Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Stars and Squares

Anthony Burch | 15 Jul 2008 12:40
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It's difficult to argue with Humble. The game's works on two separate levels: Intellectually, the mechanics themselves - grab a star, drag it to darkness, manipulate its position - parallel the creative process; but the act of assembling the stars becomes a literal manifestation of that same process once the player is permitted to connect the dots in their constellation and save the result. While not the only artgame to focus on exploring the nature of creativity (see Jason Rohrer's Gravitation, coincidentally released within a few months of Half Moon Bay), Humble's most recent work is likely the most interesting, if only for how it simultaneously balances the literal and symbolic in conveying its message.

That cleverness comes at a price, however: if The Marriage was puzzling, Stars Over Half Moon Bay is damn near indecipherable without outside assistance (in the form of, once again, Humble's creator's statement). Even Rohrer, in an extremely positive review at Arthouse Games, admits the game outright "requires a bit of explanation," though it's forgivable given the infancy of the artgame movement. As abstract as The Marriage was, it still included some immediately recognizable symbolic signposts for the player: The title itself is an indicator of the subject matter, and thus the blue and pink boxes obviously represent a male and a female. No such signposts are present in Half Moon Bay, leading to a game which, despite its incredible thematic dexterity and interesting gameplay (the game was given its own category at the Experimental Gameplay Sessions presentation at the 2008 Game Developers Conference), is nearly impossible to understand without Humble's statement acting as a road map.

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Yet perhaps, in the same way The Marriage should be praised for its intent regardless of the quality of its execution, Half Moon Bay should be lauded for its multilayered execution and forgiven for its ambiguity. Regardless of those flaws which might distance or confuse new players, few indie designers attempt to accomplish what Humble does, and nobody does so with the ambitious, singular focus Humble has brought to both of his games.

Comparing his works to those of his peers, Humble's may have the most readily identifiable faults, but they're also the most ambitious: They explore gameplay's singular ability to elaborate on a variety of very specific themes, and reward the player's patience and ability to introspect. His games should be mentioned in any informed "games as art" discussion. They're intelligent, difficult, evocative and clever ... just make sure not to click the mouse.

Anthony Burch is a filmmaker and the features editor for Destructoid.com. He is currently at work on his first artgame.

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