It’s one of the first games to feature dynamic procedural game music.
The gameplay is a basic sidescroller/shooter, who’s modern equivalent would be something like Jetpack Joyride.
You fly forward automatically, avoid monsters and shoot everything.
The game however, has a rhythm, to which everything gets quantized, that way, whenever you shoot, every shot plays a note, and everything fits in with the rhythm. (I explore a similar idea in my look at Plink).
Different weapons manifest different sounds and shooting behavior, that fits in with the sound (volume, longevity of the note feels similar to bullet behavior).
At first, I felt like the gameplay is “broken” just because I felt it was awkward that the character moves along with shooting, because you have to select one of the 8 directions and press shoot button to fire, which also moves the character in that direction. I felt like I should be able to align my shot with static pickups to shoot them, but instead that input mechanic interferes with accuracy of my shots. It was frustrating.
Later on, talking with Phil, I started to open my mind up a bit more that the game was released almost 30 years ago, and that current gameplay expectations don’t apply. Its an 80’s game, games were hard back then, it’s a known fact, and I was struggling to accept it. I had to realign my thinking much like I should’ve realigned the position of the character with move/fire mechanic in mind to get the pickups I wanted.
It’s an interesting way to look at this. I can see this game being an attempt to being a “casual” game, a game designed for a wide demographic, perhaps even a game for “girls as well” given a greater male dominance of the market in the 80’s compared to now. It employs much of the mechanics of the time – side scrolling, shooting, lots more shooting, monsters, pickups, special weapons, capturing the likes of Metal Slug, Megaman and R-Type, and giving it a casual skin, yet the game is hard by today’s standards.
Another way I’m looking at it is musical. What does it mean, that shooting and movement are linked? Shooting is the musical and rhythmical essence of this game, yet it is directly linked to player override over automatic scrolling WAIT A SECOND!
…I just paused typing this to go back and play it again, and I’ll be damned.
The direction of movement/shooting specifies the note that is played, which changes with the instrument that you get, and the tempo of the song increases with your success / progression. Smart, feels good.
I need to readjust the way I look at games and judge them when I try to quantify specific parts I’m investigating. I need not to just look at sound/graphics/gameplay as a separate thing, and then say “good/bad/5 out of 10”, but consider the sum of all parts. Every piece has a reason for being (unless it’s a bad design), and needs to be considered in the greater scope of the whole game, It will explain why it’s there and why it needs being, just like my eureka here with Otocky. This thinking will also in turn, lead to designing better games.
Is a collection of essays concerned with “the infinite macrocosmic canvas of Games as a Whole.” by David Kanga, (creator of Proteus and composer for DYAD)
“The relations between gamefulness and artfulness and playfulness”
He has a very philosophical definition of “game” and “play”, which spans a vast scale of thought, which I am yet to comprehend, as his texts are very fluid and hard to follow, and require a lot of external dependencies to make sense of.
Kanga sees dynamic and static medium like games and images, as products of the same dimension with only semantic differences in modes of absorption.
He especially describes a lot of these dimensions as music, where music is rhythm, represented by scale while deprived of the audio element.
He proposed that the games, among other art mediums, exists in between dimensions of rational and irrational, computable and incomputable, between the system and structures of software itself and the meaning of the games or other mediums.
Even the essay itself, is a commentary on the thinking process behind the essay as a game on a microscopic scale of subsystems of this universe.
“Play is considered as becoming as opposed to being. All becoming considered as play. Play is motion.”
He explores ideas of “all possible games” as a notion of fractal existence, that “everything is a game” and “everything is a payer”, and transient states between possibility spaces between them.
Crazy text, it will take me some time to go over and reflect on his ideas, therefore it is only initial notes, as I find his work enticing to dig deeper into.
First things first, I’ve experienced Plink when it just came out more than a year ago, coming back to it today, the only thing that has changed, is that there are no people playing it anymore.
Plink is a web based audio play space.
It has 8 instruments to choose from represented by colors, a predetermined tempo with a metronome, and a predetermined scale represented by the vertical axis, separating notes by lines.
The user controls their “character” up and down, and click to activate notes, which are arpeggiated if held down.
I would say that from a musical point of view, it’s a very limited and controlled environment, and one wouldn’t be able to make a full swing song out of it.
However the focus isn’t at all the credibility of Plink as a sound design tool, it is about it’s merits as a play space, and the experience it delivers.
having up to five users connected into the same room, and having a live collaborative sound experience with a stranger is a magical thing.
Everyone is free to choose the instrument they want (even same one as anyone else, creating chords). Given that it’s a multiplayer experience with free choice, the limitations of the play space are instantly justified – you want to create something musical together, not incoherent noise and cacophony, therefore, it is made sure that players are always in tune and always hit the rhythm.
I played the game in 3 ways – with a mouse (as intended), with a tablet, and with a touch screen (pretty much cheating).The three modes of interfacing with it brought great differences into my experience.
Using the mouse was a baseline experience.
It was unwieldy, and hard to hit multiple notes in succession accurately. It was more about rhythms and bass.
Using the stylus, was more about dance.
It was more accurate, faster, but i was “drawing” music onto the canvas, even more so, using Wacom’s distance recognition, being able to play notes in the air without touching the surface, by pressing the click button on the stylus itself.
Using the touch screen was about precision.
I was able to hit desired notes fast, with high accuracy, being able to create melodies and expressions, and repeat those in quick succession.
The greatest thing about Plink however, is that these forms of play, greatly changed not only my experience of it, but of other participants, which reflected in their responses.
When someone stood out in the way they played, everyone else followed, harmonized, and tried to play along.
I’ve even been able to communicate to other players what I wanted them to do, by hovering over their circle and moving to where I wanted their instrument to sound with limited success. (reminds me of language learning process in Journey, talking through silence, pattern, frequency and duration).
Plink is a great example of limitations used well. It creates working dynamic relationships between participants without language, based on their choices, behaviors and patterns.
Patatap is a soundboard webapp which utilizes the keyboard that trigger sounds that carry animations along with them. There are multiple “color pallets” which carry different sound kits and color schemes for the screen.
Engaging with Patatap is a great example of play. It encompasses discovery and creation in one.
There is no tutorial or any key to tell you what sound is bound to what key. You play and you learn, eventually being able to memorize the sound placement across the keyboard, trying to come up with tunes within the given system, which can then be switched over to a new pallet with a press of a spacebar to begin the process again.
This is obviously not a game, there are no rules or goals, timers or reward feedback loops, there’s only direct input and output of color and sound. I think however, a game could be created within that system, within the given limitations. One could play Patatap and in their head, play a game, such as compelling themselves to keep within the rhythm, or trying to create a tune using exclusively vocal samples, or making something random and cohesive by switching pallets every second beat.
Patatap is a play canvas with no other purpose but to offer a play space.
Main feature of the game is the customizable “rausers”, which have 125 combinations according to the developer.
Customization includes a choice of a weapon, body, and engine.
All customization choices are based on advantages and drawbacks, for example you would sacrifice rate of fire for massive damage, slower speed for stronger hull, and maybe handling for super speed.
The range of options is great, and it offers a great variety of gameplay. You might focus on evasion, or spread your damage, or line up your shots.
Something I noticed however, that is quite intuitive and unnoticeable, but has a huge impact on the way the game feels and the state of flow, is the music, which also changes based on your customization options.
Different weapons change the rhythms
Different Bodies change the melody track
Different Engines change the bass track
Which is quite fitting-
Weapons – rapid fire, rhythms
Body – stronghold, embodiment, self, identity
Engine – hum, drone, intensity
To further investigate, I peeked into the game data folder in Program Files (x86)/Steam/SteamApps/common/Luftrausers/data/bgm, and surely enough, there are separate .ogg files for different tracks, that get assembled by the game when you make your custom rauser selection.
The way customizable music affects the game experience is uncanny. It is both intuitive and up front, yet almost unnoticeable and taken for granted, one may even think it’s just background music without giving it a second thought, where in fact, the player is even given a custom background music based on their choice of play style.
manipulation of physics, inertia and centrifugal forces.
emergent battles between players.
competition, flow, failure vs. triumph.
Swordy taxonomy per article’s list of terms:
Sensation (flow, chaining hits, swinging vertigo)
Fantasy (ancient tribal setting, faux mythology)
Challenge (through competition with another player agent)
Fellowship (bonding through competition)
Submission (invites players to participate and allows to disengage at will)
Swordy doesn’t facilitate a clear win condition as of yet. There needs to be an overarching goal to each battle, not just the joy of defeating other, but the glory of being the champion.
Swordy, as well as board games like Settlers of Catan and Cut Throat Caverns, allow for a meta game, where players “team up” in real life, outside game mechanics to close the gap in equality by agreeing to stop messing with eachother and in turn destroy the leading player.
Swordy first pass:
two players, one weapon, experiments with the flow of physics based sword fighting.
Swordy second pass:
multiple weapons, 4 player arena based combat with character customization, secondary weapons actions, score keeping and timed play sessions.
Swordy third pass:
Multiple multiplayer modes? Single player storyline?
Rhetorics of play:
Play as progress – child’s development
Play as fate – outdated model due to modern rejection of predeterminism?
Play as power – status boosting tool
Play as identity – community, preservation of cultural values
Play as the imaginary – creativity
Play as the self – hobbies, solitary play activities
Play as frivolous – foolishness
Brian talks mostly about “how we talk about play” and the rhetoric itself, rather their theoretic and practical frameworks. He draws the seven distinctions, but in layman’s terms, what I got out of his text is that “they may overlap, or they may not”, and instead of exploring the rhetorics further and perhaps breaking them down, he goes on to talk about scientific ways of discussing rhetorics, which to me, seemed very disconnected from theory of play that the chapter seemed like it was meant to focus on.
On page 124, Caillios basically claims that if mysterious is transformed into play, play itself destroys the mystery. I find it hard to process his way of justifying such claims. What if a person engages in play in a play space, be it mental or physical, where mystery is involved, yet there is no goal nor desire to “solve” any such mystery, but rather to play for play’s sake. Does it still dissolve the mystery? Even if the person is aware that such mystery is in place?
He later argues Huizinga’s definition of play, having no extrinsic motivators like betting money. I think he wants to differentiate games and play as two separate things, which are aren’t mutually exclusive. Games don’t happen without play, but play can very well be a non-game, like the act of verifiaction of the groceries receipt to avoid double-charging could very well be play, yet not a game by any design.
P. 125, “Play is an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money for the purchase of gambling equipment or eventually to pay the establishment.”
What does this say about play as state of mind as opposed to an activity that is done? Is attitude of play or play thinking a waste of time also?
If I was to propose that in a more literal sense, the energy we expel as humans, in any mental or physical capacity, is not a waste, based on the laws of energy conservation, renders Caillios’s statement false.
He argues that there’s a clear distinction between what is play and what isn’t, and that play is only appropriate in a play-space (p. 125), yet his examples are more of games and don’t take into account play as a state of mind.
P. 126, “The game is ruined by the nihilist who denounces the rules as absurd and conventional, who refuses to play because the game is meaningless”
Makes me think of an example, where a spectator runs out onto a soccer field naked. They engage in their own play with their own rules (run away from the guards, disrupt the game, get on the news, fulfill a dare etc.), but I would argue that the act of thereof is part of the play of soccer culture, where such behavior is somewhat commonplace and maybe even expected. Sure, the game of soccer is interrupted, yet the spectators are not taken out by it, they don’t walk away disappointed that the game is “ruined”, they cheer on, in support of the runner, before the game resumes.
Caillios claims that doubt is a fundamental pillar for play, that when outcomes are known, play stops (p. 126).
Can play still be if the outcomes are known? “journey important, not the end” cliche comes to mind, and engaging in play might do so deliberately for the sake of extracting enjoyment out of an otherwise mundane activity with known outcomes.
A master of a certain game can still extract play out of their own mastery. A chess grandmaster can play multiple boards at a time and know to win, foresee everyone’s moves with clarity, just the game is no longer chess, it is statistics, or race for time or something else, the game transcends, play doesn’t stop.
“An outcome in advance, with no possibility of error or surprise, clearly leading to an inescapable result, is incompatible with the nature of play.”
What about the overarching known and inescapable outcome of death? There is nothing one can do, that would not resolve their life in a death state. Does that then mean life is incompatible with play? I don’t think his argument is sound.
“Search for equality” as he put it, being essential to rivalry is an interesting way of thinking about competition. Who is searching for equality? The game system definitely seeks to provide an equal playing field, but what when it doesn’t? (Discrimination Pong).
He gives an example of Chess, that inequality exists, because white always goes first.
What if you remove turn based aspect of chess? Both players act simultaneously by the means of asynchronous software, where players “lock in” their moves and the game plays out a “phase” when both players moves are exposed (Frozen Synapse)
Is there a way to remove “desire to win”, in a game with winning in mind and a desirable end goal reward?
Makes me think of religions and people’s desire to “win” a ticket to “heaven” by taking on roles of “believers”. There is an extrinsic motivator, whilst atheist movement denounces heaven and embraces life itself as reward – play.
Zen Bound – example of wan, a meditative game. Escapist experience? What about Solitaire? I don’t think about the cards or maths or sequencing when playing Solitaire, I calm my innter discussion and voice, letting my mechanical mind take care of the game, while I let my mind surf free thoughts. Wan?
Agon – competitive games
Alea – games of chance
Mimicry – roleplay
Llinx – getting high on disorientation,change of perception and mental chaos
The ritual of bowing your opponent in show of respect, or showing any respect to someone you’re about to kill is an interesting one in history and fiction. Kung Fu movies propagate this, althought I’m not aware of such rituals actually being true in the “battlefield”, yet when I was a practitioner of Wing Chun, the ritual was commonplace, to show respect, to the Sifu (master), the peers at the start/end of interaction or session, or as a simple greeting, so regardless whether it was time to fight or not.
It is interesting how contextual the gesture is. To Sifu, it would be acknowledgement of Sifu’s superiority and show of respect, but to sparring partners, it would be a simple acknowledgement, if not a statement that the other is equal, or a mere greeting or “thank you” at the start/end of sparring or drill.
A quote from Ender’s Game comes to mind to contextualize the more philosophical meaning of showing respect to your opponent:
Jedi Knight game, has no mechanics in place, or no incentive for the players to perform the ritual, however players do so, is it out of respect for each other, or is it simply a role-play gesture to make the world set out by G. Lucas relivable, to one up the game’s developers at making it that much closer to the fiction?
Similar thought comes about Journey. The game has no ability to communicate with another player apart from the “chirp”, yet players find their way around, communicating with each other through flight, movement, length of and pauses between chirps, scarf play and meditation gesture, to indicate desire for attention, flight recharge, or celebration of each others glory.
Is it the “you and me” / “you vs. me” aspect of desire for binding ritual, that pushes people to act them out despite the limitations of a given system?
Similar to a yong male challenging another to a pretend slow motion fist fight, one would take up a fighting stance, and wait for the other to “clue in” and take up his own stance before engagement in the play, as a way of communicating, within the fictional play-space when one cannot simply say out loud “I’m going to pretend fight you”, which would destroy this Matrix-esque scenario.
Huizinga and Sutton-Smith assert that play is voluntary, however I’ve personally witnessed a certain fear of play in people. One example would be in an exhibition setting, there would be people standing by, or verbally refusing from participating or engaging with the work (video game), yet when handed a controller / Oculus Rift as a physical gesture, they would submit to that engagment (few haven’t). While in itself a forceful gesture, I believe the play becomes voluntary from that point on, as the observer becomes the player engaging with the work, no longer under the contract or agreement to recieve the controller for such activity. Perhaps the exhibition setting deters people from “messing about” with the work (which defies the purpose thereof), or some psychological aspect of somehow being in the spotlight or under scrutiny by the exhibitors, I’m sure the reasons are as diverse as the people caught in such situations.
Describing different play-spaces, Huizinga mentioned “courthouse”, making me think of the justice system & courthouse as playground in which the prosecution and defense are playing a meta game, whose goal is not to prove the innocense or guilt of the defendant, but rather one up each other at convincing the jury of superiority in their own reasoning, whereafter, release or imprisonment of the defendant stands as proof of one’s superiority among the lawyer players, given the jury have no vested interest in either of the outcomes of defendant’s destiny.
“Spoil-sport”, p 106, integrity of play-world and player’s desire to maintain the illusion, often embraced by people outside of play, for example at a job, where everybody knows that something is wrong, and there is an unspoken consensus of such happenings, however nobody calls that thing out, for the fear of destroying an illusion of a happy life or workplace, as well as fear of being ostricized by the participants for speaking of the unspoken.
I have a personal experience in such scenario, when I was addressed to stop calling out my ex-employer’s upper management’s inadequate behavior and business practices and management malfunctions. I was told to stop, because it destroys the suspense of disbelief that that corporate environment was a great place to work and that it produced amazing product. The management and the workers were aware of all truths with a kind of mutual agreement, evident in confiding with frustrations amongst each other, however the truth was undesired by the “power players” in control of the play world, because it broke that game.
On vulnerabilities during play:
Advertizing seeks to inject itself in the mental space of people when they’re at play, because that’s when they’re most vulnerable to needing props to support their play-world, like beer and manly lifestyle adverts appeal to those that engage in the social play of bar hopping and football game watching, or feminine products targeted at women approaching menopause, seeking to inject into their daily struggle at keeping up the game of make-believe of youth.
Are people always “playing” when they’re in their “play-world”, or can they sit still, disengaged, yet within the mental constructs of that world? ie. When we have a dream of a certain life we desire, we engage in everyday rituals and games that makes us believe, or is aimed at making others believe that that lifestyle is true. What does it mean, when we stop the rituals? Do we break our own game? Is that where depression comes from? When our actions don’t fulfill the mental playspace?
I don’t think play has to proclaim a standstill to ordinary life with clear boundaries where play begins and ends. Playspace can be mental as well as physical, and both can run in parallel and can exist on their own. I can still “play” when I’m driving or going about some mundane task, even now, i’m retroactively posting blog entries, is a kind of mental game to achieve completion, or to discover something within my own mind that I haven’t encountered before.
The description of the tribesmen wearing masks making ghost noises in a ritual with women being fully aware of the play involved, participate willingly in make belief, just like the old women at the Elvis impersonator concert, they know he’s not Elvis, they know they’re not in their 20’s anymore, yet both parties engage in a willful submission to the play-world.
During every reading, I make a note of every word that I have to confirm the definition of online, so I’ll be making a little glossary at the end of each post to help them stick, or have them as some kind of “tag” for future references or starting points for thought.