Listen: there is a classic bit of business in Pac-Man that occurs whenever you go through the wraparound tunnel that takes you from one side of the screen to the other. What you get is a pause. Pac-Man takes a little longer to go through the tunnel than you expect him to, so you can't help but imagine that there's a bit of the tunnel that you can't actually see. (The novel Lucky Wander Boy, by D. B. Weiss, riffs brilliantly on this point.) Video games don't make enough of this kind of thing, but Burnout did. Burnout, from Burnout 3 onwards, knew just what to do with a pause.
The thing with feathers.
There's a wonderful dungeon in Twilight Princess which is nothing like a dungeon really. It's like staying at someone's house - an old and very comfortable house, up high in the mountains, nestled in the snow. My memory of this place is quite vague by this point. I think it might have been where I picked up the ball and chain, and I don't recall it being unnaturally devious or punishing as Zelda dungeons go. What I really remember, though, is that there were friendly, people-ish things bustling about as I explored, and there was soup on the boil.
The crucial difference between Rolando, which has just been re-released on the App Store, and LocoRoco, a game that Rolando is frequently confused with, is one of texture. LocoRoco is about squishy things. The Rolandos, meanwhile, are rigid. I imagine them as little balls of tough rubber, rolling around the game's jaunty marble mazes with a bit of weight to them as well as a bit of bounce.
The world is under threat in plenty of video games. In Hob, the world is broken, a vast mechanism that has been gummed up and misaligned. Your job is to save it by fixing it, wielding a sword that looks like a key and tinkering with locks and escapements and cogs and gears, realigning, repositioning, sliding crucial pieces back into place.
The thing I like the most about Toca Boca video games, I think, is that they are so confident in what they're doing. This shows itself in the way they present their objectives. There is something obvious and appealing to do, but no punishment for doing it wrong, and no clear point at which the thing you're doing is completed so the whole thing has to end.
Dangerous Driving is Burnout, but what kind of Burnout is it? This question shouldn't be easy to answer because, like Tetris, Burnout is one of those games that was always, secretly, reworking itself. Burnout 3 introduced takedowns, for example, the ability to strike a rival once you had crashed, steering your own wreckage through the thick, sparking air for fun and profit. Burnout 4 took that idea and turned it into traffic-checking, which meant that any cars you hit that were travelling the same way as you would suddenly begin to bounce down the road, taking out anything and everything in their path. And then Paradise took the whole thing open-world.
There's a moment in an oldish film - I think it's Mad Dog and Glory but I wouldn't bet on it - where a guy is taking a photo of a New York street in the dead of night and a deer turns up. I can't remember the guy's reaction - I think it's De Niro but I wouldn't bet on it - and I can't remember how it fits into the plot. Yet I remember, even as it happened, realising that it was too much, too good, too brilliant and clear and luxurious a moment for the rest of the film to ever recover from. It was a birthday cake dropped in the footwell of a car. A city street at night and here's this deer, this ghost of the wild. There's an unforced surrealism to it, the same surrealism I felt a few years back bussing through Hove at midday on a Sunday - it is always Sunday in Hove - when I spotted a fox standing insouciantly outside a mobile phone shop as if pondering a trip to Nero's.
I've misplaced my DVD of Dark City, so I can't get the wording right for this, but I don't think the wording is that important anyway. The important thing is that on the DVD there's a commentary - remember those? - not with the director Alex Proyas, but with the critic and writer Roger Ebert, who loves the movie and has an awful lot of natty things to say about it.
Hello! Sekiro: Shadow Dies Twice is here, and it turns out it's a classic. So with Matt Reynolds away, I've gathered some friends to pick through From Software's latest masterpiece.
In games, as in the fridge, there is cheese and there is cheese. I had a chance to reflect on this over the last few days. Partly because my daughter has finally found a video game she really loves, and partly because I have been struggling to make progress in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
This piece contains spoilers for Sea of Thieves.
If this is mud that's falling from the cavern above, having pooled in divots and then lapped and slopped over the edges, then why does it settle on top of the water in this beautiful subterranean lake? And why is that guy with flames for hands and feet and flames for a head walking towards me?
I guess that, underneath it all, Baba is You is a Sokoban game, one of those precise spatial challengers which are all about pushing blocks around and trying to get them into the right places. Corners and the edges of a room are the great enemies in Sokoban games, because you can only push the pieces at your disposal - cover up all the useful pushing sides and you're toast.
It was the laundry that got me. A neat little line strung between gantries, and pegged upon it a cap, a nice pair of space-trousers, and underpants with, of course, a heart pattern. Cargo Commander is a game that gives quite a bit of real estate over to camera control. You can use a bumper to pull way, way back - so far out your character becomes a dot and the procedural 2D mazes he runs through become unreadable. But you can also use the other bumper to zoom in, far closer than is practical. And when you zoom in you see a world of careful details: the clothes line with its laundry, paper spooling endlessly from a printer, a glitchy animated hammer working away on a laptop that's sat on the game's upgrade bench.
Hello! Welcome to the second installment of our new semi-regular series in which we'll be looking at world-building, the art of creating interesting settings, and, where possible, talking to the people who do this stuff for a living.
There are two kinds of simple, I think. There's so simple that anybody can do it, and then there's so simple that nobody else will be able to do it ever again.
Hello! Welcome to a new semi-regular series (we're aiming to do one a month but who knows right?) in which we'll be looking at world-building, the art of creating interesting settings, and talking to the people who do this stuff for a living.
Halfway through playing WarGroove, which is secretly a pretty odd game, a thought occurred to me which turned out, the more I considered it, to be a pretty odd thought. What if this game isn't made by Chucklefish as the title screen suggests, the thought began. What if it isn't a forensic attempt at reconstructing an Intelligent Systems turn-based tactics game? What if it actually is an Intelligent Systems game, a new one, and this whole Chucklefish smokescreen is some grand social experiment, like that psych study that pretended to be measuring the efficacy of electric shocks on memory or ESP ability or whatever, but was really exploring people's willingness to administer electric shocks to strangers in the first place?
In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself faced with a choice: eat the banana or eat the donut? The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this choice was trickier than it initially seemed. The banana would heal me for seven per cent of my health. The donut would raise my HP cap by seven. To be healthier now, or to potentially be healthier than ever in the future?
Last year, I read two really wonderful books about mazes: Follow this Thread by Henry Eliot, and Red Thread: On Mazes and Labyrinths, by Charlotte Higgins. I can't stop thinking about them. Eliot is the creative editor at Penguin Classics (if that makes it sound like the best job in the world is already taken, I regret to inform you that I think it might be), while Higgins is the chief culture writer for the Guardian (oh dear, the other best job in the world has been filled too). As you might expect from the titles, both books use the tale of Theseus and Ariadne as a means of launching beautifully constructed tours through the overlapping worlds of art and literature and mythology and human chaos.
Home is a children's book by the writer and illustrator Carson Ellis. It's concerned, as you might expect, with all the sorts of places that people might find to live.
Before I went home for Christmas last year, I had two firm ideas about Below based on, admittedly, only about ten hours of playing it. The first idea was that the game was a bit of a well-intentioned botch. The second was that, combat and exploration aside, what Below was really concerned with was fostering the slow realisation in its players that game design itself is probably one big roguelike.
Years ago I worked at a cinema with this fellow usher called Jess. Jess was amazing and wise and she worked the popcorn stand, and she worked it in a very particular way. She spent hours and hours there every day, ignoring customers and rooting through the depths of the popcorn, head bowed, a scowl of deepest concentration on her face. It was always the sweet popcorn that held her attention, and rightly so. What she was looking for was the rare, one-in-a-million piece of popcorn that had far more than its fair share of sugar on it. Most popcorn has a sort of matte, papery surface, doesn't it? But these special, over-sugared pieces looked like they had been varnished. They crunched in a different way between your teeth and there was something syrupy to them as they exploded with gritty sugar in your mouth.
I spent all of yesterday morning and a fair amount of early afternoon refreshing the App Store and waiting for Brawl Stars to drop. Brawl Stars is the latest game from Supercell, the Clash Royale developer, and I've been excited about it for a while. Nobody does three minutes of multiplayer fun better than Supercell, if you ask me, and there's a peculiar kind of modest lavishness - I know that's not possible - to the way the team puts games together. What do I mean if "modest lavishness" is a bust? I mean that the features of their games are simple to get your head around - they seem so simple initially that you can't imagine much fun coming from them. But they're delivered with an astonishing attention to the way things feel, right down to the menus - and the underlying depth, as it slowly reveals itself, is wonderfully dizzying.
Back when I was eleven, Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap contained a lot of firsts for me. It was the first game I ever played on a console. It was, as far as I can remember, the first game I played in which you pressed up to go through a door. Most importantly, it was the first game that made me feel wonderfully lost in the sheer breadth and richness of the world that it created.