We Are Spies, We Will Thrill You: Gravity Bone

I haven't drunk for literally a day. It's amazing.

Poisoned Sponge urged me to play this. I now urge you to do likewise. It’s from Blendogames (aka Brandon Chung), built on the Quake-2 derived KMQuake2 engine and is intellectually a cross between Hitman, No-one Lives Forever and Team Fortress 2, with a big splash of arthouse gibber. It’s also the wittiest game I’ve played since… World of Goo? Yeah, sounds right. And best of all, prominently features music from much-beloved-by-RPS-film Brazil. Get it here and play it – and remember F6 is Q2’s quicksave for the jumpy bits – and a little bit of spoiler-heavy analysis beneath the cut.

Seriously, you’ve played it? Wasn’t that just delightful. And incredibly confident. And even surprisingly polished – a tad buggy around the edges, occasionally – but slickly picks up the lessons of other games and runs with them. The TF2-esque information dumps via the environment were particularly well done. Yeah, first-person platforming, but we’ll forgive that, eh?

And it’s really beautiful and lively and full of individual moments which all too many mainstream games couldn’t match. Particular favourites? The cigarette smoking in the chase sequence. The open-air party with dozens of planes flying around it. The bit where you fall onto the table and everyone’s just staring at you. And, of course, the ending…
I do tend to get on tables like this when drinking too. And people stare. Yes.
And it’s… okay, this is veering into pretentious territory, as I’ve got no idea of the creator’s intent. Theory says that doesn’t matter, but if the reason that the game’s as brief it is something as simple as “Yeah, got bored with it” or “Gonna do future episodes” this may fall apart. But as is…

Well, one of the interesting things about Gravity Bone is that while it’s a short-form game, it doesn’t act like a short-form game. If a game’s going to be this small, you can tell – in that the skills are introduced immediately and you’re kind of left to it. Instead, Gravity Bone takes the mainstream videogame structure of slowly introducing skills. It makes you think it’s going to go on. I mean, if they’re giving you these skills one at a time and gradually broadening what you can do… well, why would they do that if they’re not going to continue? Hell, when you pick up all the equipment that’s available, it fills in slots 1, 2 and 4. What’s in 3? Clearly something’s going to be in 3? That’s what games have taught us.

Except, no, the game just ends with the hero being shot and falling, flashbacking to his doom. It’s kind of plays the opposite gag of You Have To Burn The Rope. That says upfront all that this is all that it’s going to be. This implies it’s going to be something else, but… well, no it’s not. The hero could always be shot before his adventure starts, and the illusion of games arc is always that – just an illusion. Yeah, Gravity Bone does it with enough joy to avoid any sense of cynicism, but the point’s there beneath all the bonhomie.

But putting aside whether I’m onto something there or not, there’s much to admire here. It’s an indie art game whose main effect is to delight you at every turn, displaying an enormous amount of craft in every part. About as Highly Recommended as I Highly Recommend anything.

88 Comments

  1. Dorsch says:

    We need more 3d indie games. Certain things work far better in 3rd dimension. Hopefully some of these free engines will catch on.

  2. Powersaurus says:

    I enjoyed this. For me, the first level nailed the feeling of being in a (reasonably) crowded room like no other game I’ve played.

    In the second level I thought I’d lost somehow when I got shot and was about to reload when it continued. It reminded me of the “you have to lose vs this boss because you’re going to get ‘captured’ situations that I am usually wrong about, so it was nice to be doubly-wrong.

  3. Bob Arctor says:

    Awesome. The dropping into the party was like “The Ship” should have ended up like.

  4. Bob Arctor says:

    Anyone got any links to Batista 2 and any other Abels that are worth playing through which aren’t Fileplanet?

  5. Bob Arctor says:

    link to blendogames.com

    Ah got it. Sorry for spam. ¬_¬

  6. dishwasherlove says:

    I laughed out loud at the first flashback in the ending.

    All I can say is “FUND IT!”

  7. jay says:

    Wow, that’s really taking his stuff to the next level. Great vibe, too much fun.

    Kieron, I’d recommend checking out some of his earlier stuff like Grotto King and Barista 2, to see where Gravity Bone (awesome name) is coming from. The whole Barista series is worth checking out. Some of his earlier work is less polished but he’s always been very creative, clever and always fun. He’s always made short form games and it’s a form that suits him.

    People calling this pretentious have forgotten how to have fun and have lost their sense of humour. Delightful and confident as was said.

    That mission accomplished screen…I think I’ll replay it just to check the bonuses.

  8. Arathain says:

    That was perfectly lovely.

  9. Bhazor says:

    How exactly is something so funny and so dang cute being called pretentious?

  10. Hypocee says:

    BTW, TFOP – Super Mario Galaxy contains a JRPG hand-off-chewing ‘bittersweet’ ‘fairy tale’ with a ‘surprise’ ‘twist ending’ full of ‘pathos’. The levels still know what they’re doing; the story has finally succumbed to the world outside of Nintendo.

    • DrazharLn says:

      I want to call spam, because this doesn’t make any sense, but there’s no advertising…

      I think I’m having a knowledge fail.

  11. jonfitt says:

    That was good. The engine hampered it a bit, mouselook speed had my head spinning, and the use hitboxes were fiddly, but it was a surprising gem.

    I knew there was something fishy with: “Passionless Moments”, loved the smoking in the subway, and the ending.

  12. adem says:

    Very simple looking graphics, but still quite beautiful and very atmospheric. Love the blockhead style too.

  13. The Hammer says:

    Grotto King was… interesting. Not being able to look up and down was quite weird (What is this, Doom?!), but it was fun. Neat progression, and it was quite entertaining to chase a giant eyeball about.

    (Seems the birds are a motif, too!)

  14. Captain Captain says:

    How do I make this run at 1920×1200?

  15. mrrobsa says:

    @Captain Captain:

    I was looking for that too! It’s in there, you just have to keep clicking through the different resolutions. I think it has the 4:3 and 16:10 resolutions grouped together.

  16. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Chick interviews Chung.

  17. Pfhaust says:

    I had the fantastic opportunity to work with Brendon, and he’s definitely one of the best in the business. Watch out for more stuff from him!

    Also, Brendon (and his work) are anything but pretentious. :)

  18. Brendon Chung says:

    Wow, thanks for the feedback everyone. It’s cool that a game made from a 10+ years old engine can cause such a long discussion : )

  19. Ziv says:

    I really thought this was a full (well not 12 hours but a copule of them yeah) game and tried to up the settings to my res which made the game freeze every time, at the end I gave up and just played the game, I had to come back to the review to make sure that I didn’t do something wrong and that it is the end of the game.

  20. Lilliput King says:

    I honestly adored this, once of the best games I have played all 2009.

    Ho ha he ha he ho.

    But seriously, it was great. What I found immensely interesting, though, was how good it looked – it really was visually stunning, and the only graphics options I changed were the resolution and the anistropic filtering. And this engine is how old, now? 6 years? It made me think. I mean to say that certainly photorealism in our graphics is going to be great, but how much of it is down to the developers in terms of offering us an actual visual style?

    Also thank you very much Mr Brendon Chung seeing as you are looking at these :D

  21. jay says:

    @Brendon
    It’s not about what you use, it’s how you use it! :D

    Thanks for all your games over the years, I’ve always been really impressed by what you achieve in them.

  22. henrietta says:

    Couldn’t initialize OpenGL renderer!
    Creation of the window/context set-up Failed!

    What does this mean and what can I do to fix it?

  23. HiphopHitler says:

    Interview with Brendon I ran across:
    link to fidgit.com

  24. Gnarlyducks says:

    Trying Barista 2 now.

    Can anyone explain the skull puzzle? Nothing i say seems to help me progress?.

  25. Grandstone says:

    Ask the skull about love, gnarlyducks.

    Mr. Chung, awesome job on Gravity Bone. I’d love to play a longer game in this style, or at least a second installment.

  26. Grandstone says:

    Sorry for the double post:

    I have only one complaint: would a title screen where I could futz with the graphics settings have been so bad? Or was it impossible for some reason?

  27. Grandstone says:

    Triple post extravaganza!

    Is it possible to get “The Puppy Years” to work on Steam versions of HL1?

  28. Pattom says:

    Does anyone recognize the movies referenced in the four flashbacks? I know the first is from The Godfather, but I’m afraid I can’t place the last three.

  29. Graham says:

    Very good thank you, I did enjoy that. : )-

  30. espy says:

    The first level is brilliant :D Very nice style, great setting, deserves to be explored further. Reward cutscene is brilliance. Clients pleased! Loved the NOLFiness of the whole thing. Great style. Bonus points for the use of “Brazil” for the chase scene :D

    Moar!

  31. A-Scale says:

    Just played it. Absolutely blew my mind. Anyone who claims pretension is a bumbling idiot. The game references The Godfather for comic relief, for Pete’s sake. Rarely am I ever so moved by a game. I felt ABSOLUTELY at home in the atmosphere, I felt everything was laid out beautifully, and as to the 3d platforming, I actually screamed when I flew off the rooftop because I was running too quickly in stage 1. I became that character more quickly than any game in recent memory. This is art. This is not pretentious art that tries hard to make its point. It is a flawless, effortless piece of mastery that does everything just right.

  32. Garreett says:

    That could have been…so much better, if it was longer.

  33. Azshiris says:

    I find it interesting that people take this as a game and thus judge it as such, which I think is where all the ‘pretentious’ comments come from. Although I was slightly primed from the start to expect a non-game, after playing it I felt that I had just played the next level in interactive fiction. My interpretation is that the game is designed to tell a story and nothing else. It’s an enjoyable 5 minute piece of fiction that you just happen to play through rather than read over a coffee. I just knew before the ending sequence that something cool was going to happen just by the fact that there was a lone dame reading a particular book…

  34. PHeMoX says:

    “I wonder if people released Super Mario Bros today people would be critiquing Miyamoto for the whole vicious mushroom thing being pretentious.””

    Lol, when it comes to his influence, he’s definitely at least partly responsible for a quite large generation of virtual “shroomers”. Some might actually think drugs is cool because of Super Mario.

  35. scundoo says:

    And it’s… okay, this is veering into pretentious territory, as I’ve got no idea of the creator’s intent. Theory says that doesn’t matter, but if the reason that the game’s as brief it is something as simple as “Yeah, got bored with it” or “Gonna do future episodes” this may fall apart. But as is…

    The author was referring to himself when talking about pretention.

    anyway,
    fps jumping… ugh, at least it was easy
    amazing art and overall feel
    clipping made it hard to move around at times
    the ending was a bit silly, but fun too

    Please make a sequel mr. Chung! And give us a pistol!

    tools and cameras are so HL1… good old firearms is what the people want.

  36. Buddha says:

    Here’s what I thought:

    The graphics are pretty unique although not anything mind-blowing. Considering the engine used to create this, the graphics are forgivable. I thought the sound effects were very good and enjoyable. The puzzles were pretty simple. The platforming wasn’t anything too hard (I got through it in one try). The game was very short. Overall it was an interesting experience. The ending kinda sucked, though. I don’t enjoy being shot in the face without being able to do anything about it. I wish it was more open-ended, less scripted. An alternative ending would have been nice. Still pretty good for a freeware indie game. I recommend those who have not done so already to check it out!

  37. Tyab says:

    A friend of mine told me to play this. I had never heard of it before. I playd it dozens of times, crying more and more every time. Then i went to see what other people were talking about it. Some say it’s crap others say it’s art. For me this game pressed more buttons than any other i’ve playd before. What am i missing? Is this the only ending? Could i have avoided this? Why every time i get to the end tears run from my eyes? Why cant i change anything? Why do you have to do this? Didn’t we love eachother? Why does it have to be like this? No matter how much i tried, I couldnt change anything. Did she at least remember me? Or worse: Did she? Was it my fault? This little game messed up with me so much, i didnt even read any of those worshipping reviews before playing.