Digging through the trash

While scrapped ideas written on paper often end up crumpled in the wastebasket, abandoned digital projects can persist for decades as files left to slowly corrupt in a folder somewhere. With ever-cheapening storage technologies and the advent of cloud storage services, the need to actually delete files is slowly going away. And why would you want to? After all, you never know when you might need those files again.

My particular graveyard of musical ideas is a folder full of project files from as early as 2005. It’s nice to reminisce about what could have been, but having all these abandoned ideas at my fingertips is hampering my creativity. Half the time I go to make music nowadays, I’ll just spend hours opening old projects saying “what could I do with this?” rather than creating anything new. Almost never does anything productive come out of this process.

A friend of mine recently played for me “Lambs’ Garbage” by Mr. Oizo, ostensibly a collection of unfinished or abandoned tracks that the artist has assembled into a singular mix. This inspired me to do something similar.

I’ve created a 23-minute long track containing 56 samples of my old, abandoned projects:
(listen at your own risk)

In no way is this meant to be a cohesive piece of music. It is simply a collection of old, abandoned ideas whose origins span about a dozen years, in no particular order.

Now that I’ve made this, I’m going to store these source files on a flash drive and store it away. Maybe someday I can bring myself to actually delete these – or destroy the drive – but I’m not ready for that yet. I just need to get this old stuff out of my sight. I need to clear away the trash so I can move on to fresh ideas. I need a clean slate to work with.

Maybe it will give me, or others, some abstract insight into my creative process over the years. Maybe someone will find a glimmer of inspiration somewhere in this haphazard collection of sounds.

Perhaps someone will merely find it amusing to see what relics I’ve dug out of my trash.

Review: Proteus (Ed Key and David Kanaga – 2013)

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Proteus is a beautiful game. There will be those who may not even call it a game, who will start it up and say “This sucks. The graphics are terrible and there’s nothing to do”. Indeed, all you do in the world of Proteus is walk around, look at things, and listen. You also have the option of sitting down. There are no achievements or unlockables (aside from some additional settings), and your interaction with the world’s objects is limited to walking toward or standing near them. Yet, playing Proteus is an incredible experience, full of discovery and beautiful in its simplicity.

Despite the simple presentation, there is a surprising amount of depth here. As you walk through Proteus’ randomly-generated world, the game’s soundtrack is created from the objects all around you. Every tree, rock, flower, and cloud all emit various musical tones, each and every thing its own instrument in a dazzling orchestra. Every animal, plant, and stone sing out in a cacophony of noise, dissonant yet somehow harmonious. Even the sun and moon have their own voices to add to the soundtrack.

When you first begin a game, a new world is generated for you to explore. While exploring is the focus of the game, especially during the day, you do progress towards an eventual end. This progression usually occurs at night, though saying how would probably spoil the experience. The conclusion comes after about an hour, depending on how long you spend exploring at different times. I found the ending rather jarring and unexpected, but was strangely satisfied when it was over, and immediately began a new game to discover more secrets.

There are many secrets to discover, but I need to speak in vague terms because the fun of playing comes from finding things on your own, and from your interpretation of the events that transpire. So much of the game is about your own journey through the world. Much like an independent film, some will surely not “get” Proteus, and dismiss it as low-budget and uninteresting. But for those to whom Proteus speaks, it will sing loudly, and playing the game will be a truly delightful experience.

I have played through Proteus three times now and each playthrough brought new discoveries and revelations. For a game with no dialogue or concrete storyline, Proteus invoked in me a wide range of emotions over the course of each game, although subsequent trips through the world had less impact, as many elements were the same or similar. Still, there was enough variation, and the world is so damn pleasant to just be in, that I didn’t mind the similarities.

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Save this image into your postcard folder to play my world!

Playing Proteus is a lot like talking a contemplative walk through the woods, only in videogame land instead of Earth. It is an absolute delight to behold, and while some may find it boring, anyone interested in games as an art form should absolutely give Proteus a try. As with any great piece of art, approach Proteus deliberately with patience and an open mind, and it will have a lot to offer.

I bought this game for $5 during a Steam daily sale. I would have gladly paid the full price of $10. While this isn’t a game I can play for long stretches at a time, it offers a contemplative, relaxing, and wholesome world that I will be happy to return to again.

NOTE: At any time, you can save a “Postcard” by pressing F9, which takes a screenshot but also allows you to return to that world at that time later on. The world data is embedded directly in the screenshot image, so you can trade screenshots with others and let them experience the world you were playing! (By default, Postcards are saved to <user>\My Documents\Proteus\Postcards)

Review: I Am Alive (Ubisoft – 2012)

I remember hearing about I Am Alive early in 2011, when it had already been delayed a few years, and development had been passed to Ubisoft from another company. I Am Alive continued to have a tumultuous development cycle full of delays and misinformation, until it was finally released on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in early 2012. There were promises of true survival gameplay in a post-apocalyptic world, in which you were forced to rely on quick thinking and conserving scarce resources to stay alive. The advertisements painted a picture of a desolate and decaying world ravaged by an apocalypse of a vague nature, in which a man would likely shoot you over a bottle of water sooner than say “hello”.

As a long-time fan of survival games, especially post-apocalyptic ones, I felt attracted to I Am Alive, but it somehow managed to slip by and avoid my purchase. Later in the year, it was released for PC, but it got lost amidst the big blockbusters of late 2012 and fell under my radar once again. However, when I Am Alive was featured in a Steam sale for only five dollars, I wasn’t going to pass it up a third time.

It’s a good thing I bought it when I did. Unfortunately, while there are some interesting ideas at play, few of them are particularly well-executed. Some elements, such as the atmosphere and level design, are very well-crafted, but the half-realized combat mechanics and cumbersome controls are significant black marks on this game’s already imperfect record.

This guy.

I Am Alive tells the story of a man, whose name is never mentioned, heading to the post-apocalyptic city of Haventon to find his wife and daughter. The world as we know it has been all but destroyed by an event, mysteriously named “The Event”, which includes outrageous earthquakes and perpetual dust storms. Regular people have turned barbaric and territorial. Survival of the fittest is in full effect. I won’t spoil much of the story, because it honestly is not that interesting and the game is very short, so there’s not a lot to spoil.

 

Much of the game is spent climbing around Haventon. The climbing is more Tomb Raider than Assassin’s Creed. In I Am Alive, you have a limited amount of stamina, which is drained by nearly every action: running, climbing, walking through dust storms, attacking, etc. Every situation is a puzzle, and it can lead to some tense moments. There are some stunning and memorable moments in this game, and they are all a result of the atmosphere and environmental design. Climbing sideways up through a toppled skyscraper was truly spectacular, and the mission that takes place at night gave me the creeps in the best way. The best part about the climbing is that it doesn’t take you out of the experience. Instead of looking for the way I was supposed to climb, I was looking for where I could.

The climbing sections are very well-crafted

If you run out of stamina during a climb, you can perform an “Extreme Effort”, in which you rapidly click the mouse to climb faster, though only a little bit faster. This saves you from falling but lowers your maximum stamina, making all future climbs more difficult until you recharge by eating or drinking. Some items like first-aid kits and fruit cups restore health. Others, such as water or inhalers, restore a bit of stamina and/or help return your maximum stamina to, well, its maximum. You will also find pitons you can deploy to give you a resting place along a climb to catch your breath before moving on.

 

These survival supplies are ostensibly scarce in Haventon. Ammunition for the pistol was actually quite rare in the beginning, but became rather common by the end of the game. Consumable items were plentiful enough, even on the hardest difficulty. There were times when I was forced to make choices regarding which items to use, but I was hoping for a moment where I would be stranded atop a tower or something, forced to climb down into the choking dust to scrounge for a bit of water to keep myself alive, but I never really ran out of supplies. By the end of the game I was just shooting everyone I came across, popping painkillers and chugging bottles of wine to heal between encounters.

 

The enemy AI is dodgy at best and completely absent at worst. In one spot, three hostile survivors were sitting in an office having a conversation. I shot one in the head with an arrow from afar. He died instantly. The other two stood up, one said “This is gonna hurt.”, and… nothing. They both just stood there, staring at each other. They didn’t look for me, or check on their recently headshotted friend, or scream for help, or even seem remotely surprised that the man sitting beside them had just taken an arrow to the skull.

Two guys fighting over a can of tuna or something

In addition to AI problems I had numerous technical issues, the worst of which was a terrible delay whenever I moved the mouse, making aiming very difficult. The game also ran poorly despite lacking many of the graphical bells and whistles of modern PC games. I experienced significant framerate drops in places, which were doubly inconvenient when I was already fighting against the controls. There were some arguably interesting but very poor control decisions made in the PC version. Why is the attack button the same as the run button? And the “aim gun” button the same as the “drop off a ledge” button? The controls are customizable but the buttons that perform multiple actions cannot be separated. I Am Alive was surely meant to be played with a controller, but even then the controls are confusing, and the game still remains a bad PC port of a console game.

 

The technical problems need not be endured for long, because the game ends suddenly, just when the action is getting good. I went through a lot of trouble to finish as many side missions as I could, yet I finished I Am Alive in just under four and a half hours. If I had not bothered with the side-quests and focused only on the story missions, it would have been even less. There is so much wasted potential in the story, and so many interesting ideas are never explored. The setting of I Am Alive is very interesting but its protagonist is not, and it is hard to care about any of the characters when you don’t care about yourself. With such an interesting post-apocalyptic setting and original atmosphere, I Am Alive could have been a full-priced big budget title, but it is very short, and what game exists is terribly unpolished.