Let me tell you about video games vol. 2

Bioshock Infinite: Clash In The Clouds

Bioshock Infinite is getting the apparently now industry standard three DLC packs consisting of a stand alone action experience followed by a two-part side story, and I’ve been dicking around with the first one since it came out.

A lot of people complained about Bioshock Infinite’s combat but I quite liked it. It was at its strongest when it threw players into a big open arena full of sky-rails and dimensional rifts and let them go wild, something the designers of this DLC were obviously aware of. You fight 15 waves of enemies in each of the four arenas, which are rearranged slightly for each encounter. After each new wave you receive gear and stat boosts and get to spend money upgrading your weapons, which gives a nice little bit of feedback at the end of every unsuccessful run. And in true Bioshock fashion you can just continue on after death by spending a bit of money, although your leaderboard ranking is forfeited.

It’s interesting to see some of the gameplay mechanics in Infinite divorced from the plot. Elizabeth, who the entire game was essentially built around, is so inconsequential in this DLC that I frequently forgot she was there. It can be a bit jarring coming off the main campaign.

Clash In The Clouds isn’t going to light your world on fire but if you’re in the mood for some brainless shooting and don’t mind doing it with Infinite’s gameplay mechanics it’s worth a look.

Experiment 12

Game jams are all the rage these days. It seems like not a week goes by without a bunch of indie developers getting into a room (or, possibly, a camper van whose interior is comically larger than its exterior) and cranking out weird oddities. Experiment 12 eschews the shotgun approach to indie game design and instead goes for something a bit more interesting: twelve developers, including Terry Cavanagh (VVVVVV, Super Hexagon) and Jasper Byrne (Lone Survivor), each making a game in three short days that follows on from the previous developer’s effort with no clear picture of the overall structure.

The twelve chapters jump wildly between graphical and gameplay styles, from crude amiga-like puzzles to full 3D first-person 100% narrative driven experiences. There’s a lot of variation in gameplay here but the real fun of Experiment 12 is seeing the plot coalesce from nothing as the chapters go on. Initially the developers have nothing but Terry Cavanagh’s deliberately ambiguous opening to work with and you’re left grasping at vague repeating images and phrases to work out how the individual gameplay snippets are connected, but as the game goes on a concrete story emerges from the ether as the creative freedom of the later developers is constrained by what’s come before them. It’s gloriously entertaining to watch the collaborative process unfold like this, but I have to confess that I was a tad disappointed with how formulaic the over-arching story ends up being. The penultimate chapter in particular felt very hokey, although by that point I’m not sure there was anywhere else the story could have gone as the eleventh developer had basically been written into a corner. Thank goodness then for Jasper Byrne, who takes things back into trippy crazy land for the final chapter.

Experiment 12 is there for the story; actual gameplay usually consists of simple dodging mechanics and platforming. The best chapters of the game acknowledge this and impose no penalty for failure, but not all of them seem to have realized that building an atmosphere and giving players a handful more pieces of the puzzle is more important than challenge, hiding their plot pay-offs beyond simplistic, extremely frustrating dodging sequences. Luckily the plot is so deliberately opaque and abstract that you can skip these chapters without missing a whole lot.

Speaking of oddball horror projects with minimal storytelling…..

3 Blind Mice: Remediation Game For Improper Children

The Internet is a haven for weirdness. There are great roiling tides of bizarre shit out there, games and videos and short stories that appear to serve no other purpose than to demonstrate what twisted mutant creations the creative impulse can give birth to when unshackled from market forces, editorial oversight and sanity. Case in point: this thing.

3 Blind Mice: Remediation Game For Improper Children is both a cool little interactive horror experience and a pretty compelling example of minimalist story-telling. When you open the installer the game produces a standard license agreement window that if you actually take the time to read through is filled with all sorts of crazy Orwellian nonsense, suggesting the game you’re about to play has dropped onto your hard drive through a dimensional portal to some nightmarish alternate reality, one where The Government is always watching and something called the Behavioral Act Of 1925 can result in the permanent removal from society of children who fail to meet the proper standards.

You watch a version of the Three Blind Mice story that involves the mice getting their eyes gouged out. You must answer a series of questions that the mice ask you, rendered in jittery crayon drawings and overlaid with droning background noises suggesting an unholy cross-pollination between Salad Fingers and a Slenderman video. The questions are all trivially easy, as though the game is just daring you to get one wrong and see what happens, but I was still more nervous than I’d like to admit about failing one of them. A “Permanent Remediation Facility” just doesn’t sound like a very pleasant place.

I’m not sure if there’s some sort of point to all of this or if it’s just weird for the sake of being wierd, but either way it’s a cool demonstration in how to effectively build up a setting and story in almost zero time and effort. That’s a skill a lot of writers could do with learning.

Oh, pro-tip: play with headphones on, and turn the volume up.


2 thoughts on “Let me tell you about video games vol. 2

  1. MrSphincter

    I just played through Experiment 12 based on this recommendation and holy moly was it dull. Why exactly did you find Chapter 12 interesting? It just seemed like a rehashing of some of the earlier levels. I agree that 11 is the weakest. How is discovering the story part of the fun when, as you point out, the story is so cliche? Very disappointed. Best chapter is undoubtedly the one on the island with the weird lighthouse, with Machiavelli and the rest. I actually didn’t find the levels to “vary widely” at all. Many of them rely on the exact same dodging mechanics, whether in 2d or 3d. Are these people leading lights in the indie game industry or something? Rough.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      I played it over the course of several days, so I guess that’s why it didn’t have as much repetition for me.


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