Oh, Stacking. If only I could love you more. You seemed so promising, but yet ...
Okay, granted. I only played the demo, available on Xbox Live Arcade. Maybe that was not enough. Maybe I should play further, so I you could reveal more of your depth. But – do you possess it?
The concept of Stacking sounds brilliant at first. You are a little russian doll, a matryoshka. You are very small, just a child, so you can't do much else. But you can stack into other dolls. And while being in those dolls, you can control them. And, most importantly, use their specific abilities. This is the key point of the game. Every doll has a specific ability. Some drink tea. Some pass gas. Some shout. Some shake their booty. These are the tools you can use to solve puzzles.
The problem is ... it feels more like searching for the right key for your front door at 4 in the morning while drunk and without any light. There is exactly one key that will work. And it is somewhere in a flurry of other keys. This is how I felt when playing Stacking. Since you only know a doll's ability when having stacked into it, you spend most of your time stacking into other dolls, activating its ability and pondering its usefulness. The fact that you cannot just stack into any other doll, but only dolls of a specific size relative to your own does not help matters.
The designers tried to mitigate that fact by allowing several solutions for each riddle. It aspires to be like Scriblenauts, but falls short, because it is just not as free-form – the solutions are all pre-scripted.
I have a new-found respect for farmers (that I’m somehow failing to apply here) after attempting to complete either mission. After four lengths of the cornfield I decided to see if tractors can swim. Tractors cannot swim.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun reviews (the demo) of the Farming Simulator 2010 and is pretty snarky about it. I am the last one to defend the Farming Simulator, but somehow, I could not be happy with the malicious glee that hides behind the article either.
In the end, it is not just about being snarky. The real reason why this review is so snarky is not because the game itself is bad. The reviewer never even considered that. For him, it was enough to know that this game did not conform to his – perversely – elitist sense of what a game should be and what not. Farming Simulator does not comply, so here comes the ridicule.
In terms of sales, he could not be wronger. The original version of the Farming Simulator dominated the sales charts of amazon.de for months. Apparently, people see it as a game, and they are willing to pay for it.
Can a game reviewer just disregard that? Obviously, and he even gets cheered on by the comments left on the page.
Imagine a literary critic reviewing a children's book, and mocking its many pictures, its simplistic language and its morally charged and black-and-white story. Clearly, he would be scolded for his utter disregard of the intended audience of the book, and his arrogance for assuming that only books targeted at him are "real" books.
What seems appalling in one case is courant normal in an other. If there is not something to shoot on the screen, it is not a real game.
... is, apparently, something Tale of Tales are rather good at. Robert Yang has a neat timeline of the current events. And it is not the first time they make people angry.
Of course, you can debate the value of their provocations, you can debate their contribution to game culture –
Tale of Tales is important and interesting... but also kind of not. Their conception of video games seems really narrow, perhaps out of necessity in order to target it effectively in their crazy dogmatic manifestos.
– the thing is: there is a discussion about what games are and what not. People might consider them to be wrong. But people might also consider Blizzard to be wrong, inasmuch as they pretty much only polish up the games they did ten years ago.1
No matter how aggravating/boring this argument may seem: It is important that it is discussed. Every game designer that plays a Tale of Tales game will either see how games could be made as well – or she or he will realise how games are not to be designed. Either way: everybody learns.
Here’s to the crazy ones, so to speak.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
Just an example, I am not trying to flame anyone here. Not much, anyway. ↩
I'm pretty sure I stumbled over this story before, but this is a longer article about the scientist that tried to weight the human soul:
That the human body should be home to a physical soul which survived death was at one time rarely questioned. Then came the advent of scientific disciplines such as anatomy, chemistry and physics, whose probing and measuring raised awkward questions about where in the body a soul could live and what physical form it could take. With no medical proof being forthcoming, in 1854 the German anatomist Rudolph Wagner suggested that there must be a “special soul substance” in the body, evidence of which should be sought out by experimentation. Wagner was much ridiculed for his beliefs, and some years later his rival Ernst Haeckel mocked that at the moment of death it might be possible to liquefy the soul by freezing it and then “exhibit it in a bottle as immortal fluid”.
The nature of a human soul was a much-discussed topic within Victorian psychical research communities, many of whose members were also eminent scientists. Different philosophical conclusions were reached, but none was based on empirical evidence, it being deemed too difficult to measure any of the soul’s presumed physical properties. However, not everyone was prepared to accept this, and in the winter of 1896 Dr Duncan MacDougall, a Massachusetts-based surgeon, came up with a novel idea.
Not that I would be able to attend the show, but this is still a good moment to point to Alex CF, who creates an alternate history of the 19th century through artefacts: exactly those of the kind scientists and explorers would track down in the farthest regions of the earth, bring them home an add the to their collections of curiosities, which have been en vogue these days.
Now, why an alternate history? Because Alex CF creates still-born dragons, mummified demons and dead werewolves that could have jumped out of a story by HP Lovecraft; it is cryptozoology in its best form.
Not only are the objects gorgeous, they also come with a complete background story wrapped around them: how they were obtained, what they are exactly, where they come from – and more often than not with accompanying notes and tools.
This, in my opinion, is true artistry. It's imaginative, and it's skilfully executed. These are objects my own imagination can spark itself on.