Swimming Upstream

October 14, 2011 - Mixtapes

Being slow with the blog for a while means my backlog of experimental games has grown even more overwhelming. Today I’ll be covering some games from the June Experimental Gameplay Project, theme “MASHUP,” so you can see how far behind I am. There’s nothing for it but to keep pushing forward against all odds!

Squirrels with Machine Guns and Towers of the Prophet

Most of the June games took the theme in a pretty straightforward direction, mashing up two genres to see how the mechanics combined. For that reason, there weren’t any mind-blowers this month, but it was a great platform for simple gameplay experiments. One thing I found curious is that I really enjoyed both Squirrels and Towers, which use tower defense as one half of their equations, despite the fact that tower defense is perhaps my least favorite game genre. Luke O’Connor’s Squirrels combines it with a quirky platforming thing, while Towers by M.C. Spross combines it with an RPG.  It’s the latter that I could see really destroying my life, if it were polished up. This would seem to imply that my problem with tower defense games is just the inability to run around doing stuff that relates to the defense-building. I’ll never be a real strategist.

BookwormTris and Coglitz

Another theme this month is games that I found instantly addictive. Along with Towers of the Prophet, this includes BookwormTris, the Scrabble/Tetris mashup from Steve Gargolinski. The control scheme is quite awkward, but it sucked about half an hour of my life away. I’m told there are commercial games in this mold, but I’m furiously trying to forget that information for the sake of my health and productivity. I don’t think I’m familiar with the source games for Jonathan Giroux’s Coglitz, but it’s similarly difficult, awkward, and impossible to put down. Are mashups a good path to addictive gameplay? It makes sense. You get hooked on a game when it can be picked up easily but is hard to master. Combining two familiar gameplay styles could be a shortcut to that.


The artists were remarkably well behaved this month, but it just wouldn’t be an Experimental Gameplay Project without at least one game that flips off the theme, jumps out the window, and comes up with something neat. Arnaud de Bock’s Life doesn’t seem like much in its component parts: you’re a spermy thing, you collect stuff, things fall apart for no reason around you, and there are a lot of collision bugs. Yet it all adds up to something that doesn’t feel much like anything else. It also has quite a striking visual style, as seen above.


Games where your movement changes the environment are surprisingly hard. It’s inherently confusing when an action with well-known consequences is suddenly given consequences outside of its usual behavior. Impasse, a slick little puzzle game by Wanderlands, has a nicely stripped-down mechanic that uses that confusion to good effect. The levels are small and well-designed enough that you don’t lose your mind following the mechanics. They’re hard enough to follow on their own.




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