Uncommon Assembly | Celebrating Game Art Oddity and Innovation

13. May 2013

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Demon Chic

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Demon Chic is a psychedelic hand-drawn RPG-ish iOS game full of bizarre and nonsensical creatures. It’s at the intersection of animated cartoons, a television sitcom, and the sketchbook of a madman. The three main characters are subjected to wild hallucinations of griffins, ghosts, demon cops, venus flytraps, disembodied heads, walking tree monsters, hooved TV men, golems, and other nonsensical monsters as they juggle mundane, real-world problems. The game bounces around between various levels of realism and rendering styles, full of surreal vignettes and mini-games that keep the player surprised, entertained, and often delightfully confused.

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13. December 2012

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Connection via Control: Thirteen Gates

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Thirteen Gates is a strangely disorienting first-person exploration game by Ian Snyder that withholds most of the normal cues of a 3D space. There is none of the lighting, depth of field, texture mapping, or atmospheric effects that might normally aid a player in perceiving depth and perspective. A “spiritual successor” to one of Snyder’s previous games Feign, Thirteen Gates takes his minimalist first-person experiments one step further, creating a world so abstracted that, without player movement, the world becomes completely unrecognizable as an interactive space:

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16. February 2012

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The Cat That Got The Milk

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The Cat That Got The Milk is a frenetic top-down maze game created by Oliver Clarke, Helana Santos, Chris Randle, and Jon Mann where the player hastily navigates a cat across the screen from left to right avoiding walls and other obstacles. The player can move up and down but, when not doing so, is forced automatically to the right, toward the goal. Touching the walls will force the player to start the level over. Fun enough already, but the high concept behind The Cat That Got The Milk is that the levels are essentially classic abstract expressionist compositions made interactive. The bold graphic elements of modern art paintings become animated, sometimes reactive, level design.

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2. September 2011

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Fotonica

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Fotonica is a fast-paced, first-person, rail running game developed by Italian game design studio Santa Ragione, made up of Pietro Righi Riva and Nicolò Tedeschi. Its visual style is a psychedelic throwback to vector arcade classics like Tempest and cult console favorites like REZ and Space Giraffe:

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11. August 2011

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TRAUMA

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TRAUMA is a unique first person point-and-click adventure game where the environment is assembled from augmented photography instead of conventional 3D graphics. The mood is dark and surreal, as the player explores mysterious dreams of a character that has fallen victim to an automobile accident, filled with hints of her past and clues to her present condition:

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8. August 2011

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Dutch Angles

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Dutch Angles is a simple sidescrolling arcade game created by Yuliy Vigdorchik and Benjamin Esposito, submitted for the Lunarcade Factory game jam in April 2011. The theme of the jam was “Lines”. Dutch Angles presents what is essentially a 2D game in a more dynamic 3D space, with converging lines and a constantly shifting camera angle, and a very simple color scheme made up of gradients of bold yellows and oranges… small choices that yield strikingly beautiful visualizations at any given point in the game:

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1. February 2011

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The Influence of Memory: Feign

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Feign, a Flash game developed by Ian Snyder, sends the player on a first-person journey through a 3D maze where positive and negative space are reduced to stark, solid shapes. Every hall, floor, wall, doorway, and ceiling becomes a becomes a minimalist arrangement of contrasting fields, a stripped-down snapshot of abstracted graphic elements. Distance is only perceived by making assumptions about a few converging lines, and not by recognizable objects or atmospheric effects common in other FPS games. There is an old adage: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, and Feign simplifies its world to an extraordinary degree:

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23. August 2010

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Back to Reality: Norrland by Cactus

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Norrland was created by Swedish freeware game designer Jonatan Söderström (also known simply as Cactus), who has released over 40 titles between 2005 and 2010. He has been nominated for multiple awards in the annual Independent Games Festival, namely Excellence In Visual Arts and Excellence in Audio in 2008 for Clean Asia, and the Nuovo Award in 2010 for Tuning. In Norrland, you play as a man out on a hunting trip in rural northern Sweden who, throughout a series of rather sadistic and perverse minigames, has violent encounters with nature, suffers from bizarre, psychedelic dreams, and manages gratuitously explicit everyday camping necessities.

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28. July 2010

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The Odd World of Vasily Zotov

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The games of Vasily Zotov are in the puzzle adventure genre, with fantastical overtones and somewhat autobiographical narrative themes… or, as Zotov calls it: “a little bit of truth reflecting through the fiction.” Zotov, a Russian immigrant who lives in Los Angeles, has been involved in a deportation struggle with US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and his real-life struggles have proven very influential to his games. The series, consisting of the games SpaceSpy, Refugee, and Refugee: The Second Hearing, tells the story of a homeless “alien” character who emerges from the sewers in Hollywood, is admitted to a psych ward and escapes, and eventually appears before and escapes an extradition court, all under the gaze of the ominous “Director Canavati”.

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24. January 2010

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Valentinel Hopes

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Valentinel Hopes is described as “an abstract open world platformer for hardcore gamers”, a brief and uncomplicated game where the player must speed down a narrow track through a world resembling abstracted, fractured glimpses of our own, unfolding in a stunning kaleidoscopic fashion.

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20. December 2009

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Uncommon Classic: flOw

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Originally released as a Flash game in early 2006, flOw was written by Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark as a part of Chen’s thesis research at the USC Interactive Media Division. In the game, the player controls a simple aquatic microorganism whose goal is to consume other creatures and descend to deeper and more difficult levels of an oceanic environment.

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23. November 2009

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The Mesmerizing World of Devil’s Tuning Fork

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Devil’s Tuning Fork is an unusual 3D exploration game created by a student team at DePaul University known as the DuPaul Game Elites. The game takes place in the dark, shared subsconcious of children in a coma, where the player must use waves of sound to illuminate their surroundings. The goal is to free yourself and other children who are imprisoned in this alternate reality and find the cause of the mysterious epidemic.

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19. October 2009

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Hazard: The Journey of Life

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Hazard: The Journey of Life is a “Philosophical First Person Single Player Exploration Puzzle Art Game” where the player must work their way through a succession of byzantine corridors, solving a series of spacial problems, in order to liberate themselves from captivity. Each challenge rewards the player with a simple lesson, and the promise that they are just that much closer to freedom. The journey serves as an analogue for the types of problems one inherently encounters throughout life, and all the unpredictability that goes along with it.

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15. September 2009

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The Absurdity of Golf?

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I was first introduced to Golf? at the Independent Games Festival at GDC2005 in San Jose, and again later that year at the IndieGamesCon in Oregon. This game has since found a place in my mind as the ultimate holy grail of bizarre game art, sealed by the fact that it was never officially released.

Created by a joint effort from Detective Brand and Chronic Logic, Golf? is in fact a golf game that features a sort of macabre, misplaced, French art noir film-meets Alice in Wonderland art style.

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15. September 2009

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Games to Watch: Love

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Painterly approaches to video game art are nothing new, though most attempts in the past have been to simply apply painted textures to models using fairly conventional rendering techniques. In 2006, Clover Studio developed Okami, which featured a groundbreaking display of Japanese sumi-e art, and has since been the hailed as the finest achievement in bringing a classical artistic sensibility to video games. Then, in 2008, lone indie developer Eskil Steenberg, under the moniker Quel Solaar, began releasing screenshots and videos from a project called Love:

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14. September 2009

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Fig8

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Fig8, by Intuition Games, is a Flash game that borrows heavily from the aesthetics of architectural and technical blueprints. The game began as a student art installation before evolving into a game (full story at Intuition’s site). It’s basically a top-down bicycling game where the player literally rides through patent-inspired design documents. Beautiful

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14. September 2009

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Dyson

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What struck me at first about IGF 2009 contestant Dyson is that I had a hard time deciding if the world I’m playing in is on the micro- or macro- scale. The game tells you that you are using seedlings to populate asteroids, but the asteroids themselves seem almost cellular. Either way, I was also struck by the very minimalist and utterly beautiful art for this game. Heavy in strategy, you start with a small group of flying “seedlings” populating an asteroid. You can cash in some of these seedlings and grow trees with them… some trees produce more seedlings, and some trees produce defensive spore-like missiles. To complete each level, you must populate other asteroids in an asteroid belt, while conquering an opposing army of seedlings, and defending your asteroids from them.

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14. September 2009

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4 Minutes, 33 Seconds of Uniqueness

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One of the more notable results of the 2009 Global Game Jam, was 4 Minutes, 33 Seconds of Uniqueness. Developed by Petri Purho (and team), who also created the clever indie breakout hit Crayon Physics Deluxe under his Kloonigames moniker. The game was created within a 24-our window and was provided by the competition with the theme “As long as we have each other, we’ll never run out of problems“.

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14. September 2009

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Uncommon Classic: the Surrealism of Samorost

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In anticipation of Czech developer Amanita’s forthcoming Machinarium in October 2009, and as the first in the Uncommon Classic series (the beautiful and oddball games of times past), I present the Samorost series of games. Samorost and Samorost 2 are simple, Flash-based point and click adventure games that were released from 2003 to 2005. Samorost has gained somewhat of a cult classic status over the years, even after winning both a Webby Award, and Excellence in Visual Art award at IGF 2007. The art and programming for the game was completed almost entirely by Jakub Dvorsky.

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