Melancutey point n’ click adventure. Obsidian glitch museum. Flappybalt.
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Death Paradise by Slimgiltsoul, Sam Kneeland
Pastel point n’ click adventure shimmering with crystal hazy chiptune. Mushrooms grow from your shoulder, an infection or a blessed mutation? But there is no sense of urgency.
Death Paradise feels like taking a walk in the evening on a low dose of acid (I mean real acid, not fake nerd acid). Bittersweet introspective and dreamlike. I feel like I’m watching beautiful puppies cascade like a fluffy waterfall into a vat of forbidden magic.
Scaling the Sky by William Felkner, Chelsea Howe, Michael Molinari
Chill cloud-surfing platformer inspired by Ecco the Dolphin. Rainbows boost you like elevators of prismatic light. Emerging from water pops you upward, good for launching into clouds, and clouds suck you up through their fluffy bodies (Although you can’t enter clouds while you’re in the water. Every cloud-skipper knows this.).
The woman’s animation is so good! You skip happily through the clouds, sinking into them like snow, but when you stop, she rises from the springy cloudstuff with poise, facing the player, hair rippling in the wind.
Nothing To Hide by NCASE
Inverted stealth game where the goal is staying inside the cones of surveillance. The setting is a social media dystopia and you’re the tyrant’s daughter. He poses you online to make himself look good, hashtagging and selfie-ing you to curate the perfect family. And like everything on social media, you only see what the person wants you to see. The Twitter-esque interludes are far slicker than any traditional cutscene.
The protagonist is a scared girl forced to put on a smile as she’s virtually dissected by zillions of people so she’s a pretty good character to identify with. She has big scared eyes.
I like the creepy interdependence of carrying around your own surveillance. I’m interested in exploring how we so often depend on toxic systems, even after recognizing how bad they are. Weaning ourselves away, faking enthusiasm, cooperating with the oppressor–these are all skin-crawling realities.
The music is good too. It has the obvious sinister dystopian vibe but sometimes tender parts as well. I left it on for a few hours while having emotional online conversations with friends and it definitely enhanced the experience.
Xaxi by Orihaus, Lhasa Mencur, Aliceffekt
Xaxi is a “virtual memory palace” created to teach Aliceffekt’s constructed language Traumae (“created for artificial intelligence research”). It is a watery monochrome wasteland full of holograms and glitchy hills.
Some of the hills are infected with that noclip peel-away but you don’t even have to touch them, they’re always falling apart in infinite avalanches of polygonal shards. Instead of obscuring my view, the hills had the opposite effect: they opened up my view to the point of disorientation. The reflective water and black and white environment helps too.
Lonely fragments of HUD float around, like your useless targeting reticule, barely visible, black on black. Xaxi feels like a virtual museum on the decaying hard drive of long-dead alien gods.
I didn’t learn any Traumae but as always I appreciate Orihaus’s singular vision, these void worlds that don’t care about you at all.
Flappybalt by Adam Saltsman
Flappy Bird + Cannabalt.
I like one-button games because I can play them at the most minimal unit of focus, a single digit, which is good if you’re feeling sick or weak or your body is slowly disintegrating into sludge. This purity of focus is concentrated around the antics of a single bird. You flap with Space, and you time your flaps to avoid the spikes, which move every time you successfully hit a wall and score a point. My high score is 25.
It comes from Flappy Jam.
Flappy Bird. Flappy. Flappy Bird. Bird. Flappy. Flappy Bird. Bird Flappy. Flappy. Bird. Flappy Bird. Bird Bird. Flappy Flappy. Flappy Bird.
This Daily Dot article by Aja Romano does a good job of summarizing the phenomenon and collecting good criticism. Intentionality gets erased when marginal people do something. Flappy Bird is obviously popular, but it couldn’t possibly be good on purpose. It has to be ironically, disbelievingly enjoyed. White men do things knowingly, with a wink. Anyone else was obviously the vessel for a hilarious accident.
Kind of amused that experts had to be enlisted to test whether or not it was a “good” game, in the way you’d have a scientist conduct experiments on a mysterious glowing rock from outer space. Everything by outsiders, in this case a man from Vietnam, must be hyper-scrutinized, without ever truly engaging with the original subject. Threaten, laugh at, analyze, apologize over like you’d shout over someone. It happened because the system is designed for spectacle and it doesn’t care what that spectacle is or how it affects the people involved. Nervous mob response swells and dies, waiting for the next person to transform into cultural object.
There is a certain human impulse to look for approval before enjoying something, even in private. Before faving a tweet, I might look at the number of favs so I can understand if it is good or not. If I feel a twinge of uncertainty, glancing at quantified social validation can signal whether the tweet contains some problematic angle that I am unequipped to see. For some games this social process makes sense. If a game takes a long time to play, or costs money, it is nice when someone we trust can evaluate it for us. Flappy Bird takes a few seconds to comprehend. Flappy Bird is free. Flappy Bird is dead.
And like maggots pouring from a corpse, malware-infested clones appear. Like teeth from a saint’s skull, people pay thousands of dollars for a smartphone with Flappy Bird on it. Killing Flappy Bird was the necessary friction to make the virtual (which ordinarily resists friction with its immortal infinite distribution) manifest traits of the physical.