Dave Gilbert makes computer games.

For a living.

For serious.

We’ve reviewed his games before, and we like them.

You should, too.

…and here is the inaugural Yesterday’s Salad podcast: Yesterday’s Salad interviews Dave Gilbert!

This was a triumph!

January 23, 2008

We at Yesterday’s Salad pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge of yesterday’s news, particularly where gaming is concerned.  Although we snagged a prerelease copy of Supreme Commander, and somehow managed to review the excellent Blackwell Legacy within hours of its release (try the demo for the next game in the series!), since we do our best to act more grizzled than we really are (by several decades), most of our game coverage requires some dusting to stay relevant.  So it’s with some trepidation that I mention Portal, one of the best games to come out in this or any other universe.

In Portal, you play a silent protagonist who finds herself stuck in a series of experiments, run by the aptly-named Aperture Science corporation.  As the game progresses, and the experiments/tests become increasingly complex, you gain access to a “portal device,” a tool that can link two places in space.  Thanks to a robust physics engine, this leads to some remarkably non-linear movement and puzzle-solving, as well as countless “how-could-that-happen” kinds of moments.

For instance, to cross a particularly long chasm, you can simply create an opening to the portal on both sides of the chasm, and can simply bypass it.  However, when you consider that momentum is conserved going into and out of a portal (although it’s really speed being conserved), the possibilities multiply and get much, much weirder. If you fall into a portal on the ground, and the linked opening is on a wall, oriented horizontally, you will fly out of the opening.  Carefully placed openings can allow you to loop objects (or more cautiously, yourself) through a pair of portals with increasing speed, until they eventually slingshot out.

The story is excellent, and while there’s plenty of spoiler material out there, let me simply say that there is a tremendous amount of deadpan humor, particularly poking fun at the “scientific” trappings surrounding the tests.  So too, the A.I. who guides you through the tests is a thoroughly hilarious character, as she becomes progressively less helpful as you advance, and begins to make light of the considerable danger your character is in.  However, in true YS fashion, she continually hints that there will be cake at the end.

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Art and Gaming, Unabashed

October 9, 2007

In an early episode of the British sitcom “Spaced,” Tim and Daisy, the protagonists, counsel their downstairs neighbor, Brian, the tortured artist, on his fashion sense.

 

Daisy: You don’t like him, do you?
Tim: No, I do. I just think he’s a bit pretentious.
[Brian enters, wearing a very loud waistcoat]
Brian: How do you think I look?
Tim: Bit pretentious?
Daisy: You look lovely, Brian.
Brian: Do you think I should lose the waistcoat?
Tim: I think you should burn it. Because if you lose it, you might find it again.

Since Vince Twelve was kind enough to provide two games in “What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed” (conveniently abbreiviated “WLBSWHEAC”), running in simultaneous split-screen, here at Yesterday’s Salad we’ve opted to run two brief reviews of the game, side-by-side, ala Tim and Daisy.

The game is lovely. It’s a mix between two different but engaging puzzles, providing the player with a pair of different but illuminating narratives. One is particularly humorous, dotted with obscure science fiction references the world over; the other is downright mythopoetic, highlighting a young woman’s struggle to reassert the natural order of things, both in terms of the corporeal world and the ineffable.Yet, at first you only understand the one game, and then when you finish the really big puzzle at the center of it, you get to translate the puzzle that is happening above. Yet, while you’re engaged with it, the game above is still progressing somehow, it’s just that you don’t really know in which way. It’s a big mystery, until you finish the bottom game and enable the subtitles… then you can go back and see what you’ve been missing! The graphics are also pretty out of this world. The sci-fi game is admirably quirky, and the Japanese mythology game looks quite august in the detail with which it’s been drawn. Along with the sound design, which follows the gameplay hand-in-hand, and the cracking good dialogue  (which is both witty and at times bizzare). it’s an achievement of remarkable proportions.You see, it’s a game, but it makes you think in ways you wouldn’t imagine yourself doing so for any other game. In short, your interpretation of the game makes the whole thing last well beyond the time you’re playing it, such that it’s not really a game, after all. It’s a work of art. It’s a bit pretentious. I mean, seriously, there’s one ginormous puzzle in the middle of the game, with absolutely no ramping up of difficulty. And seriously, what kind of adventure game can it be if I don’t get to combine improbable items with one another to create MacGuyver-like contraptions? The author can have some brownie points for the central puzzle. It’s a lot harder than most of the puzzles with which adventure game-players are acquainted. Yet, seriously, if the guy is looking to appeal to a wider audience, should the central puzzle be one that you need a bloody graphic calculator to solve? Admittedly, the graphics are nice. Yet, what’s with putting half of the game in Japanese? Does he figure that most gamers worth their salt have worn through the Criterion Collection’s Kurosawa archive? Or perhaps he thinks that the average gamer’s brain is made of Twiglets and is relatively pliable? Seriously, though the independent-gaming press seems to be eating this game up, I can’t help but wonder if it’s just because they don’t “get” the game and are deathly afraid of appearing that way.I mean, contentions aside, it’s a good, solid game with very hard puzzles and bitching graphics. The dynamic music is also a strong point for a game that you might be playing (and pulling your hair out from) for quite some time.  Furthermore, you can get subtitles to the Japanese game if you complete the bottom game. And this will definitely turn some people off, although it’s funny to think that many adventure gamers have no problem taking *hours* to decode cyphers or other codes in games.

But the way that people fawn over it, ooh ahh, it’s a little weird. And I worry that people will immediately forsake the fact that it’s a game for the fact that it’s somewhat abstract, and will praise it but not play through it… simply latching on to it’s complexity without appreciating that as a part of adventure games. Kind of like a really bright gem as the only gem, when it’s really among many other gems that shine differently, right? I mean, I certainly get it. Do you?

No matter what the aspiring artist or jaded critic in you might say, “What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed” is an excellent game, and probably belongs in a similarly themed gallery installation near you. While some games might appeal to gamers alone, WLBSWHEAC is a game that you ought to play if you can operate a mouse, and well-worth sharing with pretty much everyone you know who uses a computer, if only to see where the medium can go. Any smoke that comes out of your ears is simply the gears of your mind coming to a halt and is par for the course. •

ATZiens

October 8, 2007

In response to Joseph Campbell’s theory of the hero’s quest, the lengthy and complex journey of the “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Kurt Vonnegut posited his “hole” theory of the novel. Roughly, the “hole” theory is as follows: 1. Hero gets in hole, 2. Hero gets out of hole. Given that Campbell was an interpreter of myth and the mythic (a category into which you can lump much of James Joyce), while Vonnegut wrote short stories and novels, perhaps their schemas are both correct, albeit for different tasks. As far as adventure games are concerned, while there are a few games that are truly epic or mythic in scope, given that brevity is the soul of wit, most would-be game designers would do well to constrain themselves to the hole theory.

atzshot1.gif“Alien Time Zone,” or “ATZ,” is a short first effort by Babar, and a perfect example of hole theory; the author set reasonable goals, which lead to an intriguing game. In “ATZ,” you play an alien named Ejak who has found himself trapped in a cave on Earth. Weakened by a bop on the head from the locals, Ejak must find a way out of the cave without breaking the doors down or digging his way out. However, Ejak has a Tralfamadorian ace up his sleeve: he can travel through time in the same space.

The graphics for “ATZ” are functional but cute, and the sound is intriguing, with music courtesy of m0ds. The effect of Ejak jumping through time is truly weird and arresting (describing it here would diminish its initial shock), but it fits well with the setting and character. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, and as one might imagine, most solutions center around Ejak’s peculiar chronology. Overall, the game is brief and enjoyable, and one hopes that Babar will bring us more of the same caliber in the future. •