I just finished Shovel Knight, and my therapist has been a great help.
I haven’t written here in a while, but I think I’d like to do it more. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been picked up by Last Token Gaming, a great bunch of guys with a vision for how a gaming blog should look. That said, sometimes I get a little claustrophobic with the high standard, and I realized that I also enjoy writing stuff while being apathetic to whether or not people actually read it!
Hence, this blog! Hooray!
Now *ahem* Shovel Knight.
Look at that swagger. Look at that swank. Look at that spade and his cerulean sexiness. The aptly named Shovel Knight is here to save the day.
My first impression of the game is that it’s some sort of distant relation to Axe Cop, with names like “King Knight,” “Shield Knight” and the ever-lovable “Tinker Knight.” Turns out, “Knight” is just the new “Man,” and “Shovel” is just the new “Mega.” That’s right, folks. It’s a Megaman clone that puts all other Megaman clones (and some of the Megaman games) to shame. (I’m looking at you, X6 and X7). You fight your way through gorgeous themed levels, with extreme puzzles, tough enemies, secret treasure, and a final boss with their own wiles, dangers, and annoyances.
First thing about this game: its controls are GORGEOUS. I love the simplicity; it can literally be played on an NES controller. ❤ Fast response times, interesting mechanics, cool chargeup moves… this game’s got it all.
Second thing: it is truly and awe-inspiringly gorgeous. It is a pixel-art dreamboat. I can’t imagine how much time it took to draw, animate and put together all of the different levels and enemies, but Shovel Knight’s retro graphics just gave my rapidly aging self a huge nostalgia atom bomb to the feels. It manages to be in different scenes cute, adorable, terrifying and awesome. And there’s this guy:
On to the next excellent quality of this game: the music. First, I love me some good old retro-sounding chiptunes. “But, Another Gamer,” you wheedle. “Hi-def audio is so IN right now! How can you like beeps and clicks more than EPIC LOSSLESS ORCHESTRAL ACTION?” Listen to the first 5 seconds of this and tell me you don’t have a soft spot for the old-fashioned music.
That’s right. You love it.
There are 46 tunes in the Shovel Knight soundtrack, and all of them are killer in some way or another. They even hired the original composer for Megaman, Manami Matsumae, to do two of them. Leeeeeeegit. He’s one of the ancient giants. But the nicest thing by far, is that you must collect “music sheets” in the different levels through which you travel, to bring them back to the bard in the village for a reward. I LOVED this mechanic for a couple of reasons: 1. It makes the player value the music. 2. It provides an unlockable soundtrack, one song at a time. 3. It puts the music in the foreground! It makes the player pay attention to the music that was going on in the background of their level, makes them listen to it, and then makes them realize how completely and utterly AWESOME IT IS. Mission accomplished. THAT is how you do a soundtrack.
Okay, so graphics, controls, and music are all completely rad. What about storyline? Well… you’re rescuing the lovely Shield Knight from the clutches of the Enchantress, in the Tower of Fate, protected by the Order of No Quarter, which just happens to be 8 knights of differing proclivities that own large, extravagant, deadly castles/airships/submarines in various parts of the globe.
Compared to Megaman games, it’s got plot coming out of its ears. But it’s no Final Fantasy. Just saying.
But I’ve missed talking about the most important part of the game…
This is the hardest game I’ve ever played. I beat Ninja Gaiden. I beat Hotline Miami. I played Dark Souls until I stopped. I beat Final Fantasy Tactics and Diablo III on Hell and etc. etc. etc. This is the most punishing, miserably difficult game I have ever played in my short span of existence (with the notable exception of I Wanna Be The Guy, which I don’t count as a game so much as an adventure in masochism). The bosses often pull some unfair crap, and the levels are unbelievably wicked. The same jump has killed me probably… 6 times in a row? And this is on multiple occasions. It’s a brutally challenging game, and because its controls are so responsive, you have nobody to blame but yourself (and the developer, for making the levels so hard).
That said: this game is fun. It’s incredibly fun and challenging and interesting and engaging. It’s funny and witty, complex and rewarding. It’s worth its price tag and more.
I haven’t been thinking about games much. Finals are rapidly approaching and so is Christmas. Though I’m not technically in classes, everything is coming to a head and I haven’t had a free moment to do some serious processing of my gaming experiences for this week. But I had had an issue a couple of weeks back that I wanted to blog about but couldn’t, so I figure there’s no time like the present to try and get my ideas out there (and probably crash and burn in the process).
There are a lot of issues with the indie game community, which I have tried to be involved in supporting and encouraging through my blog posts, my money and in a (very) small part my musical/programming ability. I feel like it’s a healthy community with a lot of people in it that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition from the mainstream media. (Interesting tidbit! NPR just did an article on “The Stanley Parable” that was an actual serious review of it in an artistic sense. Huge step forward! Read it here. As it turns out, they have articles about indie games every Tuesday? Who knew?)
I find it’s also a lot more of an artistic medium (the indie game community, I mean) than the triple-A games because there’s not so much commercial pressure. I’ve talked about that before, too.
But here’s the thing. It’s a COMMUNITY. There is no triple-A game community. There are businesses and that’s about all we can say for it. Sure there are developers and programmers and musicians and artists and writers and etc etc etc who are all well-known in their own communities of developers and programmers and (you get the picture)… but no crowdsourcing, no community involvement, no back-and-forth between the people playing your game and the people developing it. Massive outcry over Mass Effect 3’s ending got them to change part of it, and some other large protests (please note, PROTESTS) against things done in triple-A games have sparked change. But there’s no suggestion box at Blizzard’s or EA’s HQ.
There’s a lot to be said for that, though! Producing a PRODUCT is what video gaming is all about. You want something that a player can immerse themselves in and enjoy. They don’t worry about how it was made, they don’t question whether or not it could have been made better. Did you do your beta testing? Did you work out the bugs? Are you suuuuuuure?!?! (I’m looking at you, Skyrim.) Then we’re good. Ship it out, sell the preorders, make the DLC, reap that cash cow for all it’s worth. We’re done here. That’s how the industry works. You don’t regularly update something you sell people on a Blu-Ray disc. You can’t.
Granted, some game companies try to. It’s not always pleasant.
But an INDIE game, oh! The possibilities are endless! Every time you play it, there’s a new update! New updates every Tuesday? Twice a week, even? Say you’re playing at 8pm, and the update comes out. After you download it, at 8:30, you could be playing a different game! One that’s better, has more features, has less bugs, and more exploding cool stuff! (That falls under the realm of “features” but bears special mention. I mean, c’mon, EXPLODING STUFF, HELLO.)
Indie games have the ability to get you up close and personal with the development process. Let’s go into WHY that is!
1. The Kickstarter
Kickstarter/IndieGogo/Steam Greenlight have helped indie games in development get community support (and build their fanbase) since their inception (ooh, Inception!). They say, “Look at the potential of this idea! Help me make it a reality!” And the community overwhelmingly responds…
What else? They provide “stretch goals.” This is also brilliant because even at the very outset of a game’s existence you’re involving the community in deciding what is in the game. Whoa. (This theme comes back, remember it.)
2. The Wiki
Great indie games have great wikis. How do these wikis get built? The community! Now, having said that, this is definitely a two-way street. The developers have to put their time into giving people the framework they need to edit and expand a wiki, and they need to be diligent about its upkeep… but the rewards are enormous! All you have to do is create and maintain a webpage (which I’m certain every gamedev has to do twice or three times for each blog/merchant site/github/etc. they own), and now your community is talking, discovering, playing your game, and making things happen. If they run across an item or dungeon that they don’t know about, it’s only a matter of time before they start figuring out how to explain it or use it in wiki-able terms. People talk about your game? People can get an inside look into your game before buying it? People can see how it develops? Good news, everyone!
3. The Forums
It seems ridiculous that a triple-A game would be without forums, and for the most part, you’re right. There are, of course, discussion forums for many, if not all triple-A games, but please, I beg of you, go on them and lurk for a bit. You’ll notice that it’s a greasy mixture of bragging, complaining and outright indecency and it quite frankly scares me.
But, go on the forums for a game like MineCraft or Gnomoria, or Proteus or Bastion or Desktop Dungeons or or or or… and you’ll see something different. You’ll see (most of the time) a nicely organized and well-run site that puts updates up and posts patchnotes, encourages discussion AND FEEDBACK about their game. WHOA WHOA WHOA. Stop the presses! Feedback? That makes a difference? My god! You mean that involvement in the process of the game’s development could… somehow… influence the game’s development in a positive manner? Holy cow!
Sorry about the sarcasm. But many triple-A games ignore their communities, and they sort of HAVE to. In a commercial business model, there is no open beta. There is no free updating. There might be some bug fixes, but if there’s going to be extra content, you’re going to be paying for it and it was probably already in the works when the game came out. The gradual adding and changing of features is something that’s only possible with an indie game community that’s involved and active in the development process. They don’t need to know how to code, but they do need to be able to say, “This was unbelievably frustrating. I tore out chunks of my hair.” or “Man, I wish this could be faster.” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if there were horses? I like horses.”
That’s community right there.
4. The Let’s Play
Everyone knows that MineCraft started the Let’s Play boom (sort of). People made living wages by being entertaining commentators of their exploration through the game’s mechanics. They showed curious users how to do everything from starting the game to building a house to farming to finishing the regular content of the game. Many just show people playing, screwing up, dying, figuring out their mistakes and growing from their experiences (okay, maybe not that last one). If there’s an indie game, there’s an LP of it.
I don’t know if I have to go too deep into why this is great! Why do you test-drive cars? And why DON’T you test-drive games? An LP is a real-life look into how a game works, how people play it, as well as figuring out a lot of the mechanics and playstyles of the game. It’s a fantastic and free way to get people interested in your game. It’s free advertising that comes from the ground up.
A lot of triple-A games have significant Let’s Plays behind them as well, especially in-depth, open-world games like Skyrim, but if you watch enough of these, you’ll notice a difference in the flavor of commentary and playing styles. In triple-A games, it’s not an adventure of discovery, because even in the newest, most innovative games, you’re still expecting the quests, blacksmithing, vendor trash and conversation options of the next Elder Scrolls game, or the “boogey-boogey-boo” scares of a game like Dead Space. When a Let’s Player plays a game like Proteus, Journey, or even the first forays into the world of MineCraft, often the player (and the audience) has no experience and, as a result, few expectations. You get this excited sense of discovery with indie LPs, instead of the… less discovery-oriented excitement of “WOOH LET’S KILL ZOMBIES GUNS GUNS GUNS FIRE YEAH!!!”
Also worth mentioning: dedicated Let’s Play creators are an amazing asset to gamedevs who want people to experience firsthand the changes made during beta. Instead of reading patchnotes, your prospective clientelle can watch the new features and cool stuff unfold before their eyes with snarky British commentary.
5. The API
“What’s an API, Another Gamer?!? Is that a kind of beer?” No.
It’s the Application Programming Interface, which is a complicated term (like everything in CS…) that explains a simple concept: it’s how the parts of your program work together, and how they receive and deal with extra parts. The modding API of games is a modders ability to reach inside the code, change things, add things, and extend the functionality of an already complete game.
Whew. A lot to take in there.
Why do you care? Because the mod API for games like MineCraft turned it from something of a curiosity to a fantastic, enormously massive game of never-before-or-since-seen proportions. Indie games have a penchant for letting their users fiddle with the guts of the game, and with MineCraft especially it has produced results that never fail to boggle my mind. Computer crafting, power and electricity frameworks, extra minerals, creatures, trees, biomes, items, weapons, items, armor, items… there’s a mod called “Too Many Items,” and a snarkier, newer version called “Not Enough Items.” There are mods that stretch the bounds of creativity, crafting elegant storylines and forging brand new dimensions for you to explore, mine, battle, and die in.
It’s about involvement in the process. It’s about involvement in the product. Indie games can do this, and they’re unique in their ability to. It’s a magnificent skyscraper of artistic and technological achievement that is built from the millions of users and their involvement with making something greater than an already pretty great game made of blocks.
Of course, not every indie game supports modding as well as MC (as a matter of fact, none of them do). It may be the difference between changing the zombie skins to My Little Pony characters, but most games have some small ability to be modded. Word to the wise, though: this mutability and versatility is what made MineCraft what it is. If you’re smart and you’re creating a game that is in any way a changeable experience, then let your users change it. Let them design new events or levels or characters or enemies. If you build it, they will come :3
I couldn’t figure out how to work in Garry’s Mod, but… Garry’s Mod.
It’s a long post, I know, but there’s a lot to be said for involving and building your community when you build a game. It’s something that indie games can use to gain a huge advantage in popularity and advertising reach, and it’s just a nice thing to do. Whereas big companies may have insidious ways to push their new game (toolbars, mobile apps, etc etc etc), this is a pure, simple way to be a good development company while putting yourself out there (or allowing your users to do the work for you!). As a dev, it’s great. As a consumer, I find it equally great, and if you didn’t appreciate it before… go out and buy MineCraft and start appreciating, damn you!
Yeah, yeah, I didn’t update Monday. Sue me. (Actually, please don’t.)
So I’ve been running through Dead Space as well as a couple of other games, and I keep seeing this recurring theme come up with how the games are constructed: algorithms. When I open a locker in DS and find the ammo for the gun I don’t have any ammo for, it’s like unwrapping that Christmas present from that aunt you never see, and it’s EXACTLY what you wanted. “How did you know?!?”
Algorithms. That’s how they knew. Well, your auntie probably called your mom and was like, “Listen, I need to buy this kid’s affection. PlayStation 4? Got it.”
What’s an algorithm? You probably cringe every time you read it, because it reminds you of math and being trashcanned in high school. Don’t be afraid of math! I hear this all the time in my programming classes and online in tutorials. Don’t be afraid of it. You know what? That’s ridiculous. Of course you shouldn’t be afraid of math. Math is so useful, you should dress math up nice, take math out to a nice restaurant, bring math back to your place for an expensive bottle of wine and a rom-com. If you were a proverbial gold-digger, math would be the extremely rich, nice old guy who’s still very handsome in a rugged way. That’s math. It’s awesome. Love it.
Algorithms are nifty things that basically collect data and do stuff with it within a certain set of guidelines. Game AIs are extremely algorithm-based, because the data they collect is YOUR actions, and what they do with it involves figuring out a way to either help you (a la Left 4 Dead) or how to kill you (also a la Left 4 Dead). More examples, you ask? Minecraft worlds are generated to a very specific and complicated set of algorithms, making sure there are different biomes, caves, ores, enemies and special dungeons all over the place. In the case of the “data collection” part of MC, you have to put in a “world seed” when you create your world, which is essentially a word or number that sets parameters for the world’s look and composition. Whoa. Think about it. A word generates a world. That’s the power of algorithms.
What else do they do? They allow for a mutable gameplay experience. Whoa, big words, I know. Imagine you’re playing a level of some puzzle game you like. You finish a level but you really wish that you could do more levels of the same variety. If your game is designed with specific levels, then you’re outta luck (like Candy Crush, for example). However, if your game uses an algorithm to spit out levels and then calculates the difficulty of them (by using a solver or figuring out minimum number of moves to solve, etc.), then you have an infinite number of levels at your disposal, each with its own unique and algorithmically pooped solution. Nifty, right?
**DISCLAIMER. IF YOU ARE NOT A PROGRAMMER OR INTERESTED IN GAME DESIGN, YOU MAY SKIP THE NEXT COUPLE OF PARAGRAPHS**
In terms of programming, it saves you as the game designer a lot of work! I’m going to use the example of my RPG, “Blue” to illustrate what I’m talking about. I algorithmically generated my treasure. I placed treasure chests in the world and filled them “randomly” with treasure of several varieties. The bonus is that I save both lines of code and data. I don’t have to have a file specifying which treasure chest locations contain which treasures, and I don’t have to implement the code to deal with said file. It also gives me a lot more freedom with how I want to give the player treasure. I personally had two lists of treasure: a basic list that would always be a possibility for a chest’s contents, and a “unique” list that had better treasure, but could only be gotten once. Instead of placing them in the chests at the beginning of the game, I calculated what was in the chest when the player gets it. Bingo, more data and code saved! You can play with the algorithm as much as you want to make it fit you: change the favoring of the basic list to the unique list (which gets found more often?), make unique lists floor specific, or don’t and let the player get the previous floor’s treasure on the next floor. Make it possible to get unique treasures from battles (just in case luck doesn’t provide them with their dandy new equipment). Huge amount of possibilities, all of which don’t require a lot of work.
Another game design thing that algorithms do very well is “hiding the strings.” The “strings” are the hard and fast rules that govern your game. With Mario, it’s “jump on heads, try pipes, you can only jump so high and run so fast, get powerups to change what you can and can’t do, don’t fall in pits, on spikes or in lava.” Pretty simple and straightforward, and understanding the rules (“strings”) is how the player plays the game. In MineCraft, there are hard and fast rules that the player is made aware of, but the majority of the brilliance of the game is in the algorithms. The player need not understand the math behind the world-gen to play with it. They explore to find new biomes, they explore to find caves and dungeons, and they don’t have to be aware of the math that put them there to know that their exploration will yield results. They just won’t be able to predict WHEN, which means they’re playing the game without seeing the strings that make it work. The gamedev (that’s you) is saying, “Don’t worry about how it’s made, but trust that you’ll enjoy playing this level/world/fight.”
**END NERDINESS** (well, not really)
So what do algorithms mean for you as a gamer? Tons of stuff! They change the way we play games. Think of the AI Manager in Left 4 Dead. If you haven’t heard about it, that’s okay. It was a big deal back when L4D came out, because it governed the spawning of hordes of zombies and special zombies in partial response to how the players were playing. It allowed the 4 levels that L4D had to be played over and over, changing when the stress points and bad stuff occurred over the course of the level. Your objective is: get to the safe room while killing as many zombies as you can. Now, if you dally too long in a weapons closet, the AI Manager will send zombies after you again and again until you get moving. It will place obstacles in your path like special zombies to make sure the excitement level doesn’t get too low. It will place witches (bad, bad, bad zombies) in the most inopportune places to ensure that you don’t sleep at night. It allows players to react to challenges in an extremely ORGANIC way, because they have to be able to deal with problems as the occur without being able to predict WHEN they occur, even if they’re an expert at the game.
Also worth noting that it means the player is never “safe.” If you totally clear out a building of zombies in MOST games, you know you can hunker down there without pausing and go get a Mountain Dew. Not so in L4D. You come back, wiping Dorito dust off on your heavy metal band shirt to find that your entrails have become your extrails.
Algorithms also govern how the game “plays you.” In Dead Space, like I mentioned, there isn’t an algorithm that spawns enemies like in L4D, because the experience is supposed to not be a question of “survival” so much as a question of going insane from terror. Those kinds of experiences need to be carefully crafted. However, there IS an algorithm that takes stock of your inventory (and probably which guns you like), and spawns ammo more often for that gun. The game accommodates your playstyle. Let’s say you’re not a gun person (flower power, y’all! Kill the zombies with love <3), but you do enjoy beating them to death with your bare hands. I actually love this approach in a lot of games. I don’t know why. The “B” button just looks so nice on those Xbox controllers, and it never gets enough love. Well, a game like Dead Space would have a caveat in its algorithm saying, “Mr. Treasure Manager, sir? The player is taking a lot more hits than normal.” And the Treasure Manager decides that instead of putting ammo in crates, he’ll put medpacks instead, ensuring that you can run up to spiky zombies with blades for arms to your hearts content, as long as you manage to hit the “heal” button with sufficient excess as to live through it.
Lots to think about. I want you folks to give me something to work with, here! Comment or otherwise get to me an algorithm YOU’VE found in a game you’ve played, whether it’s a particularly pesky enemy AI, or the thing on your phone that gives you new Sudoku puzzles whenever you need them. I want to hear from you! Seriously.
See you Friday!
Okay, misleading title, I’ll give you that. But at least I’m updating! It’s not as easy as it seems!
What do I mean by “Triple-A games?” I’m glad you asked, person-who-is-not-a-gamer! They’re the games you hear about. “You mean like Mario?” No, person-who-is-not-a-gamer, not quite. Good try, though.
They’re the games that you see ads for on TV. They’re the games that have life-size cutouts of their characters plastered in front of every GameStop or video game store in existence. They’re the large franchises of the big three consoles, and they’re the games that you pay 60 bucks for (unless you live in Australia… poor aussies…). Think BioShock, GTA, Mass Effect, Call of Duty, the Zelda games, the Final Fantasy games, Dead Space, StarCraft, etc.
They’re big titles with a huge amount of support and money behind them. Their credits are longer than some flash games I’ve played on Kongregate. They have language teams, they higher game testing firms, and they have multinational branches of operations. They’re the games that you hear about in that they’re pretty much the only games you know of if you aren’t a serious gamer.
Of course they’re “the future.” They have the most well-funded operations, they have the best technology and they’re the most widely publicized.
But what most people don’t realize is this this rather strange truth: people like Pong.
I wanted a catchy catchphrase for when I review a new game, but the fact of the matter is, that happens so seldom that I just picked “New Game +” and left it at that. You’re only going to see it once in a blue moon, so don’t let the lack of originality keep you up at night.
First of all, let me invite you to watch the trailer for the game here:
If you don’t get what’s going on in the end, go watch 2001 Space Odyssey, or at least the end of it.
Anyway, nuff said.
So, there’s a lot of stuff I want to cover about the game. First off, it is a ROGUELIKE. For the uninitiated, there was this one game a long while back called “Rogue,” and it was cool and people have been imitating it since then.
The qualities of Roguelikes are varied, but they do have some in common:
1. You die a lot. Hooray.
2. You learn stuff by dying, or otherwise accomplish objectives that aren’t undone by your death.
3. You have to start from the beginning when you die.
4. The levels are procedurally generated, meaning you never go through the same dungeon twice.
People have called Dwarf Fortress a “roguelike,” but certainly games like The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy (making a named tip of the hat), and the free Spelunky all fall into that category. If you play any of these games, you will see that the qualities that make a roguelike in no way dictate the qualities of the gameplay, story, or difficulty of the game.
Having said that, most of the time they’re pretty flippin’ hard. See rule #1.
Desktop Dungeons is a roguelike, through and through. You enjoy small trysts in procedurally generated tile-based dungeons in a delightfully old-school setting. And you die.
Over and over and over.
Having said this, the gold you collect by your successes (and the lesser of your failures) can be used to buy upgrades in equipment, character classes and other devillishly delightful things. That is the essence of the game. Simple to learn, difficult to master.
There are also puzzle challenges that test your efficiency with different obstacles, equipment and powers. I should mention that I seriously like this bit, because the only way to beat these difficult problems is to use said equipment in the “proper” way. This means that it’s an underhanded education (underhanded because you DIE SO MUCH) in the finer mechanics of the game.
Having said that, the game is exceedingly difficult, and here’s why. It plays like a much faster game. There aren’t many animations, and damage appears to be dealt and healed instantly. However… revealing tiles restores health (yours and the enemy’s), you can destroy spells for permanent racial stat boosts, and health/mana potions are extremely limited. If you’re a gamer and you’re putting the pieces together, you should have this next bit figured out.
It’s a puzzle game.
Sorry to disappoint. The fast-paced action-y aspect of it is really cool, but as you get past the first levels, you’ll find that “preparing for a boss fight” doesn’t mean killing enemies until you’re strong enough, it means squeezing every last experience point, item, healing point and special ability out of the randomized level so that you have enough resources to take this guy on. It’s one huge puzzle, and unfortunately it takes a while before you can see if you’ll be able to solve it. It’s a well-constructed game, but I feel like it was marketed as something other than it is. This is particularly ironic because, well… it’s a lot more similar to “Rogue” than most of the roguelikes out there. I guess I’ve been spoiled.
But alas. It does mention that you die a lot.
It’s worth mentioning that the game is fantastically sarcastic. Goats, banking vampires and other ironic dungeon denizens abound, and the biting (literally with the vampires) humor makes it enjoyable, even when you die. The retro graphics and nifty soundtrack keep it from getting boring, and even though it IS a puzzle game, eventually you begin running into the same situation enough that the pace of the action begins to increase as you get ahead of the (steep) learning curve.
It’s fifteen bucks, and in the experience I’ve had so far (which is really, really just the tip of the iceberg), I’m gonna say that it’s worth it.
But don’t trust me! Play a (rather awesome) demo on their website! (Unity’s required but hey, that’s free too!)
Let me know if you folks cave and buy it! Other than that, see you Monday!
It’s that time again! I’m not used to blogging twice a week but it’s a nice reprieve from the daily grind, especially when preparing for writing involves playing lots of video games!
Cellar Door Games! Relative new kids on the serious indie game development block. Up-and-comers. Mavericks. Like that one undercover cop dude in the first Fast and Furious movie. Dangerous.
No, I’m not talking about the popular dancing game. (Is it still popular? Is it really dancing? Does anyone besides Hermes Conrad do it anymore?) One sentence in and I’m off topic. That’s a new record. But, oh my god, LIMBO. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an indie platformer game by the Danish production studio Playdead. It’s been out for a couple of years now, but it was recently released again in the Humble Bundle V, which I plugged mercilessly a week or so ago. If you didn’t buy it, shame on you. So, since I’m doing playthroughs of all these games, I figure I might as well keep with the trend.
First thing’s first: in LIMBO, there exists a near-perfect example of what people mean when they say “video games are art.” It’s black-and-white, wordless, in a very “film noir” kind of style. It’s a conscious break from realism, and it works amazingly! The game is gritty, g rainy, and it envelops you totally in its environment. Speaking of the environment: it’s awesome too. It’s very post-apocalyptic, with baddies and destroyed buildings, abandoned factories and run-down hotels. It gives the game an almost survival-horror feel, or, in all honesty, maybe just a “horror” feel. Because surviving really isn’t the number 1 thing on your to-do list in this game. Or, if it is, you’re generally not going to be doing it very well. (Interesting tidbit: the game’s environment tends to go from more natural to more man-made as you progress. It’s so seamless that when you abruptly transition back to a natural setting at the end, it seems very jarring and surreal. Nifty.)
So this whole “surviving” thing. Overrated, right? LIMBO is, well, really hard. I will readily admit that I’m a whiny gamer who doesn’t like super-hard games, and the consequences of death in LIMBO are not as severe as they are in, say, Megaman. Thank heavens. Because you die a lot. And I don’t mean just falling into a bottomless pit. I have been killed in a rather stupendous number of ways. Impaled on spikes, impaled on giant spider-legs, shot by arrows, shot by machine guns, having your guts sucked out, decapitated by beartraps, smushed by falling objects and by pistons, cut into tiny little pieces by sawblades, electrocution, drowning, drowning, and more drowning. Kid doesn’t like water, I guess. When I looked on the Wikipedia article, they quote the studio as calling this playstyle “trial and death,” and they say they use “gruesome imagery for the boy’s deaths to steer the player from unworkable solutions.” Understatement of the year, folks. No, Mario falling into a pit and saying “Mamma mia!!” is steering me from an unworkable solution. Seeing your protagonist die (without any humor at all) in a large number of disturbing ways falls less under the “deterrent” category, and more under the “DO YOU ENJOY KILLING CHILDREN?? WELL, DO YOU?!?” category. Watch the delightful death montage here:
The game is a little bit tough. There are some moments where you die simply because you couldn’t have known how to survive. You didn’t see the giant boulder coming, or know that the gear you were standing on would eventually grind you to bits. Hence the name, “trial and death.” Has a nice ring to it. In all honesty, however, the game itself, on an intellectual, puzzle-solving level, wasn’t too hard, but was WAY more interesting than most puzzle platformers. I gotta say, there were more creative, elegant puzzles in this game, even using mechanics first introduced a long time ago, than in any platforming game I’ve ever seen. Thank heavens for that.
The last thing I’ll mention is that I beat the game in one day. This implies two things: the game is freakishly addictive! (That’s a good thing). And, that the game is a little short. (That’s not such a good thing). So, looking at it both in its specifics and its overall impressions, I think it’s not a hard conclusion to come to that this video game really is artful: it LOOKS artistic, it was made with artistic intent, and the intellectual stimulation you get from it really provokes thought (as art often does). Hooray for video games!
P.S. Maybe I should just rename the blog “Hooray for Video Games.” Thoughts?