the artistry and psychology of gaming

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Cloud

Cloud

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

Those who follow Alice Kojiro’s feature Oasis of Beauty will know that this month is celebrating all things cloudy… what a great idea! Alice isn’t the only one with her head in the clouds after all, and to prove it; Gaming on the House will be joining in on the theme to offer a full month of cloudy entertainment, whether the weather is permitting or not.

Cloud

Cloud logo

Today's forecast... art!

Genre: Dreamscape Puzzler
Link to Game: http://interactive.usc.edu/projects/cloud/
Game Info: Developed and released in 2005 by seven students at USC School of Cinematic Arts led by Jenova Chen (Thatgamecompany), winning the 2005 Game Innovation Grant from USC.

Thatgamecompany is easily one of the most artistic and innovative development houses in the games industry today. We’ve already covered their first game flOw in an earlier installment, and this past month marked the company’s 3rd official release on the PS3 with Journey; a release that is part adventure, and part social experiment. Each release has graciously delivered on its lofty artistic ambitions, and each has been spearheaded by the company’s founder Jenova Chen. Of course, this should come as no surprise, as even before Thatgamecompany, Chen’s artistic vision and ambitious attitude towards creative media was already well documented with his breakout game Cloud,  a dreamy flight simulator with an imaginative twist.

Cloud was said to take its inspiration from Chen’s childhood days, when he would look up in the sky to see the difference between the white fluffy clouds and the dull gray ones. The game was designed to “expand the spectrum of emotions video games evoke,” and I can say that even after just 5 minutes playing the game most anyone can see that Chen’s plans succeeded. The game places the player in the role of a small boy, lying in a hospital bed with nothing to do but dream. In his dreams, the boy takes flight, soaring over the ocean to make friends with clouds.

Cloud Gameplay 1

Anything to get out of eating hospital food.

Controls are fairly simple, basically using the mouse to move and accelerate/decelerate while you soar around the sky.  Three types of clouds can be found around the levels; white, light gray, and dark gray. White clouds are already “friendly” and can be interacted with; the player can fly into them, and they will follow the player. Light gray clouds are inactive, but can be turned white if they come into contact with larger white clouds. This brings an element of strategy to the game in gathering up white clouds for use, not unlike gameplay found in Katamari Damacy where the larger you get, the more you can also pick up. The last of the clouds, the dark ones, are for all purposes the antagonists of the game, and can be mixed with white clouds to disappear and turn to rain, furthering the need for additional cloud gathering and resource management.

The game’s story consists of four levels, each tasking the player to do something different. The player will use the clouds to paint, to gather, and to demolish the evil dark clouds infecting the landscape, thereby saving the islands below, offering but not overstating a light environmental spin (the third level shows some sinister smokestacks). Levels take around 20-30 minutes to complete (depending on how distracted you get), and are introduced via some incredibly drawn panels conveying the game’s overarching story. While the story does not greatly impact the gameplay to be had, it works to expedite the process to maintain the game’s focus on the experiences within the levels themselves. There’s a tremendous sense of freedom in flying around, that seems to play well towards people’s imaginations. There’s a simple joy to be had with flying among the clouds and creating your own jet streams (even at the expense of meticulously going back along your cloud lines to reclaim what you so wrecklessly dropped along the way).

In addition to the story levels, there are several additional cloud challenges available in the extras menu. While not as thematically enticing as the story levels, these extras provide an additional level of challenge at a slightly higher level than the core experience.

In general the sky is very atmospheric, and the concept of a flying boy in a hospital gown is whimsical to say the least, but for drawbacks, I would say that flying too much can be dangerous, as it’s easy to fly too far away from the task at hand, and it may eventually prove difficult to return to the right direction. I’ve restarted a level on more than one occasion because I had no idea where I was, or how to get back, since the map does not circle.

Cloud game play 2

Break it up you two, nobody's calling anyone a nimbo-stratus

Those hell-bent on action need not apply; as the game unfolds just slightly faster than the average cloud movement on a windy day. Cloud is not a game that should be rushed through, but to be experienced with an open mind about what video games can be like.If you think you have the patience, and are willing to make good on those Peter Pan fantasies that you’re ashamed to admit you had years ago, those who wish to fly will find a tranquil and uplifting demonstration of interactive artistry that conveys a wide range of emotions in a short period of time. Its fantastical premise, artistic presentation, and peaceful musical score is enticing to the senses, and the game overall is an incredibly relaxing experience.

In fact, I’d say this may be the perfect 4am game for those who can’t fall asleep, but aren’t entirely awake either. It could very well be the most peaceful game you can find for the PC.

 

 

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