Critique of Balloons n’ Such by Zach Cheatham and Kyle Nacke

            For this assignment, I am critiquing the flash game made by Zach and Kyle.  This game essentially has an avatar hurling through the air and trying to collect balloons as he falls towards the ground.  Essentially, this game falls into the category of new media defined by interactivity and has its meaning defined by such.  By that I mean this particular artifact allows other people to freely participate and influence what exactly happens within it by controlling the avatar’s movement.  Zach and Kyle’s game can be characterized by Baym’s Interactivity concept, Bolter’s remediation concept, and Lister’s Virtual realities mediation.

Baym argues that a technology’s ability to allow users to “manipulate the machine via its interface” is its interactivity (Baym pg.7).  In the game itself, you use a keyboard to essentially guide the avatar on a path that would yield the most balloons or points.  Through this simple facet of the game, it is an interactive technology.  Also, if Zach and Kyle decided to add a leaderboard to the game to track scores of players around the world, they would allow the game to become synchronous with the community of Newgrounds (or whatever platform they want to upload their game to) and therefore have the people of the site compete against each other for the best score.  I believe that any game with the ability to connect users together with a feature such as this have a greatly increased replay value, as not only are they trying to best their own scores, but the scores of those around the world with access to the internet and to the site.

Bolter examines games in a different fashion, and believes that a game is essentially an “interactive film” in which the watcher or user can dictate the narrative or the “stylistic realization” of the narrative by controlling the main character’s actions (Bolter pg.47).  We can see this in action through the user’s ability to move the character around as they please, and dictate which balloons the character will and will not get.  Also, this allows the user to choose not to get any points at all just by avoiding balloons, or if they could simply crash the main character into as many birds as possible if they wished.  Although this isn’t the main intention of the game, the fact remains that the user is essentially dictating the reality experienced by the character in the game.  This could also branch out into the argument that by controlling a character’s venture through a game whose environment is surrounded by artificial intelligence, we are essentially taking over this character’s body and living vicariously in a simulated world.  Though making a game that had artificial intelligence of that type would require an exhausting amount of work by two authors, and I know from experience that coding a game even as simple as this one can be tedious at best when dealing with features such as collision detection or movement across the x and y axis.

Lister’s idea of computer mediated communication, or CMC, represents Zach and Kyle’s game as well considering the computer is mediating the user’s communication to the game (Lister pg.12).  In order for a user to play the game, they must be able to interact with it via a keyboard or mouse to allow for a successful playthrough.  Also, a game’s controls can determine if a game will be a hit or miss.  I understand that Zach and Kyle had some trouble with getting the controls to respond without the key’s locking up, or the movement being stuck and rendering the keyboard unresponsive, which illustrates the necessity of good CMC.  I know of the torture of trying to get everything working perfectly by translating a thought into code, and having the code respond in the way that we never intended or didn’t expect.  For example, I could press the left arrow key to have the character move to the left, though, if done incorrectly, the character could actually move off-screen and the user can no longer see what they are doing.  Subtleties in programming such as this are tedious and irritating, so I sympathize with the creator’s thought of worrying over usability over style or graphics.

Balloons n’ Such by Zach and Kyle was a successful game in the sense that the game was able to be played by users successfully with little to no errors in the realization of action.  Video games are on the rise in today’s society and small-scale games such as these are definitely popular with the new app-culture that is taking the world by storm.  I know that if they continued their progress in both developing their control of the game and adding features such as music and sound that this project could be successful to the point that it could be sold as an app for many devices.  This new media has unbridled potential, and I’m sure that if these two individuals continue to improve and work on it, they will develop something that they will remember for years to come.

Zach and Kyle’s Game: