Premature Evaluation: Exanima

Exanima has an unusual relationship to the body. Its physical simulation of every limb creates a greater sense of your avatar as a real tangible object. And yet, at the same time, the fact that you can’t control it with the same instancy as you can your own body actually distances you from the avatar, perhaps to a greater degree than a less nuanced control-scheme might. I feel like comprehensive physics simulation could go through the same sticky patch as motion control did on consoles, where it proved a less efficient conduit between player intent and avatar expression than just pressing a button.

Each week Marsh Davies lurches drunkenly through the dank cloisters of Early Access and brings back any stories he can find and/or spasms like a misfiring physics object caught in a doorway. This week he wobbles and flails in the low-fantasy RPG Exanima, a smaller standalone “prelude” to the Kickstarted open world game Sui Generis.

Exanima isn’t like other RPGs, the Steam store page tells you with some insistence. It’s true for several reasons, but the most obvious is its fully physics-modelled combat which renders close quarters engagements as tense, tactical affairs conducted between two or more appallingly drunk people. Every collision has a physical effect, as subtle or extreme as the speed with which it occurs, and so combat is about caution and timing, dodging incoming swings and finding the time to wind up, directing your weapon in a sweep to connect with your opponent’s most vital areas with the most momentum possible. At least, it’s about these things inasmuch as these things are even possible while piloting someone with a near-lethal blood-alcohol level.

The remote control of avatars in the digital age has done much to tacitly reinforce the longstanding belief in a mind/body duality that we in the West have inherited from the (occasionally self-flagellating) dogma of medieval Christian thought. Christianity is apart from its pagan forebears in stating that God created existence from nothing - thus, in its very first instance, Christianity supposes a realm of mind - God’s mind - which is independent of the material. Then, in the central belief that consciousness persists following the body’s death, we see reason to separate, and denigrate, the body further: the realm of thought is thus the part of man which is made in God’s image, and so closer to perfection. The body is the part that sins and, as some medieval adherents would have it, must then be punished.

Don’t misunderstand – I like the combat a lot. I like the exact match between the observable impact of a blow and the damage that it does, and I love the circumspection that the sluggish control brings. This said, it isn’t always a good a match for the player’s intent, no more than Gang Beasts’ physics-modelled brawls between jelly-baby-men is an exact martial art. In articulating this cumbersome form you feel like a puppeteer rather than a protagonist, and there are kinks and contradictions to the control scheme which can easily and abruptly end your life without much feeling of culpability in that failure. This, combined with the fact that there is no save system whatsoever, makes for a tough game, something for which the devs are unapologetic and which has encouraged a good deal of cock-waving among early adopting Steam reviewers. (That’s figurative cock-waving, by the way, not physics-enabled – though given that the character creator is unabashed about the existence of female nipples, maybe we can hope to see windmilling in a later patch.)

Anyway, given that the game is so uncompromising, I confess that I’ve barely made a dent in it. There are currently three large levels to explore, according to the dev, which will eventually serve as an introduction to another much larger, more open area, as yet unreleased, containing the majority of the game’s content. There’s already a separate arena mode, too, in which players can hone their half-cut combat skills. I should probably spend more time there; my woeful attempts at the main game haven’t seen me get much further than the selection of gloomy corridors in which my character awakes. There is a story here, seeded in the environment, but few more elaborate interactions with the world than permitted by the capricious combat system. Character progression is still a feature in development, along with dialogue. What I’ve experienced feels like the bare bones, but even so, Exanima has got its hooks in me, its austere setting and formidable fighting system creating scenes of farce and fear in equal measure.

Clearly, though, any number of brain injuries and diseases attest to the very precise connection between the physical matter of the brain and the experience of the mind. However, this is not to demystify the phenomenon altogether: I am with the post-Cartesian dualists who say that there is, at least currently, an explanatory gap between brain processes and the subjective experience that accompanies them - consciousness. Perhaps that explanatory gap will one day be closed, but even if the mechanism by which consciousness is physically produced can be described, I don’t see a way in which dualism would not remain linguistically essential to delineating the realm of the subjective from the mechanistic biology that conjures it.

My unnamed character awakes facedown in a grim stone room, lit only by a single burning torch which lies feet from her body. I have chosen an avatar who is a short-arse like myself, but, as I stagger upright, it occurs to me that this is possibly a non-trivial nerf in a physics simulation – just as it is in real life (excepting the field of plane travel, in which I and my burrow-dwelling kind remain distinctly advantaged). Can I run as fast as the big boys? My individual footfalls appear to have significant repercussions to my movement, as I discover when I snag an upturned cart with my ankle and fold over myself like a broken Slinky. Will I be able to swing as far in combat with my tiny, feeble arms? I guess I’ll find out. But, given that it’s easy to scrape an elbow along a wall and stumble to a stand-still, perhaps having a sleek form factor does have its advantages in dungeoneering. Score one for the little folk!

Movement is primarily controlled by the mouse. You click and hold; depending how far away you cursor is, the faster your character will move in a line towards that point, which you can then drag around to modify the speed or direction (or hold shift to sprint permanently). This is a surprisingly tricky system to manipulate under pressure, wobbling boozily through physics-enabled detritus, even more so because the camera will begin to slew of its own volition as you move.

Transhumanists desire the Singularity in which our minds are freed from their profane flesh and uploaded into some digital medium. And yet, much developing science in the field of consciousness and psychology suggests that such an effort would only ever be partial. For one thing, we are not yet aware of what phenomenon creates consciousness - is it really just the product of any complex system? For another, uploading your consciousness would be an act of replication, not a transition which your flesh-mind would itself experience. You, as you experience yourself, would still die - and isn’t that the part most people want to avoid? I personally don’t admire myself so much that I would demand that a clone of my mind be preserved in the Singularity, though I would still dodge death if I could.

You can click and drag nearby objects too, manipulating them. I discover a good first use of this is opening the door to the chamber in which I’ve awoken. I poke around the adjoining corridors and boxy store-rooms, but find no weapons – which is why, when I open one door to a long, brightly backlit corridor and see a shadow loom larger and larger, I immediately slam it closed. The corridor blinks out of sight and whatever thing was marching down it remains sealed within. It seems these enemies don’t do door handles, luckily. I try a different route, ending in a room with a number of workbenches, and find a weapon only when I bump right into it, or rather the bench it is on, sending myself and the machete tumbling to the floor. The game doesn’t give you any help spotting stuff within the environment – you just have to be eagle-eyed, which I rather like, even if it’s not always clear which objects have interactive purpose and which don’t.

Now equipped for battle, I begin to explore more boldly, encountering a gormless looking fellow stalking back and forth across a room of heavy pillars. He doesn’t seem immediately aggressive, so I don’t push my luck, instead choosing to shut him in a store room. Others aren’t quite as amiably stupid: there’s a duo in the adjacent room, one holding a footlong bit of piping and the other a carpentry hammer. Pipe-dude stands inert by a wall, but hammer-lady gives me the stink-eye, turning to face me as I enter the room. We remain still for a moment while I wonder if I can make friends with her. She screams and launches toward me, thrashing at the air with her hammer. I guess not. I back away and hastily drag-dash my way around her, pulling my character in a stumbling arc down to an open space near the bottom of the screen, where I have enough time to engage combat mode.

There is also the question of what version of yourself you would preserve - which version of you is the most true?  And can a person really be an immutable thing or do we necessarily exist in a continuum of change, a mind constantly remade like the ship of Theseus? Simon Parkin has written a long and fascinating piece about the various endeavours to preserve the mind after death - through memory, through cryogenics, through digitalisation - and the various flaws with these methods. None quite grasp in their totality how a person is constituted, nor what it means when they are deconstructed or altered, as with dementia. And some attempts at immortality provide problems of their own: if the mind or memory can be preserved in a digital medium, who has the right to access it, to dig through it? I really recommend reading his article. This screenshot should link to the piece.

In combat mode the controls reconfigure so that you can click and swing your weapon – your cursor movement aiding the direction of your blow, the length of the click dictating your commitment to the motion. You can also use WASD to move relative to your cursor point, which is vital for dodging incoming attacks. These two systems seem to me in direct contradiction. You want to be able to keep your cursor fixed, so that the directions WASD references aren’t in constant flux. And yet, combat requires you to swing your cursor back and forth. This may recreate some of the probable disorientation I would feel if I were actually attacked by a hammer-wielding maniac in a dungeon, but the specific confusion feels weird. I’ve never forgotten which way was left because I wanted to punch someone.

There are also specific moves, too: a powerful overhead swing is articulated through double-click and hold, and the development schedule says short sharp thrusts will also be jimmied into the combat system at a later date. I’m not sure all these things work neatly together in concert, but it nonetheless produces a deep system which can be mastered to produce actions of subtle expression – dodging past an enemy while delivering a sweeping blow to their back feels all the more triumphant for being wrought from a complex interplay of separate nuanced inputs, rather than a single button press. I’m not reliably at that stage yet, though: here I use A and D to strafe around hammer-woman as she tires herself out, before dodging in with a doubletap of W and hacking about her neck and shoulders. Each hit sends the hapless creature pivoting about, unable to regain her balance to counter-attack. Eventually, she slumps to the ground. Booyah! Who’s got a low centre of gravity now, dickhead?

Attempts to preserve the mind are also made yet more complicated by the fact that the brain is not the only factor which generates our thinking or our personality. I’ve talked in previous alt-texts about how recent science has discovered the degree to which gut bacteria affect our behaviour, for example. Will the transhumanists upload our faecal matter too? It’s becoming increasingly clear that our minds are composites - a cacophony of conflicting impulses and chemical interactions that is somehow given the illusion of singular intelligence - and that much of the factors which contribute to your sense of *you* are alien to what we might normally consider *your body*.

Pumped by my victory, I have a pop at pipe-dude. This is a mistake. Forgetting to click and hold, I take a pitiful swing at him and end up gently stroking his thigh with my blade. As he hits me in the face with his pipe, I realise I’ve given myself no room to flee, and collapse back into a table. Somehow, I manage to clamber over the scenery while he clubs me in the spine and make haste for the door. If I can just slam it behind me… Alas, I forget that with combat mode engaged environmental interactions now require me to hold CTRL too, and by the time I’ve stabbed the right button on the keyboard he’s over the threshold, swinging at me again. I flee down the corridor, but see little opportunity to shake him, so turn to fight. It’s dismaying and brutal: I swing but do nothing but partially deflect his first blow. The second comes in too quick for me to parry, and then a third.

And then I’m back to the start. This time, somewhat ashamed at how quickly my bravado was proven unwarranted, I try to avoid combat altogether, scuttling past enemies as best I can and blocking their pursuit with closed doors. In this warren of samey tunnels however, this makes it very hard to tell where I’ve been, and my exploration quickly exceeds my ability to mentally map the space – something I’m normally pretty good at in games. However, I do find more stuff: a sledgehammer, a meat cleaver and a long iron pipe – though none offer the speed and heft of my machete without compromising my ability to carry a torch at the same time. I also find a few snippets of plot – a note lying beside a dead man alludes to abductions; could this be why I’m here? But to what end? I ponder this as I strip the man naked and fling his body into scenery like a gangly meat yo-yo.

A relatively famous example is toxoplasmosis, a brain parasite that infects about a third of the world’s human population. It’s primary host is the cat, however, which is perhaps why, when it infects rodents, it modifies their behaviour in such a way as to make them much more likely to be eaten by cats. They don’t avoid cat urine, as most non-infected mice wisely do, and show preference for feline smells. They don’t exhibit the same fear of the unexpected as normal mice, either, and display a lack trepidation when exploring new areas.

Now rather dapperly dressed in stolen garments, I continue my search. In a store room (though they all appear to be store rooms, and largely empty store rooms at that) I find a heavily barricaded door and, in a neat use of the physics system, enjoy a few moments disassembling the obstructions before realising they might have had a good reason for being there. But faint heart never won fair lady, as they say. In this instance, however, my boldness only wins me a near-naked man wielding a crude weapon. He lurches forward and though I try to close the door again, I only succeed in repeatedly slapping him in the face. He is undeterred, so I have no choice but to back away and ready myself for combat. Having made his grand entrance, he now gets distracted and wanders over to the corner of the room leaving his back exposed. But as I close for the kill a woman holding a terrifyingly ugly axe dives into the room bellowing. Her first swing buries itself in her friend, but she doesn’t seem to care, advancing in ferocious bursts. Somehow I manage to kite her away from the entrance before scarpering back through it, throwing the door closed just in time. A series of heavy bangs and thuds continue from the other side.

My heart is racing: the entire sequence was scary largely because of its very physicality; a man bursting through a door as I tried to close it, the stumbling ineptitude of my evasion and last second save. But things take an absurd turn moments later for almost the exact same reason, as I get my torch-holding hand caught on a barrel. My arm stretches out as I try to pull away, then snaps me back like an elastic band. Oh, physics! She is a fickle mistress.

Meanwhile, in humans, the effects are also non-trivial. In fact, one study suggests that people infected with toxoplasmosis were involved in 2.65 times as many road accidents as non-infected people - perhaps because of impaired psychomotor reactions, or because of increased risk-taking behaviour. There are correlations, too, with mental disorders like schizophrenia and OCD, as well as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and suicide. It’s unlikely that the parasite is itself a singular causal factor, but it seems that it may influence susceptibility to or intensity of these conditions, along with a raft of other much more subtle behaviours.

Some intense negotiation with the controls later and I manage to free myself to explore the rooms ahead. I find a couple more bodies, one of which has a fancy red tunic that I purloin. I leave the bodies in the recovery position, just in case they were sleeping something off, and swipe a key from a nearby table – though it’s not immediately clear how I use it. As I’m fumbling away, a man holding a small hand-axe wanders up. He seems uninterested, but I don’t want to chance it, so scurry off as his back is turned – straight into a woman holding a much larger axe, concealed from me by a doorframe and an unfortunate camera angle. She is an unhappy lady and expresses this by chopping me up. I manage to stagger away with a sliver of health, turn and flee, belting down corridors blindly, cursing as my character stops dead because she brushed a wall. The need to scrape the camera back and forth as well as drag to indicate speed and direction of flight is annoying, but it at least enforces a profound sense of panic.

Somehow I end up back at the starting area, now pursued by seemingly every inhabitant of the dungeon. I can’t close doors in time to stop their pursuit, and even if I did, I’d have to open them again at some point. I kite my aggressors into the room in which I first woke up, Benny Hill round and round a few times before succumbing to the inevitable and brutal slaughter.

But here’s the kicker: that parasite, or its affect on your brain IS you. That’s you as much as any other biochemical impulse that shapes your personality or thought. Not all of the ways it influences your mind may be as obviously bad, either. Perhaps a brain parasite might make you funnier, or braver, or less prone to self-doubt. And there are new parasites being discovered all the time, many of which are impossible to eradicate even if you wanted to. If you killed them all, what would be left? How much of you would you have killed? Would it be any different than a lobotomy? Perhaps dualism is an insufficiently plural description - that our consciousness is a buzzing cloud of extrinsic and intrinsic factors, a parliament of competing voices. When I consider this, I always think of Richard II, wrestling with his own internal identity crisis: “Thus play I in one person many people, And none contented.”

The promise of a dialogue system, “complex NPC interactions”, ranged combat, thaumaturgic powers and co-op suggests at much larger plans for this game than are currently evident. Evident to me, that is – there’s already much more to see, if you can face starting from scratch each time you make the fatal error of tripping over a table during pitched battle. I do like that about the combat, though: how entirely shit it can make me feel; how its moments of terror can hinge on a single inopportune footfall; how the fear of it then modifies my behaviour. But I don’t think that Exanima’s physics simulation enables transparent, reactive embodiment, despite its evident sense of corporeal weight, despite its evident breadth of expression. Does that matter? There remains something pleasurable, and occasionally very funny, in the calamity that its physics system frequently visits upon the player. That might not be the aesthetic the devs are going for, but perhaps it should be embraced – with drunken flailing arms.

Exanima is available from Steam and from the developer’s own store for £11 and £9.75 respectively, although both currently have a 15%-off sale price. I played version 0.5.0 on 01/04/2015.

48 Comments

  1. Nevard says:

    I don’t remember backing this on Kickstarter but regular emails assure me that I did, looking interested to playing it when it’s somewhat further along (I’ve never really been that into early access, afraid I’ll burn out on something before it’s finished and rob myself of a better experience).

    • Monteef says:

      You won’t remember backing a kickstarter for Exanima; there wasn’t one. You backed the kickstarter for Sui Generis.

      This is the devs desperately trying to get some more cashflow by releasing an early access of an early access version of what people kickstarted. Exanima is supposedly going to end up as a more confined prequel to their projected vast, sprawling RPG.

      • ZephaniahGrey says:

        Sounds about right. I backed Sui Generis as well …and I’m not sure why anymore. Maybe I was expecting something else? As it stands, I was unimpressed with this. It feels like Octodad with combat. An interesting idea, but arguably not very fun.

        • Farsi Murdle says:

          I totally disagree. This is the most fun I’ve had with a game for a long time. I’ve probably spent close to 50 hours in the arena mode. If the combat clicks (and it did with me immediately, though it took a while to get good at it) there’s a lot of game time here for a modest price.

          Yes, this is an attempt to get more funding because the devs need it, but so what? You get it as a backer.

          They’ve made something that’s genuinely unlike anything else out there. When you’re inventing something totally new (even the engine was made entirely from scratch), it takes time and you can’t fully know what to expect. Personally I think they’ve made something remarkable.

      • Nevard says:

        Oh no I am aware of that, I just don’t remember backing that either.

      • Blackcompany says:

        I cannot express the degree to which I regret backing this. Dont buy this. I have no faith a real, complete game will ever be realized by these developers.

    • onodera says:

      I am quite happy I didn’t kickstart Sui Generis after reading this article.

    • jrodman says:

      Huh, I saw an ambitious kickstarter in my favourite genre, and read the thing closely, and immediately backed away.

      I saw a pile of directionless ambition, a statement to achieve many things that no one had achieved without any clear direction for how a game was going to be forged out of the features. In short, a typical internet game project.

      Maybe I was wrong to judge so readily, but it seems like I guessed right nonetheless.

      • Marsh Davies says:

        Hm. I don’t know that there’s much reason to be so pessimistic. I think the combat system is deep and interesting, and proof that the developers are at least expert technologists capable of seeing through a complex feature. I would play it as a combat game alone, were there some more lenient checkpointing/save system. It’s an interesting project and I really look forward to seeing how it develops – much more so than most of the games I write about in this column!

  2. gi_ty says:

    Excellent article and the game sounds intriguing. The more I have learned and observed of psychology, the more I am sure that your ship of Theseus analogy is perfectly apt. The mechanical definition of consciousness could never be perfectly described, there are too many factors. It is an interesting thought exercise to try and define yourself, even though it is impossible, as exampled by people’s inability to foresee their own reactions to unanticipated stimuli.

  3. Neurotic says:

    Cats, man, yuk. I’m allergic to the little buggers like crazy, and the toxoplasmosis is just the evil icing on that fluffy, sneeze-inducing cake.

  4. InfamousPotato says:

    First of all, that alt-text was fabulous. Absolutely intriguing and lovely. That could’ve been an article on its own.

    As for the game, I think it has a ton of promise (full disclosure, I am a backer). However, because combat is very difficult, I’d recommend that you learn combat in the arena mode before taking on the main dungeon crawl. The combat is skill based, and rather hard to do (I’m still struggling), but once you put in the time to learn it, it can be quite rewarding.

    Also, armor makes a huge difference… though it’ll take you awhile to get it.

  5. genequagmire says:

    Very well written, I almost feel as if I don’t need to play now.

  6. Arathain says:

    Yeah, it does feel like the folk working on digital brains are necessarily reductive in their models. The problem of completely characterising a brain in operation seems rather insurmountable, not least because our memories and personalities are not just in the physical connections of our nervous systems, but also in the ongoing chemical and electrical impulses. You can’t restart a brain- much of its workings are stored in RAM, as it were, and are gone when the power is gone. How do you snapshot all of that?

  7. onionman says:

    Concerning the (surprisingly precise and accurate) discussion from the screenshot captions:

    I am a grad student working in Buddhist philosophy, which–and of course I fully admit to being biased–I believe has sophisticated answers to the questions posed. The basic idea is that a) there is no such thing as an enduring self (ātman), because b) there are only the “heaps” (skandhas) of the psycho-physical aggregates. The idea is that what we call mind and what we call body are actually just moment-to-moment processes, mutually affecting and causally interacting with each other in a feedback loop. This system is not reducible to physicalism, and indeed Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy (my main area of specialization) tends toward ontological idealism. But I think there is quite a fruitful discussion to be had with cognitive science, which is perhaps not coincidentally what my dissertation advisor is working on.

    • Marsh Davies says:

      Fascinating! How does Buddhism feel in general about the body and demands of the body in comparison to the Christian tendency to self-flagellation and self-denial?

      • onionman says:

        Well, that’s a complicated question, because talking about “Buddhism in general” (or “Christianity in general”) is difficult to the point of being counterproductive. This is perhaps especially true of the Buddhist tradition, which has had a series of major shifts–the so-called “Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma”–in its 2500-year history.

        But I’d say two things. First, the Christian “tendency to self-flagellation” has been somewhat exaggerated in the modern imagination. One of the things that set what became the mainstream Christian tradition apart from other proto-Christian groups, particularly the Gnostics, was insisting on the importance and not-strictly-evil nature of the body. Second, the answer from a Buddhist perspective depends entirely on your conceptual framework, i.e. which Turning you’re dealing with. In broad strokes, and without being entirely fair to the Theravāda tradition, the First Turning was extremely down on the body; in Tibetan literature, contemplative exercises that take a First Turning view insist on seeing the body as nothing more than a repository for disgusting substances like feces, blood, pus, etc. But this is to, eventually, enable a tantric approach where you literally see the body as the abode of enlightened deities. So… as I said, it’s complicated.

  8. amateurviking says:

    There is some evidence that infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium (a close relative of Toxo) makes you more attractive to mosquitoes, particularly if you are carrying the mosquito-infecting gametocyte stages. Similarly, the major African malaria vector Anopheles gambiae will feed more frequently if it’s infected, thus spreading the parasite (although this is probably due to the increased energetic burden of harbouring the parasite, rather than a direct manipulation through messing with hormone signalling or similar – there are plenty of examples of parasites taking direct control of insect nervous or endocrine systems to alter behaviour). Subtle alterations to the semiochemicals you give off can make a big difference to mosquito host preference, as anyone who has that annoying friend who cheerfully explains how they never get bitten, whilst you are surrounded by a cloud of the bloodsucking fucknuts, will understand, (skeetos tend to find things like lactic acid, carbon dioxide and, famously, limburger cheese/cheesy feet attractive: a friend and colleague of mine used to do a monthly collection of dirty socks from around the department to run through his olfactometer, I think my crusty gym socks still top the attractiveness charts to this day).

    Parasites are cool. See also: the life cycle of just about any parasitic helminth (Schistosoma mansoni is a particular favourite link to en.wikipedia.org .

    The mind boggles.

    • Marsh Davies says:

      This is great. When I went to Africa, I was one of the lucky ones who barely ever got bitten. But then I was stuffing myself full of Larium at the time. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have preferred malaria, in retrospect.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        You’re the second person I’ve heard say that the medication to prevent malaria is almost as bad as malaria itself. Apparently it just makes you feel awful.

        • amateurviking says:

          Lariam is AWFUL. I mean, it’s nice that it’s one tablet every fortnight, but the side effects are awful. Mostly now you’d be prescribed Atovaquone/Proguanil (Malarone) which has hardly any side effects at the prophylactic dose. It’s a daily tablet though and it’s easy to miss a day.

          I actually caught malaria doing field work in Burkina Faso in 2013. It wasn’t too bad for the first few fever cycles actually, but it escalated quickly and the treatment (IV quinine) was horrendous. Not recommended.

          • Wowbagger says:

            Think I’ll stick to the regular doses of Gin and tonic then.

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    Henke says:

    I’ve spent 12 hours with this over the past weekend. Made it to level 3 yesterday before a guy with a sledgehammer knocked me down and kept wailing on me while my character tried, and failed, to get back on his feet. The fancy chain armor, helmet, or 2 healthpotions I’d found did nothing to help me in that situation, and within seconds I was dead. My 3 hour effort undone and I was back at the start.

    As good as this game is, having to replay earlier sections over and over really sucks the fun out of it. It defenitely needs checkpoints. At least one per level.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    There’s a lot to be said about this article, and a lot said already.

    I’ll just add that I greatly approve of the use of Benny Hill as a verb (a loose antonym being Hotline Miami as a verb)

  11. Wowbagger says:

    Nice to see that Philosophy minor isn’t going to waste, I prefer the wang waving jokes though.

    How short is short by the way? I’m 5’6 and consider myself shortish.

  12. slerbal says:

    This seems like a rather elegant way to raise a bit more cash and get people interested in the final game. I am definitely interested but only if there is some kind of save feature if only because I know myself well enough to know that I would only be able to play this in short bursts.

    Excellent alt-text as always Marsh. The interviews I gave you back in the day were some of my favourite as you always asked great questions :)

    • Premium User Badge

      JiminyJickers says:

      It saves when you exit the game, but if you die you have to restart the game completely. It kicks you out to the menu, there are no skills or items that carry over. And dying is very very easy.

      They make a game with interesting combat but you are supposed to run away from the enemies, it is completely not a fun game.

      • jrodman says:

        Interestingly, in a tabletop RPG, these two ingredients might go very well together. I agree that I at least can’t see them making a good combination in computer games as I know them though.

  13. Lachlan1 says:

    I like your use of commas :)

    However, I really wanted this:
    This combined with the fact that there is no save system whatsoever makes for a tough game,

    to be this:
    This, combined with the fact that there is no save system whatsoever, makes for a tough game,

    Commas as parenthesis ftw!

    • Marsh Davies says:

      I have obliged you! I’m always in two minds about over-comma-ing, as I feel it’s one of those instances where the rules of grammar have been usefully exceeded by the evolution of colloquial speech. I tend to put in commas where I would take a breath, rather than around every grammatically dictated use. For example, I should put a comma before I say “too” at the end of a sentence, but it’s just not really how people talk or think any more. But the example you give is a good one, where extra commas definitely do make for clearer meaning. So, thanks!

      • jrodman says:

        In writing, another option is to simplify the sentence, if you feel the commas have become too baroque. That said, I use vocal-pause commas too sometimes.

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    JiminyJickers says:

    The lack of a save function has completely killed this game for me. The combat is just too random to have a permadeath feature, also the dungeon is hand crafted, which means that it is exactly the same each and every time you have to restart because your drunken puppet’s swing was slightly wrong letting the enemy get a head shot which pretty much insta kill you. Good luck finding potions to heal, because on the forums it seems that there are 2 at the moment.

    This game has so much potential and I feel it is being ruined by the devs wanting it to be the most hardcore game ever created.

    The combat arena is fun and I got my money’s worth out of that, but if I could go back in time, I definitely would not buy it again.

    I also have no idea why the devs put it in Early Access, because from their comments, it is clear that they are not seeking any feedback, any suggestions is immediately shot down by them repeatedly.

    • ButteringSundays says:

      “I also have no idea why the devs put it in Early Access, because from their comments, it is clear that they are not seeking any feedback, any suggestions is immediately shot down by them repeatedly.”

      I don’t believe there’s anything about Steam’s Early Access program that insists that the developer take on player feedback, is there? I thought it was just a formal ‘access the alpha/beta’ system.

      Generally speaking I’d rather play the game the devs wanted to make, than some designed-by-committee camel of a game.

      Of course as with most things in life the sweet-spot tends to be somewhere between the two.

      • Premium User Badge

        JiminyJickers says:

        Of course they don’t have to seek feedback. But with statements like below on their Steam page, it seems that they say they want feedback, but in my opinion, just flat out denying any negative feedback. Just look at the controls discussion, they are not even willing to offer another option for people. I am used to the controls now and can get through both arenas repeatedly, but the controls still are awkward.

        How are you planning on involving the Community in your development process?
        “Exanima is part of a crowd funded project and as such community feedback has already played a significant role in its development. This is set to continue, both on our forums and here where we will actively engage the Steam Community. We will not only rapidly respond to bug reports but discuss ideas, take onboard constructive criticism, incorporate well thought out suggestions and prioritise our goals based on their input.”

    • Farsi Murdle says:

      Sorry, that’s total rubbish. I’ve been following development since I backed the game, and the devs do take on board feedback all the time. In fact that’s why Sui Generis is behind schedule; the devs spent a lot of time working on improving the game based on the feedback they received during the Kickstarter.

      They are in fact planning to add a checkpoint so you won’t have to start the whole thing again, they just won’t add a totally unrestricted save/load system because that would undermine what they’re trying to achieve. I’m sure plenty of people would like a save/load system in Dark Souls too, but what sounds like a simple feature would affect the game dramatically. Just like Dark Souls doesn’t appeal to everyone, neither will Exanima, but so be it.

      • Premium User Badge

        JiminyJickers says:

        Please don’t call my opinion rubbish. Taking on feedback may be true if you are a kickstarter backer, but anyone who jumped on the project on Steam, it is the completely opposite in my opinion.

        I looked at the comments from the developers comment on Steam and at the time they were all arguing against people and not even considering them. They sat stuff like this as soon as the game was released on steam:

        “The game has been in alpha for a year with hundreds of testers, the combat and controls have been constantly refined and polished based on feedback (we are crowd funded by almost 9000 people)”

        (link to steamcommunity.com)

        And they use this statement to just to deny people any discussion on changing the combat or controls. How is that taking feedback? Don’t put it on Steam if you don’t want feedback from new users.

  15. JeCa says:

    Wow, does Marsh always hide interesting essays inside alt-texts? I think I’ve gotta go back and reread some premature evaluations.

  16. jonahcutter says:

    It’s excellent. And unique.

    “Unique” can get tossed around quite a bit, perhaps overused. But this combat system really is. As far as I know, there is no other combat system that comes close to relying on actually physics and controlled swings.

    Anyone struggling with the game or feeling it’s too hard, don’t give up. You’re right, it is hard. The controls are quirky and very different from what we are used to. To some extent it takes remapping your gaming brain and gaming muscle memory. It functions in a different way from the way we’re used to playing games. For most, it’s a learning process to just get comfortable with the controls.

    There is a realistic emphasis on footwork, movement and positioning that is very subtle. Getting a feel for these is fundamental. It is easy for it all to appear as a drunken, stumbling brawl. But when learned and controlled well, it can be specific and elegant. There are a number of good tutorials to watch and it will help immensely (if for nothing else than to see it’s actually possible to control these seemingly drunken fools). Here’s a pretty good, recent one to start with:

    link to youtube.com
    link to youtube.com

    As difficult as it can be, when it clicks, no other game I can think of provides as intensely satisfying melee combat.

    I get a similar confidence and resolve from these devs that I I read in the Acid Wizard devs who are making Darkwood. Both games have small teams with an idiosyncratic vision, and are making steady, methodical progress towards it. Even with the process slowing down at times, it understandable when creating something that is so far outside the normal boxes.

    • Premium User Badge

      TaurusI76 says:

      Regarding the uniqueness: Does anyone remember Die By The Sword?

      • jonahcutter says:

        I have seen Die By The Sword, but never got around to trying it out. I can’t speak to how it works, or how well.

        It does look like an earlier attempt at a similar system.

        • Premium User Badge

          TaurusI76 says:

          It definitely was like an earlier attempt. The physics and its effects were crude (no stumbling and such), but they were there. I remember repeatedly playing one death match level with the biggest dude you could play with (with a big club as a weapon) and just knocking away hogs by swinging from left to right and back. It was fun.

          It’s been a while since I last played it, but I remember being short of one hand that would have been able to handle the sword controls (besides the wasd walking and mouselook). And maybe one additional half of a brain to cope with it. You could either control the movement of the sword (e.g. swing from the top left to bottom right) with the mouse or with the num keypad on the keyboard – the latter working better for me. But in combat, you’d only concentrate on walking/dodging and hitting, and then occasionally adjusting the camera.

          I think, until more elaborate control devices are invented, that’s a big problem for such games, as there’s just too little fingers and hands on our body to control as many movements at once as these control schemes would require (with mouse/keyboard). As long as you can’t at least delegate walking to your real legs, some auto-mechanism is needed to help with the controls.

    • mechanixis says:

      This was my experience with the game as well. The reason that movement seems so drunken at first is that it’s not meant to be controlled in the way that other games are – pressing the move keys doesn’t slide you around the environment along a smooth vector like it does in most games, it represents discrete shifts in your weight and stance. Likewise, holding the “attack” button is really more like a toggle between defensive and offensive postures.

      What I found most satisfying is that, as someone with a background in fencing and swordfighting, I could actually map some of my real-world knowledge to this system. I won a few fights using exactly the sort of tight advance-retreat footwork you’re trained to use as a fencer, and for what looks on the surface like wild ragdoll flailing the game actually allows you to mimic a lot of actual medieval swordfighting techniques.

  17. Leadprophet says:

    To the alt-text content of this excellent article I say – make sure not to conflate personhood with conscious experience. While there is a good argument for conceiving of personhood (that is, that coherent sense of who you are) as a splintered, illusory mess, there’s still the issue of your transient conscious experience of being that person, and experiencing that person’s experiences (sensory, cognitive, emotional, etc.). In conscious experience there’s something uniquely “unified” to the quality of it that has led many to wring their hands in frustration at trying to explain its properties from a disconnected bed of biological, chemical, and incidental causes. This gordian knot has come to be known as the Binding Problem. link to en.wikipedia.org

    Even if we can find a way to explain how the diverse CNS melds its parts into a coherent whole (unlikely, as this seems more and more to be something of an illusion in itself perpetuated on our experience by the brain in order to simplify things), we would still be left with the intolerable question of what it is that is doing the experiencing, and why it is unitary and singular.

  18. FrostySprite says:

    I backed Sui Generis during the Kickstarter and instantly regretted it. I backed it because I thought the technology behind this game was interesting and I wanted to see more games use a physics system like it. However, I was unconvinced I was going to like the game itself. So all this time I’ve been ignoring the email updates Bare Mettle has sent to me until recently, they tell me I got an access code for this game. Why the hell not, I thought, and I downloaded it. Turns out I really, really love the gameplay. I really love how every encounter is potentially lethal, and one slip up can get you killed. I love how precise and careful you have to be with every fight. But I also love how hilariously clumsy the characters move and attack. It’s quirky, it’s silly, but it somehow fits. The campaign is great once you get good enough not to die to every two or three enemies you encounter, and will make you fearful and apprehensive at going down dark, unlit corridors and peeking inside doors hoping to find better armor and weapons. But it will also make you laugh, like the times I ran past a corner and collided with a stunned and confused undead, knocking him over and leaving him sprawled out on top of some boxes, or the time I fled in panic from an undead that surprised me in a room and slammed into a spinning wheel, sending my character flying heels over head over the object and bringing it down on top of him, pinning him to the ground. He struggled to get out from under it for about 10 seconds, all while the zombie was staring at him like he was an idiot before losing interest and walking off. The physics and the combat system make sure every encounter is different and keeps the game interesting despite the low amount of content in the game. I’d really recommend looking into the game.

  19. Havalynii says:

    A quick alt-test correction, if I may. Christianity as presented in the Old and New testaments does not at all teach the sanctity of the Spirit and the corruption of the flesh, but the willful and ontological corruption of both that is answered by God in the form a salvation through the Messiah that redeems BOTH flesh and spirit. Yes, the redemption of the Spirit is understood to begin at the moment of accepting the Savior, and yes, the spirit and body are separated for a time at death, but the promise of Jesus was that upon His return, those who had relied on God for forgiveness would receive an incorruptible resurrected body that would be animated by the Holy Spirit of God Himself, while still retaining their soul (personality), also incorruptible. What you were describing is more the teachings of the Manicheans or the Gnostics.

    /nerdrant

  20. April March says:

    This is the only Kickstarter I remember I wanted to fail; not because I was philosophically opposed to it, or because I thought the devs didn’t deserve it, or even because I doubted the devs’ ability to deliver; simply because I thought the physics engine was too good to waste on a generic fantasy game. I mean, imagine a zombie game in which the zombies are not animated to look like people pretending to be zombies, but rather by learning how to move using whatever pieces of their bodies they’re still able to move around. This article just proves that my feeling was correct.

    And yes, I know that I just badmouthed generic medieval fantasy while proposing a zombie game as an alternative. Zombie games are also generic, but it’d be a fitting generic approach at least. This it just feels *snicker* soi generisc! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!