Alphaland, a game
May 4, 2011 3:50 PM   Subscribe

Alphaland: your friend has sent you a game in the alpha stage of development, but it soon becomes clear that there is more there than just the test level.
posted by The Devil Tesla (44 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
My player avatar is a blue rectangle.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:01 PM on May 4, 2011

Finished.. delightful. Cool little game.
posted by ReeMonster at 4:11 PM on May 4, 2011

too fiddly platformer. 1 minute in and I was being forced to carry out a whole series of precision jumps (any error sending me back to the start of the task) just to progress to the next bunch of blocks
posted by Bwithh at 4:14 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've fallen and I can't get up.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:23 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Perhaps there is an end to this, but the music tells me that the experience of being trapped is the real point.
posted by stonepharisee at 4:25 PM on May 4, 2011

Was there a quacking power up I missed that would have allowed me to make the narrative leap required for me to understand the ending?
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:26 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Poor little unfinished level needs a hug.
posted by rouftop at 4:28 PM on May 4, 2011

That was fun. Good few minutes of distraction.
posted by knapah at 4:41 PM on May 4, 2011

Yeah.. game's only about 7 minutes long.
posted by ReeMonster at 4:57 PM on May 4, 2011

Well, I got bored after six. Anything interesting in the end?
posted by delmoi at 4:59 PM on May 4, 2011

That was nice little piece of work right there. Give me tiny indie meditations on the nature of being and consciousness and I'm happy.

too fiddly platformer

It is rather fiddly in spots, yeah. It's short and none of the required jumps are actually particularly hard once you figure out how to handle them (in a lot of cases the answer can be "jump first, move second"), but agreed that what is otherwise a nice little accessible platformer-as-character-study thing might chase off a lot of folks.

We can probably just blame it on Terry VVVVVV Cavanagh being involved, whether it's actually him being a bad influence or not.
posted by cortex at 5:00 PM on May 4, 2011

The commentary scattered throughout the level isn't the little blue character. It's the game talking, its levels and pixels and puzzles and fiddly platforming (I just held down the run button and jumped a lot; the blocks were forgiving).

Having traveled outside of any planned narrative, you, the player avatar, escape the game's grasp. It's transcendence within the mini-world and, if the Buddhist tradition of a unifying awareness is to be believed, this transcendence actually allows 'you' to be part of a single entity of observation. Like players, we all observe the avatar subjectively; it's an extension of us within the gaming world and we thus accept its limitations without doubt. We can only jump so high, run so fast, do so many things, and naturally, we go to collect the little gold trophies scattered around the levels.

But this breaks down. A duck quacks, we jump higher, and the attachments are loosened. This continues with the blocks that make up the physical plane of the game destroyed in order to reach the end.

And when the world breaks down, all that's left is the avatar. The levels, once glitched, now simply fall away, the powers are forgotten, and we, the player, see the credits roll and understand the game to be a game. Detached from the avatar, we expand in the metaview, back to the observant self instead of the enmeshed. Because, this whole time the world that we were so enmeshed in is revealed to be a fake, existing only through our indulgence in the avatar. Before us is only our computer screen or television or cyborg dog laser beam neurotransmitter eyes. And it turns out that the world is not the world, but our observation of it through the little blue avatar.

And of course, that's just my recent post-grad, new-to-meditation understanding of it. There's a lot to be said about vague endings and the relationship it forms between the author and the writer. And so, maybe it's art, because we can talk circles about it if we really, really wanted to. And I guess I do, because I like to, and because I indulged in the presented imaginary and found some of it to be powerful.

On preview, yeah, pretty much what Cortex said.
posted by dubusadus at 5:02 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

So that's why object allocations are so slow.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 5:03 PM on May 4, 2011

I'm currently testing a flash game and I keep sending people alpha builds to test. Hopefully playing this doesn't scare them off.

I liked it a lot, actually. Very minimalist puzzle platform game. A lot of the "background noise" animation looked like Conway's game of life noise, which was a nice touch.
posted by hellojed at 5:15 PM on May 4, 2011

Cute. Delightfully unstructured. Good for those slow, day-dreamy afternoons.
posted by Avelwood at 5:21 PM on May 4, 2011

I've been waiting for a video game adaption of House of Leaves, and here it is!
posted by quillbreaker at 5:39 PM on May 4, 2011

Very nice. For some reason, brings me back to C64 Adventure Creator.
posted by HeroZero at 5:46 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

The voice is this played backwards.
posted by clarknova at 5:49 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

....Is it broken? I only see a black screen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 PM on May 4, 2011

GRAR. I can't get past the variable wind pit. Fsck you, game.
posted by maryr at 7:30 PM on May 4, 2011

I normally don't have a lot of patience for this sort of thing, but that was delightful.

Headphones were definitely a good idea.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:49 PM on May 4, 2011

Super sweet. Worth persevering with. Thank you.
posted by motty at 7:50 PM on May 4, 2011


GRAR. I can't get past the variable wind pit. Fsck you, game.

The win picks up every third jump (so every third jump is super high).
posted by axiom at 8:10 PM on May 4, 2011

Am I missing something?

You spend a few minutes doing mundane tasks to unlock your way through blocks (watch out -- those #333 ones won't ruin you, but those #666's will! But not the ones that are flashing!), going back into areas you'd already gone into in the process. Initially you're drawn by the idea that the game will keep developing the intrigue and become more emotionally tolling as you go on, but it doesn't.

The design itself makes it look like there are other things to discover, but once you realize it's just linear and you're simply a mouse getting to the end of the maze, it becomes pointless and more of a chore to finish. With all the jumping and exploring I did not realizing that until later on, it only ended up being a waste of my time.

Needless to say, the ending sequence was quite possibly the easiest way out, especially since the whole plot of the game is that the world itself is aware of its own mortality. They could have redeemed themselves there, but alas.

After reading some of the reviews here and on Newgrounds, I feel like I didn't even play the same game as the rest of you. You could play a level or two of Portal in the time it takes to play this, and you'd be more fulfilled strategically, scared-shitlessly, humorously and story-wise.

(MaryR/Axiom: the wind picks up every few seconds. I don't think it is based on jumps.)
posted by june made him a gemini at 8:14 PM on May 4, 2011

(MaryR/Axiom: the wind picks up every few seconds. I don't think it is based on jumps.)

Well I was counting jumps and it was every third one, which probably just means that at max jump frequency, 3 jumps takes as long as the wind cycle. I'm not about to play through to that part again to figure it out, though.
posted by axiom at 8:31 PM on May 4, 2011

I got to the variable wind pit and then gave up from boredom. The high accuracy jumping is never pleasant when frequently necessary.

But for the wind pit, the numbers change from 40 to 12 when the wind picks up. I never saw a correlation when this occurred and how many jumps you had taken. I ended waiting around for this to occur, which likely explains my boredom.

Anyways, neat idea, could use some work. Good for 10 minutes of interest.
posted by graxe at 9:18 PM on May 4, 2011

So I fall a lot, and eventually I can't find anywhere else to go? I mean, the music's nice, but I don't know what I am supposed to or even able to accomplish in this game.
posted by PueExMachina at 9:20 PM on May 4, 2011

Yes, it's every third jump. Not sure I would have noticed that if I hadn't skimmed the thread first, though.

I thought it was cute. More fun after I switched modes from "explore every corner" to "forge ahead". It's pretty forgiving and I never had to worry too much. More of a race game than a puzzle game.

The jumping seemed pretty easy and it never put me back very far for a miss.
posted by fleacircus at 9:29 PM on May 4, 2011

Rather enjoyed this, played it to the end! Didn't have too much trouble with the controls...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:45 PM on May 4, 2011

Reminded me a lot of Goonies II on NES.

Protip: Don't keep punching Konami-Man.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:47 PM on May 4, 2011

Actually, I think I need to explain my comment about Goonies II more. Because half of me meant that as a joke, which I think would be barely funny if anyone here remembers Goonies II, which I think is unlikely.

But half of me meant it seriously, and not so much in a the gameplay and level design is similar (though that's not totally ludicrous) kind of way.

More in a: Wow, this reminds me what games were like when their crudeness was vaguely unsettling and I was young enough for that to make a strong impression. Like, hmm, I don't know how to describe it better than that. Maybe that suffices. But when I was a wee lad, games were kind of intimidating and we didn't consciously separate what the designers intent was from the game actually was. I mean, yes, that's because I didn't really have any conscious thoughts about games being the product of someone's efforts, but it's easy to forget that I ever thought that way. So the weird glitches and accidents were as much a part of it as all the careful design choices. And the crude aspects were maybe more memorable because I have a very visceral response to them, like in this game how I really don't like that failure noise and it feels like an actual punishment. And in a AAA title from today I would find that annoying, but this game reminded me of how I felt back before my response would be framed as criticism. I mean, wasn't the worst part of getting hit by a log in Pitfall not the loss of points, but the sound it made? That's how I felt.

Also reminded me of ET for the 2600 when we had no idea what was going on, and had to puzzle out the esoteric relationships between things. And the good ole' days of NES rentals when no games came with instructions, and we had to puzzle everything out ourselves, as in "holy shit those little things we're collecting in the overhead levels are giving us new continues" or "check this up if you hold up when you press B you throw a grenade" etc.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:04 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Which reminds me also of those stupid stickers the games rental place started putting in all the games cases with the generic instructions like, "The B Button might make you jump or perform some other action!"
posted by neuromodulator at 10:07 PM on May 4, 2011

I couldn't get anywhere with this, and then I looked at a walkthrough video. Is there supposed to be white blocks on a black background? Because I only see a black background and a blue square. The whole map is invisible to me on Chrome OS.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:09 PM on May 4, 2011

If you like this, I think you'll also like stdbits.
posted by archagon at 12:03 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm so glad Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends found some new work.
posted by zephyr_words at 3:02 AM on May 5, 2011

I like this sort of fourth wall breaking, corruption-as-a-game-mechanic thing. Just a few small, momentary puzzles as you adjust to an unexpected change. The design reminded me of a map I made for n way back when.

I can see how the vague story telling might grate, and I'm usually pretty resistant to the possibility that something's just aping depth through obfuscation, but I thought this was light enough that you could just take what you want from the idea.

Was there wind? It's totally once every three jumps, the sound effect at the start of that section even goes beoo beoo broip!
posted by lucidium at 7:02 AM on May 5, 2011

The win picks up every third jump (so every third jump is super high).

And you can tell when you're going to have a super jump next because all the 40s scattered around the area become 12s.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:53 AM on May 5, 2011

There was "wind" in the sense that the background animation went from squarish particles gently drifting upward to streams of squarish particles rushing upward and to the left at high speed, as if in a high wind.

The game showing off the modification to the gravitational constant numerically was a nice touch, not just for reinforcing the mechanical point that "now is a different situation when you jump" but also to emphasize the code-exposing-itself theme: there's no "wind", that's just passive graphical dressing on what is in fact one little variable being changed and thus producing a systemic change in character behavior.

When the value g for rate of downward acceleration changes from 40 to 12, the formula for accelerating the character toward the ground, dvy = -g*k, takes a lot longer to turn movement upward into movement downward, and you get a lot higher before you hit the peak, and spend a lot more time in the air, than you would otherwise.

In a lot of ways, this game is a little love letter to anyone who has tried programming a little platformer at some point or another. The use of in-game variables as graphical elements in the setting is a cute game mechanic in the few cases where the game kind of requires you to react to them, but the passive use elsewhere is nice as well and underscores how the programmer ends up thinking about a lot of this stuff even if a player never would. You do start to relate to your code in terms of coordinates and constants and so on, especially when it comes down to debugging, because when something is broken and you don't know why it comes down to finding out the where and the why, and that comes down a lot of the time to watching variables during testing to see what state produces the error or bug or crash.

Which takes us back to the theme of Alphaland: this is alpha code. It is buggy. It is under development. We're not just seeing numbers incrementing and values being tracked because it's computery and Ooh We're Through The Looking Glass; it's not green symbols falling down the screen in the Matrix to convince us that computer stuff is totally happening, yo.

Those variables being tracked are the in-story programmer's own work; those are the signposts of his attempt to figure out what's working and what's not in the program. The tracking of vertical and horizontal position, the tracking of the gravitational constant, the state-management stuff ("PLAYER IS MOVING", "PLAYER IS ON THE GROUND"): that's all going on behind the scenes of every game you've ever played, and at some point during development that's all stuff that the person who programmed that game was monitoring to figure out what the fuck is going wrong with this or that bit of the game engine.

Again: love letter to coders.

The wonderful part in that respect about the odd little bits of self-awareness that show up in the game is that while it's an ontological mystery for any player (whence this conversational expressiveness in the game's background?), it's an extra whammy for a coder because instead of just being personality showing up in the "game", it's implicitly text showing up in the code underlying the game, another voice appearing in what is (in the form of the coder leaving himself notes in the form of code comment) expected to be soliloquy; insofar as we fantasize about the discovery of spontaneous sentient, self-aware life bursting on the scene, the reshaping of code itself by that independent entity would be one fanciful way it might express itself. Just as silly as an AI making contact using speech synthesis, sure, but a lot closer to the metal. A fledgling consciousness speaking in the only form it knows: string literals in its own codebase.

This is extrapolating an awful lot. I don't mean to state that any of this must have been Kyratzes' intent, I may be inventing a lot of stuff that's aside from his goal with or motivation for the game. But this is why I like games that are as much art and gesture as anything; it's an opportunity to walk away thinking about what it means, instead of just walking away thinking Man I Blew That Shit Up. Not that I don't also enjoy blowing shit up sometimes, but the variety is important.
posted by cortex at 8:44 AM on May 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've been waiting for a video game adaption of House of Leaves, and here it is!

A great idea with a poor execution, consisting mostly of a lot of filler garbage?
posted by bongo_x at 10:40 AM on May 5, 2011

I could have sworn I favorited but can't find it for the life of me (being able to sort search by favorites would be really useful right now, hint hint), but this game reminded me of a bizarre, fascinating story I read on here once about somebody who was experimenting with a simple 8-bit game like this. It was some kind of shooter, where the player would pilot a little ship around a screen-filling arena scattered with obstacles, trying to shoot and destroy enemy ships that fired back.

After awhile, one of the AI ships somehow escaped the boundaries of the level, traveling into the computer's own memory system, apparently using its pathfinding routines to pilot around running processes and bits of operating system code until it collided with something vital... causing the entire computer to crash.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:57 AM on May 6, 2011

This game is as linear as the last installment of Metroid. However, it manages to make you feel lost and want to keep exploring. Guess all I'm saying is that thing delivered a more Metroid-like experience for me than the Other M even though its budget must have been two plates of pasta and some string.
posted by ersatz at 2:28 AM on May 6, 2011

Ah, here's the story I was looking for (it was an FPP, not a comment).
posted by Rhaomi at 5:19 AM on May 6, 2011

being able to sort search by favorites would be really useful right now, hint hint

You know you can search your own favorites from your favorites page, inquiry inquiry?

posted by cortex at 7:26 AM on May 6, 2011

I did try a few queries there (game, crash, memory, ai, etc.), but was only finding a few comments and no posts, so I assumed I hadn't actually favorited it. Turns out it was a post I had favorited (and a laconic one, at that), but apparently even though search normally defaults to post, if you do one that returns zero posts and some comments, every subsequent search defaults to comments, even if there are some posts. So I might have found it without noticing it.

Anyway, I was thinking the sort option would be helpful here since, being that my own favorites list wasn't fruitful, I'd be able to use fewer and more general search terms across the entire site and sort them by favorites to let the one I was looking for bubble to the top. It was a pretty cool story, so I knew it would have a decent number and therefore closer to the top. There are nearly 3000 posts with "game" and 500+ with "memory," so it definitely would have helped if it were available.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:01 PM on May 6, 2011

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