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Old 04-30-2010, 02:54 PM   #1
Bandango
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Free and Worth Every Penny - Issue 42: Ceramic Shooter: Electronic Poem


Games take different routes to reach their emotional ends. The modern game, the disc you’d pop into your PS3 or 360, likely conforms to a standard framework. The story, the method in which that story is delivered, and the gameplay that makes the story worth suffering will all at least be recognizable, most likely completely familiar, with some variation dependant on genre. Most games we play are built upon tried and true skeletons. Changes to the core are introduced slowly over the course of time—over the course of sequels, hardware improvements and the like. For the vast majority of games, though, true emotional impact is the exception. I’ve thought, maybe, that the archetypal structures we’re so familiar with, the ad nauseum genres, might not be the best way to create emotional resonance with a player. I don’t think I’m alone in that thought.

With Heavy Rain, we see a big budget game do away with the constrictions of popular genres for the benefit of story and emotional communication. Indie games too push the boundaries of genre, Sleep is Death most recently. It breaks down the idea of a video game to its most base parts—interactive video—and leaves little else but possibilities. It allows players to create stories for each other, to whatever end they see fit. Today I Die merges poetry with a sort of sandbox take on adventure games. Dear Esther takes the shooting, and much of the doing, out of first person shooters and replaces it with narration. Whether or not these games succeed is for you to decide. What’s important is that they try, and do so by breaking free of genre and form. I think this is a step in the right direction; something we’ll see more of in the future.


Which is why Ceramic Shooter: Electronic Poem kind of blows my mind. It intelligibly communicates story and emotion better than most any game I’ve played. It communicates without telling, and, much like a good poem, leaves some of the best bits up to interpretation. And it does all this well within the confines of one of the oldest, most rigid video game genres I can think of... the shmup.

CSEP plays like any shmup you’ve played before, but with the shoot button held down. Your ship spews a constant stream of projectiles. Thing is, you’re not supposed to destroy anything. The ‘opponents’ in the game world are made up by a variety of unlikely things; sentences, electrical schematics, equations, all of which are thematically linked. Helping this along is an energetic piano score that peaks and ebbs to reinforce the action on the screen. As your runaway bullets accidentally destroy objects, damage accrues, likewise if you crash into anything, but avoiding damage isn’t everything. As the name implies, the game is a delivery system for a poem; attempting to read the poem as it zooms by is half the challenge. So basically, the setting and the objects you interact with make up a game, but make up a poem, but make up something slightly different than both, if that makes any sense. What are otherwise mundane bad guys in other shmups are transformed into meaningful expression in CSEP.


Most astounding of all, beneath this expression is a game still intact. When it comes to 'arty' games, this is a rarity. The shootem’ up mechanic, though reversed, is as engaging here as in any other shmup. I definitely found myself ‘in the zone’ at points, hanging on for dear life. I died probably 4 or 5 times before beating the game. I plan on running through it again, because even after completion some of the finer points of the story eluded me, literally. It’s a small download that’s worth your time. I think this game is something special. Maybe it is.

Maybe I’m a sucker for poetry.


Ceramic Shooter: Electronic Poem...
  • balances 'art' with gameplay.
  • might not win any Pulitzers, but isn't poorly written.
  • is actually fun and challenging.

Windows only, 15 megs, get it here.
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Old 05-01-2010, 09:11 AM   #2
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Kind of interesting, but not as much fun as some of the other games you've posted. I lost interest after trying a couple times. Neat idea, though.
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Old 05-01-2010, 09:45 PM   #3
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Screw this game.
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Old 05-02-2010, 08:07 AM   #4
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Ack! I liked it...

Sorry for the lemon this week
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Old 05-02-2010, 09:28 AM   #5
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Hey, don't let the Negative-Nellies get you down. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got through on my first try, but didn't read too much. Might watch the playthrough on the Youtubes so I can read it all.


I'm surprised you didn't mention the music though. Possibly the best thing about the game.
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Old 05-02-2010, 10:17 AM   #6
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Oh, I don't hate it. And, I appreciate you finding all these games. It's just that this one isn't for me.
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Old 05-02-2010, 10:41 AM   #7
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Hey, don't let the Negative-Nellies get you down. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got through on my first try, but didn't read too much. Might watch the playthrough on the Youtubes so I can read it all.


I'm surprised you didn't mention the music though. Possibly the best thing about the game.
Yeah the music really does bring everything together. The transitions from scene to scene would have been clunky without a good score. And even though it was lilting piano for the most part, it managed to pump me up.

And yea, not for everyone. Glad you tried it though.
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Old 05-02-2010, 10:31 PM   #8
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Ack! I liked it...

Sorry for the lemon this week
Sorry, didn't mean for that to be taken as a personal attack against you. I think it's a fine find. I just tried it about five times and after getting (I think) pretty darn far on the last try I was fed up with it. I was never very good at shoot'emups.
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Old 05-04-2010, 08:00 AM   #9
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Oh no I didn't take it as personal attack. I didn't make the game

And I agree, there should have been a checkpoint system.
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