Posts Tagged indie
As a kid, I used to excel at various visual arts. I enjoyed sketching, drawing, painting, etc., and some of my work was even briefly displayed at a quite silly our-children-are-the-future event. As I grew older, though, my interest in art waned and I eventually abandoned it for other hobbies. These days I can draw a stick figure as good as anyone else, but that’s about the extent of my skills. As such, I definitely needed some help with the visuals of Tribes of Mexica.
The game’s aesthetics are definitely its high-point, somewhat aping the twisted surrealism of Beetlejuice. Scary Girl even does some interesting things like the animating dialogues — something that I’ve been meaning to throw into a game ever since reading demian5‘s When I Am King.
As a platformer, though, it’s simply bad.
The issue with Scary Girls is what’s endemic to so many indie games: an overabundance and over-reliance on physics. For every Armadillo Run, there’s ten titles like Pac-Man physics. This particularly hurts platformers as the whole genre relies on “tight” controls and precise movement (even in the easy games).
Yes, Mario, Sonic and Mega Man all had physics, but they weren’t realistic. The algorithms behind those games were MIN/MAX-ed to attain a certain “feel,” and the level design reflected that. There was usually no need to involve mass, the Coriolis effect, or the actual trajectory of a human jumping ten times his own height in an earth-like environment. Instead, the physics were meant to be fun and intuitive, and the architecture of the levels supported them and the player’s goals.
Sure, N was quite a departure from that, but it wasn’t your typical Flash platformer either. It had a very zoomed out view, a high resolution, lots of different surfaces, etc. The game still wasn’t my cup of tea, but it was aware of its strengths and used them to build unique and entertaining playgrounds. Most physics-based platformers, though, seem to occupy a space somewhere in between N and nostalgic games like Mario, and they’re rarely any good.
Scary Girl’s second stage is the ubiquitous underwater level, and, naturally, it’s even slower and floatier than the on-land action. It also uses tank controls, i.e., left/right to rotate, forward to advance, and it’s a mess. Even though you have to dive, the buoyancy of the water is constantly rotating your character to face up. What’s worse, there’s an air meter, water currents, and painfully slow step-like diving movements. It’s pretty much the complete opposite of fun.
Despite its good looks, the game’s an awkward struggle with no flow. I doubt I’ll ever play it again.
I think the first time I saw time-rewinding in a videogame was in one of EA’s NHL titles back in the 16-bit era. Granted it wasn’t a vital part of the game — just a way to view replays — but it’s worth mentioning. No one really thought of tying it deeper into gameplay until Prince of Persia: Sands of Time rolled around. SoT not only presented the concept in an attractive wrapping, but also made it a crucial part of its gameplay and storytelling.
Then, of course, there was Braid.
I was a bit sceptical about Braid at first. It was getting lots of attention from the indie community after only a short demo that showcased a rewinding mechanic very similar to that of SoT. In the end, though, Braid turned out to be so much more. It tied numerous time-manipulation concepts into one of the most interesting and unique games to be released in the last couple of years.
It’s a relatively simple, single-screen game where the player’s mouse cursor is a cat. Moving the cat around sets random pedestrians in motion, while holding the mouse still stops them in their tracks. The main point of the game is to gather up leftovers that spawn on the playing field but don’t follow the cat-moving time mechanic; wait too long, and the leftovers disappear. Power-ups also sporadically show up and can aid you in not touching any of the pedestrians (which results in a game over screen).
It’s a casual experience reminiscent of Braid’s fourth world, but it’s not nearly as well executed. The reason for this is that it’s simply not tied into much of a game.
In Braid, the Time and Place world was a theme in a larger story, and its time mechanic was central to solving its puzzles. In addition, really good audio and visual effects accompanied the time manipulation (a particularly nice touch was the music playing normally when walking right, rewinding when walking left, and nothing playing while the player stood still). Being part of a larger game also meant that it had a role in its pacing and could be used to reference other parts of a larger experience, i.e., reusing the by-then familiar Donkey Kong level with an all new toolset.
Now Time4Cat and similar titles don’t have to shoot for the scope of Braid, but they’d benefit from being more complete games. After all, proof-of-concept tech demos tend to be forgettable (Tower of Goo), but well executed games are not (World of Goo).