Wednesday, July 18, 2012

VoEC: Personal Trip to the Moon

When I'm not writing about videogames (and I seem to be writing about videogames very infrequently these days) I enjoy writing poetry. And in those poems, I betray an obsession with the moon. I don't think about the moon all that much in my daily life, but as soon as pen hits paper it's moon moon moon moon moon. If I could replace all subjects and objects with "the moon" I would feel not limited, but thrilled my the opportunity presented. Maybe in a few years I will find a moon cult to join and everything will be alright forever.

With that content, maybe you will understand my excitement when some of my favourite corners of the internet began buzzing about a game called "Personal Trip To The Moon", a flash work on Newgrounds. I don't normally think about the moon as something to "go to" but now that the idea has been planted in my head, I'm thrilled by it. I wonder though, if a work is called "Personal Trip To The Moon" by its creator, how personal can it be for the player?

I’m not going to answer that question right away, even though I’ve decided on the answer. That’s a way of making you read more. Sneaky, huh?

Yesterday, Kay and I were out for a walk and I told her about Personal Trip to the Moon. Specifically how similar the visual style was to Jasper Byrne Lone Survivor (which I still haven’t finished, if you’re following my game completion exploits). Both games feature very textured pixel art under heavy filtering. The result is all the charm of pixel art with the self-awareness to acknowledge that the game is on a device capable of more. This kind of visual, musical, narrative, or mechanical quotation is particularly common in games because of the scope required of such a multimedia project. Not every designer can be a jack of all trades, and even if they are, how does one innovate in each area on each project? So, I don’t think that the quotation is a downside, or requiring of an excuse. Furthermore, I really like this kind of style and it’s very fresh, and I think here very well executed. It was splendid to watch in motion.

The motion in question is a slow walk, following by a swimming sort of flight. Doing the breaststroke in space. Your avatar wears a nice suit with a necktie, and appears to only have one eye. Is the titular journey best called one small step for man but one giant leap for a cyclops? I won’t spoil how I interpreted the story, because I thought it was a good one. But it will take you to the moon and back at least twice and into a new body. It knows well one of the most important elements of a narrative, namely where to cut at the beginning and the end, creating a perfectly framed narrative. This is really enhanced by a sound design which cuts in and out suddenly, and at the right time. It feels like a very controlled experience. Which is part of the problem.

The beginning and end are very deliberate walk and read affairs, with plenty of well written dialogue. In strong contrast is the entire middle section of the short game which features meandering through space and receiving microfictions about the various goings on in the area between earth and moon. But space is empty. And I got bored. The exploration section was either too long, or too short. And the freedom granted was both too much (giving me the freedom to bore myself) or too little (giving me so little to do or see). When the game decided to snatch back the narrative reigns I felt a bit cheated.

I feel like this may be the biggest insult I can give, but I have to say it, and I say it through mostly closed lips, as quietly as I can... but I think this game would have been better as a movie. It breaks my heart to call this game anything other than brilliant, because so much of it excites me. Maybe it did become my personal trip to the moon. And I was disappointed in the beginning, middle, and end.

But I look fondly toward first time designer VOEC`s next game. I suspect she may have further excellent stories to tell.

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