Emotional Limbo
July 21, 2010 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Playdead's Limbo released today, and the reviews are glowing. Following on the heels of a spate of well-received independent video game titles like Braid, World of Goo, and Machinarium, we may be seeing a major shift in the habits of video game reviewers. The trinity of duration (short games = bad games), sheer intensity (slow-paced, non-violent games = bad games), and graphical 'realism' (non-3D, non-photorealistic games = bad games) seems to be giving way (somewhat) to a recognition of the value of feel, expressivity, and game mechanics that fit within a holistic experience that integrates art direction, sound design, and storytelling elements. Previously.

Of course, old habits die hard, as the Gaming Age review demonstrates: "The only draw back, and the reason that I am not saying that you should stop reading this now and go buy this game, is that the game is extremely short."

What's more, with so many of these successful indie titles adopting a dark, contemplative tone - is there a danger of indie games becoming an "emo ghetto", easily stereotyped and dismissed by "hardcore" types as "feminizing"? (After all, there's already been at least one emo game parody.) Does a good indie game, or an experimental game, or a game with a powerful story, necessarily have to be maudlin, and even if it is, should that count against it? Is the trite old question "Did it make you cry?" too much on gamer's minds? Can video games develop an emotional range that transcends the twin poles of roid rage and sad panda?
posted by macross city flaneur (45 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Braid was amazing, so... downloading now.
posted by Huck500 at 7:14 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Trailer looked great! I don't get to game much these days, but I'd gladly check this out. Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:35 PM on July 21, 2010

You know what? I'm 15 and today's Big Games are too fucking complicated for me. I grew up playing fighting games on emulators, which usually amounted to putting in hours memorizing keypresses. So, that wore thin pretty fast. But I look at games like Mass Effect and Spore and there's just too much shit. it's overwhelming. DS games being a nice exception. I ended up falling out of video games for the longest time (Knights of the Old Republic was the last PC game I seriously played) and didn't start again until recently when I got a PC that didn't confuse itself for a toaster every time I played a Flash game. Now I play DS and Flash games almost exclusively, although there's a bit of Plants vs. Zombies and World of Goo and VVVVVV in there as well. Fast, fun games with customization but not that overwhelming-ness of GTA IV or whatnot.
posted by griphus at 7:36 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

25. I'm 25.
posted by griphus at 7:37 PM on July 21, 2010 [18 favorites]

I've got a particular axe I've been grinding with regards to game duration.

I think one of the reason why there's been a growing appreciation for shorter games is that gamer demographics have been aging. When you're 14 years old and you can only afford two or three games per year, and have lots of spare time, you want games that'll give you at least a few weeks of solid entertainment. When you're 30 and employed, suddenly you have enough money to buy any game that strikes your fancy, but you have a lot less time to play those games. Games have to make way for work, dating, friends, babies, etc.

Of course, Indie games are often short by necessity. I think one thing we may see in the future is that longer commercial games will provide natural breakpoints where players feel comfortable putting the controller down and picking it up again later. Most modern games are plotted like movies and the notion of "a game you can't bear to put down" is highly regarded, but I think the new paradigm will be plotting them like seasons of a television show. The new goal will be a game that's worth coming back to.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 7:44 PM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm 12 and what is this
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:44 PM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm more afraid of indie games becoming a 2d platformer ghetto than an emo one.
posted by Pyry at 7:47 PM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

25. I'm 25.

Dang. For a second there, I thought I had a counterexample to my little brother's claim that everyone his age has videogame skills as second nature, and this explains why he was able to steamroll through (e.g.) Brutal Legend when I couldn't even finish the game.

I'm pretty sure he's just being modest, but I'm scared that he's not.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:48 PM on July 21, 2010

Kind of reminds me of ICO, for the ps2.
posted by crunchland at 7:50 PM on July 21, 2010

Bought this sucker yesterday long before any of you Yanks did, and yes it is exquisite. Get the volume up loud. It's a soundtrackless game, with only a handful of effects and some background ambience, but it needs to be loud and it needs to be big and it needs to be played at night, in a darkened room.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:59 PM on July 21, 2010

Are we finally getting expressionist games?
posted by klangklangston at 8:41 PM on July 21, 2010

Don't forget the classic no multi-player=bad game. It blew my mind when a reviewer would hold lack of multi-player support against a game. Is reviewing so hard that you need to make up a feature the game lacks? Isn't it simple? A: What is this product trying to accomplish? B: Does it accomplish it?

It's like saying, Space Invaders was nice, but there was no MMO feature, so points off!
posted by CarlRossi at 9:14 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah. "It's an okay single player game, but multiplayer is where it really shines." Well, blow me. I want to have a good gaming experience on my terms, not on the terms of [SEARCHING FOR AVAILABLE GAMES...]
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:16 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Don't forget the classic no multi-player=bad game.

I just miss split-screen :(
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:20 PM on July 21, 2010

Coworker was an hour late to work this morning on account of Limbo. Firing up XBLA before heading to the office never, ever works out.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:23 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just miss split-screen :(

Tell me about it. This console can have four controllers plugged into it, why the hell can't I play Serious Sam with my buddy in the same room?
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:25 PM on July 21, 2010

I've heard a lot about Limbo, and Braid. Braid, at some point, I'd like to pick up. Limbo was, until I watched the preview clip, one of the few things that made me sad about having a PS3, rather than an Xbox.

That said, upon watching the preview, GIANT SPIDERS. Do. Not. Want.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:42 PM on July 21, 2010

I would download this and play it all night, just like I did with Braid, but my 360 has the glorious Red Ring of Death.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:56 PM on July 21, 2010

Will it come out for PC? It looks amazing...
posted by anotherbrick at 10:54 PM on July 21, 2010

They got this game, right? For people who smoke, or people who drink, like if you drink beer and you get drunk or you smoke weed and you get high...anything, like, if you just be gettin' fucked up, they got this game, right? Oh no, this shit, called Braid.

It's about this little guy in a suit, and he walk around, it ain't got no point to the game, you just walk around jumpin' on shit. It look like Mario in the future. It's Mario in a business suit with his hair dyed orange.

posted by straight at 11:15 PM on July 21, 2010

World of Goo? Emo? Has the word "emo" done one of those flips where it means the opposite of what it used to mean?
posted by straight at 11:18 PM on July 21, 2010

I'm about 20 minutes into Limbo. It's gorgeous. Gameplay reminds me of Abe's Oddysee, the last game I was able to get my wife to play with me, and sure enough, it looks like she'll stick this one out a while, too.

I hope the puzzles get harder, but even when they aren't hard their somehow fiendish.
posted by gurple at 11:24 PM on July 21, 2010

I couldn't abide by Braid when I tried it first time around. Guess I might give it another whirl when I'm done with Limbo. People may also enjoy Coma.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:08 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nar, 2 crates + buzzsaw = enough for tonight.

Beautiful art and atmosphere. Love the zrpunavpny fcvqre yrt jbexrq ol bar bs gur sberfg avawn thlf.
posted by fleacircus at 2:19 AM on July 22, 2010

Gnah. I wish I could play this on my PC.

Well, at least I got to see Soulja Boy review Braid. I hope he continues showering us with profound insights into his gaming experience.
posted by bjrn at 2:21 AM on July 22, 2010

Spent my night playing Limbo. It is beautiful, brutal, bleak, funny, and utterly absorbing.

I'm now going to go to bed and mull over the puzzle that finally made me put the controller down.

I'm glad to see it getting good reviews. Cuz I agree with turgid dahlia: Braid pissed me off. It quickly became Not Fun. I suspect I didn't give it enough time (pun kinda intended). But Limbo is right in that sweet spot of balancing frustration and reward. Plus your guy dies in such horrible ways that striding suicidally forward is at least rewarded with a tragic and inventive death scene.

And, yeah, the giant spider is deeply creepy. But, hey, this is a game where one of the very first puzzles involves manipulating a fly-blown corpse hanging from a tree....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:27 AM on July 22, 2010

I've been chipping away at Braid since I got my Xbox a year and a half ago. I finished a whack of levels right away, and then hit a wall. I go back every once in a while and give some of those impenetrable levels a try. Sometimes a level will just click for me, and I will complete it. I have never even considered looking at a gamefaq or hint guide. I may very well never finish Braid, but it has still been a very fulfilling gaming experience. And if I do ever finish it, I will feel like the smartest man alive.

Imagine that, a game so interesting and challenging that I can't even conceive of cheating, even in the face of months and months of failure.
posted by joelhunt at 8:02 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds great. Hope it gets out to us PS3 people eventually.
posted by bearwife at 8:47 AM on July 22, 2010

It looks like the upcoming XBLA platformer Limbo isn't headed to the PS3 or PC after all. After the ESRB listed the game for the two additional platforms, we contacted Playdead for more information and, according to Playdead's Dino Patti, the game is not coming to either the PC or PS3. "We are only launching the title on XBLA," said Patti. "You won't see a PS3 or PC version this time around, sorry." He added that he's "not sure where the mistake was made" but Playdead has requested that the ESRB remove the PS3 and PC labels from Limbo's listing. joystiq
posted by crunchland at 8:52 AM on July 22, 2010

I may very well never finish Braid, but it has still been a very fulfilling gaming experience. And if I do ever finish it, I will feel like the smartest man alive.

Keep at it! There are only two puzzles (IMHO) that have 'unfair' solutions - as in, they require problem solving using skills or elements that the player wasn't previously aware existed or were possible. Now, finding all the stars to activate the second/third story... THAT may well require cheating and walkthroughs, because Jiminy Christmas are they ever hellish to find.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2010

I kept hearing people talk about Limbo and I was getting it confused with Closure, which I didn't care for at all. Yes, now I realize that they don't look anything alike.

Limbo is absolutely beautiful, though the jumps can be a bit frustrating. But there are very frequent checkpoints, so it's easy to put down and pick up.

While you're at it, may I recommend downloading the XBLA demo for DeathSpank, from Monkey Island alum and Grumpy Gamer Ron Gilbert? You'll know immediately if it's your kind of game or not. It's the funniest game I've played since... Portal, probably.
posted by Sibrax at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2010

Wasn't piracy on World of Goo through the roof? I think I remember reading somewhere that something like 90% of all people playing it were playing pirated versions. It's really not surprising that they decided to more controlled and limited distribution.
posted by crunchland at 10:32 AM on July 22, 2010

I had to put down the game right when the spider legs popped up. I just can't deal with spiders. My arachnophobia was bad as a kid but now it's horrendous. I've still never technically seen all of Return of the King because I always closed my eyes during the Shelob scenes. The Lego Indy spiders were pretty OK to deal with, at least.

I'm gonna have to see if my wife will do the spider sections for me. It sounds like there's several, bleh.
posted by kmz at 1:10 PM on July 22, 2010

I do not have arachnophobia and there's a bit w/ the giant spider that had me squirming...

But, hey, kmz, take heart. Just on the other side of that puzzle, giant spider goes squish. (But I haven't finished the game yet, so Shelob may return....)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:30 PM on July 22, 2010

Oh, and: one-and-a-half thumbs up for DeathSpank. Its simplistic and repetitive hack-n-slash gameplay gets old, but the art and dialogue are charming and worth exploring.

"Hello, disgusting orphan!"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:54 PM on July 22, 2010

Wasn't piracy on World of Goo through the roof? I think I remember reading somewhere that something like 90% of all people playing it were playing pirated versions. It's really not surprising that they decided to more controlled and limited distribution.


preventing 1000 piracy attempts results in only a single additional sale. this supports our intuitive assessment that people who pirate our game aren’t people who would have purchased it had they not been able to get it without paying.

in our case, we might have even converted more than 1 in a 1000 pirates into legit purchases. either way, ricochet shipped with DRM, world of goo shipped without it, and there seems to be no difference in the outcomes. we can’t draw any conclusions based on two data points, but i’m hoping that others will release information about piracy rates so that everyone could see if DRM is the waste of time and money that we think it is.
- 2d boy, World of Goo creators
posted by Sebmojo at 3:00 PM on July 22, 2010

I'm really looking forward to playing Limbo. I think indie developers are making the most creative and interesting games at the moment. As AAA titles get more expensive to develop the big-time publishers are becoming risk-adverse like Hollywood studios, leading to derivative games and sequel-itis. I'm thankful there's a flourishing indie scene to balance it out.
posted by joedan at 3:48 PM on July 22, 2010

Wasn't piracy on World of Goo through the roof?

Yep, it was such a disaster that 2D Boy have used a portion of the game's tiny, pitiful profits to start a venture capital fund for indie games.
posted by straight at 3:48 PM on July 22, 2010

Duration is absolutely a consideration for me when buying games, but only really in how it relates to what I am prepared to pay. Multiplayer is the same, a game doesn't have to have MP, but I'm prepared to pay more if it does. For example there is no way I would buy COD4 for $100AUD or whatever it costs for its 5 hours of single player unless I thought I would get additional play time out of the multiplayer (and indeed I didn't buy COD4, because I wasn't interested in its MP). If COD4 was $30 dollars then 4 hours of entertainment is fine.

It looks like Limbo is $15USD and people are taking a little over an hour to finish it, I have to say that I'd be hard pressed to pay that (I don't have an xbox, so can't anyway). People can say game length doesn't matter, but there has to be some sort of consideration. What about a 30 minute long full-priced game?
posted by markr at 5:54 PM on July 22, 2010

There is no absolute calculus for the relationship between duration and cost for me, and duration is way down on the list of the things I do consider when deciding whether to buy a game.

That's the thing that gets on my nerves. Many game reviewers act like there is an absolute calculus, and many gamers think that way about what they buy.

If a game creates an experience that I desperately want to have, I'd be willing to pay a lot. In fact, I've been willing to play well over 100 dollars for older or import games that I felt I just had to play. Duration wasn't a factor in my decision to do that. Similarly, I'd pay 40 dollars easily for a high quality DVD transfer of a movie I loved. (If they ever get around to making a high quality Blu-Ray version of The Empire Strikes Back, I'd easily pay that much for it.)

But I wouldn't pay even 10 dollars for Call of Duty 4, because I don't really value what it offers: the same repetitive (single player and multiplayer) experience I've already had time and time again with other FPSes with a few new tweaks and a lot of graphical polish.

In fact, I haven't paid 60 dollars for a game and felt I got my money's worth in almost a decade. I feel like a sucker every time I do it, too.

When game reviewers act as though there is a simple "price/performance" calculation, they're treating games like cars - and not even good cars - but 4 door sedans. And power locks, horsepower, and gas mileage is just not the way I think about games.
posted by macross city flaneur at 6:23 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, it'd be really funny if they took the number of hours of gameplay and divided it by the amount of the game that was genuinely innovative.

It'd be a totally made up number (and would consequently poke fun at just how "made up" the total number of hours of play really is).

But it'd be a lot more honest if the reviewers said, "In Red Dead Redemption, given the amount of repetition of experiences you've already had playing all the GTA games time and again, there's actually about 1 and a half hours of 'new' gameplay here."
posted by macross city flaneur at 6:27 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dark and brooding video games are the way that "serious" video games are going because if you're not dark and brooding, you're not serious. It's this way throughout the entire culture, and not just in media that have typically been looked upon as lowbrow until recently. Think about comics, for example. It's not just the super hero comics (or the movies based on them; I'm looking at you, Nolan) that have become odes to the futility of light--has there been a darker piece of work, in the last decade, than Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan?

It's the same way with television. Mad Men may be technicolor bright, but you can't not call it a broody, depressive piece of work. It's a world where joy--if it exists at all--comes in fleeting moments: dancing to Chubby Checker in season one is about the only one that comes to mind right now. The Wire isn't dark, the way it's shot, but it's meditation on the decay of the urban fabric is not exactly light verse.

And so with video games. It helps to be dark because the classic video game aesthetic is so bright and cheery, and what better way to announce that a game is not your typical video game experience than by dulling the visuals? or by making an enemy encounter a slow-paced, tense affair rather than one in a series of a quick engagements?

It also helps to be brooding because it's much more difficult to make a player feel happiness, exhiliration, or wonder than it is to create fear or paranoia or lonliness. You are, after all, sitting in a room, interacting with your television. But when the lighter side is engaged, it's wonderful. It's a shame that I can only think a few games that really do that. Stepping on to your boat for the first time in Wind Waker--there's a sense of freedom and adventure there, especially after being cooped up on the starting island for so long--that will likely difficult to match.*

At any rate, it took me longer to get to my point than I intended. Which is: When Wind Waker came out, how many people ragged on it instantly, calling it "celda" and saying it was for kids and [y'know, other words] and what have you? Yet it's a wonderful game, stuffed full with surprises, about five hours too long, and what sticks with me more than anything else is the melancholy of Ganon contrasted with Link's youthful spirit.

For what that's worth.

So anyway, I just downloaded the trial, played it through, watched the video and downloaded the full version immediately. Then I texted my boss to tell him I'd try not to be late tomorrow.

*If you have more examples, please send them my way, here or through memail. I just got me an xbox and I'm looking for ideas.
posted by thecaddy at 7:25 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seems a little machinarium to me, which I'm sure for some people is a great thing. I don't know what to call artwork that lets you interact with it in a very predefined sort of way, not sure "game" is the right word, there is no element of play involved. With Limbo that's how I feel. Hey, surprise, there are spikes at the bottom of that slide, well jump next time. Then you can walk to the next place where you need to do something very specific, but maybe not so obvious.

It is very pretty though.
posted by rhyax at 8:32 PM on July 22, 2010

there's a sense of freedom and adventure there, especially after being cooped up on the starting island for so long--that will likely difficult to match.

I think Mario 64 nailed something like this feeling just about each time you booted it up. Especially when you're about midgame and there's a ton of places you can go and each world is its own little playground. Like the real-life feeling when you run outside at the start of recess.
posted by fleacircus at 8:37 PM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

They got this game, right? For people who smoke, or people who drink, like if you drink beer and you get drunk or you smoke weed and you get high...anything, like, if you just be gettin' fucked up, they got this game, right? Oh no, this shit, called Braid .

Great, now I'm desperate to see Soulja Boy's interpretation of the ending.
posted by Copronymus at 10:26 PM on July 22, 2010

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