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Hey Baby, Do You Dyad? A Letter Series
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Hey Baby, Do You Dyad? A Letter Series

November 22, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Girl Game Critic, ambivalent about Dyad, meets Boy Game Critic, Dyad fan. What follows is their exchange of letters (emails, really, but "letters" sounds nicer) on the game. The following probably contains some insight on how people evaluate, understand and interpret games in the context of real life, and thoughts on how irrelevant ideas of "good" and "bad" are to our relationships with them. Also sex mishaps, drug mishaps, and Twilight references. Read at your own risk.

From: Leigh Alexander
To: Quintin Smith
Subject: dyad

Hi, Quinns,

So remember when you and Brendan and I went on those silly carnival rides? The ones that spin you around and nauseate you, where the best sort of pleasure they can produce is the adrenal giddiness that comes from your body knowing something unnatural is being forced on it?

And you totally kept going "woooo, Dyad?"

I mean, surely we were all pretty drunk by then. We had our own separate fifths of bourbon in our coats. And while we're flying through the air, mud and revelers blurring lazily below, and you are going wooo, Dyad I thought -- well, I mean, firstly I thought omg, stop it Quinns -- but besides that, I thought I caused this. And then, I can't believe he likes this game so much.

It's funny, right? It was totally me who insisted we all go on the stupid rides, the ones that left us mostly just bruised and stumbling. (Remember how I ended up with this long scratch down the front of my torso that looked like a Boss scar?! That was cool). And it was me who laughed the loudest, because you know me and how I am too proud to admit I've made kind of a bad call.

And it was totally me who let you use my PSN account so that you could play Dyad, and I even said that I'd probably call it one of my top ten for the year. I caused this.

And you played the shit out of it. You became engrossed, and the more I watch you play it the more I think about when I played it myself, and about what it is -- this hallucinogenic migraine, pressing the same button over and over in a sequence that seems to lack purpose or precision, while this scintilla screams in your face. Fucking techno.

Last night after playing that one level for as long as you could, you pressed your fingers to your eyelids and roared my eyes, like someone'd thrown acid in them. Was that fun?

Oh, yeah, the acid thing. I have this theory that anything remotely edgy and art directed makes gamers presume it's cool. You should know I played a lot of Wipeout (oops, I mean wipE'out") on my Saturn back in the day. That was a cool racing game, even with the techno, because it was 1996. You were ten years old then, right?

Sorry, digression. The other thing that gets me about you and Dyad is that you complain the whole time you play it. You express that the leveling curve is shit, so that you have to persist through a lot of tedium before it becomes remotely clear what the game can do (I agree, which is why I got bored with it and stopped playing). You say the game can't decide what it wants to be and keeps changing its formula in later levels. These do not seem like good traits to me.

I tell you I find the game's visual language unclear, overwhelming, scattershot, sacrificing clear feedback in favor of the whoa dude carnival ride. And you agree. It's not like the thing's even fooling you.

Remember we were wandering around that muddy carnival and there was that little bounce house for children with the bleak, Silent Hill-ish pastels, squatted out of the way in the dark, lonesome with just a spotlight shining on it and an ominous man guarding its front? It looked like the least-appealing thing ever, and you were seriously trying to get us to go in it, and if I hadn't had such precarious heels on you probably would have forced the issue?

You've told me Dyad is about beating yourself. Is the pleasure you get from self-surpassing enhanced the more illogical and surreal the circumstances are? Do you get some kind of gratification from searing your retinas in front of a broken system screaming techno at you?

My favorite thing about this game is the multichromatic FAILED screen. You get it a lot.

Are you a masochist, Quintin? Is there something you haven't told me?

Why, why, why do you keep playing Dyad?



From: Quintin Smith
To: Leigh Alexander
Subject: Re: dyad

Dear Leigh,

For starters, Dyad has TWO buttons. Not one. You're thinking of the action button, used to hook enemies, spin ziplines, and pester lasers, and forgetting the less-used lance button, which is used to skewer enemies, bypass ziplines, and ignore lasers. You must hook to lance, but while lancing it's also important to hook. Though the main purpose of lancing is arguably that you're invulnerable outside of invulnerability pickups, though you can extend a pickup invulnerability by picking up the invulnerability pickups while lancing, at which point you might forget to hook.

Here's the thing.

You're asking a lot of questions about masochism. About whether I love Dyad as explicitly as I do (bellowing its name as a carnival ride spins me round the night) because it's abusive of the player. To put on my wank-hat a bit early, if that's what you're wondering, you're looking at me the way you look at Dyad. Flatly. You've got to travel deeper down our tunnels.

When you, me and Brendan were stood in a line, peering across that muddy field at the portentous terror of the Bounce House, I wasn't saying we have to go in because I genuinely thought we'd take one step inside and immediately be accosted by monsters, all matted hair and fibrous limbs. I wanted to go inside because we were belly laughing from just looking at it. I was imagining us going inside, drunkenly staggering about, and then collapsing in hysterics as Brendan slipped down some rubbery cleft. "IT'S WET," he might have screamed in genuine terror. But we'll never know.

We went on carnival rides that were genuinely fun that night. Quoting GTA as we rammed bumper cars at each other, being hurled around by hydraulic whatevers.

But the ride that makes me smile today, as I write this, is the broken one. The one that left you scarred. An ancient, spinning chairlift that, by the time we climbed aboard it, was too exhausted to lift us up, simply spinning us round and round, forcing you and Brendan into my bony hips. It was agonizing. After 60 seconds of mounting confusion and pain, being forced sideways in a tinnitus ozone of VERY LOUD CHART MUSIC, I was crying with laughter.

I don't want to compare Dyad to a broken carnival ride, but it makes for an absurd experience (and an even better memory) in the same way. It makes you learn mechanics, then removes or reshuffles them. It rockets you, the unblinking pilot, down kaleidoscopic tunnels for minutes on end.

Yeah, I complain about it. I clutch my aching eyes and groan. But that's all surface froth. What I'm really doing is searing exciting memories into my head. I play Dyad for 12 minutes, and can turn that memory over in my head forever, something it has in common with Super Hexagon. I played Darksiders II for 12 hours, and I got nothing.

Here's the other thing I've been dying to express to you, ever since I first snatched Dyad from your American PSN account to my lung-coloured English living room. I was playing it last night, breaking my way into the later levels, and I was laughing.

I'm a big ol' saucer-eyed Wipeout HD fan, and the difference I'd be quickest to point out between the two is that Dyad is funny. The Wipeout games were born in the toilet of a English rave club in the '90s. It's all banging tunes and future-sports. Dyad is post-all of that.

One of the later levels is genuinely disgusting. The level-specific music, which always sounds so good on the main menu, is reduced to a purgatory of gassy synth the moment you start playing. And in the midst of Dyad's glossy aesthetic, there's a super vulgar airhorn that goes off when you hit a certain speed, which always makes me burst out laughing.

That joy is another emotion I can socket into the overburdened power strip of feelings I experience when I play Dyad. I'm not a masochist. I'm a junkie, trying to get as high as he got when he was a kid.

Um. Not that junkies are usually kids.

Which sums up why I have feelings for Dyad, but it skirts the problem of you simply not liking it. The lack of feedback when you shoot, or of an obvious objective, or satisfying structure. It speaks volumes that your favorite screen is the fail state.

Do you sympathize with me now? Or am I frustrating you?

Write me back. I'm away to play Dyad.



Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Keith Nemitz
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Wow. I feel like I've just lived the lives of people I knew when I was 15 to 35 years old. Please, Dyad, sink into the abyssal pits and suffer the tines of rabid fiends. I will never play you. Thanks, Leigh, Quinns. Terrific rundown!

Robin Vilain
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Leigh and Quintin, thanks! The Letter Series are always superb.

I love Dyad. I've always had this dream of a game that would push your senses to their limits, exhaust you physically - I had this concept a couple of years ago, at school, of a Kinect game - a DmC-like thing, except relentless and psychedelic, something that would ask you to get up and then bring you to your knees, that would be so intense you would end up panting and crying after a session...

Dyad kinda does that, partially. It succeeds in making you feel like your eyes and your brain are being sucked out of your face, and you can almost feel your veins twitching and sweat drops running down your temples as you reach absurd speeds. I don't know if it's good or bad, and it's irrelevant; what's relevant is, I think, that the game manages to do what it intends to do, ie. literally absorbing your body and your soul for a moment, during which you forget reality.

What I find the most surprising in those letters is the reproaches you formulate, Leigh - "it's got a poor experience curve, is weak at communicating with the player, has poor feel, has a weak matrix from which to derive a sense of mastery, weak at all the things I'd associate with a good game." This is exactly why it is so good! My job, currently, is to make sure some aspects of some games are as polished and as frictionless as possible - and as a result, I'm more fascinated than ever about games that don't give a *shit* about this. Dyad's elements (mines, turbo pick-ups, squid-like things...) are just distinguishable enough to be functional most of the time, but the best moments in the game is when you know you're performing amazingly well and paradoxically the whole screen is *white* (or a blurry mess of flashy colours), and you are playing instinctively because you can't see a damn thing! This balance must have been incredibly hard to achieve - the invincibility limit, in particular, is an amazingly smart feedback. And the mastery exists, and it's polymorphous, as Quintin said, because the game always asks you to behave in different ways and it keeps reinventing itself, but isn't that delightful? It *is*, I guess, kinda masochistic, because it does slap you whenever you think you'll be able to perfectly execute a level after successfully completing the previous one, but this isn't off-putting - it's like, maybe, swimming down a tumultuous torrent and hitting rocks, the hypothetical thrills keeps increasing despite the fact that your body is wrecked. Well, I guess maybe that would happen if you didn't die.

Taekwan Kim
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"I like this", but also "this is good".

More seriously, this was a great read. The active pursuit of understanding why we do things, what compels us to do them is one of the noblest. And I think Mr. Smith's conclusion is actually quite key; if Dyad can genuinely cause a serious and extended examination of one's own psychological processes, it is indeed "good."

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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So if there ever was a box it would read:

Dyad - a game for game philosophers