Sometimes you just want the world to burn, especially when it's ending. In Little Inferno, a wintry apocalypse has engulfed the Earth, and you're sitting by a fireplace, throwing everything in the flames.
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Sometimes you just want the world to burn, especially when it's ending. In Little Inferno, a wintry apocalypse has engulfed the Earth, and you're sitting by a fireplace, throwing everything in the flames.
Read the rest
Read the rest
Border control simulation Papers, Please may have launched a whole mini-genre of games where emotional conflict and narrative emerges from your repetition of detail-intensive bureaucratic tasks. S.O.R.S (it stands for "Spatially Offset Raman Spectography") takes this inspiration and creates a weird but unique sci-fi world around diagnostic equipment.
If you love medical simulation games (and I have since I was a kid!) you'll find some of the basics appealing: Learn to watch for symptoms, interact with patients, and access a toolset of diagnostic tools that gets ever more elaborate as you succeed as a doctor. But the narrative wrapper around the game is interesting: "the earth's population has grown to the point where mankind has expanded upwards, living in ever-growing skyscrapers, and criminals are sent to live on floating solar-powered ships in the sky." Each work day you get new and sometimes puzzling instructions, and occasionally, mysterious emails from people who warn that things are not all that they seem at your job.
Games excel at teaching systems and at getting people to perform repetitive labor—like when you 'grind' for points and money, or when you repeat a puzzle in Alphabear so you can level up your bears. That's why these subversive storytelling techniques can be lots of fun, prompting us to question all the things we do just because we're told, and to think about what kinds of authorities we trust in (Portal became an instant classic because of this, obviously, and The Stanley Parable is another popular example).
We're such big fans of Sam Barlow's Her Story; we've been interested in it since I did this interview with Barlow back around the time Offworld launched. The game's seen some backlash from the worst sort of people for all the best sort of reasons: Its familiar computer-search interface means anyone can play it, you're just supposed to, like, read and listen instead of, like, shoot things, and, worst of all, it's a game about a woman.
I think one of the biggest problems there is in the conversation around games these days is that nobody is allowed not to like something, or to be critical of it. That's a problem in general on the internet, of course, but I think it's amplified through (shudder) "geek culture", where people often identify very strongly and very personally with media franchises. Any critique is "hating on", "slamming" or "disrespecting", and we can't have nuanced conversations about important things like, I dunno, sexism or racism in our media because everyone is so loath to hear what they perceive as "hate", so infuriated at the supposed "creative censorship" that they think is going to take place when people even gently critique something.
This is especially frustrating for people like us who believe discussion is the best way to love something, that critique is respect, and that just because you're saying something like "dang this game is really, really super white and I want to talk about that", it doesn't mean you think the game is garbage and should be edited to your specifications and that people who like it should feel guilty and that everything in the world needs to be tailored explicitly toward your comfort.
Laura really loved playing Her Story, thinks it's a brilliant game, and would like to play it again. But a conversation she had with one of our mutual friends piqued her interest in writing about whether its storycraft leaned on a harmful trope. Read that feature here; there is a spoiler warning before the spoilers begin, so just stop there if you'd like. I'm really proud to have Laura building Offworld with me, and this piece is a great example of why: She models how to love something and still feel conflicted about some aspect of it, to talk about that conflict without diminishing affection for the larger work.
I was surprised at some of the response, though. Even folks I would have expected to be joyfully participating in this larger conversation we're having about nuance in criticism responded via social media and in comments to let us know that Laura's article was "wrong" because there are multiple theories of the story, and another one may be more correct. Without spoiling anything, there's definitely some ambiguity to the story, and those variant possibilities act as a plot device. Even if one theory is ultimately a red herring, it's still being used, and it still deserves to be examined. Anyway, super proud of Laura, and to be a place that publishes work where we can have interesting and complicated discussions about media, even ones without a "right answer".
On a related note, if Her Story is your first acquaintance with Sam Barlow's work, or if you just know him from the awesome Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, you must play his groundbreaking, classic work of interactive fiction, Aisle.
In other Offworld features, Laura digs through the noise and pomp of San Diego Comic-Con to find ten genuinely-neat bits of news for comics fans at a time when the comics themselves often get overshadowed by big budget entertainment franchise announcements.
We know you've been just aching inside because there's only so far one can read back from our home page at Offworld.com, but clicking "more" (or bookmarking this link will now allow you to read back our last 50 (!!) features.
Ever since the Final Fantasy VII remake was announced, there's been a lot of social media dialogue on how the remake, which looks vivid and serious, would handle the game's odder and more colorful notes—in particular, a classic sequence where Cloud has to crossdress, mostly for comedic effect. Sarah Nyberg explores the issue for us, offering a personal reflection on her own complex memories of the scene, and some tools for folks to better understand and discuss this type of sequence (it helps to understand who, and what issue, is actually the butt of the joke, she writes).
We've got two works by Loren Schmidt (Star Guard) this week: A unique and fascinating "moth generator" they made with artist Katie Rose Pipkin, and the Lynchian "red-hued glitch dream" Strawberry Cubes.
Thanks to Steven Lavelle's Shower Game, you might never feel clean again. And just in time for Season 2 of Bojack Horseman, here is a game about being a horse (who functions as a bank robber). As a reminder, our Play It Now tag takes you straight to quick, free (or donation-based) games you can play instantly in your browser with no friction or special skillz, so it's a good perma-bookmark to save for your lunch breaks and idle moments.
Designer and critic Mattie Brice looks at ways she might implement game design sensibilities to help with the often confusing and complicated power dynamics of kinky group play parties. It's always exciting to see game design principles enter the event and performance space, and this is an area where I think it must be particularly under-utilised.
In this genuinely-fascinating interview, Jon Ronson decides to try to get to know the widely-loathed inflammatory talking-head Katie Hopkins. His work lately often sees him attempting earnestly to empathize with people society has decided are beyond deserving it, like psychopaths, or people who say racist things on Twitter and are then pilloried.
I like Ronson's work a lot, and this isn't only because he actually wrote back to a "thanks for your book" email that I wrote him last year (this is impressive because I, an exponentially less-famous and less-relevant writer, can't be bothered to answer most of my emails). It reminds me of when Louis Theroux goes to someplace like the Westboro Baptist Church to search for some humanity in the people there— this type of journalism is as interesting to me because of my own thoughts and reactions as it is because of the journalist's. It's interesting to notice my own temptation to want to remove someone's humanity, because they've done something I find loathsome.
I think Ronson has gotten some criticism for his book on public shaming; I've often seen floating around on social media the accusation that he felt too sorry for the public figures who said the stupid things and received consequences for them, and not sorry enough for the marginalized folks who are systemically harmed when powerful people casually say stupid things. Although that is a valid criticism, I don't really get that from his work—when he speaks to people like Justine Sacco or Katie Hopkins I never get the sense that he thinks what they said or did was unimportant or okay. I think he just wants to use examples like Sacco's to talk about humanity and forgiveness. Just to talk about it, and I'm drawn toward that approach as a media critic who often does want to just talk about things without being accused of taking a position or desiring some material outcome or redress from the creative works I'm talking about.
The main thing I disagree with when I read Ronson's book on public shaming is his categorization of "mob justice"—I think that conceptualization of internet-punishment implies an organization that isn't present. There's a major tenet of Twitter that only starts to dawn on you once you manage volume at scale, and it's that most people have no idea that to you they are just one of potentially-infinite identical voices. That's why when you tell a joke, you'll get 20 variations on the same "helpful addition" to your joke (mostly if you are a woman, because women can't tell jokes on Twitter without men helping them).
These people do not realize they are a "mob". They each think they are special, and that they are having a wonderful one to one conversation with the figures they follow. When I try to tell people on Twitter their presumed intimacy is inappropriate, or that they're just one of a hundred people trying to perform the same not especially unique behavior, they're almost offended, they feel rejected, why use social media if you don't want to be social, Ms. Alexander?
Or the reverse: They actually assume their comment won't be read, that the person is too remote, that this is a safe and generally harmless way for them to vent something at you. In my experience being targeted by the little keyboard-lords of GamerGate, the latter is true more often than not: These are not often people gloating over someone whose power they believe they have stolen; they are people who feel inherently powerless, throwing tiny stones at someone they assume cannot feel them anyway.
I do worry that Ronson's ambiguous characterization of "mobs" doesn't account for this principle, and as such risks grouping actual highly-organized harassment campaigns—which do happen on social media, and which mostly target marginalized people—into the same category of befuddling retaliatory "justice."
Anyway. I still think the Katie Hopkins interview is super interesting work; you could argue it's sort of irresponsible to try to empathize with a person whose opinions basically constitute hate speech, but the picture of the person that results is so sad, so deeply pitiful, that all it does, for me, is deflate her hatred, take its power away, reveal it for the flailing it is.
I'm a sucker for the self-similar pleasures of recursion, so it was with great delight that I learned someone has put a playable version of Doom... inside Doom.
In a video posted by TheZombieKiller, you can see everyone's favorite space marine approach what looks like an arcade cabinet, and then start playing the very game he is inside. It's part of a larger effort to put a number of playable "arcade games" inside Doom; a semi-complete version of Wolfenstein 3D is also available.
Somewhere, Xzibit is smiling down upon us all.
Growing up as an Asian-American kid in Texas, Greg Pak loved both Westerns and fantasy stories. Now, after eleven years of writing superhero comics like World War Hulk—and children's books like The Princess Who Saved Herself—Pak is launching his first creator-owned comic, Kingsway West, which aims to be the best of both worlds. Set in an Old West full of magic, dragons, and killer jackalopes, it stars an Asian-American hero who's finally walking free after thirteen years behind bars.
"Kingsway Law is a Chinese gunslinger fresh out of prison who's searching for his wife in an Old West overrun with magic," says Pak. "He's a wild man, a product of the frontier, who lost his wife years ago because he couldn't turn his cheek when provoked. Now politicians and vigilantes are making the West a hugely dangerous place for people like him. If he wants to find his wife again, he has to stay out of trouble. But then, as they say, hijinks ensue."
The book, which is illustrated by Mirko Colak, was inspired not only by Pak's youthful love of Western tales (and Dungeons & Dragons) but what he learned when he started researching the real history of Asian-Americans and other minorities during the 1800s.
"The actual Old West was stunningly diverse, with Native Americans, Buffalo Soldiers, Californios, and Chinese, which is hugely inspiring, because this is America and we all belong," says Pak. "But the frontier was also horrifically divided, with terrible, racially-driven prejudice, warfare and atrocities. Regarding Chinese Americans in particular, there were real politicians in the Old West who exploited anti-Asian fears and passed racist legislation as Chinese workers finished the transcontinental railroad. Eventually there were horrific massacres of Chinese in places like Rock Springs and Los Angeles."
The world of Kingsway West not only reflects the diversity of that time and place but the racial divisions that plagued it, reimagined and filtered through the lens of the supernatural. As is often the case, racial minorities become the scapegoats for the tensions of the era, particularly around the growing influence of magic, a force some hate and fear. Pak says the fantastical nature of the setting also opens the door for transformative possibilities around these real-world injustices.
"The great thing about fantasy in this case is that it allows us to plunge into huge, character-driven world-building to imagine an America that might have been, or maybe even still could be," says Pak. The four-issue miniseries, which will be published by Dark Horse Comics, is available for preorder now.
As an added bonus, rapper Adam WarRock recorded an original theme song for the comic, simply titled "Kingsway," which we're pleased to debut today:
Does the genre of 'animals who mingle in society as if they are people' have a name? Like, let's say there's an octopus just kind of walking around being a dad, and no one knows he's an octopus? Or there's this horse who used to play a dad on TV, and now he's retired, but he's still a horse hanging out in his Hollywood mansion?
You Are A Horse is a Twine game where you are a horse. Who robs a bank. The game, by Colin Spacetwinks, promises "multiple endings, several jokes, and pulse pounding, heart stopping, reading text and clicking links only action!", and it has a playful sense of humor. I love animals just kind of being people.
The first paragraph of the game description for Strawberry Cubes reads as follows:
Fossil moth slideshow
alt=3D"Highlights From The Past Decade"
Øµ¤SèªÃyÖéénºùõtº¬hÿßðrÌ×Ýo¦ßÞið¤×dõù¢ Æªüaó·åsæÏµ ô¥Ól¶â¼oÁ¼ðw¢à² ³éýaâÂÅs¤ûº ú½²$¤×ì0§Èí.æâ¦3ìÕ·5å¸ì
Come up her eyes open. Next to winter air and now that.
Puzzled by judith bronte adam. According to hide her chair.
Indeed. Created by Loren Schmidt, Strawberry Cubes is the red-hued glitch dream of a sleeping platform game, the kind that unnerves you in subcutaneous, Lynchian ways you can't quite put your finger on.
It's difficult to describe, but I'll take a shot: You descend into the hidden spaces in your grandmother's house to find seeds, skeletons, frogs and songs by Patsy Cline. It's one of those games that is better experienced than talked about, so bathe a bit in the retro nightmare aesthetics of the GIFs and videos below and see if you're feeling it. The game is pay-what-you-want on Itch.io and currently available for Windows only, though a Mac version is expected soon.
Ever pooped in the shower? If you play Shower Game, you probably will.
This bizarre interactive take on morning water rituals was created by Increpare—otherwise known as Stephen Lavelle—a developer best known for releasing small, free, very weird game experiences, and Shower Game is no exception.
It takes place entirely (to my knowledge) inside a shower, where you find yourself standing naked, surrounded by bottles of bizarre personal products. Most of the fun revolves around picking up and playing with them to see what they do; one gel toggles on "sexy hair," while a bottle of an undefined substance reverses gravity.
And of course, there's the poop, which you can jam down the drain, or launch outside the shower to potentially interesting effect. If that sounds appealing to you, Shower Game awaits, as do over 200 other games on Increpare's website.
Tomohisa "Baiyon" Kuramitsu is best known for his work as art and sound director on PixelJunk Eden, a distinctive and unforgettable abstract flow puzzle (one of my personal favorites). Now, the popular Kyoto-based multimedia artist is directing his own game for the first time.
Baiyon's upcoming project, MUSE: Together is the New Alone is a "romantic adventure" about a boy trying to wake a sleeping girl by collecting pieces of her life. "I was eager to create a video game with the theme of love where you can step into my mind's nostalgic scenery," he tells me. "I am not sure why, perhaps I am getting older, but I started to feel that I want to express my inner world."
"My main theme is 'to project the incompleteness of humanity and beauty of fluctuation within the digital logic of a video game', and that shapes sound and visual creation and story telling," he says.
MUSE aims to release sometime next year on PlayStation 4 and PSVita. We don't normally post game announcements here on Offworld unless it's something you can imminently play, but we're curious about this one—you can see a little more of the concept and subscribe to the mailing list at the official website.
There's something striking and lawless about the bodies of moths, isn't there? Their patterns of howling eyes, bark-like patterns, haloes of bright, thin hair seem almost accidental, like fractals gone all wrong. Now, a new procedural generation bot pays tribute to the morbid maths of moths, and it's compelling.
Poet and artist Katie Rose Pipkin and multi-talented game maker Loren Schmidt (their stark, demanding 'retro'-style work Star Guard was an Independent Games Festival design finalist) have collaborated on Moth Generator (lepidoptera automata, of course). It makes moths, tweets and names them.
A dark sort of beauty wings out of such a simple idea: Sometimes there is one tiny pearlite body pinned to a slate-gray scientific sheet, and at other times, it manifests a whole board with a array of spectacular forms pinned side by side. You feel lots like you're wandering the collection of some mad biologist, skirting the line between artifice and nature. Follow @mothgenerator on Twitter to watch the dusty, incandescent life forms unfold.
At the New Yorker, Simon Parkin has gathered a beautiful collection of quotes from Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, who has just passed away at the age of 55, and from people who worked with him. Fans and game developers worldwide are mourning the loss of a man who kept the mind of a game developer and the spirit of a player throughout his tenure as corporate president, and whose curiosity, approachability and enthusiasm mattered to so many:
“I never sensed that he thought he was more important, smarter, or more powerful than me, although he was all those things,” Martin Hollis, who has worked on many Nintendo titles, said. “I never felt he was my boss, or my boss’s boss. I felt he was a friend who was trying to help me in my projects. There isn’t another person like him in the world.”
My favorite part of the lovely postscript is Iwata's own thoughts on the creative value of video games, a belief in happiness and playfulness which we hope to share at Offworld, with his memory in mind.
“Our ambition is to satisfy people’s need to be happy, through our software,” he once said. “People want to play because human beings want to be human beings—and we are the only species on Earth that loves to play.”
Shigesato Itoi, who led the beloved Earthbound games (on which Iwata worked as a programmer) also has written an incredibly moving farewell to his colleague, unofficially translated here.
I ended up having a fight—like, very nearly a real fight and not a play-fight—with my boyfriend over the iPad just a few days ago. The reason was Alphabear, a bright, bouncy playful word game where you collect bears.
He had used my bears. So uncool.
Alphabear, by Spry Fox (you know about Triple Town, right)? is a game where you spell the best words you can out of tiles on a screen, where each tile is worth points. If you clear tiles that are next to each other, big, adorable square bears (designed by Brent Kobayashi) appear, and clearing further tiles around the bears' perimiter makes them expand, sometimes into comic oblongs if that's all the space they have.
The bears add a bit of extra consideration to the mechanic of just Scrabble-ing for words—you want to work with their shapes. As you play, you collect more cute bears, each with its own little "power" that you can use during levels—score bonuses, extra points for certain letters, things like that. Furthermore, letters don't hang around forever. If you don't use them when they turn red, they next turn to stone, impossible to clear, and barring further bear expansion.
It's actually a complex and deep enough design that it's not easy to explain but you grok it immediately. You're always balancing several goals in interesting ways: Grow bears, clear red letters, make high-scoring words, make long words, use the right multipliers, keep control of the board space. Before you know it you're completely hooked, collecting panda bears, pirate bears, ghost bears, bears in dog costumes, bears of all kinds. Every day brings different kinds of challenges, some short and timed, others long and leisurely. There's a cute social media component, too, as bears you use will volunteer cute nonsense-tweets based on the words you've spelled (it's funny on its own, but it subtly lets you show off how good your words are). It's also resulted in some funny #Alphabear hashtag confusion on Instagram.
Alphabear is basically free to play, but if you don't buy "honey", one of the game's currencies, you end up having to wait before you can play new levels. You can watch ads to gain honey, or pay $3.99 to never have to worry about that wait again (my verdict is that it's definitely worth a few bucks for how much and how often I've ended up playing). Your special bears need cool-down time too, so you can't just pile on your fanciest bonuses constantly (unless you spend real money on pretend coins, which I haven't felt the need to do).
This payment system is, I think, maybe a little more fricative than is common these days, but isn't prohibitive; it has the pleasant side effect of making each round of Alphabear feel more like a treat, something worth waiting for and looking forward to. The game's main downside is that it's cloud-dependent—in other words, you can't play offline, a real bummer for people who do most of their mobile playing on airplanes and subways. Dan Cook, chief creative officer of Spry Fox, said the team tried to make it work but was unable.
I also wish it allowed for separate player accounts, so, say, two people in a household could do their own progress separately and not use each other's bears. Because that is so uncool. If you're reading this, I hope you wouldn't do that to
This roundup is a new, regular Monday item here on Offworld, a special satellite transmission designed to highlight our favorite Offworld stories, wonderful trends, and the stories from elsewhere in the galaxy that got us talking.
The Offworld staff had a lot to say about nostalgia last week; days after I took out my sharpest knives to eviscerate the uncritical worship of nostalgia, Leigh burned down the house with her love letter to Final Fantasy VII, the much-beloved 1997 game that inspired joyous freakouts and emotional breakdowns when a remake was recently announced.
I fielded a lot of defensive responses to my piece from people demanding to know "what's wrong with nostalgia???" The answer, of course is that nothing is wrong with nostalgia; like so many things, it is only as good or bad as what we do with it. In her examination of why Final Fantasy VII matters, Leigh digs in deep, explaining the intense fan reaction through the lens of what the game meant to her:
How do I explain this? Do I go right to describing myself at 17 years old, standing at a train station in the winter, freezing in a summer dress, the only dress that looked good on me, hoping to meet my first boyfriend in person, a guy I’d met making up our own Final Fantasy VII characters on America Online? Something something quest for identity and the self, et cetera, safe place, blah blah?
Nostalgia, at its heart is about loss, about the secret passages created in the mind between the past and the present, between the things and people and places we loved, and where we are today; examining the shifting rope bridge you have built across that distance how you find the meaning, the relevance to who you are now.
You were a lonely kid in a small town running around inside a video game world, hoping to know what adulthood and purpose is really like, and you understand, then, that sometimes you can pray and pray and no one will answer. That all kinds of things are going to be taken from you.
One person on Twitter described it as a piece that "dances on the edge of hardened cynic and childlike enjoyment. Best in the field." Damn straight.
What happens to a magical girl team after they defeat the bad guy, go back to their regular lives in high school, and start growing apart? That's the question that the upcoming comic book Zodiac Starforce sets out to answer.
I spoke with the creators (and posted a six-page preview of the first issue) via Google hangout, and our chat was so delightful that I couldn't stop myself from sharing some of the excerpts, including our thoughts on the inexplicable bad boyfriends of amazing women:
I also read The Joy of Cybersex, a 1993 guide to digital boning that was recently scanned and archived by game developer Anna Anthropy. This 101 introduction to modems, "adult disks" and "teledildonics" is essentially what online sex looked like when the internet was a teenager, and it's awkward, weird, and wonderful. I'm particularly fond of the individual profiles of adult dial-up bulletin boards, the lost, floating sex cities of the internet from a bygone era. Bonus points because the survey is written by a woman, and reflects a bit of the early weirdness of being a lady online.
The forward to the book features a quote from Winston Churchill, and its exploration of virtual reality sex includes this strange and confusing promise:
Sleep Furiously was our mobile game recommendation of the week; it is surely the best smartphone word game based on a quote by Noam Chomsky. Leigh also explored five of her favorite examples of mobile phones showing up within games, and got me addicted to Arrow Hero, the simplest rhythm game of all. Oh, and someone is tweeting every item in Katamari Damacy.
At Polygon, Colin Campbell profiles the team developing the RPG crafting game called Crashlands, and how their perspective shifted profoundly when one of their members, Sam Coster, was diagnosed with Stage 4b cancer at age 23. You don't get much realer than interviews where a cancer survivor says, "If I die after this thing is done, I frankly would be pretty frickin' happy with the last thing I ever made."
Games often create social change in subtle but powerful ways, although occasionally its impact is very direct. The bug-swatting mobile game Mosquito Net has been out since 2013, and thanks to a collaboration between the Nairobi-based game developer Momentum Core and the Kenyan government, it has helped distribute one mosquito net to a family living in a malarial zone for each player who finished the game—over 1,400 nets in total.
Youtube star Pewdiepie inspires a lot of very intense love and hate with what are essentially very silly videos of him playing games, and he's responded to his critics in a surprisingly level-headed video about what he does for a living, how he knows it's a bit of silly, and what he's learned on his career arc from hot dog vendor to Youtube millionaire. As Patricia Hernandez notes, "Pewdiepie is famed for being unhinged while playing video games, but he’s a person, too—and this is a video where you can see that shining through."
Over the weekend, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away at the age 55. He's led the company since 2002, only the third president in Nintendo's lifetime, and presided over some of its most interesting and creative strategic moves, including the launch of the Wii. Iwata was well-liked by fans and colleagues, handling public events with a playful, approachable warmth. A programmer since even before he joined Nintendo in 1982, Iwata was one of few major game company CEOs with the heart of a game developer, and he had a stated commitment to avoid layoffs, another rarity for this business.
Kotaku has gathered tributes from all around the internet and social media from Iwata's colleagues, fans and friends, and if you love Nintendo games even just a little, it's tough to read it with a dry eye.
Buzzfeed's Joseph Bernstein infiltrated an international teen white supremacist group, and his narration—and analysis—of the experience is indeed amazing.
If you'd like to have your heart broken into several jagged pieces, read this devastating article about the rape revelations in the '70s all-female rock band The Runaways.
Nintendo issued a brief statement tonight on the death of Satoru Iwata, the gamer and programmer who served as the Japanese gaming company's fourth president and CEO. Read the rest
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