Block n’ White – Vendreditch Game of the Week

Block n’ White is a game by Adrien Avellan and can be found at time of writing at this page for free. It was created for the “QaziJam 7” game jam.

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Block n’ White is a game by Adrien Avellan that totally encompasses the idea of black and white, in both technical, mechanical and metaphorical meaning. The game isn’t long or even that rewarding from a gameplay perspective, but I have a great admiration for how the game strives to ponder at least four ideas of black and white in its short runtime. Black and white was the restriction placed on the game’s development by its game jam rules and out of all the entries Block n’ White is the most complete thought experiment on that idea.

The first conceptual understanding of black and white is the colours themselves. Block n’ White actually uses the some yellow and blue shading in addition to the black and white, but not so much that it feels like it’s a game “in colour”. It still feels like it stays true to the aesthetic of black and white even if it cheats with a little colour here and there. It’s the most obvious thought when you think of black and white, most of the games in the jam only really embrace this one understanding of this. Block n’ White embraces other concepts, but this is one facet that is expected by the audience if the game wants to explore the others.

Another mechanical idea of black and white is the presence of light. On a screen black and white aren’t merely colours, but the presence (or lack of presence) of light. The white parts of the screen are much brighter to the eye than the black darker parts. Block n’ White actually plays with light mechanically in several ways. The player character is a light source, which distorts the strong shadows of the floating platforms as you move across them to the point where they can be completely masked in the shade. The player can be misled as to where the platforms actually exist or don’t. The game brings the presence or absence of light to the forefront.

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Finally, black and white can have two different metaphorical meanings, either the idea of concepts in opposition or the idea of simplicity. Block n’ White actually kind of addresses both of these ideas. The game’s main mechanic is that the kind of light source can alternate between sunlight and moonlight depending on which platform you’ve landed on previously. Much like the colours black and white, day and night is a common example of opposites. Block n’ White emphasizes this opposition by inversing all the colour on screen when the player switches between day and night, this is a visually arresting switch and reinforces the importance of opposition.

The other metaphorical concept is that of simplicity. A sidescrolling platformer is about as simple as games get, no wall-jumping, no puzzles merely basic jumping. And Block n’ White is about as simple as sidescrollers get. Others may be put off by the relative simplicity of the game, but in this case I think it works here because of the game jam’s theme. The game’s simplicity is just another exploration of what the idea of black and white could mean.

All in all Block n’ White is a game with great understanding of its assigned theme of black and white. It would be nice if some of these ideas could be more explored in a larger game by Avellan but I won’t begrudge the short length with the understanding that he made it in just one day.

Story of Everyone – Vendreditch Game of the Week

Story of Everyone is a game by Xiyun Weng and Jonathan Scott and can be found at time of writing at this page for free. It was created for the “Rainbow Jam ’16” game jam.

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On paper, Story of Everyone is a really neat idea. It’s a small little adventure game with minimal interaction where you can build a personality for the player character by designing their favourite childhood toy, choosing their hairstyle and whom they want to kiss at the school dance. The game even uses the computer’s microphone to allow the player to voice their person at important moments in their life. All the decisions you make, sounds you record and objects you design get uploaded to a database where they can appear in other player’s playthroughs.

For example, at one point you’ll have a child and get to name it, design it clothes and wall paper for its nursery. Later the next player will start their play through with that child and the database will source their game with details you left behind. Your character will appear as the parent to whomever inherits your child as the player character. They’ll hear your voice served to them as their parent’s characteristic sound, the message you wrote on the school’s blackboard will still be there when they arrive and so on. It’s a really cool idea the devs intended it to show how an individual’s identity is a combination of their own choices and the choices of those influential on them.

Then the internet ruined it, and Story of Everyone is way better for it.

Naturally the anonymous players couldn’t avoid taking the opportunity to mess with the games database. Any hope I had of taking the game at face value was ruined as the previous player had left me with the name Falkor the Jr. Destroyer. To top it off they pretty much yelled the name into the microphone, meaning any time my own name was mentioned it blasted out of my speakers as loud as it could. Also I was born with a clown mask on, as the previous player used the hair designer tool to make a mask that covered his face instead of more conventional hair. Later when I walked into my school the word KILL was left etched on the blackboard from his run through the game. The game’s database populates the characters from all the previous runs through the game. So my school teacher also had a clown mask on making that classroom more of a satanic horror temple than a classroom.

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Yes, this is absolutely more entertaining than has the game been served to straight up. As is the player character’s life is a surrealist blur of mundane life progression coloured with this vandalism. In fact the outlandishness of what the game’s database offered me actually highlighted what the developers were trying to get at. To escape the aggressive horror traits pre-assigned to Falkor the Jr. Destroyer I had to actively select traits and characteristics unlike my assigned parents. I had to rebel and make my own destiny, in this case by trying to make the most average child possible. Sure I was stuck with my assigned parents, and my friends Xerxes and Jemina Bumberdill. But I got to choose my own hair, life partner and name of my own child. The absurd traits I was assigned made it easy to identify how traits and identity work in the game.

Story of Everyone works better if those traits are visible and not blended into the rest of the narration. Of course, I couldn’t leave the next player with an average boring character. So I played through again and gave them a child named Plastic who can’t put glasses on their face correctly. The next player would thank me when they get it.

Gravity Volley – Vendreditch Game of the Week

Gravity Volley is a game by NickLong and can be found at time of writing at this page for free. It was created for the “One Button Jam” game jam.

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I’m moving cities this week so I didn’t have time to really get into something meaty for Vendreditch this week. So I sampled some short stuff from the one button game jam to still get a little recommendation in this week.

I found with a lot of the games in the jam that these one-button games that there’s a huge focus on that exact moment of the press. This is understandable, and I wouldn’t call it a problem. But this results in a feeling that the game is either doing nothing or playing itself at all the other times. The jam has an entry centered around slapping crash test dummies, and that one suffers from being either you jamming the button or waiting for animations to play out. The jam has a dice rolling strategy game where you’re either on your turn or waiting for the computer to play out there’s.

What sets Gravity Volley apart from the other games in the jam is that you’re always engaged in play even when you’re not actively pressing the button. The game is kind of a cooperative pong where you have to ensure that the rally continues as long as possible. In this game both paddles rotate around a single spot of strong gravity that the ball is pulled towards. This odd gravity pulls the balls in huge sweeping arcs that the player has to track and anticipate.

Gravity Volley works because the player is engaged every second of play. The irregular gravity takes some attention to keep track of meaning the player “plays” the game even when they aren’t actively pressing the button. It’s a simple game but it works as a fulfilling little game that you might end up really enjoying. The developer NickLong sure has a great sense of how to stretch the one-button limitation into a workable mechanic.

The Shadows that Run Alongside our Car – Vendreditch Game of the Week

The Shadows that Run Alongside our Car is a visual novel written by Lorelei Nguyen and Diana Taylor can be found at time of writing at this page for “pay-what-you-want”. 

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The Shadows that Run Alongside our Car is a compact visual novel about a pair of survivors during a zombie apocalypse. And yes that sounds like well-worn ground at this point, but this 2-scene work is more interested in the personal edge. More time is spent on the two characters taking glee in finding a functional radio broadcast than any zombie related horror. The game has got 2 character paths that covers the same timeframe with 2 different internal monologues.

The Shadows that Run Alongside our Car is a tone piece first and foremost. It drops the player into a single conversation with no background knowledge of either character. It leaves the player to spend the length of the story sussing out details about them. The characters don’t have a tremendous about to reveal about themselves but enough to cover the game’s short length. This does let them come off as relatively average people, which definitely lets the player sympathize or relate to the moment at hand.

Most other zombie games  (The Walking Dead or The Last of Us as examples) have the scene where the characters drive around safely and chat. But those moments are usually overwhelmed by the action scenes that bookend them or more dramatic personal moments later in the games. Here is The Shadows that Run Alongside our Car you only get that calm ride. It lets that kind of moment have the poignancy that it maybe deserves. It’s a nice vibe that pulls off both the dour reality of its setting and the humanity of those who have to live in it.

Full Time Job – Vendreditch Game of the Week

Full Time Job is a game by Dylan Gallardo can be found at time of writing at this page for “pay-what-you-want”. It was created for the “A Game By Its Cover 2016” game jam.

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Full Time Job maybe wasn’t the best game to try on the day I turned in my resignation at my place of work. In this game by Dylan Gallardo, you play a hapless job searcher tasked with job application test after job application test. These tests take the form of a two moving images you must make match by adjusting the hues, colour intensity and moving grey filters that scroll on top of them. It’s an exercise of minutia, abstract in your giver directions and brutally specific on what it demands. Adjusting which filters to overlay on your image and in what varying intensity is opaque even when you ignore the short 60-second timer.

But in many ways Full Time Job is a really great visualization of a job search. Much like a job hunt, Full Time Job is esoteric in how it presents the player’s goal. Sure it’s abundantly clear that you have to match the example picture provided, but fiddling with the sliders and colour picker feels alien. The preciseness of the tools betray the fact that the player has little grasp of how to manipulate them to produce one specific blur of grey. It’s reminiscent of sitting down to write a resume, aware of your own strengths and the language to present them but with no idea which to pick and highlight to attract the attention of an employer. An employer so distant from your own place in life it feels like you might as well be speaking different languages. Will they understand or value my attributes even if I could present them properly. This game certainly captures that deep uncertainty.

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Much like how a job application ends with a cold, abrupt “yes” or “no”, Full Time Job comes down with an equally objective ending. Each attempt at the matching game ends with an exact score, to the fifth decimal place. The player leaves the game with a tidy wrap up of their attempt, but emptiness remains. The player doesn’t actually have a grasp of whether that assessment is just or not. Could they have got a better score with more time? Did their blind guess let them coast by? There is no satisfaction in Full Time Job.

This end score is the part that unsettles me the most. You see I got quite good at Full Time Job. I can consistently score over 71 points, which the game’s itch.io page describes as “pretty difficult”. Yet I still feel as little mastery over the mechanics as when I first tried to grasp the game’s concept. If my upcoming job search is going to be as much as a crapshoot as this, I am in no way ready for that. I sure don’t have the confidence for this.

Grow Up – Vendreditch Game of the Week

Grow Up is a game by Samson Auroux and can be found at time of writing at this page for “pay-what-you-want”. Note for you English-exclusive speakers, Grow Up is currently only available in French.

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It would be easy to write off Grow Up (2016) as a half-baked experiment thrown together to meet the criteria of a school project. And from what I can tell, Grow Up is in fact a school project by a new medias student by the name of Samson Auroux. From what I can muster from his limited online presence he focuses more so on illustration than game design. Outside of Itch.io, a wordless Youtube trailer and some 3D models posted to Tumblr, Auroux hasn’t really talked about the game or it’s development. In fact I can’t even really tell if the game is “finished”, abandoned as is or, still being worked on. Grow Up certainly has game mechanics that seem underdeveloped, or even pointless, but I feel like to focus on those deficiencies will cause you to miss a cool little project that’s worth the time it takes to try it out. Auroux is a visual design student, and in that department Grow Up’s low-fi aesthetic is both visually arresting and thematically impactful.

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Grow Up has a wicked slick visual design. Just look at the tool-animal hybrid monsters. There’s both a kind of visual repulsion and some black comedy in seeing a penguin with a pickaxe for a head. Or an atomic turtle with a molecule like structure for a shell. Grow Up’s visual motifs are this blend of the natural and the artificial in a refreshingly surrealist way. The player character is a rectangular city block that can pop up its body to walk around on these tiny human legs. The player pilfers natural resources to turn them into industrial structures like apartments, wind turbines and nuclear power plants. Yet these buildings aren’t incorporated into the play environment, watercolour depictions of them are painted onto the cream-white blank page, rewarding you with the ability to collect more resources. If the player succeeds in managing their tasks the player character will grow in size. But not outwards like a city would, but straight up in height like the man hidden under the houses.

This blend also is reflected in how the politics of the game plays out thematically. At first the player may think the game is a critique of industrial development and its impact on the natural world. And that reading is certainly present in the game. The play environment is stripped mined aggressively by the player to keep up with the demands of human growth. The pristine white map of the building is increasingly sullied as you play with the dark inky black structures. The animal hybrids colour the natural world as mere tools of industrial purposes.

Although, when the player gets good at Grow Up they’ll actually find that there is a kind of sustainability to the industrial growth in the game. There is far more resources littered around the map then you’ll need to reach the extent of the city’s growth. It is capable to get the cities health and energy levels an order of magnitude stronger than at the start of the game and your human population will come to self-sustain some of that progress. I’m sure if you played Grow Up for hours and hours you would eventually fail to meet your populations’ demands and reach the failstate. But it would take an order of magnitude of more time to achieve that as it does to merely reach full city size.

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If Auroux was intending this to be the environmental critique I think he might have intended, Grow Up’s mechanics do ultimately quiet that criticism. There are actually antithetical meanings to Grow Up depending on whether the player completes the objectives. Those who fail see a very clear message of industrial civilization as a doomed phenomenon. Those who succeed see potential of long lasting, self-sufficient, happy cityscape.

If Auroux is just making Grow Up to show the professor his ability to convey meaning through 3D modelling, he certainly succeeded. There is thematic meaning and charm to his visual work here which are mighty hard to capture at the same time like this. If Auroux has it out to work in games, this shows he on the first steps of what could be a very promising career as an art director at the least.

Shh – Vendreditch Game of the Week

Shh is a game by Norman Ritter and Christiaan Janssen can be found at time of writing at this page for “pay-what-you-want”.

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The worst part of taking in publicly preformed art is that you can’t selfishly consume it on your own. I’m the kind of person that finds himself sitting in cinemas during other people’s lunch hours to ensure that I don’t have to have anyone else even existing in my headspace during a film. And yes I’m well aware of how that might make me seem a little elitist, but I’m certainly not the only one guilty of this.

Shh (2016) is a game that makes fun of people like me. In it you play a cultured gentlemen partaking in grand performance of some revelatory new Bach compositions in 1721. Or you would be if it wasn’t for philistines coughing, snoring and sneezing. These other patrons are ruining the historic concert for the knowledgeable listeners like your self. As any gentleman who considers himself wiser than his peers, you take it upon yourself to shush those polluting the hall with their unwanted noise. That shushing is the game’s sole input and your only task.

What makes this game so great is that the player doesn’t quite realize at first that they are in fact the asshole. Shushing might seem like the noble act at first, as no one should have to have the concert interrupted. But as the player continues to shush the other patrons they themselves quickly become the single individual making the most noise, causing the greatest disturbance. Once the player grasps this, there is a moment of personal embarrassment. The player is the one interrupting his own concert, he’s the one running his own evening in an attempt to characterize himself as the sole mannered concertgoer.

Once that player makes this realization, the game’s satire comes into focus. The only visual in the game is a still frame photograph of an incredibly ornate 18th century painting. The player/concertgoer isn’t actually at the concert but a facsimile of one. The other noisy patrons weren’t actually interrupting a historical concert of note, and the player’s need to correct their actions seems even more pretentious. Shh is a game about making the player realize aware of their assholeness. Especially when they realize that none of the sounds were even really voluntary. There is no talking or other overly disrespectful behaviour. The player can only shush sounds that the perpetrators likely wish they had not made.

At the end of the concert all the other patrons give a large round of applause for the well-preformed pieces. They all got to enjoy some great music, but the player spent the length of the concert more concerned with those around them instead of the music itself. As the painting fades to black the player is left with a feeling of disappointment in the self, and the bitter taste of missed opportunity to partake in great art.

I for one, immediately restarted Shh and did not shush once.