SFTW: Tasha's Game

In this week's <em>Something for the Weekend</em>, Iain Simons is charmed by a gentle world of games

One of the least prolific but most loved studios to emerge in the last decades has been Double Fine Productions, formed in San Francisco by Tim Schafer after leaving his illustrious career at Lucasarts. Double Fine have so far only shipped one title, the critically acclaimed ‘Psychonauts’, but have developed a reputation for being one of the most personable, relaxed and downright fun places to work.

The Double Fine site is conspicuous evidence of this. The company blog recounts stories of the contents of the studio fridge, they have a successful line of employee produced web-comics and occasionally their staff post up a free game("Just like our regular games, but less!")

This week then, I’m directing you toward a small but perfectly formed flash-game by animator Tasha Harris called, Tasha’s Game.

It’s a simple, colourful affair in which you control Tasha (and her cat, Snoopy) in an attempt to free her imprisoned co-workers from an indistinct but still utterly unpleasant foe. The game has a fun central mechanic, in which progress is made by the arrangement of platforms within the level - enabling you to reach your colleagues. You’re gently guided along the way by comedically friendly instructions and encouragement from the environment - who doesn’t want to be congratulated by a rainbow?

Drawn and animated in the style of Tasha’s webcomic, it’s a charming treat that makes you wish you worked in San Francisco.

Play Tasha’s Game?

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.