They create worlds: Disco Elysium

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

The moment I wake up, I know that something is amiss. My reptilian brain and my limbic system talk to me, one in a snarling, jagged voice, the other in a hoarse, high-pitched whisper. They urge me, mock me, lead me astray – but who is this “me” they’re talking to? I drag my sorry body to the bathroom and look at myself in the fogged-up mirror – and there is no moment of recognition. I see my face, and it could be anyone’s. I’m a blank – and like a blank, I’m there to be filled with personality and meaning and purpose.

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They create worlds: Outer Wilds

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

One of the biggest differences between computer games when I first started playing them, back in the 1980s, and modern computer games is scope. Open worlds of the kind that we’re used to nowadays didn’t exist on the 8-bit and 16-bit computers of yore, but these days it’s not rare for a game to feature a world many square kilometres in size. In 2001, Grand Theft Auto III let us rampage in a Liberty City that measured 9 km2 in real-world terms; Grand Theft Auto V, which came out in 2013, covered an area of 127 km2. Things get even more insane with the possibilities of procedural generation, so that we got a 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way galaxy in Elite Dangerous (released in 2015). As game worlds get bigger and bigger, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill them with meaningful content, and arguably Elite‘s in-game universe is several light years wide and a nanometre deep. Which is one of the reasons why the toy-box solar system of Outer Wilds is so engaging.

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I’m talkin’ here!

Stop me if this sounds familiar, because I’m sure I’ve written it before: the thing that makes gaming in Virtual Reality fundamentally different from playing on a regular screen is that it removes a layer of abstraction. You don’t look around by moving the mouse, pressing a stick in a certain direction or pressing a button: you look around by looking around. It sounds like a small difference, but it feels entirely different whether you look up at an enormous, ominous gate covered with runes glowing red by moving the hand holding the mouse a few centimetres away from you or whether you lean your head back. You perceive size and scale entirely differently, and as a result things feel more intimate, more real, for want of a better word. Present-day VR aims at reducing abstraction even more by means of room-scale solutions (the virtual space is represented by the actual space, so you can walk around in-game by walking around in the available space – until you bump into the nearest wall or trip over the cat) and of controllers that replicate hand and finger movement, so you grab things in virtual space not by pushing a button but by using your actual hands.

Skyrim

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Sad: The Video Game

One of the greatest achievements of the emergence of indie gaming is the sheer diversity of themes, genres, stories and characters that have come with it – and this diversity is slowly spreading to the AAA space. Where games for a long time catered to the power fantasies of gamers and problems were both created and solved with big guns and other deadly weapons, these days there’s much more of a wide range of games that let you run restaurants with a friend, experience giddy romances with a whole bevy of dream daddies, overcome anxiety and impostor syndrome, escape dystopias, or try not to lose your soul working as an immigration officer or the editor in charge of a news network. It is exciting to see developers trying to find ways in which games can say something about topics other than “What happens when you shoot a big monster in the head until it dies?”

Gris

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The Rear-View Mirror: Leisure Suit Larry (1987)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

BUY CONDOMS

How many 1980s nerds had their first sexual experience at Lefty’s Bar? How many teenagers learned about the perils of sex by catching an STD and having to reload an earlier savegame – or restart the game because they forgot to “Save early, save often”? How many never made it past the pimp in the first place, or forgot to properly prepare (also known as GET NAKED) to do the deed?

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards
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Press A to Design/Play/Disrupt

Two cloaked figures sliding down a glittering dune, singing to each other. A hunter in Victorian garb, facing down a gigantic hairy creature on a dilapidated bridge. A grizzled middle-aged man and a young woman making their way through a ruined, overgrown city. Grinning figures, half-human, half-squid, swimming salmon-like through splotches of paint. Hundreds of extraterrestrial worlds, the skies above them in hundreds of different hues. An eagle, half visible through the trees, half concealed by the empty gaps between them.

Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt

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These goggles are made for walking

I’ve written about it before: as much as I love virtual reality and its sense of immersion, we haven’t quite arrived at the holodeck yet. You can’t really touch things, though with the right kind of controllers implemented well it’s amazing how well you can fool your brain into believing that you’re actually holding that floppy disk, handgun or lightsaber in VR. However, what is much more difficult, at least in the comfort of your home, is walking. Sure, you can walk a few steps depending on how much space you have, but after more than a metre or two you’re likely to bang into a wall. And since few people live in empty warehouses or vast, echoing halls, not to mention the cable by which you’re generally attached to the PC, developers generally have to find workarounds.

Skyrim

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The Rear-View Mirror: Lemmings (1991)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I’ve been playing computer games for… well, it’s been a while. My parents got a C-64 when I was about nine years old, back in the Cold War-and-neon days of 1983. Many of my fondest gaming memories go back to the time when pixels were the size of your fist and anything more than 16 colours on the same screen was not just luxurious but simply not possible. Later, when I was a teenager, I upgraded to the next Commodore model, the Amiga, but it never felt as iconic as the good old ‘breadbox’ did. When I think of the games that I grew up with, I think of the likes of International Soccer, ParadroidWizball and World Games, all of them on the C-64. Sure, I had some fun times playing Amiga games, but they didn’t have that ineffable thing that the technically more primitive games on the older, slower, less capable machine did.

There are a handful of exceptions, though. And the one that comes to mind in an instant is best described by the sound of a squeaky voice going “Oh no!”

Lemmings
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That Was The Year That Was: 2018

In past years I always forgot about doing a look back at the year that was until my friend and co-blogger Mege did his own retrospective – and by that time it was too late. This year I come prepared and bearing not just one or two but eight awards. Enjoy!

A Damn Fine Cup

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