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3:27 AM on 04.17.2012


Released 2012

That Game Company


Music by Austin Wintory

That Game Company, more than any other, has the power to directly inject deep emotional experiences into basic concepts and simple gameplay. I'll write more about their mind-control mastery in a non-review setting.

Journey is a 3D platformer, with a simple mode of interaction and a beautiful cellshade/textural/particle environment. I'm including particles in that list because they really do play as prominent a role in the creation of the environment as anything else. And that environment is as compelling, intriguing and engaging as the 'forgotten world' of Studio Ico.

The world of Journey is a harshly beautiful combination of sands, monoliths and ruins; graves and prayers. You take the role of a red-cloaked traveler, making your way towards a lighted mountaintop. You begin with no more exposition than that. The world is a mystery-shrouded sea of sand before you. That sand moves around you, in waves and torrents from the wind and ripples from your footsteps. Light acts in a similar way, with grains and fragments acting like fluids. Cloth plays a huge role throughout the game, as the screenshot above shows, and it makes another contrasting element that is as important to the world as the shifting sands. These three components, cloth, light and sand make for a contrasting, and again symbolic, place.

Along the way you find insights into the world, yourself and your journey. It's presented in a symbol-rich language or ideograms and music, with the cryptic regularity and consistency that makes up the truest, deepest layers of myth and language. It all feels so appropriate, so real. You interact with the world through a resonant call, chirp or shout (whatever you want to dub it) that creates a little wave out from you to activate objects.

As you progress and climb higher towards your goal, you're faced with perils and challenges to overcome, but none of them can end your journey. It makes for an incredibly accessible experience, something more akin to an interactive emotional story (without story) than a traditional video-game. Your Journey is perseverance, transcendence, and cycling back to the beginning, to take another first step.

There are several scenes that took my breath away with an unexpected emotional gut-punch. Again, TGC, without words or characters or story, have distilled some kind of pure Jungian 'pull', a way to influence emotions and the basic level.

The music is composed by Austin Wintory, well known for orchestral pieces and film scores. While it is not as pervasive and integral to the game as the score was in Flower, it is still an incredible chunk of work. The music is mostly sweeping, isolate, passionate string parts in nat. minor, but with a middle-eastern flavor. The music is quiet or absent for relatively long sections while you're exploring, which makes it kick that much harder when a mournful cello slide drops in. This score is something special, it lives in that world. As I've said before, I value the immersive qualities of a game more than everything else, and this score is wholly of those dunes.

It's one of the best. By far.   read

7:38 PM on 10.26.2011



Released 2011


Developed by Playdead

Music by Martin Stig Andersen

Limbo is a puzzle/platformer released by Indie studio Playdead. Take one look at the trailer and you'll see how different, stylized and darkly moody this game is.

I think I have a thing for Nihilism and bleak world-views. Limbo is an incredibly dark, brooding, and atmospheric experience. The art is really quite beautiful, the approach to mechanics is novel and gripping, and the music and soundscape are unusual, innovative and fit the context so well.

You are dropped into a world that is unexplained and starkly symbolic. The heart of the land is post-apocolyptic and rotting , but because of the lack of narrative exposition, you are left simply wondering what happened in these dark places, and what that means for you.

Flat and Inky are not really words you'd expect to describe beautiful art. But Limbo is beautiful, flat and inky. Most of the shapes look like noir graphic novel illustrations with a crowquill . The objects are rendered with a deceptive flatness that, despite being rendered as 3d objects, gives the impression of 2D perspective trickery to look like a 3d object. The multiple levels of the backgrounds also add depth, but again, 2D that tricks you into seeing depth and perspective. Obstacles, terrain and enemies all melt out of the blackness surrounding you in an organic and fluid way, like wet ink running down a paper. The visual noise that's constantly present in the background (you can see it as the static mottling in the ss below) makes objects shift and shadows move constantly.

The gameplay is very much puzzle/platformer, but it's not tired or cliched. You have only two actions, jump and grab, so you have a very limited toolkit to interact with the levels. The thing that Limbo brings to the table is the presentation of a puzzle. There is nothing explained. Most video games have to rub your nose in the shit-pile that is their puzzle design, as if to say "See? See? Use the box to jump higher. Higher. You. Higher. Box. Go." The lack of toddler-hand-holding makes the puzzles far trickier and incredibly rewarding when you do manage to solve them.

Limbo has an unusual approach to video game music and sound design in general. The soundtrack is largely ambient, atmospheric and oppressive, varying from mechanistic squealing to light and airy. Sound effects move around, from the foreground/focus back into the texture and sometimes function as the only sound in an area.

So, go get it. It's a great experience, and a great game with some novel concepts and implementations. I'm anxious to see what the makers come out with next.   read

7:02 PM on 08.23.2011

art vs. Art

Sorry to bring up such a contentious issue. To be honest, I think that many are arguing across purposes in the great debate of “Are video games art?” We've seen a large portion of the community throw around the dictionary definition of art, and arguing from that. That dictionary definition is an inclusive, sprawling term that encapsulates anything of more than ordinary significance. I don't think that the people who claim that video games are not art are saying that they do not fit into this definition.
The disconnect lies here, art vs Art, the broad category versus the highly subjective valuation. So called “high art” is historically occidental and furious in its attacks on “lower forms”. It's only recently that the idea of incorporating different formats into the fold has been given some amount of credence, and it seems that every new media is viewed with skepticism and snobbery. Modern high art has been forced, kicking and screaming, to add more and more to its accepted media, from dance and popular music to film.

Video games are in their infancy as a medium, and we're seeing incredible strides toward artistic expression, commentary on the human condition, and other aspects of traditional artistic value. It's only a matter of time until video games as a media form reach a more mature incarnation and becomes accepted into that pantheon of Art.   read

2:32 PM on 08.18.2011

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus
PS2/PS3 (soon)
Developed by Team Ico
Designed by Fumito Ueda
Music by Kow Otani
Ok, first of all, Colossus is being rereleased with updated graphics for the ps3. I am so excited that I am currently eating my hands with anticipation. Sauceless.
Shadow of the Colossus is a 3rd person action/adventure entry set in a mysterious world strewn with the ruins of a decaying civilization. Dialogue is nearly absent, and in a created language. Exposition is absent. And it is, perhaps, the richest overall experience that a game has ever delivered.

SOTC trailer

SOTC's gameplay is primarily exploratory, searching for a series of gargantuan enemies throughout a varied and intricate landscape. The gameplay can get a little repetitive, but it's more than made up for by the scale of the colossi and the distinctness of each encounter and the way you have to use the environment to hide from/combat the jaw-dropping enemies. The creature design is really incredible. And did I mention big? You spend half your time in an encounter desperately trying to avoid being crushed like a bug. All of the colossi have a different "puzzle" element, be it finding a route up the mossy back, leaping from spine to spine, to timing a distracting bow shot and hiding until the creature looses track of you. The puzzles vary in difficulty, from straightforward to quite difficult and rewarding. The sound engineering for the colossi is also noteworthy, from their strange, deep cries to the scale of their footfalls, the sound effects are just amazing.

The boldest and most intruging aspect of Shadow of the Colossus (and the earlier title Ico) is the structure and presentation of the world. The landscape is steeped in all-but mythic history, glimpses of a lost civilization lie choked by trees or drowning in desert sands. Nothing is explained, nothing is referenced. The world was clearly intricately engineered, but none of the reasoning behind it is shared with the player. I know that might sound aggravating, but in this case it just makes for a really believable world that you feel excited about exploring. It's also fucking gorgeous, which adds to the rewards of finding your way in the wide world.

The music is largely ambient, while you're exploring the landscape, and gives a real depth to the isolation and atmosphere. When you enter an encounter with a colossi, the soundtrack picks up into a wonderful, epic orchestral piece filled with tension and drama. There are quite a few shorter pieces of music that appear, from ethereal ocarina pieces to big string arrangements, and every single one of them reinforces the epic adventure feel and loneliness that the game does so well. It creates an easily immersible atmosphere that pulls you in and makes the world's spaces real. Since atmosphere and immersion are such important things to me, this game is just... perfect.   read

3:43 PM on 08.15.2011


Released 2009
Developed by thatgamecompany
Designed by Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark
This game really is one of my favorites.

Flower's Official Tralier
(pay no attention to the song they picked...)

An independent and small game design studio, TGC (that game company) has some kind of spooky zen hoodu that weaves intense visual stimulation with a dichotomous sparse-but-lush take on music, gameplay and storytelling. And not only are these elements of their releases at a very high level of execution, they have somehow managed to mash all these disparate and usually disconnected elements into an incredibly intense and holistic emotional experience.
And-by-gee-golly-hot-spankin-griddle-meat, the music is incredible. Vincent Diamante, a composer and all-around artsy person composed the game's music and sound effects, and aside from just loving the hell out of it, the way that the two work together is something unparalleled and something truly novel.
In flower, you control the wind, blowing a single flower petal through a landscape. You explore that world, touching other flowers and causing them to bloom, eventually bringing color and life back to a grey world. As you touch the other flowers, a single instrument voice plays a note, the instrument depending on the color and type of flower you bloom. As you restore color and life to that landscape, the music grows from a thinly composed part into a full and lushly orchestrated piece, all seamlessly. At any rate, I'm not really doing it any justice by describing it, even with my most bestest mouthwords.

Gameplay video (with music)

Well, that gameplay video doesn't really do it any justice either.
My personal taste for video games, well, for just about everything, is how immersive the experience is, and I am completely lost in Flower whenever I pick it up.   read

3:36 PM on 08.15.2011


Released 2008
Developed by Number None and Hothead Games
Designed by Johnathan Blow

Braid is a puzzle platformer with some intriguing mechanics, beautiful backgrounds and a look and feel that is at once familiar and foreign. It has a combination of unique gameplay, gorgeous and somehow textural visuals and a swelling soundtrack. I feel that, if one of these three pieces was less well executed, Braid would be far less engaging. However, none of them were, and it is. Engaging, that is.

Braid Trailer

Braid's gameplay is puzzle-oriented and a straight up platformer. Oh, and you control time, which makes for some very intricate and difficult puzzles. In addition, your power over time changes with each section of the game, giving it a very different dynamic. From jumping on the strange hedgehog/human-faced enemies to speaking with an adorable dinosaur, the basic gameplay is straight-up Mario. But, in addition, you can rewind, fast forward, do four-dimensional loop-the-loops and all other hoo jiggerypokery. The puzzles are different, like something I've never experienced before.
The art appears in two parts, a moving foreground and a slowly panning larger background (painted). the foreground visuals are 2D and fairly static, with some well-integrated particle effects, but the backgrounds are where the game really shines. The paintings are incredible atmospheric, setting the mood for the entire game (that gets enhanced by the haunting music). The backgrounds are really beautiful, and gives the game a truly unique look and feel.
The music, composed by a variety of peoples all from the label Magnitude. The soundtrack is ethereal, moody and melancholy, and really sets the tone for the detached and dreaming game-scape. You often rewind time, and the music plays back backwards, enhancing that detached and strange feeling. This is one game soundtrack whose integration into a game is essential for the game. At least for me.   read

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