The faint creaking of cardboard and wires.



Half-Life 2

by Kemal Dis

Oh my goodness, yes.

There’s a moment in the original Myst that I remember vividly. It was in Channelwood, in Sirrus’ study. Turning to walk out of the room, you see a strange sight: Amid the otherwise well-appointed and ornate interior, sit two broken chairs. What happened here? No one ever tells you. That moment stuck with me for its understated mystery, its hinting at a little, forgotten story outside the main narrative. 
For years, I’ve wanted to play a game that’s all about those broken chairs. No action, no puzzles, maybe not even a single line of dialog. Just exploration and a story told through the environment. 
I think Gone Home is finally that broken-chair game.

Commenter rdgalactus on Polygon’s review of Gone Home, a game that takes the ambient storytelling style I loved in Myst and the Half-Life series and fucking perfects it.

The game is not the story. The game is the framing device. It’s after 1 a.m. on June 7, 1995. You play 21-year-old Kaitlin Greenbriar, arriving from a year abroad to the house in Portland your family moved into while you were gone. Your parents aren’t home. And your 17-year-old sister has apparently run away.

As you move through the house, the story unfolds: through letters and post-it notes, mixtapes and ticket stubs, and through your sister’s narrated journal entries, which are triggered by picking up certain significant objects. The framing device is a mystery story—and the game goes out of its way to spook you, flickering lights in an empty house during a thunderstorm—but the real story is something else.

It’s like an old Sierra adventure game, but with grown-up writing and no stupid puzzles. It’s like BioShock, but nobody’s trying to kill you. It’s like Myst, but it has female characters with agency. (Zing!) It’s like every game I’ve ever played because I loved the story and tolerated the annoying gameplay, minus the annoying gameplay.

Maybe that’s your kind of thing, maybe it isn’t, but it is very definitely my kind of thing. This was the best twenty bucks I’ve spent all month.

Kentucky Route Zero is a magical realism adventure game about a secret highway in the caves beneath Kentucky, and the mysterious folks who travel it. Gameplay is inspired by point-and-click adventure games, but focused on characterization, atmosphere and storytelling rather than clever puzzles or challenges of skill.

I played through Act I—Acts II through V will be released over the course of 2013—in about an hour this afternoon. It was unexpectedly lovely, evocative of everything from Monkey Island to Cosmic Osmo to Sword & Sworcery, and it all looks—and sounds—exactly as good as the trailer. If you like your video games on the artsy, avant-garde, story-heavy side (and who doesn’t?), I unequivocally recommend it.

And then there’s this.

Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.

They finally—finally—updated Half-Life 2 with HDR lighting. It’s fucking gorgeous.

[Originally posted to Facebook, 26 May 2008.]

It’s been a long time since I’ve been genuinely frightened by a piece of media—The Raw Shark Texts had its moments; Bioshock was pretty tense; I had a hard time sleeping after The Orphanage—but I think the dry spell is over.

You see, today I played Penumbra: Overture for the first time.

In the past couple of years, I’ve thought about what sorts of things I find scary, what my triggers are, what buttons I have to be pushed. This game pushes most of them until its fingers are bloody. And then its fingers get chewed off by fucking zombie dogs. If I made a scary game, it would probably look exactly like this, only maybe with more psychotic VCRs.

But seriously, though. I played for maybe half an hour, and most of that was creeping as slowly as possible through the dark and trying to figure out the incredibly irritating game mechanics. And then I found myself in a sub-sub-sub-basement—

Wait. Let me backtrack.

So I’m poking around this abandoned lead-mine-cum-military-base, in the freaking dark, with a flashlight that gobbles batteries like no one’s business and I’m afraid to use it anyway in case something finds me, and I find a big old wooden crate. From under this crate, the game helpfully tells me, comes a draft. Well! Let’s move it, then, see what that’s about. Whoop, there are some big heavy rocks in the crate. We’ll just set those aside. Okay, rocks out, move the big ol’ crate—hey! A trap door! Go figure. Open it up… huh. There used to be a ladder here. Looks like it was… sawed off.

Anyway, hop on down into the basement, and oh, cool, I can hear something fucking moving in the dark. There are tunnels down here, and I’m really not feeling like poking around too much except I don’t really have a way out and—oh, good, the ladder. Just lying on the floor of the tunnel. A good fifty feet—anyway, I’ll just drag it back to the trap door, aware the entire time that I can’t see what’s behind me, prop it just so, climb up, okay, we’re good, let’s just shut that ol’ trap door right up and—

And what, Simon? Maybe put a box over it? Maybe weigh down the box with some heavy rocks? Maybe all that shit was there for a reason in the first place?

So that’s the story of how I stopped playing the game and turned on my bedroom light and started dicking around on Facebook instead. Because I’m a great big baby.

(Yes, I’m a little afraid of VCRs.)