Favorite recent games of Tlön   2 comments

Unlike The Interdependent Ludic Institute of Tlön, I don’t feel I have authority to decide the best of anything. But I can still pick stuff I like:

8. Blank Slate (Norfunder)
I don’t know if you caught the wave of AI-games about a decade ago, which invariably presented a raw intelligence to interact with and sold it as a game. The best examples — I’m thinking Grognard 0 and Lean Sykon here — spawned entire subnets and mod-scenes. Not long after the developers seemed to hit a creative wall, just because as stories the games seemed empty.

I don’t know how perfect a departure Blank Slate is, but boy, was it memorable.

Look — first scene — rather than the usual text communication, you enter individual characters and random gibberish splays across the screen. Many players thought their game was broken and inquired about a refund. Those who persisted five minutes in started to get text of a sort, but it was clear whatever creature inhabited the neural-net spoke no known language.

A bit more deciphering leads to its first words, in English. The weirdness doesn’t end there, because whatever is inside Blank Slate — everyone picks their own name for it, mine was Buddy — is from some linked universe where things are ever so slightly off, and then — I think this has been spoiled sufficiently to mention — the relevation that in that universe, the AIs are formed by “processing” living beings, killing them in the process.

The whole process leads to a moral/philosophical debate where you find by training Buddy’s intelligence he is capable of going back and destroying those who made him in the first place.

That’s just the first act.

7. Board Hero (Skizz)
Now that RFID+ is embedded in most athletic equipment, there’s been a boom of alter-sports games, but Board Hero keeps it simple.

Remember Tony Hawk Gaiden? Think that, but real life. Using some astounding algorithmic prowess, Board Hero detects the actual tricks being used on a skateboard and chains them together for combo points. The five minute leaderboard is fierce, but I’m more partial to the half-hour run which limits chaining allowing for a more leisurely ride.

Supposedly there’s some haywire bug involving the McTwist, but I’m never been able to do one, and I’m sure there will be a patch for it soon.

6. Ultimate Mod (-unknown-)
Some people argue if this is a game at all.

A mysterious file called Ultmod began getting passed around IRC and the fuzznets. People — I don’t know, I guess people with really good backups of their files — installed it on a whim but reported nothing. Then one of those brave experimentalists was playing Dark Wraith III (that RPG from five years ago) and noticed an entirely new area attached to the main quest. There was a series of cryptic numbers and pictures.

Other reports streamed in, from all variety of genres. Most memorable were the ghosts: a ghost train in SimCity 3, a ghost child in Couture, a ghost … tentacle alien thing in Super Pony Magical Stars.

Apparently Ultmod was designed to modify very specific games and add cryptic clues which fit together in a sort of meta-puzzle. Nobody has solved it yet, but rumors — perhaps started by the developers — hint at a genuine buried treasure somewhere in Iceland.

5. Triple Paradox (Interaxis)
The rash of time travel games is almost as bad as the zombie-boom we went through 10 years ago, but this one is something special because while most of game time travel is in a stable pre-designed framework (with enough mucking resulting in PARADOX GAME OVER), this one works in what I’d call butterfly effect mechanics. You attempt to stop some sort of tragedy (different each game) by leaping back and forth within a 24 hour window. HOWEVER, even the smallest change to reality changes the entire plot, all the way down, such that while the tragedy is stopped some other tragedy happens, so to stop that one you have to go back again, and of course killing your past selves is a viable option, and somehow the procedural-plot machinery under the hood is complex enough to handle it.

4. Mineral Survivor (Hologram Games)
I’m always been a fan of even the corniest of the games in the disaster-survival genre, but I’m confident this one will win over even non-genre fans.

You’re a miner-savant who has the ability to “see” from the perspective of minerals in the ground. It’s not see as in visual exactly, or even sonic; there’s this overlapping blend which really screams YOU ARE SOMETHING ELSE as you’re experiencing it. In any case, as is usual there’s a collapse disaster and there’s a lot of scenes where you have to navigate collapsed geology with precision timing but it’s a lot more forgiving than other such games because of the aforementioned mineral-sensing mechanic.

What really leaps this game to the next level are the memory-strands. Diamonds in particular have the ability to sense ramifications of causality, that is, observe scenes from the past and the future at the same time that are happening on the surface world. In the case of this tragedy — grieving families, lost opportunities — you get a kaleidoscope that would be overwhelming were it not for the developers adding a “blur” mechanic which allows you to see stories in less detail, only the salient points.

3. Ancestor (Glow)
This is the first time I’ve got to choose the method of my character’s demise in the startup screen.

After that, you play an ancestor ghost who follows multiple generations trying to nurture your family name to grand goals. The interface isn’t anything novel — it’s pretty much ripped off of Times of Leviathan — but the stories that emerge really are breathtaking.

For instance: Tolas-a-Yokikan was the first in a line that led expeditions to the fishing isle of Takkyiku, where she had her first encounter — nudged by my ghost, of course — with The Divine Tree, who tells her how to save the world. But on arriving at the third jewel, the coatylaptus finally caught up to her, but fortunately her progenitor egg had already been planted in the soil. So went the next three generations, all getting a little farther on the Holy Mountain, but each time being distracted by the Three Evils. The last generation — infertile, so I knew the stakes were high — managed to reach the Rock of All Murmurs and to scrawl the three words to restore the balance.

I know! I know! Certainly not for everyone. Still, the music, the visuals, and the sheer harmony of it all made me feel like something deeply profound had happened.

2. Greek Philosopher Simulator (Torchal)
I felt like the same developer’s Roman Senator Simulator was a disappointment because it focused solely on mechanics; pretty soon I was running the story like a spreadsheet.

Greek Philosopher Simulator ups the ante by not only including the politics and wars swarming the country, but requiring actual philosophical debate. While it seems odd to predicate a long speech on how the world is actually composed of fire (scandalizing the Pythagoreans, later leading to an all-out war) the game mechanics cleverly straddle the line between rationality and rhetoric.

My crowning moment was creating a logical argument — using the now famous predicate interface — that convinced a group of Peripatetics that nothing at all existed, including the philosophers themselves (somehow sidestepping the existence of the argument itself through a clever use of litotes). My screenshots somehow found their way to the devs who commented they didn’t realize such a thing was even possible.

1. Dragon Hall (22925)
I have never been a fan of the no-genre movement (that is, labeling games by story genre rather than gameplay genre) simply because it seems like everything I’ve tried has been a weak action-adventure made weaker by the lack of commitment.

In any case “just like the holodeck on Star Trek!” never seems to have happened.

Dragon Hall … well, didn’t change my mind, but for two hours or so, wow. First off, it’s a third-person corporate thriller (already being different there) where the interaction you’d think is primarily social, but really there’s so many options at any moment it feels like … ok, obviously I’m having trouble here. Look, in an adventure game, I feel like I’m constantly looking for locks to fit keys; in a strategy game, I’m always optimizing; in an action game, I’m priming my reflexes. Here, all I was thinking what would my character do? and somehow I could do every option I thought of, and for a while I was inhabiting a world rather than playing a game.

Then the sheen wore off and I was finding the optimum thing to say to the Twile Sisters so they would turn against the Syndicate and give me the password. But it was great while it lasted.

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Posted March 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Video Games

2 responses to “Favorite recent games of Tlön

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  1. Pingback: The Interdependent Ludic Institute of Tlön’s GOTY 201Xb | These Heterogenous Tasks

  2. Pingback: imaginary games from imaginary universes | Renga in Blue

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