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Developer: University of Southern California
Publisher: University of Southern California
Genre: Simulation > General
Released: Nov 05, 2005
Players: 1

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Who would have thought clouds could have personalities based on the way they moved and behaved in the sky? Well they seem to in this game. Anyone who thinks video games aren�€™t a cultural art-form, they�€™ve never played Cloud. For all the Jack Thompsons out there--thinking the market is in a downward spiral, framed with blood and guts--you can play this game and stop complaining. Such individuals should realize that video games offer more than just guns and violence. Art has always been a simple way to humble even the most rambunctious aspects of our character; Xinghan �€œJenova�€? Chen and his fellow university developers have done just that with Cloud. This game is simply one of the most artistic video game ventures, ever. It�€™s not heavy laden with dialogue, campy themes, or over-the-top characters. It�€™s a relaxing venture into the mind of a young lad who simply wants peace in a playground of clouds.

I suppose the story is more heartfelt than all of Bioware�€™s efforts combined. This game, Cloud, just goes to show you that you don�€™t need 4000 lines of dialogue to convince the audience that there�€™s heart and emotion within the game. Players assume the role of a young boy that dreams of climbing among the warmth of clouds, and swimming in the sea-colored sky. Gamers will tread waves of innovative designs and imaginary objects through streams of white fluffy clouds. Literally, players are tasked with creating objects or figures using the clouds in the sky, hence the name, Cloud.

For those questioning how you play or what you do in this game, I�€™ll briefly go over the details. Each level, or dream sequence, consists of bright clouds that can be gathered by flying into them and using the shift key to capture them. Stockpiling clouds come in handy, as players must release them to rain out dark clouds, in some stages. Other stages require players to place clouds in certain patterns, or create certain objects using the bright clouds.

For technical playing styles, players can use certain clouds to gather up other clouds to form even bigger clouds. Clouds can also be stacked to help players fly higher. Stacking the clouds is pretty cool, in the sense that players can guide their bundle of white fluffy friends over dark storm clouds and create an amazing thunderstorm. The screenshot of the conceptual art sort of displays how it looks, but it�€™s difficult to capture that moment while actually in the game. It�€™s a splendid display nonetheless.

Another point worth mentioning, is that the game is mostly played on a horizontal axis. While players can fly freely in the open-ended environments (completing stages in whatever order you please) you don�€™t fly up or down. As mentioned, in order to gain height in the game players must stack up their clouds. The mouse, being moved in any direction will accelerate the protagonist in the selected direction. The spacebar slows him down. It gets overwhelmingly gleeful when there are so many clouds gathered up beneath him that you can no longer see the hero. It�€™ll require patience guiding omega-sized clouds around the arena. Still, though, it�€™s an extremely innovative design, and sustains its fun factors through the freedom to fly while enjoying this videogame work-of-art.

The model of the hero is good, the background rendering is nice and the clouds are amazing. It�€™s all based on simple looking designs that house a lot of creative force. Another amazing aspect about this game is all the shades of blue, white and gray. The saturation of these colors throughout the game magnifies the immersion and general atmosphere of the game�€™s design. Clearly, this game seems to mirror the qualities of Hayao Miyazaki movies, and Jô Hisaishi accompanying compositions; immersive, atmospheric gameplay has never looked so relaxing.

The soundtrack consorting the amazing gameplay makes for a really professional looking, and sounding, presentation. There isn�€™t much sound, other than some chimes, thunder, lightning, and rain. However, the music is an amazing countervail to the lacking sound effects. Any player who isn�€™t moved by this touching musical score is a player who obviously doesn�€™t have the sound turned on.

The controls and handling are easy enough. Flying around while moving the camera or collecting clouds are something that can be accomplished the first time around with the on-screen tutorial. Actually collecting and stacking clouds, putting out fires, or eating up black clouds is a lot of fun. The gameplay mechanics are intertwined nicely with the graphical and audio qualities.

Based on the screenshots, it�€™s easy to assume this is a computer version of the Sega classic, Nights. However, both games couldn�€™t be farther apart. There�€™s no platforming in Cloud and the game is chiefly centered around activities dealing directly with the clouds. Hence, this game manages to achieve a remarkable feat by delving into a subject matter rarely ever explored in the world of video games. The art-style, the frontend menus, the was all an amazing concept that came together really well.

There aren�€™t a whole lot of levels. After the first four �€œstory�€? levels there�€™s a handful of extra levels for players to complete or just have fun with. The thing is, these stages are easily replayable because of the freedom players are granted. Again, it�€™s a simple looking design that offers a lot of playability.

It�€™s free, so you don�€™t have to buy it ;). Otherwise, I would have aptly suggested anyone reading this to go Buy It. This game is as artful as any mainstream title, and as subtly engaging as any John Constable painting. Anyone looking for a soothing alternative to the explosive action genre, will definitely find great originality in Cloud.

By: William Usher
Posted: Wednesday November 01, 2006
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