Tiny (< 1 hour)

Why are we playing computer games, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the interactive artist isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the programmer-creator renew our hope for the interactive medium? Why are we playing computer games if not in hope that the creator will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?

What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.

(Adapted from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life

Calamity Anna's Shootin' Starcade: Six Glorious Trainwrecks screenshot

Calamity Anna's Shootin' Starcade

Game released: 2009

Text written: Dec 22, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Anna Anthropy

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I’d like to share with you today a few games that were made in two hours each. You read that right. Two Hours each. But why on earth would I do such a thing? Can a game that’s made in two hours possibly be worth playing, much less writing about and encouraging others to play? My short answer is of course yes, and the reason is this: some games can only be made in two hours.

What do I mean? I mean that some games, if they are to be good games, require weeks, or months, or years of effort and dedication to produce (granted, I haven’t actually played many games that have taken years to produce that I would actually consider very good, but you know, it’s a theory: we can perhaps imagine an inspiring triple-A title). Other games require not to have that time, because there is nothing for them to do with it. I’ve used the novel/haiku/sentence analogy before, and I’ll use it again: some games are analogous to novels in their scope and their ambition, while other games are more akin to short poems, sentences, or even singular words. We need these shorter games, just as we need the longer ones because, as Ian Bogost expressed two years ago in an article he wrote for Gamasutra, we need games of every shape and every form, expressing every kind of thing. Read more »

Bunnies and Genocide

10 Dec 2009
Bunnies and Genocide screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I haven’t written any reviews for a while, and that’s partly due to the fact that I’ve been getting back into game creation a bit, after an extended hiatus. Among other things I entered a mini Ludum Dare compo recently with the theme of “Tragedy and/or Comedy,” that ended up lasting five days, rather than the usual 48 hours. Also, unlike most LD compos, this one required collaboration, so I worked with Mitchell Hillman, who created the sprites.

I decided to tackle the tragedy theme head on and create a game about genocide. Bunnies vs. Bunnies is the outcome. I wrote a whole spiel about what I was trying to do with the game, but looking at it now it seems pretentious and lame, so I’ll just let the thing speak for itself (or not). 

You can download the game here (sorry, Windows only).

You can download the source (Game Maker file, sprites, music) here.

The game is short (five levels), and shouldn’t take long to play through. If you find a level too frustrating or difficult, you can use the “N” key to skip to the next one. Any feedback or comments are welcome and appreciated, including but not limited to bug reports, general observations, and whether you think the game is worth continuing to work on. Specifically, I’m interested in possibly pursuing a more developed, multiplayer version of the game (I think it would be great to have a multiplayer game that was purposefully unbalanced, and unfair, where one person played the oppressor, and the other person the oppressed).

Jordan Magnuson's picture

Just a quick announcement to let you know that I’ve implemented a new comment system on the site. Avatars are here, and you can now optionally log in to leave comments using your OpenID, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. Also, when you get email notifications to threads, you can now reply to the thread directly through email without even visiting the site! Pretty cool huh? All courtesy of Disqus. The old comments will remain up for now, and as soon as the functionality is available (currently in development) I will import them into the new system.

Secondly, I’ve set up a guestbook, for all you people nostalgic for the 1990’s . I know that some people like to read but don’t leave comments, so here’s your chance to let me know who you are, so we can start to develop a little sense of community. No more reviews until you sign. Cheers.

Beacon: Better Than an Art Game screenshot

Beacon

Game released: 2009

Text written: Sep 28, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Chevy Ray Johnston

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Can one person make a game that is qualitatively better than many triple-A titles? How about if that person has forty-eight hours to do it in? How about if we force them to make this game around a certain theme, and we don’t give them that theme until just before they start work? And for good measure, let’s say they can’t use a single premade resource: no bringing in code, or graphics, or sounds of any kind. Sound impossible already?

Many of you may know about LD, and you see where I’m going with this. For the rest of you, there’s a game creation contest out there that has all the restrictions I’ve cited above. It’s called Ludum Dare, and it takes place every three to four months, with the last iteration (#15) having happened a few weeks ago. For Ludum Dare 15 the theme was “caverns,” and one man, Chevy Ray Johnston, won the contest with a game called Beacon, a game so nice it makes me giddy to play. Read more »

Photopia: Not a Mediocre Short Story screenshot

Photopia

Game released: 1998

Text written: Sep 22, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Adam Cadre

Production: Independent

Platforms: Glulx, Z-Machine

Price: FREE

Get it from: IFDB
Jordan Magnuson's picture

If you have not played Photopia, you should play it now. You should play it because it is a beautiful work, but if that’s not enough to encourage you, you should play it because it is a very important game, and it is very short. Really, if you’re not interested in taking an hour out of your day to play one of the most significant pieces of interactive fiction of the last twenty years, then you probably won’t be interested in what I have to say anyway. All games should be experienced before they are analyzed, but some games absolutely need to be, or they cannot be analyzed at all. Photopia is one such game.

If you have not played interactive fiction before, or if you have tried and given up, then this is a perfect chance to bite the bullet and finish a piece of IF. Because Photopia is not only short, but also very easy to play. If you shy away from IF because you don’t have the patience to read, then Photopia is made for you in its brevity; if you like to read, but shy away from IF because you don’t have the patience to learn a confusing syntax and interface, then Photopia is made for you in its simplicity and linearity. “Talk to” everyone you can, use “who am I?” and if you don’t know what else to do, try “wait”-ing a few times, or just keep walking north. I promise you, you’ll finish the game in no time. Just try not to rush through it so fast that you don’t enjoy those moments that should make you say “ah.” Read more »

Seiklus: The Wonder of the New screenshot

Seiklus

Game released: 2003

Text written: Sep 12, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Clysm

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: TIGdb
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Steve Gaynor recently posted a very good article on his blog about play, and the purpose of games. I am tempted to quote the whole thing, but I will just pull out this piece:

As we dig into a new gameworld and begin to fill its boundaries with our understanding, we relive the experiences of youthful play. We explore unknown spaces as we did the woods behind our houses, or the vacant lots at the far ends of our neighborhoods. We hunt in hidden corners for treasures, and collect them in our pockets.

In a lot of ways, this paragraph could have been written specifically about Seiklus. In fact, Gaynor’s whole article could have been written specifically about Seiklus, because what Gaynor wants video games to do is exactly what Seiklus wants to do: “offer us fresh worlds from which to derive the reinvigorating, electrifying wonder of the new.” Read more »

Academic Paper Revisited, Episode 1: Attack of That Darned Question! screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

A paper I wrote in 2005 for an undergraduate Aesthetics class, in which I examine that clichéd question: can video games be art? The question is addressed here specifically in the context of art history and art theory. To that end I briefly analyze video games from the perspectives of mimetic theory, formalism, art as play, deconstructionism, art as political platform, the Artworld theory, and the theory of aesthetic experience. The style is necessarily academic, and I hope that my reader will not hold that against me.

It is perhaps obvious, but should be noted that my views have changed somewhat in the four years that have passed since I wrote this. I still think it serves as a decent launching point from which to think about games and art, however, especially in the broader context of art theory. And that is why I have bothered to transpose it.

The paper begins thusly:

It’s 2:00 A.M. Saturday morning, January 29th, 2005. Artist/Entrepreneur/Game Designer Derek Yu sits on the floor of his San Francisco apartment with a paintbrush in one hand and a joystick in the other; I’m halfway across the country conducting an interview via Microsoft Messenger. “Why make games?” echoes Derek, “Because to make a game is to create a world. More so than a book, a painting, or a movie, a game is something where the creator has complete control over the rules. And for a creative person, you can’t ask for a better opportunity.”

It’s 2:00 A.M. and my senses are starting to fade—did someone just compare making video games to painting and writing? I have to go to bed.

Ten hours of blissful sleep later and the interview feels like a dream: video games are video games, art is art, and that is that—all is right with the world. For two weeks. At which time an innocent friend tells me about Sanitarium, a “serious” computer adventure game that I just have to play. The game engages me, frightens me, and leaves me in emotional tatters—at which point I recall Derek’s words. Could this game be art? Surely not, but perhaps I should look into the possibility—just in case.

And now my world comes crashing down. Upon “looking into it” I find that far from being alone, Derek is only one of many people who seem to be on a veritable crusade to validate video games as art objects. I find websites dedicated to game art, museums featuring “art games,” and academic papers discussing video game aesthetics… what in the world is going on? Read more »

Canabalt: A One Button Miracle screenshot

Canabalt

Game released: 2009

Text written: Sep 5, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Adam Atomic

Production: Independent

Platforms: Browser, iPhone

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Canabalt is pure genius, and possibly the best Flash game I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. It is a true single button game, in that you use a single button to play, period: there are a lot of “arrow keys + one button” games out there, but this isn’t one of them. You control a protagonist in an urban dystopia who is attempting to make “a daring escape.” From what we are not told, but if you observe the backdrop closely you can make an educated guess or two. The running happens without your input: all you need do is press “x” to jump from one building to another: offices to rooftop, rooftop to crane.

This game is a beautiful thing to watch, and my single complaint for its designers is the lack of a recording/replay option. The first thing you’ll notice here is the atmosphere: with a few shades of gray and some delicate pixel work Adam Atomic and Danny B have created the Blade Runner of Flash games. Academia has conditioned me to feel dirty for comparing a canon film to something made in Flash, but I’m not going to back down: considering its scope, context, and medium, Canabalt does what Blade Runner did for its own context and medium. It is a stark, atmospheric, posthuman platformer. Read more »

Life in a Bottle

16 Aug 2009
Life in a Bottle screenshot

Passage

Game released: 2007

Text written: Aug 16, 2009
By: Jordan Magnuson

Developer: Jason Rohrer

Production: Independent

Platforms: Linux, Mac OS X, Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: TIGdb
Jordan Magnuson's picture

Passage is a very short art game about life and death and the passage of time. It is intended to be played before you read anything about it, so I would highly recommend that you download and play the game if you have not yet done so. It will take you about five minutes, and is very much worth the time.

Since Rohrer summarizes the game well, I won’t waste time rephrasing:

Passage represents life’s challenges with a maze. The screen geometry only allows you to view a narrow slice of this maze at any given moment. You can see quite a distance out in front of you (and, later in life, behind you), but you can’t see anything to the north or south. You may see a reward up ahead but not be able to see a clear path to it. In fact, after a bit of exploration, you may discover that a seemingly nearby reward is in fact unreachable.

Approaching the Game

Like most art games, Passage has met with a variety of reactions. Because it has become particularly famous, those reactions have been especially strong. Many people have found the game to be quite profound, while many others have turned up their noses at Rohrer and this effort, claiming it is pretentious at best, and a piece of dog poo at worst (well, actually, that’s not the worst). Read more »

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