Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mountain is a charming, relaxing oddity

Far too often do we think of games as fast-paced, jarring challenges, bringing us loads of fun but, sometimes, some unnecessary stress, too.
My mountain at the beginning: beautiful and majestic, with
a giant bench sticking out of the side.

Mountain doesn't even try to hide the fact that it's nothing like that. When you bring up the "pause" menu and view the controls, "nothing" is honestly listed underneath. Starting off your adventure with the game, you quickly discover that you have no control over your environment. You can rotate your mountain and spin it rapidly to get a different look at it, and you can play melodies that will speed up the flow of time. You can also zoom all the way out into space to get a farther look at your mountain. At this time, music you play will have an ethereal, far-off quality to it.

Slowly, your mountain will collect various objects--garbage cans, light bulbs, giant coins. This is seemingly random, and perhaps it is. You do have some control over how your mountain will look by drawing pictures in response to questions the game asks you upon creation, but how exactly these drawings affect your mountain is unknown. The game boasts 50 hours of play with a concrete ending, so you can get some finality. Every now and again, a musical note will play, and the mountain will make some kind of statement or observation about its surroundings. Usually, it comments on the state of the evening or the beauty of the sky. Sometimes, a lower note will play, though, and the mountain will express loneliness or sadness. This may be just a coincidence, but the more I play, the more of the latter I seem to notice. If the sad moments do increase, it makes the mountain seem human--it begins innocent and free of blemishes, happy and talking about how beautiful the day is, then becomes more cynical as it gets older.

Highlights of Mountain include the lovely little chant that comes every time the sun rises in the game, the green fireflies that light up the sky on summer nights, and the surreal weirdness that comes from being a sentient mountain in the middle of a galaxy, slowly collecting pieces of the universe that surround you.

My mountain more recently. I love its little line
of trees. As you see, the bench is still there.
So is a giant lightbulb, a film reel, a cup of
coffee, two asteroids, and a garbage can.
Mountain is an exercise in patience and silence. Too often, we feel the need to define games as possessing of certain criteria. We all need to re-think the concept of "games", stop trying to define them and enjoy them for what they are: a method of play. If you want rules and a failing point, then here's one for you: take 15 minutes, alone with your thoughts and Mountain, and allow yourself to just be. If you can't, you lose. You lose a million points. And you get a game over. How's that?

Mountain is merely $1, and you can play it on a number of platforms, so it's very accessible. If the idea of a "relax-'em-up" game that doesn't require a lot of attention or challenge appeals to you, it's definitely worth the dollar.

I've had a lot going on in my life lately, so it's nice to have a game that has no required minimum play and doesn't ask a lot of you. As much as I love Animal Crossing, my town hasn't had a lot of play due to my focus being elsewhere. I love that I can turn Mountain on and have it playing in the background while I do my homework or read an article. When I'm away from it, I actually find myself missing the unpredictable serenity of my mountain.

If you want to read more on Mountain, here's my favourite article about it (I've read quite a few, to be honest). I posted a link to it on my Facebook page, and my mother, who has also recently gotten Mountain, said "it does remind me of how difficult and important it is to just be". You don't have control over your surroundings, so just let it happen. A nice reminder.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Museum of Simulation Technology and Catlateral Damage

Thanks to Tumblr, I've found two game demos that are both unconventional and very fun. Both games were made with Unity, as well, which ties these reviews together somewhat. As well, neither of these games are in their final version, but are both in the process of being built, so I am reviewing their demos.

Museum of Simulation Technology

This is a really cool game that requires you to use forced perspective to move objects around and get to the exit sign at the end of the level.

Sadly, the game's demo is not currently available from the website. I found it while browsing through Tumblr, however, and the link remains there, as far as I know. I hope the developer, who is a team of only one, continues to work on it. It's really fun and unique!

My full version wishlist for this game:
- I would love to see a "wide open sandbox" level with multiple items you can fiddle around with at will
- An adventure mode would be neat, using the museum levels as a tutorial to prepare you for a more challenging quest

Catlateral Damage

"Play as a cooped-up cat where your paw is your only weapon and mischief-making is your only directive."

That one sentence, taken from the game's website, describes the game with absolute perfection. You're an adorable little jerk of a cat who runs around your human's apartment, knocking items off with reckless abandon. Your aim is to gain 10,000 points in 2 minutes--a surprisingly challenging goal to achieve.

A great feature of the demo is the fact that you can run it in a Unity-supporting web browser, so you don't even need to download anything. Handy!

As of posting, this game is currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight, so if you enjoyed it, please vote a yes for it!

My full version wishlist for this game:
- A non-timed mode, so you can just run around and cause as much havoc as you want
- Kitty noises, because of reasons
- Bigger levels with longer time limits

Best of luck to both of these developers in finishing and promoting these innovative games.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Depression Quest

This game is not fun.

Nor is it particularly enjoyable at all.

That's the point altogether, however.

Depression Quest is a unique second-person choose-your-own adventure-style narrative. You play the role of a twenty-something person who is unsure of where his or her life is going. You have a job that you hate and a project that's going nowhere. You have a girlfriend, named Alex, a dedicated student who loves you very much.

As you follow the story, you learn that the character you are embodying is clearly very depressed. The aim of this game is to follow the life of someone living with depression: to enter his or her mind and to follow the daily struggles and stresses. It's meant to increase awareness and help people understand why people suffering from depression act the way they do. Finally, it's meant to help eliminate the stigma surrounding depression and mental illness.

This game takes its subject matter very seriously and the story is tastefully told. Ultimately, what you do is up to you. I played through twice to see the different endings. The first time, I made the same decisions that I personally would have made. The second time, I made some different ones, resulting in a very different ending. There are 3 other endings that I did not see, making 5 in total.

The story evolves based on your choices. You may notice, as you make choices, that some of them are in red and stricken through the middle. You are unable to make those choices if you become too depressed.

Because its subject matter is heavy and has been written with utmost precision and care, this game is also very triggering if you have experienced depression in the past. If you are currently experiencing depression, I recommend playing with caution. Please be sure to heed the description of the game at its beginning.

The game is a a sensory experience as well, with a soundtrack playing in the background that will adapt depending on how you play. Colours will fade away the worse your depression gets, and static will build up both on images, and in the music.

The game was created by a small team of developers, and has won a number of independent game awards, including Best Narrative. I have also learned that it was given the Steam Greenlight very recently. The game was crafted with Twine, which is a text-based game creator, and will be the first Steam Greenlight title to be created with the engine.

If you are able, I would encourage you to donate to the game's developers. While you're able to play for free, donating will send some of the proceeds toward iFred, an organization seeking to educate people about depression and remove the stigma associated with it, as well as help pave the way for other games by these same creators. Even a few dollars would be helpful, I'm sure.

My only complaint about this game is that it would have been nice to have non-gender specific pronouns for Alex, and maybe even the ability to name your partner yourself. That's very minor, however, and I was still able to completely immerse myself. It might have made the game more relatable. I realise that this may have been a limitation of Twine's capabilities, but nevertheless, an observation.

This game deserves a lot of recognition for its accomplishments and for its importance in the realm of gaming and bringing awareness to people who are suffering. Like I mentioned before, it's not a fun or enjoyable game, but it is an introspective on the lives of people living with depression.