The Stanley Parable

Storytelling has always been a fascination of mine. It seems to permeate almost every article I write. The storyteller is dependent on diction and dialog to make the tale come to life for the listener and reader. Legends and tall tales from oral histories eventually were written into tomes, venerated for their information and their sacredness. Commercial publishing came next, then the movies, television, and now the multiple forms of interactive media. After years of innovation and tempered expectations, we have outgrown paper.

In many ways, the past forty years of the digital era mirror the evolution of storytelling: it’s all about user interfaces. So to some extent, the Stanley Parable is best experienced without any introduction. Except, maybe, the trailer above. Don’t watch the second video unless you want to experience the game with a blank slate. The second video is just one of the seven possible outcomes. The game can be downloaded for both mac and PC in the above link for free. It’s worth the download just for the existential sky dive the game will put in your mind. This is a video game without a weapon. Your biggest enemy is the narrator. Victory is impossible. The decisions are simple. You can do whatever you want… or can you?

Created in Los Angeles by 22 year old Davey Wreden, the game attacks traditional conceptions of storytelling. For example, a novel may have thousands of choices that characters make. But in most cases, the story comes down to one decision to turn the tale. The Stanley Parable grants several choices but tons of decisions. It touches on that gap between free will and determinism. Or, possibly more confusing, examines what in life is predestined against that which exists in the temporal indefiniteness of right now. There is a beginning and an end for sure… but what happens in the middle?

It’s sad, I know. All stories must come to an end. But you can get something out of this one.

Alec

Alec Rojas

August 25, 2011 / By

‘From Dust’, A Creation Game Unlike Any Other

From Dust

From Dust

From Dust

From Dust

We’ve featured a few video games this week (Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and One Chance), so I thought I’d throw my own recent gaming experience into the fray. Last week I played a game called From Dust, which is a game unlike any other I’ve ever played. You play as The Breath, a god-like force that attempts to help primordial man survive in a harsh world. Over time, the game gives you the ability to mold and shape the world, like moving huge swirling masses of sand or water, eventually giving you abilities to absorb lava or create earth from nothing. While you do this you must protect the people from natural disaster like tsunami, fire and volcanos.

What I loved about this game was the simplistic controls, you really use like two buttons for the whole thing, but the seriously complex game mechanics that are constantly working against you. For example, you may need to reach an idol to gain a new power, except the idol is mostly underwater, and tsunamis come every 4 minutes, and your materials are limited so you have to time your approach just right. Ultimately I beat the game in about a week, but it was some of the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a long time. It’s also immensely beautiful, as you can see from the screenshots and production art that was created. Oh yeah, remember I mentioned game mechanics, and how they work against you? Here’s what I mean:

An essential aspect of From Dust is the environment simulation, which underlies the player’s interactions with the world. Developers intended that the world appear as a ‘living thing’, a dynamic and spontaneous entity, irrespective of the player’s actions upon it.[20] Chahi emphasised the difficulty of balancing this technical simulation with individual enjoyment, commenting that sometimes ‘it would take days to find the right value for gameplay that’s also aesthetically pleasing’.[20] Montpellier accommodated this dynamism through a system of rules, which govern the elements of the simulation: flowing water and moving soil result in the emergence of rivers.[20] Lakes at the base of a volcano accumulate sediment, which increases their viscosity, and similar rules govern volcanic eruptions, lava flow, and the spread of vegetation.[19][20] With each rule, the layers accumulate to the point at which the developers are able to create an entire landscape.

If you’ve got X-Box Live you have to download this game from the Marketplace and give it a try. I’m hoping they expand the game and create some more content and levels for it. I’d absolutely drop another $10 or $20 to play more of this game, it’s absolutely worth it. You can also read about the development of the game over on the Wikipedia page.

Bobby

Bobby Solomon

August 12, 2011 / By

One Chance. And a Therapy Couch.

To continue where Kyle left off on the topic of great indie games (see Kyle’s review of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet), I feel it’s about time I write about One Chance, one of my favorite games of the last year (you can find it here as well). With the current economic and political climate… well, it seems to me that if you haven’t played this game, you should. Fast. Right now. What are you waiting for? It’ll take maybe fifteen minutes of your life.

Those 15 minutes, though, are both provoking and jarring. A strange combination of The Omega Man and [rec] (the incredibly frightening film that became the basis of Quarantine and other movies), One Chance pits you as John Pilgrim, a doctor who has created the cure for cancer. But in six days, every living cell on earth will be dead.

For thirty years, the world played games with a reset and a pause button. First games had two endings: You won or you lost. Now a days games across all platforms have became more “choose your own adventure”-y, with the decisions and choices you make deciding the final outcome. This game rejects all those concepts. The decisions you make are final. You might not get an ending you want. You’ll never be able to play the game a different way. Or even play it again. And that’s ok. Your decisions, moral or ethical or simply selfish, are yours, and have repercussions in the outcome. There are many different endings to One Chance, but you will only see one. I remember every step of the game I played seven months ago and the ending I will never be able to change.

The limitations on graphics and control has led the designers to rely on portability and versatility. Instead of creating an ornate, fantastical adventure that leads to victory or death (and a reset button), Awkward Silence relies on a haunting score, restraint, and pace. They fight through visual restraints to maximize story telling in a wholly new form. Much like certain poetic and musical structures (haiku, for example), the artist must do his or her best to maximize the form. Embrace it and reject it at the same time. Poetry may forever be in flux, but people will never stop writing in haiku.

This is resistance. It is a way to get back. But not sell out.

For more on One Chance and its pseudo-philosophical and psychological impact, Line Hollis wrote a great article that can give you more to chew on. More articles are out there debating endings, purpose, cause… and make you need a therapist to sort it all out. Even he/she might not be qualified enough.

Until then, how did your game end?

Mine ended like this.

Alec

Alec Rojas

August 10, 2011 / By

You Must Play ‘Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

One of my favorite things about technology’s advancements is that so many things are “instant.” You can instantly watch movies, you can instantly download applications, you can instantly buy music, and you can instantly buy games. The days of going to the store to buy ways to entertain yourself at home are nearly extinct. Moreover, with everything being so at your fingertips, people are really taking advantage of this and getting their passion projects produced for the small screen audience.

My favorite manifestation of this is in video games. A lot of crazy games come through the instant market and, while some are super silly, others are amazing. For Xbox 360, we’ve had the pop culture filled girl and gay guy geared Ms. Splosion Man as well as Sim Earth meets Katamari Damacy meets The Gods Must Be Crazy spawn From Dust. However, this weekend I discovered a newly released game that eclipsed every online only game I have every downloaded: Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

Seemingly the passion project of kid’s movie animator Michel Gagné and definitely inspired by previous Best Instant Game In My Opinion If You Asked Me Last Week titleholder Limbo, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is one of the most engaging and amazing games I have every played. The story of the game follows a little alien who mans his spaceship to delve into an alien planet that has infected his planet. There, he must figure out what is going on and defeat whatever evil force is afoot.

First off, it is stylistically beautiful. It has great, brooding orchestrated music playing over this elaborate sci-fi world that looks like Limbo-meets-Scratch-Magic. The game plays with darkness (dark reds, dark blues, dark greens, black) complimented with bright, high contrast colors, allowing for moments where this color palette is completely broken in nearly blinding white, light blues, and cool yellows. The game is a total visual treat as you traipse through this dark and–at points–scary planet.

Moreover, the game play is ridiculously fun and surprisingly challenging. It also retains a simplicity that other games nowadays do not have. While Limbo was understated and a beautiful Ouroboros, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet challenges you through puzzles, fights, and even timed trials…and everything is done visually. Moments of confusion are not clarified via title cards but rather images that, basically, show an image and your ship exploding, obviously alluding to the item in the image is bad for you. Details like this make the game such a treat.

I downloaded this game this past Saturday at 6PM and played it until 3AM, where I had to stop at the final boss because I was so tired. The game is fairly quick, but only if you let it be. It lends itself well to replaying and has a lot of little hidden items you can find that really make you want to explore the entire map of the game. It also has a really, really, really challenging and somewhat frightening and stressful multiplayer game that involves your little spaceship toting a lantern across the evil planet while being pursued by a Cthulu look alike.

If you own an Xbox 360 and are looking for a game to play, do yourself a favor and download this game as soon as possible. You will not regret getting this fun, beautiful, and clever little game. And, if this is indication of Michel Gagné’s talents, I hope he sticks to creating and animating clever video for years to come.

KYLE

KYLE FITZPATRICK

August 8, 2011 / By

Terraria: Don’t Mess With Cthulu

Terraria: Don't Mess With Cthulu

Terraria: Don't Mess With Cthulu

Terraria: Don't Mess With Cthulu

In a world where DIY is more than just an ethos, the success of Terraria is both unprecedented and remarkable. With no press, no promotions team, and a team of four developers, Terraria has sold close to 500,000 copies in the past month, 50,000 of those on the first day. Their only press? Minecraft developer Notch mentioned the game several times on Twitter. Since then, Terraria’s popularity has been skyrocketing day by day, becoming one of the great software hits of 2011.

Improperly characterized as a 2D Minecraft clone, Terraria has the dungeon style of Castlevania, Minecraft’s house building, and exploration of Metroid. Worlds are randomly generated with complex cave systems, underground lairs to explore and the characters resemble Final Fantasy 3 sprites. With no storyline and little instruction, you can start out building basic gear and a house. After mining and killing ridiculous monsters, you can build such awesome swag as jetpacks, lightsabers, and ray guns. Hours can be spent building the ultimate mansion. Days can be spent digging your way to Underworld and finding its untold treasures. And just when you think you are the king of your castle, Lovecraftian monsters (Eyes of Cthulu, to name one nightmarish horror) will invade you mercilessly until you beat back their invasion. And after that, it’s back to digging, exploring, and crafting your way to the top.

So grab a few friends and a pickaxe, Terraria can be purchased on Steam for $10 USD. What are you waiting for?

Alec

Alec Rojas

June 27, 2011 / By

Stacking for XBox 360 and Playstation 3

Stacking Video Game for XBox and Playstation

Stacking Video Game for XBox and Playstation

Stacking Video Game for XBox and Playstation

Stacking is a funny little game released this past February for XBox and Playstation’s live networks. I’ve delayed on posting it for the past month or so, as I played the game through and really examined it for gameplay and aesthetics. I was pleasantly surprised by all aspects of the game: it’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s more complex than you would imagine.

The game has two things going for it: the story and the style. The story follows the Blackmore family, a working class family during the Industrial Revolution. The family (namely, the children) are kidnapped and enslaved to work in coal mines by the evil Baron, who is propagating a child labor scheme. However, little Charlie Blackmore–the smallest of the Blackmores–was untouched by the Baron due to his small size. Now, Charlie has to fight for his family!!

Good, right? I mean, it’s okay. The glory of the story is that it lends itself perfectly to the style of gameplay, which is what makes Stacking so genius: every character is a Matryoshka (“Russian Nesting”) doll! Charlie, the smallest nesting doll, has to maneuver his way into bigger dolls to become the person and take on their talents, which are used to dupe others, open doors (literally and figuratively), and solve challenges. Each person (or doll?) has a unique talent, be it the ability to seduce men, punch people in the face, blast their obscene flatulence, or even cry loudly. All of these characters are used at one point or another to advance the game and, when you defeat the game, can be used to annoy the other characters (via the dolls “Hi-Jinks.” a character’s traits being used to engage or enrage other characters).

Aesthetically, Double Fine–the production company behind the game–paid great attention to paint the world and story inside of a “silent movie” type of world. All of the story telling moments are done through old film reels with piano playing. All dialogue is written on cards, a la silent film. The only problem with this great motif is that it can sometimes take FOREVERRRRR to get through a storytelling moment. Regardless, it is a great device.

Furthermore, Double Fine did a great job of creating the world the characters live in. Because nesting dolls are only–I don’t know–five inches tall at their biggest, the world around them is composed out of repurposing common household items into proportional environmental decor. An example: a chandelier in the game is made of out illuminated pasta noodles. Little items like this proliferate the game, catching your eye whenever you enter a new room.

Stacking is a fun game that I definitely implore you to check out if you have an XBox or Playstation. It’s fun, it’s quirky, and it’s definitely one of the best games–if not the best–of the first quarter of 2K11.

KYLE

KYLE FITZPATRICK

March 30, 2011 / By

The Tally: 3 iPhone Games You Should Be Playing

iPhone games are a dime a dozen. But, good, attractive, smart, challenging, and fun iPhone games? A little hard to come by. Thus, we at The Fox Is Black have taken the time to sift through many, many games to give you what you want: the best three games you could ever pleasure yourself with on a phone.

Colorbind

Colorbind

Colorbind is a beautiful, fun, and simple game. The gameplay involves placing a ribbon or ribbons over dots, kind of like a dainty, pretty, adult version of connect-the-dots. As the game progresses, the patterns get more and more complicated: overlapping ribbons nullify dots, symmetry demands your attention, and one small turn may screw all your connections. The game can be very, very hard and frustrating, but do not fear: when you unlock one level, you unlock three other levels. In terms of functionality, the game is extremely minimalistic and simple: the design is simple, the look is simple, the game is simple. If you don’t want any bells and whistles, want a good game, and even want to listen to your own music as you play, do yourself a favor and drop $1.99 on Nonverbal’s Colorbind!

Edge for iPhone

Edge is one frustrating game. It’s very hip and it is very hard and highly lauded by even Apple itself. Gameplay is easy: you have to push around a neon cube around a Q-Bert inspired landscape toward the finish, but must collect tiny neon cubes in the process. As original French house music plays, you must push your cube up stairs, balance your cube along moving planes, and even turn into a tiny cube to climb up walls and push buttons. The game is a hoot and so visually tasty. I’ve played this game on and off for almost a year now, where I have learned–although I love it–it can simply be too hard and too frustrating to burden yourself with: when you are mad at getting only D scores (ahem, the lowest score), take a break from the game!

Note: I also highly, highly, highly recommend you checking out Mobigame‘s other three games, all of which are spectacular as well! You can also get this game for iPad and–likely–have a better user experience.

Osmos for iPhone

Osmos for iPhone

Osmos has to be the prettiest, most delicate looking game with the most exciting and unique gameplay experiences I have ever witnessed. Like the aforementioned games, this too involves moving an item around to capture smaller items. However, what Osmos does with gameplay is something neither Colorbind nor Edge achieve: it truly challenges and rethinks playing a game with your fingers on a touchscreen. The other two games–and 99% of iPhone games–could be played on a computer or X-Box or Playstation or Wii, but Osmos is uniquely iPhone or, better yet, the iPad. With many worlds and challenges to face, Osmos provides a wonderful time for you to try to “become the biggest” orb with plenty of ambient music to keep you going. Run–don’t walk–your fingers to download this $2.99 treat!

In closing, of course these three games are a few of 984209837023981209390247502394203 other iPhone games out there and, yes, those could have very well made the list. Thus, I would throw in Awesome Solitaire, Muddled, Push Panic, Trainyard, Pathpix, and Plants Versus Zombies as honorable mentions. Have a game you love and don’t see it here? Please leave it in the comments as I’m looking for new games!

KYLE FITZPATRICK

February 24, 2011 / By

Limbo

LIMBO

LIMBO

LIMBO

Video games can be art and art can be video games, but rarely are either regarded as such. You don’t play a video game, enamored by its beauty. And, if you do, you are probably losing the gameplay. Video games are rarely written up in Artforum and art is rarely written up in IGN. The two worlds do not collide and do not seem to have a reason to, beyond the limits of the tangential video art world.

Limbo, an Xbox Live game released last summer, straddles this line. It is a video game, but it also is an incredibly deep artistic thought. The game plays simply enough, side-scrolling in 2D with only two “moves” (jump and push/pull) that you must discover for yourself. The game is “trial by death,” if you will. The story is simplistic and is not really explained: you play as a little boy who is just roaming through a dark, dangerous world searching for something. You deduce from the name that he is in a purgatory of sorts, which manifests itself as many different demons. There are many puzzles and “challenges,” but it being so simultaneously basic and difficult makes it a gamer’s delight: good gameplay, good story, good visuals–and nothing is ever explained.

In terms of artistry, the game–literally–feels like you are manipulating a melancholy, minimalist, monochromatic animated painting. It’s a dark cartoon-like version of a German Expressionist film. Created by Danish independent game studio Playdead, Limbo is the brainchild of Arnt Jensen, the game’s director. Through ups and downs over creative control, the group decided to ensure that the product was exactly how they wanted it–not Microsoft, not IO Interactive. The result is magnificent: a stoic, dark meditation on the search that befalls us in the afterlife. In this case, the search for answers and meaning underlines the ultimate goal in the game, which is stated in the tagline: “Uncertain of his sister’s fate, a boy enters Limbo.”

No one actually knows what limbo or purgatory or “the in-between” is like at all. But, if it is actually like this, then I guess we have a beautiful, puzzle filled, black/white/gray pre-heaven to look forward to.

KYLE FITZPATRICK

February 17, 2011 / By

Google+