Recess! 6 – Less of a game

Recess! is a cor­re­spon­dence series with per­son­al rumi­na­tions on games.

Dear Niels and Alper,

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.

Kars

Recess! 3 – Rituals & Habits

Recess! is a cor­re­spon­dence series with per­son­al rumi­na­tions on games.

Dear Alper and Niels,

Where to begin? I guess by thank­ing Alper for kick­ing this thing off. And to respond to his com­ments on Pro­teus—yes, Alper, you’re being a stick in the mud. Pro­teus isn’t a replace­ment for a walk in the woods, and I’m pret­ty sure it wasn’t intend­ed as such. The thing that makes it spe­cial for me is the respon­sive audio, and how nav­i­gat­ing the space is also an act of tweak­ing and tun­ing the sound­scape. The fact that it was used in a live musi­cal per­for­mance is no sur­prise to me, in this regard.

Niels, your explo­ration of Ni No Kuni’s world sounds like a lot of work. And I won­der, real­ly, why not just sit back and watch a Ghi­b­li film, if you’re that much of a fan. What could a game pos­si­bly add? I myself pre­fer Ghi­b­li-esque explorato­ry worlds such as Jour­ney. I guess what I’m say­ing is: leave games to the game mak­ers and films to the film mak­ers. I’m a purist that way.

What to play? I’ve had the plea­sure of play­ing quite a bit of LUFTRAUSERS late­ly, and it’s shap­ing up to be a lot of fun. (I guess we’ll need to wait a bit longer for it, now that Vlam­beer seems to be fin­ish­ing Ridicu­lous Fish­ing first.) I’ve stopped play­ing it dur­ing work breaks though, I don’t unwind, I get wound up. Each time I’m close to killing my first blimp but then crash and burn I near­ly rage-quit the game.

I’ve fin­ished VESPER.5 last week. It took me well over 100 days to do so. Did it turn into a rit­u­al, as Michael Brough intend­ed? I wouldn’t go so far. I would say it got to being a habit. Which, to be hon­est, is fine. Per­haps becom­ing a habit is more than enough to aspire to for games. I did how­ev­er set a recur­ring to-do in my Things to remind myself to take my dai­ly step. Is that cheat­ing? Or is it a won­der­ful thing, that a game finds it way into my dai­ly to-do list?

It’s prob­a­bly not what Alper is look­ing for. This game won’t help you unwind, you can only do one thing a day. It’s very zen in that regard. You launch the game, watch all your actions up to that point, pon­der the next step (trad­ing off between admir­ing scenery or march­ing on towards the exit), take your step, and then per­haps spend a few moments con­sid­er­ing what you might do the next day. Hit escape, and get back to what you were doing.

It’s also not the fairy­tale world Niels would like to get lost in. It’s very sparse. There’s a bit of music, low res pix­el graph­ics, hard­ly any ani­ma­tion. There are still images you “unlock” as you vis­it cer­tain parts of the game’s world, sug­gest­ing a kind of alien land­scape. It’s evoca­tive, but in a very dif­fer­ent way from Ghibli’s lush works. Per­haps a snow globe is a nice anal­o­gy. A thing that sits on your desk or in your win­dowsill, that you absent­mind­ed­ly play with occa­sion­al­ly, while tak­ing a break from what­ev­er you are doing. Per­haps it reminds you of a place or time you hold dear­ly. But it’s not the place itself. It’s a proxy or a totem or what­ev­er the right word is.

I’m well over my intend­ed 250 words. Don’t read on if you’re play­ing VESPER.5 and hate spoil­ers. I’ll just leave you here and hand over to Alper again. But if you don’t care, here we go:

The one thing that dis­ap­point­ed me, in a rather unex­pect­ed way, is that the game ends abrupt­ly when you get to the end. I thought I’d be reward­ed with some nice sur­prise but I wasn’t. I also thought I’d per­haps done well because I took a lot of detours along the way. But the game did not acknowl­edge this in any way. What I was left with, was that it was done. I was done. And think­ing about it now, that’s a shame. It’s crazy, because the promise of fin­ish­ing this thing after 100 steps, one step a day, is what got me start­ed, and what pro­pelled be through­out. But now that I’ve got­ten into the habit, I don’t think I need that goal any­more.

I’d like a VESPER.5 that just stays with me, like that snow globe. That I can just go through end­less­ly. A habit, a good one at least, is some­thing that should con­tin­ue on indef­i­nite­ly after all.

Kars

(Read Niels’ con­tri­bu­tion, and Alper’s post before that.)