Tag Archives: choice

A Whirlwind Heist

whirlwind-heist-control-roomDr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist is a weird little free game that’s a whole lot like the demo to The Stanley Parable, which was designed by the same person. No, not Davey Wreden, the creator of the original mod; his followup game is The Beginner’s Guide, a first-person experiment in form that explores the creative process as relates to video games, inspired in part by the impostor syndrome triggered by unexpected popularity. Heist is designed by William Pugh, who worked with Wreden on the standalone remastering of Stanley, and this followup is a first-person experiment in form that explores the creative process as relates to video games, inspired in part by the impostor syndrome triggered by unexpected popularity.

I need to write more about The Beginner’s Guide.

Pugh, who is probably responsible for Stanley‘s visual polish and environmental cleverness, uses the same premise here as that game’s demo, even beginning with the same joke of showing what initially seems to be a title screen but turns out to be a poster on the wall. A Whirlwind Heist follows the earlier game almost beat for beat: a narrator admits that they’re unable to let you play the game immediately, but offers you a behind-the-scenes tour, there’s jokes about video game concepts being real-world machines operated by people, and finally you never get to play the game that you were promised. They’re even roughly the same length.

The difference here is that you’re asked to be complicit in the inept “live” staging of an underfunded game, operating behind the scenes and not getting to do any of the cool stuff that the real player gets to do. The narrator is harried and unsure, unlike Stanley‘s pompous, commanding narrator. This is a funnier game than Stanley because it places you in the role of antagonist.

Most any action you choose to take contrary to instructions is met not with a tut-tut but with a shriek of frustration. The game sets up a joke for you and lets you knock it out of the park, instead of making you the butt of the laugh. The jokes in this game are like the “speak button” joke in Portal 2 or Face McShooty in Borderlands 2. You are the comic demon sent to make the narrator’s life hell, and they seem to deserve it.

I love to see games that give you a short experience, not asking for any big choices or presenting any challenge. Just giving you a little vignette of humor or pathos and then signing off. Gravity Bone, “Room of 1000 Snakes,” A Whirlwind Heist, and the like are not using the full potential of the medium; they don’t provide interactive storytelling and the joy of mastery over deep rules systems. But I love them so much.

Ludus Novus 023: Searching

In this episode of the Ludus Novus podcast, I discuss the search for the perfect game and the creation of universes.

When I search through my Steam library and I look for that game, that perfect game, the perfect experience that matches the mood that I am in right that moment, I’m playing a game with the entirety of my library: the entirety of games as a medium.

The music for this episode is “Progress” by mystified from the album Fractal Diner 3. It’s available under a ccby2.5 license.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Perils of a Long D&D Campaign

A map of the campaign setting I’ve been running a Dungeons and Dragons 4e game called “Urgo” for almost five years. All of my original five players have been replaced except one. It was always a high-magic, swashbuckling campaign featuring airships and demigods, and it’s escalated from there. The player characters are level 16 of 30 and we’ve reached a point in the game where it takes some effort to maintain the tone and even more effort to properly prepare. For some background, here’s the current situation:
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I was recently linked to “Convergence,” the first game by a group called Streetlight Studios. It’s a Flash game about growing up and making choices; it could be described as a mix of “Passage,” “Pathways,” and “How to Raise a Dragon,” which is a pretty amazing combination.

The game asks you to follow a character from infancy to old age, making choices along the way. Infancy makes you crawl around your house as a baby getting toys before your sibling, in an odd exploration platformy way. Adulthood has you balancing love and work; I’m glad that they didn’t make this drag on too long. Shades of “Every Day the Same Dream” here. Old age, at least in the ending I got, was more of a little vignette to cap off the choices made in the rest of the game.

Looking up at my description, this game sounds like a mixing-together of various art games, and it’s definitely inspired by the work others have done before, but the polish and design in “Convergence” makes it feel fresh. Definitely something to check out for fans of blocky pixel games about life and choices.

Saving Professor Booster: Choice and Agency in Cave Story

Cave Story is a classic of the indie games movement. It single-handedly showed many people that a single developer could make a game with dated graphics that was as good as AAA commercial games. This was already clear to some, but Cave Story‘s prominence means that it has heavily inspired much of the work done by the modern indie games culture. There are a lot of things that Cave Story does well; its handling of mood and narrative structure are great, as well as its balancing of humor and pathos. One thing it does badly at, however, is providing the player with effective choice and agency.
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“Narthex” Released

I’ve finished up a little game that’s partially a test for a conversation engine I cooked up. It’s called “Narthex.”

After a long journey, you will reach the Narthex, the waiting place before the oracle. There you must wait until your time. Then you will be given the answer to a single question. This game has two endings. The second is not worth getting.

Play “Narthex” at Ludus Novus.

Never According to Plan

The players in a tabletop roleplaying game never do what you expect them to.

Case in point: I’ve just started up a campaign of Promethean. It opens with the player characters being drawn to a mysterious, sprawling house, where they discover an otherworldly being called a qashmal who dispenses a cryptic riddle.

This is the second time I’ve run the beginning of this campaign with different players each time. The first group did what I expected: they searched the building top to bottom for clues, then proceeded to follow up on the riddle. This latest group, however, decided against that.
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Ludus Novus 013: Over the Next Hill

In this podcast, I talk about exploration games. Exploration games, as I categorize them, are games with an open world that offer an array of paths at any one time. They’re awesome because they appeal to players’ curiosity and completionism, and they help deal with player frustration.


The music for this episode is “Space Doggity” by Jonathan Coulton, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.