Cute, dancing sea critters mark a gaming revolution


Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 9:54 p.m.
As a geek, my cultural references tend to be slightly different than most. When most people think of superstars, they may think of Angelina Jolie. I think of Stan Lee, creator of X-Men and Spider-Man. When most people think of art, they may think of Van Gogh. I think of video games.
But with Nintendo's new game Electroplankton, more people will be thinking like me.
As a game, Electroplankton acts as a sort of underwater symphony simulation by allowing players to interact with various fish-like Electroplankton creatures. These creatures seem to sing and dance while swimming under the player's direction. With the player as the director, Electroplankton's artistry is further heightened by its use of the Nintendo DS's touch screen and microphone.
Electroplankton allows players to use the touch screen to guide the Electroplankton's movements, as though choreographing an epic and unending dance. Other parts require players to speak, sing, clap or make noise in order to elicit a response. Electroplankton actually allows players to record short segments and then play those bits back within the different musical, visual extravaganzas within the game.
While fishy micro-organisms, singing and dancing may not always go together, Electroplankton acts as a sort of refined, playable version of the animated sequences in Disney films. Like so many Disney films, Electroplankton manages to be incredibly cute, creative, elegantly simple and evocative at the same time.
Electroplankton's elegance comes through clearly in its design. As a game, Electroplankton cannot be won or lost, and players cannot accumulate points. However, despite the removal of these pivotal game elements, Electroplankton excels in presenting enjoyable, interesting play.
In doing so, Electroplankton acts as a game that implicitly questions what it means to be a game. As gaming grows and gains new players, innovations like this that blur the lines between games and toys, gamers and composers are needed so gaming may express its artistic side to gamers and nongamers alike.
While removing winning and losing options, Electroplankton adds other choices.
It begins by offering players the choice to play in audience or performance mode. The audience mode allows players to watch the game play itself and to see the possibilities Electroplankton presents. Performance mode allows players to choose one of 10 different Electroplankton to play with. These Electroplankton - including Beatnes, Tracy, Luminaria, Nanocarp - each have unique appearances and skills.
Within each area, the Electroplankton work together to create beautiful visuals and symphonic sound. Electroplankton's combination of music and image make it seem as though the game has captured fish and micro-organisms dancing to their own ballets set to their own musical compositions, which players are then allow to modify and develop as though they are directors.
For gamers, the revolution Electroplankton embodies was previewed in the game Rez.
In Rez, players played as hackers fighting an evil computer system. With that underlying narrative, players shot at small images of programs that were working for the enemy computer system. Each time a shot made impact, the game played a musical note. Those musical notes existed on top of the game's basic music creating complexly beautiful musical scores through game play.
Electroplankton does the same thing, albeit in an even more open and more playful manner.
Other computer software programs have similarly visualized music; however, computer software normally just visualizes the music and does not allow players to easily interact and modify music and image simultaneously. Because Electroplankton allows for this sort of interaction, it acts as a piece of art that can change people's minds about both what art is and what it can be.
For anyone who's ever loved games or who's never really understood games, Electroplankton offers a needed gaming experience. The games we play tell us something about our societies, our cultures and our worlds; and Electroplankton speaks volumes.
Gaming in Gainesville - Check out the local gaming scene at Gamers Asylum, 1124 W. University Ave. They're hosting a Smash Bros. Melee Tournament on at 8 p.m. on Saturday. See www.gamersasylum.com or call (352) 371-1774.
- Gainesville has two live action role-playing (LARP) groups. See their Web sites for more information: http://domains.owbn.org/staug/ or http://domains.owbn.org/gnvmid/.
E-mail Laurie Taylor at laurie.taylor@gmail.com.

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