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How to Run Discworld Noir

Discworld NoirSince the welcome defeat of Windows 98, my first game as lead designer and writer – Discworld Noir – has been virtually impossible to run. Until now! Friend of ihobo, Adam Sirrelle, has this video and text description of how to cajole the game into running. Hope it's helpful!

Step-by-step Instructions

Step 1: Install the Full installation of the game to a folder on the C: drive.

FreebirthOne says to copy the contents of Folder CD3 to CD1, but I found there were no files in there on my version, so I ignored this

Download the fix file and the no cd, if you want that, from this site: http://m0005.gamecopyworld.com/games/pc_discworld_noir.shtml

Replace the original TIN_DXD.EXE file with the fixed exe from the download, and bring the no cd patch across to the noir folder and run it.

Right click the new TIN_DXD.EXE, select "Properties" and go to the "Compatibility" tab, the check "Run this program as administrator".

Step 2: Download winexp from http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/winexp.html and extract it somewhere

This helps to play in a fake fullscreen as most of the crashes happen due to the game being in fullscreen mode.

Step 3: I haven't done this as the cursor doesn't bother me that much, but it is a good idea as the mouse cursor will move at a different speed to the game cursor due to the resolution size not being exact.

  • download the "tinycursors" cursor from http://www.rdpslides.com/tinycursors.zip and extract the "nothing.cur" somewhere
  • open the "mouse"applet in the ctrol panel and navigate to the pointers tab
  • here click on "Browse" on the lower right, navigate to the folder you extracted the nothing.cur to, and double-click on it
  • now click on "save as" in the upper left and give it a good name, like "hidden" or so

…from now on you always can choose this theme if you want a invisible cursor.

PLAYING

Step 1: Now we have to set up the monitor. This may seem a little strange, but follow it through.

This may be better if you have two monitors then you can set one up for this, else I'd recommend taking all unnecessary items off your desktop as we'll be changing the resolution and if you have a lot of desktop items they'll all get smushed together.

Right click on the desktop and choose "Screen Resolution". Change whichever monitor you'll be playing on to the lowest screen resolution (closest to discworld noir's preference). Mine is 800 x 600.

If you have more than one monitor, make this your main monitor – this is so that the game will boot up on this screen.

Then click on "Advanced Settings" and the "Monitor" tab. In the bottom left you'll see the "Colors" tab, change this to 16bit.

Note, you'll have to change the bit rate every time you change the resolution of the monitor as it will default back to 32bit.

Changing the resolution to 16bit will make the game boot up with its standard colours. If it appear in a washed out purple it means its still opening in 32bit. If that's the case makes sure 'all' your monitors are set to 16bit.

Step 2: Start Discworld Noir and press Alt + Enter to enter windowed mode, this'll stop it crashing after the intro cutscene.

IMPORTANT, the only button that works on the title screen in "New Game". press either of the other two and it will crash. When it comes to loading games later on press F1 and load from there.

Step3:

  • Start winexp from the folder you extracted it above
  • Select the "Discworld Noir" entry from the list
  • In the "Style"-Tab deselect "WS_BORDER" and "WS_DLGFRAME"

Then do the method suggested below or in the "Size and Position" Tab click "set to Topmost" to bring the screen infront of the start bar and check "Maximized" in "Window State".

  • In the "Size and Position" Tab, set "Left" and "Top" to zero as well as the width and height to your current screen resolution

Now you should have a window with the game running in it, fullscreen and without borders, just like a real "fullscreen".

Step 4 (Optional):

  • open the "Mouse" applet like above, choose the "Hidden" theme and apply it

Now you got rid of the really anoying Desktop mouse, and can enjoy the ingame one

DEBUGGING

This is important!

An issue I had after this was that the game wouldn't load any save files, it might not be the case for everyone but is good to check!

After you get past the intro press F1 and save the game, then try and load it. If it works with no issue great! Save frequently as i had it crash once after the Milka, i think its the transition between cinematic and gameplay that does it.

If it does crash and give you an odd error message this is what i did, i'm not exactly sure how it helped, but it runs now.

Step 1: Download this patch by the "Collector" http://sierrahelp.com/download.php?file=Files/NonSierra/DWNPatch.exe

Move it to the Discworld Noir folder and run it. If it gives you an option between fullscreen and windowed choose windowed.

Try and run the game and at the menu press F1 to load a game.

If it crashes try step 2

Step 2 (Really flailing around now!): insert disc 3 and copy the contents into the disc 1 folder on C:

Try and run the game and at the menu press F1 to load a game.

If it crashes try step 3

Step 3:

Start a new game skip through the intro with Esc and save in the office.

Go to the map and save a different file here

Go to the milka and save over the first

Try loading the second save.

If this crashes double double check that all your monitors are set to 16bit and try step 3 again saving and resaving until the load works.

Hopefully you shouldn't get this issue, but if you do this is how mine started working.

Please find my reference links below and play it again Sam...

REFERENCE LINKS

http://www.gamefaqs.com/boards/576124-discworld-noir/61200298

http://archive.adventuregamers.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22758

http://m0005.gamecopyworld.com/games/pc_discworld_noir.shtml

http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/winexp.html


Looming

Looming Title Page (Complete) I have little patience for exploration mediated by puzzles, but Gregory Weir’s 2010 Looming offers a minimal, elegant space that positively hums with charming meditations on the different meanings of existence we all render from experience.

More than anything else I’ve yet seen in games thus far, Looming explores the way that our different approaches to understanding existence (our metaphysics, or as I would say, our mythology) lead us to conclusions that feel absolutely valid, but are really a consequence of our specific viewpoint on the world. The two unseen races of the Lorem and the Seecha, reveal their unique culture via the time-honoured game technique of narrative collectibles, but the game forgoes ad hoc diary entries in favour of an artefactual approach, akin to archaeology. What’s more, Gregory eschews the overly used post-apocalyptic context and chooses instead a highly unique post-exodus backstory, revealing the restraint lacking among the ‘Big Media’.

Looming Influences 

Upon completion, players are also offered some welcome insights into the game’s creative process and, as shown in the image above, the creator expressly cites the games that influenced its creation: Myst and Yume Nikki. It is something I always strive to do in my own games, but it is actually quite rare for developers to place their work into a clear lineage like this.

For anyone looking for a game of nearly pure exploration, Looming is definitely worth the handful of hours it will take to play. I recommend planning for short, roughly half hour, sessions, spaced out over many days to get the full effect. There are a few puzzles – in particular, working out how you can tell if you’ve made any progress, which is never made explicit – but for the most part this is a game that invites you to take many short journeys into its windswept-plain, until it becomes utterly familiar to you. The elegance of both the design, and its classic monochrome visual aesthetic, make Looming stand out from the faceless crowd of personal game projects that reiterate the violence of mainstream commercial game development.

With thanks to Orihaus and ElectronDance for drawing attention to this particular game. Gregory Weir's work can be found via his blog ludusnovus.net.


What is a 'game expert'?

Over at Game Intellectualism, DapperAnarchist/Joseph writes a short blog letter asking: what does it take to be a ‘game expert’:

I’m pretty sure you know that the original Republic of Letters was made up of men (yeah, mostly men) with expertise in some subject - philosophy, law, natural science, history, whatever. This Republic of Bloggers is made up of… who? Experts in games? What then is an expert in games? … You’re clearly an expert, if any such thing exists. Do you feel like one? How do you think you became one? And do you think there are necessary things to be an expert?

I’ll be replying shortly, I’m sure other replies would also be welcome!


Games Are Not Shoes

Game Shoes Earlier this week, Nicholas Lovell argued that the consequence of Steam allowing developers to set their own pricing will be the price of PC games heading for zero, as free-to-play economics effectively vanquish the opposition through market competition. His argument draws against classical economics, which he illustrates via an example with shoes. But missing from Nicholas' argument is the elephant in the room: games are not shoes.

As ever, I can't fault Nicholas' understanding of how free-to-play works or the implications of internet distribution as a disruptive technology. His latest book is built on analysis of these phenomena, and his arguments should be taken seriously. However, my latest book, Chaos Ethics, gives me a very different perspective, since my interest recently has been imagination and its implications for games, art, science, and ethics. In this particular case, looking at moral philosophy makes me very wary of thought experiments with seemingly innocent stipulations. As Allen Wood points out in the context of ethics, stipulations within thought experiments skew the conclusions in ways that are never as innocent as they first seem, leading us to conclusions that depend upon the stipulations as much as they do the thought experiment.

In this case, Nicholas' thought experiment is the 'marginal cost argument', which he constructs upon the example of pricing in the case of competing shoe factories. Once this competition begins (the thought experiment states) the price of shoes stabilise at the marginal cost, which is the cost to make each extra pair of shoes after the first. Nicholas then claims that since the marginal cost in digital distribution tends to zero (because digital copying is without significant cost), the price of digitally distributed games must also tend to zero. He notes that this "excludes the impact of marketing; it assumes that one pair of shoes is as good as another" - and this is the stipulation that actually undermines the thought experiment. Because as simple footwear, one shoe is indeed as good as another. But as entertainment, one game is never as good as another.

Before drawing this point out further I want to examine the framework that Nicholas' argument depends upon, namely that free-to-play is a new business model that is disruptive because digital distribution is a disruptive technology. The later point is spot on, but the former point is misleading. To see this, we can look at free-to-play not as a new business model but as the latest form of a very old game pricing strategy, variable pricing. The current clash between microtransaction-style variable pricing for games and retail-style fixed pricing for games is almost as old as the industry itself!

In the 1980s, the videogame market also had competition between fixed pricing - boxed games for consoles and home computers - and variable pricing - at that time, arcade coin drops. Arcade games were the original microtransaction games, making money one quarter at a time. Initially, pricing was variable simply because players didn't know how often they'd play an arcade game, but in 1985 Atari introduced the first disruptive pricing strategy for videogames with Gauntlet. Previously, one play cost you a quarter (or ten pence here in the UK) but Gauntlet let players decide how much to pay - by letting them have more health the more they paid. There were enough health pick ups in the game for one of its four players to play for free, but the others had to keep putting coins in the slot to keep up. One (nearly) free player was subsidized by up to three others pumping in coins. Today, it's more like 90% of players being subsidized by 10% ‘whales’, but the situations are still broadly analogous.

Now notice here how little marginal cost had to do with the economics of arcade games. That's because the purchase of the product (the arcade game) and the revenue generated (the coin drops) were actually disconnected by the nature of the business model. By the 1990s, the arcade boom lost ground because home consoles were able to offer better value in fixed pricing when compared to coin ops. Additionally - and crucially - the games designed to be played at home could offer entirely new game design concepts because unlike arcade games they didn't need to worry about how long the game would last, over-the-shoulder appeal, and other factors that were crucial in the design of arcade games.

The aesthetics of play that were possible on the home consoles turned out to have huge appeal, allowing for bigger, more explorable game worlds, deeper and longer narrative elements, and no requirement to queue for popular cabinets. The arcades survived by recognising what it was that they could do that home console games couldn't easily do - offer specialist hardware. Nowadays (outside of Japan, at least), arcade games are dominated by plastic guns, steering wheels, and dance pads, because arcade owners are better placed to buy these expensive pieces of kit than home players, who generally object to unnecessary extra hardware costs (such as, dare I say, Kinnect).

Despite how it might seem, similar factors still apply today because the desirability of a game is not simply a factor of price-of-entry. What a AAA fixed price game can deliver to players is (potentially, at least) a substantially deeper game experience than is possible in free-to-play, where getting a minimum viable product to market is a near-requirement, preventing the inclusion of more advanced features of the game world. If something like Grand Theft Auto IV or Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag had been financed on a free-to-play model, they would have been impossible – only the economics of fixed price premium console games justifies the astronomical development budgets. This isn’t even an exceptional case: look at cinema. Digital distribution has reduced the marginal cost in the film industry in just the same way as it has in games, but people still go to the movies and pay a fixed price to do so. This is because blockbuster movies – just like blockbuster games – are made on a high budget in order to ensure that cachet attaches to the resulting brand.

I said before that games are not shoes, in that if you just want to put something on your feet any shoe would do (the stipulation Nicholas' thought experiment crucially depends upon). But in fact, in a very real sense, games are like shoes. Despite the availability of very cheap footwear, Nike enjoys a 40% market share in the United States. Branded, well-made, well-marketed shoes do not trend towards marginal cost. In the same way, branded, well-designed, well-marketed games will not trend towards marginal cost, even on PC. It's just that such games will now face strong competition from microtransaction-funded games, in what might be called the Revenge of the Arcade.

Now in the race to not leave money on the table, the companies with a stake in console gaming could screw themselves over by making all their games offer aesthetics of play along similar lines to free-to-play games. That is a risk. But as long as publishers can maintain premium brands on console - such as Assassin's Creed, Grand Theft Auto, The Legend of Zelda,and Call of Duty - the pricing on PC will not trend towards zero, just as cinema ticket prices have not trended to zero. Rather, there will be a split between the market for variable priced games and the market for (largely) fixed priced games, with most players playing games in both styles. In this respect, what's new is only the possibility of making the lowest price of entry zero - which does follow from digital distribution, along the essential lines traced by the marginal cost argument.

One final point should be made: games are also not shoes because there is no such thing as an indie shoe. Almost all shoes are industrially produced, but some games are made by dedicated hobbyists who can risk commercial failure in the pursuit of their own aesthetic values for play. Since free-to-play - like the arcade before it – significantly affects the design of play there is substantial room in the market for games in indie niches at fixed price. Such games are not subject to classical economics because, like other artworks, their value depends in part upon their individual uniqueness. But unlike other artworks digital distribution means that when the wind is right, a small number of indie game titles can hit very big indeed. Just look at Minecraft. This kind of situation is never the case in a market that the marginal cost argument will hold for. Money affects design - it always did, as the arcades demonstrate. But not everyone is in it for the money, and those that aren’t can still hit it big when they get lucky. And that factor of luck, of the right idea at the right time, is something that classical economics has never been able to model.

Cross-posted from Gamesbrief.


Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms Announced

hk_s_repre_05 So why put up the Kult: Heretic Kingdoms post-mortem now, nine years after the game? Well it gives me great pleasure to announce that after an epic quest in the world of games publishing, a sequel is finally arriving! The new game, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms, will be released later this year as confirmed today by a press release by the publisher bitComposer.

The new game is developed by Games Farm (the new face of the original game’s development team) with game design, narrative design, and dialogue scripts by International Hobo. The Shadows website for the game is already up, and includes a teaser trailer for the game – check it out!


Games, Guns, and Gender

An open letter to Sheri Graner-Ray at FEM IRL as part of the Republic of Bloggers. Other replies welcome!

Alpha Protocol Dear Sheri,

For about a decade there, we were running into each other once or twice a year, in California for GDC (where we both hosted events for the IGDA), and sometimes in your neck of the woods for the equivalent event in Austin. Life inevitably moves on, and in my transition to father I am not quite the International Hobo I once was, even though I still consult under the brand of the company I founded. There are so many great people I miss from the US conference circuit that it would be dangerous to start listing them lest this entire letter was just a who’s-who of wondrous games industry folk, but I really miss not getting to see you and my “Jazz man” Joe Saulter at GDC, and I learned so much about the social problems of representation in games from your respective round tables – fixtures of my GDC schedules every year I went.

Women and the Games Industry

I'm writing in part to ask: has the situation improved for women in the games industry, or games as a hobby? I have not really seen much sign of progress in employment terms... My first boss, Angela Sutherland at Perfect Entertainment, is still the only female executive I've worked with, although Nicole Lazzaro introduced me to a few at Casual Connect in Seattle a few years back. If there are more women going into games as a career, it is still a long, long way from parity, and there seems to be a definite problem transitioning from ‘the production line’ to the boardroom.

But then, on the other side of the coin, I feel like the ‘Casual revolution’ spearheaded by companies like PopCap, and the ‘social games’ gold rush that followed, have at least put pay to the lie that “women don't play games”. Yet this gain seems to come at an odd cost, since the design-by-metrics approach that undergirds the business model of the so-called social games is entirely gender-blind, seeing women as simply another source of revenue. Better, perhaps, than naively believing women will not spend money on games, but hardly likely to encourage the creative exploration of the new visions that female developers might bring to the table. Do you have any thoughts on this?

The Truly Social Games

Of course, social games do not really foster community, they are viral rather than communal in nature, but our industry does have a genuinely social genre in the form of the MUD and its descendant, the MMO. I loved my time in the two MUDs I played at university, the Star Trek-themed TrekMUSE and Manchester University's own UglyMUG. In the former, which was very supportive of role-players, I was a Romulan ambassador who, after a romantic liaison embroiled her in scandal, retired to a shrine where I officiated over weddings. UglyMUG, which still runs today, was less of a role-player's world but was always extremely social, and changed the course of my life. I treasure my memories of both games.

You, I know, have maintained a relationship with the truly social games and still to this day play City of Heroes avidly. I saw it demoed at E3 many years hence and knew I wouldn't be able to play it – the ‘RPG’ in ‘MMORPG’ ironically excludes me, and not because I don't like RPGs – on the contrary, I like them a little too much! They bring out my obsessive tendencies, and my wife has sensibly limited me to playing just one computer RPG a year. An MMORPG with its indefinite play length would be very dangerous for me to play.

I'm curious, then, about your experiences of community on City of Heroes. I think you were a MUD player back in the day (way to make us both sound old, right?) – do the new games manage to sustain the tight community and opportunities for role-play that the MUDs and MUSEs excelled at, or did they all fall down the hole of the LP MUD and DikuMUD, overjustifying their play with compelling reward structures? Can you say of your fellow heroes that they are friends, or merely that you play together?

Guns, Guns, Guns

For myself, I seem to have been cursed with having to play gun games. I say ‘have to’, but what I mean is that my regular weekly game with friends (which sometimes plays boardgames, and sometimes plays online) has devolved into multiplayer co-op gun games like Counter-Strike and Payday out of a certain necessary convenience they provide. There are limited opportunities for obsessive reward structure pursuit, and the short play time of each round makes for easy stopping at the end of the night. I note that my brother-in-law, who shares my obsessive response to cRPGs and thus avoids them, has ended up playing similar games with his regular gaming group.

What slightly troubles me about this is how inured to gunplay it has made me. When my wife and I went to the US embassy in London to get my residency papers sorted out (for the time I was living in Knoxville and working with a number of US clients), I was disturbed to see the security staff armed with firearms. When we came back a few years later to get my son’s dual citizenry and US passport, I calmly noted “they're packing MP5s”. This was a direct response to years of playing Counter-Strike which, like it or not, has changed my relationship with guns.

I would still rather play a fantasy game or even a superhero game like your preferred MMO, but no-one is making these in the readily-playable forms that can slot into the odd night here or there. Instead, players like me are becoming accustomed to firearms in the same way we are all now so used to living with cars that we can't even acknowledge the deaths they cause without invoking some kind of dismissive excuse. It's a topic I dig into a little in my next book, Chaos Ethics, and it does trouble me: we can’t seem to look our technology squarely in the robotic eyes.

As a game designer, I can scarcely turn my back on technology at this point, but I worry about the representation of violence in videogames (and the tacit valorisation of gun violence) as much as I worry about the representation of women (or lack thereof). Although my Tennessee born and bred father-in-law has given me a much greater appreciation for the love affair with guns that your nation pursues, I cannot shake the worrying sense that the romance of guns on TV, in the cinema, and in videogames, is not something entirely neutral in its cultural effects.

Blood and Guts
You have said that women players in your experience don’t mind the violence in videogames – my experience is slightly different. There are women gamers who don’t mind the violence, certainly, but those people I've seen who are troubled by game violence and gore tend, in my experience at least, to be women. I think of the UK trade rep who came with me to see the unveiling of Fallout 3 at  the Games Convention in Leipzig: her eyes almost literally popped out of her head when she saw that the game literally had eyes popping out of heads. Not to mention the option to make the game even more gory, should you wish to.

The thing about this issue that troubles me is that I think you’re correct to see this as not specifically a gender issue, yet I think female voices are the most likely way to get traction on alternative representations of violence in games. Men who don’t get on with these kind of things tend to simply avoid them. As a case in point, I have a penis but still don’t enjoy needlessly bloody games: one look at Team Fortress 2’s combination of cutesy graphics and gore was enough to turn me off forever. Similarly, Rob Brydon, who did voice work with me at Perfect, wouldn’t record our arena tank game’s sports commentator because he didn’t like to hear his own voice inciting (imaginary) violence.

Freedom of expression protects the portrayal of violence in games, and its not something I want to push back against politically. Yet I would like more alternatives... I’d like more experimentation in the fiction of games and less dependence on guns and cars. If helping women developers find their own creative voice isn’t a way to foster this, then I fear I will just have to accept the current status quo – and that does not please me.

Anyway, I hope this letter finds you well, and not too irritated by the endless stream of legal letters that mega-corporation Cengage (which publishes books by both you and I) has been deluding us with in relation to its 'restructuring' boondoggle. I’ve committed this year to writing more letters to other bloggers, since I have let my community evaporate and – shamefully – have blamed it all on other people and the rise of the social networks. Facebook and Google+ have been a factor, but I also stopped talking to other bloggers, and that was my fault. With that in mind, I had to write to you as one of my first ‘letters’ since back in 2006 I implored you to blog, which you now do.

One last thing: was it you or Brenda Brathwaite (now Brenda Romero) that I was talking to in Austin about the boardgame Pandemic? Okay, I said I wasn’t going to devolve into name-dropping but I can't for the life of me get that memory straight in my head!

Wishing you all the very best,

Chris.

Sheri has confirmed that she will be replying sometime soon.

No-one else has replied yet.


Gone Home and the Constraint of Genre

This critique might contain game-ruining spoilers for Gone Home. Do not read unless you have played it already, or doubt you ever will.

Gone HomeShould Gone Home be thought of as a genre work or a literary game? What happens when we take the division asserted for novels and apply it to games?

I recently played The Fullbright Company's Gone Home, an interesting but rather expensive addition to the growing ranks of artgames. Frankly, I did not enjoy finishing it at all, and begged for it to be over as soon as possible. Once it was completed, however, I relaxed and played it again several more times, which I found rather more pleasant, although seeing how the game had been put together left me feeling it was less than it could have been. I began to query my experiences in order to disentangle the strange contradiction of a company making the kind of game that I dearly want to be made, but that I could not enjoy in its intended form. I wanted to know what made my first experience of it so unpleasant, and why it never quite worked for me as a narrative. This investigation turned out to shed light on some wider issues of interest.

Upon reflection, this problem appears to be tied to the question of genre fiction, which is not at all the question of game genre. In literature, it has long been customary to draw a line between what is termed literary fiction – which concerns what is sometimes called ‘the human condition’ – and genre fiction, which concerns specific narrative traditions. The bucket of genre fiction is vast and contains (among so many other things) crime thrillers, bodice rippers, historical fiction, murder mysteries, sword and sorcery, science fiction, romance, military fiction, horror, gay fiction, and urban supernatural. Each of the genres that constitute genre fiction as a whole is defined by clear rules establishing the content of the fictional worlds being written, rules that publishers use to promote the genres to the audiences that buy them, but also rules that the readers tacitly expect to be upheld. If the hero of your bodice ripper suddenly grows fangs and starts draining the blood of the other characters, there has been a genre fiction transgression – a vampire has invaded where it is not welcome.

My problem with Gone Home is related to the literary versus genre divide, except in games we must deal with both functional genres (FPS, adventure, RPG) as well as fictional genre. This is an artgame that wants to be taken seriously as a literary fictional world, but it is weighed down by the baggage of its functional genre – the puzzles of adventure games, and the narrative vehicles of the ‘corpse looter’, for which System Shock is the progenitor. In the case of this latter element of Gone Home's design, I have great respect – it does a brilliant job of using the narrative model pioneered by Looking Glass’ game to let the player investigate the story (or stories) in their own ways. (Since Gone Home is set in 1995, I half expected to find a copy of 1994's System Shock somewhere inside!). It’s not the search-the-written-materials that troubles me about Gone Home, it’s just the puzzles that create issues.

In genre fiction (and indeed, genre movies) the rules dictating the constraints of genre aren’t just the recipe for enjoyment for those who like the genre in particular, they are also barriers to their enjoyment by those that do not. If you do not like gore, certain kinds of horror film or book are off the menu. If you don't enjoy theatrical songs, musicals are out of the question. In this way the constraint of genre has a double meaning: it defines a fence within which a certain kind of entertainment can be found, but the same fence also constrains who is willing or able to cross the fence and garner that enjoyment. In fact, in this specific sense, even literary fiction can be understood as a genre. For games, there are two such fences – the fiction fence, and the function fence, each reducing the number of possible players by excluding those unwilling or unable to play in the requisite fashion.

In reviews of Gone Home, I noticed a trend to say that there were ‘few’ puzzles. Indeed, the spine of the game entails just three puzzles, the first of which is trivial and the last of which can be ‘solved’ just be blundering around aimlessly. Solely the middle puzzle – the central puzzle, in effect – creates the impasse, but herein lies the nub of this matter; the reason why Gone Home's genre constraints – inherited from adventure games, with their contrived object puzzles – clash with its literary intentions. This is a game of genre because it has puzzles, puzzles that are as arguably out of place in a literary game as a musical number is in military fiction. Because I no longer enjoy puzzle-solving (which I loved when I was younger), the constraints of genre prevented me as an individual from enjoying my first play of Gone Home. Only when these irritations were behind me could I relax and enjoy the beautiful house the game is set in. Indeed, my most pleasant experience of this game was a speed run (something I've never shown interest in before!) in which I left all the lights in the house off and simply enjoyed navigating the corridors in the dark, just as I do in my own home. This was impossible in the role of the ideal player of this game – I had to be transgressive, as Espen Aarseth says, to find my place in this world.

This issue of genre aside, Gone Home is still a flawed experience from a literary perspective. I don't know how old the developers are, but I'm guessing early twenties. It's not exactly a sophomoric narrative, but it's far from mature and I did not believe in the central elements of the conclusion with any conviction. I enjoyed the ending like I would enjoy any crappy rom-com (a genre I adore in spite of – perhaps because of – it’s flaws), but it fell short of the benchmarks of literary fiction by quite a wide margin. Gone Home is also weighed down by a very conventional liberal rhetoric that is far too clichéd for my tastes, and not very convincing either. If you haven’t already absorbed the ideals of expressive individualism, this isn’t going to convert you. Indeed, it is by waving the flag for this ideal that the game tries to convince you it has something challenging to say about its moral precepts, which alas it doesn’t since it never seriously engages with its ‘opposition’. The game (knowingly?) relies upon you sharing its values for its narrative appeal – which would be what you’d expect in most genre fiction. It’s a long way from what is expected in literary fiction, though.

Frankly, I feel like a heel having to take such a scolding line on something that is trying to be the kind of game I’d love to find more often. After all, I didn't give Dear Esther such a hard time. But the big difference between Gone Home and The Chinese Room's game is that the latter knows it’s genre fiction – it’s a ghost story through and through. Gone Home's trouble isn’t that it happens to be genre fiction, it’s that it seems to believe that it’s literary fiction, and it rings slightly hollow because of it. That said, I would not waste my time on a critique of something I did not want to draw attention to for positive reasons, and there is much to love about what the team have done with this house and its stories. I would hate for what I wrote here to stop people trying this experience for themselves, because the issues I have with puzzles will have no bearing on many other people’s enjoyment of this game. Gone Home is a flawed gem but it is still a gem, and it establishes the Fullbright Company as developers to watch. This game doesn’t quite hit the high notes, but I can imagine critiquing a future work by this team and saying “it's incredible how far they’ve come since Gone Home.” And that, in all honesty, is a future I dearly want to inhabit.

This is a critique of Gone Home, not a review. My review is: 'if you don't mind puzzles and like artgames, you should buy and play this game’.


Luxuria Superbia

Luxuria Superbia Tale of Tales latest offering could be the most sensual experience ever to offer itself up as something to be played. Prepare for an extraordinary ride that answers the question: what if Georgia O'Keeffe and Claude Monet had a videogame love-child?

There are very few game developers that have the power to get me excited about a new release, but Tale of Tales are consistently inventive, always provocative, and just mad enough to aspire to greatness. We've become accustomed to their explorations of thin play with artgames such as The Endless Forest, The Graveyard, and Bientôt l'été, so the first surprise with Luxuria Superbia is that the play is much thicker, more overtly ‘game-like’, while the narrative is elided and implicated rather than painted in the bold strokes of Auriea Harvey's evocative character designs. Here, Auriea and husband Michaël Samyn have made something intimate yet not quite personal. If most videogames are 'murder simulators', this is a simulation (or perhaps, a stimulation) of a different kind of death - what the French call "la petite mort".

Luxuria Superbia is effectively an on-rails shooter (expect to hear comparisons to Rez, although it is a very different animal!) but without guns or violence, and presented as a strangely erotic experience. In fact, it is the most overtly sensual-sexual game I've seen, yet it is in no way pornographic. Playing an earlier build i was kindly invited to play, I laughed myself silly when the flower I was (ahem) stimulating chided me for rushing everything on my second outing! The entire experience reminds me of Slavoj Zizek's comments about flowers:

I think that flowers are something inherently disgusting. I mean, are people aware what a horrible thing these flowers are? I mean, basically it's an open invitation to all insects and bees, "Come and screw me," you know? I think that flowers should be forbidden to children.

Like Zizek’s flowers, the blooms on display here are most definitely not for children. Indeed, this is the most adult game I've seen – and I do not mean 'adult' in the sense it is usually meant in the games industry i.e. puerile schoolboy humour. Prepare to climb inside an O'Keeffe painting and enter a new garden of earthly delights with a game that deserves both to be part of the sex education curriculum and to be proudly displayed in the ever-growing ranks of digital media that show there can be far more to fantasy than just mere power.

You can play Luxuria Superbia on iPad, Android, Ouya, Mac, and Windows from today, and there’s a video of the game on the game site – enjoy!