By: Paul Eres

On: June 29th, 2012

Run, by Chris Whitman (also known to old-time forum folk as “I Like Cake”), is a game that you can play for free or buy. He describes it as an existential horror farming game. The game cycles between three modes of play.

In the platforming part, you walk on a sequence of words, try to get to the end of the level without falling or hitting something dangerous. The words are connected with how it’s played: for instance, there might be the word “across” that you can ride on to cross a chasm. This part of the game I felt was an interesting experiment, but way too easy; only late in the game where a monster chases you through it did it provide any challenge at all. I felt more could have been done in this part (perhaps with a few lessons from the excellent Ceramic Shooter: Electronic Poem). I also felt the words were a bit too recondite, much like Braid’s text between levels. (I couldn’t help but thinking it might be more interesting if the levels had instead been made out of some famous (and public domain) poem, Keats, e.e. cummings, Gerald Manley Hopkins, something like that.) I did enjoy the chase sequences in the final few levels of the platforming segments, but found this mode the least entertaining of the three.

The next mode of play is a series of interconnected variations on classic arcade games (Snake, Space Invaders, Gorillas, etc.) where each one changes the terrain to be used in the following ones; these were structurally the most interesting, but because it’s easy to mess up and make one of them create a terrain that it’s impossible for the next one to finish, although that does add some challenge that the rest of the game otherwise lacks, since you need to plan ahead. Overall this was my favorite segment of the game, with the others modes it was like “Oh, I’ve played *this* game before, and better” but this mode felt like a genuinely new experience. I hope future games (by Chris or others) expand on this game mode.

The last mode of play is an Actraiser-style game (it even uses the first few notes from the Actraiser sim-section theme song as a tribute) where you direct individuals to till the fields, plant seeds, and harvest food. This mode is both simple and complex; if you want to maximize food it’s complex, but if you just want to make enough food to survive it’s not all that difficult. I felt as if there should have been some reward for making more food than needed (perhaps population growth?). There also doesn’t seem to be any *difference* between the different farm stages of the game. Visually they differ a little but in gameplay terms they all have six fields and all play out the exact same way, it’s like playing the same level over and over again (there are blue people that come and interfere with your food a bit, but those don’t seem affect how you actually play the game, they don’t change the decisions you make or actions you take, they just reduce your crop yield). So while I liked the idea of this (I loved the sim sequences in ActRaiser) I felt it needed more work.

In summary, unlike a lot of so-called “art games”, I felt that this one had the potential to be fun, but didn’t meet that potential, when it easily could have with some more complexity and challenge to its game modes. It felt like a game that had all the trappings of a good game (nice music, sound effects, levels, goals, graphics, interesting themes) but which wasn’t playtested / balanced to improve how compelling the game modes were. So instead of a great game we get a great attempt with good ideas that other developers can learn from, but which will probably alienate itself from most players. Overall it’s worth playing for free, and if you enjoyed it, it’s only a few dollars to own and to own the soundtrack of (I believe the full version’s exactly the same as the free version, except that you can download it and play it full screen).

  • broAhmed

    A “horror farming game”?

    “Oh no, the wheat! It’s, it’s alive! ARGHHHHH!”

  • nikki

    nice review, very thorough.

  • Christian Knudsen

    When I “Click to Begin”, the frame just goes black and nothing happens. I’m on Firefox 13.0.1.

  • Paul Eres

    do you have adblock on? perhaps that’s blocking it

  • Christian Knudsen

    No adblock. I’m getting the intro, then it fades out when I click and just remains black… Weird.

  • Paul Eres

    ya that’s weird — i’ll ask chris to read your comment

  • Chris Whitman

    Hm, I can’t reproduce it using that version of Firefox. Is your Flash Player up to date?

  • Paul Eres

    he says he can’t reproduce it. my guess would be something like something in the game doesn’t work on your computer (do you have the latest version of flash? is your computer old / weird? does it work in IE/chrome?)

  • Christian Knudsen

    I’ve got Flash Player on my Windows XP partition, so that isn’t the latest. I’ll try updating it. I’ll also give it a try on my Ubuntu partition.

  • Christian Knudsen

    Works with latest Flash Player.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t read your review and just clicked to play the game, and I almost freaked out, when the moment I thought that the food producing reminded me about Actraiser, the music also made an Actraiser reference!

  • Anonymous
  • lolo

    “how recondite”

  • lolo

    this game has the pedantry of an IGF winner

  • Paul Eres

    yeah if you read the review you’d know it mentioned that :p

  • Jay Sherby

    My computer isn’t old, but I only buy weird computers. Point of pride.

  • Jay Sherby

    The game itself wasn’t bad. The graphics were good and it kept my attention throughout. However, I felt the message was preachy and condescending. (And this is coming from someone who doesn’t own any Apple products or tablets.)

  • Zachary Cotton

    Good review and I agree with most of the points on it. Just one point that I gathered while playing that might cause to make more sense. One of the reasons that the population never increases is explained in the platforming text beforehand. One of the “curses” (I would call it a curse) along with the three years of no sun is three years of no children as well. A population increase would contradict that. However, I thought that eventually the blue people would join in the population. They do in a way by messing with your crops.

    Altogether, this is a good take on the game. I too feel that it was not all that challenging but it brings up some interesting ideas that I hope people build upon in the future.

  • ivan_84

    Horribly pretentious.

  • Lilo

    This game was about how unnatural it is to stay up all night staring into our new, unholy sun. (our computer monitors)

  • lolo

    and how it makes us lose sperm (villagers)

  • Paul Eres

    it’s not like ancient people stared at the sun

    i think the ‘message’ part of this game varies by the individual tho, which is why i didn’t speculate on it in the review. but what i got out of it was that well-intentioned situations can create new problems

  • Paul Eres

    thanks thanks. and that is true but it seems like he added that part *because* the game had no population increase, rather than vice versa. gameplay and story interacts, change one and you change the other, both are adaptable to a degree. but in any case even if he didn’t want a population increase i’d have preferred some reward for extra food over the limit, perhaps a “stockpile” of food that is equal to half of the excess or something

  • Paul Eres

    i felt the message was hard to understand actually — what was the message you got out of it? from what you say, you think the message is anti-technology? i didn’t get that at all. i think people differ in the message they derive out it, particularly when the words are so abstract

  • Flender

    Damn dumb game. It certainly does fall into those over-self-realized ‘art’ games that follow the lines of modern art in that their substance is lacking but trying to appear otherwise.

    Segmented games like this have special needs to feel like they make a whole game. What we have here is a farming-sim that has a one way relationship to a mishmash puzzle game, and an unrelated and boring platformer. If you liked the text platforms, look up Silent Conversation by Greg Weir. The text is more interesting – Lovecraft makes some appearances – and it is its own game, not an interlude. While mechanically unrelated parts are cool to help pace games, a “break” from strong action, deep strategy, etc, this game had little to break up.

    The farm-sim is the simplest part of the game, and worse, it’s what the other parts of the game are touted as trying to benefit. Like Paul said, there’s little point to doing better than the bare minimum. I guess that’s the ‘existential’ part? That’s the thing with games, though; they can’t be existential. Games have challenge and goals. A ‘video game’ without challenge/goals is just the remaining mechanics and visual representation of mechanics, better called a Video Simulation. This game, both the farm sim part and game on whole, had challenge, albeit weak challenge that doesn’t encourage me to be better as a player, so it’s not so much existential as it is just weak.
    Ever seen an episode of a TV show that turned out to be a dream and the characters stopped caring about the intricacies of said dream since they no longer mattered? The real crime of this is that the game author gives me more complex games that are just nuggets of ‘help’ to the weak game he gives me.

    As for the third, the stacking of ‘retro’ games isn’t cute anymore. It suffers from a similar problem to the above, that the actions in one mini-game only have a light effect for the whole of the sun-gathering. This was a bit better in that regard, as the effect was two-dimensional instead of zero-dimensional. Because the red terrain was both a hindrance and blessing, some hope could be offered to this mode as something interesting and fun, but in order to control it I have to play these mini-games that were designed for different purposes. Space Invaders is not designed to be a level-editing tool, thus it feels wonky being pushed into that frame, and the challenges of it are deprived of value and become little more than frustration that causes me to eventually accept the smaller sun-count. Why care? It matters very little, thus the challenges don’t feel rewarding neither intrinsically nor externally.

    Overall, I liked the themes and thought the writing could have been mildly interesting (if a bit overabstract at times) if not for the silly game leaching my attention away from it.

    PS The game had very little to do with running. Run is a terrible waste of a name for this game. If I wanted to make a game about running, I’d be pissed that the option was lined off.

  • Cowinatub

    I actually enjoyed the platforming part the most, since it was the part that conveyed the story and message.

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  • Winstina Lawson

    loved it small but iffective
    nice work sir

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