Some light reading never hurt everyone, especially on a holiday weekend. As labor day grows near, it’s time for Worth Reading, our (mostly) weekly roundup of the best in games writing.
Hey, You Should Read These
I went deep down the Fez hole when it came out a few years ago—the kind of hole that has you scratching pages and pages of notes that, to anyone else, looks as though you’ve lost it. It was fun to watch the community pick apart the game’s layers, but when they hit the black monolith, everyone scratched their heads. I figured people had a solution by now, but according to this piece, no one’s really sure how it’s “meant” to be solved. (The article explains how people were able to figure it out, but it wasn’t very satisfying.) I hope Phil Fish never reveals it, either.
Sampling many a forum post dating back to days following the game’s release, one can sense a general feeling of disappointment by the rather anti-climactic way in which the book on Fez had been forced shut. After all, most puzzles in games tend to be designed around some core logical conceit, wherein a problem is clearly presented to the player and they are (or were) given the means with which to solve said problem, whether that be a specific item or a knowledge-base developed by having solved easier problems in the past. This is how puzzle games “make you feel smart.” I’m sure we’ve all played a game in our lives which presented a puzzle to us that we then solved “by accident,” as in, having done something that triggered a win state, the reasoning for which we didn’t really understand. That beautiful moment of realization intended by the designer is unintentionally bypassed, leading to feelings of confusion and disappointment; later on, the player may find herself stuck without some knowledge about the game because of the accidentally skipped sequence.
With the black monolith, a problem clearly was presented to be solved—we know that in certain rooms, things will happen if we input button presses in a certain order, we know puzzles in Fez give tangible rewards upon inputting their solutions and we’re missing a red cube, so therefore there must be a puzzle to solve here. But unlike most traditional game puzzles, Polytron asked players to figure out for themselves what information is useful/useless in solving the puzzle (where to stand in the room and the buttons to press). In this sense, the community had in a way failed; they had the combination in their hands, but lacked the reason for how that was to be reached, having resorted to trudge work to get it. Essentially, they had unknowingly worked tirelessly to replicate the feeling of accidental puzzle-solving, learning the hard way the disappointment such a conceit inevitably entails. Even worse, this was to be their final challenge. That looming sadness that that’s all there is to see is amplified by the bummer that was seemingly the end of the Fez saga.
Everyone has Super Mario Maker fever right now, even though the game’s not technically out yet! It may finally be the game that justifies why Nintendo included a GamePad with the Wii U in the first place, even if it’s coming way too late. With Super Mario Maker, we have a game living up to the promise of LittleBigPlanet, a game whose creation tools were groundbreaking but largely inaccessible to large swaths of people. It’s fascinating to read how JC Fletcher’s kids respond to the concept of level design, and what they decide is worth including in a Mario level.
Nobody expects a toddler to learn something right away. In the following days, they’ve both gotten a bit more interested in playing Super Mario Maker – and I discovered that they can use the Wii Remote instead of the GamePad to reduce distraction – but they aren’t platforming masters beyond their years yet. They still don’t really want to run and jump.
But what they do want to do is even better. They want to make Mario levels. I left the room for a few minutes and came back to a functional level put together by Emily. It was simple, consisting only of donut blocks and Bowsers. I just needed to add a platform at the front. But it is a playable, and even kind of fun, level. She selected different items from the menu and placed them on the screen.
If You Click It, It Will Play
Oh, And This Other Stuff
- Matt Gerardi visited some old, abandoned schools in Second Life. It’s creepy!
- Simon Parkin explored our desire to make “perfect” cities in games like SimCity.
- Dan Griliopoulos talked to GOG about its efforts to rescue games from licensing hell.
- Steven Lebron spoke with the famous voice (“he’s on fire!”) behind NBA Jam.
- Aoife Wilson wrote a breakdown of why Quiet’s provocative outfit is still bullshit.
- Katherine Cross extracted useful lessons from the educational game with Slave Tetris.
- Jessica Lachenal reflected on the moments where Life Is Strange leaves you at peace.
- Jake Tucker examined how the original Rainbow Six came to be.