SpilBar X

Went to SpilBar X last night, the first I’ve attended, and it was pretty great. We had Leigh Alexander talking about experimentation in games, including some important words on the idea of being more revealing of the development process when we make games as a way to demystify – and therefore perhaps invite others in. We also had games. PONGS was there along with Mega GIRP, Laza Knitez, and another game which was for Android phones and a giant screen, but which I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten the name of! Sorry!

It was a big highlight for me to finally get a chance to play Mega GIRP. Okay, I’ve probably had chances before, but my life as a hermit has intruded on those occasions. Mega GIRP is GIRP except that instead of using a keyboard you use your whole body on dance-pads with the keys mapped to them to create this epically large, uber-keyboard. I managed to get a play in, and it was not really at all what I’d anticipated.

The most surprising element for me was how meditative it felt as an experience, unlike the keyboard. When playing with the keyboard, the physical actions are trivially easy – it’s really not hard to hold down a couple of keyboard keys after all. However, this leads to a kind of impatience to move rapidly upward, not least of all because moving rapidly upward is possible. Not so much on giant dance-mat keyboards. You have to take your time if only because it takes a while to even see the key you’re looking for, and then you have to plan out how to get a hand or foot or knee over there, then how to time the “flex” button, and so on. It becomes a game of pausing and thinking.

So if GIRP is rather like speed-climbing (once you have some ability), Mega GIRP is probably much more like actual rock-climbing I imagine, out of necessity. The other great thing about it is that it’s a lot of fun watching people play, particularly since you can often help out by letting them know where keys are located (they’re often too close to the mats to see them). My favourite thing, though, is the “he doesn’t even know he’s dead yet” moment, where someone is so intent on the positioning of their hands and feet that they haven’t yet seen the fact that their avatar has already fallen into the water at the bottom of the screen. Nice that a game can be so physically connecting and then… not.

I also played a couple of rounds of Laza Knitez and it’s good. It’s one of those very simple sports-like games that involve not many buttons or actions but plenty of room for learning and mastery. My first time through, not understanding how it was that the keys worked, I did rather well. Then, inevitably, when I started thinking about it, I was awful. Them’s the breaks. The whole thing of sports games is really interesting to me, and Laza Knitez, combined with recently seeing Hokra and multiple mentions of the Atari 2600 Basketball game make me want to make one.

Game on.

1 June 2012
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