Randy Balma

Randy Balma, Municipal Abortionist

I just got around to playing Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist (I had been intent on getting Braid done when it was originally released, but Chris Dahlen’s blog posting reminded me to play it today).

If you like art games, I recommend you try it, and stick with it through the very difficult first stage; spoilery commentary occurs after the fold.

Play-wise, I noticed that this game encouraged a light touch, or even a hands-off way of playing. Everything got easier when I stopped trying to hard. On the roadway, instead of trying to steer, I would wait until enough cars crashed into me to turn me the right way, and then just worry about speeding forward. On the final stage of the space capsule, it’s only feasible to worry about forward thrust, and let the light spin of your capsule direct you toward the target; and so on.

But what made the stronger impact on me, ultimately, was the game’s exuberance. I don’t just mean the game’s visuals (though they do come in quantity — this is the first game to give me the interactivity-with-audiovisual-overload peak experience since Space Giraffe.) I mean the interactivity as well — the huge number of cars, the ridiculous overspin on your Big Ben rocket capsule, et cetera.

Finally, the ending screen was great. As simple as it is, I sat there, watched it and listened to the music for a few minutes. Many art forms have tried to evoke a feeling of profundity through sense of scale; perhaps films do this most often, pulling far back from a scene to instill the feeling that what the viewer’s been focusing on is a piece of something much larger. But the knotted roadways in the final screen of Randy Balma gave me that feeling for real for the first time in a long time. I think the impact is greater here than with something like film, because those are things I actually interacted with.

13 thoughts on “Randy Balma”

  1. Chris Dahlen refers to 4 parts of the game, but I am pretty sure I only played three (or am I already mis-remembering?) The bus portion, the clock/rocket sequence, and then the tiny guy in a circle part (followed by the ending screen)

    Did I miss something?

  2. That’s very strange; upon winning the guy in a circle part, I go to part 4 of the game (have played through twice). Maybe there’s some kind of strange bug, or maybe you did something to skip the 4th part?

  3. Wow, that was an intense experience. I’m glad I’m not prone to seizures. The ending screen was great with the violent music and the painful spinning colors. Thanks for reminding me to play this game.

  4. Hmm… ok I’m going to play again shortly. The controls are somewhat maddening, but I think I’ll be better the second time

    I will say that the circle part took me a LONG time to complete. Maybe there’s some sort of timer here?

    Once I beat it, a screen came up that made it seem like an exception was thrown and then asked me if I wanted to ignore the error or abort the program.

  5. Ok just played through it again (much faster this time) and played through all four parts

    Very different ending screen, etc

    In Part 3, I suspect I took to long to move on and the game throws up a fake crash dialog, asking you if you want to ignore or abort the program (However, it threw up the lines of code that it apparently crashed on, so maybe this is legit… the abort term is what got me for obvious reasons). If you say “ignore” the problem, the background colors would change for a frame and the dialog would stay up. I figured this was the ending of the game the first time. In case this IS an actual bug, I doubt it’s OS related, but I am under Vista 64 for some ungodly reason.

    I don’t have time to confirm this tonight, but maybe someone else can. What happens if you just sit at the 3rd part – it probably too me a good 5 minutes the first time, if not slightly longer? When it “crashed” for me, I was on the last of the orb things and near the middle of the sphere (I had not jumped off).

  6. Final update. I could not repeat the outcome of my first playthrough, after sitting for 15 minutes in the 3rd stage. I am convinced it was an actual bug, that ended up with a dialog boxed popping up similar to this.

    What I find interesting is that, by chance, I find this to be a more poignant and significant ending to the game. I certainly do not know the true “meaning” behind the game or if there is even any literal meaning to be taken out of the abstract elements, but it almost felt as if the 3rd area was a baby starting to be born. Time is ticking. Me, being the abortionist, has to do a few things before time is up to abort the baby. Suddenly, the program halts and asks you if you want to Abort the program or Ignore the error. Ignoring does nothing… aborting sends you back to your desktop.

    Obviously I read way to much into this, but seriously I sat there stunned for a moment when this happened, sure that this was all on purpose. A missed opportunity perhaps?

  7. Well, this left me good and confused. Either we are getting two April Firsts this year, or whatever makes this game interesting was completely invisible to me. Perhaps someone can clue me in? I don’t think my eyes can take multiple play-throughs.

  8. Wow, what a colossal piece of shit that was. Seriously though, I found it devoid of all meaning and it gave me an incredible headache. It was both an eyesore and an exercise in frustration.

    The only enjoyable sequence (for me) was the spaceman clock scenario, but I felt that it missed some opportunities to make the gameplay fun. Obviously I didn’t understand whatever underlying meaning there was (if any), but it would have been more interesting if launching off of the pieces were to push said pieces towards something (like the hole in the center).

    Since when did Indy Game devleopers decide that the best way to be “Indy” was to be nearly incomprehensible and incredibly irritating? It reminds me of that period in every cinema student’s life when they film a naked hot chick eating raw meat and it all turns out to be some bizarre last sequence dreamed up in the milliseconds left in a man’s life as he blows his own brains out… Bleh…

  9. I’m not sure that I would attempt to ascribe a concrete *meaning* to the sequence, at least, not in that way. I don’t feel like comprehensibility was a goal, so being incomprehensible is not necessarily a bad thing.

    But yeah, I see why many people would not like the game!

  10. I didn’t think I would like this, especially after the nearly impossible first stage, but I’ve played it through about five times now. I really like the last stage, I find myself really drilling on the arrow keys in time with the music. Thanks for the link!

  11. There are so many ways to interpret each stage as a metaphor for conceiving or for aborting, that was the interesting part for me. First stage can be seen as sperms competing to fecund the egg, the astronaut thing can be seen as the pregnancy, etc. Didn’t count the number of time pieces to see if they were nine… the final stage, well, if you ever had a crying baby needing attention, you can relate to that. Or is he eating his potential brothers? Who knows.

    Not something I’d replay, but it makes you think.

  12. I just wanted to thank you for bringing this game (as well as many others) to my attention. I most certainly appreciate the discussion of “what makes it art,” as my field is music, and we (university composers in particular) mostly take it for granted as to whether or not our content is somehow “art.”

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