Monthly Archives: July 2014

My greetings to you, dear reader.

                If you follow video games even remotely, you’ll know the growing popularity of indie games. However, if you’re more into the medium, then you’ll know the specific kind of indie games that people enjoy. People love their contra-style games, their run and guns, and especially their retro visuals and sounds. I, myself, am not immune to this draw. I love the charming sprites that people can design, and chiptuned music is practically a genre on its own, which I also thoroughly enjoy.

However, over the past nine to ten years that indie games have been around, we’ve seen a massive influx of this type more action centric gameplay, and more people are buying into and making “retro indie games” now more than ever before. It’s a trend, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing… or is it? From a developer’s standpoint, is it possible that following the trend right now of indie games, with their immense popularity in the gaming world, is missing out on a world of opportunities on tons of different types of games that could be expressed? That is the question that I’m here to answer. Short answer, yes.

                So I suppose the first question you probably have is, “what on earth could you mean by this?” To this, I answer you with one of the first indie games that gained immense popularity, Braid. It’s an interpretive art-house masterpiece of a game with brilliant puzzles, gorgeous atmosphere and music, and has a story that’s unforgettable to anyone who knows the whole thing. To this day, Braid is the only game that I’ve ever played where immediately after finishing it, I had to step away from the computer, and really contemplate the meaning of the game itself. It took me a while, and I still don’t think I get it all, but I’ve my own interpretation. That right there is the key phrase: my own interpretation.

                I’m not even the only one who thinks this. The critics and fans alike of this game love analyzing it’s meaning on forums all over the internet, and most can agree that Braid is one of a kind. However, with that all in mind, why on earth is it a one of a kind game? With the amount of indie devs who just copy whatever is trendy, in the past nine years that indie games have been popular, how has this not become the thing that’s trendy? If this type of game became popular, it could change not just the trends of Indie games, and not just video games as a whole, but how society views video games. It could change the view of video games as not just a childish distraction, or an immature waste of time, or even a device used as brainwashing (What?!?). It could make people see and think about video games as they would a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, or a movie like Fight Club.

                Often times on the net you’ll see people have the debate about whether or not video games are art. This debate should be nonexistent. There shouldn’t be a debate for such an obvious concept, when games are just as much an art as film and writing is, and perhaps even more-so. Video games have the unique ability to evoke feelings in a player. They have the ability to immerse the human mind in their worlds.

                Of this unique power of immersion that stems from the sensory input working in tandem with the human input into this fictional world, three types of immersion are available for games to take advantage of: emotional, mental, and atmospheric. Have you ever played a game, and felt like you could actually feel the ocean breeze, or cried over the death of a character in-game, or felt immersed into attempting to solve a puzzle in a game to the point of forgetting everything around you? If you answered yes to any of those examples, you’ve experienced this type of immersion, and if we as developers want to change the way people look at video games, we have to show them that this can be done. We have to show the public that games can make you cry as in a film, or focus on a difficult and mind-bending puzzle, or make you feel like you can feel the soft, wet sand between your toes.

                Now, don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think a game has to have immersion in order to be well designed, a good game, or even to be art. However, immersion is part of making the player think there’s more to your game than just its gameplay. When you immerse the player, you then have to play with this, and surprise them by changing things in-game. This can be anything from a sudden thunderstorm to a character being killed. The uniqueness about these things is that a game can affect the player on a whole other level when compared to other mediums.

                As for making a game interpretive, there’s no easy way to explain how to do that. The only advice I can offer is to make it about something meaningful to you. You have to communicate your ideas and experiences that changed you, the developer, to the player in new and unique ways. Everybody has heard the phrase that every single person is unique in their own way, and this is true. This is why you can hear the same riddle in ten different ways, and still not fully understand it. This is what makes something interpretive: the human mind will always try to connect the dots in not just ways that’s relatable to them on a personal level, but also try to figure out all other angles, from what the writer meant to what other people might think. This is also what makes interpretive works memorable.

                There are a lot of debates on the net about what matters most in a game, and anybody who answers this question with a specific part of a game, such as story or graphics, is absolutely wrong. People don’t’ get that the most important part of a game is the experience you deliver to the player, however you go about doing it. This means that what is most important is a culmination of all of these parts of the game; the level design, the story, the music, the sounds, the graphics, everything matters. No single part of a game should be the focus, because then the other aspects will falter in ways that can sometimes be catastrophic to the game. Gameplay is not king, as much as that seems to most people like the “smart” thing to say. The experience is king, because it takes everything into account, not just one thing.

                With that being said, we are at the apex of the indie games genre, where action-type games are fading away, and you can’t sell a game with retro graphics and chiptuned music anymore and make millions. Now, more and more people are enjoying more immersive experiences offered by indie devs, and this is why I propose that anybody who doesn’t have a primary project right now go out and try to make something interpretive and immersive. Make something beautiful. Make artistic decisions about whether or not 3D graphics will benefit the game’s experience. Choose between orchestrated or electronic music. People are already doing it, but we need to show the world, as indie devs, that video games have just as much potential as movies do. Just as movies range from Citizen Kane to The Expendables, games should range from Braid to Contra in the same way. There are too many fun-to-play games out there that don’t try to push the medium in any meaningful way. It’s not that they’re bad games, it’s just that there are too many.

                In all truth, I’ll probably receive a ton of hate for this article because I’m going against the grain, but if I can get even a couple people to remove the archetype that locks video games as a medium right now… If I can get people to see games just as another art medium, alongside books and movies, then I’ll consider this article, and my beliefs a success. Spread this to anyone you know, especially fellow developers. I want to change the industry.



So I just purchased and played the new Shantae game, Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut. I bought it before it went on sale because I was thoroughly sure and excited about how good it was. You see, if you are a regular reader of this blog, then you will know how much of a fan I am of the original Shantae, and I gushed about how it basically fixed all previous problems from Simon’s Quest, which it retained the core gameplay from. It was brilliantly written, well paced, had good conveyance, amazing spritework and music, and was an overall awesome experience, still recommended for study by any designer of today. The same cannot be said for Risky’s Revenge.  

While Shantae basically fixed Simon’s Quest with its own unique spin, Risky’s Revenge proceeds to outright copy many of the glaring problems from Simon’s Quest, turning it into the single worst “Metroid-Vania” that I have ever played. Keep in mind that going into this game, I was really excited to play the game I missed before, and the sequel to one of my favorite Gameboy games of all time. With that in mind, the game instantly fell in so many areas. Despite this, let’s start with the positives.

It’s no secret that Risky’s Revenge has some of the best animated pixel art, and that’s not really an arguable point. However, one of the main problems in Risky’s Revenge is how empty the game feels. You’ll constantly be in empty fields with no enemies, and it gets worse when textures are reused in forests and whatnot. Now this might not seem like a valid complaint at first, but it absolutely is when you play the game and notice how big and drug-out some of these areas are. Too many areas will look samey, and it’s easy to get lost unless you bought a map back in town (which the game gives you zero indication that you’ll need).

This is where the first similarity to Simon’s Quest comes up, and this is where both this game and that game fall flat so easily. Risky’s Revenge fails to show the player where to go without outright telling them with an arrow or something of that nature.  In short, it’s conveyance on where to go is outright terrible. This is a common problem with open-ended games of this nature, however Risky’s Revenge suffers from it like cancer when it decides to give you so many areas that have nothing but the exact same enemies in them. The game literally wastes your time in the overworld by failing to provide enemy variety, area distinction, and the game feels messy when compared to the compact and brilliantly designed Shantae. Even worse, the game even has a lot of smaller problems that most games would never include intentionally, such as the delay on hair whips. There is a ridiculous delay, it freezes you in place, and in a game with a ton of backtracking, this is inexcusable. While this could also be attributed to the original Shantae, that game never required you to get through empty environments, and rushing usually caused you to either miss something important, or die.

Another problem with Risky’s Revenge is the music. Many people love this soundtrack, but when compared to the original soundtrack of the GBC game,  it shares too many tracks that aren’t nearly as good in their updated forms for it to stand on it’s own as a solid soundtrack. A missed opportunity, and virt could have done much better.

The next similarity with Simon’s Quest is when the game decides to not tell you things, or not tell you enough details about something. Sometimes Risky’s Revenge will just leave out important details, leaving the player with nothing but trial-and-error to show them where to go, which is the worst way to show a player where to go.

Sadly, even the characters and story didn’t seem as well written as in the first game. The intro sequence seemed a bit rushed, like they had to have it, and overall felt bland. It lacks the attention to detail that the original oozed with. It tries to build tension by firing Shantae as Scuttle Town’s half-genie and making her leave, but they just say that. They could have had her keep her job and nothing would have been different. This seemed like lazy and rushed writing that was forced in. This game did not feel solidified in its concepts, and failed to deliver the great personalities of the key characters in the game.

I know not what more to say for this game. It’s not a good game. It’s a terrible experience that reeks of trying to live off of the original game, and overall was just another “Metroid-vania” game to me. It shared too many beginner’s mistakes for me to forgive it, and I just flat-out did not enjoy it. The graphics, while impressive for pixel art, did little for bland and lifeless environments that shared the same enemies for longer than necessary. The music was recycled from the first game, and it is basically Simon’s Quest wearing the Shantae outsides, promising that it was different now, but it only fixed a few problems. To make matters worse for Risky’s Revenge, many of the problems it shares with Simon’s Quest were fixed in the original game, and it could have easily just retained those fixes and been infinitely better. More time was needed to polish everything overall, and it feels lazily made and rushed. I won’t discuss the lazy job porting the game, because it’s a port, and it plays the game on a different platform, which is all I wanted from it. They did what they needed. I like Wayforward, but they’re either hit or miss on many of their games, and this was, sadly, a major calamity for the Shantae series. I hope that they fix these problems with the next game on 3DS, or even Half-Genie hero. Overall, this can and should be easily forgotten when compared to the original, especially since the original is on the 3DS eShop right now. Buy that instead.