Brandon Boyer

14 Replies

Of all the games that came out of this year’s Nordic Game Jam — the inspiration for and held concurrently with the Global Game Jam — “4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness” seems to have captivated the indie set the most, a surprise, because while fantastically high concept, it’s probably the least traditionally game like.

4m33s comes from Crayon Physics creator Petri Purho (with the assistance of Kokoromi’s Heather Kelley and Jonatan ‘Cactus’ Söderström), and admittedly probably did the best job of interpreting the game jam’s theme, ‘As long as we have each other, we’ll never run out of problems.’

The premise is simple: all you have to do to win is run the game for that 4:33, represented by what is essentially a game-screen loading bar. The obstacle: if anyone else in the world tries to play at the same time, your game is instantly cut off and shut down.

At the get-go, it was almost impossible to tell a shutdown from any given crash, but Jonathan Basseri has created what might be the most essential mod for the least essential game with this Google Maps visualization of exactly who’s stolen your crown.

Seen above: my glorious 45 or seconds of uniqueness before some bastard Finn took it all away from me. The surprise? For a game that isn’t a game (is it actually an abstract ARG?), it is actually surprisingly compelling.

UPDATE: Commenter oboy puts me deeply, deeply, to shame with his observation below: “It sounds like it was created specifically as an existential examination of what exactly a game is. In 1952, John Cage composed 4’33”, a three-movement piece where no notes are played. Is it music? I think the same question is being asked here–the player is asked to do nothing for 4’33”. Is that a game? Well played. Well played indeed.”

Proof that this week has got the best of me: I couldn’t even see the Cage connection when the numbers were staring me straight in the face. Well played right back at you.

4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness: Current Leader [Jonathan Basseri, game home]

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  1. Ok, ok, I gotta admit. As a designer, I think this is bogus. I like the concept, and I get the thinking behind it, and yes, it does aptly reflect the theme. But there’s no actual game-play. It winnows the notion of player input down to practically nothing. You have one action (“load the game,”) and then success or failure is determined, essentially, by chance.

    It’s interesting, because I don’t think it’s a bad IDEA. I just think it’s a bad game. I’d say that in the great “games as art” debate, this is art, but not game.

  2. It sounds like it was created specifically as an existential examination of what _exactly_ a game _is_.

    In 1952, John Cage composed 4’33”, a three-movement piece where no notes are played. Is it music? I think the same question is being asked here–the player is asked to do nothing for 4’33”. Is that a game?

    Well played. Well played indeed.

  3. I am so deeply ashamed I didn’t make the Cage leap that I want to hide myself in a dark closet for the rest of the weekend. It was staring me right in the face.

  4. Bah, I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. As a music geek/composer myself, the numerological importance leapt at me like a head crab. It’s not like everyone knows and/or has been forced to listen to 4’33”.

    I wonder if games will go through the same evolution that music’s gone through over the last few decades, i.e. an academic deconstruction of what makes it “tick” (Cage, Schoenberg, etc.) in confluence with “normal” music.

  5. @sadmarvin

    The first time I played, my game died immediately. I played a couple more times (and reread the description,) and I retract, partially, my statement. There’s a bit more game there than I’d originally sussed. I actually think that the Maps mashup adds a really necessary component, by letting you put a face (well, a number) to the person who’s stealing your thunder.

    Without the mashup, though, it IS essentially random (to you) whether or not you’re going to be able to finish a particular round. With no information about who else is on, you’ve got no input. The mashup is brilliant because it lets you strategize against opponents. It adds gameplay to the game, even though the only action any player can take is to grief another player.

    Now that I have the mashup, I know that there are three or four other people (Canada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and someone in South Korea) who are all vying to finish the game at the same time I am. As discrete players, I can make decisions about how I play against them. Without the mashup, though, I’d just lose over and over and over and not know why.

    I have this urge to let this person in Oregon get to 4:30 and then pop their game. Is that wrong?

  6. Never before have I had such a desperate urge to pingflood some random stranger from a German IP address before.

  7. didn’t finish that comment actually, all you get is a giant mspaintdrawn checkmark at the end. sweet satisfaction.

  8. @Vox

    That’s true–the mashup is a pretty central part of the gameplay experience, now that it exists. At the very least, it adds fascinating new wrinkles.

  9. Some So Cal SOB got me at 4:00 –
    I was surprisingly irritated by this and confirmed my dislike for southern Californians…
    Being, of course, from Northern Ca…

  10. When I first heard about 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness, I was skeptical and did not think it could possibly qualify as a game. The only action, as commenter VoxExMachina points out, is “load the game,” which initially does not seem like a choice at all. However, since 4’33” challenges the player to define a game, I decided to give it a second chance.

    In my view (and I am paraphrasing this from the book Game Design Workshop by Tracy Fullerton, Christopher Swain, and Steven Hoffman), a game is a system with predefined rules in which a player encounters some form of conflict and makes choices that result in an unequal outcome.

    My first observation is that Petri Purho has clearly detailed a set of rules that determine the play; in fact, there is only one: if the player is the only person in the world running the game for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, she wins. Every other human being becomes the enemy, threatening to end her domination. As for unequal outcome, the application inelegantly shuts down with a loss, and the crudely drawn checkmark and exclamation points surrounding the winner’s IP address celebrate the elusive victory.

    The only remaining qualification is choice. Is 4’33” interactive enough to be considered a game? When I played, I thought about how to use my only given ability in the most effective ways possible. I loaded at 1:30 AM Los Angeles time, when reasonable Americans slept and Europeans started waking up and going to work. I deduced few other cultures had been exposed to the game. Whenever someone ran the application, cutting my time short, I immediately re-opened my program to squash that Danish IP address’ morale. Finally, I used my “load the game” powerup as often as I could, and after only about fifteen minutes, the mundane status bar gave way to a pixilated checkmark; confirming my dominant uniqueness.

    I do not know if I won because of my strategy or because of blind luck, but the game made me feel like my choices caused the victory. I believe games can be designed about anything, from alien invasions to surfing Wikipedia (see WikiPath), so while definitely not a run-of-the-mill shooter or a classic platformer, in my opinion, 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds passes.