Utopias discussion *spoilers*

Videogame bookclub discussion thread for Utopias by AAA!

I haven’t played this yet but I’m gonna shortly!

2 Likes

I wrote an article on it yesterday, I’ll post it here when it’s up (O:

2 Likes

i’ve finished it! absolutely loved all the visual fuckery going on in each world and in the hub world (that fisheye effect?? what a snack) - in terms of content it was all really disparate but i knew what to expect there so i was fully onboard.
i think in general what i liked about each world was the way it presents itself (i want to say aesthetically but i also include interaction aesthetics in this, if that makes sense) and plays with symbols and interface (mmm semiotics), rather than the real “experience of play” or the text of each game. which is often the case for short experimental works anyway as far as i’m concerned, the friction in ~experiencing~ the work is really high (both bc the work is challenging norms of play but also quite honestly because it’s developped with low resources and that results in some poor UX and optimization) so the enjoyment i get from them is derived from images and ideas that it presents more than from the lived experience of play. does that make sense??? why do i sound like a wanker with a new media studies degree.
arguably most of the worlds aren’t really meant to be “played”/“experienced” as much as they’re meant to be “checked out” anyway, since they all fell under two broad categories: 1- mostly-linear diorama or 2- fully chaotic moving images where you don’t really get what you’re doing but at the end of the day it just throws you back to the hub (but maybe it’s just me who didn’t get the progression logic in them? i loved bird person controller but if anyone understood how it worked please let me know).

if i am to compare it to AAA’s previous release Data Mutations (https://data-mutations.aaasoftwa.re/), i think i overall preferred data mutation for its more direct relationship to process (Data Mutations was specifically about making assets as a group, then pooling those assets, then each making an ~experience~ out of the asset pool) whereas Utopias felt more like a collage of jam projects around the “utopia” theme, which led to some of them feeling very student-project-ish at times in my opinion. Data Mutations felt like every artist created their piece in dialogue with their material and medium, whereas Utopias felt more restricted, and you can tell some of them struggled with the theme a little, or shoehorned some cool visuals into the theme. still loved them though! also i guess Data Mutations also served as a way to manifest the collective’s ethos into a manifesto-project, and you can’t really do that twice.

down the road i think that’s also why my favorite part of Utopias ended up being the hub, it’s the part of the game that is reflectively about the game’s structure rather than being an isolated project, and it brings more things into focus. its structure and the motif of “artifacts” you obtain after each subworld is sort of basic and common to games but i thought it fit the theme really well and anchored it, like every experience within the game is a different spin on “utopia” and your character’s path to accessing their own utopic horizon is to visit these different visions and take back a bit of each ie. build a broader understanding of what “utopia” can mean through the combination of these experiences??
i mean that and i also just loved the look of it, the zooming mechanic works SO WELL with the fisheye lens and the motion blur. The giant rings around the 9-planets system and the character’s long silhouette also meshed really well with the image stretching, i have a bunch of really good screenshots from that. and those antique 3D-printer pedestals are really good to, there’s something about the way they animate and their audio that i find very compelling.

ALSO!! that splashcreen and its audio cue is some of the best shit i’ve ever seen+heard.

1 Like

Big agree on the splashscreen and hub world being super nicely made! Although I find the fisheye in the hubworld kind of nauseating.

I haven’t played too many of them yet - I got the birdcage, the hand, and the planet (maybe there will be more planets?) - but I read Pol’s post and felt I could engage with it with what I’ve played to some degree. The pieces are interesting and brief enough that I expect I’ll go back and see more and come back to this thread, too.

I agree that the projects feel disparate, which is interesting because it made me think a lot about the team structure while playing, which to some degree does make it similar to Data Mutations in that it’s kind of an artefact of and about its own making. But I think in maybe unflattering ways.

I think the kind of thing that bird person controller is trying to be, and the kind of thing this last planet I went to (had statue people, brutalist architecture, an observatory?) is trying to be, are very different things and they don’t really fit together well in the context of a single experience. One is very media-studies and the other is very speculative-fiction. To me, the way these pieces clash with each other feels reflective of what I understand of AAA’s team structure, which seems kind of anti-direction, like “do whatever you want and we’ll just put it all together,” which I personally think the work would benefit from cohering together better.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of a line from Pattern, something like “the work of making a game is more like building a frame and stretching a canvas than like painting.”

Even within a painting, for the piece to read there has to be a certain amount of coherent internal logic to light, color, shape, to its posture to the viewer and the art world surrounding it. Utopias definitely lacks this kind of internal logic. But it’s even more extreme with games, where yeah - UX, performance, ‘craft’ stuff you don’t want to get in the way of the ‘art’ stuff, is actually very difficult to get right, and when done badly is very intrusive on the experience.

As far as I can tell it’s all playable with a mouse, which is a very smart + essential constraint, but I think the project would’ve benefited from a much more explicit + consistent structural frame - like consistent camera, consistent UI, even things like asset style, maybe even like level-of-suspension-of-disbelief.

FWIW, I’m trying to engage with this thing very honestly and to be perfectly honest I am in a time in my life where I’m feeling a lot of discomfort / irritation towards High/Fine art, so in a lot of ways this is maybe just not made for me. Like Pol was saying, the project seems most worth engaging on a sort of Art Criticism level, and I’m just not that interested in that right now, except as it might relate to my own practice of making, which is probably why I find myself talking about team structure and project coherence and stuff.

2 Likes

read both of your replies. i gotta say that i tend to experience games impressionistically. unless something just doesn’t work at all, i almost exclusively find games to be a positive experience. i can definitely see where both of y’all’s criticisms come in, but for me, that was just part of the package. it just was.

so i wrote a review on the itch page:

"wow. what a ride. really, really beautiful stuff.

absolutely loved the spectrum of clear goals to ambiguity. heterogeneity is something i value, especially when it’s all idiosyncratic. i felt different for each section, from peace to confusion to happiness to solidarity.

i thought it was fitting that i ended on gabriel’s, which in itself contained multiple perspectives, each different. i love the humanity of that aspect, especially when transitioning into the last segment, with the conversation scrolling in the background.

every time i finished a planet, i was excited to go to the next one. i’m glad they were all succinct so i could experience them in one sitting. this is definitely a game to return to maybe once a year or so.

i’m going bed now, i hope this permeates my dreams, and my future."

and then sebastian stanke saw my review, and asked me to write an article about it. i made this in an hour:

and… i guess this is just more about my writing, but i realized that using capital letters immediately formalized it and made me think too much. and that furthers my preference to just experience something and not need to digest what it is or what it means.

3 Likes

[long ramble incoming, havent played this game but] your comments about formalizing games and stuff remind me of the politics in games discussion from a few months ago, discourse is yelling at me about reviving old conversations but idk how much we’re sticking to forum etiquette here?

so anyway i read kara stone’s what can play? recently, which is about posthumanism and considering “non-human”, “non-living” players in gamedev, as who/what is considered “human” is often racist, ableist, queerphobic, etc. (this is also the only game studies paper ive read, so for now you’ll catch me referencing it everywhere when talking about game studies, oops)

she begins like this: “Under late-capitalism, play must be productive. There is a push for games and play scholars to prove that play is useful to our lives under neoliberalism. If it does not benefit us in the workplace, then there is no point.”

and she ends like this: “To be very blunt: individualism is destructive… It is necessary to think about the welfare of others: other people, other animals, the earth and everything on it and in it —even when playing games, making games, and critiquing games.”

where it shouldn’t matter why we play, because it’s play and is therefore allowed to be unproductive. but also where care becomes a v important part of creating games and also playing them bc of the world we live in… idk ! didn’t really make a point here, i think its cool

(this paper also has strong tenderfoot energy imo, talking about how inanimate objects play, talking about how games themselves play by causing affect reminded me of how so many of my battle + overworld decisions are so often really clearly impacted by the environment… the games playing me, not the other way around. but thats something else entirely)

1 Like

I think it’s fine to resurrect old topics? Only speaking for myself here but i value the slower + enduring pace of this forum as opposed to social media, hah.

It’s like we keep getting back to the question of why/how we play and why/how we make games. To bounce off badru’s quip:

I find myself unable to engage with games in a way other than what is being described here most of the times, ever since i’ve started making my own i can’t help but dissect games as i play them–i always have a brain routine looking at what i’m playing and wondering how things are made, both technically and creatively, and if it resonates with things i’ve tried to do with my own work. Which sort of sucks sometimes! I wish i could switch it off and experience games “impressionistically” as quasiotter put it, but i don’t seem to have the capacity (or discipline?) to switch back to it anymore.
Like what i’m getting at here is i’m not at all convinced these modes of interaction are decisions we take as opposed to a direct result of our conditions that we can’t escape (free will is a lie :call_me_hand: experience is just the temporal expression of material conditions baby). But also everyone’s different so i don’t wanna assume everyone works like i work!

When i say this sucks i guess i mean both in terms of colouring my enjoyment of other games, but also in how it affects my own work. It’s really difficult for me to imagine what an audience without my literacy of games-as-craft would take away from my work, and i often worry that both my own work and my favorite pieces of art are only approachable and interesting to a very small subset of people with a similar craft as mine and the specific kind literacy that comes with it. And that literacy isn’t even really interesting (“oooo did you see that interesting spin on the 3rd person camera control in the game??” cool beans but also why do i have a literature of 3rd person camera paradigms in my brain).
Basically i’m worrying about liking and producing trite shit that doesn’t speak to anyone but my clique. Memes.
Additionally, this mode of experiencing games is also in sharp contradiction with what Kara described in her paper. Having that dissection gaze on throughout the game prevents you from interacting with it in an unproductive way, and i’m honestly not sure that i can still “play” games strictly speaking at this point (but i also don’t really value play either, so i don’t care much for that one).

Reading quasiotter’s counterpoint to badru’s+my criticisms is reassuring though, to hear that someone who went into the game without the art crit radar turned on still enjoyed it and came out of it with interesting insight. But i guess by virtue of being on this forum and in these internet circles we’re still all very much within the same memetic clique, haha.