Expanding Game Horizons

Or, When Is A Game Not A Game?

Jerry Cornelius
3 min read
That Cloud game: not for those with vertigo.
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Those who happen to recall an earlier post by my avatar in blogland might have noticed a seething bad attitude about video gaming in general and dimwitted genre games in particular. This, despite the fact that I actually like video games.

While I will bitterly maintain that there is much to despise about the trends of video games in general, recently I have been delighted to discover the emergence of several cool games that veer
way off the kill-it, drive-it, pretend-you’re-a-sports-star vector. In fact, with these electronic works, the very taxonomy of “game” is itself in question. Here are three:

Exhibit A: Clouds

Clouds mimics certain 3D flight-sims in its free-floating control scheme, but instead of piloting some big honking aircraft, you pilot yourself. There are levels and there are goals, but they are fairly abstract: You need to manipulate clouds so that they become friendly to you. Once friendly, you can absorb and release them strategically to build huge cloud sculptures or thunderheads that cause rain. The trippy sense of free flight is impressive (especially on a widescreen monitor) as is the meditative, nondestructive vibe. Requires a Windows PC with the latest graphic card drivers.

Exhibit B: flOw

USC MFA candidate Jenova Chen built
flOw as a proof-of-concept for her ideas about game design. You control an evolving (or devolving) creature in a 2D plane, gobbling everything in your path and choosing blue or red globs to rise or fall within the Z axis of some primordial soup in which the entire game takes place. The goal? Eat and swim, enjoy the low-key ambient soundtrack, develop into a higher life form, relax … flow. Flash 8 required (Flash 7 will not kick back an error, but the game will malfunction).

Exhibit C: Elektroplankton

This one you have to pay for, but kudos to Nintendo for pouring some real development and marketing dollars into a game many would label “pointless”.
Elektroplanton, like flOw, involves coercing behavior from surreal virtual creatures, but here the goal is to produce interesting sounds, visuals and musics. In fact, the whole point of this art-game (designed by Toshio Iwai) is to explore what you can get the various flora and fauna to do when you poke them with your stylus. Exploratory = weird = imaginative = cool. Requires a Nintendo DS hand-held console.

OK, now I open it up to the floor. Got a cool game that doesn’t involve killing, racing, sports or physics-modelled bouncing tits? Add a comment to this post or email cornelius@alibi.com.

Eat or be eaten in flOw.

The colorful world of Elektroplankton.

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