Today I want to draw attention to two rather different games that share in common a retro aesthetic: Jordan Magnuson’s The Killer and Nitrome Games’ Silly Sausage.
Over on the Nitrome Games website, you will find the game Silly Sausage, which was programmed (and I think designed) by ihobo.com regular Roman Age (Romain Macre). All of the games on Nitrome are informed by retro sensibilities – they look, and sometimes play, much like classic arcade games from the 1980s, which speaking as someone who practically lived in the arcade during this decade, is an era of games with which I feel a great connection.
In many respects, the Nitrome games are informed by more mature sensibilities (for instance, you do not have to start the entire game from scratch each time you play!), but they also try to recapture some of the qualities of these early games that are less often encountered in contemporary games. There is still, for instance, something of the fail-repeat sensibility to their play – although failure will only lead to repeating the same level, not the entire game. Still, there is something quintessentially ‘arcade’ about all the games of theirs I have seen.
Silly Sausage (pictured above) is an original variation on the classic game Snake, and will likely appeal most to players who have spent hours stabbing away at a cluster of four keys to control an ill-defined squiggly line purported to be a snake. The Sausage of the title is a cute sausage dog, whose 16-bit style animations are a definite part of the appeal of the game. Unlike Snake, whereby movement is continuous and cannot be stopped, this dog can stop for a scratch. Indeed, the basic play of the game involves stretching her out (snake-style) and grabbing onto a new block, whereupon she unravels up to the new point. If you stop moving before reaching a new block, she unravels back to where you set off. It’s a simple mechanic to grasp, and one that generates a surprisingly diverse play experience.
The connection to Snake lies in the fact that this game is also a collector at heart, and also in the fact that the control scheme draws heavily against the controls of Snake – if you haven’t played a lot of that older game, I suspect you will find Silly Sausage difficult to master. In fact, it is also highly reminiscent of one of my favourite arcade games, Anteater (Stern, 1982) which can be described as Snake meets Pac-man, and which shares with Silly Sausage a kind of risk-reward juggling play, since extending and retracting the anteater’s tongue is much like stretching out the sausage dog, with the same kind of risks when you are highly extended.
Personally, I found myself quite wrapped up in the game’s charm – challenging without being too irritating, it feels very much like a forgotten gem of the arcades even though it was released this year. It uses its retro sensibilities as a definition of the genre it operates within, and makes the most of it in the process. Innovative and accessible fun for retro-heads everywhere.
Jordan Magnuson’s “notgame” The Killer is what I’ve taken to calling an artlet – a short and simple game-like piece of software with artistic goals. Jordan, you might recall, is the insane individual I mentioned last September in Game Design as Travel Journalism. Using funding raised from donations, Jordan is travelling around the world making short digital games to document his journey. This is, as far as I know, a unique project, and one that pushes the medium a little bit further into new ground by using the game (or notgame) as a means of representing social, political and cultural information in a unique form.
I won’t say much about The Killer since it is something that you should try for yourself. The controls are trivial, such that anyone could play it. Here is Jordan’s introductory text:
A small notgame inspired by the thousands of senseless killings committed in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime. Requires no gaming skills whatsoever. Takes about three minutes to play through, though the length varies, and the experience is never quite the same for any two people.
The content has been evolving since I first took a look at it, and I recommend The Killer as a great example of using retro sensibilities in entirely new ways. (You can find it here). The 8-bit style pixel graphics are resonant of the early home computers, but the play (or rather experience) of this artlet is not like anything from the 1980s. Its sensibilities are clearly aesthetic and representational – it asks you to put yourself into a particular situation, and the more you accept its fiction the more effective it will be in terms of its emotional impact. Highly recommended.