A new videogame about piecing together drunken memories

Is it a coincidence that autobiographical games are the ones that seem to experiment with new storytelling ideas the most? Look at the infinite scrolling world of life and death in Passage (2007), the collage of frustrations in Dys4ia (2012), the awkward online conversations of Cibele (2015), and the interweaving of emotionally-charged 3D spaces in That Dragon, Cancer (2016). We can now add to this list the latest game by Jenny Jiao Hsia, which recalls a night out drinking with friends, or at least the part where she had to look after one of them and get them to hospital. It’s called and i…


Toryansé and the storytelling advantages of short games

Nick Preston decided to call his upcoming series of short adventure games Toryansé after the Japanese folk song of the same name. The song is traditionally sung as part of a children’s game—Warabe uta, which is very similar to the English nursery rhyme game Oranges and Lemons—but has surprisingly dark lyrics thought to relate to a period of high infant mortality in Japan’s history. But it wasn’t only the song’s background that appealed to Preston, it was also the fact that it’s often played at Japanese traffic lights to indicate when it’s safe for pedestrians to cross. “I loved the idea…


A videogame with a little girl you can actually care about

Videogames have a history of being terrible at depicting young girls. The problem is usually that the designers want you to care about them, to want to safeguard them, but try to engineer that in the most obnoxious way. Either they’re being used as zombie bait like Sherry in Resident Evil 2 (1998), or their insistent squeals are beyond annoying—see Katey in Dead Rising 2 (2010). One game that gets it right is the newly-released adventure game Silence. At its center is a sibling relationship that’s delicately handled, and it even manages to pull off a heartbreaking payoff at the game’s…


The irresistible appeal of roguelike storytelling

A 20-something girl stands in an elevator. There’s an eye patch on her face, a shotgun on her back, and a pistol in her right hand. The door opens, and she hits the ground running into a room full of drones. They hover over her, firing red lasers completely bent on killing her. After all, why wouldn’t they be? Molly Pop is the head of the Zero Sum Gang, and she’s on a mission to topple the Fero corporation by raiding their bunkers one-by-one. She wastes no time, shooting down the flying robots in seconds, then travelling down a hallway…


New videogame thriller takes its cues from The Twilight Zone

“You had a good life. But things changed,” explains the narrator of Asemblance as you begin your descent into a world of reconstructed memories. The machine asks how much of your past life you remember, then: “Are you sure you want to remember?” Last year, Niles Sankey founded Nilo Studios out of a desire to tell new kinds of stories within videogames. An ex-Bungie employee who lent his creative vision to Halo: Reach (2010) and conceptualized the E3 2013 Destiny reveal, Sankey saw untapped potential in the anthology format of storytelling. Asemblance is the first episode in a new, ongoing series of experiences that takes its…

Gone Home

Videogames and the art of spatial storytelling

French philosopher Guy Debord talked about the idea of the dérive, a mode of travel where the journey itself is more important than the destination, where travelers “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.” But to think of dérive as a kind of random stroll dominated by chance encounters would be to miss Debord’s essential point: spaces, by virtue of being inhabited or shaped by humankind, possess their own “psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.” Spaces can be…


Life’s problems are given a beautiful mystique in WEAVE

Problems are no longer immaterial in Nadav Tenenbaum’s “abstract journey” WEAVE. They rise up silently from the seas as huge spheres of ebony, blocking out the sun. Or they take up all your living space as unconquerable Sisyphean boulders. Problems cannot be ignored and they will find you. This is what we’re left to interpret, at least. For Tenenbaum refuses to tell us. That would be counter-intuitive. “There is a thematic structure present, but the lines defining that structure are invisible, and the player must connect the dots to grasp the big picture,” writes Tenenbaum about WEAVE.  something resembling a shared dream. …