The condition of music (Yooka-Laylee)

Lunch Zone – August 21,2019


Playing: Nathan Humpal

Present: T. Malaby, E. Kersting, R. House, K. Brajevich, S. Moulthrop


This game is “spiritual successor” to BANJO-KAZOOEY – which is what you call a crowd-sourced imitation when you don’t own the rights to the earlier game.


Environmental realism vs. gameplay: why does water mean (or not mean) player death?  Here we can swim; but in some many other games, contact with fluids is usually fatal.


Sardonic suggestion: it’s because game engines used to hate rendering fluids.  Which gets us thinking about materiality and instrumentality of game play: how much of the experience is determined by the properties of the engine, platform, etc.


Meanwhile, Nathan is annoyed at having to plow through the very extensive text-chunks thrown up by this game, as he struggles to play.  Why so many words?  Since this game has an obvious nostalgia factor, is the emphasis on reading somehow intended for younger players, maybe those playing with parents?  Is it just inherited from the aesthetic of Banjo-Kazooey, or from Monkey Island and other early graphic-adventures?  Nathan contrasts the text here to the (equally extensive) text in World of Warcraft, which tends to be deployed more efficiently, i.e. in places where you seek it out.


Thomas muses, after Jakobson’s six functions of language, to wonder if we could describe a similar 5 +/- 2 for game players.  (See Galloway’s “Gamic Actions.”)


Nathan turns on a FILTER that gives the game the appearance/behavior of 1990s console.  We begin to talk about the lifespan of games and gamers – transgenerational responses.  To those not in the demographic target zone for Yooka-Laylee, the visual downgrade caused by the filter reads as a system glitch.  From here we get to the way the filter reveals the difference between high-level, “skinned” content, and the various structures beneath it.


Nathan notes this game is a favorite of speedrunners, though it doesn’t have all that many exploitable holes in its design.  The logic of the game seems somewhat opaque (and once you’ve figure it out, you can speedrun).  For instance, those butterflies.  They sometimes increment the health meter, and sometimes not.  Do we need to score a certain number of them before reward?  Are there occasions for gathering them?  Likewise, fighting adversaries (especially with Laylee’s special bat-sonar powers) takes a lot of guesswork.


This leads to a general discussion of game semiotics.  Erik mentions the effect of laser eyes in Binding of Isaac.


Who needs culture?  Just learn this game.


“Do both bats and iguanas eat insects?”  As if that would help.


Butterflies and semiotic dissonance.


GSGMSU, joining us in Chat observes: “Sometimes your worst enemy in a platformer is yourself.”  We admire this wisdom.


And we arrive at the Great Rampo boos fight, which will consume the last 20 minutes of the session.  Or it felt like that, anyway.


“Beware applying non-Ramp standards of beauty to Ramps.” – Ryan.


Watching Nathan steadily improve his approach, Thomas recalls Moses Wolfenstein, a critic and designer famous for live-playing a platformer while giving an academic talk at Games, Learning, and Society.


For no particular reason, this puts me in mind of a music theorist I went to grad school with, who could play any given piano score with great fluency backward.  Also upside-down.


Banjos, kazoos, Ukuleles.  All art aspires to the condition of music.


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