Recess! is a correspondence series with personal ruminations on games.
Dear Alper and Niels,
This morning I read the news that Jason Rohrer has won the final game design challenge at GDC. A Game For Someone is amazing—a boardgame buried in the Nevada desert, intended to be played in a few thousand years by those who finally find it after working down a humongous list of GPS coordinates. The game has never been played, it’s been designed using genetic algorithms. It’s made from incredibly durable materials.
I find it ironic that a boardgame wins a game design contest at an event whose attendants also drool over technofetishistic nonsense such as Oculus Rift.
And I love boardgames. I love playing big tactical shouty competitive ones at my house with friends on Saturday evenings. Or small, slow meditative strategic ones with my fiance on Sunday afternoons. I love their physicality, the shared nature of playing.
I also love them for the inspiration they offer me. Their inner workings are exposed. They’re a bit like the engines in those old cars I see some of neighbours work on every weekend, just for fun. It’s so easy to pick out mechanics, study them and see how they may be of use to my own projects.
“My games collection isn’t a library, it’s a toolkit.”
This is on display at Yes Naturally, the exhibit in The Hague also showing Pig Chase. Overblown as art, perhaps, but intriguing nonetheless—a hermit crab who’s made his home in a japanese golden mask.
Edit: Hein tells me it’s not a japanese mask, but in fact a replica of Brancusi’s A Muse. Goes to show how much I know…
Just before writing this I was playing Ridiculous Fishing. And by the time you read this, you’ve probably played it yourselves. So you don’t need me to tell you it’s pretty great. As always with Vlambeer games the feel is just right. The art style is refreshingly different. But most importantly, it does not try to guilt trip you into playing more and more of it. Or ask for your money so you can skip the tedious bits. There are no tedious bits. I would say its old school and honest in that way.
I’ve also played a bit of Year Walk. Yes, most of my video gaming nowadays happens on iOS. Turning on a console to sit down and play a game for real is a big commitment. I hardly ever get around to it. As with Ridiculous Fishing I was enamored by Year Walk’s brave departure from the usual generic art style. The interaction designer in me was also pleasantly surprised by its slightly odd movement controls. You pan left and right to explore a given area, and swipe up and down to move between them. It’s a comfortable way of playing on a touch screen, plus it gels nicely with the layered, picture-book art style. The game’s ominous atmosphere—which I’ll lazily describe as “Blair Witch-esque occult goings-on in a snowy forest” also captivated me.
What put me off though, was one of the first actual puzzles I had to solve. I had to use a code I’d discovered in one area to open up a door in another area. I had to grab a pen and paper and write that code down. It wasn’t hard, but it felt like work. I quickly lost interest after that. I did not feel like doing more of these lock-and-key chores to progress. Come to think of it, this is what put me off FEZ, too. I’d rather just wander around and explore the story world. Similar to Niels’s annoyance with the JRPG tropes in Ni no Kuni, I wanted it to be less of a game, I guess.