Monday, December 30, 2013

A Game Well Made: Spelunky

I had made big plans for the month of December, and then Spelunky came along. I recently received a Christmas PS Vita, and having enjoyed similar "rogue-lite" games such as The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, and FTL, it was a perfect match. It had never dawned on me how fantastic it could be to have a game like Spelunky be portable. The game's tight controls paired with the well sized and vibrant screen of the Vita elevate Spelunky to probably my favourite game I've played this year.

In my post about Resogun I mentioned about the importance of variance. Whether it's enemy variance, or objective variance - keeping the player active and attentive makes for an engrossing experience. Games like Resogun and Dark Souls require attentive concentration and memorization; in order to keep your multiplier going or just stay alive, you need to always be thinking a few steps ahead. When I began playing The Binding of Isaac, and Rogue Legacy, the idea of memorization didn't apply quite to the same degree. Of course, memorizing enemies, threats, and item uses is important, however the random generation of levels makes for a much higher level of variance. Prowling through castle halls in Rogue Legacy, I never knew which painting would suddenly leap to life. While being cautious would probably be the smartest approach in those games - I was often able to simply wave my sword constantly like a cheerleader, attack every possible threat, and usually escape unscathed.

But Spelunky is different. Compared to all those other games, Spelunky is a sensory overload of variance. Just like Dark Souls, this charming platformer has a set of unforgiving and unchanging rules, but the procedurally generated levels make for continuously new environments to explore.

The fragility of your character, along with the unknown factor of every play-through leads to cautious exploration. Rushing often leads to a quick death, and only through clear situation analysis along with precise execution will you be able to progress deeper into the game's levels. The little success I've had with Spelunky could be attributed to refining my decision-making - reaching that sparkling jewel tends to be fairly unimportant if I'm going to take damage along the way. Realizing when risks aren't worth taking requires experience, and then actually walking away from that treasure chest guarded by a giant spider takes a lot more willpower (and common sense) than I usually have.

The game's normal adventure mode is definitely sucking away at my winter break's hours, but what sets this game apart is the daily challenge. Every player gets one attempt at the same level, leading to tension and competition as you try to survive (at least that's what I do) and compete in the leaderboards.

Right now a lot of the game remains still undiscovered to me. I've only arrived at the jungle levels a few times, and I've heard that there's a lot more depth and variance to the game as the levels continue. This element of the unknown is what makes Spelunky practically impossible to put down. Finding new levels filled with incredibly dangerous enemies alongside treasures and secrets gives this game it's sense of adventure. Progressing and surviving are incredibly satisfying, especially when you're on your best run yet, seeing (and suffering) what the newest world has to offer. Spelunky has some fantastic music accompanying you in your travels which really ties the game together; forward-striving melodies and occasionally sinister accompaniments embody the game's venturing and dangerous spirit. The explorative and varying nature of the game fits well with its rigid set of systems, and the daily challenge mode really elevates the importance of survival, making for some truly adventurous and exciting gameplay.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Game Well Made: Resogun

With the acquisition of a PS4, I was unsure of what expectations to have regarding the "next-gen" system and how/whether it would elevate my gaming experiences. I really didn't think that I would find something like Resogun on my PS4. Incredibly simple compared to the other games available for the system, yet with a variety of qualities which make it my favourite game available on the system thus far.

Something which is absolutely necessary to making a shoot 'em up game like Resogun really enjoyable is enemy variance. This is what Resogun really nails with every one of the levels. Progressing through levels the enemies you blast through seem to go through an evolution of sorts, even just through the course of a single level. The mini-crabs which you tear through at the start of Decima gradually increase in size, begin hopping around higher, and are cleverly layered with other enemies making mere survival a tough task. Creating a variety of enemies, all with different speeds, attacking methods, and susceptibilities ensures that moment to moment action never gets boring.

The biggest contributing factor to keeping the game from losing its sense of direction is the continuous variance in objectives. Having to kill special types of enemies (called "keepers" - sometimes only on the screen for a short while, other times needing to be killed in a correct order) frees humans from glass boxes around the map which you need to pick up and take to safety for a small boost (just for a bit) to your weapon along with perhaps an extra life, bomb, points, or overdrive upgrade. Freeing all the humans on a level definitely isn't easy, especially because certain humans are only freed if you're keeping a high multiplier score. Resogun tries to make you play as efficiently as possible: always making sure you're targeting the right enemies, saving humans quickly, and maintaining your multiplier by continuously shooting at things while surviving.

As a result the gameplay feels frenetic but always about precision, keeping you active and hunting for enemies while making you wary not to waste table-turning resources like your boost, bombs, and overdrive. A lot very simple but well-crafted systems make the game fairly easy to understand and begin playing, but very difficult to master especially at the higher difficulties. Learning the smaller intricacies of the systems - like throwing humans while boosting to make them travel farther to their rescue point - makes for a cohesive and tight-playing experience which offers some spectacular and gratifying clutch moments of human-saving and enemy-blasting action.

The boss battles at the end of levels sadly lack a lot of these dynamic qualities which make the gameplay really shine. Often you'll be forced to peg away at most of them from a far distance while avoiding their waves of bullets. Rather than requiring quick decision making and the balancing of various abilities, boss battles are more of a rigorous exercise in focus and precise movement, changing the pace of the gameplay to border on tedious at lower difficulties, and frustrating at higher ones.

Despite boss battles which don't quite live up to the rest of the game, Housemarque's latest creation is still my most played PS4 title right now. For a game which cost me nothing (PS+ is a wonderful service), Resogun truly shines as one of the few launch titles which offers a deep and finely-tuned revision on the shoot 'em up style of game.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A December Filled with Good Old Games

December will be quite the month of gaming for me. While I had initially prepared it to be a cozy winter break filled with old adventure games, when I saw that was offering the early Fallout games for free (they're available until December 14th!), I couldn't resist. However I didn't really stop there. After all, I might as well go all out and play through a few other acclaimed legendary games of the past. So, I picked up System Shock 2 along with Half Life in order to ensure my December acquires that dark sense of fear which games like The Last Express and Trine 2 might not provide.

All throughout December (and well into 2014), I'll be writing about whatever captivates me in these various games. Hopefully analyzing the various storytelling technique and gameplay design will provide me with a better understanding of the various elements required to make an entertaining and captivating game.

Here are the various games I'll be playing this December:

  • The Last Express
  • System Shock 2
  • Half Life (1 and 2)
  • The Secret of Monkey Island (1 and 2)
  • Device 6
  • Trine 2: The Complete Story
  • Far Cry 2
  • Doki Doki Universe
  • Fallout (1, 2, Tactics, and 3)

This list is definitely daunting, and while I've started on a few of these I'm not expecting to complete all of them by the end of December. I'm also hoping to be able to fit in a few posts about the PS4 and the various games I've been playing on it (mostly pirates, soccer, and Resogun). Finally, if you have any game suggestions I should add to my December list, let me know in the comments!