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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Jack-o'-Lantern

It’s Halloween now. I am not a child or a person who has children, nor even someone who turns on a porch light and hands out candy, so the trick-or-treating doesn’t matter to me. I don’t know anyone here to invite me to a party, so I don’t get drunk with a bunch of people in costumes. By all obvious measures, to me personally this night should be the same as any other night.

And yet…

There’s something. This is the time when our idea of who we are and what we are seems at its most malleable. As a creator, I tend to project my various subtle social dysphorias out through characters and ideas, devil’s advocates and shapeless horrors and harmless hypotheticals. The costume seems unnecessary to me. But I still look at everyone else, at the work and love that they put into their costumes, and I wonder what their choices mean. I look at a list of the most popular costumes of the last few years and find myself unexpectedly overwhelmed by emotion, imagining the connection between these concepts and the people who wear them, wondering what it means when these trends emerged and receded. What does it mean that witch is always the most popular costume? What does it mean that police showed up once on the list a few years ago and then immediately disappeared? What drives the appearance and disappearance of Batman, of Dracula, of zombies and of devils?

It may seem trivial, and maybe it is. But each costume was a decision made by a human being, an expression of something that they felt. It’s impossible that it doesn’t mean something. And, looking at it, I get the feeling of some profound truth about who we are and who we want to be, but I just don’t know what it is.

It’s strange.


 

Reading some of the responses to Neverending Nightmares, and listening to some of the things that people say about horror games in general, I hear some people say that they don’t find any horror games or movies scary. I’ve started wondering what this means, exactly. Fear is a learned response to things that we understand are threatening: If we don’t find something scary, does that just mean that we haven’t learned what it means to be frightened?

I wonder. I wonder if horror starts to take tighter hold on us as we grow older and grow to understand the extent of our vulnerability to loss and injury. I wonder if fearlessness is merely ignorance.

For my first play-through of Neverending Nightmares I didn’t really find it scary. I found it interesting and evocative, but it didn’t really disturb me in any fundamental way. However, as I spent more time with it, as I tried to understand everything about it, as I got tired and sat around thinking about it and interpreting it, it started to find its way into my mind. I learned something about the mechanisms of fear, then: That which we refuse to look at or engage with cannot frighten us. A lack of fear when consuming horror means that you don’t believe it, that you haven’t let it in, that your defenses are still up. As long as your defenses are up, you are safe, and that sensation of safety is exactly what you wish to abandon.

As long as you are safe, you will not be scared.

If you want to be scared by a game, learn how much you have to fear each moment of each day, and then let it prey on those fears. Then you’ll feel it. Then you’ll see it when you close your eyes. Because it won’t just be the game: It will be you.


 

There’s a lyric that keeps running through my head, and has for the past decade:

“It’s not forbidden to be what you are”

It’s from a song called Boo Time, by the band Moxy Früvous. It particularly tends to run through my head around Halloween, for obvious reasons, but it also tends to shape the way I think about identity in general. I feel like we should all be able to be the person we feel ourselves to be. I think there’s a whole lot of cultural baggage built around the idea of what a particular kind of person is, what it means to be a man or a woman, what it means to be a jock or a nerd, what it means to be Republican or Democrat, and I think it’s all garbage. Cruft. Vague bulwarks of tradition set up against the natural human desire to be fluid and natural and true.

This week I and many other people found out that former Moxy Früvous member Jian Ghomeshi beats women. The allegations are numerous, and more seem to have sprung up since. He has, as it were, a history. It’s sad and disturbing, but this also puts such a fine point on the apparent contradiction of the lyric that keeps going through my head: You cannot use your identity to hurt other people.

It’s not forbidden to be what you are, but it may be forbidden to do what you do.


It’s Halloween. We are what we pretend to be, so take care in what you pretend to be.

 

Lone Survivor

I didn’t finish it.

I guess that’s a good place to start. I dunno, I generally feel like I should finish these games if I’m going to write about them, but if I’m not that into playing it it can take me a really long time to make any progress and I end up just falling further and further behind – so, rather than go through that whole process I think I’m going to cut my losses here.

Fortunately, I can still discuss why I think the experience didn’t work for me, which I think is actually a rather interesting case study.

My initial impression upon playing Lone Survivor was that it was confusing, both in ways that were obviously intentional and ways that were less so. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt to a certain degree, since uncertainty is an important element of horror storytelling, but the more I played the more I kept seeing inherent conflicts in the foundational design choices of the game.

First, the game has a strong element of survival: You scavenge food and other resources from the apartment complex to survive, and as time goes on your character becomes hungrier and more tired so you have to regularly return to your apartment to sleep and eat. So far so good, right? However, the game has a strong narrative element of uncertainty, of not knowing what exactly is going on, what caused it, or what your role in the proceedings is. These two elements are both good and interesting, but the combination of them is conflicted. You get a lot of items where you don’t know what they do, and the survival element strongly suggests the idea that you should save them for later, which means you’re unlikely to find out. It’s implied very early on to be possible to bypass enemies, but you can only discover how that works by experimenting and finding that flares stun enemies, which seems completely unintuitive given how little of a shit they give about the flashlight you carry around all the time, which seemingly casts much brighter light. Perhaps there’s a justification somewhere – I never found it.

Not only are you implicitly discouraged from experimentation, but it can easily become apparently impossible to proceed, if you find yourself low on ammunition and flares enemies are insurmountable barriers, completely blocking you from progressing further. I discovered after reading some information on the game that actually you can take one of the mystery pills you find to meet a guy in a dream who will give you more ammunition, but taking these pills will reduce a hidden mental health stat which apparently affects the ending you get. Once more experimentation is discouraged, and counter-intuitive mechanics go unexplored. Even if it is possible to acquire more resources, if you don’t know it’s possible and it can only happen once you’ve completely run out, the constraints on your play are exactly the same.

Are these two driving aesthetic choices inherently unresolvable? Within this format, and not making any concessions, I suspect they may be. If Lone Survivor was developed as a roguelike style game, where each run could end in failure and demanded experimentation as a survival strategy, the tension between these ideas could have been brought to the surface and played with as a gameplay trope instead of merely confusing and derailing the player. Or, if more concessions were made on the uncertainty aspect, such as making it intuitively obvious what all the game-objects did but mysterious how that function fit into a larger narrative, that could have worked as well  Something needs to give, though, since these two driving concepts, within this framework, would inevitably come into conflict and undermine the expressive intent of the author.

All in all, I think the game has strong aesthetics and a lot of love put into it, but it is hampered by a poorly thought out combination of ideas. I may try playing it again someday with a walkthrough, since the world is intriguing but the process of exploring it is so tedious and frustrating, but for the time being I’d like to move on to something else.

[Next time: Revisiting The Binding of Isaac and playing the remake]

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Um, you might have noticed that the last two updates had the same name and number. I copy old posts as a template so I don’t have to dig up the header image every time, and once in a while I forget to change the title. Basically, I am a big dumb. Sorry if it gets confusing or something. In all honesty, it’s probably about time I came up with a new header image, since that’s not even the name of the game any more. I’ll think about doing that sometime here.

Anyway.

I guess this is probably like the third straight week where I’m going to say I’m almost done with the detail editor. I’m now even almoster done with it. I keep thinking of a new thing that needs to be added every time I use it, and some days I end up with a longer to-do list than the one I started with, but I think I’m down to the last few nails in this coffin.

Here’s what it looks like now:

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Mostly the same as before, but there’s a list of details on the left side, export and load type buttons, a field to set how far particle systems are pre-advanced when the screen is loaded (so that, say, a fountain looks like it’s something in progress, rather than just turning on when you walk in the room), there’s a menu to select blend modes for particle facets… little changes, but they add up. Also, more than one of these has lead me to discover a bug that needed fixing in connected components, so even though the editor looks substantially the same it was a pretty good week of progress.

At this point I’m down to just a couple of things left to add. Once I do, I think I’m probably going to give all of the other editors a once over and make sure that they’re as polished and full-featured as I’ve been ensuring that this one is. Once that’s achieved, I’ll start building the final task list of things to hit to wrap up the foundational programming for the game.

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Another one way behind schedule. It took a bit of finagling, but I think the new name system for particles is working correctly. I’ve added a field to edit the particle name into the editor, but it still needs to be integrated into the behavior editor in a way that makes sense, which is a surprisingly non-trivial task. I’ve made a task-list of things that still need to be done for the detail editor, and I’m working through it bit-by-bit. In addition to the new name field, I just added buttons to delete extra facets, a field to change the update rate of a behavior, and a bunch of other slight improvements. Here’s what it looks like now:

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I lost a couple of days of work this weekend due to getting really really tired for no apparent reason. It may have been a delayed reaction from writing the Neverending Nightmares piece, which I put a whole lot of work into (I hope it shows!)  Hopefully I’ve recovered from that nonsense tiredness spell, and can wrap up this damn editor this week and get on to more interesting stuff.

[moderate spoilers for Neverending Nightmares]

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I like dreams, and stories about them. Though they never capture quite what it feels like to exist in a dream space, though they never quite emulate that constantly shifting boundary that builds itself based on whatever seems appropriate to your internal narrative, there’s always a seed of that familiar space that is universal and lies within each of us. Our dreams may differ, but we all dream – and sometimes it’s hard to tell when the dreams end. When you spend enough time thinking of abstractions and possibilities, they start to blend together with the abstract constructed realms of the sleeping life.

Neverending Nightmares is that kind of dream. When you are overwhelmed with visions of failure and guilt, and these visions manifest themselves into pathways through hallways at-once familiar and unfamiliar. Just trudging, step-by-step, through a series of nearly identical hallways, stared down at by portraits of strangers and more disturbing images, feels like a dream. Ancestral homes that were once a place of comfort twist into unfamiliar passages in the undefined half-light of dream, shift and loop like a snake, become infinite, never-ending.

Antiques and old houses show up a lot in my more unnerving dreams. Is it just that they’re old, and know more of death than us, surviving owners and occupants, witnessing betrayals and murder? Or is it that I fear being forgotten and left behind, as they must have been, so long ago? Whether because of this primal association, or to fit more closely with its chosen Edward Gorey-esque art style, or to make the nightmarish hospital and asylum’s antiquated facilities not seem out of place, Neverending Nightmares seems to take place quite some time ago, in Victorian-style rooms filled with paintings and ornate antique furnishings, lit by candlelight only.

Sometimes the candles placed around are enough, and the rooms are well-lit, but as the nightmares progress this becomes the case more and more rarely, and as the rooms get darker and darker the art style begins to show its teeth, the darkness around you fading into a solid wall of pen-stroke hatch-marks. The jagged edge of the circle of light cast by your candle interacts strangely with the wood grain, wallpaper, and furnishings, crisscrossing to form abstract not-quite objects at the edge of your vision. Though the lighting doesn’t behave like actual flickering candlelight, it captures the sinister illusions of that inconstant light well. And, when the candle goes out and leaves you in the darkness, completely obscuring the world in black, you can still see which direction you’re moving by the motion of the textured pen-strokes that comprise the endless night, something that would be impossible to convey in a purely representational art style.

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At times the music seemed inappropriate to me, often harshly synthetic and reminiscent more of horror movies than of dream sounds – but our dreams are formed of our experiences, and movie tropes have their place within them as well. Simply keeping music going at all times helped to soften the edges of the game’s reality, making it feel less artificial and constructed, even if the process to get there was more explicitly engineered. Alongside the music, a number of sounds seem to recur: A woman crying, a death rattle, a creaking of rope or wood… these sounds, played over and over in different contexts, bring to mind the terrible stickiness of post-traumatically seared memory, the flashes of moment that will never be forgotten.

Though Neverending Nightmares would have likely never existed without being funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s hard not to feel like the source of its funding leaves some unsightly marks on the game itself. Since the higher donation levels allow the donor’s name to be put on a tombstone in-game, I was taken out of the moment more than once by seeing a familiar name – I suppose this might not be the case with someone less ensconced in gaming culture, but for me and, I suspect, many of the others most likely to be aware of this relatively small game, seeing these names will be distracting. There are also a series of custom portraits of backers in the game, any of which you can look more closely at: In a game with such a paucity of interaction and density of background information, having unusually detailed portraits of unknown people can also be quite distracting – though walking through a hallway of portraits of strangers doesn’t seem like it deviates too far from the dream logic of the game, and isn’t as distracting to the experience, it is an example of how extraneous detail can reduce the overall impact of a work. It’s fortunate that these are largely relegated to the early part of the game, before the nightmarish spell is wholly woven and distractions come at a critical cost to engagement, but it still demonstrates that the form of a game is ineluctably tied to how it is created and funded, and in some games this can improve it (as with Prison Architect’s custom prisoner profiles) and in others it can derail.

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Neverending Nightmares doesn’t rely much on explicit story, using a few short storytelling moments to anchor a web of symbolic significance hinted at by the environments you walk through. The game opens with a first-person vision of stabbing a young dark-haired girl, who we find is named Gabby. Gabby becomes one of the few constant points between the nightmares. You are always Thomas, she is always Gabby, but the relationship between you shifts depending upon the context of the dream. At first she’s your sister, then your therapist, then your wife.

This game has a branching ending system which, paired with the conceit of the game, has an interesting implication. Because the final scene of each story pathway is, at least implicitly, the reality that has lead to the nightmares, his real-world circumstances are derived from the dreams he has about them. It’s an interesting kind of reverse-causality emerging as a natural consequence of the decision to tell a branching story about a dream-world. It implies a certain universality to nightmares, that any one of three very different Thomases could suffer similar acute anxieties. It also implies that whatever decisions you, as a player, make, those decisions were foreordained by the nature of your Thomas, driven not by your choice as a player but by the shape of the reality that haunts his dreams.

There’s a number of different thematic elements that repeat themselves in background elements, found objects, and enemy design. Birds are commonly portrayed in the paintings you walk past: Frequently what appear to be albatrosses, tying into the theme of guilt and loss, but vultures and crows also seem to be portrayed. Additionally, several times you walk past a long dinner-table set for a holiday meal, and among other things the table is set with a large turkey – and, in darker iterations of the nightmare and in paintings, the turkey on the platter is rotted and hollow. This image neatly echoes the guilt of the albatross, the death-imagery of the crows and vultures, and the familial betrayal and unease that seems to underlie the anxiety between Thomas and Gabby.

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Suicide and murder, betrayal of the self and betrayal of those close to you, are portrayed as roughly equivalent. Gabby is so closely identified with Thomas that any harm that comes to her seems almost indistinguishable from harm done to Thomas himself, and they both harm themselves as often and as brutally as they harm each other. There’s a truth here that is rarely expressed about violence in games or, indeed, much of anywhere: Past a certain point, hurting the ones we care about most is the same as intentional self-harm, and often arises from the same impulses. Those who are close to us actually substantially define who we are, and if their perception is shaken or ceases then the person we believe ourselves to be exists a little bit less. We become orphaned from existence. We become castaways.

The floors of the hospital are littered with broken glass, and in one branch of the nightmare you find a broken bottle sitting in a sink, blood on its edges, teeth with traces of blood beside it. The teeth are there in earlier iterations without the bottle, but the bottle is unique to that branch, perhaps implying alcoholism in the reality of that nightmare – an interpretation amply supported by its conclusion. The teeth are in the sink for all paths and, perhaps along a similar theme, misshapen and grinning slit-mouths and bleeding or missing eyes are common thematically, most of the enemies having one or more of these, but it’s not clear to me whether this is intended to represent a specific anxiety (blindness, helplessness, self-harm) or are merely raw nightmare-stuff, the kind of thing that every human finds generally disturbing and which thus tends to find its way into horror games.

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There’s also an ongoing gender motif. Visiting Thomas’s childhood bedroom, we see toy soldiers scattered about, and in Gabby’s there are dolls. Also, aside from the pictures of birds and of food, plus the occasional landscape or violent death, there are many paintings of women in wedding veils or shrouds or hidden mothers holding children, and even more portraits of men in military dress. Together, they hint at Thomas’s struggles with traditional masculine and feminine identity and the history of violence that comes with them, both as perpetrator and as victim. This is echoed by a recurring motif of the bloody axe and the bloody meat cleaver, the painting of the huntsman standing behind the girl with an axe and the tolling clock’s mechanical diorama of headsman and victim, and the stuffed bear – both the fluffy kind, kept in Gabby’s room and standing in for her in several places, and an actual bear, stuffed and mounted, Gabby dead again in effigy.

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Interestingly, one of the three endings shows the stuffed bear in Thomas’s bed, just before he goes to kiss his sister goodnight: The world still seems nightmarish, damaged dolls and missing doorways, but it seems to give Thomas some measure of peace anyway – whether by healing the conflict in his mind that leads to such terrible dreams, or merely succumbing to them and joining Gabby in endless sleep, it’s impossible to say.

Religious imagery is also commonplace throughout. This is made extremely explicit by the stained glass image of Christ near the end of one of the paths, emphasizing the connection between the fifth wound of Christ, the spear stabbed in his side, and the wounds that Gabby and Thomas suffer in many branches of the nightmare. There are two bibles lying open on lecterns at different points in the game. The first, in one of the early nightmares, is open to psalms 21, likely because of this line: “Deus, Deus meus, respice in me: quare me dereliquisti”, or “O God my God, look upon me: why hast thou forsaken me?” The second is open to Matthew 27, the account of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth: “Et circa horam nonam clamavit Jesus voce magna dicens: Eli Eli, lamma sabacthani? hoc est: Deus meus Deus meus ut quid dereliquisti me”, or “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabachthani?’ which means: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” These messages are referenced in numerous places throughout the game, found scrawled in blood on the walls of insane asylums and bedrooms. Even aside from this obvious connection, there’s an interesting implied connection between the guilt of Judas at spilling the blood of an innocent leading him to hang himself and all of the hanging imagery in the game, as well as the name of Thomas, the Apostle “Doubting” Thomas who refused to believe in the resurrection of Christ, and the similarly recurring text scrawls, “Everything is a lie.” Continuing these biblical allusions further, Gabby likely represents Gabriel, the messenger of God, sent to guide Thomas out of the nightmare world he has created for himself.  Unfortunately, I am far from a biblical scholar so I’m sure a lot of more subtle allusions and connections have evaded my notice, but together this suggests a crisis and collision of faith as well as of identity.

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It’s difficult to say anything concrete about games that embrace ambiguity and mystery, but I love the feeling of having as much fun thinking about a work of art afterwards as I did while actively experiencing it, and Neverending Nightmares has delivered on that. Though it’s a lot of work sometimes to analyze a game like this, it’s also deeply rewarding in that it pushes me to take a closer look at the veins connecting a piece’s ideas and meaning, and in so doing think more deeply about what lies under the surface of my own work. It’s a powerful experience just to exist in a world like this, however distantly and abstractly, for a time.

Though I may or may not play it again, I’m sure I will revisit Neverending Nightmares – perhaps just a moment of doubt or a flicker of black hair at the edge of my vision, perhaps as a dream, perhaps as an inspiration. It’s in my head now.

[next: Lone Survivor]

[Ending spoilers for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons]

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I originally chose Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as a game to write about because Transistor had taken a day or two longer than expected and I wanted something I could finish quickly. This made sense since Brothers is just a few hours long – however, it took me a long time to get through those three hours because the beginning of the game was so bland and uninteresting. Brothers picks up a bit as it goes, but I never found it very compelling.

I don’t mean to say that Brothers is a game without merit, but I found it difficult to enjoy its merits when it was full of contrived and railroaded environmental puzzles. After a certain point, I began to enjoy it almost as a parody of itself: Of course this bridge mechanism requires two people on opposite sides of the bridge to operate, despite this making it pretty useless as a bridge. Of course there’s windmills conveniently and nonsensically placed on either side of the chasm, placed in a location that wouldn’t get much wind and serving no logical purpose. This is a world designed solely to be navigated by exactly two people, and it enforces this design in painfully contrived ways. Despite being able to leap six feet vertically from handhold to handhold to scale a sheer cliff face, big brother can’t climb over the cage that small brother can fit through the bars of – nor can he be helped up from below by little brother, who was moments before shown to be easily capable of pulling his body weight as it swung at the edge of a rope, a rope to which they still had access if the height advantage were too acute. The environment, even while being so contrived and arbitrary as to be completely nonsensical by the standards of an actual lived-in world, still suggests at solutions that don’t work simply because they weren’t accounted for.

It’s strange that a game with such an unusual control scheme would feel so incredibly pandering. Perhaps the developers were afraid that challenging the player in any way on top of the control scheme would be too much, but nearly every puzzle in the game is just a matter of moving to the next area, finding out which objects were usable, and using them. There were a couple of scripting events where literally all I had to do to survive them was press the controller in one direction, and if I didn’t start soon enough I would be killed a little while later when whatever catastrophe I was running from caught up with me.

It’s bad enough when it’s puzzles and scripted events, but twice in the game I was forced to finish a defeated opponent off for no discernible reason. Though these were certainly villains, at both points they are soundly defeated, with their ability to even survive already in question, much less to pose a further threat – however, if you don’t murder them in cold blood you cannot progress.  Even worse, it’s only when performing one of these executions, on a character I didn’t particularly want to kill at all, that tragedy strikes, and older brother gets stabbed in the stomach with, I dunno, poison or something – at which point it cuts to the father figure we’re supposed to be trying to save waking up and flipping out about about the vision he apparently had about the stabbing, then cuts back and there’s now a hole in the wall that I can go through, with little evidence of causality.

I want to take a moment here to state that some of these events take place in truly beautiful environments. Though earlier portions of this game tend towards generic fantasy village, some of the later areas are, if not quite breathtaking, imaginative and intriguing. A battlefield full of dead giants, a lake of sparkling ice, and the great willowy-white panacea tree that is the object of your quest, these are all impressive. The majesty and imagination of areas like this calls to mind the Dark Souls games – which, unfortunately, calls for unflattering comparisons, since in the Souls games these environments are first and foremost about telling a deep and strange story, whereas in this game they’re first and foremost a contrivance for mediocre environmental puzzles.

If you’ve gotten this far I assume you don’t care about spoilers, so I’ll save you the suspense and tell you that big brother dies. You know, the big one? Wore blue? Was able to swim? Yeah, that’s the guy. Though I understand the intent of using a made-up language for the dialogue, as it forces the player’s attention towards the game mechanics (and probably saved them a chunk of change on localization), it also means the characters are completely generic and forgettable. It would have been relatively easy to have the characters engage in friendly conversation and banter, even if it was all in gibberish, to make them feel like humans instead of a couple of maze-navigating lab-rats – but, as things stand, we understand the characters entirely through the lens of their physical capabilities, which seems like it’s intentional since it drives the prime storytelling moment of the ending, where little brother remembers… you know, whatsisname… the blue kid, or possibly summons his spirit, and in doing so is able to finally swim a lap and leap – well, approximately as high as he’s leaped several other times over the course of the game. This is a potentially powerful storytelling moment, completely undermined by the facts that a) the inconsistency and contrivance behind the environmental navigation thus far has eroded any real sense of my character’s physical limitations, and b) I completely don’t give a shit about any of these generic characters. I honestly liked the spider woman that tried to murder me more than these kids.

So we got back and saved the dad, earning him another 30 years of life or so, at the cost of the life of his young, fit, physically healthy son. I don’t mind the ending being a downer, but at no point did I feel involved. Blue man died because I was forced by the game to murder a defeated opponent. Dad man was saved because I kept doing the things the game told me to do. My role in this endeavor felt entirely ancillary. It was all just a big pantomime put on to get me to that final ending sequence, and I still didn’t care about that payoff because it was a garbled message about characters I didn’t care about at all.

I don’t like being negative about games. I don’t want to be an Enraged Video Games Critic or Perturbed Electronic Entertainment Man, but I can’t play a game like this, a mess of conflicted ideas and goals that add up to noise, without feeling a bit resentful. I don’t understand how someone could approach game design in such a slap-dash and careless way. I don’t understand why someone would try for a big storytelling moment payoff with characters we’re given no reason to care about. I appreciate that the Big Storytelling Moment informed the design in such a fundamental way, right down to the control scheme, but when it came to that moment? It was a total dud. The horse ran into the back of the cart at full speed.

All I can hope is that this game’s ending is a useful illustration of how to communicate intentional meaning through game controls and mechanics, even if the storytelling intent behind that meaning is a non-starter. I hope that, even if I don’t think this game is very good, it can lead the way towards more games using this idea in an interesting and nuanced way – as, indeed, plenty of games already do. I hope this one, blatant, ham-handed example will lead to a wider literacy of understanding the narrative use of game mechanics.

Because honestly, aside from that and some pretty environments, I don’t think this game has a lot going for it.

[next: Neverending Nightmares]

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Unsurprisingly, there have been complications. Foremost among these is a feature that I forgot I needed for particle effects to work properly, at full flexibility and power: The ability for a single particle to change type. I know I’m going to need this capability because I can already envision a case where I need it, rain-drops hitting water – first the rain-drop particle, with a behavior that makes it fall, then the ripple, with an effect that makes it spread out in concentric rings. This might conceivably be achievable with one type, but I think the ability to change types will prove itself indispensable sooner or later, and since the first chapter of EverEnding will feature rain quite heavily, I want to get all of these effects nailed down as early as possible.

So what, right? Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no. The problem is, the way I’ve designed the particle system, each particle’s behavior is determined entirely by a set of floating point numbers. While it’s easy to give each particle type a name, it’s less easy to give a particle instance an instruction to change types, since there’s no place where it can store that name. I’ve solved this particular problem by making a simple algorithm to hash text strings into floating point numbers: Thus, a particle instance can take a floating point number that uniquely identifies with the name of a particle type, and when anything is found in that field the particle system will look up the type using the hash and use that to assign the particle.

I’ve gone through and implemented this new system, but there are a number of minor restructures to the particle system that I keep noticing need to be addressed as I go, so it’s a bit slow. nevertheless, it’s steady progress. Once this is all in place, I’ll go back to the detail editor, make it so the newly implemented detail name is displayed, and change the interface for behavioral type assignment to reflect the new method. And, once I’m done with that… well, I think the detail editor will be complete, give or take a couple of minor improvements, but that’s basically what I said last week as well. We’ll see.

Hey, at least this update is close to on time though.