I want to like you, Hedon, I really do. Your self-professed *squints* “Boomercore” label got a real chuckle out of me. I thought with that sort of confident self-assured swagger, you’d be the kind of fast-paced shoot’em’up experience I was looking for when other games seemed far too eager to steep themselves in opaque approaches beyond my ken. Your clean visuals, enjoyable soundtrack, and extensive lore revealed so quickly how brimming you were with creative vision and intuitive gameplay, and yet… the maps. I can’t get past the maps. It’s not you… I think it’s me. Too many secrets, too little verticality, and I’m afraid that maps from the Thief school of level design don’t always play quite the same in the Doom engine and it shows.
Browsing category: Overviews
Be it East or West, the American South holds an extremely complicated cultural context, far beyond the scope of this article to explain. However, games like Sagebrush give us an empathetic glimpse into the rationale of lost people who wander towards a misguided flock in search of meaning, be it amongst the harsh sandy dunes of New Mexico or deep within the wetlands of the Gulf Coast.
With the bustling metropolises like Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Raleigh or all the way to Austin and Miami, an outsider’s perspective would understandably perceive the Southern states as a widespread, populous area entrenched with heavy emotional scars and prolific social struggles. However, outside of the busy suburbs and traffic-clogged highways, down empty unpaved country roads, are often ruins: the remainder of forgotten hopeful dreams and unspoken trauma. Through viewing the southern states as a holistic cultural entity and sociopolitical bloc, most fail to grasp the fractured nature of the South’s human element, the individuals who reside within the subtropic bayous, pine forests and dusty deserts.
In the early 1960s, a movement began to stir beneath the streets of France, led by Guy Debord. A resistance against the growing tendrils of capitalism permeating an ever more concealed reality, the ideals of the Situationist International were far-reaching, covering significant ground over its 15 years of existence. One facet the SI confronted was the perception of time. We are forced to live in circular time, or the time of the proletariat: you wake, you work, you get paid, you pay your rent, repeat until death. In contrast, the bourgeois live in linear time, shackled to no cycle, free to move forward through this world unburdened by society, free do to as one wishes.
For Debord, there also existed play: moments outside of both linear and circular time. One praxis for manifesting this was what he termed dérive, French for “drift,” where one detaches from the material world and its bindings, searching out the psycho-geographical pushes and pulls of an environment, to “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”. We see this exemplified in Even in Arcadia, a game that serves as an immersive play, in which the player finds themselves somewhat aimlessly meandering from room to room, scenes flittering between each in real time, the player’s movements drawn by nothing more than curiosity.
Past the Douglas Firs and golden grass untouched for years is a place of peaceful meditation, a quiet space to lose one’s self amongst strange machinery that can change the weather with the flip of a switch. ROM by Bincurl Games is a delightful experiment in audio, visuals, and conceptualization of what makes an environment natural. Evocative of the sullen atmosphere found in the works of Simon Stålenhag, ROM finds itself squarely between the artificial and the natural, the material and the spiritual, expressed only through soft tones and the howling of the coastal wind.
In their early years, before resolving to churn out Gundam and Macross games until the sun burns out, Japanese developers Artdink fiddled with quite a lot of bizarre simulation games. Setting the Japanese train enthusiast world ablaze with incredibly complex railroad simulator A-Train in 1985, it eventually grabbed the attention of Maxis who published the third title on western shores. Alongside that, they experimented with other games such as No One Can Stop Mr. Domino, and Tail of the Sun: one a puzzle game built around toppling anthropomorphic dominos, the other tasking the player with building a tower of mammoth tusks to reach the sun.
Originally released back in 2006, Toribash (@toribash) from Singaporean developers Nabi Studios is a free-to-play fighting game in which you and your opponent simultaneously take turns adjusting various joints on your characters’ bodies to perform moves. You’re able to contract, extend, relax, and hold each joint as you mix-and-match contortions in an attempt to throw a punch or kick. For the uninitiated, the game is insanely hard. For the skilled, it allows for some extremely slick and cool looking fights to unfold.
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.
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.
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.
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?