A Zoom Of One’s Own: FOC/US

By Adam Smith on December 10th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

I just spent half an hour squinting at my monitor, reading melancholy messages shared between a group of acquaintances. I wasn’t browsing my inbox or Twitter feed – I was playing the imaginative and absorbing FOC/US, a free game created by Felix Park. It’s a dreamlike experience, not in a fantastic surrealist sense, but rather in the way that it reconfigures the mundane. The atmosphere contains something of the claustrophobic oppression of sleep paralysis along with everyday anxieties that stem from love, friendship and money. It begins with a camera with a zoom lens. Next to it, a tiny person lies on the table. Zoom in and speak to him and he reveals the location of the next person. Sad, strange and startling, it’s a wonderful little thing.

I’d suggest you don’t read on at all if you can play now, either in a browser or using the download for Windows, Mac or Linux. I won’t spoil details below, but I do discuss the game’s mood and basic mechanics from start to end.

Originally intended to be part of the seven day FPS jam, FOC/US has been expanded into a cohesive and touching short-form adventure. Each of the characters has only a few lines to say but, when put together, they create a powerful mood and a story I’m glad to have experienced.

It’s also one of the few games that has ever played tricks on my eyes. Invisible without the zoom lens, once spotted, the miniature people stand out, like flecks of dust or dirt, and I’ve suddenly realised how urgently I need to clean my desktop because it looks like there might be a crowd gathering.

A quiet game that uses a single, small location to good effect. It wouldn’t work as well if there was more to see. The brevity and the enclosure are important, right up to the ending, which, without resorting to tacky jump scare methods, deeply unnerved me.

, , .

15 Comments »

  1. CookPassBabtridge says:

    I can’t find Marcelo. He is not on the windowsill.
    As I read that sentence, the more it sounds like the kind of thing you learn in a foreign language class.
    The public library is straight on and then left by the swimming baths.
    Hermann is flirting with Maria. Maria is using the medium of language learning to indicate disinterest.
    These Pimsleur CD’s you downloaded off Pirate Bay would not have been worth £250.

    • Velorien says:

      I had a lot of trouble finding him at first as well. He is definitely there, though, to the right of the middle.

  2. xaphoo says:

    Where’s the guy at the computer? This thing is amazing so far.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Little green felllow on one of the keys in the middle

  3. Azeltir says:

    Alright, how about Elise, who Peter invokes to toss the mouse out into the void? I didn’t get a hint as to where she is.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      There’s someone sitting on the mouse. They say rude words.

      • Azeltir says:

        For others: on the right mouse button, bottom left corner of it.

  4. Stardog says:

    You should know better than to link to a Dropbox…

    • Brumisator says:

      No sith. hundreds of thousands of readers, and you can’t think to rehost it, or ask the dev for a better link?

  5. Ross Angus says:

    Great stuff. I especially liked the “penis” joke.

  6. frightlever says:

    “claustrophobic oppression of sleep paralysis”

    Lovely phrase, but what does it mean? I feel I may be missing out, having never experienced sleep paralysis.

    • fish99 says:

      Apparently your body secretes a hormone while you’re asleep to paralyze your muscles, something to do with when we used to sleep in trees, to stop us falling off, and in some people this paralysis persists briefly (say up to 30 seconds) after waking. So you’re awake, but you can’t move, you can’t open your eyes and you can’t control your own breathing. It feels kinda like being submerged in warm water.

      It’s kinda scary, especially since it seems to require effort to ‘force’ yourself out of that state. Doesn’t happen to me very often though, maybe once per year.

      • frightlever says:

        Interesting! Never heard of that before.

        I was involved in a sleep study at University and over six hours of sleep I covered about half a mile just rolling about.

        • Adam Smith says:

          Only just noticed this! I have severe episodes of sleep paralysis for a few nights every month – no idea what triggers it and I’ve learned to make the best of it, treating it as an interesting experience that doesn’t come with a narcotic price tag.

          It’s a very peculiar feeling and very intense. There’s an awareness of being awake, often with the lingering threads of a dream. For me, they swiftly become nightmarish because whatever the dream was, it’s transposed onto my bedroom – there are doppelgangers and confusions of places I know. And during it all, there’s no way to move and as fish says, a sense of suffocation. And, yeah, it always feels like I have to force myself out of it, which feels like a supreme effort, the sum total of which is usually a sharp intake of breath or a twitch of the finger.

          FOC/US reminded me of the feeling because of the room and the immediate intensity of small features.

          Anyhow!