Beyond the Sea: Subtext and Environmental Storytelling in Ecco the Dolphin

ecco6

[TW: This piece discusses death, violence and fear of the sea.] 

I was convinced, the first time I fired up my Ecco the Dolphin ROM on my SEGA emulator, that the whole of the game consisted of the first screen in Home Bay. Perhaps it was my own bias toward free-form experimental games, but for a good ten minutes I splashed, swam, and breached the surface of Home Bay’s pacific blue water, gradations of navy and purple leading the eye to a robin’s-egg horizon lined with white clouds and distant, mountainous islands, and I figured that was the game. I didn’t realize what foreshadowing those remote formations and the darkening depths of the water implied, nor did I realize what it meant when I jumped into the air and all of a sudden and with a whirring screech, all the beautiful life of the Bay got vacuumed into the sky. Continue reading

Altgame Profiles: Strangethink

Strange262.3221

Strangethink is a Manchester-based independent developer, and this is the only piece of biographical trivia he’s made publicly available as far as I could find. We follow each other on Twitter although we’ve barely spoken. His timeline gives off an air of single-minded creative dedication and professionalism, replete with screenshots of his in-production work and updates on the development process. In other words, it reads like a dev blog. His website, by contrast, provides almost no information. All we get is his logo—a white Rorschach-esque pattern that looks something like a brain on a hot pink background—a screenshot of his game currently in development, and a field for sending Strangethink your email address in case your would like updates for its pending release. Continue reading

Notes on Dream.Sim: The Darkness Cycle

dreamsim174

I’ve had this dream before, but something’s wrong. I wake up, but the alarm doesn’t chime like I expect it to. The music is lilting and subtly melancholy. Things are dark, grainy, gray, colourless. The silence is the thick residue of violence. Something happened here. I awaken into this world as if having walked in on something after the fact. The silence and the darkness speak volumes about things falling apart.

I look over to the corner of my small apartment where I expect to see my computer monitor by the window and art hung on the wall, all neatly arranged. Instead, things are broken and in disarray. Comforts of home, luxury and sentimentality are all heaped in a pathetic pile like trash. The monitor is suspended in the pile which appears stuck to the wall, the screen static and flickering. I walk past a painting stuck off-center to the wall. It’s so pallid it looks like it’s been murdered. Did I do this? Why would I do this? Why would I dream this? Continue reading

Notes on Dream.Sim: The Lightness Cycle

DreamPrint15

I wake up and the alarm chimes like a bird. Gentle music and the ambient noises of the city drone. Striking neon tones making up the fills and contours of this dream world pop vividly against the otherwise-black background that covers the entire landscape. I could be dreaming about TRON, or some other brightly-lit cyberpunk vision of the future from thirty years ago.

To my left, a computer monitor and art hangs on the walls, all neatly composed. Near the painting there are jars, paintbrushes, other artist’s tools, and I take the art on the wall to be my character’s. They way the pieces are hung, they must be a point of pride. I get a sense of scale by the bed’s proximity to the computer desk; even more by the bathroom’s proximity to the exit. Everything feels organized but compressed. I get a sense of competing, contradictory textures when I collide with, on the one hand, the solid, electric-blue mass that’s meant to represent water in the inexplicably full tub. On the other, an almost-transparent—were it not for the red outline—spiral staircase looping around my balcony gives things a feeling of lightness. Continue reading

Theorypunk: Get It While Supplies Last

Modified screenshot from Gallergy by Swofl

“In a world in which the subject has become a stranger to its [sic] labor, we use experience to incite awareness of the alienation in which one lives.”  -Lygia Clark, Nostalgia of the Body: “We Refuse…”, 1965

First, I know that nothing here will last.

Lygia Clark, an artist whose work might have fallen into the categories of “performance” or “installation” or “communicational”—yet manages to defy any singular genre specification—would have made a fantastic game designer had that option been available to her. Her work was highly experiential and participatory, the “pieces” not the objects of play themselves but the interaction that emerged between the “spectator-author” and the work. A dialogue took place between participant and artist, where the roles would switch, where the artist would give up a little of herself so that the participant might assert themself in the interaction taking place. Clark places much importance on the “act”, on the “instant”, on verbs rather than nouns. On people rather than objects. Continue reading

AltGame Profiles: Aeryne Wright (Lissaring)

forest2

In this new series, I look at the catalogue of a developer’s work to try to determine their distinctive voice. There will be heavy spoilers so I suggest playing the (short) games linked in the text before reading through this piece. 

[TW: Some light discussion of death.] 

Playing an Aeryne Wright (a.k.a Lissaring) game is often like wandering through an enchanted forest, discovering the dew and grass and birds, the secret societies that live there, and the substance of your own thoughts. You reflect and the environment is a mirror to hold that reflection. The birds chirp and the wind chimes and the serenity of a wooded landscape gives way to some magic, something fable-like and surreal. A door, an eye, a hooded demon taking a train ride, a glistening talisman. The real twists into the unreal, like a dream space that’s at once familiar and distant, ethereal, supernatural. Continue reading

Notes on Beeswing: Flatness and Depth

beeswing

ONE. I can see the edges of the paper, the little drips of watercolour paint. I can see the punch-holes where they were ripped out and the paper layered on top of a mess of other sheets and I can see the wood grain of the desk. It’s all a frame for the delicately messy landscapes of Jack King-Spooner’s Beeswing, ephemerally and impressionistically creating a window into the world of a small, Scottish hometown. The landscape as both a dream-space and autobiography. A window into and out of the special context created by the characters seen through King-Spooner’s eyes. The gentle browns and greens of the forest and the countryside contrast with the harsher, hotter pinks, reds, orange highlights on the gray of the city, and the black-and-white sketches of its alleyways. The country is serene, calm. The city is busier, dirtier. The country expands and the city winds. The city is a twisting of lines and the country is a curving gradient of soft colour, like rain, like a meditative pond reflection. Like quietly paddling through the water to happen upon a mythic aquatic creature. The muted blackish-purples and wintery whites of the graveyard inspire a feeling of cold, finality, mortality. A somber sleep. Continue reading