Voorism in Transmissions Element 120 mod

Decided to conduct a little virtual tourism (Voorism) in a neat mod called Transmissions Element 120 mod for Half Life 2 by Shokunin Studios

Unfortunately andor fortuitously, Source SDK 2007 was not working as intended, and even updating Steam to a Beta version did little to prevent the game from repeatedly crashing, or load later levels. There were also many missing textures (the by-now classic Gmod ‘Black & Purple checkered textures‘ problem)

Still, one must roll with these things, and treat them as an opportunity to engage in other, non-official forms of (/meta) Play. Pressing F12 to take uncompressed screenshots of the environment did not work, but luckily the PrintScreen key was working

The resulting images from a single large section of map / level from early on in the game yeilded some neat looking views of the landscape. After some tweaking of the brightness, use of the Photo Illustration plugin in Gimp and a little Chromatic Aberration, the scenes started to display that neat “Clean Flat, Dry Style” often witnessed in / commonly manifested by Source Engine, but also seen in games like Chaser

The colors were also modified to a pleasing purple-blue bubblegum tint named “Purdle”

One small note about the visible mouse cursor; since Steam’s F12 screenshot option was out of order, pressing “PrtSc” meant that the mouse cursor was visible

While initially annoying, its embedded In-Scene existence was interpreted as a useful means by which viewers & Voorists could not become fully absorbed by these images – a symbolic reminder of their artificiality – perhaps a passing sign of The Human Factor behind their capture, and artistic presentation

If only the aesthetic look & feel of a game were so easily modifiable on the fly, according to the imaginative moods of players – it would make a cool Abstract Encounter

Ideas review: Spirits Of Xanadu vs Good Morning, Commander

Summary: While space is cool, in terms of idea density and atmospheric richness, “Spirits Of Xanadu” pales in comparison with its far more subtle and conceptually interesting and visually arresting prequel, “Good Morning, Commander”

Subtle SOX teaser trailer

A copy of “Spirits Of Xanadu” was generously provided for Alien Fiction by developer Allen Trivette. Many thanks
= = =

If you liked Good Morning, Commander you’ll probably dig this one. I made this almost like “what if GMC had an overt story and were a FPS?”
~ Allen Trivette, developer of Spirits of Xanadu (via email)

Confused: Spirits Of Xanadu
Mixed messages: Spirits Of Xanadu

Unfortunately, a strange game space like “Good Morning, Commander” (GMC) would be a hard sell on Steam at any time. Unlike its follow up, Spirits Of Xanadu (SOX) it has zero ‘Gamey’ elements, and exists as an simple expression and suggestion of a fantastic, mysterious atmosphere

A high-concept narrative is often used as a “safe” option to avoid the risk of alienating audiences with a convoluted or overly taxing plot exposition
~ High Concept, Wikipedia

Yes, SOX also has its own Independent retro charm; its look brings to mind Paranautical Activity  by devs Code Avarice – or Devolver Digital’s Heavy Bullets, if at a more sedate pace

Yet wander the murky corridors of SOX for a good 45 minutes pew-pewing angry trash cans and players may develop a sudden strong Boredom Headache, whereas GMC can effortlessly hold players spellbound in its grip for the entire duration of its strange, silent trip

SOX: clenching one’s mind like a fist

SOX’s in-game dialogue “I must clench my mind like a fist” seems in hot contention for the cheesiest line this year, and seems highly at odds with itself, and the game’s other elements

More mainstream SOX Release trailer

Compare the Teaser trailer with the Release trailer seen here. The difference is not some Shay-Dee dev attempt to flog a more palatable Mainstream Game to an audience, but rather a sign that the devs are acutely aware of the unspoken meta-language of games as Culture

Not that they have any real choice in the matter; the mainstream marketplace still seems a hostile a space for Play that does not fit into the strictly square hole of a bizarrely self-defined Real Games™ crowd

Indeed, many devs are forced to acknowledge the sub-standards of the mainstream gaming market, deliberately dialling back what they sense that market will consider “Non Real Gamey” elements of play – and dialling up the Awesome Fun

It’s this aspect of modern game development which can arguably be detected in the difference between the two SOX trailers. An inherent structural limitation and conceptual statute on what precisely is acceptable as A Real Game within “Games As Culture”

SOX: Literature vs Pew-Pew
SOX: literature vs Pew-Pew

The result however in SOX is a few pages of genuinely interesting literature, shots of neat, human books upon a shelf, hints at the possibility of subtle communication of potential Meaning and symbolic Mystery – all drowned out by space station alarms, flavourless Audio Logs and double shotgun blasts

The deep space sublime: Good Morning Commander

Consider how “GMC” does everything right with a maximum of low-fi polygon precision

Nice details in GMC
GMC: precise in-game detailing

Many players still talk that loose jive about a game Being Atmospheric, but in fact only ever give off the steamy stink of Atmospheric parody. GMC however effortlessly feels like a cool Abstract Encounter with The Video Real

GMC: Abstract Encounters With The Video Real
GMC as an Abstract Encounter with The Video Real

One smart player puts across the odd, oblique joys of GMC perfectly:

I played this after re-watching the episode covering it on RockLeeSmile’s “Indie Impressions”, and I just wanted to say that it was one of the most immersive, surreal exploration games I’ve ever played

The stark aesthetic of white and grey colors and large, empty landscape invoked really vivid and visceral feelings of solitude and loneliness, and the simple-modeled cubic architecture and furnishings gave the game a very unique, dreamlike atmosphere

The subtle references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fahrenheit 451 (If the door code was actually a reference to that. Was it?) and the other moon-related events were great as well

The simple gameplay really contributed to the sparse, empty feeling as well. In particular, I very much enjoyed the feel of the lunar vehicle, and the experience of gliding across the vast, silent landscape towards the station lights in the distance

Though I wasn’t able to get much of a definite sense of the story other than the fact that the player character is an alien themselves (and I’m still unsure of the significance behind that), the cutscenes added to the surreal, dreamlike aspect of the game

Overall, it was a really fun and enjoyable experience, and a well-thought out and original piece of content. I really look forward to seeing other games of yours
~ Kaspar on GMC

Another way to state this is that the player’s Imagination Muscle does not have to work as hard in “SOX” as it does inside “GMC”

SOX development w/in a limited space for truer Ideas

Not that SOX is ‘bad’ or its devs lazy, but the market space in which a project like SOX develops constrains most potential for exploring truly interesting / philosophical ideas and concepts – a project whose quiet subtleties are easily overshadowed by the noise of the Arcade it sells itself (short) as being

An excellent little game, which I felt has just the right balance to allow you to explore your way through it with a little patience. It reminded me of the old Freescape games too – Driller, Dark Side etc – although they were in many ways too open, allowing the puzzles to become too loose and obtuse
~ Brullek, R.P.S commentator on: SOX

Some backstrory to illustrate: at the farthest edge of the explored universe, the research ship Xanadu slumbers in orbit around an entirely non-mysterious planet. Her systems remain active but there has been no message from her crew for months. (They died from Terminal Boredom after playing too many rounds of the only Squirty arcade game on the ship, “King Of The Zombies.”) Now a sad, lone operative has been sent to wake the Xanadu from her conceptual slumber and bring her home, limping, to Earth

Spirits of Xanadu would like to be an atmospheric exploration game set aboard a deserted starship in an alternate 1980s. Instead, it draws inspiration from classically poor sci-fi films, novels, and games to efforts to be seen to create an ‘immersive and highly interactive’ environment, featuring dull puzzles and ‘FPS elements’ in the service of an indistinctly non-unique plot

Notable influences of the dev’s awesome “Good Morning, Commander” – which include System Shock, Deus Ex, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and 2001: A Space Odyssey – are unfortunately missing in SOX

Key SOX features:

– Multiple endings: You get to ‘decide the ultimate fate’ of the Xanadu. Nice in theory

– Discover the truth about modern indie game development: Find out what happened to the crew of the Xanadu with well voiced, yet somehow inherently uninteresting Audiologs, as well as through various (thankfully skippable) company and personal documents and e-mails

– Explore the Xanadu: Non-linear gameplay and narrative with complete freedom (ie. you can walk anywhere)

– Hot robot action with “first person shooter combat”: Avoid the ship’s security system and battle several different types of robots in order to take control of the ship. This gets old quite quickly, though

– Fully interactable environment: Inspired by the (idea of) immersive environment of games like Deus Ex and System Shock 2. Open every drawer and interact with nearly every object. Players can flush toilets – not that many care if they can’t drop (/audible) logs into the bowl

– Optional ‘Peaceful’ mode: Not a fan of violence against robots? Switch to the Peaceful difficulty setting to make the robots passive, which will allow you to explore the ship, absorb the story, and solve dull-ass puzzles at your own leisure with no pressure

That is, the kind of game SOX could have been. Yet the actually-cool ideas of the devs seemed necessarily hemmed in and kept to the correct level of generic Shooty Genericness by the ideological constraints of The Marketplace

A Standard Review

Check out the following clear example of A Standard Review of a product which is clearly being read as a Standard Video Game, that is, one with all the correct ‘gamey’ elements in all the right order. Exactly the kind of standardized review for exactly the kind of by now ubiquitous digital play experience still currently flooding Steam:

The reviewer mentions “Glossing over everything you come across” – which is precisely what players expecting nothing but A Solid Shooter will do, and indeed can only do in SOX

One merely has to look at the Steam page animated gif to see how the developers had to express themselves. Little genuine chance for human philosophy and mystery can exist in so repetitive a space:

Gamey: SOX
Highly animated gameplay SOX

Improving Spirits Of Xanadu

Shooting psycho-killer space robots in the face is fine – if that’s the only thing you’re there to do (or indeed can do.) Yet SOX appears to display a strong internal conflict between trying to say something about the experience of the strange isolation of space – and The Games Industry’s oh-so dependable, disposable ‘need’ for Decent First Person Shooters

There’s also an ironic tension between the simplicity of its look and the apparent complexity of its underlying ideas, whereas in GMC the two synchronize perfectly. GMC looks and feels precisely like the strange meanings it symbolizes

Call all this a Ludonarrative Dissonance if you like. Or just another unfortunate mix of ill-fitting elements. (At this point, some might make the dubious point of saying “If you don’t churn out Popular Content by day, than you can’t afford to develop your nightly Arty Indie“)

SOX design suggestions

Some feedback on the conceptual design of SOX as a symbolic, abstract system of meaning:

♦Overall: does this digital Play experience want to Suggest Narrative Mystery, or Simply Shoot Robots? In what ways does it do neither all that optimally?

SOX menu screen
What kind of play experience is SOX: main menu screen

♦ It takes far too long to get to the Main menu – have the intro video for the publisher start – once only – as the player Starts New Game

♦ It seems potentially interesting that SOX has better overall aesthetic Game Feel – ie. just like in GMC – if all the graphical options are turned off

SOX: dark play. (Where’s that damn  fuse?)

♦ More subtle lighting – the game doesn’t have to look like Cameron’s movie “Aliens”, but the floors could do with looking a bit more moody

♦ Make the turning off of robot sentries a clearly Strategic gameplay tactic

♦ Loose the Audio Logs – they do nothing for the game except appear out of place with its overall look / feel as a Strict FPS. Have a gadget which detects and records the silent ghost speech whenever the player hears static in the room

♦ Where am I now? Include a minimap or a wrist PDA gadget with a mapping function

♦ Random pages from old books do not automatically (deep / any) Meaning make

♦ The door code puzzles feel too oblique. Perhaps make the point clear that the player has to be fully present and attentive to the immediate needs of the hostile environment – which is actively trying to kill them / prevent their escape / hinder their vital (strictly time dependent?) mission

♦ Indeed, the ease with which the player is killed, even at Normal setting, should be a Dark Souls like selling point

♦ Nobody knows who the central protagonist is; if this is important to the implied meaning of the game, have them speak or interact with the environment in any way which informs players what they are like as a person / a person having to face such a hostile environment

♦ Force the player to explore outside the ship with limited oxygen

♦ Desk drawers should be closeable by clicking any point on them, not just the front, arrrgh; emphasize that an Optimal Tempo exists for this game – and impose it through gameplay mechanics

♦ Why there’s a distinct lack of verticality / jumping in SOX should be given a clear reason; indeed work more with and against player expectation generally – if SOX merely appears as it actually is – too much of another generic space shooter – then that’s unfortunate

♦ This game might work better – express its limited strengths – as an Oculus title

♦ Make it possible to build your own Search And Destroy droid using parts in storage – a nervous, yet Friendly Robot companion who can protect you, tell bad jokes

♦ More off-beat humour (to offset those often amusingly too self-serious Audio Logs)

♦ Make the entire game Open Source / Modding friendly; the simplicity of the look of the game (as an abstract system of meaning) suggest this should be entirely possible with minimum developer effort. Remember, sharing = caring

 Update Patch: dev response

Received a confusing email from developer Allen Trivette, who seemed annoyed at this analysis:

> I was ready to respond until I got to the bit about you mocking the game’s copy. Quite immature and disrespectful of you to do that, I don’t appreciate it at all. Is there a reason you wrote that in such a sardonic way? I skipped through your previous articles and found nothing else as equally hateful, so I’m wondering why I deserved that kind of blatant disrespect and condescension

= = =

Dear Alan

Hello, and thanks for your reply

Apologies if this Critique of your game “Spirits of Xanadu” has caused offence; in no way was this the intention

To clarify: Alien Fiction offers Philosophical critiques of Ideas and Concepts, and is uninterested in uncritical, ‘snarky’ commentary – especially against fellow artists and developers

A copy of your cool game was requested to study and talk about, precisely because “Good Morning, Commander” was and is an excellent, well constructed, thoroughly underrated example of modern interactive electronic art

To merely slag off someone’s game for no reason – after bothering to email a fellow developer, inform them of being a fan of their creative work, and then politely requesting a review copy of their next, cool project – would be a pointless waste of time

Indeed, the free sharing of ideas and thoughtful discussion around play and games is something Alien Fiction hopes to continue

Again, apologies if you felt this critique’s tone was Sardonic

Sincerely, Robert H. Dylan


Daily effects of Famous Indie Game Developer Privilege

Theodore Miles plucks a (low hanging) satirical fruit from an imaginary tree growing in his ideological back yard, discussing the daily effects, andor lack of effects concerning the privilege of (/being labelled as) “Famous Indie Game Developers

Firstly however he suggests carefully considering Liz Ryerson’s in-depth response to Darius Kazemi’s “#k videogames”

Scenarios for non-famous indie devs

When the silence is deafening: a list of privilege based ‘scenarios for non-famous indie devs’ adopted from the one at Polygon

Famous Indie Game Developer Privilege
Winning grins all around: classic simulacrum of Famous Indie Game Developer Privilege

0. Many[citation needed] indie devs feel tired of continually being passed up, passed over, looked past, talked around and generally ignored by Famous Indie Game Developers / those who label themselves as important / hang out with The Indie Anointed Ones. Do the following apply to you? Mark with an X and total em’ up:

1. I can ‘choose’ to remain completely unknown, or indifferent to the near complete lack of attention that many face as developers outside Famous Indie Developer spaces and circles

2. As I’m still outside famous Indie game dev circles, while I’m never directly told that indie games or its Culture of smug, hi-fiving privilege is not intended for me – the message is often loud and clear

3. While I do publicly post my username, gamertag or contact information online, I have to constantly face being totally ignored or automatically dismissed as a developer, because of my lack of perceived Indie Dev social cred

4. I’m constantly asked – indirectly – to “prove my indie developer cred”, simply because of neither me or my games are not yet famous enough, andor nor do I know or hang out with any famous indie game devs

5. Even if I enthusiastically express my fondness for indie play, other more famous devs automatically assume I’m faking my interest just to “get attention” – from ‘their’ players

6. I can look at practically any indie developer review site, show, blog or magazine and see the silenced voices of developers of my own, ‘low’ status widely unrepresented

7. Even if I could afford to travel to an indie developer event or convention, I can be certain that I won’t be propositioned by totally sexy strangers eager to know about my indie developer skills and tell me what a ‘AAA Indie Rock Star‘ I am

8. I will never be asked or expected to speak for other indie devs, who are seen as sharing my perceived low lack of ‘real’ status as a Famous Indie Developer

9. I can be sure that my performance (good or bad) will be indirectly attributed to or reflect negatively on my perceived lack of skills as a developer outside of Famous Indie Dev circles

10. My ability, attitude, feelings or capability as a developer are often questioned, based on unrelated natural functions, interests, attitudes and existential modalities outside the small private world of Famous Indie Game Developers

11. I can be relatively sure my thoughts about video games will be casually, quietly dismissed or passively-aggressively downplayed, based solely on my tone of voice regarding Famous Indie Game Devs – even if I also speak in a slick, media friendly or ‘cool’ manner

12. I can’t openly say my favourite games are casually odd, violently artistic or acutely sarcastic without suspecting that my opinions will reinforce a stereotype that “non famous indie developers are not real developers

Notice me sempai
Fat chance: notice me sempai

13. When purchasing most major indie video games at an online store, chances are it’s being somehow hinted that I buy it for a CODBLOPS fan only, as apparently they are the ones who need the inde dev ‘Games Are Art‘ delicately shoved down their throats the most

14. The vast majority of indie game crews, past and present, have been led and populated primarily by players of my own skill level and lack of fame – yet as such most of their output have been specifically designed not to cater to my non-famous demographic

15. I can surf into any online developer store and still see images of myself as a non famous player-developer, represented as a minor villain and unimportant, non-playable characters

16. I will almost always have the option to roleplay as an Important Game Dev character – as most indie dev heroes aren’t by default – but never in real life

17. I have to carefully navigate my engagement with online communities or developer spaces in order to avoid or mitigate the possibility of being completely looked past or over because of my perceived lack of fame – and therefore importance

18. I never think about hiding my real-life developer status online through my gamer-name, my avatar choice, or by muting voice-chat, due to constantly experiencing a near total lack of attention, resulting from my being a non famous indie developer

19. When I enter an online game, I can be relatively sure I won’t be ignored or treated like some annoying, ghostly game dev wannabe hang-on whenever my real-life status as ‘non famous indie game developer’ is made public

20. If I am trash-talked or verbally berated while role playing as a game developer online, it will be because I’m not famous like the others; my perceived lack of fame andor famous friends will be invoked as a polite request to leave because I’m an embarrassment

21. While attempting to discuss game development online with people I don’t know, I will be challenged about the scope of the games I’m developing and How Much Art they contain, and will be subtly pressured to share intimate details about my apparently miserable and useless life as a non famous indie for the sarcastic pleasure of other more famous devs

22. Complete strangers never send me unsolicited images of their genitalia or genuinely request to see me naked, simply on the basis of me still being labelled an unimportant, minor or non famous indie game dev, often by other more famous devs

23. In multiplayer social games based around discussing famous indie game devs, I can be pretty sure that conversations between other devs will not at any point focus on my own inherent attractiveness, sexual power or real-life dev skills, outside of Famous Game Dev cliques

24. If I choose to politely point out the default privilege enjoyed by famous indie game developers by default, my observations will not be seen as positive or self-serving, and will therefore be perceived as less credible and less worthy of auto-respect than those of ‘more famous’ counterparts, even if they want to be seen as freely discussing the exact same things

25. As this list was ripped off by a non famous indie game developer, this checklist will likely be taken far less seriously than if it had been written by devs who truly know the sun shines out of their digital arts

It’s like one big happy family

Oooh-arrrg: Notes on the bloodless Bloodborne

“Oooh-arrrg!!” is the noise the baddies in Bloodborne make. And make again and again

Design improvements for Bloodborne

Unlike comparably “long” games stuffed with filler content, there is no empty nebulous “stuff” in Bloodborne – every shred of its material is valuable, everything has a meaning, a place, and importance.
~ Perfect 10/10 Bloodborne review by Jim Sterling

  • The game seems a joyless, repetitive grind fest, positively Sisphyean – kill monsters, move on; rinse and repeat
  • The whole game seems entirely locked down, shut tight; there’s absolutely no sense anything non-scripted might take place
  • The opening tells us nothing about anything
  • The art direction, while of high quality, is often obvious and unfocused  – a gothic parody; copy-pasta statues in the street for little reason
  • Graphics look downgraded from the original CGI bullshot trailers ;-)
  • There are no secret passages
  • Apart from the opening of large rusty gates, the sound design is only adequate
  • Despite customization, the main character is hella ugly; compare to the incredibly cheerful Black Desert Online
  • Non-ironically, the main character has none
  • The movement of the main character are jerky, seem dissonant with the static world
  • Player movement speed seems slowed to pad out the game
  • The main character should be able to double charge forward to attack
  • The shambling monsters seem lifeless, their attacks entirely predictable
  • Everything is too shiny, as though covered in silicon or teflon
  • The Mockney voice acting is simply awful, and occurs at inappropriate times (like just before death)
  • There need to be cool environmental kills and far more environment destructability
    The blood should be dynamic, coat and drip off all surfaces
  • All limbs and heads should be removable, bodies entirely slicable all the way through
  • There should be monster death animations – they should rot
  • Monsters should react more when spotting the player, and be seen to warn other monsters, and act ‘angry’ when the player pulls off a successful combo
  • Monsters don’t seem to react with the player, just merely react, repeatedly performing attacks, even when the player’s nowhere near – even when they’re dead
  • Monsters should be seen to be hiding behind props, drop down on the player, or burst up through floorboards
  • Monsters that attack should (logically) be able to hurt one another when too close
  • “Nobody looks up in this town”: little sense of verticality, despite the tall narrow buildings
  • All characters seem in the environment, but not of it – the two never seem to really touch
  • The inventory system is unimaginative, if not obsolete
  • Level loading is too long; the Hunters Dream should fade into and over the player’s current location, rather than load up
  • Overly bombastic boss battle music, but no ambient music during normal grind sections

Questionable Bloodborne review

A remix of a Doritogate-like review of Bloodborne by The Daily Torygraph

With success comes expectation and, in some circles, there’s has been no greater videogame success this century than the Souls series. Built by the same minds, poor random underpaid games hack John Robertson determines whether or not Bloodborne continues a now-grand tradition of raw, unfiltered hype – near instantly forgettable, destined for Bargain Bucket greatness

Score: 5 out of 5 filthy brown wood textured Victorian public bus station toilet seats

Format: PlayStation 4
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Sony
Rating: 16+IQ
Overprice: £49.99 RRP, Amazon.co.uk
Squirted Out: 27 March, 2015

To say that a game from the designer of the ‘Souls’ series requires dedication and determination to even begin to play would be as predictable as it is inane, but John Robertson says it now in order to not have to linger over this most obvious of points. Yes, Bloodborne is a challenging game. No, it’s not for everyone who actually enjoys games that aren’t like everyday work

But this is a journey about so much more than a steep difficulty curve. It is a fake virtual experience that centres itself around how you deal with the consequences of Useless Grind, both self-inflicted and unavoidable, how you decide between exploring apparently ‘new’ areas or allegedly delving ‘deeper’ into the ones you already know, how you determine the value in one samey tool and one meagre ability over another. These become phenomenally non-complex and disturbingly mundane conundrums, given the eventual understanding that any misstep in judgement could leave you vulnerable to Rinse And Repeat

Ultimately, Bloodborne is a game that asks you a series of pointless questions and leaves the answers entirely down to you. Unfortunately there’s no right or wrong, there’s only success or failure

Such a stark outlook makes sense given your role as a ‘Hunter’ within the twisted Victorian visage of “Yarnham” and its surrounding drab areas. What you’re ultimately hunting is a cure to an illness called Games As Work, but don’t let the narrative simplicity fool you. Like all the very latest games, Bloodborne revels in its inability to communicate its hyper-generic narrative through the samey, barely interactive tools video games can offer

“Yarn Ham” is hardly a character unto itself, with its predictably twisting streets, drearily imposing Gothic architecture and unnervingly repetitious flickers of light work to both play torturous tricks on you to buy the game, as well as draw you deeper into its copy-pasta labyrinth. Character and setting fit so well together that there’s not a moment in which your disbelief at how standard the game feels, is broken

If you ever need reminding that a story is as predictably and unimaginatively Realistic as this one  fits into its world then this is it. Without so much an entire paragraph spoken at a time, the narrative that has been cynically shoe-horned in here is testament to the developer’s power of ‘show (nice graphics) don’t tell (anyone we’re immune to new ideas)’

Those same drab themes permeate the worlds of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, too, but it is the subtle changes to how you engage with the world that makes a similar construct feel entirely distinct. In aesthetic tone and form of progression it is easy to highlight links to his previous works that single this out as ‘a bad Hidetaka Miyazaki game’, only this time the pendulum has swung from games about living to a game about killing dim NPCs

Much of the pre-release speculation (read: hype) surrounding Bloodborne has focused on the system of health depletion and regeneration, and how it differs from that used in Miyazaki’s previous designs. Indeed, it is this that ultra-hardcore veterans of the director’s work will immediately notice as the biggest deviation and the one that has the greatest impact on how the game hates how you actually might want to play (ie. non-grindly)

Every time you take damage, you are given a small window of opportunity within which to earn it back by inflicting wounds on your enemies. It needn’t be the enemy that harmed you, any sorry soul will do. This, in combination with an often achingly sedate set of reflexes, focuses your mind more on attack than defence. Killing over living. Playing over thinking. Gamey gamisms over challenging design

That commitment to “churn em’ out quick” developer aggression serves you well in battles against the smallest foes and the biggest; the skills you learn in battles against the fodder revealing themselves to be invaluable in the stunningly bland ‘boss’ fights that occur with a welcome frequency

Bloodborne seems  a master class in the most simplistic principles of game design pacing: 1) introduce boring rules, 2) provide a space in which to master these boring rules and 3) repeatedly reward easily pleased players for said mastery of boring rules. Through unintelligent positioning, laughably formidable challenge and an unnerving lack of true diversity, Bloodborne creates a blend of ‘standard’ enemies and ‘boss’ milestones that puts the majority of its peers (on Early Access Steam Greenlight) to shame

Not that the careless consideration that made combat in the Souls series so simultaneously fake-stressful and gratifyingly safe has gone entirely. On the contrary, without a strategic (read: endlessly repeatable) approach you’re going to find yourself very dead very often. Your own slothful speed is habitually matched by that of adversaries, making the learning of their attack patterns and individual quirks as non-essential as it is in any other crappy game. This isn’t exactly helped along by the addition of ranged weapons to your melee attacks, giving you a ballistic side-arm to push back and stagger your enemies with a well-timed shot to the nuts

Learning how to pick off the most dangerous members of a group without expending so much energy as a players that you’re without the required stamina to continue the fight against the rest becomes second nature after a few hours of weary experimentation in a failed attempt to find fun. Only those that actually do harness the fruits of that experimentation will make any sort of genuine headway, though

The degree to which the combat alters the tone of interaction is astonishingly small, given the similarities exhibited with Souls elsewhere. Purple lanterns take the place of Bonfires as checkpoints, their icy cold glow providing a curious sense of frozen warmth whenever you stumble across one when on the precipice of death (by boredom). Blood Echoes substitute as a near like-for-like replacement for the older games’ ‘Souls’, used to perform everything from levelling up your character’s stats to upgrading your weapon and purchasing items for the shop. So no real change there, then

Likewise, death causes you to drop any Blood Echoes you’re carrying. These either litter the floor at the scene of your departure or are harvested by the creature that killed you. Great. Should the former occur you can return and pick up them, the latter sequence forces you to dispatch the enemy yet again in order to retrieve them. If you die again before you succeed in either goal then the points are lost forever

Some concessions, however, have been made that hint at an artificial experience that has been designed with a, how to put it, ‘slightly more mainstream audience in mind’. But rather than mute the complete lack of assistance when it comes to exploration, combat strategy and how you manage your resources, the tweaks are based more on making that initial sense of engagement even easier to consume

The early going might be tough for Miyazaki newcomers, but the opening area’s abundance of health potions gives players plenty of leeway when it comes to paying the price for the odd mistimed attack. Similarly, after you’ve completed the first of Bloodborne’s many minor milestone events you achieve the ability to level up; the early going of which is made quick and painless, thanks to the tiny number of Blood Echoes required to do so. Well that’s nice

After a certain point the math becomes harsher and both health and level upgrades are more difficult to come by, the ‘easing in’ period removed and the handbrake taken off. It’s here that you’re free to set off and carve out a story of your own, informed by sometimes the most incidental of decisions – and only after the fact is the magnitude of their insignificance revealed

It’s that feeling of being a participant in something so much less important than yourself as a thinking human being, that gives Bloodborne a sense of plastic engagement and triggers such a strong desire to overcome what little it presents you with

Some will want to beat the most fearsome enemies not simply to prove to them who’s really the boss, but also to simply see more of the world and uncover its secrets. This too unfortunately seems a complete waste of life. You want to uncover those secrets, not just because they might make your life easier, but also because of what you imagine they represent on some vague, metaphorical level. That is, they’re not only an item to be found, they’re the symbol of a quest complete and a challenge confronted and overcome. Like an Olympic medal, the physical object plays second fiddle to what it represents – at least for those who put too much faith in hollow symbolism

So rarely in the drably lit interior world of video games – particularly console exclusives – does an achievement actually feel like a genuine achievement in Nothing Much, but here the opposite is also true: so rarely does even the smallest victory feel insincere to the task of Mindless Grind

As it that wasn’t grand enough, the inclusion of the extra-curricular ‘Chalice Dungeons’ means there’s an unending stream of “Content” waiting those the inclination to test themselves. Once you’ve acquired the relevant tools you can spark these dungeons to life and wander between their walls acquiring unique rewards and tackling new boss fights *zzzzz*

Any that you particularly enjoy can be shared online with friends and whoever else met be interested, allowing you to compare your skills against others. Alternatively, you can – as in the ‘main’ game – team up and conquer this challenges as a unit. Whatever you opt for, Chalice Dungeons represent a meaningless diversion that is separate from the primary path but manages to exactly mirror its minor emotional impact

Bloodborne is one of those experiences that totally consumes idiots when they’re involved in it and are busy working hard like good little consumers to see all that it has to offer (because they paid for it). In that sense it’s the digital edition of a round-the-world trip to foreign continents to eat a death burger at McDonalds, each turning of a corner providing equal helpings of pre-packaged excitement and miserablist trepidation. That recipe brings it own rewards by simply being a part of it – the only seemingly effortless delivery indicative of a corporate design team and industry philosophy that is only getting sharper in its cynicism

John Robertson is a freelance writer and journalist covering pop as Culture, entertainment – and sport. His work (such as it is) has appeared in national newspapers and magazines that you wouldn’t wipe your arse with, as well as ‘international websites’. You can follow his ascent to the middle on Twitter @robertsonjohn

Cylne: a wet art dream for Games Critics

Consider Cylne a wet dream (game) for modern Ludonauts

A artful provocation by Theodore Miles / remix of another Killscreen self-parody


One need not be sceptical when told a videogame is “poetic.” Poetry and games often seem entirely compatible; hypertext poems and novels clearly show the avenues for poetic exploration possible in digital texts

While “poetic” can be as vague a buzzword as “cinematic” or “immersive,” more useful in cultivating an air of Ludonautic interest than offering insight into a particular state of play, this does not mean players should automatically dismiss genuine attempts to create an artistic experience digitally

However, after reading Cylne’s descriptions as “a symbolic game” and “a first person surreal exploration game, in the form of a visual poems collection,” many players are now even more convinced that the whole Cultural hype about “Games are Art” has gone on unchallenged long enough

Consider too the sense in which Games Critics seem so bent on justifying their own ontologically dubious existence as holders and beholders of the holy Games = Art torch, that when any old Crapolaware comes poncing along onto the electronic marketplace of vacuous virtual experience, their blind willingness to stick the Art label on it too often marks them out as shills of Culture and taste, sensitive aesthetes of lifeless digital voids

“Visual poems” is an apt descriptor for Cylne, partly because Cylne is a particularly easy game to describe: “Cylne makes the poetry of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings look positively Vogonesque by comparison

It belongs to the all too prevalent, and (often necessarily) derisively named category of “walking simulator.” Whereas other artful tone-poems such as Gone Home, The Path, The Stanley Parable or Dear Esther ground their excessively limited interaction with shoehorned-in elements of ‘story’ or ‘purpose’, Cylne seems to have entirely bypassed any intangible pretence toward narrative or player impetus

Each of the five chapters offer little more than ‘surreal’ landscapes to mope around. Massive boulders decorated with glowing glyphs guard a bland expanse of desert flanked by two titanic chains. Twisting spires of bone or rock form makeshift bridges and ladders stretching to and from nowhere. Levitating door frames suggest portals to other, equally bland worlds

All these environments host equally enigmatic (read: largely inexpressive and depressingly minimalist) soundscapes, sparsely populated by the echoes of mournful guitars, clanging bells, crackling fires, the clank of metal of solid ground

“Progress” in Cylne occurs after walking to, or in some cases merely looking at certain objects. These entities either cause the environment to change, thereby opening up new avenues to explore, or they transport the player to a new area. *yawn*

Players would be mistaken to assume this is some zen-like reduction of gameplay to its most basic elements. What makes Cylne an alienating experience is not that it renders the most basic interesting concepts of interaction unfamiliar by dropping the player in a world with its own rules, with its own sense of twisted dream-logic

Rather, it has no rules to speak of, and its sense of ‘twisted dream-logic’ feels all but entirely senseless. Walking across an ashen wasteland, which turns into levitating high above the ground and then into swimming outside the world itself, all with little or no warning, does not an automatically deep experience make. Not unless you feel bizarrely passionate about Games As Art, and feel the questionable, burning desire to mindlessly extol their (apparently endless) virtues as Artful Experiences

Sure, as one plays, one might well suddenly think of Ben Marcus’ The Age of Wire and String, a novel/short story collection/encyclopedia about a world built from the detritus of structures both physical and social. Yet one does so, perhaps because there’s a desperate need to think of anything whatsoever that has more too it than Cylne

In fact, nearly anything one thinks about holds more potential interest and philosophical possibility than Cylne, an incredibly ugly game that harks back to random shovelware point n’ click Myst-likes from the 90s

The developer Marcus, much like Cylne, places his reader within an all too familiar world made from familiar parts, and only by ploughing past the wreckage of artful language of Games Critics can players make sense of the senseless world glimpsed on the screen

Cylne’s flaccid ideology is to ask its players: to willingly abandon assumed operational functions to embrace what it (somehow remotely) imagines are ‘alternate paths to meaning

Alternative paths? To ‘meaning’? What meaning? Do not be confused, player – there is no confusion available here, no ‘surrealism’. In fact the meaning is entirely transparent, and all too understandable – the only probable meaning of Cylne is that it has none whatsoever. None that is, outside the hollow words of those who mistakenly defend it as a Work Of Art

Only by sifting the wreckage of Ludonautic language can players make sense of the self enclosed world of Ludonauts

Like the surrealists (who Ludonauts laughably consider ‘inspired’ Cylne), their boneless attempts to unify the waking tangible world – here recognizable in the brainless simplicity of movement controls combined with the abstract, stilted movements of their own unconscious, their apparent dreamscapes and lifeless interactions – in a way feels a hunt for an ideal mode of expression (about how perfectly useless their are)

The canned surrealisms of Dalí rely heavily on juxtaposition of seemingly familiar objects presented in dull new ways – for instance, combining object and animal or confusing environment and perspective – not to reproduce the functional mysteries of thought, but to evoke the idea of them as functional mysteries. In fact however, thought and existence is all too understandable, all too easily knowable

Yet pseudo-critics of games like Cylne, wide-eyed with plastic wonderment, work with juxtaposition and constant misdirection as well, measuring misdirection against fake revelation, constantly asking the player to ‘come to their own conclusions’ about why its different worlds exist in their current states, as though there’s anything really there to see, play with, think or really care about

Cylne breaks into the more active aspects of this modern Ludonautic surrealism as well. In his Surrealist Manifesto, André Breton theorized that the best way surrealism could access the complexities of thought was through “pure psychic automatism,” a way to allow the cynical digital game artist to create from (or to simulate) randomness and error as possible manifestations of the dubious notion of the Unconscious

Symbollics, more like

Likewise, Cylne certainly has the appearance of randomness in that the environment changes in all too expected unexpected ways by responding to the player’s paltry nods toward interaction

The resulting dreamscapes seemingly create themselves as the player explores them, and the results only seem to reveal some ‘unexpected lucidity’ surrounding the rules that govern the world. But these are only the boring and often entirely arbitrary rules of the Ludonaut, which govern how players are meant ‘correctly’ read such automatic Games As Art works (that is, Culturally)

This minor revelation lies at the heart of Cylne’s pre-packaged surrealism and its lazily shrink-wrapped promises of accessing some sort of digital unconscious. The comparisons the game invites with other artists seem entirely plausible, given that it also strives to be ‘about so much more’ than the game itself

Surrealism, having splintered from the politically charged and far more exciting Dada movement, speaks as much about the culture of its day – the disillusionment after the first World War, the role of art in the age of machinery, the advances in science and shifting social structures – as it does as a largely failed formal experiment in artistic informality

Cylne however remains perfectly content to confine its exploration to soulless digital space, rarely attempting to use the text to say anything about the world, in or outside. (Like any other choices were even on offer)

Even these merge criticisms seem insignificant; the game’s distinct lack aesthetics make for some non-uniquely ugly environments as well as some un-insightful moments of clarity about the often bland nature of modern play. Even if that itself makes the game “poetic,” it might not matter all that much

If games have boring dreams about nothing in particular, players might be smart to wager they’d look something like Cylne – just not as much as the laughable £8.99 it requires for its dishwater mundane Artistic pabulum