Tuesday, 16 March 2010
I've now assembled a small clutch of games, all of which I've dipped into a little. I'm really pleased with my choices and I fully intend to play each game to completion - with one notable exception.
Rummaging around in the discount shelves of my local CEX, Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland seemed like a truly epic find. I fished it out, grinning (and, I'm afraid, mentally playing the classic 'item get' phrase from Zelda). I checked the back of the box:
You play Tingle, (who just so happens to be my favourite side character from Majora's Mask - with perhaps the exception of the Happy Mask Shop Man) a thirty-something unemployed single male living on the fringes of society. One day, you are summoned by Uncle Rupee - the spirit of money, or perhaps greed - and are convinced to collect enough money to 'build' a tower to Rupeeland, a magical place where it's no work and all play. Your ticket to the ultimate escapist fantasy. As a symbol of your new life, you are invested with the clothes of a fairy and a hero; that familiar green garb from every Zelda, ever. Only snag is, to get to Rupeeland, it's going to take an awful lot of hard work.
I glanced at the price tag - which seemed surprisingly low. I tried to rationalise this to myself. Doubtless here was one of those quirky sleeper hits - too esoteric for the mollycoddled masses. Hah hah! They just don't understand art.
Now I know better.
OK! The problem I have with Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland is this: most of the elements that make its story meaningful also make it as dreary as my 9-5 and an absolute chore to play. And I'm not quite sure if that's entirely a bad thing.
WHAT I LOVE
The vibrant, quirky and quietly terrifying vision of life in Tingle's world is charming and moving. TRR is a capitalist's wet dream: a land in which money literally controls everything.
Heartfelt emotions are worthless unless they accompany an appopriate statement in rupees: after saving a guardsman's wife from dying, he thanks you tearfully, and, after a pause, confesses he knows that this means nothing unless he offers you cash. How much, he asks?
Memory is governed by money. The Hero of the first continent is commemorated with a huge statue not so much of his great deeds but because he had the foresight of charging anyone who used his services with exceptionally large sums of cash.
Lastly, and most importantly: money is life. Get knocked around by an enemy and you lose cash. Your bank balance replaces Zelda's classic health bar, and when it drops to 0, you die.
One of most compelling thing here is that Tingle starts the off in the world a loser, but an innocent - not governed by money until he makes a deal with Uncle Rupee and gets his circulatory system hooked up to his cashflow. He has to 'sell out' before he gets a hope of turning his life around. There's such a dark ambiguity to the whole arrangement - is the capitalist fantasy of Rupeeland what Tingle really wants? Is Uncle Rupee really an altruistic old soul - or is he some terrible evil spirit, fuelled by the cash you feed his tower? It's the same twisted ambiguity that I thought made Majora's Mask so great (e.g. Link's silent complicty in pretending to be a Zora's dead boyfriend so he could play lead guitar).
TRR also capitalises on one of my favourite things in games - the dissonance between the player and their persona. Tingle is more than happy to exploit the local residents for their cash, grinning uncontrollably when he reckons he's ripped someone off. Not once does he back down and say: "No, no! Please don't take any money for that medicine I gave your wife. It was no trouble. Think of it as a gift".
But can we really blame him? Everyone else in the game world seems to be all too keen to rip you off as soon as they can get the chance - from the townsfolk who charge you extortionate prices for information to the hired goons you have to pay to protect yourself from certain death - to Uncle Rupee himself.
Moreover, there's another tension here - what right does the player have to criticise Tingle? Quite likely living in the Western world themselves (rich enough to own a DS) their wealth and success are indirectly contingent on the continuing poverty and unhappiness of a much wider proportion of the population. Your fantasy has a price in blood.
All of this taken together constructs TRR a meaningful and novel satire of capitalist society.
There's more - I adore the characters that populate the game world. From Tingle to Chico the psychic fish seamstress to Chuckles the bodyguard clown to the bridge builder who does a pelvic thrust on top of a bridge when he finishes it (and looks like that biker from the village people). They each have a unique voice and their sprites have this slightly ungoverned, mismatching freeform feel.
And this is where a touch of tragedy comes into the game - all the characters in TRR have so much life and passion and yet their lives are completely and utterly dictated by money - the quest to keep getting more, and the boredom and the effort that this requires. So are you. TRR totally subverts the Mary Poppinsian idea that you can learn to enjoy even the most mundane tasks so long as they come in a pretty package. When you grind for money in TRR - despite the exploration, the vibrant worlds and the fun cast of characters - it's terribly and utterly dull.
THE WRONG KIND OF GRIND
And herein lies the trouble. It's entirely possible to make grind enjoyable (even if it is a sort of peverse enjoyment). It would have been entirely straightforward to make the grind in TRR more enjoyable - by making money more freely available, by letting you autosell all your item stock, by letting you harvest in-game items you'd encountered directly from one central location - but I can't help but feel that if the designers had done this, it would have diluted the impact of the story. Is the inescapable daily grind that most available jobs boil down to really so awful if every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake?
Ultimately, I was left with the prospect of playing a game whose mechanics I find detestable in order to experience a story I find wonderful.
And I refused. I switched the game off. Which was odd, I thought. In real life, I'm willing to make the sacrifice: most of my time spent doing something I'd rather not in exchange for the opportunity to spend time in a way that makes life meaningful to me. But in a game, in my free time, that was somehow unacceptable.
But hey, at least I got my money's worth.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
I love REDDER. Dess/Anna/Auntie has always been an advocate of 'show, don't tell' as it applies to games; never leaning on the crutch of huuuge blocks of text or in game-cutscenes to do her work for her. This latest game demonstrates just how good she's gotten at fully integrating the mechanics of story into the components of the game - in REDDER, you just can't separate the two.
BUT what I dug most and what I want to write about now is the quality, depth and relevancy of the story that Dess managed to tell me using the elements of the game world - all without using a single word.
In the beginning, I am free. I am the hero, travelling across the boundless stars! Nothing is impossible - anything is within reach (but am I happy? am I satisfied?) I start to lose power - my fuel is leaking away. Oh god, I knew this couldn't last. Deep in the pit of my stomach I know what will happen. I brace for impact as I sink towards an alien and unknown planet.
There's nothing left except my ship - and my body. Not even a single fuel gem - all of them lost, and why? It's a stupid, arbitrary fate. But, hey, I'm in a new place. Somewhere I've never been - and there's surely so much yet to see and do! I take a jump - and I fly into the atmosphere for what seems like hours. I take another, and another, and another.
But, down to business. Pick a direction. I go right! I'll find enough gems to restore the ship, they must be here on the planet, they have to be. Further along, I see a gap and try to leap it, but I'm not good enough at jumping and I miss the ledge across from me and begin to fall. Down, down, down. Oh crap - how far down does this fucking hole go? I'm falling into the bowels of the planet. What if I'll never be able to find my way back up again?
I don't care. I wanted to explore, and I got my wish (be happy). In a few minutes I find my first gem. Hey! I am skilled and resouceful and still very much the hero I always was.
Later I have six or seven fuel gems and have explored most of the first layer of the planet. I pause to savour the success. So Far it's been great - there are so many pretty scenes, from the sculped floors to the hues in the sky to The dangerous but suitable adversaries - robots and laser wires - no match for me. This landscape is for my Amusement. If something goes wrong I can just Warp back.
Despite this, something's bugging me. Sometimes I'll try and make a jump to a platform and I'll just lose it completely and take a Dive headfirst into the dusty earth, or veer off in completely the opposite direction and catapult myself off a ciff. So far this has only proved a minor Annoyance (I'm a great explorer, after all) but what is wrong with me - is it my Suit? This Planet? Am I doing something wrong?
Fuck, I bet someone Else would be a better explorer than I am. They'd find out how to Jump right and wouldn't Mess up half as much. That other person, that better me - why, I bet they'd have already collcted enough Fuel and been on their way by now.
Well. To Hell with them. I'm Enjoying Myself, aren't I?
For now all I have to do travel further down. Simple. Down, Down, Down into the deep red earth. Get the gems, take in the sights on the way! Everything is always Beautiful, even if I to notice the odd aBnormality here and there. Anyway, When I go to loOk again, everything is back to normal. A temporary gLitch in my vision.
PrEss throUgh, iNsinuate my way into a Sealed conCrete passage set into the gRound. Definitely gOt the Hang of these switches Now. The trick is to remember which sWitch you want on and where to find it. Oh, aNd how to get Back. Ha ha. Almost Had me there. Things are getting haRder, but, hEy, I Like a challenge. Doesn't matter if I have To tAKe a couple of rUns at it. I've got inFinIte time aND nothing can harm Me.
I go faster. NO time to SEe all the sights but I can always come back. As I reach the deEPest AreAS of tHE plAnEt, I notice fuEl gems that I cAn't qUitE get, no maTTer what I try. I resolve to Get these speCIal ones last. A fiTtiNg conclusion to a HeRoic tale. At the very bottom of eVerYthing, aLl glASs PipES aNd EyeBAlls and lAser beAMs and an aliEn coLdness wHICh grips ME But neVer lEaves.
MaKinG a Circuit OF tHe PLaNet. KeeP gOiNg RoUnd, and I'll jUSt cliMB On up tHouGh ThE other uNExplored areas. SenSible and EfFicieNt, liKe mE.
BUT tHIngs aRe GEttiNg WOrSe. Is tHIs iT? My dOUbLe viSIon'S baCk, wOrse THan beFoRE, EvERYthinG HaS a STraNge AcCenT TO It. AnCieNt blocks And Metal panels burSTing inConGruously FROm tHe rEd sAnd waLl. MeZzanINe aNd TWisTed bRiCk wHere sCulPTure once WAs. Keep Going, kEep cOllecTing gEms. BuT it's NOT gOiNG AWay. REaCH onE diStant geM aNd tWInnEd wiTh a SenSe Of sAtiSfACtion, ThE GrEaTEr SWeLl of SusPIciOUs fEAr buILDinG BehiNd mY eYEs uNTil it wHIstLeS aND SCReaMs. EVEryTHing's CHAnGInG aND tHE VISions wON't STOp. SANd, stONe, MEtaL, EYeBAll, SPaCE, DuSt - pLAnTS? FOR a MOMeNt I hAlLUCiNAte tHAt I'm uNDeRwATer. IN the EYe oF THe SToRM, aN ODd thOUghT ocCuRs TO Me, pOPs oUt As HILaRIOuS aNd OBSceNe As a fARt at a FUNeRAl. YOu kNOw, IT's aLMOsT aS iF...
OH GOd. Oh gOd oH goD. CoLLeCtiNG tHe GEMs iS wHAt's DOIng THIs. WHAt's brEAKiNg the wORLd. THe MOre I CoLleCT tHE WORsE iT GEtS aND tHE WOrSe I FEel aNd THE wORSe I bECOmE. AnD IF I WaNT tO gEt BACk iNTo sPACe, if I wANt to BE FREE of tHIs pLANet, thINGs ARe oNLy gOINg to GEt eVEn wORSE.
hAHAhaHAhaH. iT'S ok. iT'S Ok! bREAK AroND ME, CREeP ME OUT, DOubLE BACK, REwiND REcONsiDER RECIind RefORM ReTURN. iN The FaCE OF EVERYthING AGaiNST ME i WlLl NoT Be DeniED. gEM, NEXT GEM, neXT GEM. oNLY TWO moRE To Go AND i'M OUt OF THIS FuCKING HEllHOLE. iT JUSt GetS WOrse AnD WORSE, a CacOPHONY OF SIGHts ANd COlOURs AlL VyING fOR ATtENTioN AnD PRomINENCe (IN THE FaCE Of EVerYThING AGaiNST Us We iILl NOT BE DeNIED. gEM, NexT, GEM, NeXT gEM. oNLy TWO mORE To GO).
reject my perspective
lASeR dISPLAYS aRE nOThING COMARED tO tHIS kALEIDOSCOPING mAW aGAPE aND BLeEDING SWiTCH SWITCH swITCH uNTIL i tWIST tHE wORLD tHE wAy i wANT tO sEE iT dAMMIT wHY iSN'T iT hOW i wANT tO sEE iT WhY wON'T i bE ABLE tO sEE IT aGAIN wELl fuCK yOu bUDDY oNE lAST gEM tO gO
veil is slowly lifting
THRoUGH A tHiCKeT oF RUNNEls ANd ERUPtION oF DISownED TECHolOGy I AM THE ONe tHEY FEAReD. THROUgh a GAUnTLeT oF tRIAls - SWItcHEs, ROBotS, lASEr tURREtS fiIRING, I rUn FOr mY LIFe. TO THE lAST GEm FAStER FASTER fAStER I tHINk I'LL sUFFOcATE iF I sPEND ANOTheR SECONd
AND MY FReEDOM IS SECURED. MY PERCEptION CHANGES. I sEE EVERytHING IN ALL ItS GIdDYING MAJESTY AND CanNOT AND WILL NOt LEAVE. THE SPECIAL ExCESS TREASURES OF THIS PLACE REMAIN. I CANNOT LEAVE THEM BEHIND. I WILL PUSH THIS CHAOS HOME UNtIL MY EYES BREAK OR SOMETHInG ELSE DOES.
ONE, HANgING IN THE DARKNESS AT THE ToP OF AN EXILE BrIDGE LIKE THE NORTH StAR
TWO, THRoUGH A GAP IN THE DEAD CITY AND AS FAR LEFT aND DOWN AS I CAN, DEEP IN THE PALaCE OF EYEBALLS MY LIMBS OH gOD I KNOW I'M NOT RELIGIOUS BUT MY LIMBS ARE SO PAINfUL NOW I CAN'T STOP IT IT HURTS SO MUCh I FEEL MYSELF DYInG OR LEAKING oR BLEEdING OR ALL
and be reborn
noise pain fear are gone now
everything is clear
like a childs dream picture book
at once so simple and beautiful
i see things how i want to see them
ascend for as long as it is natural
i pause and think about how this perfect symmetry
complements and frames my perfect change
its such a relief being so pure and new
i could cry
but space is so wide and inviting
and the stars are calling me home
If my words don't do justice to this game then I hope it underlines my point.
REDDER is a story with power.It should be required playing for anyone who loves games and what they can do.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
It's hard not to love this game. It just does so many things right.
Firstly, it's INCREDIBLY FUN. Sashaying in and out of the water with the accompanying wave and SPLOOSH sound is deeply satisfying in and of itself (and this is why I reckon Ortolson has a cheeky splash or two at the start of his playthrough).
Having one button as the only input makes a lot of sense. It's much easier to concentrate on manipulating the unusual way the game handles vertical motion because you don't have any other controls to worry about - the horizontal motion gets taken out of your hands by the auto-scrolling screen.
The movement itself feels very fluid and natural and it's sensitive to your presses - even a light one will send Fish Face down a little way, which sets up some precision jumping and makes grabbing all the optional collectible rings a real challenge. It feels pretty silly to say this, too, but it just feels...fishesque. It's appropriate!
I find it pretty interesting to compare this to the whole mechanical situation going down in Babies Dream of Dead Worlds. BDoDW has essentially the same messing-around-the-horizontal-axis mechanic but in that game it feels clunky and sometimes quite annoying. You never get the same great sense of freedom slingshotting the axis as you do in Fish Face, largely because in BDoDW you're interrupted by some terrain or other pretty frequently and forced to halt your flight.
Fish Face also sports some great level design and has some very sensibe ideas which stop the game from being annoying and keep the whole thing enjoyable throughout.
There is a liberal peppering of save points (blue rings) which will restore your fish, even on the Radically Difficult Course. This means that you never get too fed up with one long section, plus there's only a fraction of time between dying and being able to try again, which (like Star Guard) keeps you more fully immersed in the experience. And, when you do die (and you will), Fish Face will leave behind a little skeleton which acts as a visual warning for your next attempt. This is mostly helpful, although in some extreme cases it also acts a mocking indictment of just how pants you are at one particular section....
There are often lots of subtle clues hidden in the terrain suggesting how you should proceed. At one point in the Radical Difficulty course you have a choice between trying to make what looks like an impossibly steep jump or rise through a small crack in the sea floor. There are, however, two shaded purple tiles next to the jump - and if Fish Face passes through these when zie is rising through the water, you'll land it without a scratch.
Speaking of which, I ALSO really dig how the Easy Course acts as a perfect tutorial for the rest of the game. It does this, not explicitly through BIG BOOMING TEXT AND DEPICTIONS OF BUTTONS but through the placement of in-game objects and a very incremental tightening of the difficulty.
For example: the first set of rings you encounter are laid out in a horizontal line. You can get the first ring by diving straight down - but to get all the rings you have to tap the action button lightly to stay at the same level without leaping back up to the surface again. This comes in handy a lot later on, especially during the hardest level. The next two sets of rings are sharp arcs leading out of the water and back in again - these give you an idea of how jumping works, and how much you need to depress Fish Face in the water to get hir to jump to the right height. Jumping correctly lets you gather all the rings.
You encounter your first set of dynamic hazards on the Easy Course, too - huge, slow, grey jellyfish which bob up and down. These sorta foreshadow the much faster and deadlier stone blocks you get at the end of Normal Course, but also teach you an important thing about the dynamic hazards in Fish Face - because you can't move left or right, what really matters is being able to work out where the enemy will be vertically when you scroll onto it. This sounds dreadfully simple but it takes some getting used to the first couple of times, and gets trickier as the enemies get smaller and more devious.
Finally, the final part of Easy Course has a 'boss' - a wily fisherman who's taken a rather worrying fancy to you (though how could you bring yourself to eat a fish with a face, I mean, honestly). He's not too much of a threat, but he does prepare you for 'bosses' in the other two levels, specifically, that they will change the established format of the level in some way (the fisherman makes it so that you can't jump out of the water for long stretches at a time).
All of this is really super shiny, and did I mention this game was FUN? Aside from the enjoyable mechanics on offer, there's this great atmosphere of playfulness to the whole thing, in the chunky chiptune music and nostalgic yet cartoony sprites, but also in the 'rewards' you get for completing levels under better conditions (from sandwiches to hugs to patronising pats on the head).
Furthermore, the little stories behind each level, though implicit and simple - you're saving a community of fish from a grizzled fisherman who sits staring into the rain for his prey, or rescuing the enchained cephalopod princess from her prison deep within the darkest part of an ancient ammonite cave - are surprisingly compelling. Are the other fish all hiding out in their home, waiting for the fisherman to go away? Who locked the princess in the cave to begin with?
These stories are supported by a varied cast of enemies and the changing landscapes of each level - which reminded me of the same great feeling of vibrancy and discovery I got when playing through some other awesome sidescrolling games back when I was a kid (specifically, world 2 of Apidya).
There's so much that's well done here - mechanics, design, story, atmosphere - all compacted into this brief one-button game.
This is awesome.
Monday, 8 March 2010
Lately we had a massive get together for the PIRATE KART 2, where we made as many games as we could within a two-hour time limit over the weekend. Our initial target of 371 games (1 more than last year's Global Game Jam)? Smashed. I made two games, and I'm still playing through all of the titles (still working out whether I can make a video of all the entries). CHECK THIS STUFF OUT.
That's the bleeding edge. Right there.
SO I thought that I might as well plut everything in one place. Kinda sorta. Even if it is just another cut-n-paste blogger weblog. Hey, it's the content that matters, right?
The Malefactory is up and running. FULL STEAM AHEAD.