This month, a game that’s all about bouncing balls off things. It maybe shares a lineage with arpeggiate the world in that it’s a single-screen arcade game without the scoring, timers and leaderboards so often associated with arcade games. Has anyone coined the term ‘post-arcade game’ yet? Can I claim it for these games?
I wanted all the audio to revolve around the (super-minimal, admittedly) music, so the SFX are actually generated by a custom granulator effect that takes the main synth chords as its input. For every collision or ball death, I trigger a single grain from the granulator, pitched up by octaves or fifths (as an aside, I think this is my first game using just intonation). To avoid triggering a silent or very quiet grain, there’s a threshold parameter so that we only write into the granulator’s buffer if the input’s loud enough. I’ve not come across a granulator like this before; I was pretty happy with how well it worked.
The nice thing about all this is that the soundscape scales really nicely, all the way from distinct individual collisions when the game’s quite calm, to the classic granular full-on wash of sound when it’s all kicking off. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how my background as an audio programmer shapes the way I design games in specific ways. This feels like a good example of that. i.e. the SFX are connected to both the mechanical action on screen and the music, which is itself tied to the visuals with that chord-synced wipe effect. I don’t know if you’d get these kind of specific close couplings from a designer who isn’t also an audio programmer?
(I’ll note here that I’m currently reading Braxton Soderman’s Against Flow, which raises some excellent, difficult questions about the ethical and political implications of designing games around flow. I think bright embers - along with other games I’ve made - definitely shades into flow territory)
I’ve uploaded a video of a nicely chaotic playthrough of the game in case you’re not on Windows, or don’t want to download the game.
Controls: escape: quit; space: start game; cursor keys: move
A weird thing I discovered this month: when I was a teenager I read quite a lot of Terry Pratchett, which (following the suggestion of a friendly librarian) led on to me reading Tom Holt, an author similarly writing satirical fantasy fiction. One of the recurring(?) themes in Holt’s books was the Milk Marketing Board; this shadowy, evil conspiracy that was responsible for everything wrong in the world, or at least the UK. I always assumed it was just a funny detail, but it turns out the Milk Marketing Board was a real thing, and it was kind of evil!?
(I haven’t read any of Holt’s books in years; I’ve no idea whether they still hold up)
I also played NORCO, which does deserve the praise its gotten, but I found the game-y elements really jarring, particularly the awkward battles. I think seeing people compare it to Kentucky Route Zero raised my expectations in a way that wasn’t particularly helpful.
I’ve got a lot of time for Michael Moorcock’s critical writing. Here’s an old essay about the fascist/authoritarian roots of some of sci fi’s biggest names (at the time; I think the picture’s brighter in that regard these days).
A wonderful collection of essays and ephemera generated by a research project looking at “the relation between prediction and prescription within current socio-political structures”. Even if you don’t read any of the essays, do check out the front page, it’s very cool.
I love this concept of Guardrails as an alternative to the individualist “boundaries” from Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter:
“Guardrails are things like: we don’t email when we’re off, and if you do send an email when you’re off, you’ll actually be taken aside to talk about why that’s not part of our culture here. Guardrails are: even if you, yourself, work really well at 11 pm at night, any communication you craft at that hour should be delay-sent to correspond with the start of others’ workday, so they don’t feel the need to be responding to work at that hour as well. Guardrails are being very clear about levels of urgency: an email is not a five-alarm fire, and you shouldn’t train yourself to react as if it was, because that sort of vigilance is not sustainable.”
Okay, I’m writing this from the garden and it’s getting late and kind of chilly, so I should probably wrap up. Take care, keep warm, I’ll be back in a month’s time.