ceci n’est pas une art game.

at land screenshotI’ve been watching Auntie Pixelante post about the strange products of the Klik of the Month Klub for a while, but I’ve never been particularly interested in joining in because I’ve never really wanted to learn Klik ‘n’ Play, and two hours isn’t enough time to make something I’d be ready to share. Recently, however, a “Knytt of the Month” was announced, with the same rules as Klik of the Month but using Knytt Stories‘s level editor instead. The prospect of just making a short level for a game, working within the constraints of that game, seemed more doable in 2 hours to me than the stifling freedom of making a whole Klik ‘n’ Play game in 2 hours, so I joined up. The challenge was yesterday, during which I was able to crank out a “rough draft” of the game I wanted to make, and then over the next 24 hours I added the artwork and sound that I wanted. I’m pretty pleased with the results, especially since I’d never used the Knytt Stories level editor before. Since I only had 2 hours to make the core game, I decided to go the “art game” route, because art games are stupidly easy to make and never let anyone tell you otherwise. It looks like I chose wisely, since all the rest of the submissions were either art games or very short, very hard, “super challenge” levels. Except Anna Anthropy’s submission, which is a cute, fun little vignette with enough “game” to not fall into the “art game” trap, which is to be expected from her prior work with Knytt Stories.

The game I made is called At Land, and is based on the Maya Deren film of the same name. I’d originally looked up Maya Deren’s short films with the intention of derisively calling someone “the Maya Deren of video games”, but Maya Deren’s short films are actually pretty good. I tried to make this game a little more “gamey” than most art games; a friend recently commented, regarding a particular popular art game, “I wouldn’t mind calling it an art game if it didn’t fail so completely in being a game”, which I think applies to the vast majority of “art games” and is why they’re so commonly hated by people who play lots of games and people who design games. It would be like if I made the shape of a car out of paper maché, painted it garish colors, put a bicycle inside, and called it an “art car”; artists would stroke their chins at its artistic merits, other observers might be moved by its artistic “message”, but people who make cars and car enthusiasts would hop up and down and scream “a paper maché shell with a bicycle in it isn’t a ‘car’, you idiot!!” Which of these observers is “right”? Well, they all are, and I guess if the artist specifically wants to piss off car people that’s his prerogative, but in doing so he keeps car people from enjoying the other aspects of the work. The most successful “art car” would also be a functional car as well as a work of art, and the most successful “art games” are ones that are good solid games as well as works of art. At Land isn’t a very good example of this, because there’s not much game to it, but hopefully there’s enough game that its other merits aren’t undermined.

Anyway, please check out At Land, and remember that you’ll need to install Knytt Stories first in order to play it (there’s an option on Knytt Stories’ main menu to install new levels, which is what you’ll want to do to play this and any other additional levels). It helps if you’ve played at least the Tutorial level of Knytt Stories before, but it isn’t mandatory. Here are the rest of the submissions for “Knytt of the Month”, and here‘s the discussion of the event. I look forward to participating in the next one!

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Leaving Home

Leave HomeSome time ago, Hunty pointed me toward the XBLA Indie Games title Leave Home. Due to my lack of a 360, I didn’t get a chance to try it at the time, but a PC port has recently been released- so I fired it up over the weekend.

The Big Idea of Leave Home is that it’s a procedurally-generated shooter, taken from the Kenta Cho mold. It has a ‘ranking’ system built in- as you destroy enemies and collect the items they leave behind, your “anger” increases and the game gets more difficult. This is manifested multiple ways; obstacles grow denser, paths grow narrower, enemies spawn more frequently and are more aggressive, and your flight path through non-strictly-sidescrolling levels grows more erratic. The game is a fixed length- you have infinite lives, and play for a few minutes each runthrough.

The promise of a procedurally-generated game like this is infinite variety- new, fresh content each time you play through the game. While there are parts of Leave Home that work well, my main complaint is that they’re not nearly common enough- most of the time you’re seeing not ‘fresh’ stages but small variants within a fairly tight ‘theme’.

Although the exact content of Leave Home’s stages varies from run to run, you’ll always be traveling through four major areas, followed by a boss fight against a pair of major enemies. The first and third stages are Gradius-inspired sidescrolling affairs, while the second pits you against a rotating ‘pegboad’ of obstacles and the fourth sees you navigating through a number of rotating rings. The third of these stages is probably the best in the game- it features a variety of obstacles and features which change drastically from run to run. The rest, however, seem like they’re simply variants on the same small idea- the motions in the second stage grow more erratic and the obstacles denser, but on a fundamental level it’s always the same type of stage. The first stage is built more-or-less randomly out of a number of obstacles, but there are few enough different types that the stage looks more or less the same every time you see it.

I may just be reading way too much into things, but unlike most of Kenta Cho’s products, Leave Home forms something of a narrative- albeit an abstract one- telling the story of the drama surrounding a son’s decision to leave home. It’s easy enough to ignore if you’re not interested, but putting two and two together is kind of a nice “Oh, that’s what’s happening here!” moment.

At its’ core, Leave Home is a solid game, and I’d say that it was worth the five bucks I spent on it. I’m hoping that the producers expand on the ideas in Leave Home in the future- a sequel with more variety in stages could be really fantastic.

– HC

“Palindromes are hard.” — Dr. A. Hera Semord-Nilap

Anna Anthropy aka Auntie Pixelate aka Dessgeega — who you may remember as the creator of Mighty Jill Off — has just released her latest (and biggest yet) game, REDDER. I helped playtest this game, and loved every minute of it, and totally didn’t mind finishing it over a dozen times to help ferret out bugs and run it through its paces.

To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything more about it, other than to call it a “Knyttrovania”; a 2D side-view exploration game, with discrete screens rather than scrolling.

Go play it now!

Anna also talks a little bit about the game’s development here.

my pot is getting cold!

There was a message in my coffee this morning. It told me to recommend Deadly Premonition to you. Practically anything I say about this game would be a spoiler, so I’ll just say that it’s 1 part Silent Hill, 1 part GTA, and 2 parts Twin Peaks. It’s also only $20.

The one additional thing I have to say about it is that the game starts out by railroading you through a bunch of combat sections all in a row (the combat isn’t bad, it’s just really tense, and the monsters in this game scare me more than the monsters in any other game I’ve played), but once you get past the saw mill the game opens up and lets you explore all the fun, GTA-ish stuff it has to offer.