RE:BIND

Browsing posts from: Yestin Harrison

Unambiguously, I am grateful for this. It wasn’t always this easy, though…

In 2019, to pan for gold in an endless river of free Web-playable Unity releases, one can simply query itch.io. A decade ago, however, there was no such bounty. In fact, in 2008, Unity was only about three years old, and its expansion beyond Mac exclusivity was still fresh in the memories of those who were paying attention at that point. One had to actively seek out releases akin to those that make up today’s cornucopia. Discovery was far less centralised, much as it was for self-released music before Bandcamp made a name for itself (The story of how game soundtracks gave Bandcamp a significant popularity boost is for another time). Back then, it certainly felt as though a larger proportion of discoveries in “neat little games” came by chance, word of mouth, email, or one of many diverse aggregators.

Of course, to be clear, the engine doesn’t strictly matter. Naming Unity is rather: first, to evoke the meta-genre of “neat little games”, by way of the rapid prototyping such platforms permit; second, the setup to a coincidence of microcosmic scale. Unity Web games these days compile to something that can run natively in the browser; back then, it was the now-deprecated Unity Web Player, akin to Flash Player. Enter the “neat little Web-playable Unity game that turns out to be something truly magical”, hailing from a decade before you had a constant stream of that. Enter a path to popularity characteristically idiosyncratic of the era, a game that held top place for a month in, get this, Apple’s Dashboard widgets directory. Enter… Mars Explorer.

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The original Moon Patrol was a 1982 arcade game from Irem, likely best known for introducing parallax scrolling [1]. The player operates a buggy, which drives through a sidescrolling landscape while jumping or shooting from its dual cannons, simultaneously firing above and in front of itself. Between jumping and shooting, the player is equipped to take care of myriad lunar dangers, such as UFOs, boulders, or pits. It’s quite fun (and readily playable to this day anywhere from the Switch to MAME), although, being an arcade game, it’s obviously designed to be hard in a way that extracts maximum coinage from patrons.

Rather unremarkable as a still, though you can see parallax scrolling in action here.

As with many arcade titles of the time, it found its way onto just about every 8-bit home computer, including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the TI-99/4A, the TRS-80, and even the IBM PC. However, again, just like its arcade contemporaries, every single port was awful. 37 years later, however, thanks to video gaming’s rich culture of nostalgia, it now has a good home computer release! Enter Yok‘s Moon Patrol.

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ARE YOU A RUSHER, OR ARE YOU A DRAGGER?

Haunted Garage from Games for Ghosts is a short prototype still in development, but it’s already a fun little diversion, full of character.

The basic premise thus far is that you pan around a single-area point-and-click environment, looking for characters or artifacts, ultimately in the service of acquiring musical instruments. You then go through the magic door in a free-standing wall, back to your boundless isometric white room, where you set down these instruments and configure them. Some allow you to write a melody. Others are droning instruments where you just select a pitch; others yet are drums, which let you tweak their sound and step-sequence them. They all sync up, and the general course you take is finding one instrument, setting it how you like, and returning to the point-and-click environment, where the means to uncover yet another instrument have just been unlocked. You go back to your room, make your loop a little more interesting with another instrument, then repeat until you’ve found every instrument the game offers thus far.

The instruments themselves sound quite pleasant, although the granularity of sequencing is a little limited if you’re trying to do anything rhythmically complex. Then again, this is just a toy, and a truly charming one at that. Beyond the fun that can be had composing, and nearly anything with a little thought put into it sounding decent since the instruments are almost all in the same key, it’s such a delightful world to poke around on the other side of the door. The way interactable elements animate under your cursor, the strangeness of the conversations and of the characters’ desires for trades, the faint hint of your loop that you can hear coming from the door when you’re outside, and the stylistic contrast between the grayscale “outside” and the stark monochrome “inside” all make for an experience that’s candy for the eyes as much as it is for the ears.

It’s a great little prototype so far, and I look forward to what may come of further iteration. If I had to give one piece of feedback, it would be that it could do with some optimisation, as even natively it has a tendency to lag, which can really suspend disbelief when the animations of the instruments desync from the audio.

To that effect, a point of advice – give the Web version a miss and download the native executable for your platform instead. Even a modern browser on a fast computer can’t help JavaScript to keep up with the audio side of things, and audio is crucial to this lovely little thing.

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Oblique et coupant l’ombre un torrent éclatant
Ruisselait en flots d’or sur la dalle polie
Où les atomes d’ambre au feu se miroitant
Mêlaient leur sarabande à la gymnopédie

Slanting and shadow-cutting a bursting stream
Trickled in gusts of gold on the shiny flagstone
Where the amber atoms in the fire gleaming
Mingled their sarabande with the gymnopaedia.

J. P. Contamine de Latour, Les Antiques.
Excerpt published alongside Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1.

Modus Interactive has a way with destructive architecture, with digitized runoff and detritus left over from the transmutation of deterritorialized cityscapes. With A Broken City comes yet another imaginative vignette of comfortable desolation, where Satie’s Gymnopédies haunt you distantly as you traverse urban esoterica.

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Oldest-looking version found, but bear in mind: this looked far less detailed, and was still the most fun a certain sort of kid could have.

Need For Madness is the brainchild of one-man Egyptian studio Radical Play (Omar Waly). Simply put, it’s a cartoonish driving game where every stage can be won as a race or as a demolition derby, at the player’s discretion. Its current iteration is grand and ambitious, a comprehensive single-executable package including the original game, the sequel, multiplayer functionality, car and stage designers, and updated graphics. This is all well and good, but today we’re focusing on what kicked this all off: the 2005 original, in all its low-poly, childhood-forming glory.

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Handelingenkamer, The Hague.

On the 25th of this month, Ross Scott of Freeman’s Mind and Ross’s Game Dungeon fame (both of which, by the way, warrant coverage of their own in the future) dropped a video essay, “Games as a service” is fraud. In the description, he writes:

WARNING: This is more boring than my usual videos.

Well, all right, it’s a dry topic touching on the technical, the philosophical, and the legal; but it’s important and warrants a conversation. I highly suggest giving the video a watch, even if it feels like preaching to the choir. That said, this article doesn’t require it. The springboard I’ll use for now is the following quote from 42:53:

Every once in a while, you’ll hear people ask if games are art. I don’t have an answer on that, but I think it’s pretty clear games are creative experiences often worthy of preservation, so I’ll say art just to keep it simple.

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This image of a kitty scratching an itch is public-domain, but it’s honestly funnier if you imagine a Shutterstock watermark over it,

Sometimes it just feels like the right time to stick a bucket under the waterfall that is itch.io, trying to collect something that catches your attention, makes you think, or just makes you pleased that someone out there is taking a particular direction. Without further ado…

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A requiem for the unique and the whimsical.

Throughout the personal computer revolution, the landscape was awash with architectures. Z80. 68000. PowerPC. SPARC. MIPS. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie, and innovation looked radically different across the board. By the turn of the century, however, the market had collectively settled on Intel’s x86. At a stretch, one may buy an Intel machine distinguished by, one: having a picture of a fruit on it, and two: the ability to run an operating system with a picture of a fruit on it.

It was inevitable that game consoles would meet the same fate.

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VR screenshots are square, so it’s hard to get something both representative and sensibly-proportioned. This, we think, gives a good first impression.

A Piece of the Universe, which will henceforth referred to as APOTU for brevity, is a VR diorama developed by naam, wherein the player explores, as the title suggests, a little piece of the universe, learning about its absent resident and discovering the strange reality contained within. It spoke to a number of us, affirming that VR can produce something truly special and heretofore impossible. We had the good fortune to sit down with naam on video call and conduct an interview, and it’s our pleasure to share a transcript, full of insights about APOTU and beyond.

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