POP: Methodology Experiment One, by its own admission, is not a particularly polished title, even by the usual standards of lo-fi indie games. The minigames that make up the short POP are often opaque, sometimes frustrating, and occasionally nonsensical. There's a score at the end, but I'm assuming I did poorly on all of them, and I'm not even sure what happens if you do well. The entire ludic aspect, in fact, was the last part to be conceived: POP was first developed as a series of musical tracks, around which vignettes and, eventually, gameplay were assembled. The developer, Rob Lach, calls it a way "to examine how a simple change in methodology can effect what type of game emerges." So why is it so good?
Despite Lach's best efforts, POP manages to convey a surprising amount of coherency. The various games, which range from a darkly glib rail shooter to a slow trek across the desert, are interspersed with pixelated clips of mid-Twentieth Century public service announcements and television shows, all set to Lach's electronic soundtrack. Between the flat, pastel video clips, the game sections become vivid, even psychedelic — as if by entering each one, you're throwing off a peaceful but bland world to become an astronaut, a nomad, or a featureless black void filled with neon squares.
Between the flat, pastel video clips, the game sections become vivid, even psychedelic.
I'm hesitant to read too much into the game, but it's not hard to see it as a kind of short film or story, even if the plot is loose at best. It has that same combination of the mundane and the unreal as, for example, J.G. Ballard's High Rise, where ordinary life is slowly stripped away to reveal something both more interesting and more dangerous. This even happens within the minigames: the apparently Vietnam-era shooter marks your score in number of "lives liberated," and a car racing game leads you on an endless drive in front of a city that never arrives.
POP is, emphatically, not all that enjoyable as a game. Anyone expecting a retro-style title or an exploration of mechanics will be tremendously disappointed. That said, Lach has also made each section fairly easy to at least progress through, so you won't get stuck or lost in any one vignette. It's also being sold on a sliding scale starting at $1. Larger increments will get you stickers, shirts, or "every future game I work on for free until I / you die" if you're willing to go up to $250. It's DRM-free on either Mac or PC; Linux and OnLive versions are coming soon.