Karoshi 2.0

I just finished Karoshi 2.0 by Jesse Venbrux. It’s the sequel to the game Karoshi, which I discussed in Episode 009. It’s interesting what choices Venbrux took with this sequel; the original had gameplay centered around pushing boxes and touching switches, with rules that were generally understood by the player ahead of time. The sequel, however, is much more metatextual.

Karoshi 2.0 still has the basic goal of trying to die in each level, but the methods are less puzzley and more gimmicky. Many, many of the levels rely on the player pressing R to restart a level, but having the level not actually completely restart. If this were done once, it would be a betrayal of the player’s trust in the developer, but doing it again and again makes it sting a little less. If I was stumped on a level, I’d just press R, and more often than not, it was the right step toward a solution. I’d restart in a different place, or with my score not reset, or some other gimmick. The player doesn’t know what pressing R will do in any circumstance, so that takes away some of her choice. Instead of deciding to do something specific, the player just crosses her fingers and presses R, and the developer gets to show off how clever he is. That sounds bitter, but it’s not; it’s fun, even if it takes away some interactivity.

Venbrux also tosses in the mouse for some levels, and the player is expected to figure out that, because there is a cursor on screen, the mouse is relevant. This is often quite cleverly done, but since the mouse is only an option for certain levels, it’s easily missed. And one level expects the player to take advantage of what appears to be a bug in the mouse handling for the game, another instance where the trust between player and developer is broken.

The game does a lot of that. One more case in point: one level tells the player that the Q key will quit the game. “Ah,” I said, “the game is tricking me. That must be how I beat this level.” So I pressed it, and the game quit. Frown. The next level tells the player that another key will erase all saved games. I had to look up a walkthrough to satisfy my doubts enough to press that key (which actually is the solution to that level).

So the game is fun. Very meta, with references to Venbrux’s other games and other games from the Game Maker community, gimmicky trips to the main menu, and an interminable ending sequence. I do think the game is weaker, though, for all the times it betrays the player. With Karoshi, I knew it was a cruel game, but I trusted the game not to break its own rules. Karoshi 2.0, however, lost my trust, and that is a very risky thing to do. When a player feels betrayed, she may just quit and not come back. Which would be a shame, because I enjoyed the game quite a bit.

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6 thoughts on “Karoshi 2.0

  1. Hmm. Definitely sounds like a game that’s not my sort. Perhaps you could do an episode on player/developer trust. I’d be interested in an analysis of (of course) the types of games I enjoy playing, versus those I don’t when it comes to trust. I suspect I very quickly stop playing games when they break my trust. See: Doom 2’s final level. (*mutter about a little hidden head*)

    Heck, if you can refine to a fairly discrete idea, it would make a great category in GameOn. It’s an important idea.

  2. Really interesting piece you have here. It is true that I sort of “break the trust” but I try to do this at moments where I expect the player to be far enough in the game that s/he still wants to continue.

    You look at games different than the average player, and I wonder whether that changed your view on it? I haven’t heard anyone complain yet about the concerns you have…
    The general consensus amongst players is that this one is much better than the first.

    “Punishment” by Messhof is an example that does a little bit of the same: It punishes you, but the game is so good you still want to continue.

    Thanks for the article though, I have not quite looked at it that way yet. I knew what I did was risky, but sometimes you must do risky things. ;)

  3. Oh, I enjoyed the game and its trust-breaking. I called it “weaker” in the post because of the tricks it pulls, but I think my choice of words was wrong. It’s not a weaker game; it’s a less accessible game. By screwing with the player’s head, the game necessarily alienates players who don’t like that kind of battling-the-developer gameplay.

    Also, the fact that the game does it again and again makes it better. As long as players tolerate the first couple of tricks the game pulls, they’ll expect them from then on. But I think that you’ll probably lose some people who hit the first few tricks and say “Well, that was dumb! How does that make sense?” That’s fine, I think, as I don’t think they’re the target audience you’re aiming for.

    Like you say, I think you do a good job of encouraging the character to continue. I had fun, even if I did curse you a few times for the tricks you pulled. That saved-game erasure trick was just cruel.

  4. Thanks for clearing that up, I agree that a certain type of player will dislike these tricks, though I have not heard many people complain about that (probably also because they are not the kind of people visiting indie game websites, etc).

    Keep up the good work!

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