Game critique corner.
A flash game? What?!
The sad thing is, Give Up, Robot 2 is already a strong candidate for my personal Game of the Year. Thankfully it’s made by the wonderously amazingly talented Matt Thorson (Jumper, Money Seize, Give Up Robot – all of his content can be played here). All of his games take a simple mechanic and flesh it out to create something unique. The aesthetics of his games have shifted from blocky to epileptic (Give Up Robot) and now to a 8bit/16bit hybrid thing that reminds me oh so much of the ye olde Mario. There’s definitely some homages to that little pipe-cleaner, such as the blocks that spill out coins when you grapple on to them. It’s really the simple things that make Give Up, Robot 2 so memorable.
It’s really really simple little design steps that full game developers often don’t even take into account. There’s the biggest issue of being empathetic towards the player, which we’ll get into later, but there’s this small little detail that makes Give Up, Robot 2 so… dare I say… powerful. The antagonist, this hovering little Tamagotchi alike screen, is present throughout the whole game. He comments when you fail, when you succeed and when you beat the frick out of his little face (cleverly done boss battles too, that don’t deviate from the whole ‘environment only enemy’ message). He’s not annoying in the slightest, he’s not that funny but what he is… is this present omni-character that you hate. That little synthy robot voice that keeps you just hanging on his lines, akin to glaDOS from Potal. The only real way to create a great video-game villain is to have him present throughout the whole experience, in any way possible, so that the player develops the same relationship that the avatar has.
It’s unicycling fun pushed to the limits and then extended on to this giant managing board of fun. It’s as if spreadsheets came alive and got punctuated with a variety of puzzling/platforming elements. The blocks you grapple on to can switch your left/right arrow keys, feed your coins, spurt a giant laser which is timed based and do a variety of other things that are rather simplistic. It’s expressive and to the point, which I absolutely love about this game. It’s got me hooked and the soundtrack is as good as a certain Shatter. I like how intuitive it feels to just swing and how the game doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest. In fact, it feels both procedurally generated and player driven at the exact same time. For instance, whenever you acquired the Jetpack, the screen freezes for a fraction of a second with a little congratulatory little slide. A little tagline flashes up ranging from “F!#@ YEAH” to “Damn sweet.” all keeping in line with the pacing of the game.
Seriously, play it, it’s without a doubt one of the greatest flash games ever made. Matt sure has beaten the standard that he himself set with his prior titles, I am praying for a threequel.
Now on to the main topic.
Player empathy is something which isn’t exactly on the top of every designer’s wishlist. Usually, it’s the designer’s vision that comes before anything else. This is a horrible thing considering how it’s an interactive medium and not merely an observant one. When it comes to empathising with the player, the games industry has pretty much beat the coconuts out of them. Heavy Rain abused player control and their understanding, Force Unleashed (and countless other titles) use pre-determined relationships as a way to engage the player and BioShock being a piece about political ideology and the player’s sense in the world, completely just threw away any concept of disconnecting from the usual standard. Namely, finding inventive ways to kill people. That’s something I talked about in The Big Problem.
One of the largest issues however is the player’s time. How much time do they have to spend with your game, or how much time it takes to just shatter all immersion. When I’m playing a game such as Far Cry 2, I like to remove the HUD and just settle into my comfort zone given how immersing the game actually is. However, playing a title like Uncharted 2 can be oftenly unsettling at times. It’s a cinematic, enthralling experience and it feels weird to keep popping in and out of the world (HUD flashing up and little video-game cues). One of the biggest issues affiliated with time is the price of failure. When you die in a game, you respawn or you continue or do whatever it asks.
In a designer’s mind, a fifteen second respawn doesn’t sound like much, but when playing it… it feels like minutes. That’s why Dead Rising 2 didn’t grasp on to my Game of the Year candidate sheet, the loading screens totally killed the flow of the game. It’s not necessarily a flow of the experience or immersion, but a flow of continuous interaction with the game. This big problem is something which has me angry with Give Up, Robot 2. All of the resources reset, when I die, and I head back to the beginning. However, the screen flashes static and it takes say 0.5 seconds to respawn me. But you’re still telling me that the price of my failure is to break my retry into bites of little aesthetic tinkers while your game generates.
I’m not complaining this breaks the flow or pacing of the game. But it’s quite clear that Give Up, Robot 2 was built around the idea of pacing. The continuous swing from block to block, but it’s not something you can simply do on your first try, it’s a trial and error game and that’s fine. What’s not fine is sending me all the way back instead of putting me at the start of the level. 0.5 seconds may not seem like a while, but when you’re making silly mistakes at the start of a level, it adds up and frustrates you more than your failure. The price to pay is even more dire, given how you’ve learnt your mistake the hard way and now it’s been drilled into your skull.
There’s really only one way that you can fix this and it’s by doing something similar to what VVVVV understands, respawn is instant. Literally, you die and you’re instantly spawned without any need for an audio cue or anything visually stimulating to take place.
Give Up, Robot 2 is practically one of the greatest games I’ve played this year and it sits proudly on my judging list until January 1st. I’ll certainly be tapping my pencil in deep thought, as this flash title showed me just how brilliantly amazing that the little word ‘simple’ can be.