Epanalepsis Out Today!

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After a very long and weird journey that has destroyed both my mind and my body, I have released Epanalepsis. It is a short narrative game that’s sort of cyberpunky and sort of Literary Brat Pack and generally just a weird thing and I don’t think we’ve seen very much of in games. We certainly don’t see it very often in commercial games.

I am hyper proud of it and I think that if you read this blog you will enjoy it.

You can go here to purchase it on Steam. You can go here to purchase it as a DRM-free standalone application. If you don’t know what Steam is and you don’t play many games and you just want to buy the game and have a good time with it with no fuss, buy it here.

If you are interested in some additional stuff, you can buy The Epanalepsis Papers, which is super high quality scans of my design notebook that I used before and during the development of Epanalepsis. It also has extensive annotations, some new essays I wrote specifically for the book, and even some music recommendations. You can purchase it here.

You can also purchase the excellent soundtrack that John Fio made for it. It’s really good and you can support him directly by buying it from him on Bandcamp.

It’s been a long, weird ride and here we are. More sooner, later, better.

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On Notes From The Casketgirl

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Someone, probably Michael Lutz, told me about Notes From The Casketgirl by Sloane a year or more ago and it’s been on my list of things to check out since then. I finally sat down with it, headphones in, and got deep into it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played a Twine game, and maybe longer since I’ve played one that I’ve really enjoyed. Twine games don’t show up in my feeds as much as they once did, and I have less and less time to seek out games (hopefully that changes soon).

Notes From The Casketgirl is a romance story packaged in a horror concept. A casketmaker shows you the world through the beauty of the objects she makes. There’s not much more to it than that, and I could end here by saying that you should check the game out here. But I won’t.

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I think Twine games might be really suited for giving us the gothic in game form. The gothic is a genre, and like all genres it has tropes that it is made of: the bleak world, the Romantic antiheroes, the beauty of death, the love of the grave. Dante Gabriel Rossetti burying his unpublished poems with his dead-before-her-time wife, regretting it, and digging her up: that’s gothic.

When those tropes are presented visually, it seems like they’re robbed of something. Alucard cursing his existence in a castle surrounded by pentagrams is certainly gothic, but it lacks the weight that lives in those textual descriptions. So it seems to me that Twine might be one of the few ways of making games that actually have the full weight of the gothic.

Anyway, these were thoughts I had after playing Notes From The Casketgirl, so play that.

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“evocation without the dead weight of explanation”: on Mad Max: Fury Road

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The beauty of The Road Warrior is that it is a legend. We’re given the past through the lens of someone who lived it, and the trials and tribulations of Max himself become something akin to the Bibilical suffering of Job or the trials of Hercules. Max stands in for the human spirit in some way, and when the community of travelers overcomes adversity only through their solidarity as a community, we’re meant to take all of this symbolism seriously. We’re watching a myth, and everything fits that model.

Fury Road is the ultimate expression of that ethic. It is a story so flattened to its basic mythological functions that it is fundamentally one dimensional–so one-dimensional that “I’m looking for redemption” followed by “maybe we’ll find some redemption” is basically the entire emotional journey that the film presents us with.

There’s a world where someone might call that bad, or lazy, or thin, and I don’t really understand that world. Much like BeowulfFury Road doesn’t go deep but that doesn’t stop it from doing its work. It relies on the predictable distribution of violence as an engine to drive the story along. It works like trauma; it provides a skeleton for existence based on repetition. We know that the crashes will come again. There will be a pause, and we will sit quietly as Furiosa drives through the night, and then we will watch her save everyone one more time.

This is how a myth works. You retell it. It takes a different shape. You speak it over and over again. The repetition takes shape, and like the War Boys, you develop rituals. You hope you ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

The reduction of Mad Max to a mythical figure means that we can stretch him out. He can take any shape, like Moses, like Sherlock Holmes, like James Bond; he’s an idea, a one-note paper construction that sits in for our anxieties and fears and our hopes for humans and their horrible being.

The further a piece of media strays toward myth the better it is able to embrace the evocation effect. Cain is banished to the east of Eden and into the land of Nod, which is promptly forgotten about. Lovecraft tells us of unknown, unthinkable dimensions and never quite gets around to providing any real, encyclopedic information about them. The Mos Eisley cantina has all of those weird-ass, unexplained, unnamed aliens who live for a bare moment before disappearing behind the plot.

Fury Road rests on these moments of evocation. The Bullet Farm and its war-mongering ruler and Gas Town with its business-and-resource focused nipple-tweaking captain both fit perfectly into a mythological frame that is spending more time warning us about the hubris of bloodlust and the evils of capitalism than it is the exact inner-workings of gas production and distribution. The film is literally filled with evocation to the point of sacrificing any explanation: the blind metal guitar player bound to his vehicle; the Desert of Silence; those who pick the ruined wastes of the green place with their stilts and rags. It is all presented to the viewer without hesitation, without reservation, and fully serious. It is a world that is large, and it cannot be encapsulated in two hours, so why bother?

It is easy for a film franchise to fall into a trap here (and it is impossible for me to see how this will fail to become a new franchise). Pitch Black became The Chronicles of Riddick with its brutal overexplanation of the universe and the Necrolords. The Matrix attempted to account for an entire history and ecology of humans and machines on a ruined Earth, completely forgetting the evocative nature of the first film that made it so compelling. And Star Wars, well, it became Star Wars.

I hope that we can keep Mad Max and his universe flat. I hope that we can keep Furiosa mythical. I’m holding out for evocation without the dead weight of explanation.

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Thimbleweed Park and Sketching

Gary Winnick has a new post up on the Thimbleweek Park development blog about quick sketching and visual design for a game.

I’ve never thought about quick iteration as something at the forefront of my game development method, but I really have a lot of love for what Winnick is saying there. I do a lot of sketching in a visual sense, but I do just as much in the realm of story, dialogue, and how the objects in a game are meant to interact with one another.

I’ve been preparing The Epanalepsis Papers, a book of scans from my design notebook for Epanalepsis, and there’s several instances where I’m just writing events and sequences that sort of fit the game and sort of don’t. I spent a lot of time doing what Winnick is talking about–trying to find problems with what I’m thinking, trying to make things fit, and just generally trying to get words written in a way that they might eventually fit into a longform narrative.

Epanalepsis is coming out next week! Eep.

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KART KING

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Crocotile 3D: A Tilemap Editor In 3D

Just wanted to make a quick post about Crocotile 3D, a program I noticed on Twitter the other day. It seems like a really interesting system for creating 3D spaces out of 2D tilesets. Alex Hanson-White is the developer and they’re doing an excellent job and if this remotely sounds cool to you, check out the video below where you can learn how to use it.

Go check it out.

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Martin on the Cinephile as War Machine

There is no essential form or content to cinephilia, but maybe there is something like an essential cinephile process or gesture. Let me put it this way: cinephilia is a war machine; a tactical, cultural war machine. Always a different war, and always a different machine, depending on where and when you are, who you’re fighting with, and what you’re fighting against. In this sense, everything that people have said about cinephilia – that it’s melancholic or surrealist or whatever – can be true, if it fits the particular piece of cinephile history, and if you can tell that story well, if you can give it a mobilising energy.

I don’t mean to suggest by this that the war machines of cinephilia are actually effective, that they actually have succeeded in changing the world, or its culture. Cinephilia is the history of a hundred failed revolutions. Sometimes the Great War is almost wholly imaginary; it’s happening in the columns of a little magazine somewhere, or in the program of an obscure film club. Maybe the heat-seeking missile launched by cinephilia mostly hits nothing. But the stories, the histories of cinephilia as motivating passion are there for good, if they have been somehow written or documented or caught, if the testament is there, and we can catch them in another time or place. If the telling of that history is inspired enough, it can connect with some part of the scenario of our own war machine.

– “Cinephilia As War Machine

Thanks to Justin for bringing this essay to my attention. I think there’s a lot here, positive and negative, to be mapped into indie games/#altgames and the eternal set of concerns that gets passed down under different names (I think those concerns are super important, in case it isn’t clear.)

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