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Live Free, Play Hard: Poor Astronauts :(

some aesthetic, some mechanical

Professional asteroid blower-upper. "contemporary folk art tools". Obscene numbers of not-games.

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A Second Chance by Major Bueno

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. You have a rocket, a bomb, a drill, and some brave astronauts. Ideally the rocket lands on the asteroid and they drill a hole and plant a bomb in it.

But you’re mission control and you can mess with the controls anytime. The interface is the game, and it is realized in cartoonish, fuck-around perfection. A Second Chance permits variation at every point, some aesthetic, some mechanical. Sure, you can land the rocket on the moon, but they don’t have to make it back.

Some of the controls let you actually control the mission. Most are funny (I resist the urge to write “just funny”, as if humor or the ingenious possibilities of how we choose to count down (10, 9, 8...1!) are less meaningful than options that contribute directly to the games endpoint).

This was made in a day, but already suggests the rich possibilities of some kind of thematic UI genre. I feel like a lot of games emphasizing user interfaces tend to be vehicle sims? Serious, methodical, fairly goal-oriented. A Second Chance is anything but serious. It just wants to be played with.


Daymare Cat by Mateusz Skutnik

Guide a little girl through ink landscapes in this lovely strange adventure game. I like her hair, one or two strands always wiggling in the wind.

The beautiful art suggests with lines and wrinkles, never quite filling in backgrounds. The setting is a town, but the feeling is that of an unknowable alien zone, one with monstrous floors, living pillars, and record-players (into which you can insert records). While collecting things to open a door may seem familiar, being rewarded with music for each find is nice.

Some aspects are a little unfair, like knowing which pieces of the environment I can use as platforms or exits, and which are decoration. So I’d have the walkthrough on standby.



A Duck Has An Adventure by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey

A tactile CYOA telling the wild adventures of a duck across time and space. Each unit of story is a tile and you click to flip them, opening up branches or conclusions. I'm interested in how stories flow when we experience them as discrete units--Fallen London's cards, for example.

The hats and achievements earned felt hollow, I don’t feel like a phrase popping up was a meaningful reward, especially when all I was doing was clicking. If the issue is engaging people, I’d rather have some intra-panel interaction, maybe little choices that make each storyline feel customized (giving the player ownership of the story in some way can't be understated). It isn’t framed as a game, though (besides the tacked-on achievements), but as a hypercomic, and it fulfills that role comfortably.


Futuridium by Mixedbag

In Futuridium, your fighter ship is always running out of energy. You get energy by blowing up cubes scattered along capital ships (destroying ‘em all exposes the ship’s weak point).

Fighter ships always suggested this fragile heroism to me. So it has that fragility, as your energy drains, and it has that heroism, because you’re locked into this deadly relationship where you destroy or die.

Your primary activity is destroying cubes. Destroying cubes feels good because their explosions are distorted bubbles of shards. You also need to fly around tight corners to get at them so this pleasurable feedback is enhanced by the narrow window of opportunity. Twist, burstburstburst in your face, get out.

They take the soundtrack seriously. You switch songs with Z or X, where I’d normally expect the fire button (fire is Q). This means you can flip from sweeping dramatic to squelching dubstep to chill lounge in a few seconds, a welcome customization.


Inward Conch Upward Spiral by Brenna E Murphy

Inward Conch Upward Spiral is from an artist who does installations and web art with a focus on hyper-processed textures: “I’ll upload a video to imovie, then import it to after effects and make it melty, then export a PNG sequence to photoshop and make some gifs, then arrange them in dreamweaver... then maybe take a screenshot of that and make it a texture for a 3d object in Blender, then animate that and put it back into after effects... etc. i love finding fluid relationships between all of the programs.”

Brenna describes graphics programs like Photoshop as “contemporary folk art tools”. She uses them to build a series of zones, each cultivating a certain mood. Some are designed for sensory torture, others for surreal calm.

I think this is best experienced as a virtual art installation. If meatspace installation art can have a classist and exclusive element, then virtual installations are the opposite: cheaply made, and available to everyone.



Block Faker by droqen

"it’s just a puzzle game"

...says the maker of Starseed Pilgrim, innocently.

King’s Ascent by amoser

A king haunted by the past, running from giant monsters. The platforms are how you run from the monster, but they're also weapons. They fall at your touch, damaging the monster, and you have one less place to put your feet.

You have to deplete the monster's health by the time you reach the top of each stage, so pacing is essential--dealing enough damage without lingering too long.


Nothing you have done deserves such praise by Jason Nelson

There’s a danger in designing games about what we dislike in games in that we can replicate what we dislike without saying anything significant, therefore adding to the problem. This one seems to be about how easy it is to manufacture empty rewards in games.

But NYHDDSP differentiates itself by being entertaining, however you read it. The backgrounds are anatomical drawings. The levels pop with rippling hands and rushing cityscapes. A bored narrator praises everything you do. Harmless winged creatures hover around you. Touch things and they explode.

It works. I love touching things that explode. Touch something, get rewarded. No one cares where the explosion comes from.


Detritus by Mary Hamilton

Quietly reflecting as we unpack in a new city at night. Panicking as the clock ticks down and we grab what we can. What is packing like when we’re hopeful? Happy? Scared?

Detritus skillfully tells a story through the act of packing, that is, through object interactions. There are many objects (at least 50), and from them we build a composite of our character. We are made of memories, and objects often act as their anchors.

I was surprised by the emotion it invoked in me, but I shouldn't have been. Detritus reminded me what packing can be. A new start. Reinvention. Escape. Curating the objects that define our existence, deciding what becomes part of our new world and what we leave behind.

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