to accomplish.
      If you bombard the player with weirdness then weird ceases to be weird, it becomes the norm. The dreams don’t start out “normal” and progress to being to bizarre and disturbing, it just starts of strange and gets stranger. The ending didn’t even come as a shock to me as everything preceding it was contributing to desensitising me to the finale.

      Then without the shock the ending losses it’s meaning, becasue it happens suddenly there is no suspense or dread of what will happen, no build up to the crash, it’s just all crash.
      Without either sudden shock or build up of dread or fear the unsettling nature of the aesthetic seems wasted.

      I’m glad I played the game and did enjoy it in the way you enjoy looking back at a messy break up after meeting the girl again later on in life and seeing the horrible person she turned out to be. That’s not a compliment but it’s not a condemnation either.
      I could honestly write a huge article on my thoughts on this game, the reaction to it and it’s potential impact. That in itself is impressive and makes it worthwhile in my opinion.
      Like I did say before, even as weirdness for the sake of weirdness it works just fine and is great for that alone. It’s only when it’s analysed under a more critical set of parameters that it turns out to be something less that what some people make it out to be.

  38. Deoden says:

    Having scrolled straight to the bottom of the page for maximum spoiler-avoidance, can I ask if there’s anywhere else to download this? I live in China, so blogspot is a strict no-go area.

    • Lucifalle says:

      Use a proxy? Tor worked for me back when I lived there. I never had any trouble visiting blogspot/facebook etc via the use of proxy. Then again… I haven’t lived in China for a year, so this might have changed…

  39. DeepSleeper says:

    An indie game?
    About depression and death?

    You don’t say.

  40. womi says:

    The game plays out more like some kind of troll on the audience than anything else.

  41. SquareWheel says:

    I’ll download anything by Cactus.

  42. tAgore says:

    I thought it was really enjoyable, although I did not find the ending especially surprising – I thought cactus did a good job setting up the character’s insecurity and just general mental illness early. What was really pleasing to me was the way he subtly encouraged the player to get into the character’s mindset and fixations via the minigames. As it rapidly became clear that the dreams were the primary indication of progress not any of the mundane waking activities I became more eager to hurry through the waking sections and so they lost their fascination for me, becoming a tiresome chore, but this too mimicked the way the character becomes disenchanted with his own life.
    On the final couple of screens of the waking game, where the character decides to have sex with the carcass, the act came across to me as one of desperation born out of the need to overcome his own desensitization. It also somewhat had the effect of lessening my identification with him, which is why the ending is so brilliant. Forcing the player to respond in first person to the character’s innermost fears about himself creates in the player a moment of empathy where all in a flash the player understands everything that has come before and feels for just a second an inkling of what it might be like to really be in that mental state, having consented to the actions leading up to it.
    Sorry this is a bit rambly. Anyway, I’m solidly with Quintin on this one: this was one of the more enjoyable games I have played this year.

  43. sfury says:

    “There’s noone’s looking…”

  44. Premium User Badge

    Sinomatic says:

    This one completely got away from me, to the point where I was more confused by the ending more than anything. I don’t think it engaged me enough for me to see the connection between the dreams etc……actually I think the aesthetic and mechanics of it distracted me from it, to be honest. I also felt I was missing out on some cultural relevance, which, reading above, I was.

    Its annoying, because reading other people’s thoughts on it and looking back at the game in hindsight actually makes the whole experience a lot better, obvious even…..but it just didn’t strike a chord with me whilst I was playing.

    Probably doesn’t help that I’d just come out of playing dungeoneer, so maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to begin with.

  45. Helm says:

    This is not a bad game. It is not worth derision. It’s worth our time. However if this is the most striking videogame moment in a whole year, then games aren’t doing anything too interesting.

  46. Dylan says:

    I agree with you Quinns

  47. Premium User Badge

    toastmodernist says:

    comments section is pretty depressing sometimes.

    V. interesting game.