Thursday 22 July 2010

New From Molleindustria: Inside a Dead Skyscraper

I know, I know: more Moleindustria. What can I say, when you've just had an interview go up on RPS in which you plug your blog, and you realise it'd be quite nice for any newcomers if there was a fantastic, free indie game on your front page that hasn't already been covered by the fantastic chaps over yonder, Paolo Pedercini's usually a safe bet.

Inside a Dead Skyscraper would be thoroughly ruined by reading pretty much anything about it, save for this paragraph and the quote below it. The experience is being billed as an interactive music video. It's a concept I'm all in favour of: new ways in which to enjoy and combine music and interactive entertainment; approaches which, rather than awkwardly ignoring the radically different formats we deal with today, are designed around them. Paolo puts it rather well in the game FAQ:
"Ideally, [the game] is meant to be a critical answer to the proliferation of rythm games 'a la Guitar Hero. These karaoke-derived products simply capitalize on already successful music[...] An alternative approach to the musical game form would link the independent music and independent games scenes. Indie music games could promote unknown bands to the multi-tasking, hyperactive, interaction-addicted new generations. They could enhance the listening esperience while being autonomous works as the best music videos have been done in the last 30 years."
  That's your lot, SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT. Go play the game, why don't you, it has my official you-absolutely-won't-regret-the-three-minutes-it-takes-you sticker. But do come back.

So, that moment ten seconds in, huh? And again when you finish? Put aside the great aspirations this project has for interactive music as a whole and those revelations alone are worth the price of admission.

If I had one major criticism of the experience, it would be that the jump - or the initiation of the dream state - comes too soon. The impact, the liberating dichotomy of the two worlds, could have been far greater with just 30 seconds of trite greyscale fetch quests first.

I'd be interested to hear in what order you experienced the game, and how that affected what you came away with. Personally, I did a good minute or two of aimless flying, figuring given what this was meant to be there probably wouldn't be an awful lot more to it: the ace had been played when I escaped the building. I flew over the top of the second tower, observed the frozen people and assumed they were pointing up at me, and then landed on the third tower. It was only then that I realised what the gadget did, and I flew back to read the thoughts of the other peds. It was then, a good 5+ minutes in, that I found the plane. I restarted to read the rest of the thoughts, solved the red balloon 'puzzle', and finished up.

Discovering what people were thinking was fantastic, though if he didn't constantly surprise me I'd guess Paolo and musician / World Trade Centre photographer, Jesse Stiles, had taken a little influence from REM's Everybody Hurts video. But the thoughts seemed to reflect on the - somewhat familiar - themes of the song, as well as working towards an understanding of the gameworld itself.

And when that understanding hits. Wow. Playing through again, I was actually surprised the plane is there from the very start - I'd expect it to be spawned later to encourage exploration. I can only imagine the impact of finding the plane ten seconds after launching off detracts from the experience massively. As it was, I spent a good time exploring first, and the moment of revelation - when you understand the people aren't just static, but frozen in time, when you understand why you're there in the tower in the first place and the nature of the world you now have to return to - was spectacular.

I'm absolutely in love with the art style, especially with the truly liberating flying / swimming animations and the way the gadget when activated is brandished almost as an afterthought by the character - a truly laid back fantasy that only reinforces the oxymoron of the conflicting worlds.

Most of all, though, I'm impressed with how sharp and dramatic a story the game tells through its cunningly simplistic interaction and narrative structure. That this is done within the context of furthering the relationship between music and games doesn't just tip the balance, it crushes the scales.


  1. Tell me about your experiences with the game and what you came away with.

    Does Skyscraper succeed as a game, or a music video, or both, or neither?

  2. Wow, that really did have an effect on me - more so than most 'art' games. The critical thing is whether the author of such games is able to judge the design to get you to experience things in the order they want you to and even to judge what your progression of thought is going to be as you play it. I think I was actually in sync with what the author intended though that hasn't always been the case in the past.

    My actions/how I experienced things: I wondered around having not really grasped what I was meant to do in the building for maybe 20 seconds before going straight to the hole in the wall; I took the shift into flying in my stride (you come to expect such things when you play random games); I flew generally straight upwards and experimented with the feel of the flying/swimming until I reached the top of the building; I tried to fly to the left but hit the invisible wall and then realised I could land on the roof; I flew straight down and reached the people; took out my scanner and spent a decent amount of time going back and forth - instantly saw that people were pointing upwards and guessed that's where the game was heading (for some reason I thought it might be aliens - which greatly helped the impact of the final reveal); then flew straight upwards - it's a long way - saw the first hints of an explosion and then instantly came across the aeroplane right above and ... and...

    ...That was a seriously great moment in which an awful lot was communicated in that second because of the instant reinterpretation of what I'd just seen and been listening to as well. And I actually had this pulse that I almost physically felt going through my chest in that moment - it was like seeing that aeroplane actually inspired something like dread inside of me as I realised what it signified. A little bit of that real world moment from back in 2001 seemed to bes actually communicated to me and I'm not using hyperbole in saying that.

    I have no idea what you mean by 'other peds' (there was more than just those on that one section of ground?), 3rd skyscraper (only encountered the starting and finishing one) and red balloon puzzle and I went back and restarted again a few times and didn't find anything different. I didn't make the instant interpretation that I was in one of the buildings surrounding ground zero either and initially thought I was in the other tower - that obviously doesn't make sense and maybe my mind would have got to the right conclusion in its own time if you hadn't said so anyway.

  3. Interesting to hear, glad it resonated for you. You might like to try flying up and over the second tower...

  4. It's funny what the game does to the music; first time you play it, they combine together into a calm but unknown feeling: I saw the people pointing, flew up the second building, saw the plane. I realised what the game was referencing, felt the change in tone of both music and stillness, and tried to touch the explosion with my gadget.

    White out.

    It's poignant like that. You can't do anything to stop it, you're just there to watch.

    Then I read the comments and found out what the thing is meant to do, read the people's thoughts, listened to the music and thought about it while swimming around in the air, and got an ending with a different tone.

    But the third time I tried to get to the third tower, and the completist impulse, and the knowledge that the song forms a timer, spoiled the interaction between the two. You feel like, "this is not a time to be racing, and I don't want to treat this song as a countdown to be avoided". I got to the other tower but didn't listen to many of the responses because I wanted to give it time and the space the themes deserved. I'm not going to play it again.

  5. Here's my order of play.

    I leave; the music and swimming in air feels like it's meant to be a joyous experience. I fly around in a circle a bit.

    I travel to the right and, I kid you not, I remember thinking the design was familiar to the WTC. So I travelled directly upwards, straight into the plane: game over. Okay, I get it.

    I go again and, as Josh W noted, the tone of the music and game seems very different now. This is a frozen moment of disaster. I go around scanning people's minds. I talk to Mrs. HM and then the music finishes: game over.

    I go again and fly around everyone as quickly as possible, not really feeling anything, just trying to read read read. I save a balloon: game over.

    I liked it although.... I hit the moment of revelation within seconds - so there was no WOW moment for me - and once I realised there was an inbuilt timer, it completely ruined the experience, as if I thought I needed to see to everything to truly "know" the game.

    I really like the idea of using games as the new music video. But will they all be as interesting as the creations of Molleindustria?

  6. I flew across and hit the building first and recognised the WTC pattern especially on reaching the ground where the lines converge. I read a few reactions and had a feeling that this was a static flashback then decided to fly up...

    I was actually a little scared to see what everybody was looking up at, knowing what it would be, then when the thing came into view it snapped back to the original building as if it was a day dream. On the second go I stood on the plane and that was really, really scary staring into the explosion. I thought I might have been able to read people's thoughts on the plane which made it even more unnerving. I then flew up and over encountering the next group of people in between the buildings and then on to the second tower. The girl with the balloon was a nice touch.

    The music certainly made the flying feel very dreamlike which fitted the concept perfectly.

    Thanks for this Tom.