I love games that break down conventions to their basic elements and make something new out of them. Joining the ranks of Karoshi 2.0 and Braid is Jumpman, a new game by Andrew McClure that’s been making the rounds lately. It’s got mechanics and aesthetics from the Atari 2600 era, but it’s modern under the hood. I’m not sure if I can succeed, but I’ll try discussing what makes this game interesting.
Tyler “Aether” Glaiel and Jon Schubbe‘s new game Closure is worth some attention. It’s a platforming game with a rather cool gameplay mechanic: the player explores a dark world, where surfaces only exist when they’re illuminated. The art’s roughly-textured but pretty, and the lighting mechanic looks good and works quite well. The story’s quite competent, if a bit cliché. (that car accident you see at the beginning of the game? Guess who was driving.) There’s just one problem: the character control is awful. Let me elaborate.
I’ve been working on a digital game for the past week or so, and in the process of designing and refining, I’ve found myself simplifying the rules quite a bit. Maybe the player character doesn’t need to gain experience points, if increasingly powerful equipment can have the same effect as increasing intrinsic stats. If the control scheme is so simple that it doesn’t allow movement that would be possible in real life, that can be a tactical challenge rather than a clumsy system. Simplification is a process that can turn a good game into a great one.
In my last podcast, I didn’t even bring up interactive fiction, which suffers from genre staleness as much or more than other types of games. If you have a text game, you’re almost guaranteed that you’ve got a nonviolent, turn-based game where you solve puzzles in a game with a specific sort of world model. Sure, there are a few exceptions: C.E.J. Pacian‘s Gun Mute, Robb Sherwin‘s Necrotic Drift, and Adam Cadre‘s Lock & Key, to name a few. But by and large, interactive fiction is cerebral and derivative of the seminal works: Colossal Cave Adventure, Zork, and Graham Nelson’s Curses.
Where is the interactive fiction that simulates colonizing space? Where are the text games that have the same playful feeling as Katamari Damacy? Why are text adventures always either puzzle-filled exploration games or highbrow, slow-paced stories?
I’m being a bit cruel, I think. But I still can’t think of a single piece of interactive fiction that I’d pick up and play for fun after finishing it once. There’s no gameplay to most IF except puzzle solving and figuring out what happens next. A good friend of mine once pointed out that in interactive fiction, you never really do stuff.
I’d like to see that change.