GAMING: Half Hour Games – Joy Exhibition

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Joy Exhibition is an alien art exhibition simulator made in Unity and released on December 16, 2015 by Strangethink. Trapped in a mysterious alien ship, you must communicate with the voiceless species using nothing but the medium of paint on canvas. Equipped with an array of randomly generated spray paint guns, you paint surreal and abstract works of art for them to admire.

We’ll paint a picture of our experience for you after the jump.

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Joy Exhibition isn’t much of a game, to be honest: it’s more of a digital painting toy. The appeal of the game is the painting system, where randomized guns of spray paint are spawned in your studio that do strange and unusual things when used. Firing one of these guns at a canvas causes orbs of paint to fly around the page, changing in color and shape using procedurally generated patterns.

The exhibit for your paintings and the studio you paint in are interconnected by a central column in the exhibition room, which links via a very well-made portal effect. When you walk around in the exhibit, the column turns to follow you and changes the canvas in your studio to the canvas it’s pointed to in the exhibit.

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Our cute alien hosts are silent and mysterious, but do enjoy a good work of abstract art to stare at. When you’re in the exhibit with them, they’ll occasionally shoot you a glance but otherwise ignore you. Their shapes are humanoid, but covered in jagged glowing edges that make them distinctively non-human.

After the fact…

There is no established goal, nor any ending. You just paint, and let your new alien friends see your results. It’s for this reason we’re personally defining this as a “toy” instead of a “game”; as a matter of fact, the itch.io page calls it a “UFO Art Zone”. That’s not a bad thing, because this is a fun toy! Playing around with the paint guns is lots of fun. With almost infinite variations, you’ll never know what kind of painting you’re going to end up making.

The idea is novel and it’s more or less perfect in practice, but it comes with its inherent problems. Of course, since the pattern of the spraying paint is random, you can’t really control your brush strokes. This means that any attempt at artistic vision is right out. If you were hoping to make something on the level of a Bob Ross masterpiece or even just an MS Paint sketch, forget about it: you’re at the mercy of your guns.

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We did find quite a few issues with execution that pushed this from ‘fun toy’ down to ‘minor novelty’. We couldn’t figure out a way to test your paint before you put it on the canvas. You can paint on the wall a few inches away from the canvas, but it fades out the further you go, and there’s still the chance that you’ll pick up a brush with a spray pattern that ricochets onto the canvas.

In order to pick up a gun, you have to click on the gun itself. That feels obvious, but right underneath every gun is a bright glowing handprint button that just says “Hey, click on me!” What this button actually does is give you another randomly generated gun.

If you haven’t been following Joy Exhibition‘s development on Twitter, you’ll find that there’s no explanation for how the painting portal works. Once Bill finished zir first painting, the first thing ze did was walk out of the door and try to click on the blank canvas in front of zir to start editing it instead. Ze walked back into the room only to find that ze was editing the same painting.
Then, we thought that maybe the canvas changed based on where the door of the column was facing, but this wasn’t the case either: it’s based on the side opposite of the door, as if the column was a window. It makes sense once you figure it out, but it’s not immediately explanatory.

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Completable in half an hour: Sort of?
Considering there is no goal, there’s no way of completing this game. We played for about 15 minutes before we got bored, but the replay value is practically infinite… if you’re willing to come back to it. Which brings us to our next point:

3 out of 5 – Worth Trying (Wouldn’t Play It Again)
Joy Exhibition has an intent, and it completes it: a painting simulator with randomly generated spray cans. The idea is clever and cute, but doesn’t have the lasting effect to completely grip us. The aesthetic is choice, and the game displays some very impressive technological skills, but this felt more fun in spurts of a few minutes.

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You can play Joy Exhibition for free on itch.io.

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