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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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What we've been playing

A few of the games that have us hooked at the moment.

2nd December 2022

Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: marshes, skymindedness, and the other Venice.

If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.

Paradise Marsh, Switch

Here's a trailer for Paradise Marsh.Watch on YouTube

I would love to live near a good marsh - just a place for me to knock around, squelching about, checking out the bugs and whatnot and feeling moody. Alas, not a marsh to be seen - which makes Paradise Marsh all the more welcome.

There is a game here, about collecting stuff and returning the stars to the sky, but now that's out of the way I feel more free to explore what's really great about this endlessly beautiful thing. I wander around the marsh, watching the day turn to night, the colours move through the spectrum, one area giving way to another.

I love games that are transporting - that take you somewhere else. And I think what I really love about them is that moment where you return. Paradise Marsh is great at this. I'm out there in the wilds, and then I shut the thing off and I'm startled to find myself back at my desk, my cat asleep next to me. Do give this game a go.

Chris Donlan

Pilotwings, Switch

Pilotwings 64 landed on the Switch a few weeks back, and I've discovered I'm a bit too nervous to go back to it. It was a favourite game back in the day - I don't know if I want to see if it holds up.

Instead, I've gone back to the SNES version of Pilotwings, also on the Switch. And it's been a proper journey. Suddenly I am back in the early 1990s, looking at screens of this game in Mean Machines and wondering how it's possible.

Not wondering how the graphics are possible, although there's still a thrill to everything the SNES does with Mode 7 in Pilotwings - the ground coming towards you, but also the title spinning out at you on the start screen. Wow. More I remember wondering how it was possible that someone would think to make a game about that - a dreamy game about skymindedness in all its forms, in an era where genres were already starting to ossify.

Pilotwings still has that sense of freedom. The freedom of the air, sure, but also the freedom to pick a new direction for games, to think afresh about what games could be. You know, maybe I will check in on Pilotwings 64 after all...

Chris Donlan

Skate City, iOS

Here's a trailer for Skate City.Watch on YouTube

How lovely to come back to Skate City, which has added Venice in my absence. Venice Beach, that is, the Venice I know best. Here it is, with its uneven sidewalks, its encroaching sand, its basketball courts and low sun-faded buildings. I play it and can almost smell the pot smoke tumbling on the summer breeze.

Free Skate is where this game lives, I think. It's a great skating game with an excellent, flexible, empowering trick system, but in Free Skate it becomes a series of places. Skate City's cities are long strips of paper unspooling, but magical paper, with a bit of depth, a bit of movement, and a wonderful boiling down of the things that make real places special and individual.

On holiday recently I read Geoff Dyer's book on Roger Federer, which is, of course, not really about Roger Federer. Part of it is about Venice, where Dyer now lives. I like to think as I skate past that he might be lurking out there on the sands, waiting for the tennis court to become free, plotting his next wayward piece of non-fiction.

Chris Donlan