The passing of a season always makes me nostalgic for it. Lord knows that I'm never too thrilled with skidding my Honda on the icy roads of winter, but now that the May flowers-bringing showers of April are upon us (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), I find myself wishing for one last walk in a swirling frozen cloud of flurries. While Chione is quite unlikely to heed my prayers, I can take solace in January, a musical piece of interactive art from Rich Vreeland. It's an impressive debut release that impressively captures the beauty and melancholy of a walk of a blustery winter's evening.
January is a game that must be played with the sound on, preferably in a darkened room. Using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys you move your toque-clad player-character through a monochromatic landscape. After a bit it begins to snow: only a few flakes at first, but eventually a blizzard fills the sky. Holding the [up] key sticks out your tongue to catch a snowflake upon it. Catching a snowflake plays a MIDI note, each moving around the scales by an algorithm that I'm sure quite impressive. Every so often, a piece of text is displayed, altogether forming a poem about the transience of the seasons. And so it continues until the sky gets dark and you return to your warm house for a nice cup of cocoa.
I think that January will be a love it or hate it kind of experience. Me? I love it, but I can definitely see why others might think it too slow, too short or too aimless. Indeed, there's not much to see after your first walk through. However, even knowing that, I find myself returning to January whenever I need a quick de-stressing. Indeed, I think it functions best as a respite from work or other games: a five minute walk that leaves tension behind in a flurry of poetry. Not that it doesn't have merits all its own: The music generation engine at the center of the piece is intriguing both for the intuitive presentation and for the demonstration of programming skill it embodies. Artistic games using 8-bit graphics might no longer have the novelty value they once had, but the aesthetic is fitting and captures the subtle ambiance of winter's gray. So come, take a walk in the snow with January, then hope that Vreeland has some ideas for the rest of the year. Personally, I can't wait.