Introducing Sheepintology from Jeff Minter on Vimeo.

You know the type – the VJs who have eighteen layers of videos, particle effects exploding everywhere. Jeff Minter’s Llamasoft is to game design as those people are to projectors. The thing is, he does it perfectly.

Llamasoft’s creations can make you laugh at a particle effect. And that’s a thing of beauty.

Best of all, Llamasoft is the only game development house I know of who dream of “light synthesizers” – just the sort of thing we live, breathe, and eat around here. As he puts it, Minter dreams of:

“something which really *was* a synthesiser, with modules that you could plug together and dials and sliders you could adjust to create a huge variety of effects, just as a musician does with a music synthesiser.”

As Minter was authoring a series of arcade classics for early game systems, he also imagined the evolution of interactive visuals and light synthesizers. That led to the ground-breaking console visual application, the Virtual Light Synth on the Jaguar.

That history is easily the subject for its own feature article, so let’s flash forward to the near-present day. In the Neon visualizer for the Xbox 360 and the legendary Space Giraffe, Minter massages your retina with trippy, explosive graphics. You’ll have to re-learn how to see to be able to play these games. But it’s not just chaos: there’s something beautiful in the motion programmed into these games.

Gridrunner Revolution fuses the arcade classic with this new visual mayhem, and it’s available now on the PC. Jonathan Blow, creator of the wonderful Braid, endorses the new Gridrunner Revolution, unveiled this week. He has something slightly strange to say about it, however, in that the game has “a lot of subtlety.” Now – as a huge fan of the style of his games – I’d tend to use the word “subtle” to describe Minter’s games much as I would use the words “driving a car over hookers” to describe Braid. But I think I know what Blow means; amidst all this frenetic arcade action, the actual game play can require some real sophistication – even as the visuals around you mock.

If you wanted to see a game that seemed to draw from the VJ and visualist experience, though, the idea of attacking the eyeballs rather than just giving them photorealistic fake virtual worlds, Llamasoft’s work is on a very short list. Now, while I keep admiring the visuals, if only I could figure out how not to be terrible at Space Giraffe.

Check out more:
Gridrunner Revolution


Llamasoft on Neon and the Light Visualizer

Gridrunner Revolution Vindaloo difficulty from Jeff Minter on Vimeo.

And yes, here’s the delicious original “vintage” Gridrunner mode inside Revolution:

Gridrunner Revolution Vic-20 and C64 modes from Jeff Minter on Vimeo.