Powder Game 4
When you think of what this medium is capable of it's easy to grab for lofty terms like "emergence" or even "organic beauty", but have nothing solid to hold onto. The Powder Game is a rare beacon of hope for those who dream of deep interactivity. It is a fondue of loose goals and free play; creation and destruction wrapped in a tumbling embrace. Oh yeah, this game is that good. The 4.1 version release, from auteur Ha55ii, is the reincarnation of a simpler webtoy we reviewed last summer. In it, you use the mouse to drop different kinds of materials, from powder to oil to ants, and let them interact. Since we last reviewed Powder Game, almost twice the number of elements are now at your disposal. The resulting possibilities will keep you engaged for hours.
The game screen is divided into two halves, the top is the field of play, the bottom half is a tray of words representing different options available to you. Clicking on a word, such as "Water", will assign that element to the mouse-button you pressed. If you then mouse your cursor anywhere in the top half and press that button, water will fall like rain. On the far-right of the bottom tray are words that don't correspond to elements, but instead allow you to change the shading (new shaders include the subtle Blur and the psychedlic Aura), change the scale of your camera view, change the thickness of your brush stroke, as well as save, load and upload different configurations. A search and rating system is in place to allow people to sample the various constructs others have built, and they include interesting contraptions like a vacuum, a hundred different explosive set-ups, zen-like gardens, and much, much more.
Analysis: The addition of key elements to Powder Game 4, such as the ants that transform and burrow into the material they come in contact with, makes the interactions that much deeper. The game has reached a level of maturity that is not only impressive, but suggests a whole new genre of similar games about creation and adjustment. The interaction between magma and ice, one turning the other into water and stone and then back again, is one dynamic that emerges. Another is the proliferation of fire, seed and water by wind, where arboreal kingdoms spread out and are then consumed only to migrate to new territory while fire gives chase. This is a game about building the circle of life. It's amazing that you can feel so much agency and ownership simply by sitting back and watching what you've put into motion. There remains one balancing issue, the viruses infect non-organic elements as well as organic ones, so once you've introduced so many to the system, there is no-way to stop them short of restarting.
There is also a big opportunity here that is merely pointed towards: the inclusion of a human element. Ha55ii has done this somewhat with the stick-figure men, who kick and jump around and are often obliterated by the chaos you effect. If this idea can be taken to the next level, with the humans engaging in basic social interactions, building little homes and communities, a potent ethical dillema comes about. You are playing the role of god by creating and influencing these systems, at what point do you let the system run on its own, and at what point do you intervene? What responsibility do you have to protect life? I'm grateful to Ha55ii for giving me the opportunity to even ask that question.
If you like creation and/or destruction, and enjoy the shock and awe of excellent interactivity, play the Powder Game.