The Games Of Christmas ’10: Day 4

By RPS on December 4th, 2010 at 12:04 pm.

The fourth window on our advent calendar shimmers like a hallucination, giving off a smell of blood and the faint groan of distorted guitars. Is it even really there, or are we just scratching at the wall? No, wait, it’s open now. What sordid madness is back there…


It’s… Space Funeral!

Quinns: As usual, this year saw RPS playing whack-a-mole with hundreds of wonderful freeware indie games. How that works is that these games show up, frequently delivered to us by the talented individual who made them, and we have to post about them before they sink below the soil of our conscious memory.

But I couldn’t forget Space Funeral if I wanted to. This is a rare game. It’s stuck in my head like a neon splinter, and I’m the happier man for it. If I had to pick one freeware game of 2010 to receive a budget and be reimagined as a full-length title, Space Funeral would be it.

What is Space Funeral? Space Funeral is surreal, and that’s not an adjective so much as it is a categorisation. Space Funeral is surreal in the same sense that Mario Bros. is a platformer. You play Mario for the thrill of jumping across gaps and onto enemies. You play Space Funeral for the visit to the steak farm where steaks gambol and slouch around inside a holding pen, or for the bit where you pay a visit to a town called Malice, which has MANY GOODS and CRIMINALS.

And you do this to a soundtrack sourced entirely from amazing avant-garde music.

You play this game for its strangeness and humour, its characters and its dialogue, and that’s it. And yet despite having almost nothing going on mechanically, Space Funeral achieves a certain richness in its world- you’re rewarded with pleasant oddness for every single character you talk to, and almost every fight you have.

John was talking yesterday about Just Cause 2, and how he loved it whenever it wasn’t busy trying to be a game. There are loads of AAA games with this problem, games with interesting ideas which insist on wedging them between huge chunks of tried-and-tested game design. Another example from this year is Singularity. I wanted more time travel, mysteries, reveals and set-pieces, and I groaned out loud every time the game dissolved into another lengthy manshoot.

Space Funeral is rare because it never feels this need to be a game. It’s built in RPGMaker, but what it does is take the entire JRPG format, from towns and item shops to battles, and then treats it with the sort of workmanlike disdain you’d expect to see in a busy butcher. In the hands of Space Funeral, the enormous body of the JRPG is laid out, flipped over, comprehensively gutted, and then you and the game set sail in it. As much as Braid re-imagines the platformer or Portal the FPS, neither of them disembowel their genre quite as fiercely as Space Funeral. Braid and Portal apply their genius to making great games. Space Funeral doesn’t, at all. It just wants to have fun.

Space Funeral has dungeons, but they’re amusingly short and largely ironic. There are battles, but they’re mostly a cakewalk. Space Funeral keeps only enough danger to keep you nervous (there is a game-over screen, and you’ll probably be seeing it), and then spends the rest of its time painting its ideas and dialogue onto the empty husk of the genre. And what ideas. What dialogue.

Your character is a twitching, shambling figure called Philip who never stops crying for the entire duration of the game. Rather than being cast out of town in the traditional JRPG style, Philip has been banished from his parents’ house for reasons unknown, still wearing his pyjamas. Some ways down the road you meet a horse with no head called Leg Horse, who’s on his way to the City of Forms. You decide to travel together, and on the way the pair of you end up riding a raft down Blood River, finding a grumpy genie in a penny mine, and even meeting Dracula.

It should be fairly obvious at this point that Space Funeral won’t be for everyone. If the game’s main menu (with its three options of BLOOD, BLOOD and BLOOD) doesn’t raise a smirk, you’re probably in for a slightly pointless 45 minutes. But I can’t help but see Space Funeral’s uncompromising tone as inspiring. Videogames have gotten into this habit of trying to please either casual gamers or hardcore gamers, with no distinction beyond that. It’s no good. A game, even a free one, that is developed under the knowledge that only a fraction of people will “get” it is an embarrassingly rare occurrence.

Wouldn’t it be nicer to live in a world where games don’t shy away from being as stupid, offensive, smart or strange as they please, and then go racing towards their target audience like hungry sharks? On the subject, I saw someone in the RPS comments the other day describing Space Funeral as a “hipster RPG”, which I guess I agree with. You’ve got the subtle grammar abuse, the ironic-bad MSPaint art and the sourcing of massively obscure music. Still, describing anything as a hipster game struck me as weird, because games don’t get marketed at hipsters. With the exception of games for kids and teenage girls, games don’t get marketed at anyone, nor do they get categorised as “for” anyone. They just get marketed, they’re just for “gamers”.

Space Funeral is rare because it is for someone. It’s for the hipster, the Achewood reader, or the lover of the surreal. And to the state the obvious, the territory of strangeness in videogames is still depressingly unmapped. For every The Void or Zeno Clash, or even every STALKER or Half-Life 2, we get a hundred games with reassuringly familiar fantasy or sci-fi settings. It’s a problem. Space Funeral isn’t just the weirdest game of 2010, it’s one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played.

Space Funeral is a rare game because it has quite a good ending.

Space Funeral is a rare game because it makes me laugh. A lot. In a year where gaming’s contained less surprises and more disappointments than usual, that’s very welcome indeed.


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65 Comments »

  1. Henke says:

    I’m gonna have to DOWNLOAD and PLAY!

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Do it, do it so good~

    • Alexander Norris says:

      I can’t help but notice that Quinns is writing about Space Funeral instead of writing Journey of Saga.

      *cough*

      >.>

    • RadioactiveMan says:

      I can’t help that he is writting about this, and not finishing the saga of onionbog.

    • Jhoosier says:

      I second RadioactiveMan. Either finish it or get off the bog and had it over to someone else to do. Pretty please, with sugar on top?

      Also, going to have a look at Space Funeral. Sounds fun.

    • Henke says:

      It took me a good hour but I finished it. Yes that was good. Good music. Some good dialogue, especially the conversation with Dracula. Great ending. Not my free indiegame of the year though. That title goes to Tricky Truck.

      edit: and hey, the music is available as mp3s and midi files in the “Music” folder so you can just put this stuff in your mediaplayer-of-choice and rock out. :D

  2. UW says:

    Awesome. I’ll get to playing this right now.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    Quinns!! You must LIST these ‘disappointments’ so that we may READ of them and have our opinions VALIDATED and/or CHALLENGED.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      I’m afraid I’m going to give you the short answer instead. Basically, this year our Games of Christmas feature had much, much more room for indie games.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Well that’s not disappointing at all for me. It just validates Notch’s point about the big publishers making room for indies on the PC.

      Indie != better, necessarily, but there’s a trend towards it, and that I like.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Weird, for me this year has had lots of big releases I enjoyed and less indie games. And I was one of those who really didn’t like Bad Company 2. Still, it’s more fun reading a different opinion to my own. Who wants to read someone who they agree with? That’s boring! RPS have changed my mind many times before and I’m sure they with continue to.

    • Oozo says:

      Being in the process of putting together my own best-of list, I so, so very much know what you mean here, Quinns. All the more looking forward to the rest of the Games of Christmas.

    • Mcm says:

      It’s not that developers are giving more room on the PC to indies or anything, it’s just that the AA games released on PC all sucked this year.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Well I can think of K&L 2, Alpha Protocol the Arma 2 add on, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Civilisation 5, Supreme Commander 2 and Fallout New Vegas. That’s just off the top of my head. As for indie titles I can’t think of any this year. Found Minecraft to be alright, but not brilliant and far from finished. I did buy the Kings Bounty that came out recently after RPS recommended it, but it was pretty damned awful in my opinion.

      Edit – Also Metro 2033 which turned out to be one of the best games I’ve ever played.

  4. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Someone explain Achewood to me.

    • Koozer says:

      I just read 6 of them. What…is it?

    • poop says:

      occasionally funny long running comic that has about three strips that are good out of context and a billio more that “you just gotta read to find out about”. I guess, I havent read any of it aside from the ones with the little kid and the one with a dirtbike

    • Shazbut says:

      I’ve read all of them, except the premium content. It’s very character based, except early ones which are far more surreal. Plenty contain hip cultural references that almost no-one will get, but plenty are far more accessible. Stories with Roast Beef or Ray tend to be the most directly accessible. Try selecting story arcs from the list at the bottom.

      At best, it’s up there with the greatest comics you can mention. At worst, it’s impenetrable

    • Gregorix says:

      Ahhh… but when it is good – it is brilliant – the “The Mountain and the Motorcycle” is awesome and the best single page of comic action you’l see, and the “Great Outdoor Fight” is polished, and full of deeper meaning; or just a cracking tale of anthropomorphic critters beating the hell out of each other

    • RCGT says:

      Achewood is basically a very long form character-based graphic novel disguised as a lowly webcomic. A lot of the jokes are more like amusing insights into life or the characters. It’s not for the easily-distracted. That said, if you start reading from the beginning, you may grow to love it.

      Realize that this is a webcomic whose creator maintains blogs for each of the characters, in-character AND up-to-date with the events of the strip. Awesome.

    • RCGT says:

      For example:

      Out of context, this strip is good for a “meh”. Knowing that Roast Beef (the character in the strip) has been struggling with intense depression and low self esteem due to a terrible childhood, finally found a girl who accepted him and married him, and has been helping him to get over his issues (buying him an anti-depression lamp) makes the strip pure win.

      http://www.achewood.com/index.php?date=11052010

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Achewood is my absolute favorite webcomic of all time. The strip RCGT posted had me literally choking on laughter when I first read it.

      That being said, I find Achewood either makes a case for itself incredibly persuasively, or it doesn’t. It’s something I avoid recommending because I never really know where to start, and it really isn’t for everyone. When I do venture to recommend it I usually just tell people to either do what I did, which was start with the Great Outdoor Fight storyline (hey it hooked me) or to start at the first story arc, The Party, which does a decent enough job of setting up all the characters in their more or less current incarnation.

      Basically though, just go at it. Jump in, start reading some. If you don’t find something that piques your interest or tickles your funny bone in say five strips or so, then you probably won’t. You can feel fairly safe moving on knowing that you probably aren’t missing anything that’s going to be of particular interest to you.

    • Moth Bones says:

      I just started at the beginning and carried on; it’s frequently very funny, sometimes achingly (ha!) poignant and almost always thoughtful. And the art style is exquisite.

      Re Space Funeral; I downloaded but couldn’t get it working. I’ll probably have another go, cos it sounds like a lot of fun.

    • Eschatos says:

      I found Achewood very hard to get into, but one time when I was bored I read through the entire archive in a few days and fell in love. It’s brilliant and absurd. I find myself enjoying even the strips that aren’t remotely funny.

  5. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I still haven’t gotten around to playing this, which I find happens a lot with these indie trinkets; upon seeing Quinns’ Norrland post I thought “yeah, I’ll give that a quick bash” right click save-as “norrland.zip already exists, overwrite yes/no?” oops.

    Still the trailer introduced me to Les Rallizes Dénudés and made me realise there was a noise-shaped hole in my life, for which I’m ever grateful.

  6. Navagon says:

    This game is a perfect example of perfection. Except… it’s too late for you!

  7. poop says:

    this game owns but I couldnt be bothered beating it when i died after the blood raft, how close am I to the end?

    • Navagon says:

      The blood raft isn’t too far from the end. Try using blood and the coffins more often. Oh and don’t forget to pimp out your team with the new equipment they pick up along the way. Apart from that poison thing that is.

  8. terry says:

    I am ashamed to not have played this until now.

  9. Vague-rant says:

    Ah. This is what I was hoping from the games of Christmas list. Hidden gems that I’d missed throughout the year rather than reassurance of my own opinions. Will play (eventually).

  10. Tusque d'Ivoire says:

    sounds wonderful, and has somehow escaped my gaze this past year.

    Keep the indie weirdness coming! Go Indie Lagoon!

  11. vanarbulax says:

    The all-knowing Quinns has spoken, I must now play.

  12. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Really gotta get around to trying this one out…

  13. Devenger says:

    Can you actually load saves you’ve made in this game? I never worked out a way of doing so when I played it, then died. On the other hand, the game is TECHNICALLY easy – I died for making the stupid conversation choices, to see what happens.

  14. a says:

    I love you hipster-Quinns. Downloading.

  15. Napalm Sushi says:

    Well damn.

    Blast.

    And fuck.

    I just get crashed out at startup with the same DirectDraw error (DDERR_EXCEPTION) that I get with all RPGMaker games. I’ve now missed out on Super Columbine Massacre RPG, Dungeoneer and Space Funeral because of this.

    Does anyone know what’s wrong here and how to fix it? pretty please?

  16. Peter says:

    Oookay. That was…odd. The ending was excellent, though, I have to agree.

  17. Guy says:

    @Devenger:

    You load saved games by choosing the second “BLOOD” option from the main menu.

  18. MechanicalPen says:

    @Napalm Sushi:

    The internet says the DDERR_EXCEPTION is caused by running rpg maker games in fullscreen on certain operating systems. Hitting F4 while Space Funeral is starting will make it run in a window.

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      I’m afraid that had no effect, but after affixing a peg to my nose and plunging into the bowels of the infonets, I solved it. Apparently, I have to disable the “Catalyst A.I.” feature on my graphics card. As problems and their fixes go, it’s at least less baffling than when my Wacom tablet stopped Bioshock from working.

      Thank you nonetheless.

  19. MarkN says:

    I managed to miss this somehow first time. Will rectify ASAP. Sounds properly bonkers, and that’s one of my favourite things.

    Thanks.

  20. Inglourious Badger says:

    Haha, that was brilliant! Great music. Funny dialogue. It felt like playing through an episode of the Mighty Boosh, I thought. Thanks for the recommend

  21. badvibration says:

    Definitely my second favorite free game of the year, I believe i heard about it from here too… so THANKS!!!!

  22. Brian says:

    I’ve really been wanting to play this for a while, but I’m having a major error with my game. Some of the arrow keys won’t function, so my character can’t move down or right. Is anybody else having this error

  23. geldonyetich says:

    Alas, my initial foray into Space Funeral was cut short by the blood Wizard drinking me to death and me not realizing the necessity of saving the game at any point.

    • terry says:

      Same here, alas. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But then, I was also going out of my way to get into battles, because that music is SO GOOD.

  24. Wizlah says:

    “And to the state the obvious, the territory of strangeness in videogames is still depressingly unmapped. For every The Void or Zeno Clash, or even every STALKER or Half-Life 2, we get a hundred games with reassuringly familiar fantasy or sci-fi settings. It’s a problem. ”

    in essence, I’m guessing, the cause of so much of quinns consternation concerning fallout: new vegas. Which is not to dig up that old corpse and hump it till one chafes, but …

    y’know, I’ve just been watching that al murray documentary on germany, aka a whistle stop of german romanticism and its importance, and I’m thinking that the reason I was so drawn to ass guild 2 was the possibility of not just exploring renaissance florence (and all the rest) but also exploring the idea of renaissance of florence. STALKER: SoC will live with me till I die because of the first few hours of exploration, a mood that made even more sense when I went back to two of its sources.

    It’s not just that we need more weird shit. we need more weird shit that’s interested in exploring things and places and concepts. so, if you will, weird shit with atmosphere which in turn compels you to dig further in whatever manner the game allows. Grim Fandango comes to mind as I type that. Yes, it needs to be married with sound mechanics, but I don’t care how many times my choices have consequences if the people I’m dealing with in the place I’m meant to be exploring aren’t interesting. and that’s not a dig at Fallout: New Vegas specifically (not played it, so I can’t comment).

    The Al Murray thing makes me realise something else that we could do more of in gaming. A serious bit of thinking about architecture. It’s not for nothing that STALKER spoke to so many in the east – I can’t remember the comment or the blog (probably had something to do with Jim Rossignol), but I recall someone saying that seeing the architecture they’d grown up with in the soviet union so convincingly imagined drew them in and really spoke to them. Likewise, Half-Life 2′s city has a very distinctive feel to it, pulling you further into the world. compare it to the generic spaciness of, Mass Effect 2, which can’t be said to have any really unique visual tropes going on, just well-executed familiar land and spacescapes.

    None of this has anything to do with space funeral. but that’s what the article made me think of, so I figured it was worth writing down.

  25. Scandalon says:

    Curse you quinns – I just spent X hours (minutes?) playing this. I’m not sure it was worth it. (But I did make it to the end, so I guess that says something?)

    However, that may be that I haven’t played that many hours of (J)RPG’s, so both the mechanics and the strangeness of the setting kept me going…the ending “reveal” was good for a laugh, but was it really worth all the fuss? That much time? Is the whole “living in a perfect world may not be what it’s cracked up to be” idea really explored enough to make any sense? Was someone just high when they made this? (I would be interested in an interview with the author…)

    Also, the general layout/design was a bit confusing, got stuck a few times thinking I had reached area boundaries until I realized “follow the stones even if they’re not in a path” and that some of the things I was looking at were stairs and were navigable…

  26. poop says:

    okay hearing the first couple chords of 20th century boy echo in the distance then having to fight mark bolan is amazing

  27. Kaw says:

    Crashed for me too. Better make that save button think it must be the prettiest girl at the party, getting hit on every minute.

  28. bill says:

    Agreed about games that try too hard to cram in genre-gameplay.

    I though zeno-clash was guilty of that, and I just finished Advent Rising and that was similar. Really needed less of the boring fighting/shooting getting in the way of my fun.
    (those are just the last two games i played – if my brain worked enough to remember any previous games then I’m sure there would be more examples…).

  29. kyyninen says:

    We definitely need more games that take turns players can’t see mile away. This was one of them.

  30. unclebulgaria says:

    Really, REALLY enjoyed this!

  31. Hasslmaster says:

    Does anyone else encounter the UNREADABLE FONT? What do I have to do to get the more readable one from the screenshots?

  32. TheDustin says:

    A game for hipsters? I guess that’s why it’s my favorite RPG of this millenium.

    PLAY THIS

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