Sunday, 20 January 2013

Old Post: How CLOP is Both a Sadist And an Optimist

Before the eventual deletion of my old blog, Fengxi, I'm taking my least terrible posts and giving them a home here. I'm also editing them a bit so they're not as awful to read. Take a Gander...


CLOP is the antithesis of a power fantasy. Every aspect of its design is in place to remind you of your insignificance. Unicorns in art and literature are portrayed as creatures of beauty, who symbolize grace and majesty, but Clop is anything but. Instead, your sprite is ugly and of low quality. Your movement is crass and graceless as you stumble and fall incessantly. And you spend the game chasing the false prospect of a virgin, a goal that hardly feels important or significant.

The naming of the horse as "Clop" is the equivalent to calling a dog "mutt," or a human "meatbag." It's derogatory; it strips the horse of any personality or individualism, portraying a talking unicorn as simplistic and insignificant. Your projection should be wondrous and grand, a symbol of purity and elegance; instead you're clumsy, foolish, and mediocre. You're a walking contradiction. By confusing and messing with your identity, the game facilitates your mocking. The projection of a strong, confident hero is now taken away.

Add this to how the game fetishizes our failures. It's obstacles are embarrassingly simplistic: a rock, a small ditch, a piece of stairs, suddenly followed by a large cliff. It's teasing the player, and mocking our failures with relentless humour. When playing the game, I decided to exclusively use both front hooves, and after a few moments, the game disables the horses back legs. The tag "Lame Horse Mode" flashes above, as it slowly limps across the ground. It was then I realized that CLOP is a sadistic game. Our identities are crushed and our abilities are handicapped. And our struggles and failures are not only mocked, they’re celebrated. It feeds on them; they’re the game’s central aspect.

Yet at the same time, CLOP is an optimistic game. With all its failure and struggle, the game never ceases to be enjoyable. It’s portrayal of the unicorn is quite funny, and there’s humour to be found in its mean-spirited satire. Despite its nature, it’s still likable and brought me positive sentiments as a player.

Perhaps that’s the point of CLOP. To show that there’s real, sincere enjoyment to be had in incessant failure, and clumsiness, and foolishness. It tells us, as oh-so-majestic unicorns, not to take ourselves too seriously. After all, are none of the things we do ridiculous, to some extent? Have our failures never been amusing, or enjoyable?

These are the kinds of questions CLOP is asking us. They're insightful, important questions, ones that you could miss if you dismiss CLOP as some kind of joke. But it's very ironic how CLOP gets its ideas across. In order to get the message you may be taking yourself too seriously, you have to take the game more seriously than you normally would.

If anything, it’s illustrative why CLOP is so deranged. It’s a mess of contradictions that are somehow cohesive. CLOP simultaneously presents us an idea and it’s contradicting counterpart. It’s both a plea for humility and an argument of the benefits of serious analysis. It’s a destruction of one’s identity for the purpose of creating its own. And it’s both a sadist and an optimist. Polar, much?

- Published August 21, 2012

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Cactus Block, Momentum, and Our Tools

I recently played chuchino's Cactus Block 2013, and there are things that warrant discussing.

We tend to think of mechanics as systems that should "work." We use that word, "work" a lot, like games are systems that exist exclusively for our use. I get it because a mechanical system shouldn't make it difficult for me to engage with content intellectually. If I can't walk in a game when it expects me to walk, I can't play the game, and therefore can't properly engage with it. Same thing with a broken DVD, or a book with ripped pages.

But just because its justified doesn't mean the expectation doesn't exist! I feel it's possible that  because of the mindset of "working" mechanics, we stop thinking about the systems or tools that constantly produce consistent results for our use. It's the simple idea of not thinking about where your tap water comes from, or where your food is made.

If the block making thingy in Cactus Block 2013 always made blocks, then it just becomes a static object that we stop thinking about. It becomes nothing but a means to block making, a square outline on our screen. But with the simple addition of the cactus, the box's antithesis, the game opens up this weird middle-space between us, and the block/cactuses that are made. That cursor outline is its own thing, an entity that we're now forced to have dialogue with.

I feel like when a system is consistent and reliable, we can produce strings of interactions to the point where we aren't thinking anymore. There's a momentum that players can develop, to the point where we can stop really paying attention. I can't develop that in Cactus Block 2013. I'm too busy accommodating  for an imperfect system.

I mean, what does all that momentum breaking allow? In a game like Street Fighter, if I get into a certain zone, I stop paying attention to everything else. Because of that, I never really get to see the small intricacies around, like how the music changes when health is low, or subtle quirks in the stages. I didn't notice these things for a long time! So perhaps momentum, in a sense, is myopic. It focuses my attention to a few specific ideas, to the point where I ignore everything else. Yet because of a very simple design choice, Cactus Block kind of becomes the opposite.

If this is true, maybe a game like Cactus Block would allow elements that would feel subtle in other games to be more pronounced? Intricacies in environments and aesthetic that could forward a narrative. The problem with a lot of games is that they carry these intricacies, but I'm too busy moving around, shooting, developing a momentum to pay attention to them. Hence, a narrative is never built.

It's possible that, for narrative to happen outside a player's actions, you have to reject their momentum. You have to get them to actually pay attention. I really like the way Cactus Block rejects my momentum by creating inconsistencies in its systems, and I think there's opportunity there to make something really interesting.

Mirror's Edge Screenshots

I'm taking screenshots of Mirror's Edge. The game is so gorgeous. It captures the beauty of urban spaces so well, even after five years. I'm playing it now, so I'll be updating this post with more screenshots.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Quickie: A Dissonance of Chells

When I commented on a photo Chell from Portal 1, a friend, Kim Moss expressed disdain at her appearance change in Portal 2. She felt, at least from what I took out, that they ""prettied" her up." There seemed to be something weird about her appearance in the second game. I hadn't noticed it before, but now looking at both photos, I think I can pinpoint some of the weirdness.

Portal 1
Portal 2

Chell in Portal 1 is dirty and uncleanly; there's a sense of disorientation in her that gives credulity to Portal's narrative. She really looks like someone who is moving through perpetual white rooms, falling hundreds of feet at a time, only held in place by cold, steel mechanisms bolted to her bare leg. A loud, omnipresent voice fills the room, telling her where to go, what to do, with a subtle, frightening subtext of consciousness. She's also alone, to her own thoughts, for a very long time.

In comparison, Chell in Portal 2 looks like she's going to the gym. She looks clean, younger and healthy. Her lips are glossy and opaque, as opposed to dry and unkempt like before, where you can even see some dead skin. Her hair is in this neat tie thing, that falls to the sides of her face in this way that feels constructed, like she thought of that, like she had the time and energy to carefully construct her appearance, which she absolutely does not in Portal 2's setting.

It's sort of a good example of a very subtle, casual kind of male gaze. I hesitate to call it problematic, as she does look like a normal human being, but it's definitely dissonant with its narrative. And I feel like it perpetuates an idea that women, even in the most straining, horrible circumstances, can and probably should be able to keep up that level of appearance. So I guess it is pretty problematic. :/

I'll leave you to your thoughts.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Fengxi Box's Notable of 2012

I was supposed to make a 2012 list a long time ago but I just don't have the time and I'm not really into explaining them here. Honestly I'm going to write about some of these in the near future anyway.

These are my favorites of 2012 in no particular order. I don't really believe in ordered lists; I'm not here to pit games against each other, just group the ones that resonated with me the most. They're all so fantastic in their own way.


Liz Ryerson, Andi Mcclure

Thirty Flights of Loving
Brendon Chung/Blendo Games, Chris Remo

Jonas Kyratzes


Against The Wall (Alpha)
Michael P. Consoli

Slave of God
Stephen Lavelle

Bennett Foddy


Play them!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Character Complexity Through Choice Funneling

Note: Genderless representation of child but I use 'she' for ease

I was playing mom is home, a twine game that portrays a young child who tries to tell the mother about a knee injury. Mom is home is a very good game, but I want to discuss something quite simple but incredibly important that it does.

It gives you a list things to say to your mother, the last one being the all-in truth ripper:

  • "i had more important stuff to do"
  • "i've been working on my essay for school"
  • "why don't you do it yourself"
  • "i dislocated my knee":

I love these options because they display the range of emotions the kid is feeling. Should she lash out? Maybe she should take it safe and just lie to her, surely she's done it before. Use the school method! Parents love school. No, no, that wouldn't work. This simple list of four choices represents a tense, anxious inner dialogue. Immediately, this character becomes nuanced, conflicted and complex. (Psst, that's how people are)

But then, no matter what choice you make, you get this:

that's what you consider saying

you wriggle your hands and go fold the laundry

Do you see what this does? It portrays a whirlwind of ideas and worries and decisions, and when she finally has the bravery to go for something, she decides to suck it and do the laundry. It funnels your mess of choices into shyness and non-action, and thereby portraying her shyness and non-action. It's choice funneling.

Like, "mom is home" is such a basic, solid building block towards proper character development in game form. It's a simple construct of presentation => negation. Show a list of ideas to get into how conflicted this character is. THEN, funnel choices into one result, to show how this character restrains herself, in spite of the mess of emotions that's going on around. It says so much about a person, about how they are, what they're feeling, and how they perceive their situation.

Look, we can make it more complicated. Here's a shitty diagram I made that visualizes choice funneling in mom is home:

Now, this might be a cool way to imagine twine games. We can also apply this crap to a bunch of other things. This is also a convenient way to think about the feelings involved during a decision making process, since, you know, we're always making decisions and all that.

Play with these thoughts as you will