Happy Halloween, Destructoid. Mine was spent as usual, rounding up waifs and vagrants on the street and ushering them into my manor where I sang Halloween carols at them and washed their feet with my hair. I was just about to hand out the last of the Baby Ruths when one of the little wretches piped up and ruined it for everyone.
"But why are you being so nice to us today?" he asked. "What about the other 364 days when you scream at us to get out of your yard and stop trying to touch your dog?"
"Because," I bellowed, revelling in the look of doe-eyed panic on his face as he recoiled in terror, "humanity simply doesn't have the patience or the willpower to maintain so much selfless affection for an entire year, and anybody who even entertains the notion that they do is clearly an imbecile. If we didn't allot specific dates for compassion and peace, then you wouldn't even be getting your fucking kit kat, so why don't you just thank your lucky stars we're good enough to give you a Halloween at all!"
And with that, I removed my embroidered slipper and administered a beating the likes of which give wastrels nightmares
The human is at heart a selfish creature and expecting more than 5 or 6 days of empathy a year is wholly unrealistic and naive.
Imagine the magic spawn of Xtreme sports enthusiasts and guys with proto-aspergers and you basically get Robin Burkinshaw's Sims drama "Alice and Kev". Alice and Kev is an Xtreme minimalist playthrough of Sims 3, a kind of mawkish human interest story about fake homeless people. Now imagine the homeless Sims competing to see who can stand around idly for the longest without inevitably dying from insufficient waffle intake or something. That is the plot arc of Alice and Kev.
Apparently just leaving your Sim in a pool and deleting the ladder is passe and the only way that'll get you thoroughly wanked over by gaming virtuosos is by creating a blog based on watching Sims develop a thick crust of piss fumes around their torsos over the course of months. So I figured while I'm scratching the bottom of the barrel for Geralog topics I may as well make a weird, desperate grab for attention by repeating more or less the exact same thing.
So hey Robin Burkinshaw. I see your rubbish Alice and Kev and I raise you Havisham and Morrissey. Yeah! And the pictures on your blog loaded a bit slowly for me one time. How does that taste?
Like any Greek tragedy Havisham and Morrissey is a multi-layered story about adopting fifteen babies and succumbing to exhaustion and disease after I briefly walk away from the computer. On its deeper, more pulpy level it is a commentary on socio-economic issues in Northern England and therefore much better than whatever is happening here. Unlike Robin's in-depth study of the harsh realities of finding waffles in your neighbours house, Havisham and Morrissey was an attempt to see what effect totally fake class fatalism had on pre-programmed SimSuccess so I built a house with three rooms and forced Havisham to repeatedly order babies from the adoption agency to rack up unemployment cheques.
The main protagonist of this story is really Morrissey: a struggling musician who is probably quite good but it's impossible to tell through his thick veil of twat.
For the most part he spends his time standing about and looking like a bit like a 13 year old Winona Ryder while his wife uses her free time to loiter up against the kitchen counter for the three hours that's required to make an Orange Shake.
I started the game by giving him the ambitious and musically-inclined traits which basically forced his reptile brain to become too preoccupied with playing Hot Cross Buns continuously to pay any attention to his wife or children. In fact for the first three days he really just spent his time standing in a corner creating rubbish rock tunes while speaking to no one at all, only stopping occasionally to agonisingly piss himself, just like the real Morrissey.
Had I not soon intervened by trying to order thousands of babies on the telephone Morrissey would be destined for stardom instead of spending his last days mopping his and Havisham's piss from in front of the lounge chairs. But naturally this was all just part of the Geralog XTREME social experiment to see whether family life would cause his dreams become dashed on the rocks like a tiny baby seal. The answer, poetically, was actually that he would starve to death in front of a herd of toddlers who wouldn't move out of the way of the fucking fridge.
It takes a perverse labour of love to keep producing clutches of simulation games but Will Wright has reliably been churning out a whole assembly of them for nearly two decades, resulting in one of the most well-received franchises in the industry. His newest pet project, Spore, offered real genre-hopping simulation: itís part MMO, part RTS, part Sandbox game, and features some of the most impressive character design possibilities in any game that Iíve seen. This would be great if the thing was actually any fun to play. Instead Spore is more of a high-concept creature creator that straddles the divide between ďcreativeĒ and ďalmost stunningly dullĒ, relying on hours of grinding through tedious mini games just so you can rack up enough money to buy a new leg to grow in the middle of your creatureís face.
You start the game playing a cell in what amounts to a ten-minute-long eating simulator with all the tedium that implies. Your main goal may as well be to loiter around aimlessly until something that youíre able to digest accidentally bumps in to you because the controls are too horrible to even bother with. I literally covered my cellís body with spikes and sat around while poor, unsuspecting protoplasm filleted themselves on my face as they swam by. It took about eight minutes of floating around but in between hurtling myself against pieces of broken meteor enough times to somehow become sentient, and eating the remains of my filleted peers I was finally able to leave my watery, Java applet-worthy purgatory. This entire section seems to only really serve as piss-poor exposition for the rest of the game because once you get on land anything you took from your cell stage naturally becomes completely useless to you.
But what it leads to is probably the one impressive part of the whole abysmal game: the character creator. Thanks to the truly amazing character customisation options you have almost limitless design possibilities. With this I was able to plan out as evolutionarily hopeless a creature as I could devise and set him off on the world to see how long he could survive, and thus Theresa was born. My species amounted to a bulbous, bowling pin disaster whose head was cracked all the way back so his eyes faced in the opposite direction at all times. Two arm stumps grew out of his neck like massive pinkie fingers and he was held up by two more fleshy pegs which made him pretty much too inept to do anything other than spasm around silently. For finishing touches I left him completely hairless. When I was done Theresa looked like a cross between a Vienna sausage and a Thanksgiving turkey.
The second phase of evolution seems to involve more horrible point-and-click navigation as you stumble across herds of creatures that look like theyíve crawled out of a drainage lagoon. At this stage you can choose from two equally non-entertaining game tactics: to befriend them or to attack them. If you're starting to feel increasingly apprehensive about the game then don't worry, your anxiety is well founded. Spore's creature phase raises the bar of almost cripplingly boring game play to unparalleled heights by catering to the niche fan-base of people who have been waiting for a game to fulfill their intense desire for a weirdly grueling series of Simon Says. Befriending other species requires what feels like an endless chain of miming dances and posing for your peers in hopes to somehow impress them. After doing this innumerable times you can enlist the help of fellow genetic-reject mercenaries on your road to befriending and attacking countless others. Considering Theresa had no hands his attacks were limited to somehow biting his attackers with his perpetually upright grimace and after wandering around for a few minutes my creature was killed by some kind of walking bee. Getting killed at this stage just reloads your last save, but because itís so mind bogglingly easy to retrace your steps there is almost no consequence to dying whatsoever.
By both the tribe and civilisation stage your creature is stuck with the same design and characteristic you gave it during its original creature phase, only you can give them hats now. Both tribe and civilisation stages are nearly indistinguishable in their real-time strategy game play but bizarrely itís during the RTS that you realise thereís no real strategy involved at all aside from flinging troops in to battle endlessly in an effort to make it to the final sandbox phase: Space. This probably sounds deceptively non-horrible to those of you casual gamers who just want simplicity for simplicityís sake. But with the vast amount of stupid, repetitive simplicity this game is just shy of causing me physical pain.
In the end Spore is essentially the ďman against natureĒ of sim games in that it is a constant battle against the natural forces of irritation and boredom just to keep playing. It benefits almost entirely from its creature creator mechanic but the actual game elements come across as badly composed filler.
Back in 2005 Rod Humble came out with The Marriage which has since become the card up the sleeve of everyone in the Are Games Art? debate as an out and out art game. He did the blog circuit and wrote something or other on The Escapist about it. The draw was the use of formal game rules as a tool of representation, which he detailed over here, making it one of the weightiest examples of conceptual art in video games.
That was a few years ago and whether games can be art or not is old news. Of course they can be; youíd be hard-pressed finding anyone in the industry saying otherwise these days. Art Games, News Games, Serious Games. The independent game industry is swimming in genres and games that are trying to legitimise the medium, and itís fraught with the potential to make valuable artistic statements in strikingly new and engaging ways.
But there is a dark cloud, a shadowy gorilla that weíve refused to acknowledge: A lot of Art Games suck. For every talented game Auteur of our generation there are the leagues of screaming idiots waving their Computer Science degrees around, continuously spamming Gambitís mail pool with that bit of concept art they once drew where they replaced Chung Liís face with Ayn Rand; A lifetime's collection of weird brother-in-laws rattling on about how the world needs a game about the plight of Esperanto speakers or something just as nebulously poignant. Art Games often get slack for ideas that donít seem as well-rounded as they probably should be. Braidís bizarre Atom bomb/broken romance idea that Blow refuses to explain, most of Tale of Talesí work. The modern Art Game feels like the products of a flawed critical standard in an industry that laud ideas, any ideas, more than well-developed artistic talent. An industry that perpetuates the philosophy that on a long enough bell curve even unintelligible ideas look impressive when you're comparing them to Wet.
Coil is an example of a game that is quite interesting for as many legitimate reasons as it is for just being almost pointlessly incomprehensible.
This is the 2009 IGF nominee for Innovation by designer Edmund McMillen, the guy that did Super Meat Boy. It's a short flash game made up of six mini-games that are all held together by an ongoing prose story which carries on between every segment and it looks like this:
Itís fitted in a kind of slow and sombre style, full of dark organic artwork and a kind of broken music box soundtrack.
The gameplay is filled with a number of interesting bits. There are no actual instructions given at any point in the game, so discovering what exactly youíre meant to be doing each level, let alone what controls youíre meant to use, is part of the appeal. Youíre essentially dealing with a set of traditional minigames throughout, from shooters to basic puzzle games. However without instructions the aim of discovery in the game becomes the primary aspect of gameplay and that really helps invigorate the fairly bog-standard minigame tropes youíre working under. In fact for many of the levels it took me a good five or ten minutes per level before I recognised what sort of game I was even playing. Beyond that the resonating aspect of the game is the atmosphere throughout which feels incredibly foreboding as if youíre committing some kind of terrible act when you successfully make it through each level.
Itís also has this thing in it:
WTF ARE YOU
This is McMillen's self-described experimental, autobiographical art game. More than the gameplay itself, the focus turns to the symbolism and plot thatís been integrated into the game. The storyline, from what I can tell, is a metaphor for rape when itís not about a sperm that turns into some sort of flying alien squid. At least I think that's whatís happening. Where the prose seems to suggest a woman hitting the bottom, the visuals invoke the story of sperm that shoot each other in the face with weird sperm arrows.
Pew Pew Combat
The interpretive difficulty of the game is no fault of the prosey story woven through out. In fact thatís only reason I have any clue of what's happening at all; the language in the game is the best figurative tool McMillen has to work with. Unfortunately for him Iím not sure thatís something youíd want in an interactive, visual game when the visual cues the game gives you feel impossible to even begin to interpret.
Walk it off, Princess
Without the short story tacked on throughout the actual premise of the game is so impenetrable it feels like McMillen is guarding it like a fucking Templar secret. I noticed that particularly once I hit level four and the aim appeared to be to manoeuvre a giant sperm thing by repeatedly clicking on a picture of a spleen.
There's a thin line in the world of art between quite interesting and deceptively rubbish and Coil sits somewhere between the two. The consensus has been that the genre is just too affected, hell even Anthony Burch thought The Path should tone it down a notch. But I donít think pretension is really an adequate critique in this situation. Pretension is the kind of thing that needs to be reserved only for Vice parties or guys who brew their own hemp lager, not the sort of people who can script in Python. What makes a bad Art Game isn't necessarily the designer with delusions of grandeur; it's that Art Games become exempt from criticism on the basis that the baffling and indecipherable might just be art.
Game Damage comes out of the Mike D School of Reverse Psychology where 'bad' is a bit like 'actually good' but objectively itís mostly rubbish. It's one of those ideas that was probably quite good to begin with but was conceived during a horrible lapse of judgment. The end result of the show seems to more or less be two Australians and a Scot competing to see who is the most wrigglingly awkward while trying not to look as if they've been preserved in a veneer of their own sweat. Itís probably one of the most unsettling review programmes Iíve ever watched just because of that; they all look like some sort of House of Mirrors cross between Me and Lloyd Christmas dipped in shellac:
It's the kind of set up that was likely meant to be a response to programmes like Electric Playground who had discovered the rubbish material-to-wankable host ratio pretty early on in the game. EP made more or less of a career from parading Jade Raymond's uncanny valley face around enough times to distract everyone else from the kilos of mindless next-gen rhetoric they'd pile into their scripts. Game Damage on the other hand is the kind of thing that you or I would make if we had the sort of hubris necessary to bill a television show about Australians doing sketches from a rented couch.
The show's wildcard is Internet-famous Yahtzee who's unfortunate fatal flaw in person is that he's a cock. It's a bit of a weird twist considering Zero Punctuation was always a perfect example of how to pull off Angry Nerdo comedy without seeming like the sort of person who was slightly unhinged. It's like one of those moments where you realise Lou Ferrigno has started shopping at Tesco and he's one of you after all, only that Yahtzee takes it one step further: bypassing the cache of minor Internet celebrity by dressing as if he's part of some kind of pantomime re-cast of The Maltese Falcon and speaking as if he's never heard actual human language before.
Game Damage is like watching Yahtzee attempting to win a talent show by impersonating Yahtzee; punctuating every word with weird over-pronounced sarcastic Yahtzeeisms. Most people don't actually talk the way they write but human-Yahtzee recites every line in an eery Yahtzee character-voice. Sadly he's not even funny cock. He just wafts of angry proto-aspergers nerd cock, like stumbling into a sealed room operated by The Lone Gunmen just as "Ringo" Langly begins yelling something about the original BSG being more 'pure' and then starts calling you a queer. Some of his purebred comedy lines include overly pronounced gems like:
"Rated PG for PRETENTIOUS GIT" and "Peter Molyneux should shut his big fat GOB for once"
If you're not already pissing over your flaccid cock in laughter then maybe watching someone in a Master Chief costume aimlessly wander through a market for about eight minutes worth of film will do you in. Crack a grin as he spends 15 entire seconds pretending to eat crisps through a mask, guffaw as he tries to buy a cheeseburger but comedically forgot his wallet in his other awful bargain costume. Feel your ribs literally split through your skin as you buckle over and die when tries on a sun dress. Bask in the unending Benny Hill-like music loop.