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In his review of Yooka-Laylee, Tom opens by saying, “The hardest enemy I had to fight in Yooka-Laylee was its camera.” I’m not trying to say he’s wrong—the camera is godawful for a game about precision platforming—but what if inconsistent and frustrating camera control could be used in a game’s favor?
Ideal 3D cameras are either automated through predetermined triggers and angles by the developers and left entirely out of the player’s control, or they feel invisible, controlled by a mouse or joystick with a subtle, fluid acceleration and collision cues that prevent the camera from butting up too close against surfaces or turn the intersecting geometry invisible.
In Oikospiel, one of the most surreal, surprising games I’ve ever played, the 3D camera is a goddamn mess, but that’s the point.
As outlined in , Oikospiel is a smart, satirical critique of the game industry’s labor practices, which will no doubt resonate with those stuck beneath the thumb of big companies that romanticise crunch and distract from unhealthy policies with catered lunches and nap rooms. The premise is a bit hard to parse at first: it’s a game about several generations of dogs developing a videogame opera based on the novel Tristram Shandy while Donkey Koch, their producer, directs and reinforces their tireless work with rambling, empty rhetoric.
Further, every visual component of the game is put together using Unity store assets. Developer David Kanaga even that one scene is actually mirrored in . It’s a sprawling work, accompanied by a website where you can wave your mouse to generate wind to create income to buy the game with, a , and a disorienting, glitchy soundtrack that goes as far as remixing Celine Dion’s iconic ‘My Heart Will Go On’.
It’s wild, genius stuff and you should play it right away.
But even for those unfamiliar with the game industry, Oikospiel still works as a psychedelic videogame culture mashup. It’s a game about games that toys with the common constructions of ambitious 3D games, and the camera is the most sickening and playful of them all.
In the first moments of the game, moving the mouse rotates the camera around a scene, slowly zooming out as the opening credits roll. Moving it too quickly generates wind, washing the credits away for a few seconds.
Right away, any input from the player compromises the experience, blotting out key information for the sake of authoring what angle you see the cheap model of a man looking at a computer from. Like at a theatrical performance, if you were to spend most of the time looking around at the rafters and the rich folks in the special seats, you’d miss important narrative beats. Who’s to blame if you don’t like the opera after it’s finished, the performers or yourself? If Yooka-Laylee’s camera is frustrating, do you blame the developers or the inexperienced viewer?
Shortly after, the player takes control of a rabbit, which quickly gets eaten by a fox, and then trades places with some snakes, or eels, maybe?—and so on. Moving the mouse to rotate the camera spins it around quickly, and because the directional WASD controls don’t adapt to which way the camera is facing, controlling the character is a damn nightmare. Your only goal is to move down a road, a pretty straightforward path, but with any attempt to inspect the environment the camera spins wildly, clipping through the environment and exposing the paper thin facade all videogames are: geometry suspended in a void between a massive square patches of sky. You did this, it’s your fault.
But if you know that it’s better to not fight the camera, it’s possible to run through the game without getting sick. In making a deliberately frustrating camera to control, Kanaga draws attention to how a player’s experience with a game is formed by their knowledge and practice with certain systems. Should we expect more inclusive refinement or let complex, troubling systems slide? Dark Souls says yes. Meanwhile, I hear Tom Marks still wakes up in a cold sweat thinking about Yooka-Laylee’s camera.
Oikospiel is clearly self-aware, so if the camera’s purpose isn’t ease of use, then its purpose is defined by how it behaves and what it shows rather than what we expect it to do based on a camera’s typical purpose in other 3D games. Where in Yooka-Laylee the purpose is to make navigation and observation easier, in Oikospiel the camera is meant to be a pain to control and clip through walls. It’s encouraging you to think about what makes a good camera and a bad camera and the effect either can have on the illusion developers work so hard to maintain. The camera may not be fun to use, but it’s fun to think about—once the spins stop, at least.
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>
It’s a challenge to effectively portray the peculiar emotional effect of playing Proteus [official site]. Perhaps the flagship entry in the RPS-celebrated ‘walking simulator’ genre, it’s a pixel painting of seasonal wonder.
This is article 5 of 6, adapted from my Psychogeography of Games series for London s Videobrains. If you enjoy this, please consider backing me on Patreon, where there ll be a zine of these texts coming out in the New Year, plus an exciting new project announced soon(ish).>
In the months running up to the walk, Ed has sent me the occasional email, each time with new ideas for route near where he lives (and grew up) in Cumbria. The night before, we spread an OS map out on the table and he points out wild swimming spots, walks he went on with his parents, places not explored yet. Jack, a black and white cat, sits on top and bats at Ed s finger each time he places it down. In the end we decide on Borrow Beck, in Borrowdale. The walk doesn t look far on the map.
I was going to write about the plantlife in Proteus [official site] or something along those lines but then I went back and… it didn’t feel like quite what I wanted to express today. Mostly I’ve gone back to just thinking about how lovely the game is, even when you strip out the movement and sound. Obviously it would be better with both but here are the screenshots from my season cycle in Proteus today. It felt like a microholiday so I guess this is my microholiday album, if you’d like to take a look. Autumn and winter are by far my favourite seasons. Spring and summer are lovely, but autumn is magical and I’d totally forgotten about the aurora.
Otherworldly walking sim Proteus [official site] is very much an RPS favourite: a dreamy, good-natured, no-pressure place many of us retreat to when the shooting and the jumping and the icon-collecting gets too much. Half the reason for Proteus’ joyfully calming effect is David Kanaga’s prettily ambient soundtrack, and how perfectly it fits the evocative, wooly-edged art. In PANORAMICAL, which occupies a place between game and music tool, Kanaga’s compositions move front and centre. … [visit site to read more]