Recensie nrc.next: Where Is My Heart?

Recensie verschenen in de nrc.next ergens in december 2011:

“Where is my Heart?” is een platform-puzzelspel van Deense sensatie Die Gute Fabrik. Je bestuurt om beurten één van drie ontheemde monsters die in het bos de weg naar huis proberen te vinden. De monsters zijn charmant geanimeerd, het bos is getekend in wondermooie pixel-art en de soundtrack bestaat uit frisse 8-bit muziek. Dat is allemaal bijzaak. Waar het om gaat is de buitengewoon originele manier van spelen.

Je ziet van elk level alleen een stel kaders zoals een strip, maar deze zijn totaal uit hun verband gerukt. Je hebt geen flauw idee wat je door elk kader van het level ziet en wat de relatie met de rest is. Loop of spring je een kader uit, dan kom je vaak heel ergens anders terecht dan je verwacht. Visueel gedesoriënteerd ben je in elk level op zoek naar de relatie tussen je waarnemingen en de achterliggende werkelijkheid. Die vind je het makkelijkst door al spelend je hersens te dwingen de juiste verbindingen te leggen.

Onderweg gebruik je de speciale vaardigheden van Bat King en Antler Ancestor (onzichtbare dingen zien, dubbel springen) maar Rainbow Spirit steelt de show. Hij kan de kaders van een level herschikken en kiezen in welke hij landt. Dat zet alles op zijn kop en de eerste keer dat ik het deed viel ik bijna van mijn stoel.

“Where is my Heart?” is een zeldzaam moeilijk spel wat daardoor hier en daar eentonig dreigt te worden. De verzorgde uitvoering trekt je daar gelukkig doorheen en uiteindelijk duurt het niet heel lang voor de monsters weer thuis zijn en jij thuis met een voldaan gevoel naar de aftiteling kijkt.

Recensie nrc.next: Botanicula

Recensie verschenen in de nrc.next van 20 juni 2012:

Het langverwachte “Botanicula” van Amanita Design is uit en het is nog mooier dan de vorige spellen (Samorost, Machinarium etc.) van deze studio. De jaren werk die erin zitten zijn af te zien en te horen aan dit spel dat verbaast door zijn pure schoonheid.

In Botanicula speel je vijf botanische wezens die de boom waar ze leven moeten redden van duistere spinnen die alles dood maken. Dit loopt uiteindelijk —natuurlijk— goed af.

Het flinterdunne verhaal is een excuus om mooie dingen te laten zien. Elk scherm is een botanische aquarel waarin van alles dwarrelt, deint of iets anders schattigs doet als reactie op jou. Amanita meet zich hiermee met de groten uit de animatiewereld en brengt het daar goed vanaf.

Zo prachtig als het is uitgevoerd, zo simpel is het spel. Je verzamelt zaadjes en klikt dieren aan op de boom om weer andere wezens te helpen die je verder brengen. Niet heel ingewikkeld maar makkelijker gezegd dan gedaan. Soms is ook na zoeken de bedoeling niet helemaal duidelijk en er zitten minigames in die in verhouding met de rest van het spel te moeilijk zijn.

Dit maakt dat het spel niet heel diepgaand is maar een paar uur plezier heb je er zeker wel van. Botanicula is zo’n kinderboek dat je als volwassene ook kunt kopen en wie ermee aan de slag gaat maakt dan ook niet zoveel meer uit.

Recensiewerk voor de nrc.next

Ik ben even in de e-mail archieven gedoken om mijn recensie-arbeid voor de nrc.next te verzamelen. Naast wat er al op het ter-ziele-gegane Bashers staat, zal ik de rest hier posten.

Inside a Star-filled Sky van Jason Rohrer op 13 juli 2011

The Cat and the Coup van Peter Brinson op 19 augustus 2011

Phone Story van Molleindustria op 10 november 2011

Er volgen dan nog de recensies voor the Binding of Isaac, Where Is My Heart? en Botanicula die wel in de krant maar nooit op Bashers zijn verschenen en wat ik daarna nog weet te schrijven.

Games on Ignite Berlin #3

Last week I presented at the Berlin Ignite. I had been present at the last one and greatly enjoyed, so I looked what I could add to the mix.

I threw most of the thinking in the studios for the past 1-2 years on the floor with post-its and distilled the pertinent threads from that. As it happens ‘New Games for New Cities’ was the title of a presentation Kars gave some time ago to which I had contributed but had forgotten about.

Leafing through the older presentations, it is good to see that the thinking has evolved over the years. The old points still hold, but time and experience has refined our opinions and forced us to refocus here and there.

Putting the presentation together was a fair amount of work (and not something I was particularly looking forward to the week before a holiday) but all of the positive responses were more than worth it. I can highly recommend Ignite for the mix of topics it touches on, the fun and light delivery and the varied and open crowd it attracts.

Week 282: back in Berlin, street games at Play Publik

Wood paneled, 1-2 seated, ICE second class makes my TGV experience of a week ago look decidedly shabby

Last Monday was the end of the holiday with a leisurely train ride from Munich to Berlin during which I managed to chew through a lot of e-mails and revise a bunch of maths.

The rest of the week was spent mostly working through e-mails, meetings and social calls. Netzpolitik celebrated their birthday in C-Base with some nice drinks.

And rather quickly Kars Alfrink arrived in Berlin for the Play Publik festival. You’ll notice some similarities between my personal weeknotes and the general Hubbub weeknotes for last week.

Virtueel Platform published the videos of our talks in Helsinki, so there you have me talking about open data:

With our Hubbub strength over at the Berlin studio doubled on Wednesday we finished saba. After that it was straight on working on buta all the while playing games at the festival.

Best panel discussion ever #playpublik

On Friday I had another additional studio guest with Sebastian Deterding. That was also the day that I experienced the beautiful Our Broken Voice at Ostbahnhof.

Gamification (sic!) discussion with @karsalfrink @ericzimmerman @dingstweets

@karsalfrink talking about pigs

The rest of the weekend was spent working on buta and playing games at Play Publik with nary a moment’s rest in between. It was nice to be finally able to play Starry Heavens by Eric Zimmerman. I and a lot of people had a lot of fun with Hit Me.

Kevin Slavin in Berlin!

The final day there was a presentation by Kevin Slavin and we closed off the event with a massive game of Charge of the Rubber Ball Brigade. There are many awesome pictures online over at Facebook (which is a shame).

Blind Sequence Trust

De serie video’s Blind Sequence Trust van kunstenaar Joan Leandre speelt in DAM nog tot en met 5 mei.

Joan Leandre - Blind Sequence Trust

Leandre is een kunstenaar die al decennia lang bezig is met het gebruiken van computer 3D engines van allerlei vormen om verhalen te vertellen en emoties op te roepen. Het werk zoals dat in DAM te zien is, is lastig te plaatsen, maar zowel de beelden als de muziek zijn bijzonder goed uitgevoerd waardoor dingen die niets met elkaar te maken lijken te hebben, toch weten te boeien.

De geavanceerde 3D engines die nu beschikbaar zijn maken het ogenschijnlijk makkelijk om complete werelden te schetsen en te manipuleren. Werelden die zich alleen niet houden aan de regels van de werkelijkheid maar er zelf eentje creëeren waarin alles kan. Leandre put uit science-fiction en de natuur voor zijn werk en maakt daar uitgebreide bewegende collages van.

Het hergebruiken van deze 3D engines zorgt voor een verwarrend resultaat. De artefacten van 3D engines zijn terug te zien net zoals de billboards waarmee bomen worden gerendered en de particle systems die normaal gesproken zorgen voor explosies, rook en vuur. Buiten de game-logica geplaatst krijgen deze effecten een totaal andere lading.

De artiest zelf geeft in dit Rhizome-interview allerhande verklaringen voor zijn werk maar zoals zo vaak bij dit soort dingen, klinkt het naar wartaal. Beter is het om zelf naar het werk te kijken en je te laten meevoeren.

A Dutch theater debate in Berlin

A week or two ago I attended a discussion at the Deutsches Theater ‘Holland in Not’ that was organized because of a recently published book “Der Kulturinfarkt, vom Allem zu viel und überall das Gleiche” that proposed to close half of all theaters in Germany.

That prompted quite a bit of debate in the German cultural scene as well as the discussion at the DT. The event hosted by the Deutsches Theater brought together notables from the German theater scene and invited Alize Zandwijk (head of the Ro Theater) and Johan Simons (intendant of the Münchner Kammerspiele) to explain the Dutch situation to the gathered Germans.

Bizarrely posh environment, here for a debate about theater cuts

What had to be laid out again for the audience is that German and Dutch theater are organized very differently. In Germany the theaters have their own ensembles that play a broad range of repertoire in their own house but seldom or never visit other houses in Germany. That means that in a certain area you know what you will get, but you will also never get anything else. In the Dutch situation, groups are separate from theaters (though some have their home venues) and each play is performed on tour through the Netherlands. Theaters are free to program whatever they want. When it comes to funding and entrepreneurship, the Dutch systems is already operating quite lean with a lot of free groups and experiments creating a lively theater scene (most of which is going to disappear). In Germany theater is concentrated in monolithic houses that are endowed lavish budgets.

Explaining just those differences, which some panelists also had to come to terms with, took a lot of time. The rest was filled with rallying the known entities against the barbarians outside of the gates. No amount of misrepresentation or reassurance was spared to achieve that goal. Alize Zandwijk and Johan Simons played their role of cultural asylums seekers well supported by the Germans proclaiming loudly that they will never let it go so far.

What happened in the Netherlands (the Times has also picked it up) was inevitable in retrospect. I wonder if none of our artists have ever read The Art of War. It stands to reason that if you neglect your allies, let your supply lines wither and do not maintain your fortresses, you open yourself up to attack from any rag-tag band of marauders that happen to be in the area (or in government). That is what has happened to an arts sector that had become utterly complacent and lax thinking that they were beyond dispute. Such arrogance will and should be punished.

Things move much more slowly in Germany and abrupt cuts will probably not happen. Some budgetary restrictions and reorganizations might well benefit the theater landscape here if employed with vision but even that seems unlikely. The Dutch example is useful to scare off critical discussion of the scene here.

Alize Zandwijk made a defeated impression and was quite incoherent. Simons remarked that as an intendant he enters into a dialogue with the city, develops a discourse and as such has a lot of authority but if he has to leave, his institution will not be diminished. The intendant of the Deutsches Theater showed that he is on the ball and wants to nip sentiments such as the ones in the book in the bud.

However well intentioned the debate was, it did at no point leave the realm of cliché and touch the real issue at hand: the devaluation of authority everywhere in society. Authority that intendants in Germany are used to having and will probably have for decades to come because of inflexibilities built into German society. In the Netherlands that same authority has evaporated and none of our culture heads know what to do without it.

One panelists said the audience based grants that are planned in the Netherlands will be the purest form of commercialization of the arts. You could call it that, but you may just as well call it a democratization that has been long overdue. Not trusting people to be able to make the right choices is rarely a good idea. Telling them that you know what is best for them based on an authority that is no longer justified in this day and age is a sure fire recipe for disaster.

As if to emphasize that notion, the gathered audience —having listened to over an hour of turgid debate— was not allowed to interject afterwards. With such an attitude the fortresses of high culture in Germany may be stormed as well.

Post Scriptum

The last couple of years I have seen an insane amount of theater compared to everybody I know. I should be one of theater’s staunchest defenders but having seen so much with so little change, risk and openness I find myself being their biggest detractor. Simons mentioned that the Brandhaarden they played in Amsterdam had been fully booked. If anywhere in the Netherlands there is still a market for the arts and left liberal politics it is indeed there.

From that same festival I had recommended the Kane trilogy to a friend but given it’s rather high ticket price and the fact that theater is a hit and miss affair, I found myself advising spending that time and money playing Mass Effect 3 (at the price of two theater tickets) as a better investment overall.

It is no secret that I think games are the most important cultural carrier of our age but my issues run deeper. A sector that says it creates culture of societal importance, but that cannot mount a viable defense for itself refutes the premise. It shows that what you pay for as a spectator and a tax payer is not much more than self-importance.

Cultural Consumption 2011

I dived into my log to make the yearly tally of what I did and saw. All in all 2011 has proven to be a good year.

It was a bit of a slow movie year though. I only saw 56, the best of which were: “Drive”, “Melancholia”, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, “Blue Valentine”, “Norwegian Wood”, “True Grit”, “Almanya”, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Kosmos”.

I went to 32 plays in 2011. The best ones:

I read 21 books in 2011. The most notable of those were:

I started tracking the games I played around halfway through the year, so this is not an exhaustive list, but five games I really enjoyed last year were: “Where is my Heart?”, “Nidhogg”, “Space Alert”, “The Binding of Isaac” and “The Resistance”.

Cultural Criticism Without Borders

When I just got into Germany we managed to pin point something I had noticed before. It is striking how conservative people in Germany are when it comes to the internet and especially people who work in cultural positions. Compared to that, the Netherlands of the past five years has gone through a rather tumultuous revolution.

This was prompted a bit by responses are to the new play “Edward II” directed by Ivo van Hove at the Schaubühne here. I am yet to see the play, but I hear it’s pretty good. Judging from the set pictures and the trailer it is one of the more modern pieces at this particular theater. It seems to have been rather poorly received in the papers, which have treated it not really on merit, but with thinly veneered hatchet jobs where critics employed their position to jab at this or that enemy in the German cultural landscape. One particular critic even projected his own frustrations and personal perversions onto the play in a national daily. Germany still seems to be that place where personal gripes are written down and nailed to a door somewhere.

The modern look of the play seemed to draw particular ire and especially the liberal use of video projections on the stage (a staple at Toneelgroep Amsterdam). It seems that German theater viewers cannot deal with mixed media and are either confused on where to look or too closed minded to accept projected images alongside the action happening live on the stage. This is one symptom of a lack in media literacy.

Ivory towered gentlemen with a strangle hold on culture may be one extreme, in the Netherlands we suffer from the other. Reviews of works of culture in the papers are oftentimes as thin as the paper they are printed on. Usually they superficially treat a work and tack on a bit of buyer’s advice. It is painfully obvious that they are written by people who have to write twenty such pieces a day lest they are fired. I write video game reviews in Dutch periodical nrc.next myself, but looking for my piece in the paper one day, I read a review for a movie I’d been to that was so bad, it brought tears to my eyes. Theater reviews have held their own, but they are hit and miss and you’re better off reading only those written by Simon van den Berg.

As I see it a piece in a newspaper treating a work of culture should be some parts of either a review or a critique and probably a bit of both. A review is a brief summary of a piece without giving much away, explaining how it will fulfill the expectations of a prospective audience so they can decide whether to go/buy/use it or not. A critique should be a deep diving treatment of that piece, how it compares to all other works and how it is relevant to society in any subset that the critic deems relevant. Such a critique should contain judicious amounts of post-modern literary theory, internet savvy remix, unit operational analysis and it should bridge clefts of continuity, medium, style and social stratum. Above all both reviews and critiques must be entertaining to read and they must bring something new to the table.

I get to write 80 words or so for the paper and in that little space I try to do the above because we want to further discourse around video games in the Netherlands. As we see it procedural media are busy upending the entire traditional cultural landscape and strict divisions of any kind in culture and art will not be tenable in the future. The institutions are crumbling and that is a good thing. This is unfortunately a radical notion even in the Netherlands, I have no clue how it will hold up in Germany where institutions are even more conservative and society is much more stratified.

In any case we cannot fill the entire newspaper by ourselves, nor should we want to. We can only strive to educate and elucidate by writing and talking about media in this particular way and hope that it catches on. I’m interested to see if my notions are at all true and if the German or Dutch discourse can be inched forward in the coming year with some choice interventions. Help to achieve that or explanations in how I am completely wrong are always welcome.

Week 226

Last week a bunch of visual progress was made on culiacán. Expect an August release on that.

Also a longer version of my review of Inside a Star-filled Sky was posted to Bashers. Seemingly any post that does not contain meta-criticism has a hard time attracting comments over there (maybe everywhere). More stuff was published also about Jason Rohrer, especially of note the Wired piece about Chain World.

Mid-week marked the first deployed iteration of guadalupe. If development on that goes the way we want it, expect private alpha invites to become available also in August.

End of the week we spent a bunch of time doing a submission to SxSWi to talk about the Heist Model. It’s an edgy philosophy and a fun way of working, which we look forward to expound in Austin accompanied by friends, margaritas and BBQ.

Friday there was Ball Invasion (with friends):
Ball Invasion with Alex and Peter

After which I managed to get stuck with a car and drive it up North to the Appsterdam HQ for the iOS Devcamp that was in progress.

iOS devcamp

The weekend was marked by rainy misery and a short piece of writing about open data becoming a normal practice of Amsterdam City-Center.