Sunday, January 6, 2013

Of sublime numbers and experiences (Part 1 of 2, Journey the PS3 game)

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So passed an eventful year that left me no respite to blog contemplatively. Plenty exciting at the time, like jumping out of a plane and then having the parachute snagging on the tallest baobab tree ever and then getting spun around in a circle and then landing in a lake and then bobbing up and down in sensory overload.

Earlier today I somehow revisited the problem of the infinite 2D mesh of resistors, and came across this bonanza of a math site. Through some random link-hopping from there, I stumbled upon sublime numbers. I posted the link in my Google chat status which prompted a brief discussion with a friend about the phenomena of mathematical curiosities with no apparently real-life applications (other than to entertain the mathematicians). I find it vaguely coincidental and ironic that 12 is the only sublime number of manageable size. Oh sublime.

Speaking of sublime experiences, I had a most surreal gaming experience last month in the form of Thatgamecompany's Journey. A lot of props for the small indie studio for this magnum opus.

It conjures up the grandeur of ancient empires with motifs inspired by a smorgasbord of cultures (Asia Minor, East Asia, South America) with a dash of Gerhard Richter's abstract-minimalist flair. The journey-character is delightfully ambiguous in gender and cultural identifiers, while being simultaneously elegant yet cute. And we can only speculate that the character is really human, in fact. (Took the designers many many iterations! According to the artbook...)

The game is designed to make players experience positive emotions, i.e. state of flow. The (mostly) exhilarating gameplay fulfills all the needs for roaming, alpine skiing, and flying with elegant cape/scarf.

The meditative moments...

Psychologically gripping moments... (monster with glowing red eye!)

The grand test of blizzard mountain...

... after which the players find out in their own way what the journey is all about.

The beauty of Journey is that it can represent what each player makes of it. In my case, I liken it to the process of grad school research... possibly even more directionless and with more monsters chopping you. Other than the majestic landscapes and architecture, the game is full of (initially) mysterious elements whose significance gradually becomes apparent as the player progresses.

I found the (optional) cooperative play with an anonymous player online to be unexpectedly emotional. I was spellbound and speechless the entire time (2 hours? 3? No idea.) No wonder some people actually watch the gameplay Youtube videos like a movie! This game has turned a non-gamer like me into a raving fan. :-P

And the soundtrack is beyond description. Evokes transcendence of time and space... The cello and bass flute worked so well because they just resonate with the human voice and condition in a fundamental sense. I could not get enough of certain segments because they are positively loopable. Even the travelers' chirps took forever to get it right (bravo and total respect) Big kudos for Austin Wintory, sound engineers, and all the performers!

(1)  Flower is another great game along a similar vein,
(2) The creative director Jenova Chen's masters thesis describes some fascinating ideas. However, if GRE scores don't have a cap, it'd no longer be a "standardized" test because there would be no basis for comparison now huh.

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