Deep inside a tiny computer lives a blobby little robot named kiki. kiki can glide around and jump and shoot pellets. And most importantly, kiki can make physics its plaything.
kiki the nano bot has a brain-melting appeal best played rather than read. Describing kiki as disorienting doesn’t do justice to how alien it feels, as if it’s protruding in through another dimension. The game can be difficult to play straight, but its visual foreignness separates it from what a less risky game could do.
If you’re interested in gaming history – hopefully you are if you’re reading this blog! – consider signing up for the mailing list for ROMchip. ROMchip is a freshly announced online scholarly journal of gaming history spearheaded by three super-great historians, including Raiford Guins, author of Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife; and Laine Nooney, who is currently writing about the history and business practices of Sierra On-Line. ROMchip will include history articles as well as interviews and brief discussions of interesting gaming objects in museum and library collections.
Right now, the popularly told history of gaming tends to be a little scattered and often missing crucial information from the developers’ and publishers’ end. A concerted, thorough, academic effort to discuss game history is a great development.
I’m mentioning ROMchip here because it represents a uniquely formal opportunity to flesh out the corners of gaming history often left out of stereotypical gaming canons. More work can always be done to understand the history behind big marquee names, but I hope that the journal will find space to focus on the stories and experiences of garage studios, experimental developers, outsider games, the companies that didn’t make it past one or two titles, and the unexamined bulk that provides the mortar of gaming.
Joni Mitchell’s environmental anthem “Big Yellow Taxi” opens with the tragic image that “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Cascoly Software’s eco-strategy game Green introduces itself with that first verse and sounds like a direct adaptation of those lyrics, slightly naive folksiness and all. The villains literally want to pave over nature.
The game’s light-hearted anti-development conceit has the potential to make a fun point about keeping green spaces green. The player’s hands-off role doesn’t feel like an useful, interesting way to wage that war, though, or to stand up for the environment. Both the game and the movement need a better plan than being vaguely irritating. Green » Read more
Not every mystery has an answer. Yet we crave resolution, and if we can find meaningful rationale for a confusing series of events, we’ll take it. Drowned God: Conspiracy of the Ages knows this urge and uses it against you. The game fashions a grab-bag version of historical truth, raising nonsensical questions thrown together from tidbits from every religion and every corner of the world. Then it provides its own solutions, attempting to prove how its assemblage can explain all our questions about life and spirituality.
This only works if you accept that the game has some sensible interpretation of its ideas in mind, and if you want assurance in Drowned God‘s barrage of recurring signs and allusions, you have no choice. It tricks you into believing in conspiracy, placing paranoia above reason, and celebrating the discovery of grand unifying knowledge that exists because it has to. Drowned God: Conspiracy of the Ages » Read more
Kye looks like a big tub of Duplo blocks – chunky, bright, friendly shapes that couldn’t possibly hurt you. And in Kye, they don’t. Even the game’s monsters, like a sentient, gnashing ball of teeth, seem about as menacing as a sticker. The building block aesthetic lends a little comfort to a game that otherwise loves to overwhelm you. Kye dumps large volumes of obstacles on you at once, leaving you awash in Crayola-colored junk with the hope that you can crawl your way out. Kye » Read more
Consider it a happy coincidence that Microsoft released a dinosaur-themed CD-ROM the same year as Jurassic Park. Microsoft Dinosaurs grew out of an investment in reference publishing house Dorling Kindersley to produce content for the Microsoft Home software line.1 Microsoft had the keys to DK’s whole library of writing and images,2 and, well, dinosaurs are cool.
Apart from having a bunch of pictures of stegosauruses, Microsoft Dinosaurs demonstrates how thoughtfully crafted reference material can bring value to information. The program bridges its content with context, showing that in the age of Wikipedia and digital assistants, guided learning experiences still have unique strengths. Microsoft Dinosaurs » Read more
A game that’s not complacent with a generic idea deserves credit for pushing itself, but Tunnels of Armageddon shows how that might not actually contribute anything. The game throws in lots of caveats and layers in search of some depth for its decent obstacle-dodging action, but amazingly, none of it really affects the game at all, positively or negatively. Tunnels of Armageddon » Read more
Jorge Luis Borges’s 1940 short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” invents fictional planet called Tlön that wills itself into existence through cultural force. By showing idealism overtake over reality, Borges’s story suggests the ability of people and art to reshape the world.
Tlön: The Misty Story shares a rumored mythical world with that name, though it bears only the most superficial resemblance to Borges’s story – or its philosophical achievement. That the game ignores the great piece of literature that inspired it is a lost opportunity, and the confusing, sluggish, thin fantasy epic it offers instead can’t muster an interesting perspective or character.
Jason Scott (right) presenting at the National Digital Stewardship Residency 2016 Symposium
This Thursday, I had the privilege to attend the National Digital Stewardship Residency 2016 Symposium at the National Library of Medicine. The speakers and program residents shared all manner of interesting projects that bridge the gap between digital and physical archiving; for the purposes of this blog, the most critical was the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott’s talk about software preservation. Scott’s work has been pivotal to opening up years of gaming and computer history, and during his appearance at the NDSR Symposium, he spoke frankly about the challenges the Internet Archive faces when their collection comes under scrutiny. His thoughts greatly allayed my concerns about the legality of game archiving, directed the focus of those efforts, and made the case to keep preservation frequent and fearless. Securing the open future of “advocateless” game preservation » Read more
A bit less than midway into Lighthouse: The Dark Being, you visit the Temple of the Ancient Machines, a decaying storehouse of past technology. The temple and its lone inhabitant are the soul of the game, the last well of possibility in a failed world. With mystic wonder and sadness, the music of the temple ekes out the last of that draining hope.
The Temple of the Ancient Machines is beautiful and sad; its wind-battered stone walls protect the keys to the planet’s future, yet it clearly has only a short time left before falling into oblivion. The choir in the second half of the music conveys the sweeping desolation and stature of the temple, but the melody finds its heart. You can read the harp part as either expectant and spiritual or fragile and fading. This piece can be all of those at once, reflecting on the mythical remaining connections to the old world but also their gradual ruin.
The constant wind sound effect is frustrating for listening purposes, but thematically, it fits far better than expected. It’s musical erosion, clawing away at the hopefulness of the temple until it’s inaudible.