Holding Infinity In The Pocket of Your Shorts

Well, here we are again.

It has been three years, eleven months, and four days since my last confession. And again I confess – I’m playing Desert Golfing.

Do you know that people make lists on the internet? Sorry, I don’t mean to be pedantic. Of course you know there are lists on the internet.

You’ve seen them on Buzzfeed, Bustle, Pottermore, BusinessInsider, and Epicurious. If you play games, you see them on IGN, Polygon, and Kotaku Dot Com.

I don’t mean the kind of lists someone pays you to make or the kind of lists someone makes to “generate clicks,” though. I don’t even just mean that the internet is flooded with lists. Letterboxd is a website where the libertarian right and the queer left primarily engage in discourse in the comments section of lists of movies. I used to write for a website whose sole purpose was to help its user make a ranked list of favorite movies. BestEverAlbums is a site where almost the only interaction you can have is to contribute your own list. These lists reflect the phenomenon of the lists people make on the internet.

But no, not just those lists. Because then there are the lists that never necessarily are meant to be shared. Sometimes those lists are basically wishlists or to-do lists of movies to watch, recipes to try, etc.

But then there are the private lists that half of the supreme art dorks have of their top fives (and tens and twenties and hundreds) of…everything. Guitarists. Coffee brands. Studio Ghibli movies. Dog breeds. They’re kept in a google doc or a spreadsheet, updated constantly.

My mom used to keep her movie list in OneNote before I showed her Flickchart. Maybe she still does – some of the other Flickchart writers I knew kept their spreadsheets intact and updated.

And these lists never see the light of day except in conversation with other list keepers. Then they may battle their lists for list supremacy, a sort of Pokemon Battling over whether or not Life During Wartime is a top ten Talking Heads song, or they will add blindspots “to the list.”

It is a scrivening privacy, often the very definition of mental masturbation. It operates like an ethereal university of blind academics, wandering the halls and working on solipsism, until they collide into one another.

So, anyway, my friends and I are making a list, and Desert Golfing is on the list of things we’re eventually going to narrow down to make a shorter list.

My partner asked me for good iPhone games and with Desert Golfing back on my brain, I told her to download Desert Golfing. I watched her play the first hundred or so holes.

I booted up Desert Golfing, wondering if after transitioning my SIM card to a new phone and downloading the game again it would have my progress.

Happily, it did.

I can’t say what it would have felt like to play Desert Golfing again if I had been alone, in my own home, wondering if anyone would have been willing to talk about Desert Golfing with me.

Instead, I was playing next to my partner. At first, I didn’t want to spoil the scope of the game for her and tried to play furtively, my phone turned away from hers.

She started to get very frustrated on a hole; it took something like ten shots. I decided it would be funnier to show her the hole I was on, and that even having all but mastered the game, sometimes a hole takes forty five.

A minute or two later, my ball bounced on a wall in such a unique way that it lodged into it. The sand held it on a perfect vertical slope. I screenshotted it and sent it to my list-making friends. One of them laughed. The other was worried I’d actually gotten stuck – I hadn’t, this was an easy three-stroke hole.

The other then shared a screenshot from the beginning of Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy – he joked that someone should tell the developer that he should fix the controls. (five comedy points, steve.)

This was about a week and a half ago, and I’ve been booting in here and there, enjoying pulling back on the ball (“exactly the way you would pull a red bird to fire at a piggy,” i think i said in 2014.) I’ve loved relearning the way the sand catches the ball, how to climb a slope, how to use its dampening quality to deaden a bounce off a wall into a hole rather than over it.

It is lonelier without someone sitting next to me playing along. It feels a little like walking blind down the hallways of some ethereal university.

And then, this morning, before my coffee and after my medication, I found myself chatting online about a different game on a different list with a different friend. I remarked that I like big, beautiful messes. The clean elegance of an idea well expressed is wonderful, to be sure. But I love the sprawl of elaboration and tangent, too. Blame the academics and writers who taught me that the Whale Encyclopedia chapters of Moby-Dick were “totally the best ones.”

I joked that the only form of “containment” I liked was that of Mark Rothko. I love Rothko, he’s usually my go-to favorite artist. His color work is so soothing to me. The joke wasn’t about Rothko. I went to google a Rothko in case my friend didn’t have a 20th century art history education.

And then I wrote this.

Desert Golfing And The Rejection of Endings

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I’ve written previously in brief about Desert Golfing, a recent intriguing mobile game. It’s a simple game where the player swings a ball across a desert into holes, a ticker keeping score all the while. The game’s escalating difficulty is accompanied by surprises in the desert and the player’s continuing mastery of the physics and control of the ball. It’s by no means the “best iPhone game of 2014” (it’s likely that’s Threes!, which spawned a legion of imitators) but a recent patch solidified its place as one of the most interesting, given credit by its inclusion as a Nuovo Award finalist for the annual 2015 Independent Games Festival.

Desert Golfing now has two canonical “endings,” each a variation on the same. Notably, it’s not likely the creator, Justin Smith, would reach either. He considered a hole roughly 500 before the first ending to be “impossible,” meaning he was nowhere near encountering the first when it was uncovered, and the second only requires more skill. Albeit both the game’s endings specifically place emphasis on that which came before the ending, I will fulfill the cyclical problem Desert Golfing addresses by reading its endings and the implications they raise. This piece, for what it’s worth, will presume some familiarity with Desert Golfing, meaning those who haven’t played the game should read my previous piece.


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Alex Recommends: Fantasy Zone (1986)

Fantasy Zone Flyer

“How on earth did we manage to play those games with the annoying beep-boop music on repeat?” That’s the question I was met with while discussing NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) games with a classmate of mine. It’s true classic games like “Bubble Bobble” and “Space Harrier” had tracks that looped for far too long; even games with multiple memorable themes, like “Metroid” or “The Legend of Zelda,” have 60-second loops that might extend upwards of 20 minutes, depending on your skill.

If these games had music as buoyant as Sega’s 1986 arcade classic “Fantasy Zone,” we might never complain. Though “Fantasy Zone” offers multiple versions of its core music (later offering a few less-memorable melodies) it scarcely requires the variation. Absurdly upbeat, “Fantasy Zone” offers a light, childlike experience, widely different from other games in its genre.

Read more at The Daily Cardinal.

Depth and Premonition: Reflection on Character in Swery65’s Magnum Opus

WELCOME TO GREENVALE sign.

After the rain.

Deadly Premonition,” a game inspired by “Twin Peaks,” remains one of the gaming world’s most underplayed entries. Released in the U.S. in 2010 as a budget title with mediocre box art, its often hideous graphics, and its mixed reviews running the gamut from “pretty close to perfect” to “awful in nearly every way,” the mystery-as-life-sim title has almost been washed from gaming’s history.

I, however, happen to know several of its most adamant fans—and not because I’ve searched for them. A strong undercurrent of devotion surrounds “Deadly Premonition” and an appreciation stands for its surreal, socially awkward, tragic protagonist FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan. None of these traits are liable to be called his “primary state” at the start of the game. These are visions of the York we will come to know, a foreshadowing of his arc. Rather, York at the start of the game is idiosyncratic, confident and probably too smart for his own good.

In the first scene, York loses his cell phone and laptop. His repeated jabs at Greenvale, the game’s setting, as being set back in the “Middle Ages” wash over the player, distancing York from someone who can turn off their console and begin text messaging friends right away. But York is cut off from the outside world in Greenvale. These links to the outside world are lost for good after their inclusion at the beginning of the game—when York reports to the FBI, he must do so by landline, and when he writes summaries of the case thus far, he must write them on a typewriter.

Read more on The Daily Cardinal’s website.

I’m Flushing My Animal Crossing Town.

I walk through my little fruit groves, perfect oranges and succulent peaches hanging from beautiful green trees. My town’s fountain is surrounded by flowers, and a bridge has nearly finished reconstruction just nearby. Before I cross the river, I stop in at Brewster’s Cafe. He mutters, “Coo to see you.” I sit across from my old friend, knowing that Mayor Alex isn’t going to see Brewster again.

I offer to work part-time for him one last time, and I question whether or not I should close my town. And as I work the counter, my favorite resident, Freya, asks for her mocha. I question my move again. And then, of course, my next customer is Samson.

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Samson. I’m so sick of Samson. I’ve had Samson in three separate villages throughout my Animal Crossing career over the last ten years, and he’s always been one of my least favorite villagers. I’ve done everything in my power to get him to leave. And then I remember that I’ve been trying to get Camofrog to leave too, and then I remember that I’ve had two villagers in the last six months that I’ve wanted to keep, and they remain two of four villagers I want to keep at all.

I love the layout of my town. It’s very convenient, and leaves plenty of room for an orchard. But my two favorite villagers, Twiggy and Papi, both left without warning during my absences. I’ve had a string of bad luck. So I could either wait eight months for these villagers I dislike to move out (of course, if another Gwen, or Broffina, or Limberg, or Hans were to move in, that would be worse still!) or I can restart and hope for the best.

My girlfriend is storing my stuff. It’s nice that Animal Crossing New Leaf makes it so easy to store things. And I’ll miss the progress I’ve made. It’s modest, to be sure, but I can pretty much do what I like. I just need new neighbors. Some people might point this out as a flaw with the game; MOST of the villagers are “not awesome,” so why do I praise the relationships in the game?

Well, I think most of the villagers are pretty rad, but even aside from that, even many of the most reviled villagers have their fans. The Tumblr community assured me that people do in fact like Hans and many of my least favorite villagers. I just can’t get past them.

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Like everything in life, sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Goodbye, Grænvale. I’ll miss your tall fruit trees and your beautiful rivers. But, well, I certainly won’t miss Samson.

Why We’re Recording a “Game of the Year” Podcast

I sit down to write this listening to the soundtrack of my podcast’s past Game of the Year, Fez. Disasterpeace’s work on the game is as stunning as I remember; melodies are accented and transition in register and dynamic range with expertise. Fez was a game primarily about learning, but also about nature, science fiction, the life cycle, space, God, loneliness, community, the Internet, childhood, accidents, and its designer, Phil Fish.

I regret how little time we spent discussing Fez on last year’s Game of the Year podcast. Most of the panel had spent less time with it than myself and were complacent to crown it, preferring to debate the runner-up spot between Mass Effect 3 and Journey. An hour of impassioned anecdotes, defenses, analyses, and even attacks defined Journey’s #2 placement. The same was true of 2011’s Game of the Year Deliberations, consisting of a battle between The Witcher 2 and Bastion before crowning Saints Row: The Third.

It’s not that I dispute these choices; Saints and Fez were “my” games. But the process of discussing Game of the Year is focused upon relating to people’s experiences. That’s why we put out a podcast rather than writing a lengthy feature; essays about these games can be written outside of this context, but assessing individual experiences and relating to each other as a collaborative group can only be accomplished through conversation. We failed to engage upon our most beloved titles, and I resolve to correct that issue this year.

What we’ve come up with is a verifiable fleet of lovable games to represent the best of 2013. They represent a diverse spread of experiences possible with the medium; from minimal, humanist storytelling, to innovation in both storytelling and gameplay, to pure excellence in a known format, the games selected struck out to our panel as especially vibrant and viable. With the possible exception of StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the expansion to the incredible Wings of Liberty, each could stand as an effective introduction to games.

Perhaps most meaningfully, I look at this list and have no idea which title will stand apart as our Game of the Year, inspiring me to believe we’ll have some amazing conversation.

And there’s still so many great games we’re not talking about, simply because they didn’t jump out at us quite as much as these 25 (not that there was a hard limit.) We’re not talking about Gunpoint, despite the fact that it reevaluates stealth design and excels in creating combat mechanics with personal weight that reflect their main character. We’re not talking about Guacamelee, even though it’s a very well-designed game that reflects gamer culture the way Borderlands 2 strove to achieve. We’re not talking about Studio Ghibli’s entry point into video games, Ni No Kuni, just because none of us had time to play it this year.

So, when our Game of the Year Deliberations come out, and we’ve reached our final top ten list, take it all with a grain of salt. The ultimate list part of this process is relatively arbitrary; it’s really about engaging with why we’ve chosen these games.

GAME OF THE YEAR 2014 NOMINEES

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Antichamber

Bioshock Infinite

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

Depression Quest

Divekick

DmC: Devil may Cry

Dota 2

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Gone Home

Grand Theft Auto V

Metro: Last Light

Nintendoland

Papers, Please

Pikmin 3

Pokémon X/Y

Rogue Legacy

Saints Row IV

StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm

Super House of Dead Ninjas

Super Mario 3D World

The Last of Us

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Stanley Parable

Tomb Raider