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

Yooka and Laylee fly through Hivory Towers

At this point I have spent much longer than I would like to admit hearing out various critical takes on Yooka-Laylee, both positive and negative. If nothing else I must say that it’s a beguiling example of designing the near-impossible: an intergenerational videogame that delivers to both fans of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie (which as discussed are almost entirely different…

Stylized image of Mario backwards long-jumping within a flow band diagram
Stylized image of Mario backwards long-jumping within a flow band diagram

As the practice of speedrunning has gained popularity many have endeavoured to not only fit it neatly into the existing eSports landscape, but to draw comparisons to the larger world of sport. One concept that is common among sports commentary and game design jargon is “flow”, originally coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is said to be a state of “optimal experience” which exists “between boredom and anxiety”, and has been applied to numerous activities.

To some the question of whether speedrunners experience flow is a given. On YouTube the speedrunner Hummeldon “marvel[s] at how top runners reach a flow…

Thunder Blade (1987)

One of the most fascinating gaming stories of last year was that of SimRefinery as chronicled by Phil Salvador at The Obscuritory. The project, commissioned by Chevron and developed by Maxis’ Business Simulations division in 1992, was thought to be long lost before an in-progress build resurfaced online last June. However it wasn’t until I saw a twitter mutual post the above screenshot of the Sega arcade game Thunder Blade that I had the thought, why aren’t there more oil refinery levels in videogames?

After all as a post-industrial medium built upon electronics, it’s only natural that videogames feature industrial…

Note: Citations for this essay are in MLA except where hyperlinks suffice.

For its entire existence the Super Mario series (1985–2021) has been synonymous with level design. It’s why its first level World 1–1 has been both valorized as the ultimate tutorial in game design circles and ridiculed by others for that very reason (one doesn’t tend to hear much about a historically significant yet otherwise generic level like 5–1). In fact Mario’s first appearance in Donkey Kong (1981) with its four distinct levels actually predates formal reference to videogame levels being designed — this would come later in the…

There are myriad ways to break a videogame. Most obviously if you own a physical copy, you can destroy it, with bonus points for doing so in a cruel ironic way a la the Angry Video Game Nerd. You can also break a game virtually by causing bugs or glitches — purposefully or not. Sometimes brokenness occurs even when the game is working as intended, if for example an item or ability is too powerful, especially in a multiplayer context. Thus the state of being broken is as sociopolitical as it is mechanical.

Speedrunning is commonly understood as another way…

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…

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”. …

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…

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. …

David R. Howard

David is a writer from Southern Ontario, Canada

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