Art games and not-games

Echogenesis is an interactive flash artwork in which you are encouraged to explore and engage with a series of natural environments, moving tableaux inhabited by various creatures and suffused with smooth ambient soundtracks. There's no game, no goal, just the experience, like a pleasant jaunt through a virtual biodome.

Tale of Tales is a progressive development studio that fosters a gaming experience that goes beyond traditional mainstream genres. Emphasizing "innovative forms of interaction, engaging poetic narratives and simple controls," their projects tend to eschew competitive goal-oriented formats to focus on folkloric storytelling and the artistic experience.

The Endless Forest is a shared multi-user online 3d environment (it can be run as a game, and doubles as a screensaver) that exemplifies the Tale of Tales aesthetic. The world is an infinitely tiling forest which players are free to roam in the form of strangely eerie human-faced deer. Various items and locations in the environment produce various magical effects, such as changing the pelt or horns of your or another's avatar, and during special events the environment itself might become mutable, and experience transformations such as falling snow or a field of flowers coming into bloom.

Interaction with other players, who are identified by unique glowing glyphs in lieu of names, is entirely nonverbal, conducted in the cervine manner of head shakes, foot stomps, bellows, and nuzzles. Not only are you thus insulated from the possibility of encountering foul-mouthed trolls shouting "PwNeD, N00b" and the like, but people have tried and failed to disturb the tranquility of the environment: "it's impossible to grief the other damn deers!" lament a gang of Age of Conan PvPers, after all their hostile gestures are interpreted as friendly overtures. When there is no wealth or status to accumulate, nothing but the experience itself, there is nothing to threaten.

The Graveyard is not properly a game, but a kind of interactive visual poem using a game-like interface. You "play" an old woman hobbling slowly through a graveyard towards a bench. (Don't try to go off exploring on the side-paths -- as soon as I started my adventurer spirit got the better of me, and I soon got my avatar trapped in a corner off-screen. Stick to the path, lady.) Once you sit on the bench, you are treated to a song. Then you leave. That's the so-called "trial" version -- the full version, available for $5, is identical except that it includes the possibility of death.

With its painfully unheroic protagonist, strictly linear path, and moody, black-and-white visuals reminiscent of an old, distressed film, The Graveyard uses the gaming format to challenge the very idea of what a game is, and explores the possibilities of the medium as an avenue for artistic expression. The Graveyard is uninterested in setting you a challenge; it's telling you a story.

The Path and 8 are two more traditional games both in development by Tale of Tales. Based respectively on the folkloric roots of the Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty stories, they are conceived as story-driven adventures incorporating unusual gameplay features, such as 8's semi-autonomous main character who must be coaxed and guided rather than directly controlled.

Thatgamecompany specializes in games with innovative, offbeat mechanics that offer challenging gameplay in tranquil, pleasant environments.

Their breakout hit, flOw (featured here previously), the game where you play a simple sea creature continuously growing as you consume other creatures, folded a deceptively simple concept into an immensely satisfying experience. It was developed into a download for PS3, and has won numerous awards.

Their second offering, Cloud, which also garnered a couple of awards, was inspired by Katamari Damacy among other things, and features a unique game mechanic in which you fly around the skies controlling masses of clouds, in order to form particular shapes or make rain. It's a dreamy, exciting experience, offering a kind of wish-fulfillment for the longing to fly and a joyful, no-pressure challenge to complete.

Thatgamecompany recently announced their latest project for the PS3, Flower, which from the looks of the trailer will embody a the same sense of beauty and freedom as celebrated in Cloud -- perhaps this time with flower petals standing in for water vapor.

The Truth is What You Believe is an interactive flash work that invites you to "Participate in the world of Tom and Daisey", and promises "total consciousness on your death bed" if you complete it. It resembles a Samorost-style game in that you must hunt pixels to trigger events that will get you to the next stage, but the imagery is oneiric, poetic rather than narrative. It is essentially the abstracted world of a dream collage, where such basic logic as "keys open doors" applies, but otherwise all bets are off. More flash curiosity is to be found on the main site.

Tiny Grow is a charming and diverting little toy where you use a spinner to randomly grow alien plants and plantlike-devices, which you can then manipulate in various ways. There's no goal and no point, just some neat and strange things to play with.

Describing itself as a "digital poem/game/net artwork hybrid of sorts," game, game, game and again game is a kind of anti-game manifesto in an interactive, game-like form, in which the stated object is "move around, think." Executed in scribbles of pen and crayon, spattered with words and fragments of text, this game is a parody of a game, its pointlessness a shouted challenge.

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Anonymous Jasmine:

Your taste is as ever exquisite. :)


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