Last week, the New York Times Magazine ran an article about indie videogames, featuring Jason Rohrer (Passage), Jenova Chen (Flower), and Jon Blow (Braid). Here are some of my favorite quotes:
- "Ebert said video games can't be art," Rohrer said. "He issued all of us a direct challenge. And we need to find an answer."
- "Other media are capable of masterpiece-level works of art," Rohrer said. Behind him, a slide showed Picasso's "Guernica," a poster for the movie "Blue Velvet" and the cover of "Lolita." "The question we have to ask is: How can we follow in their footsteps?"
- "I like technology," Chen says, "but the blockbuster games use it for the same thing over and over again. What we tried to innovate was the emotional content." Flower has an environmental message, about the fragility of life, but more important is the primal experience of playing. You can experience it like a film, passing through a whole range of emotions from beginning to end. "Flower," Chen says, "is about the sublime." It is a game to be played in one sitting, he said, and preferably "alongside your lover."
- "People are starting to realize that games can't survive on narrative and character," Rohrer says. "It's not what video games are meant to do. It doesn't explore what makes them unique. If they are going to transcend and have real meaning, it has to emerge from game mechanics. Play is what games offer."
- "Braid is something you could show to Roger Ebert and say, 'Here is a work of authorial intention,' " Rohrer says. "It captures something about the modern zeitgeist."
Speaking of Braid, Blow pointed out on his blog a video walkthrough of a game suspiciously like Braid, Time Travel Understander. The Game Helpin' Squad also made video tutorials for two other games, the MMORPG World Quester 2 and the sports game Severe Running. All three are very helpful, with excellent attention to detail. You might need to watch them multiple times to get it all!
A brief moment of link-spamming. Which we don't do very much here at the Gameshelf, because we're all into critical analysis and deep esoteric ludic discourse 'n'all. But occasionally, I have to say, these videos from collegehumor.com make me die laughing.
Die! With metaphorical-nonmetaphorical irony!
But they're all videogame fake movies, so it's okay.
Note: it's the soundtrack, always.
After playing a game of Galaxy Trucker last night, I was pondering "funny" games. The post-game discussion consensus was that GT is "funny like RoboRally" as opposed to "funny like Munchkin.
In Munchkin-funny games, the components are funny. The cards have funny names or flavortext, and it's amusing to be attacked by thousands of orcs while you have a duck stuck to your head. I'd put Illuminati and Chez Geek in this category as well (not that Steve Jackson Games has a monopoly on these). These games are very funny to begin with, but (to me at least) become less amusing as you become more familiar with the cards. It's probably no coincidence that Munchkin and Chez Geek have a lot of expansion sets.
In RoboRally-funny games, the gameplay is funny. You make plans, you have an expectation of what will happen - and then something completely different actually occurs. Instead of sprinting along the conveyor belt and jumping off just as you reach the flag area, someone accidentally pushes you onto a turning block and you sprint in the entire wrong direction, jumping onto the conveyor belt that throws you into a pit. I'd also put Wiz-War and maybe Fluxx in this category. These games don't sound as funny on first glance or on a read-through but in actual play both the players and bystanders were laughing raucously as our Galaxy Trucker ships got blown to pieces by asteroids and pirates. These games stay funny as you play them.
A funny subject or cards, like in Munchkin, can be applied to a very strategic game (I'm sure there's some way to make Go funny) but RoboRally-funny games are by definition not strategic at all. I'm sure some people would be too frustrated by this to enjoy the game but I really like them.
An Internet-borne meme from well over a decade ago was this image, reproducing an ad in a scientific journal. Dave Barry made fun of it in a 1993 newspaper column, and I would occasionally run into references to it on the pre-WWW Internet. I was never sure whether or not it was a joke - "Polytron" is a pretty generic name, and that poorly reproduced image didn't look like anything particularly effective.
I was reminded of it today - don't ask why - and realized that Google exists now. And, yes, there really is a Polytron. You can see the very latest models in full color, and they now have web pages proudly describing the machines' bone-and-organ-liquifying prowess.
Gone, though, is the specific word soup-like, which by itself carried the orginal ad from mildly grotesque to completely ridiculous.