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7:47 PM on 05.28.2010

a game like a poem: REDDER (a review/love letter)

Disclaimer: I had nothing to do with the creation of this game, despite how it might seem like I am in love with it and would perhaps like to marry it.

A white ship is flying through space. Above it are three rows of glimmering crystals. A sound is heard (is it related?) and the crystals begin to disappear. As the crystals disappear the ships slows down, until there are no crystals left. The ship is no longer moving. It hovers for a moment before descending upon a big, red planet and the word REDDER, glowing like the crystals before it, appears.

Without a word (well, besides the word REDDER) the ship lands and a small astronaut steps out.

Immediately we have figured out the plot: the ship has run out of fuel and our avatar, this astronaut, is marooned on the big, red planet. Or maybe our avatar meant to land here. The beauty of the game is that we don't need to know why we are here because, whatever the reason, our goal is the same.

Above the ship are the three empty rows where the crystals once were. The game has alredy shown us that these rows can be full (full of marvelous rainbow crystals!), but currently they are empty. Try to interact with the ship and you'll notice you can't. Hmmmm. I wonder why the game is reminding us we have no crystals?

As a player you are now given absolute freedom. Hit all the buttons on the keyboard and until you find one that actually does something (does anyone else do this?). Maybe you'll find the button that pulls up the map. Maybe you won't be able to tell its a map yet. Maybe you'll discover that the left and right arrows move you (you'll never believe this) left and right.

Now is the point where I leave you to go play REDDER yourself so we can have a meaningful conversation about it when you are finished. Is that okay?

Before you click the following link you must PROMISE to follow these three, simple instructions:

#1 You are to read absolutely nothing else about REDDER. Even on the actual page for the game. DO NOT scroll down and read the instructions or the reviews. Trust me.

#2 You must turn up the sound to a reasonable level. Trust me.

#3 Give yourself the time and space to actually get into the game. This article isn't going anywhere, so make sure you are prepared to give the game a chance. Trust me.

Okay, now that we are clear on the ground rules, here is the link to actually play the game yourself.

I'll just wait here until you are finished.

*waiting noise*

Ah! You're finished? That was quick. Tell me, did you actually finish? If not I suggest you do because this is your last chance before spoilers.

Seriously, spoilers ahead.

*clears throat*

So, where was I? Ah, yes. Left and right.

Your little space man stands still until you figure out he can move left and/or right. There is no tutorial. From that discovery, any input of left and/or right will eventually lead you to an obstacle that is impassable without the discovery of either the up key or the space bar, aka the jump button. Congratulations, you've figured out the two tools necessary to complete REDDER!

The subsequent flow of the game goes something like this:

explore >find crystal >figure out how to get crystal >get crystal >repeat

Your first few crystals will come easy. You'll notice a bizarre phenomenon where, upon picking up a crystal, there will be an obnoxiously loud sound and the music will reset. "Whatevs" you might think to yourself. Eventually you will either make your way back to the space ship or discover (hmm, isn't that a big M at the bottom of the screen?) that pressing M pulls up the map. Both re-introduce the three empty rows of crystals, except now the crystals you picked up are filling the previously empty slots. If it wasn't clear before, the game has revealed your ultimate goal: fill up those three rows of crystals.

There are three things I would now like to discuss.

Dying, in REDDER
Undoubtedly your tiny little avatar will meet his demise while trying to pursue these magnificent glowing space crystals. Even if you avoid it at first, like any tiny astronaut would, it is bound to happen sooner or later. Maybe you thought that robot was trying to hug you (he does look awfully similar to Wall-E), or maybe you touched one of the many awkwardly placed electrical currents. Whatever the cause, your astronaut, 100% unrealistically, will explode into a hundred white pixels and re-appear at your last checkpoint.


The neat thing about REDDER is that they never explain what it is that happens when you die. Sure you just saw yourself explode, but it could be explained any number of ways. Is it just a death animation? I thought that at first, that I had infinite lives and it was just a cute, animated way to reset my avatar. But then, as I started to progress further and further beneath the planet's surface, dying repeatedly, several times in a row, it was like my character was having visions of himself dying. Every time he missed a jump, or took a wrong turn into a laser, it wasn't him, but his imagination (or maybe damaged psyche) showing him what it would be like to die. Did he want to die? To end it? Or did something else want him to die?

The fact that, no matter how many times you explode, you simply cannot lose goes from being comforting to strangely disturbing as well. Where a game over screen might give you a break from the task at hand, your avatar has no escaping his goal. Were the ruins on the planet designed to trap you with it? Have you already died and your spirit persists, tirelessly gathering the crystals you could not get? Maybe the game itself doesn't want to let you leave.

The Crystals
In a lot of games we are trained to collect whatever shit we just see lying around. Usually this is without consequence, and we are often rewarded for amassing hordes of coins, gems or whatever. I love that REDDER plays off of this, our innate urge to find and collect the crystals we see lying around, and then slowly punishes us for doing so. I forget at what point you start to notice it, but certain graphical glitches begin to pop up the more crystals you collect. Later the music starts skipping. Its all pretty trippy the first couple times it happens. Judging by the reviews on Newgrounds a lot of people didn't realize this was even intentional.

Of course the crystals are a necessary evil. Be it for survival, or greed, your character is not leaving the planet until he has the crystals he came for. However the more you collect, the more glitches appear, the more you wonder about the nature of your task. Instead of mindlessly collecting them you are forced to reflect. Is it worth it? As the game gets more and more glitched it becomes harder to focus, harder to make jumps and distinguish tiles from one another. It's a lot easier to just give in and give up. Do the crystals not want to be collected? How many crystals do you really need? Who designed the planet to keep you from the crystals and why? Are you just going crazy, watching yourself die as you obsess over rainbow crystals?

Mario certainly never made me question the nature of the coins (or where they came from).

And what am I to make of the ending?
As the world around you warps, sonically and visually, and it becomes harder to make your way around the planet, I wondered if part of me wasn't lost forever to the influence of the crystals/planet. Would the spaceman ever recover? Does the game not want me to finish it, desperately falling apart as it becomes obsolete. Like I mentioned before, there are so many different ways to analyze this game and each one holds up well on its own.

If you obtain the true ending, where you get greedy and obtain the three last crystals, something bizarre happens. Everything devolves into simplified, one color blocks. As you break the final mystery of the planet there is suddenly nothing left to see and everything goes into an Atari-like pixel zen. While you might read this as the character finally losing it for good, it also functions as a big metaphorical ending for the game: with nothing left to find, the colors, art, music and level design become obsolete. Your last trek to your ship is not only the end of the game, but the death of the game. Once you are finished (and no longer playing it) do its music and art even matter? The game seems to acknowledge that there really is nothing left to see by literally taking it all away.

For me, REDDER is an incredible experience that, through its own simplicity, offers up various levels of narration and self-reference, unfolding more like a poem than a traditional video game. By calling into question the role of the player, the avatar and the world around them, the game is able to leave a lasting impression (on me at least), moreso than a more traditional game that demands to be interpreted only one way.   read

1:22 PM on 03.22.2010

something about sex: and why we're better off avoiding it

�This day will never come again� So let me have this moment��

Theres this scene towards the end of Final Fantasy VII where, on the eve of the battle that will determine the fate of the planet, Cloud (the protagonist) dismisses his team and asks them to return if/when they know what they're fighting for. They've been through a lot together, blowing up power plants, losing loved ones, and ultimately coming to terms with their own inner demons. This is it, he thinks. Either we die here, or we die in several days when a meteor smacks into the planet, destroying everything we know and love. Either the team risks it here, or they go back to their friends and families to live out their final days.

As they all leave, Cloud, who has nowhere else to go, sees that his childhood friend, Tifa, the same woman who pushed him around in a wheelchair while he was catatonic, the same woman who showed him who he was when no one else could, the same woman who has been fighting alongside him the whole game, is right there next to him. She too has nowhere else to go. After making their way across the planet, exhausting themselves both physically and mentally, they are all each other has left. They embrace

The screen fades to black.

The screen cuts back to the two of them fully clothed, Tifa's head on Cloud's shoulder. If they had sex the player will never know. All that is implied is that these two characters you've spent the whole game controlling, guiding to this ultimate confrontation, have found some sort of comfort next to each other in their brief respite. Sex or no sex, it doesn't matter because its not about sex. The only thing that matters is that the two of them have something to hold on to before they face their final challenge.

I bring up this example because, while thinking about sex in video games, this is one of the most intimate memories I have ever shared with my avatar(s) (despite me not seeing anything sexual about the encounter, btw).

I tried thinking of another example, and this next scene is what came to mind:


Too long; didn't watch: Squall hugs Rinoa.

I have an intense love/hate relationship with Final Fantasy VIII, but with that one scene I went from hating Squall (and the plot of FFVIII) to tears. With that one hug (not some unnecessary sex scene) Squall shows that there is something in his character capable of caring for someone other than himself, without sabotaging the relationship being built up to that point.

These two moments show no nudity or penetration, nor are the vulgar in any way. They are intimate, and make the characters of their respective stories into more than just polygons hell bent on leveling up.

But if we can have intimacy in games without sex...

Question: What is the point of sex in games then?

I'm not sure. I can't think of any moment in a game where I felt sex, specifically depicting or heavily implying sex, helped it along. In contrast to these two heartfelt moments, I can look back to the past couple times when my digital avatar has gotten laid, starting with:

(spoilers from here on out)


As you may have read in one of the several editorials written about the game, the sex scene in Heavy Rain does little more than undermine the characters and the overall plot. Imagine you are on the clock trying to finish several trials in order to save your son, who is in a pit somewhere that is currently filling up with rain water. You've (spoilers) chopped off a finger, driven a car into traffic, been electrocuted AND killed a man, and now a mysterious insomniac you hardly know wants to do you. Not only is it surprising that the protagonist can even get it up in such an awful mental state, but why would he ever stop to and think getting his dick wet is a good idea with his son's LIFE in danger? Lol?

The sex in Heavy Rain has been argued to enhance the narrative and characterization, but actually hinders both. So then what is the point?

While playing Heavy Rain I was passing the controller between myself and two friends, with the directorial responsibility of this particular scene falling into my friend's hands. When I told him "don't do it!", his response was something along the lines of "eh, well, I'd rather see some tits". Which raises an even more interesting question...

Question: Are tits in games because the developers know we want to see them?

While I was playing Dragon Age: Origins my character Sariss (a human noble/warrior) started macking on this hot red-head who kept talking about all sorts of crazy stuff (like how God told her we were destined to be together). We traveled the world together, and eventually Sariss ended up in a position where he would have literally done anything for her. However, even at 100 adoration ("love"), and being entirely monogamous, Sariss was unable to get it on with his partner. This would have been fine if other characters weren't constantly throwing their bodies at him, or the trophy for romancing her was unlocked through a healthy relationship instead of through sex.

The game wanted me to want sex. It became a commodity. It was the level cap and I was short on experience. I could imagine all the other Grey Wardens sitting around, mocking me: "*chuckle* you're gonna give up your life to save the kingdom and she won't have sex with you? Even after you turned down that hot witch? Hahah, sucker." Sariss died without making love to his life partner because a quest wouldnt trigger.

When I returned with another character, Bloodbrew my Dwarf Noble, the correct quest triggered and he proceeded to sex up Leliana and every other character that could be sexed up. Imagine that, the Leliana I knew and loved putting out for a sleazy dwarf but not for her one true love! Not only did that not make sense, but he was treated to (just imagine a hairy red-haired dwarf instead) this:


That was it? The sex was just a meaningless reward that showed what the game assumed I (not my character) wanted. Neither character grew from it, and her dialogue remained otherwise unchanged. The game rewarded me with tits for the right combination of perseverance and luck. The tits were irrelevant to everything other than the player's supposed desire to see them, and the plot, the MAIN ELEMENT OF THE GAME, took a back seat for them. Ditto with Heavy Rain.

Now I don't want to gripe too much on Dragon Age, because it also does something very right.

(seriously, craaaaazy spoiler!)

Towards the end of the game you are given the choice of sacrificing yourself or one of your companions to kill the last boss for good, or laying with a party member and creating a dark god-baby in order to avoid said sacrifice.

How awesome is that? By placing sex (something good) in the context of a dark ritual (something bad) the player is not just asked if they'd like to see tits, but asked if they'll take the tits at a terrible price. Its not longer tits as a reward, but tits in the context of a story. Games need to do more of this! Another example can be found in the Sims, where sex may not result in any malevolent beings, but it raises the question of if the player is willing to risk creating another mouth to feed, which maybe you don't want, or can't afford. Even just having to worry about a kid affects the narrative in entirely new ways. Showing the sex isn't even necessary!

So where does that leave us? Are we only accidentally getting sex right? In any art form sex only works when it is trying to show us something more than just the sex itself. Be that characterization, the role of sex in society or whatever, so long as its not for the sake of sex its playing some interesting role. And if we can tell a compelling story and depict a compelling relationship (as seen in the first two and a half examples) without sex, why would we ever need to sabotage the plot (as seen in the last two examples) by featuring sex? The potential is there for sex to mean something to the medium but sadly we end up with more of these:

than these:

Which leads me to believe that, until we start finding more reasons to incorporate sex into narratives, that we should just avoid it altogether. If I can fall in love with Yorda simply by holding her hand, or tell Elena is worried about Drake by the sound of her voice, why would I need to see anyone run around naked or engage in glorified dry humping? Why don't games try to show us, and their characters, more respect instead?   read

6:19 PM on 02.16.2010

Just how bad is the new Final Fantasy XIII commercial?


I don't watch basketball (I play video games, man), so I lucked out of having to sit through this affront when it aired, potentially ruining my evening of watching grown men run back and forth between baskets.

My first response was something like "are they kidding?!", not because of the 360 logo at the end, or the exclusive bundle deal, but because that was easily one of the worst game commercials I've seen in a while.

What were they thinking?

It's almost painful to think that the fanboys who downrated that video were too busy downrating it for the xbox logo on the end to downrate it for being BAD.

I know video game commercials have never been perfect *painful shudder as I remember the 90s* but I'd almost gotten used to the relatively decent stream of them coming out as of late.

Off the top of my head there's:

The Dragon Age Commercial

People fighting shit is always cool, especially when you get an angry guy talking about fighting shit over an angry guitar chord.

The Mass Effect 2 Commercial

Fish man? Check. Lizard man? Check. Chick with a gun? Check. Angry liberal chick? Check. Narrated by a handsome starship captain (played by Tom Brady)? Damn, I sure do want to see that movie.

The Bayonnetta Commercial

Not only do we see at least one fetish for every guy out there, but Sega made the GREAT choice of picking a La Roux song. Note to people who make commercials: if you hear cool music, we will associate cool music with whatever product you are trying to sell, thus making the product cool by association.

Speaking of which...

The Dante's Inferno Commercial

Every time this commercial airs in my apartment my English major roommates freak out. I kinda do too, but it's okay because the commercial has a guy, "scythe grinding" his way into Hell to the tune of a Bill Weathes song. I played the demo, and it was definitely not as fun as watching the commercial.

The inFamous Commercial

Not that this commercial is spectacular or anything, but it a) communicates the style of game you will be playing and b) looks pretty cool. Nothing too great, but its the kind of thing you and your dad could drink a beer to while trying to watch something else.

I could go on and on, but the point question still stands: what were they (Square-Enix) thinking?

With so many good game commercials out there, do they think anyone watching an NBA game is going to say "Yeah, look at that chick's face getting put together like a jigsaw puzzle" or "Hot damn, is that Leona Lewis? I love her!"

I actually want to play the game less now. Thanks Squeenix. And please don't give me the "but sir, that was a respectable commercial meant for sophisticated adults like us". It wasn't, don't kid yourself.

Why does a game with a battle tune as catchy as this (0:57)


use a slow ass pop song? When I hear that battle tune I want to go do things, like go outside and possibly drive to Best Buy to pick that shit up. Leona Lewis makes me want to roll over and go to sleep.

Amongst all the arguments that Square-Enix no longer has any idea with the series, or us Western gamers in general, I can only look at this commercial and concede that they at least don't know what they're doing with commercials.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I still have that La Roux song stuck in my head.   read

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