20 – The Rebirth/The Reaper

Ben Chandler and Francisco Gonzalez have released a pair of games called The Reaper and The Rebirth. The Rebirth is credited to Gonzalez–I’ve played and loved his Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator series Back In The Day; I assume that The Reaper is Chandler’s. I haven’t played anything of his, though I’ll obviously be working on that.

The games were created for a competition or a game jam or something; here’s hoping it’s an early teaser for a larger collaboration because I know I’m sold. The games are surprising enough that I’ll suggest you go play for yourself, but since they both take about five minutes to complete, I’m not too worried about discussing them in a tiny bit of detail.

Both games are tiny vignettes with violent punchlines. Rebirth features a government official and his assistant trapped in the office while some sort of nuclear holocaust occurs outside. The Reaper seems to take place in the aftermath of the apocalypse, with two scavengers fixing some equipment and discussing superstitions around ravens.

Significant in both is a painting of a noblewoman which presides over two acts of violence and the use of Roman character names. The connections are so skeletal and yet the games so obviously parts of the same whole that–well, you can do this sort of thing and this sort of thing poorly, and quickly as they may have come up with the idea, there’s a story of what’s going on, and I’m hoping this diptych is an announcement.

Rebirth is probably the better game–while both are extremely easy simple one-room affairs, Reaper seemed to have a little more pixel hunting and a little more noticeable “Get a Thing on the left side and use it on a Thing on the right side and then turn on the machine and then go to the machine and then turn the machine off and use a Thing from the left side on the right side”. But then, Reaper has the better art–the cursor, which is a transparent shard of neon-green glass, struck me as especially notable and beautiful. In both, the shot of the bombed-out city is a horrifying mustard and black. Whatever game comes out of that, it is going to be fairly disturbing in any case, and I’m looking forward to that.

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6

It’s not that I want to pick on Eric Wolpaw–I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t genuinely enjoy the man’s work–but he’s at least partially responsible for some of the most obnoxious memes to hit gaming culture. I’m a little afraid to talk about cake in front of gamers because, just as how I had a friend who would chirp Monty Python references at me, I know there is a very, very good chance that said gamer will scream THE CAKE IS A LIE, at which point–

No, let’s not go for violence.

The problem with Eric Wolpaw, really, is that he was a part of Old Man Murray, and the problem with Old Man Murray is that it was responsible for “The Death of Adventure Games“, which has legitimately gone down as a fine and funny piece of game-related writing. The article, responding to a claim that the adventure game is “dead”, frames itself almost as a Hercule Poirot-esque summation of the evidence. It is, at its core, an atomistic examination of a puzzle from Gabriel Knight 3, in such a way as to highlight how illogical and absurd the puzzle is. The article ends with the conclusion that the genre has committed suicide.

If I can tell you how many times people have quoted and summarized that article to me–or, worse, how many people have described that particular puzzle to me, as if they’d made the observation themselves!

It’s hard to blame Wolpaw for this, though; after all, the article is hilarious and astute, just as Portal’s script is very sharp, and it’s not your fault if you make some thing so iconic that fans quote you so much you abandon your career and run away to Africa. The GK3 puzzle–the cat mustache puzzle, as it’s often called–and The Longest Journey’s, uh, rubber ducky subway key puzzle are often seen as two of the nails in the coffin of adventure gaming.

Middle school was Sierra and Lucasarts, college was a lot of indie shit–Reality on the Norm, Ben Jordan, Chzo Mythos stuff–and then, I don’t know, I just…overdosed on it. The puzzles were *part* of it–but although adventure games almost always feature SOMETHING incomprehensibly illogical in them, we were now getting second- and third-generation adventure games from people who’d played the genre for their whole lives and had some ideas about how to avoid some of the more cmmon pitfalls, and puzzles in general were getting better. (Certainly avoiding death and unwinnable situations were two trends which helped matters.)

A lot of it might simply be it’s just a case of too much. After a while, even good adventure game stories–stories are, after all, one of the main reasons to play an adventure–get repetitive, as do good adventure game puzzles. I find I want a more direct control of characters–rather than directing a character, as you do when pointing-and-clicking, I’d rather have the character as an avatar as you do in a platformer.

But one of my concerns recently has been the level of violence in games–after all, it’s really hard to justify Bioshock Infinite, a game in you play a violent man whose presence has placed a city on lockdown, after we all watched news reports about a violent man whose presence placed Boston on lockdown. I think it’s ludicrous when people suggest that to kill a man in a videogame may be as bad as killing in real life, or comes from the same impulses–and yet, that said, I just want to do some other shit for a while.

The relationship that adventure games have had with violence is a strange one–after all, many games–particularly Sierra’s–are loaded with dozens of ways for your character to die. And certainly there are enough horror and mystery games whose plots revolve around murder. And yet for all of that, you’re usually not able to solve your problems with a gun–King’s Quest usually even rewarded you with more points or a better story if you went out of your way to find a nonviolent option. Moral implications aside, the point of an adventure game is more to figure out, using esoteric combinations of items, how to progress–shooting is an inappropriate verb.

I also wonder if Lucasarts’s focus on no protagonist death has something to do with it–it preserves a symmetrical relationship. There’s something extremely fair about a world where you can neither die nor be killed but you’ve just got to clever your way out of things.