Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Stars and Squares

Anthony Burch | 15 Jul 2008 12:40
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At first glance, the underlying metaphor is completely unintelligible. Two squares, pink and blue, bounce off one another and vary in size according to how often they interact with slowly descending colored circles and each other. Despite his attempt to seamlessly infuse control mechanics and game rules with multiple intuitive layers of meaning, the game as a whole, by Humble's admission, requires explanation.

The Marriage's failure in the eyes of its creator didn't stop the 2007 work from being discussed and dissected across the blogosphere, however. Joystiq felt the game "works extremely well," whereas Tale of Tales attacked the theme as being a "banal generalization" of real emotion.

Yet, despite varying opinions of the game's actual quality (and ignoring the "anything that produces a lot of discussion is great art" non-argument), many reactions to The Marriage were unified by variations of a single sentiment: "Humble is trying to do something different and important, and should be applauded for it."

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Regardless of how successful The Marriage is at delivering its message - and given its focus on metaphor and personal interpretation, verbalizing these themes would be pointless at best and game-ruining at worst - it attempted what most art games aspire to with a literalness that has not since been repeated. One can criticize the game's efficacy, but not its intent: If games are to come into their own as an art form, then the designer's ability to convey ideas through gameplay alone must be explored. Without music, sound effects, iconic graphics or any method of control other than moving (but not clicking) the mouse, The Marriage is, if nothing else, the perfect initial attempt at using game rules to communicate an artistic vision.

Stars Over Half Moon Bay, Humble's second and more recent game, is almost definitely an improvement in terms of thematic complexity and player control, but it's even less approachable as a result. Half Moon Bay introduces a constellation mechanic with no definite meaning until the player persists and considers it profound or stops playing the game altogether. This is, perhaps, because the visual and mechanical output of Stars Over Half Moon Bay is entirely dependent on player input and reflection. "I think the role of the player is underdeveloped," Humble replied when asked about the untapped potential of modern games. "If you attend a play then the actor makes the art on the spot, even though the content is fixed. Hamlet can be a terrible play with a bad actor or the best play in the world with a great actor. The actor breathes life into the structure and the content of the play; it is a joint process of creation. With games, I would like to see the player/artist emerge in importance." Stars Over Half Moon Bay was, if somewhat unintentionally, a reaction to this mindset. "Towards the end of Stars Over Half Moon Bay's development I realized that how I made my constellation and its elegance of process was a work of art in and of itself, separate from the game and the creative output. In other words, every time I played the game I was creating a work of art as I played it in addition to the constellation. I don't know how far it can go, and maybe this kind of thing is obvious and trivial to most people, but it excites me."

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