Part Worlds Chat, part Broken Reality, theclub.zone is an intriguing exploration of the strange wacky side of virtual worlds, but one that has been done better- kind of.
Primarily known for their comedy collaboration with Rick & Morty creator Justin Roiland, developer CrowsCrowsCrows recent entry into experimental digital media is a little more up Rebind’s alley than their usual fare.
Remedy‘s Alan Wake is a bit of a tragedy- and I don’t just mean the story, it’s an exercise in reminding us just how much external circumstances can impact the reception of an otherwise obvious cult classic. After a lengthy development cycle and poor timing that placed it in the middle of an awkward period in Microsoft’s publishing strategies, Alan Wake performed adequately in sales but failed to garner the kind of critical reception it deserved. Once the Xbox exclusivity period elapsed, it was finally brought to the PC, shortly followed by its expansion, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
It’s popular these days to riff off the famous American writer, Stephen King, or pull on influences like David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, but Remedy was doing it long before it was on trend. Max Payne 1 & 2 came with a parallel narrative that played out via an in-world pulp noir show “Address Unknown” which served as an allegory for Max’s own internal struggles. Remedy is fairly open about the fact that they have a proclivity for inserting homages into the works that inspired them, and Alan Wake was no exception to this formula.
Spoilers ahead, because if you haven’t played Alan Wake yet… you really should.
I’ve been playing a lot of RUST lately, and it’s left me reflecting on both the works of Joseph Conrad and the various interpretations they’ve inspired. We talk a lot in games about how the subject of violence deserves far more scrutiny in whatever form it takes- Jingoism, Gore, Abuse, but we have a strong tendency in critical analysis to overlook the systematic violence that is perpetuated through the context of the material itself.
If Metal Gear Solid and Spec Ops: The Line are anti-war critiques, then I would wager that the likes of Far Cry 2 or Cryostasis are more in line with the original thesis of Conrad’s subtext, one also found within the core of Coppala’s interpretation: the prevailing focus on the liminal and transformative nature of warfare. One cannot go through war, either as an individual or a society, without drastically altering one’s super-ego (the self-critical consciousness) and their general perspective on life and the world at large.
Be warned, we’re getting into spoiler territory here from the outset. Turn back now if you’ve yet to finish the game.
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom
To Have Done with the Judgment of God, Antonin Artaud
LUCAH: Born of a Dream, from gamedev collective melessthanthree, thrusts you head-first into a world beyond any sense of logic or understanding. Everything around you coalesces into an undulating mass of incomprehensible action; the only thing that makes sense anymore is fighting. Some of the first words that greet you in this world: ”You can’t help but feel you’ve been here before. You can’t help but feel they only want to hurt you. But you know you must move forward. You must fight.” And fight you do, pushing back against the ever encroaching Darkness that blankets the land.
This Darkness exists as an extension of the world, to a degree, leading you to press ever-forward, unable to turn back. In it, we move toward a cyclical process in which this place eventually dies, destroyed one way or another, only to return once again to its original state of being. It’s an endless feedback loop; one that seemingly betrays no signs of stopping. You find yourself trapped in this place, fighting through loop after loop, attempting to enact change to no fruition. LUCAH’s world is one destined to fall, only to rise from the ashes again and again, a dark, undying phoenix. Decay holds no permanence here.
Horror, a genre known for having as many pitfalls as there are fall-prone protagonists, and one that is notoriously hard to integrate into video games. While there are countless examples of Horror done poorly across all media, games present a slew of challenges very specific to the medium which are far too often not taken into account during development, leading to lackluster Horror title upon lackluster Horror title. This is apparent enough that some commentators have even come to eschew the title of Horror game, opting instead for Horror themed game.
In the past, it wasn’t unusual for projects to take 3-5 years, particularly in AAA or experimental IPs. Sometimes, the hype cycles were a strength, other times not so much. It’s not as though the development model that Infinity Ward popularized with Call of Duty hadn’t already been present in the industry. However, at the time, it was a strategy largely reserved for producing spinoffs and experimental gameplay.
Capcom were notorious for this, often sharing staff among multiple IPs. This is perhaps exemplified in the provenance of the original Devil May Cry, which began life as Resident Evil 4, but was deemed too incongruous with the Resident Evil series and eventually became the first installment in a series all its own. (The title actually known as Resident Evil 4, for reference, came several scrapped versions later.) DMC’s “air juggling” of enemies came from yet another title, being inspired by a bug in Onimusha: Warlords.
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.
VR is a controversial topic. For some, it’s a technological panacea, a wave of the future. Others, sometimes justifiably, see it as a hubristic cash grab whose saving grace is the occasional hardware innovation beyond pure novelty. After being subjected to a seemingly endless ouroboros of PR and hype campaigns, no one can be faulted for growing cynical or weary in the face of bold promises.
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.
Well, here we are again. There’s been a lot of talk lately about parasocial relationships, the type that we unilaterally form with artists, social media figures, writers, but I like to think that isn’t how you feel about me as a writer. I think that in the reading of this deconstruction there’s an unspoken overlap on some level going on, a trade of understanding. But we’ll get to that, for now let’s take that proverbial last strike of the hammer into Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy.