Platformer

These games involve traveling between platforms by jumping.

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

Exploring Emotion and Aesthetics with A Boy and His Blob and Lucidity screenshot
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A Boy and His Blob

Game released: 2009

Developer: WayForward Technologies

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Wii

Price: $30.00

Get it from: Amazon

Lucidity

Game released: 2009

Developer: LucasArts Workshop

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Windows

Price: $10.00

Get it from: Steam

Most of the games that I’ve ever played—and I’d venture to say most of the games we’ve ever created—are lacking in emotional depth. Many people have made this observation, and it’s coming to border on cliché. You probably don’t want to hear it any more. But if we want to make better games we’ve got to try and address these clichéd complaints that keep hitting us in the face, rather than just point out how clichéd they are. Over the last couple of months I’ve played two games that have impressed me with their emotional landscapes, so I thought I’d take some time to reflect on them. One of the games I think is great, and both, I believe, are important, for what they try to be and do.

The Games in Question

The games in question are A Boy and His Blob, by WayForward Technologies, and Lucidity, by the LucasArts Workshop. Each game offers some variation on puzzle-based, platformesque gameplay, and each presents a luscious, hand-painted graphical style, central to its charm. Just take a look at these screenshots: Read more »

Lucidity screenshot

Lucidity

Game released: 2009

Developer: LucasArts Workshop

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Windows

Price: $10.00

Get it from: Steam
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This game was reviewed in conjunction with A Boy and His Blob. To see the comparative review click here.

A Boy and His Blob screenshot

A Boy and His Blob

Game released: 2009

Developer: WayForward Technologies

Production: Commercial

Platforms: Wii

Price: $30.00

Get it from: Amazon
Jordan Magnuson's picture

This game was reviewed in conjunction with Lucidity. To see the comparative review click here.

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).

Destructivator: Ramblings screenshot

Destructivator

Game released: 2009

Developer: Pug Fugly Games

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Developer's Website
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I recently found myself sitting in the Frankfurt airport, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a miniature plane to take me to Slovenia to visit my parents-in-law. My one-year teaching contract in Korea has expired, and my wife and I have a two-week break before next year’s contract kicks in, ergo the trip. I’m typing this from the comfort of my parents-in-law’s home in Ljubljana, having already been here a week, relaxing and taking in the sites, but my story takes place in the Frankfurt airport… twiddling thumbs. So I’m sitting there feeling very sorry for myself—being six-foot-seven, and all, and already having had to endure eleven hours of economy class torture—mind wandering, cold blue lights slowly sucking the life from my bones.

With no direct imperative from my mind, my hand slips into my backpack and finds my laptop; out it comes. Zip zip, open click, the hum of fans, the Windows chime. I am reminded of another mind-numbing airport wait from several months ago—one that felt like death, in my state of depression at the time—and suddenly I know what I must do: the same thing I did then: Destructivate.

Alt-Space for Launchy, and I type the title in; nothing; the launcher must be acting up. Start menu then; searching.

But the place where Destructivator should be is blank, is not there at all. I remember a hard drive formatting… of course. And suddenly I’m almost depressed again, because I realize that Destructivator is not simply the game I played last time I was numb, waiting at a gate. Rather, it is the game that I must play at every airport gate, always. Like the airport, the world of Destructivator is cold blue steel; humanity’s ability to control the elements, inverted; modernism at its peak, above its peak, below its peak; Kurtz; despair. Read more »

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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.

Academic Paper Revisited, Episode 1: Attack of That Darned Question! screenshot
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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

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 »

Living Adventure: Spelunky vs. Fate of Atlantis screenshot
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Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Game released: 1992

Developer: LucasArts

Production: Commercial

Platforms: DOS, Mac OS 9, Wii, Windows

Price: $5.00

Get it from: Steam

Spelunky

Game released: 2009

Developer: Derek Yu

Production: Independent

Platforms: Windows

Price: FREE

Get it from: Official Website

Who doesn’t dream of donning a fedora and leather jacket, grabbing a 10-foot, 12-plait bullwhip, and diving into the nearest cave in search of treasure, danger, and adventure? Who doesn’t want to look like an Average Joe on the outside, but secretly be a professor of archeology on the inside, and even more secretly be a globetrotting daredevil?

There are a bunch of games out there that let you do the whip-wielding archeologist thing, but most of them aren’t that great. Two very good ones though, are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, released by LucasArts in 1992, and Spelunky, released by Derek Yu seventeen years later (that’s 2009, for the mathematically challenged).

The fascinating thing about these two games is that they are quite similar in terms of theme and mood: both do a fantastic job of imparting that sense of earth-encrusted derring-do—both make me feel like an armchair Indiana Jones—and yet the mechanics that make the games tick are very, very different. Fate of Atlantis is a classic point-and-click adventure game, filled with puzzles and featuring a well-developed but mostly linear plot; Spelunky, by contrast, is a an action-platformer-roguelike with procedural level generation, whose player-created story arcs are less defined, and never go the same way twice.

As I recently finished playing through Fate of Atlantis for the second time, after fourteen years away (you can download the game for $5 from Steam now, which is great), I was struck that these games, with their similar themes yet different mechanics, present a great opportunity to compare and contrast two breeds of interactive experience. Read more »

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