Thursday, October 23, 2014

Short on Games: September-October 2014

The Rats in the Walls is an adventure game by Shilov.

It's an adaptation of the Lovecraft story (with The Cat, you know, though he makes no appearance here) of the same name, as you might expect. As an adventure game, it is entirely about walking, though it tries occasionally to trick you into thinking it's about the story or the occasional non-narrative fetching it requires of you; luckily, the walking is neat.

It's also a game with a strangeness to its controls; one moves with the arrow keys, interacts with the F key, and continues with the space bar, always accompanied by the SPACE TO SKIP prompt. There's an obvious way to streamline this -- which is taken advantage of (to a degree) in Shilov's cancelled followup adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness -- which, in its obviousness, creates the illusion of intention. Or, at least, the tension of mediums, or the reflection of Lovecraft's own purple tendencies in the implementation of the adaptation.

There, too, are, in this game, the restrictions imposed by assets; particularly, art. It is a game of static environments in which the avatar breathes, which itself is worth watching. And the walking is neat. But this labor intensive stasis is perfect for the tale, especially in the ways it fails it. Which is, perhaps, the lesson.


Rituals is a first person adventure game by oleomingus.

It's promise is that it is a standalone build of a larger, forthcoming game, in which the player will wander through environments set in colonial India, searching for the city of Kayamgadh. That there will be a unique stealth mechanic that allows the player to possess other non-player characters, in order to alter the interactions; and that there will be mechanics for walking into paintings or drawings, which is one way to take advantage of the representation of space that manages to both adhere to best practices regarding communication and leverage the reality of the spacelessness of videogames.

What Rituals itself is, of course, is hardly any of this. Mostly, it's a short walk through a series of dialogues, set in a modest Magritte. That's hardly a knock, of course, and it isn't even necessarily obvious that that's a direct influence; Carroll's Alice is obviously more immediately present. Though there is something of a sanitized L'Age d'or, with an inventive colorist, to its look as well.

All that is to say that there is a certain amount of weight (or, we'll hedge our bets, a peculiar kind of weightlessness) that is well reflected in the playfulness of the proportions of the objects. Because even if loading it up and interacting with it is playing with the absence of a game, that particular absence is one of object relations, and better those be playful than the alternatives.


Supermoons is a small game/tool by Lana Polansky.

It's a single screen with two background options. Pressing the space bar spawns moons from upper right, and pressing any of the letter keys on the keyboard makes a sound and causes slight effects on the screen. Many of them cause the spawned moons to shake and jitter. The moons bumping into things also makes sounds. It's a really neat thing to play around in for a few minutes.

There isn't a lot more I have to say about it -- beyond that the choice of wind chimes for the majority of the sounds contrasts pretty wonderfully with the glitch aesthetic -- so instead of more words, I made a little song demo thing. You can click on that to listen to it.


Moonlit Tower by Yoon Ha Lee is a free online parser IF game from 2002.

At the end of last year, I wrote a thing in praise of Lee's writing, and Moonlit Tower is very much a vehicle for the same. As with many things she has written since, Tower is a story with the texture of fantasy and the economy of science fiction, where words (which is to say nouns) are not just estranged but overdetermined, forced to perform the heavy lifting of fabricating context with only ignorance as leverage.

Tower in particular is rich in description and diversion; the core path takes only 14 moves (though you'd never get to fly the kite that way). A richness in parser IF is different than a richness in printed prose, however. Here, what is implicit in ray guns or ansibles becomes mechanical, as the entrance to a room describes a painting to be examined describing a scene with multiple interactive parts. Words become things in both cases, and seeing both can be a bulb.

Which isn't to say that it is a revelation. But for an author who has no shortage of writing with a fantastical materialist conception of language, being able to see how she anticipated being talked back to in return is a joy.


Dust City by Kitty Horrorshow is a pay what you want game for computers.

It's a strange mix of genres; the Quickstart Guide bundled with the download is a pleasant little infodump, while the opening landscape is very Lavastorm Mountains or certain parts of Neriak. It's low-poly millennial-turn dark fantasy with science fictional overtones, in other words.

The play is wandering through a series of abstracted spaces, (dis)connected by doors. The doors are, like King's The Drawing of the Three, communications through other than space. And, similarly, in each is a thing to be found, and saved, and taken out of its context.

In Dust City, this means exiting the game itself, and returning to those password protected files in the download folder. For each door completed, one subfolder can be unlocked; two have mp3s, one a twine game, and one some writings.

The twine game in particular is phenomenal, and really underscores how much Horrorshow is able to do with a conditional sense of space. The idea that things do things to things, and that things do things to a person's perception of things, seems to be a sort of necessary precondition, often erased, in videogames. Dust City is, among other things, a reminder.