Bird flocks are ruthlessly efficient convoys, though that is not always obvious from the ground. As thousands of birds fly overhead, it is not immediately apparent that they are maneuvering at remarkable speeds or turning on a dime. Enough of this amateur description, however. Let’s turn this thing over to the expert—in this case, Richard Wilbur:
As if a cast of grain leapt back to the hand,
A landscapeful of small black birds, intent
On the far south, convene at some command
At once in the middle of the air, at once are gone
With headlong and unanimous consent
From the pale trees and fields they settled on.
What is an individual thing? They roll
Like a drunken fingerprint across the sky!
Murray Campbell’s Flock is more deliberate than a drunken fingerprint, but its beauty is comparable to Wilbur’s poem. Not so much a game as a series of animated graphics, Flocks shows abstracted winged creatures flying across the sky. Are they airplanes, birds, fireworks? It isn’t really clear; you are too far away to tell. The same holds true with actual bird flocks. There’s only so much you can understand from the ground, but they are compelling nonetheless. “Sometimes I just want to watch birds all day,” Campbell writes, “don’t you?”
Flocking is not an intuitive concept to grasp. “Imagine doing unrehearsed evasive maneuvers in concert with all the other fast-moving drivers around you on an expressway,” writes Peter Friederici for the Audubon society’s magazine, “and you get an idea of the difficulty involved.” That, incidentally, would be a good pitch for a game (and synchronized driving, as with swimming and virtually all other synchronized activities, makes for good viewing). Since birds are hard to appreciate from the ground, they are excellent candidates for abstraction, and Campbell pulls off the art with great effect. Flock is basically a screensaver, but it promises nothing more and, like Campbell, I just want to watch birds all day.
You can check out Flock over on itch.io.
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