RE:BIND

Browsing category: Overviews

Set among myriad others, DELVER from Cuddigan (@cuddigan) and Joshua Skelton (@JoshuaSkelly) is a roguelike in the purest sense: dungeon crawler, randomized item drops, potions with unknown effects. You venture into a labyrinthine series of halls, descending ever deeper towards to the core. Each death sends you back to a base camp on the surface, populated with a few friendly faces who can offer some equipment for your next attempt. It’s tough as nails, it beckons you to try again and again, with every death trickling funds into your coffers, letting you to buy up some gear for you next run.

Obviously a labor of love, DELVER is an excellent action RPG in the best ways, constantly pushing you forward and swatting you down for your missteps, but in a way that simply wants you to be the best you can be. Outside of the combat, the game also offers a high level of fidelity when it comes to interacting with its world: bowls, candlesticks, bones, and so on can all be grabbed and used as projectiles. There’s even a bit of lore outside of the dungeon, notes scattered across the halls that flesh out the grander world and story.

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I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t documentaries or the History Channel that got me into astronomy, or gave me the notion that I might one day grow up to be an astrophysicist. No, it was the instruction manual for a nearly forgotten 1998 remake of Atari’s 1980 arcade classic Battlezone, forgotten no longer as Battlezone 98 Redux. Within the pages of the game’s instruction manual, past the list of key mappings and paragraphs of game lore, were detailed overviews of nearly every astral body in our solar system giving accounts of planets well-known or moons I had never even heard of. Now that it had my attention- it was time to install the game and see what these planets looked like from the cockpit of a hover tank.

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I could really go for an iced latte right now

In the face of a canceled connection after a long flight, a frequent flyer has a hard time mustering the energy to be upset. It’s a predictable defeat in a long series of missed appointments, lengthy bus transfers, traffic jams, cab drivers taking their sweet time, and overwrought business meetings. Each year, you spend more and more for less and less in return; at least, that’s the message explored in Brownie Cove, an experimental piece from artistic trio Sand Gardeners (@BrownieCove, @OldLoths and @Zephyrraine).

Pedantic flight attendants and grumpy travelers swirl in an ever-shifting tempest of idleness, waiting for the faint glimmer of hope that they won’t have to book hotels in a town they never intended on visiting. Between small talk and trivial factoids in response to questions you never asked, there sits a look of resignation on the face of every single one of your fellow passengers, the surly acceptance of inconvenience in bulk quantity.

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Content warning: themes of self-harm, suicidal ideation, artistic depictions of self-harm.

Divination by Mojiken Studios is a refreshing take on the visual novel, crossed with an unconventional courtroom procedural. Taking place in a futuristic society where robots and humans live side by side, due process is dependent on the centralized arbitration of a networked AI named “MOTHER”. MOTHER, overwhelmed by the singularity of omniscience, then finally succumbs to madness, sending out a final nihilistic message before ceasing to exist. When the shock subsides, regulatory authorities step in, mandating the installation of anti-suicide protocols in all synthetic lifeforms.

Divination establishes robots as meaningful compatriots to their human counterparts, seemingly capable of emotion, though without the introspective intuition by which humans navigate those emotions. The turmoil in the wake of MOTHER’s untimely demise calls into question not only the notion of AIs’ sound judgement, but many of the city’s denizens’ very own sense of self and purpose. It is a story of waking up one day to sudden, traumatic self-awareness, immediately being forced to rationalize the paradox of free will in a system where many have lived assured lives in fixed roles. Does the termination of MOTHER’s oversight merit abject despondency, or is it an unprecedented opportunity for individuals to reassert themselves in a functionally homogenized society?

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What is the act of play? When presented with a game, is play the participation of the so-called “player” within structures created for them, acting within the choreographed dance laid out before them? Is play the moments in between, where improvisation takes hold, and the unexpected occurs? Is play the times in which you stop clinging to control, to perceived notions of input and action, to simply be within whatever world it is you’ve chosen to delve?

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Hello

What defines the self? A name? A role? The tasks we are set to? What others perceive us to be? What we perceive ourselves to be? Or perhaps something more? This question has possibly plagued mankind more throughout the ages than any other, but it defines a key conflict in the world of OFF in which we emerge fully-formed, and find our existence immediately questioned. As we begin we find ourselves perceived as little more than a figment of the imagination of a humble cat.

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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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Long ago, in the era of Netscape and Internet Explorer, I would spend hours surfing the net trying to find any sort of MMO that, A) could run on my brick of a computer, and B) was free. World of Warcraft and Everquest were the biggest thing around, the novelty of online communities uniting so many around common goals. I would pore over articles on Asheron’s Call, Star Wars: Galaxies, Final Fantasy XI, Ragnarok Online… For every game out there, it had another ten beside it, veritable hydras housing universes inside of them.

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In a far-flung future, cyber-laden Vapor Trails from developer sevencrane (@sevencrane) presents a sidescrolling action game oozing with style. Weaving a plot of intrigue and mystery, the player fills the shoes of Val, part of a robotic line known as Valkyries, thrown out to waste away in The Deeps for being too adaptable. Your abilities take you far, though, as you find yourself working your way back to the surface for revenge.

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