58 – Giving up on KOTOR; Jade Empire and about 30 other games I’m playing

I have given up on KOTOR.

After much wrangling and finagling, I was able to get the damn thing to run vaguely reliably: In only 800×600 resolution, of course, and I was able to have the game maximized, and have it puttering along. Unfortunately, movie sequences required a resolution change, which crashed the game. An option to disable movies also crashed the game. And so my solution became to be to play the game in fullscreen, saving very often, getting to a movie, restarting the game in windowed mode, watching the movie, then maximizing.

One segment, however, involved several cutscenes and movies after a boss battle, and then an immediate cut to a turret sequence, which I immediately died on, and the most recent save file was right before the boss fight. And you know something, I just don’t have the fucking heart to try it again. It’s not KOTOR’s fault that it’s not working on my system, but I still don’t want to deal with how temperamental it is.

I have, in the meantime, been advised that KOTOR II is somewhat better and fine to jump straight into, and that KOTOR II is an even buggier mess that I should stay as far away from as possible.

So I have ended up playing Jade Empire, which I’ve played before and, after a few false starts, ended up loving. In a move which suggests Amanda Lange is right, as usual, I’m playing an evil–er, “Closed Fist”–character, which is a little harder than it seems. Partially it’s because there’s a lot of useful stuff for doing the Good–Open Palm–path, like it looks like more quests go to XP-giving completion–but partially it’s because you really do end up acting like a money-grubbing asshole. In true Bioware tradition, it isn’t quite good and evil, in theory, and the game does stress that it’s competing philosophies of motive rather than of end results: You can sabotage the dam because you’re being paid to, or because the resulting crisis will make the town stronger. But either way, the dam gets destroyed.

Of course, it’s still the early stages of the game: Right now you’re dealing with town disputes and local events, but by the end you’re given the opportunity to slay gods and bind souls, which come to think of it, the game does seem to pan out from the local to the celestial if I remember correctly. In terms of scope, I remember the first two chapters–I’m in chapter two at the moment–being the most open and sprawling, a bit in chapter 3 as well, and then the game becomes progressively linear. I don’t remember that being a bad thing: It’s, frankly, Just Enough Game–my final save file for my previous game is about 20 hours and I’ll probably end this a little closer to 15 or so. There’s been a lot of really long games I haven’t had the heart to finish lately so it’ll be nice to have something quick.

In terms of smaller games, I dug Andrew Shouldice’s Ludum Dare entry Our God Lives Underground, which is a very linear exploration game that I think totally nailed it–it’s basically a five minute trip somewhere claustrophobic, with a few very eerie moments. I had one of those nights last night where I was poking around the more avant corners o the exploration game scene. It’s a genre I always want to like–I love game environments–but I find so many of them to be…way too ponderous. It’s the walking speed, maybe. I’m a very fast walker in real life, and I hate when games walk slower than I do. Maybe it’s just my sense of aesthetics–like I always thought Proteus was extraordinarily ugly–or, I don’t know, I mean these things can get so goddamn pretentious sometimes, you know? OGLU is this streamlined, five-minute experience that more or less hits from the moment it begins, does what it does very intensely, and ends at the exact right moment.

Actually, I also ended up playing 9.03m thanks to indiegamestand, and I can’t say I necessarily liked 9.03m, because memento moris filled with somber piano music aren’t really my thing. But given the game’s subject matter–the victims of the Tsunami in Japan–I mean, it’s a very good memento mori filled with somber piano music. It’s really pretty to look at, and if I wasn’t exactly Overcome with Emotion from it, I Admire Its Technique.

But the reason I got 9.03 was as a tie-in for Space Budgie’s new game Glitchspace, which is goddamn wonderful–and apparently only in Alpha, which surprises me because, the bit I’ve played of it, at least, seems fairly well-done. Having done exactly no research on this–having literally found out it’s in alpha just this moment–I’m not sure how much is left, if this is just a couple of levels that I’ve got or what. But it’s a very…soothing puzzle game. Everything is just blocks and calm. The main gimmick is the ability to “reprogram” objects–each has logic behind it and you have to arrange things like “Collisions: False” to allow you to walk through walls, things like that. Um, I’m explaining it poorly, but I liked it. That it’s in alpha makes me worry they’re going to add a storyline to it, and the last thing I want for this game is to have a wisecracking narrator. Given that 9.03m made the very wise decision to exclude narration, I think I trust it.

48 – Getting Ready for Fear of Twine

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It is ONE WEEK until Fear of Twine!

As it turns out, running an online exhibition is a shitload of work, and I am having the time of my life doing so. There’s no way of saying this without sounding hopelessly cheesy, so I’m just gonna forge through–I’m getting to know and work with some really awesome people, I’m playing through a bunch of really amazing Twines, and I’m finding out that that, at least in the parts of Brooklyn that I hang out in, telling people, “Yeah, I’m running a text game exhibition” makes them think that you are super cool.

So as of right now, the exhibition is going to contain the following works:

(If you’re supposed to be on this list, and you’re not, please let me know–I might have gotten something lost in the shuffle! If I’ve spelled your name wrong or screwed up your website, I am sorry about that too! [Hello, this is Richard from 20 minutes later, I have apparently done both several times and I apologize to anyone who was affected by my error!])

Right? Doesn’t that sound AWESOME? Let me tell you, I’ve played most of these at this point, and I think I can safely say that there is genuinely going to be something for everyone in this exhibition. We’ve got games, we’ve got essays, we’ve got fiction, we’ve got experiments, we’ve got jokes, we’ve got weird “multimedia presentations”, we’ve got personal, we’ve got political, we’ve got science fiction, we’ve got fantasy, we’ve got realistic fiction, we’ve got horror, we’ve got poetry–seriously, folks, I think you’re in for a treat.

So starting February 14th (ValenTwine’s Day? No. That’s a terrible idea), you’ll be able to go on fearoftwine.com and play any and, hopefully all of them!

The image at the top of this post was designed by Anthony Murray–so thanks very much!–and if you are at IndieCade East next weekend, say hello and I will hand you a little business card based on that design!

Okay, now back to more debugging.

4

A Zen monk named Phil Fish is rumored to have attained enlightenment, and so the other monks surround him with questions. What’s it like now that you’ve attained enlightenment? And Fish looks up from his work–he is, grain by grain, creating a sand mandala which appears to be a group of tetrads forming the universal om, a mandala which Jonathan Blow and Jason Rohrer will solemnly sweep away later that evening while droqen and Richard Hofmeier nasally chant–and says, casually, I’m just as miserable as ever.

I’ve always found myself extraordinarily perplexed by people who say, about Fez, that it’s such a pretty and beautiful and calming game. I know a lot of people who play it to relax. Look: All games are meditative to me, all games are commentaries on Nirvana (for once I’m talking about the theological concept, not the band), and it’s very easy to see Fez as that, but what I’m struck by is how much, in the world of Fez, enlightenment destroys the enlightened.

Basically, the plot of Fez is that Gomez experiences an encounter with the Divine and brings it back to his village, and his fellow villagers only vaguely believe him at best. The experience with the Divine is not a good one: It causes the symbolic destruction of the universe. Pieces of reality begin falling away and Gomez finds himself desperately journeying everywhere he can to find whatever tiny crumbs of God he still can. This is kind of standard myth-of-the-cave stuff, many videogames have done this, but rarely have I seen such a continued sense of crumbling. Realizing that we’re just made of molecules, that the world is an illusion–I find that Fez is less about saving its world, because its world isn’t real, and more about Revelation Addiction. Gomez is a guy who dropped acid, saw God, and now trips as often as he can in an attempt to get back there.

I find myself wondering what the conversation would be like if Fish and I compared notes on drug experiences.

When I met Amanda Lange at IndieCade East earlier this year, we started talking about Fez, and, feeling clever, I mentioned a certain puzzle I’d head about, considered to be one of the most difficult in the game. Some message board–don’t remember if it was an official Fez one or like a GameFAQs board or something–essentially systematically crowdsourced the solution. Given that there’d been some fourth-wall breaking things in the game–a puzzle solved by scanning a QR code, for example–I had almost wondered if that was intentional. Certainly there’s something kind of poetic about needing to connect with others to attain enlightenment–but probably given where I was in my personal trip through the Eightfold Path, I didn’t exactly want to do that. I didn’t want to join a community just because I wanted to play a videogame–I’ve usually found myself unwilling to participate in online communities.

Oh, she said. I know the puzzle you’re talking about, and actually, if you just look at the clues, you don’t need to crowdsource it, they basically brute-forced it, you can just–and she launched into a brief explanation, culminating with an exhortation to read Flatland–a book I’ve always found to be daunting–and an analysis of Fez as an extended metaphor for a tesseract. From time to time you have a conversation with someone that’s so pleasant and unassuming that it isn’t until you think about it, weeks later, that you realize that this person is not only terrifyingly smart, but they’re also generously smart and that you’ve probably learned a lot from it.

Fish is well known for being dramatic and antagonistic; frankly, I adore his online persona, and his tortured “if I don’t make this game I’m gonna kill myself” pronouncements in Indie Game: The Movie were one of the few things that made it worth watching. Yes, people might rightfully call Fish a drama queen–but you know what? I’m a musician, rock and roll is lousy with tortured, antagonistic drama queens. (Case in point: I’m listening to Nirvana, the band, right now; a man, who killed himself a year later, is commanding me in a raspy scream to rape him.) They’re what makes music awesome, and if there’s one thing indie gaming needs, it’s more rock stars.

Hell: Play the game. Say what you want about it–and I don’t even think I like the game–it’s a disturbingly brilliant work. I’ve always had trouble connecting to Fez–I don’t think like it does. And yet it’s obvious that the game is an intensely, intensely personal work–it’s one of those works which is a clear snapshot of its creator. Whether Fish is talking about God, whether the thing is an explanation of a difficult scientific concept, or whether he simply wanted to make an intensely sophisticated and abstruse game, it’s clear that he’s trying to explain something to us.

There’s a bit from Neil Gaiman about Gene Wolf that always sticks in my head:

There are two kinds of clever writer. The ones that point out how clever they are, and the ones who see no need to point out how clever they are. Gene Wolfe is of the second kind, and the intelligence is less important than the tale. He is not smart to make you feel stupid. He is smart to make you smart as well.

And oh God is Fish in the first group. Tell me he’s not. The entire work, the entire persona, have the mark of someone with a chip on his shoulder, and you know, I can completely understand that. Some creators create because they want to please an audience, but Fish creates because he has something to prove, I think. It makes Fez an extraordinarily unpleasant work for me, and I wonder if that’s just because I’m not one of the people he has to prove himself to. But at the same time, I find Fez to be a very wounded and very human work.

Maybe that’s it, maybe that’s why I find the game so difficult to love. It’s a very hostile game, and each time you peel off a layer it gets even more hostile. And each time you peel off a layer, you get closer to the core, to who Fish is, and you’re met with even more hostility and resistance. There’s a paradoxical compulsion to show off the Self, but also a huge terror of showing the Self.

Fez is a heart wrapped in barbed wire.