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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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My favourite planet: The lonely wonders of Mirrormoon EP's opening world


If I'm going into space - if I really have to - I'm going alone, and I want to be fairly knocked about by the wonders up there from start to finish. I'm after a certain kind of wonder - something lonely, sparse, long forgotten. The kind of wonder you turn over in your head again and again when you're back on Earth. The kind of thing that stays with you because it refuses to fully resolve and tidy itself away.

MirrorMoon EP, by the Italian micro-studio Santa Ragione, captures what I'm after better than anything I've ever played before or since. If you ask me, it's just about the peak of what video games can do. You spawn into an elaborate and distinctly '70s-tinged cockpit - you basically move around the cosmos my manipulating an eight-track mixed with an old floppy drive - and you then bounce from one planet to another in a roomy but manageable universe, heading down to one surface and then the next and solving a peculiarly wordless kind of puzzle when you get there. I've made it sound like No Man's Sky a bit when I've tried to tell other people about it, but actually it's the complete opposite: everything you find here is hand-made and bespoke. It's curated, but with plenty of room left for the player to make it their own.

The very first planet you visit is the one I will never get over. Red earth rushing past beneath your feet, and a huge dark moon in the sky above. As you move, cathedrals of plasticky light sometimes rise from the ground and allow you to collect things, which slowly add up to a gadget you hold in your right hand where a lesser game would put a laser gun. One component and then another clips into place. There is an intricacy to this gadget, a sense of it being in the business of magical things, but with all of these things achieved by very practical means. And then eventually you think, why not, and you treat it like it is a gun after all and take aim at the moon above you, the dark move that fills the sky.

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This is one of the great moments in games, and I'd love for you to experience it for yourself. I gasped the first time I did it and there may have been tea spillage. Luckily, it's so good, I think I can tell you what happens without spoiling it for you. It will still have an impact when you go and try it for yourself.

Your gun can move the moon. First off it drags it away from where it's perfectly covering the sun, which means the world around you suddenly ignites into daytime. Then you realise that the moon above is a twin of the earth below you - it's a kind of map, on which you can see the locations of those cathedrals of plasticky light, on which you can see yourself, even, moving around, trying to make sense of it all, tracking in and out of shadow.

The name of the game has given it all away - but the name of the game was just a nice bit of poetry until now. This is the beauty of MirrorMoon EP to me: the mystery and sense of tricksy fun to everything. To be on the surface of a planet, so small and so powerless with your gun that is not a gun, and to be able, at the same time, to move the heavens around - and to what glorious purpose.

Play this game.