Closure has been around for awhile and gotten some pretty prestigious awards, but compared to other games of its caliber there has not been that much talk about it. One reason would be the availability – so far there is only the version hidden away on PSN, and only in the US. There is also the matter of Closure being a much more subtle game than other puzzle-platform games, there is a distinct art style and hints of a narrative but the game is very clearly about solving discrete puzzles and everything else is designed to be unobtrusive.

Not in a bad way – the art and music fit the themes and gameplay very well even if they are simple, and the lack of secondary design elements keeps the game focused. For the casual eye it would be easy to dismiss Closure as “just another puzzle-platformer” though.

As a side note, I really dislike it when people – journalists and industry people in particular – refer to games this way. When a genre reaches a certain mass it  breeds a familiarity which gives us the opportunity to challenge conventions and use genre tropes for communication in ways that are obvious enough that people will not mistake it for poor design. An idea does not stop being original merely because it is based on platform or first-person gameplay. What annoys me the most about it is that the games that somehow avoid “puzzle-platformer” scorn are often the ones that stand out because of art, audio or narrative and not the ones that are doing anything functionally new – if that is not what makes a game unique, why bother talking about them? But back to Closure.

Closure offers an impressive array of puzzles ranging from simple to complex without adding too many new elements, every new gameplay element is combined with existing ones to form new challenges. It does not repeat many puzzles, but some take a lot of time and precision to solve – as you are often no more than a jump or misstep away from losing a vital item replaying levels can get repetitive. In fact, the biggest problem I had with Closure was that it was so imprecise, it was hard to judge if the game challenged my lateral thinking skills or just wanted me to do pixel-perfect light placement and jumping.

It is a game of stark contrasts, of light and oblivion. It says something of the skills of the team that every single level is designed around this theme without it getting boring – it would be hard to find anything just like it. If that is not the kind of innovation we should be looking for I don’t know what is.

Posted on Jun 29/12 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Quantum Conundrum


Quantum Conundrum feels a lot like an action game with puzzle elements; more often than not the obstacles are easy to figure out but hard to overcome. There are a few levels that are mostly cerebral – almost all of them in the first half of the game – but a majority of them require precision and reflexes more than they require brain power. Platforming in first-person games is rarely done well and Quantum Conundrum is no exception, but to its credit it has good placement of checkpoints so you rarely have to repeat tasks once you have done them once. Also, it usually manages to communicate whether a solution is wrong or just hard to perform which is a common pitfall for these types of games.

Overall, it is a nice game – the visuals are coherent and detailed with a Ratchet & Clank – thing going on, while the height of the narrative is some bad puns it is unobtrusive enough. Still though, it feels like a game with a few interesting and unique puzzles padded with a series of run-of-the-mill platforming challenges. The former felt rewarding to solve, the latter felt like a waste of time – though maybe I was hoping for a puzzle game with a few action elements instead of what it is. Quantum Conundrum rewards you for completing a level quickly, without dying or by performing as few actions as possible. The game wants you to know that there is still challenge to be had once you have figured out the solution, but to me the best parts of it were the places were there was not.

Also, I played Resonance which was a pretty nice adventure game. The story was intriguing although sadly this was hampered a bit for me as I found the characters a bit too clicheed to be really likeable, but it managed to set a nice mood and kept you guessing about the outcome nevertheless. The thing with Resonance was that it was made as a 90s adventure game, and while people who were big fans back then probably enjoy the design today it feels a bit dated to those of us who expect a more user-friendly experience. Still, well worth playing.

Posted on Jun 25/12 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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I don’t like review scores either

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It should be said that I am probably not the target demographic for game reviewers; I usually play games from recommendation or in some cases games that are too obscure to be reviewed in the first place. That being said, I wonder who actually does benefit from them. I wanted to say something about it after reading the a review on Quarter to Three, considering when that review was posted most of the commenters had not played the game but still decided to pour their hate over said review.

This of course doesn’t apply to all studios and certainly not all publications, but there has been a lack of integrity in the relationships between the game press and the publishers/developers. Write nice, long previews and give us magazine covers and you may come to the closed preview. Give us a low score and we might not even send you a review copy next time. There are plenty of examples of people on all sides acting irresponsibly – lately the practice of publishers holding developers’ bonuses hostage to aggregate ratings have been hot in the rumormill. This is not quite as absurd as it should be, but I’ll get to that in a bit – what is more absurd is how both developers and gamers are blaming the gaming press for indirectly lowering developer salaries this way.

I do enjoy comparing viewpoints so reading reviews is always very rewarding to me, I mostly take issue with the scoring system. Even the idea of quantizing quality is not in itself bad, but since the dawn of games reviewing we have focused on breaking down a game into its functional components – art, sound, design etc. – and tallied up scores in an attempt to objectively determine if a game is good. I do agree that this might be a good way to judge the performance of the individual developers (hence it not being so absurd to use it to determine bonus payments), but at best it gives you very basic information about how well the game succeeded with its ambitions, not if the reviewer enjoyed it.

During the last few years games as a medium have diversified immensely, and even among traditional games the independent scene has made sure we get interesting new experiences. The fears from the early 2000s, that the evolution of games had essentially devolved into a tech race rather than a quest for innovation, are mostly moot now. Looking at a game as anything but a holistic, subjective experience has never been particularly helpful, but now it is also becoming very hard to do.

Posted on Jun 15/12 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture | No Comments »