Saturday 15 May 2010

Ceramic Shooter: Electronic Poem Combines Narrative & Gameplay Like a Pro

Theta Game's Ceramic Shooter: Electronic Poem is in many ways the game I wished Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez and Jonathan Mak's Everyday Shooter had been. It's an anti-shooter: a top down, constant firing scroller with a fantastic score in which your objective is to avoid shattering the dribs and drabs of musical notes, poetry and images that pan down the screen - and it integrates narrative and gameplay in as smart a fashion as I've seen. Sort-of-widely-reported last month as being criminally overlooked, it clearly wasn't widely reported enough - it still has barely more downloads than I have fingers and toes on its official site, and less than 1,000 at it's biggest portal. It's a ten minute play, well worth it, and if you don't I'm about to spoil it for you. Oh, and don't do what I did first time and try to shoot everything. Best bet's to stay in the middle of the horizontal axis, carve left to right, and if / when you've had enough, watch the rest of the game here.


The poem itself is nothing desperately ambitious, but why need it be when the vision is so coherent? The moment where you disobey your orders, turn on your boss and are able to bring colour to the world is as dramatic a switch as I've seen, foreshadowed smartly by Kavita's kaleidoscopic name displayed tantalisingly moments before. It's an intelligent piece of gameplay / narrative integration that leaves you literally shooting down your enemy's words, and it's the core of this game.

The way in which the poetry manages to instill the gameplay with meaning, integrate with the graphics and reflect the tone of the soundtrack demonstrates the very best of the multifaceted approach only the interactive medium is capable of. While each element is simple and familiar enough, the tight interplay left me with a fantastically rich experience. I can even forgive that elements of the soundtrack are arrangements of Kei$ha's Tik-Tok. Who am I kidding? I love that track - but I prefer Theta's version.

I'd make just two criticisms. For one, the end game boss seems disharmonious with the otherwise inventive and unpretentious whole. Either ideas ran out, or there's something very obscure at work here. Secondly, and more damningly, it's disheartening to realise that even in a game which puts so much stead in having story and gameplay inform one another, the two remain at odds. With the poem being so tough to complete on a single playthrough, and the poetry itself not fleshy or involved enough to reward repeat plays, it comes as no great surprise that the youtube playthrough has had five times more hits than the game itself. Obviously a large proportion of that will be people checking out the game before deciding to download, but it does make the point - if we can't make interactive poetry that's not better enjoyed non-interactively then aren't we kind of missing what we're shooting for?


  1. I admit, I did end up resorting to the youtube playthrough. Did anyone manage to make it all the way through?

  2. Took a couple runs, but was able to make it though in the end. For some reason (Not really some reason I suppose. I think I have rather decent ideas what reasoning I had, but don't really have the time or awareness to provide them here) I couldn't stop thinking about "Before the Law," a simple game made from a parable from Kafka's works (Though I could say the same when I was playing Ergon/Logos)(Link: )

    Anyway, I agree with your comments and and wouldn't mind if they had provided a transcript of the poem available for at least the second section, as your cannon takes out most of the large chunks of text before you ever really get a chance to read through it, and there isn't enough incentive to attempt it again to get the missing pieces.

    I suppose walking out of it the thing that got to me the most was even though they had given me a background and reason to completely flip my play style to complete the game, and they did it in a aesthetically interesting way, I've apparently trained myself to the point through years of gaming that they could have simplified the entire poem to 2 words and I would have essentially preformed the exact same: Avoid, Destroy. As such the game, as you seemed to elude to, would have worked absolutely fine as two completely separate entities, gameplay and story, which in turn sort of defeats the purpose of the venture.

    Meh. That felt like a messy argument. I'll give it another shot later when it isn't 3 in the morning. While I'm on the subject of not being on the subject, I enjoyed your work on Penumbra and so far have found your blog to be rather fascinating to follow. Thanks for the insights and links and I'll probably see you around these comments sometime.

  3. Hadn't seen Before the Law until now - great aesthetics, and I AM a Kafka fan. I guess the main relationship there is the sense of inexorable progress - Electronic Poem and Ergon/Logos force it, the Kafka demands it.

    Electronic Poem was so close to being fantastic. If that need to replay it had just been more rewarding, been tied into our appreciation of the poem, it would have made for a very coherent and rewarding work. I'd have to argue, though, that the idea of a transcript would miss the point for me - the integration of the words, visuals and music.

    And thanks for the kind words :-)