All posts by auntie

michael jackson’s that bit where michael jackson leans over really far

i don’t know if i mention this often enough, but my magazine has a pretty fucking rad forum. this past week’s topic of conversation: games for the wii balance board.

Obedience: The Game
A game wherein you must use the wiimote and balance board to obey complex commands — but when you fail, one of your Miis is killed via electric shock. Unlockable special “electrosurf” play mode, and “Milgram classic” wherein you must obey audio cues to electrocute your Miis.

(courtesy Sediment)

What Did You Get Me? Is It A Watch?
The perfect gift-giving simulation. Players take turns picking up the Wii Balance Board(tm) and shaking it in their ears. The Wii-mote(tm) speaker will give audio clues as to whether the present is soft, fragile, or alive.
(courtesy helicopterp)

Duke Nukem Jackboot Stamping on A Human Face Forever
‘It’s time to kick ass and stamp repeatedly on a face. And I’m all out of ass!’
Join forces with wisecracking action hero Duke Nukem to live out George Orwell’s brutal analogy for the future of mankind! It’s you, Duke Nukem, and a gymnasium full of human faces. Whose legs will get tired first?
(courtesy Harveyjames)

Street Protest
Can you stay on your feet when rushed by a wall of riot shields?

How about staying vertical under water cannon fire?

And you have to hold up your sign (wii in hand) at the same time!
Or throw stinkbombs, rocks, molotovs. (In the Riot Bonus Levels.)

Bonus points for returning tear gas nades and flipping/torching cop cars.
(courtesy Redeye)

XX/XY: Sit On My Face
Quirky relationship game from the makers of Project Rub.
(Harveyjames again)

yume nikki

what yume nikki reminds me most of is lsd, but with soft 16-bit sprites instead of nervously fragile polygons. both games manage to simultaneously evoke the terror and wonder of the dreaming world. yume nikki’s particular strength is in how it juxtapositions the comforting warmth of nostalgia with the threat of the unfamiliar, creating an effect that is very unnerving.

appropriately, the only activity the protagonist (who is too scared to leave her apartment except in the frightfully unreal dream world) is willing to perform in the waking world is play videogames.

courtesy tim via sekhem.

glados bound

i find game-ism’s metaphor of portal’s glados as a bound woman struggling to be free necessarily intriguing, even if third-favorite gamer’s quarter editor m. o’connor (who posted the link) rightly accuses the author of “anthropomorphizing the (wo)man in the moon”.

it also reminds me of heroine sheik’s reading of portal as queer, though slut loves to get on my nerves by suggesting it can as easily be read as a game about penis envy. i do think there’s a streak of sadism and sense of entitlement in glados’s interactions with chell that’s almost exciting.


finally got around to playing kyle pulver’s bonesaw. the level design is informed by masahiro sakurai’s kirby games, particularly the “bomb block” element which is borrowed outright. the bomb block is truth be told my favorite thing about the design of the kirby games, and it’s high time someone made a game about them.

what the bomb block is is a way of expanding the verbs available for the player to interact with the world of kirby / bonesaw. you hit it, and a line of tiles are replaced domino-style, either by open air or solid blocks or anything in between. punching a bomb block essentially translates your primary verb into, gosh, any number of world-transformations.

one of my favorite examples (from kirby super star) is a bomb block that simulates the effects of blasting a hole through the bottom of a basin of water and the water cascading out and breaking and flowing around platforms and forming a pool at the bottom. and all just by replacing a bunch of empty tiles with water tiles from the top down. that’s a pretty economic design element.

(a more common example, which appears in every kirby game, bonesaw included, is the bomb that takes out the platforms holding up a bunch of cannons, causing them to tumble into pits and thus become harmless.)

the bomb block is the real star of bonesaw. and i think that it’s absolutely the place of freeware developers to expand on and continue the work commercial developers aren’t permitted to. (after all, i did make mighty jill off.)

what else about the game? combat is boring, and there’s seemingly some layer of sports machismo that i don’t understand or care about. bomb block, i have eyes only for you.

masocore games

contemporary videogame design shies away from player death, tries to avoid or at least mitigate the amount of time the player spends looking at a game over screen. in an age where game over is seen as undesirable, masocore games approach player death as a narrative technique.

this “genre”, which has proliferated recently, has had a number of names attached to it, but this one (coined by a pretty cool lady on the selectbutton forums) is my favorite for obvious reasons. it encompasses games like i wanna be the guy, jinsei owata no daibouken, syoban action. here’s an example of a typical scene:

trees full of apples. unassuming, you stride under one, and an apple falls from the tree and crushes you, sending you back to the start of the screen. you approach again, this time cautiously poking your nose out under the tree in an attempt to goad the apple into falling before you pass. you don’t jump back in time, you get crushed. this time it works, and you begin carefully making your way across a screen full of apple trees. some apples only fall in pairs, and you have to dodge between the two. sometimes you can jump at an apple to spook it into falling early. about halfway across, you notice an apple low enough you can jump over it. tired of the tedious apple-teasing, you graciously accept the respite of an apple you won’t have to dodge mid-fall. you jump over the apple, and the apple falls up and kills you. the apple falls up and kills you.

that’s from i wanna be the guy, and it’s probably the scene that the largest number of players remember, because it’s only on the second screen. but here’s an example from syoban action which will better substantiate the point i’m about to make:

syoban action is styled after super mario bros. cracked earth, hanging bricks, staircases and blue skies. blue skies with white clouds. near the end of stage 1 you jump past a cloud and die. the cloud grows teeth. it wasn’t a cloud at all, but an enemy! of course it killed you.

many players dismiss these games as being merely super-hard, but that’s not their defining principle, though they often are. (seven minutes and psychosomnium are good examples of games that fall into the genre but aren’t necessarily challenging.) my definition of a masocore game is a game that plays with the player’s expectations, the conventions of the genre that the player thinks she knows. they’re mindfucks.

in the example above, the player takes the cloud for granted because she’s jumped past clouds plenty of times in super mario platformers, she assumes they’re background objects. there’s a reason most of these games are based on super mario bros.

in fact, we can probably trace the genre to the famicom disk system version of super mario bros. 2, possibly the only commercial example. designed by takashi tezuka, the programmer of the original super mario bros., the game confronts players with mushrooms that kill mario and warp zones that lead backwards. the only reason this game could exist is because everyone who played videogames had played super mario bros. beforehand, arguably the most widely-played game of its time. conventions had been established, and learned, and could justifiably be fucked with.

many of the genre’s entries are in fact hacks of super mario bros. (super mario forever and kaizo super mario world being prominent examples). anyone playing them will come with a preexisting set of assumptions and an understanding of how super mario bros. is supposed to be played. how super mario bros. is supposed to work.

(watch that part where mario tries to jump a pit and hits his head on an invisible block. the joke works because anyone who’s played super mario knows can’t argue that that’s a technically legitimate place for an invisible block to be in super mario bros. but miyamoto would never put one there!)

super mario bros. 2 is a rare exception, because most of these games are simply unmarketable. which is why the masocore game, twenty years later, is starting to come into its own: now there are avenues for freeware games to reach wide audiences. these games have no need to sell themselves to the player, which
allows them to be among the most interesting game experiences being crafted right now.


this port of tyrian to the ds has been getting a lot of my time. not because of tyrian itself. though we all love daniel cook‘s spritework and alexander brandon’s music, the game itself is really only a more-charming-than-average euroshmup. i’ve been playing opentyrian ds because it includes destruct.

destruct is a mini-game hidden inside tyrian. in the original game, you have to type “d-e-s-t-r-u-c-t” on the title screen to reach it. (on the ds, i can simply pick it off a menu.) it’s maybe the best (realtime!) take on scorched earth anyone’s ever took.

there are a bunch of different weapons that appear in the game, and they all play differently: the traditional cannon, which uses fast, weak “tracer” shots to mark a path to the enemy before deploying slow, strong “large” shots; the radar dish, whose electric blue lasers are unaffected by gravity and ricochet off the edges of the screen; the helicopter, the most mobile by far but the weakest and the easiest target; and the repulsor, which doesn’t itself fire but allows me to redirect my enemy’s own weapons back towards its guns.

(one of my little thrills in the game is picking the dish and sitting on the button, watching the sky fill with bouncing blue lasers, having no idea whether they’re going to end up on my side of the screen or my opponent’s.)

also charming on the homebrew ds is lone wolf ds, not just because it uses the “book” orientation of the ds but because its goal is to manage the “game” part of reading a gamebook, so i can focus on the “book” part. that’s what early crpgs were designed to do, after all: act as the gm of a single-player pen & paper game.

rom check fail

rom check fail stitches together the most iconic games of the eighties with the unifying thread of the glitch. the goal is to clear each screen of enemies, but they might be space invaders or asteroids or the qix and you might be mario or link or the defender and each of these things is prone to change in the midst of a sprite scramble every few seconds.

what i like about rom check fail is that implicit in its design is the understanding that there’s a common vocabulary of videogames. each avatar has its own verb: mario jumps, the tank shoots, pac-man gobbles. the game emerges when different verbs are set against different objects.