RE:BIND

Franz Ferdinand got a little Avante Garde in their later years..

A few years ago, I fell in love with the new wave of absurdist visual novels and playful experimental indies that threw you into a mineshaft of underground internet culture, littered with call-backs to unfamiliar cinema, and obscure jokes sourced from message boards or video services outside of the west like NicoNico.

Remix culture titles introduced their audience to a new cultural pantheon gilded with drama that often managed to pull at your heartstrings and immersing you in a narrative deeper than the comedic tone. Sonoshee’s (@sonoshit) Critters For Sale left me reflecting on the framework established by earlier visual novels Dog Of Dracula and its sequel that heavily leveraged the same style of satirical commentary.

Critters For Sale evokes this feeling without relying too heavily on reference to external internet culture, instead achieving this more through how it leans into the stylistic absurdism established by its adventurous forebears in the medium which it makes its home. Despite sharing the genre, it owes very little, if anything, to these early attempts in breaking new satirical ground.

Critters For Sale starts with a cold open, sucking you in immediately with a self-aware protagonist falling down the strange rabbit hole he finds his evening careening into.

Every small detail, visual motif and element of the UI feels intentional in Critters for Sale leaving nothing wasted when it comes to screen space. Each gap is strategically placed to frame the full motion video as a stage for the theatrical play to unfold, with a conversational format evoking dialogue cards from the silent film era.

The fluid animation of its visual sequences draws the eye in and captures the flow of a riveting noir film crossed with subtle allusions to German Expressionism. It’s a stylistic pushing of boundaries I haven’t seen in many titles outside of Grasshopper Manufacture’s The Silver Case.

Silky smooth animation aside, there’s other clever techniques at play here like machine learning processed image-blending for an extra layer of dreamlike quality when characters change expressions, ambiguous portraits giving way to very detailed and evocative close ups. The author’s carefully curated musical selection plays a crucial role alongside these techniques in building the game’s mystique and atmosphere.

This is easily one of the best, most memorable experimental visual novels I have ever played, and it’s just getting started with many more chapters planned to come. I highly recommend trying it for yourself.

Read the rest of this article »

looks aside, I swear it is fun..

Sven Co-op is almost old enough to drink in the US, having recently hit it’s 20th anniversary this past week.

Sven has a special place in my heart, it was the core bonding ritual of myself and many others during our younger days. Friends from other gaming communities would meet together in a plethora of maps, stretching from banal puzzle solving dungeon crawlers to absurd scenario based maps. Sven was outlandish and highly pulpy, at times coming off as a cross between Mixed Media and Video Games. Whatever tools and assets a level designer had at their disposal were fair use, and it was open season on the most exaggerated, cartoonish elements of the Half-Life mod universe.

With the precedent set by these pioneering mappers, Sven became home to a gigantic community, producing over a thousand freakishly thoughtful crafted maps full of fast paced gunplay and brain-bending exploration. Server-side mods with grappling hooks and other ad-hoc features were cooked up by the community to provide a way to help overcome some of Sven’s functional shortcomings.

Sven has a legacy that stretches far beyond it’s own GoldSrc domain, with its influence extending far into the Source Engine despite never garnering a sequel. Obsidian Conflict and Synergy tried to pick up where Sven left off, answering the call of fans for a successor in the new engine, but Sven, instead, chose to wring every drop of creativity and technical excellence out of GoldSrc rather than wade into unfamiliar territory.

gravity gun-to-table

Synergy and Obsidian Conflict weren’t without their own gusto however. Obsidian Conflict was a personal favorite of mine with an emphasis on interesting mini-game maps. Whether it was treasure hunting with boards, farming in the Harvest Moon tribute map, or card battles against friends summoning NPCs, there was no shortage of creativity.

Returning back to Sven, a small sub-genre of custom maps were puzzle maps dedicated to carving up every inch of terrain with a crowbar until it finally revealed hidden items. It sounds fatiguing and boring, which it often was, but with ten friends frantically searching for the next clue, being the one to find it was a fantastic rush. Five hours of play time on a binge of guesswork only to discover new, extensive parts of the map you had no idea were there. No walkthroughs, no guides, just an indomitable will to explore.

It’s rare nowadays to find a game that could capture this variety with such accessibility. Half-Life was such an easy game to obtain on sale for pennies, and this market saturation was, at the time, the closest thing we had to a free-to-play game.

Sven gave us so many late nights of using the in-game text or voice communication like an impromptu chatroom. It connected lovers across the globe and solidified friendship in nightly bonding rituals. Sven was the living room of many people for a brief era, like so many games before and after it. It stood apart for the vision it harbored, the impressive skill and love poured into it from a dedicated team of enthusiastic Modders.

Those Modders weren’t afraid to push the boundaries of what GoldSrc could do, leaving a monument to the magic of user created content that stands to this day. If you haven’t ever played it but have a copy of Half-Life handy, I highly encourage you to gather some friends and give it a go.

Such Half-Life mods captured an ephemeral spirit of an era that is starting to fade, but even 20 years later it’s hard to fully measure the enormous impact it left on the entire industry.

Read the rest of this article »

  • SeattleIndies interviewed Ty Taylor of The Bridge fame as part of a new video series where they spotlight local indies. It’s worth a watch on this lovely lazy Sunday.
  • Masahiro Ito (known for his work on Silent Hill) has created an incredibly delightful macabre wasteland setting, called Acid Buffer Zone, realized in models and paint, absolutely deserves a presence in video games.
  • If that isn’t enough artistic inspiration for you this weekend, take a look at the works of painters Boris Groh, and Keith Thompson
  • The Global Game Jam for 2019 is happening next week, find a local event in your area and participate!
  • At a glance, Noir mystery stealth title Dollhouse gives the impression of having overlap with The Ship but with a procedurally generated single-player twist. Multiplayer seems to revolve around the player being assigned targets with an interesting perspective-switching mechanic involved. Certainly worth a look closer to launch to see how the unique gameplay unfolds.
  • Retro-esque Rogue-Like Haque is on sale and seems like a fun time if you enjoy ASCII-Flavored tactics games.

We hope you’re having a lovely weekend.

Read the rest of this article »

Taking a night drive down the Columbia Gorge in Washington is an often mystical experience, the ambiance of cruising through heavy rain or passing moonlit pines propels you to another world. Games are no stranger to driving sequences, but developers are starting to use this as a vehicle for narrative instead of a simple gameplay set-piece.

Silverstring Media‘s Glitchhikers was a pleasantly cozy segue into night driving games. It’s a simple setup where you switch between lanes instead of focusing on the throttle, and this decision to make driving a more passive experience opens you up to explore the car as an environment of it’s own. It’s no longer a second-skin for your protagonist to get from one segment to another, but now a true space of its own.

Venturing further down the game’s enchanted interstate your vision becomes glitchy, alerting you to the arrival of a stowaway. These passengers materialize in and out of the seat whilst imparting unsolicited observations and philosophical conundrums to your weary ears. It’s a wonderful magical-realism piece that captures the essence of roadway meditation on life’s biggest questions. I grew rather fond of the dialogue system and often even goaded my friends into playing it in front of me as a makeshift Rorschach inkblot test.

A few years later, Arbitrary Metric‘s Paratopic decided to make heavy use of its own dry dusk-and-evening driving sequences peppered throughout the game. A synthesizer arrangement drifting from the radio offers up a Wendy Carlos homage and a moment of reflective respite between the game’s jump-cuts to break up the pacing. Similarly to Glitchhikers, a glance to the side would offer you a puzzling shift in the contents of your passenger seat. This visual trick helped to further the feel of a disjointed narrative delivered non-linearly from a potentially unreliable narrator, creating a sense of unease that makes you question the story’s already erratic jumps even more.
(Disclosure: Arbitrary Metric’s Jessica Harvey is a contributor for Rebind but was not involved with this piece)

But not every game has to or will utilize driving the same way; Sea Green Games‘ upcoming TRANSMISSION seems like it will offer a pure low key cruising experience. Across moonlit nights and rain-slicked roads, synthesizers illuminate your ears as the neon lights do the same for your eyes. And as Glitchhikers proved, there’s plenty of room for Proteus style experiences. If we drive to relax in real life, why not in a game?

Even without true driving sequences, Kentucky Route Zero gives the player a similar experience of a waking dream while exploring uncharted territory on forgotten maps. It’s enough to pull you into the same feeling you get chasing ghosts down haunted highways and old service roads. And at the next turnoff, you’ll never know what you might discover about yourself.

Read the rest of this article »

In our previous Weekend Roundup, we mentioned that @tall_shrimp‘s Philosophy Game Jam had just finalized entrants for the voting round. As promised, we ponder the most troubling dilemmas this side of the trolley problem:

(Content Warning: Given the heavy themes of self-harm, nihilism, and death in some of these titles, please proceed with caution if you don’t have an appetite for such themes. We will provide individual content warnings per title, as some are not as heavy.)

Read the rest of this article »

Pow.

Writing about games is particularly pleasant because it forces you to discover little-known gems. Games previously overlooked now become the focal point of an in-depth analysis which adds to the appreciation of the task at hand.

SYSCRUSHER is one of those gems, punctuated by lo-fi cyberpunk visuals without any reservations or ego, a style complemented by primitive synths, artificial voices, and diode-lined hallways. It comes from the mind of Maine Indie Developer Dirigo Games (@Dirigo_Games), A developer previously known for Minotaur-’em-up Depths of Fear :: Knossos.

Read the rest of this article »

Virtually terrifying

Vikintor (@vf_vikintor on twitter) is a Brazilian indie developer cranking out some of the most visually haunting art I’ve seen in recent memory. His upcoming game is a Japanese inspired platformer with macabre body horror visuals easily associated with the stylings of Tetsuo: The Iron Man or famous contemporary horror manga artist Junji Ito.

Vikintor’s first game was the Virtual Boy inspired Dungeon Crawler “Ritualistic Madness”. Set up as a “found footage” re-release of an unsettling game dredged up from obscurity, Ritualistic Madness pulls you in right from the start. The straightforward design of the levels and easy to grasp controls lures the player into a sense of comfort before the horror creeps in. You realize quickly you aren’t the only thing moving in the maze, and it’s a race against time to quickly find all the keys and navigate to the exit before you’re run down.

Read the rest of this article »

Don’t let this guy fool you, Doom is not a Rhythm game

Why modern mainstream FPS games flee from the demons of their forebears

Running through hallways. Low on health, out of ammo, not knowing if the next corner would lead me to the salvation of a health pack, or to a horde of demons ready to slam dunk a fireball down my throat with no way left to fight back. Haggard, tense, tired.

This was my experience with Doom in the 90s, and one I’ve found sadly lacking across the last decade of mainstream games, replaced instead with regenerating health, demons that explode like piñatas of goodies, and a misplaced sense of near-immortality. Games, unlike any other medium, provide unique experiences at the intersection of story, setting, and mechanics, but it’s a fundamental shift in mechanics across the medium that is responsible for this spiral from horror to god complex.

Read the rest of this article »