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A history of not games

A history of not games
« on: January 11, 2010, 12:30:39 pm »

I want to collect some of the titles that made an impression on me as not games. Titles -often videogames- that were remarkable because of other reasons than their game design. This doesn't mean that they were poorly designed games. Just that they had something more, something other, that I found more memorable and inspiring. I'll try to explain what that something was.

This is an ongoing post. I'll add to this over time.
But feel free to comment and make suggestions.
Or add your own titles.


Ceremony of Innocence
Ceremony of Innocence is one of the best examples of the "games for grown-ups" that were made in the 1990s. These "games" were simply called CD Roms, after their medium. And sadly, their production was stopped when the World Wide Web took off and removed the need for CD Roms. Since then, it's been a struggle to get back to that level of maturity and artistic quality in games.
Ceremony of Innocence was created by Alex Mayhew in Peter Gabriel's Realword studio. It was based on an experimental novel by Nick Bantock. But the CD Rom is far more interesting than the book, in my opinion. It immerses you in the mysterious romantic correspondence between two people who don't know each other. It's one of very few interactive pieces that actually deals with falling in love.

Doom 2
Doom 2 was a revelation for me because I felt completely immersed in its environment. The gameplay was simple enough (or I was young enough to tolerate it) to allow me to explore the abandoned scientific complex infested with alien monsters. I'm still not entirely sure why Doom 2 was so much more successful than many of its far more realistic looking successors.
In part it may have been its tongue-in-check humour that washed away any issues of suspension of disbelief. The kitschy MIDI rock music was also very memorable.

Tomb Raider 1
I remember being amazed by how smart the camera was in Tomb Raider. To a large extent, Tomb Raider felt like a realization of the promise made by Doom 2. Instead of representing a three-dimensional environment through symbolic elements, Tomb Raider simply presented a view of a world that really existed.
As opposed to its many sequels, Tomb Raider 1 focussed largely on exploration and adventure. It was just you, all alone, in forgotten landscapes and abandoned ruins. Occasionally you met an animal. The encounters with humans (almost always gun fights) were the only blemishes on an otherwise spotless experience.

Ico
Ico must have been the first game, and still one of very few, where you could release the controller and still feel part of the world. The bond between you and the main character, Ico, mirrored by his bond with his companion Yorda, felt very strong. Playing Ico was a deeply emotional experience. I really cared for the little guy. And I was fascinated by Yorda's autonomy. The experience felt more like a collaboration, a conversation, an understanding between player and game than a manipulation of the game by a player.

Half Life 2 - first chapter
I was over military shooter games by the time Half Life 2 was published. But we had a friend at Valve who gave us a free copy and I felt I owed it to him to play it. I was immensely surprised and delighted playing through the first chapter of Half Life 2. Valve had succeeded in painting a living world that I could step into and feel a part of. The fascinating narrative elements of the alien invasion and the beauty of the environments were more than enough to satisfy me. To see such splendour degrade into a banal shooter and then later into a utter horror (when they forced me to hurl living bodies through space) must have been one of my greatest disappointments in gaming. I reviewed it back then (and got seriously flamed for it).
« Last Edit: January 13, 2010, 03:58:58 pm by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2010, 09:57:13 pm »

I'm looking forward to reading your explanations of what you liked about each one.
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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2010, 10:52:00 am »

Feel free to add your own! Smiley
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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2010, 10:52:36 am »

I can add some to these:

Pathalogic: because you nearly always fail to save a town; because the enemy is a disease, not monsters; because not only does your avatar talk to the world, but the game talks to you as a player... and for all it's flaws, it's one of the most bizarre and wonderful creations in first-person yet made...

A Mind Forever Voyaging: because to role-play as an artificial intelligence whose job is to run future predictions and stop society sliding into facism or chaos is a brilliant way of keeping conflict but making it a purely positive set of actions...

STALKER: it may be a standard shooter in many respects, but it presents a truly strange, sad and eerie world that reeks of loss and isolation, and you powerless and scared as much as you do powerful. For me, possibly the best example of how story in games should be about integrated world-conjuring, not plot..


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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2010, 11:49:11 am »

Sadly, I haven't really found any. Just game games. So I look forward to experiencing this excitement through your descriptions. Wink
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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2010, 04:12:18 pm »

Axcho, pretty much all of these so far are regular games.  It looks like the intention is just to talk about things you've played that had elements that inspire thoughts of notgame-like experiences.  Don't be afraid to just post notgame moments you've experienced.

Small Worlds
http://jayisgames.com/cgdc6/?gameID=9
Depending on your definition, this could be a notgame.  It's purely exploration-based, with only 4 "levels" and no explicit goal.  The zoom-out-as-you-uncover-the-fog-of-war mechanic enhances your feeling of discovery.  Despite the low-res pixel graphics, David Shute manages to create a lot of character and atmosphere in an otherwise small world.

Labuat
http://soytuaire.labuat.com
This is mostly an interactive toy, but because of its expressiveness, I think it borders on a notgame.  It's basically an interactive music video; I've had visions of something just like this, so it's pretty inspiring to see it already created here.

Today I Die
http://ludomancy.com/games/today.html
Daniel Benmergui created what is essentially a poem-as-game.  You rearrange words in a poem to create actions in the game world.  It's a puzzle game, but it's very tastefully done and has more adult themes.  Not a notgame per se, but definitely a mature game.

Judith
http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=3844.0
This is pretty much a game, but it has given me one of the most emotional experiences I've ever had playing a game.  It's a gothic horror game based on an opera.  After I played it, I felt the same feeling I imagined someone felt after seeing a Hitchcock movie back in the 40s/50s - adrenaline-filled horror.  Despite being a game, it has mature themes and aspires to operate on the same level as notgames.
Re: A history of not games
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2010, 05:08:02 am »

All right.

I Fell in Love with the Majesty of Colors
http://www.kongregate.com/games/GregoryWeir/the-majesty-of-colors
This is barely a game - the only goal is optional, to find all the different endings for this linear interactive story. The experience is compelling not because of gameplay (of which there is little) but because of roleplay - you get to be a giant undersea leviathan, in your first encounter with the surface world. One of my favorite Flash (not)games. Its favorable reception on popular game portals like Kongregate and Newgrounds was very encouraging to me.

I just looked at the comments for this game and here's a recent one that I liked:
Quote from: ZamorakDarkFire
Really opened up my mind, of what it may be like to creatures unlike us. I feel quite sorry for dem whales. XD

Storyteller
http://www.kongregate.com/games/danielben/storyteller
Here's another (not)game by the creator of Today I Die. This one is definitely not a game. It's just a minimal interactive toy where you get to create your own story, interacting with a simple simulation (if you can even call it that) of a formulaic fairy tale. Again, I can see a ton of potential here. People like playing with story systems like this. It's not a sandbox - the system and possibilities are definitely authored - but at the same time it is a system that allows the (not)player to create their own story.
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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2010, 07:36:02 pm »

I'm so glad you have Majesty of Colors here.  I loved playing that. Smiley

I Wish I Were The Moon
http://www.kongregate.com/games/danielben/i-wish-i-were-the-moon
Gregory Weir himself admitted that Majesty of Colors was heavily inspired by Daniel Benmergui's I Wish I Were The Moon.  Like Majesty of Colors, you simply explore the result of your interactions, and similar to a puzzle you can try to guess all the endings if you want.

For me, Majesty of Colors and I Wish I Were The Moon were experiences that were so influential that it's hard not to make something like that sometimes.  In fact, I even had a dream which was basically a game with those mechanics that I'd want to make some time.  Having strong influences like that often makes me wonder whether or not I should have experienced them. Tongue
Re: A history of not games
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2010, 12:46:42 am »

Dark Cloud (the 1st one)
Although it is your traditional RPG, I felt something very something charming about it (sadly, I can't quite put my finger on it). Down to its interesting aspects:
- The world was destroyed, you have to rebuild it - a refreshing mixture of two different genres.
- Every single character was designed and assigned to a purpose - villagers aren't clones (which is something that happens often in rpgs). This, in my opinion, shows true dedication on behalf of its creators.
- The sounds were pleasantly detailed, giving every single town a tone of uniqueness.
- You don't level up, your weapons do, but you don't need to do this.
- There is no XP and no focus on earning large amounts of gold; you also don't learn new skills (there is one exception tough, you learn a new attack as a present from one of the gods if you rebuild a certain town according to the wants of the villagers).
Major flaw: repetition. The dungeons become very repetitive after a while.
I'm not sure how this title contributes to the nongame purpose, but I believe it to be a good example of the mainstream industry done right. Sorry if I'm babbling irrelevant nonsense óo

Rule of Rose
It's curious - people who play the game hate the gameplay. One reviewer once mentioned he saw it as an obstacle to its real charm, which is the story. He mentioned the latter was as engaging as a film. I have not yet played it myself, so sadly there isn't much I can mention. But I was stricken at how well the themes of child nastiness were played, and by the fact that it seems to be full of hidden details that require some special attention.
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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #9 on: February 18, 2010, 01:36:41 am »

Knytt: It's the game that brought indie games to my attention. I loved it for being such an uncompromising aesthetic experience. You are very literally dropped on a world full of unknown and wonderful scenes, and left to explore with a goal that all it means is the end of your journey. If you approach it as a game, it sucks--the people who I've shown it to just don't like it, they either think it's 'too difficult' or 'too easy' (depending on who the person is). At that point I realized that video games were not considered to be expressive by most people, they were enabling, and when players were denied their expectations, they would be upset.
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agj
Re: A history of not games
« Reply #10 on: February 18, 2010, 01:49:54 am »

I'm exploring "Ceremony of Innocence" that I have never heard before of, and that -- in a way -- looks similar to what I'm doing now. There is not much on the web about it but I've found an interesting video: http://vimeo.com/6743011

@ Michael
Is there more of stuff like that from the 90s?
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The world needs organization ^_^
Re: A history of not games
« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2010, 05:38:44 am »

^ It looks indeed fantastic.
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agj
Re: A history of not games
« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2010, 08:51:12 am »

Is there more of stuff like that from the 90s?

Wel, first of all, Ceremony of Innocence designer Alex Mayhew is still alive and kicking. In fact, we're working on a collaborative project for iPhone with him. Ceremony of Innocence was published by Real World, Peter Gabriel's publishing House. Peter Gabriel himself also made some interesting CD Roms. One was called Explora, the other Eve, if I remember correctly.

Laurie Anderson also made a CD Rom and so did The Residents, called Bad Day On the Midway.

I also liked Gerald Van Der Kaap's BlindRom. I believe there's even a picture I made somewhere on it.
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Re: A history of not games
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2010, 11:16:15 am »

Thanks Smiley
And what is the project you work on on iphone now?
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The world needs organization ^_^
Re: A history of not games
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2010, 09:20:03 pm »

And what is the project you work on on iphone now?

Something with butterflies and dreams. And probably wasps too. Smiley
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