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Celeste’s Debug Mode

First off I wanted to make an addendum to the last time I wrote about Celeste. In the title of that piece I used the term “ludonarrative dissonance”, but perhaps deployed it somewhat uncritically. After it was brought back into the zeitgeist last year, I endeavoured to read where the term originated from — a blog post about Bioshock by writer and designer Clint Hocking — and found it to be almost comically bad. What struck me most is that Hocking just sort of throws out this term as if it’s a given, and doesn’t attempt to define it (or really even directly use it) whatsoever. Plus ludonarrative dissonance is actually two terms for the price of one, as to my knowledge the word “ludonarrative” by itself was not used before, although it implies Hocking had at least some awareness of game studies and the idea of ludology vs. narratology. …

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Disclaimer: I am not a web technology expert, I’m just a person who likes games, so take everything I have to say with a grain of salt.


I found it in a thrift store in Guelph, Ontario. The price tag says $4.99, but I received an additional discount for some reason. It was The Animator, a circa 1986 toy produced by Ohio Art and distributed in Canada by Irwin Toy, complete in the box (batteries not included). On said box is a frame-by-frame drawing of a figure running and jumping over a track-and-field hurdle with the caption “Bring Your Drawings to Life” and a bullet point on the side claiming that its “Powerful Computer Memory Puts the Magic of Animation into Your Hands”. …

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The city select screen from Grand Theft Auto

Saying that the Grand Theft Auto series is satire is about as innocuous as saying they’re games where cars are stolen. It’s taken for granted that this is the case, although myself and others question the impulse to label it as such. What I’m not going to do in this piece is make any counter-argument against the veracity of contemporary GTA’s satirical nature, nor retread the semantic difference between the oft-conflated satire, parody, spoof and homage. Grand Theft Auto is a satire because Rockstar says it is. What interests me more is how the evolution of the games’ press coverage has led people to believe GTA has always been satire. It isn’t unique in this regard: Fallout, Just Cause and to a lesser extent Far Cry have walked similar paths, with the upcoming Watch Dogs: Legion appearing to follow suit completing its transition from dour cyberpunk morality play about hackers fighting human traffickers to some sort of pigheaded Banksy simulator (though that didn’t stop Ubisoft from misappropriating a poem about the Holocaust to promote it). The beauty of Grand Theft Auto’s satire is that because its target is so broad it can always be seen as punching up, even whilst literally striking down innocent bystanders. …

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Ant Attack (1983)

Ant Attack is my favourite game that I’ve never played.
It’s for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a system I have never seen in person.
It was developed by Sandy White in 1983, a recent art school graduate who studied sculpture and liked electronics, as well as his girlfriend Angela Sutherland, while living on government assistance in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It was written by hand, on paper, a process I don’t fully understand.
Like Q*bert, it was inspired by the art of M.C. Escher, and was one of the first isometric games on home computers. …

Note: I began writing this review/retrospective in July of 2018 in response to this AV Club article (at least, more so its click-bait headline than its actual contents), intending to publish on the game’s 15th anniversary. For personal reasons I wasn’t able to finish in time and shelved the idea, but was recently inspired to resurrect it after reading two pieces by LeeRoy Lewin which I will link below.

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Swimming with the fish(es) in Seiklus

In February of 2003 an internet user known as clysm (aka cly5m, aka tapeworm) discovered Game Maker, a videogame creation software originally developed by Mark Overmars. Shortly thereafter clysm began working on what would become Seiklus (pronounced “sake-loose”) and released it on August 15th of that year, a mere 6 months later. The game was a sleeper hit among the nascent Game Maker community, gaining traction in the ensuing years via the defunct and YoYo Games Sandbox. In its modest ascension Seiklus became a sort of folk-legend for the model of hobbyist development that would soon be termed “indie” — ambitious in scope yet graspable in form — a project rather than a product before that relationship was reversed by digital distribution marketplaces like Steam, XBLA and the App Store. …

Edge Case Scenario: On Possibility Space, Speedrunning and Parallel Universes

Note: This is an essay which I originally wrote as a term paper for a game studies class whose core text was Critical Play by Mary Flanagan. Citations are in MLA except where hyperlinks suffice.

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Super Meat Boy (2010)

“Play is grounded in the concept of possibility[…]Of all the possibilities for action that we perceive, only a few become ongoing projects: we can only do ‘one thing at a time’.”
-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Stith Bennett, “An Exploratory Model of Play”

Derived from probability theory, which has its roots in mathematical analyses of games of chance, “possibility space” is a popular tool for understanding videogames among scholars and designers alike. Despite the name possibility space does not manifest in games as literal volumetric space, but rather as “an abstract decision space or conceptual space of possible meaning” (Salen and Zimmerman 390). For this reason certain historical applications of the concept to level design and story structure have been somewhat self-limiting — not truly representative of the bigger picture. Exploring possibility space is not merely the binary act of choosing “the door on the right or the left”, but the moment-to-moment breakdown of the entire spectrum of methods by which situations may be approached, including active avoidance or no action at all. In this essay I aim to define what possibility spaces are, how they are made, how they are explored and what that exploration implies about the nature of videogames. My approach borrows from Manovich’s “database-narrative hybrid”, as well as Boluk and LeMieux’s “metagame”, and uses speedrunning (the practice of trying to complete a game as fast as one can) and the internet video phenomena surrounding it to interrogate the true extent to which explorations of possibility space are “player-driven”. …

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For the past year I have almost exclusively been playing a single game and that is Celeste. From my first playthrough I knew the game had a significant impact on me and I wanted to write about it but couldn’t quite find a unique angle. Things like the game’s generous assist mode or its charming narrative about facing a generalized anxiety seemed well-covered by other outlets. Then I began to speedrun the game, starting with the first level and a modest goal to best Tim Rogers’ publicized time, and the way I viewed the game radically changed.

Celeste is not just a good platformer with a cute story — it has been skillfully designed from the ground up to be the greatest (and most accessible) speed game of all time. Once you start to dissect the levels room by room you realize that nothing is arbitrary and every ledge and cranny is carefully placed to maximize Madeline’s manoeuverability. To speedrun Celeste is a fine marriage of exquisite level design and simple yet combinatorially deep movement that is nothing short of transformational. …

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This is for the failures.
For all the paper in the trash bin.
For all the videos with zero plays.
For all the prototypes and corrupted drives and 404 Not Found’s.
For draft version final FINAL (1) old.
Put it on the screen.

That Pablo Picasso quote about how every child is an artist.
That Malcolm Gladwell quote about your 10,000 hours.
Every motivational poster.
Eagle. Sunset. Mountain. Serif font.
A photograph is a painting is a project file.
Data grist for the multimedia mill.
Primordial ooze of ones and zeroes.
Select brush tool.
Put it on the screen.

An animated face says “oops!”
or “uh-oh!”
or “oh no!”
or “yikes!”
That Bob Ross quote about how there are no mistakes, just happy accidents.
Wondering, is it a child or a man? Or something else? Something inhuman.
That Joy Mountford quote about how the computer sees you as one eye and one finger.
Both are starting to hurt.
Put it back on the screen. …

Note: This is the 2nd in a three-part series on Banjo-Kazooie and Yooka-Laylee. While I recommend checking out the first installment, each is written such that they can be read in isolation, so it is not required to continue.

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Banjo-Tooie is my favourite game of all time. It’s not the most controversial videogame opinion ever, but also not entirely self-explanatory, and one I sometimes feel is better left unsaid depending on whose company I’m in. From the groan-worthy pun of a title to the doubling down on problematic indigenous stereotypes to the over-advertised and unfulfilling split-up mechanic that totally misunderstands the point of a buddy-duo, it’s not the most cherished title in the 3D platformer canon, and some even question whether it’s a “true” platformer at all. …


David R. Howard

David is a writer from Southern Ontario, Canada

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