Sundays are for gathering the week’s best videogame writing into a post for you to peruse. What else?
But this is also where TBG broke for me, in a “ludonarrative dissonance” equivalent of 3D construction and production value. (Maybe call it “material-narrative dissonance”?) As someone who’s seen hundreds of community Source levels through the years, none of this looks like the work of a “lone amateur” who’s messing around. All the 3D carpentry here is very clean and trim; there are almost zero construction flaws in the entire game; the whisper of the walls here is extremely confident and experienced.
What’s so brilliant about the jump-kill combo system is that it gives the player an optional extra challenge to work towards, even in the easier levels. In Spelunky, World 1 becomes a bit of a snooze for an expert player, an obligatory warmup for the harder challenges ahead. In Downwell, by contrast, an expert player will try to maximize their combos from the very first level. The game remains engaging throughout, revealing additional complexity commensurate with the player’s developing skillset.
All I can do, after over a year of pre-production, countless pages worth of words, dozens of sketches and almost two prototypes, is attempt to give you an idea of what would have been and, in a way, preserve the game’s memory. It was pretty important to me, you see, and having it cancelled almost made me give up games entirely, but, well, I do at least hope you’ll find reading about the RPG-that-never-was interesting.
Then there are the people who say Her Story, Gone Home and so on aren’t “games”. We’ve got that with Craft Beer – eye-rolling at the fizzy upstart, tutting at the genre-stretching novelty of a Chocolate Aniseed IPA, and wincing as the high price of craft beer collides hard with the preconception of craft brewers as privileged hipsters. Conservatism is ugly, whatever the size of the C. Let’s just all get drunk on whatever we enjoy and make out in the toilets.
In terms of video games, this means: stop hating games that you were never supposed to like. It’s like telling your mum you don’t fancy her.
Anyway, video games are becoming mainstream and obviously that’s a terrible thing. You used to turn up to a midnight launch and it would just be you, your mum (who drove you there) and a large sweaty man who you would later learn was getting the collector’s edition because he wanted the lifesize statue of the game’s protagonist’s torso. Now you turn up for the release of Shootman III: Shoot Them All and it’s all children and fans and women, and you have to leave because none of them recognise your cosplay. It’s OBVIOUSLY Wing Commander Endjapes, who was written out of the second game for not being muscley enough. Fakers.
Subterfuge, too, has gone to great lengths to humanize its chilly subterranean world of numbers versus numbers. It’s an aesthetically-beautiful game, with abstract representations of factories, generators and undersea mines in unique colors—the kind of coffee-table style players of tablet and touch-screen games now prefer. But it’s also full of frankly-awesome looking people—the game’s “specialists” whom you hire for additional perks and abilities feel like fully-realized humans, and they were designed with intention.
The idea here isn’t simply to build a prison for one inmate and see what happens. As I explained in my review, the first time I had prisoners escape my prison it genuinely hurt my feelings. I’d been trying very hard to meet the needs of my residents, to keep them calm and satisfied, and when five of them tunneled out I felt betrayed and embarrassed that all my humane efforts had been for naught. With my new prison, I want to see if it’s possible to make an inmate so damn happy and comfortable that he never tries to escape, never hits a guard, never busts up the place, and never breaks any rules.
Music this week is the latest demented remix and music video by Neil Cicierega and Says by Nils Frahm.