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Full Steam Ahead – The Norwood Suite

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: none

“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of my sanity, that some of Steam’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest Adam’s bizarre taste in games wake to resurgent life, and truly weird games splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” Alastair Starke, with apologies to H.P. Lovecraft (but not many).

We return to the month of Adam, in which Adam donated a significant amount to the Calgary Distress Centre, and has chosen to use his power to choose the games for Full Steam Ahead to make me suffer.

This week’s game is a little-known indie game called The Norwood Suite. Released in October 2017, is the most recently released game yet encountered on Full Steam Ahead.

Remember back in the post for Vangers when I said it was going to get weird? I didn’t know the half of it.

I’ve said before that I like it when games are about more than just the games themselves. Mass Effect 2 is about death. Year Walk is, I believe, about about the fear of loss. I know that The Norwood Suite is definitely about something, but I am absolutely lost.

I like to think that years of experience of reading, writing, and playing stories help me understand the stories that other people tell. I like to think I can hang in there with the best of them, but The Norwood Suite is buried in so many layers of surrealism, it’s hard to know exactly what the hell is happening.

I’m fairly certain the character is meant to be talking to me, and that this is just an animation error. But then again, given the game, it might not be.

Here’s the basic premise: the unnamed protagonist is dropped off at the fictional Hotel Norwood, the converted mansion of Peter Norwood, an eccentric jazz musician. While there, the player is instructed to wander the grounds, completing various tasks and chores for the guests and staff at the Hotel Norwood. Did I mention that the Hotel Norwood is super weird?

Sigh. I remember when I thought Vangers was going to be weirdest game this month. So, the surrealist art movement uses objects from the everyday in bizarre, unusual ways. Doing so, the artists break down the expectations of the audience, allowing the unconscious mind to freely express itself.

… at least, that’s what Wikipedia tells me.

The Norwood Suite definitely does that. Bananas as door handles. Eyeballs in the wireless router. Hearts as door handles. Skulls in the refrigerator. Hands as door handles. Okay, maybe I’m a little hung up on the door handles. In any case, the entire Hotel Norwood is full of bizarre sights and sounds.

In addition to surrealist art, The Norwood Suite takes a lot of inspiration from jazz music. Jazz is also a genre that takes a lot of inspiration from freeing one’s expectations from the constraints of keys and rhythm used in traditional music.

“You know what this band needs? It needs a cow.” Peter Norwood, apparently.

For what it’s worth, I’m a big fan of structure. Don’t get me wrong, subversion of expectations can sometimes provide a refreshing change of pace, but an entire game dedicated to taking one’s expectations and throwing them in the bin can be exhausting for the player.

It’s funny, I paraphrased H.P. Lovecraft earlier, and now I feel myself returning to another of his quotes, “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of the black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” I disagree with a lot of Lovecraft’s ideology, but the idea that humanity struggles when its creativity is given totally free reign is an idea I understand.

I would explain, but that would require understanding that I feel like I lack.

Blank pages are a source of no small amount of anxiety to me.The number of times I’ve written and rewritten this article (four) is testament to this. If the goal of surrealism may be to  free my subconscious, but it has done no favours for my creativity.

So, what is the game about? Depends on who you ask. In my mind, it’s about the strain creativity places upon creators. Others believe it is commentary upon the music and gaming industries. Others still claim it is game about discovery and inspiration.

All I know is that after a visit to The Norwood Suite, I feel like I could use a vacation.

Ceci n’est pas une dance party.

Next Episode: The month of Adam concludes with Wrestling Evolution 3D

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