Electron Dance
9Oct/12Off

Pause: Reflections on Goo

World of Goo - "MOM's Computer" screenshot

September was filed under "busy" but the first week of October got put in the special "exhausting" folder. I went to the Expo, prepared two Expo podcasts, both children got sick on different days bringing about epic sleep deprivation and someone came to stay. Oh and I also lost a day to illness.

Long story short, I'm out of gas. This week I'm putting up a post which is shorter and more shooting from the hip than usual.

I'm going to share two things with you today. First, I was interviewed on another site. Second, I want to add a few more reflections on the games I played at the Eurogamer Expo. 

Games We Have Known And Loved

I've been following George Buckenham's occasional podcast series "Games We Have Known And Loved" for some time. George grabs writers and game developers to ask them about a game they have... known and loved. It's meant to remind us of the positives of games. Why do we play these things?

So after I interviewed George for the Expo podcast on his game A Bastard, he then interviewed me for Games We Have Known And Loved. The result was a three-minute monologue about World of Goo. I'm expanding on a particular level which was important to me.

If you're going over there to listen to me, then why not listen to a few of George's other victims? Always listen to the longer version of the podcast if available. Here are some of my favourites, all of which have LP versions:

There's more, of course. Terry Cavanagh on Dark Souls. Quintin Smith on Pathologic. A drunk Robert Yang on Thirty Flights of Loving. Go forth and rifle through the whole series!

Further Reflections on Expo Man 2012

My initial reaction to The Button Affair, particularly as I had no sound, was OMG LONG CUTSCENE. That was a downer compared to team's previous game, The Cat That Got The Milk, which is no-nonsense and jumps you straight into the action. Then the actual game started and my ludological brain compartment exploded with the realisation this wasn't ten million miles away from Cat; a reaction-based game with a couple of keys. I should be fair - it has another key to "accelerate" or, more accurately, "DIE NOW, YES?".

But despite that, there's something charismatic about it, something modern yet nostalgic. It won me over and all those negatives became positives. As I said on the podcast, there's a slight disconnect between the actions of your upmarket thief and whether he makes it through the game's hazards - but I'm confident that's something that will be ironed out. I was very interested to discover they were going to "point-and-click" the world because I had pangs of wanting to see more of the background of the first episode. It reminded me of some of game worlds I played as a younger person, places that taunted detail but were constructed from ghosts; beautiful backdrops that had no projection in the mechanics.

Seeing Zineth was interesting. Thing is, I'd played Zineth before. The game is about the exhilaration of constant motion but the tutorial is a bit punishing if you don't "get" the controls. After replaying bits of tutorial too many times, I threw in the towel. I feel a bit bad for not "getting" Zineth, although I wonder if it was wholly my fault because I wasn't the only one to give up on it. Seeing the game running post-tutorial made me want to go back.

Very sad about not playing BariBaraBall enough. The game is in that Nidhogg state; unreleased and only playable at expos and the like. If you want to play it, you need to follow the game's blog to find out where it is going to be on show next. Yes. Very sad.

Doctor Entertainment's alpha tank deathmatch Gear Up rekindled my love of deathmatch. I don't play nowadays because I find the online environment off-putting and, as Gregg pointed out, playing a great deathmatch game is endless - the cycle of constantly learning and finding better opponents can keep you in the game for years. As I mentioned with Rehabilitation a few weeks back, I don't really want to get sucked into "one long game" due to writing requirements. But still. I miss deathmatch.

Hypersloth's Dream could go either way. There were a few aspects which bothered me. The team explained they were moving away from their original vision because Dear Esther had staked out that territory; there is a danger here that what they end up with is original vision plus cruft.

The maze sections at the start quickly became irritating. In each maze, you need to extinguish all of the lights. If you miss just one light, you will spend an inordinate amount of time searching for it and if you happen to run into the maze's "ghost" then it's boom - out you go - with your mental map potentially disrupted. One maze would be sufficient. But there were four of them.

The team also talked about adding collectibles (such as the dream bible extracts) which suddenly struck me as a bit old. Collectibles are a cheat; they give explorers something to look for when the environment isn't actually that exciting. Explorers love the environment. Dear Esther doesn't need collectibles. Neither does Proteus. Nor Kairo. If Dream is to be a modern exploration game, then I'd advise against overdosing on collectibles.

The game was also filled with overt instruction and reflection ("Maybe I should get out of here") and I believe the game would be better off without it, if the team is willing to be brave.

But it's early days for Dream. The final product is likely to be quite different.

Last up, Dirac. I absolutely did not get this game when I was sitting before it and really want to give it another go. On a more positive note, it made me fiddle around with the developer's 7dfps game Obsolete again and I'm going to write something about it in the near future.

World of Goo screenshot - And let MOM take care of the rest

 

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Posted by Joel Goodwin

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  1. Since the expo, and since downloading it and getting the batteries on my 360 controller charged, I’ve fell in love with Zineth. The sense of scale, movement, freedom, speed, sometimes grace (although the controls are tricky to get on with at first) just really hit all the right buttons for me. The other things like the zines and monster battles and other discoverables (like the hawk and I noticed a mirage of a cat in the desert) are a nice incentive (not reason!) to explore further afield and really go for those far and difficult to reach platforms and routes. It almost becomes a puzzle trying to get higher and the rewind mechanic couldn’t be better placed here, particularly because of the sensitive controls. The soundtrack too is excellent. It reminds me of that Santa Ragione game as well, y’know the one I’d forgotten the name of at the expo which you then reminded me of and I’ve now forgotten again? The one in the desert, strong music, odd, exploratory, fast and floaty… Street Song…?

    Regarding Dream, I didn’t notice a lot of the things you raised, like the personal reflections, the collectibles and the four mazes– I can see how four would be a bit irksome. I went about the one maze I did with method, going row by row and only making a dash when I knew (=thought) the smogs weren’t around. I had a few jumps while I was in there and got caught once, but I didn’t have too much difficulty spotting the bright lights I’d left unswitched when I was back in there.

    If you ever need deathmatching in moderation HM I’ll happily be your monthly/bi-monthly punchbag ;-) It’s been a long time since I had a proper deathmatch, mainly because I mostly play co-op these days. I’m sure a few others around here wouldn’t mind joining us once in a while for a bit of rampant facebiffery!

  2. I hope you get your gas back. Unless that’s why you were ill.

    I agree that collectibles are a cheap way to encourage exploration, even if I somewhat enjoy them. But mostly they get on my nerves, because I’m always on the lookout for them if I know they exist but somehow skirt around actually ever finding them. That said, is there an example of them being done properly?

    I have some catching up to do with your posts, but I’ve unfortunately done my OCD a disservice and got sucked into watching a Let’s Play of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Luckily for me, they gave up early, so I’m almost done. Then I can return to posting too-many-words comments, like this one about not posting too-many-words comments.

  3. @Gregg: Yes it was Street Song! I wasted a lot of time in that game.

    On Dream, I wasn’t the only person to “give up” on the mazes that I saw and my concerns were more impressions from the interview rather than exactly what I saw in the game.

    Maybe we should all try a Gear Up deathmatch! Although not for the next few weeks, anyway.

    @BeamSplashX: Cause and effect is pretty difficult to disentangle right now. I was ill because too much was going on, but that then added to the troubles. Yay!

    My worry about “collectibles” was that Dream was trying to mark out its own territory and implementing that kind of foraging achievement mechanic seemed a bit backwards. I say this having fallen in love with diamond hunting in Far Cry 2 and being a complete hidden package junkie in GTA III.

    Good luck completing your watching of an incomplete Let’s Play. That sounds like some real work.

  4. Aaaaaaaand done! Now I can continue doing other real work like actually playing video games, reading about video games, and avoiding the job hunt. PROGRESS.

    I suppose what I meant to ask in regards to collectibles was if there was a respectable way to implement them into Dream (or something like it), or if it’s destined to be a step back no matter what.

  5. As I was saying, it could kinda go either way. It’s not necessarily bad but for a game that wants to be on the explorer/environmental narrative side of the fence, a collectable mechanic feels like a little bit of grit.

    But I am happy to admit I’m wrong down the line, these are just concerns. I think we all know how much I like to self-flagellate on this site. Don’t read that as self-fellate which is a totally different conversation.

  6. You missed something when you mentioned your, uh, I’m being presumptive here, but, favorite level from World of Goo. The message you were talking about wasn’t just from the music.

    I, uh, I take this back. It’s way too interesting not to have an article; I’ll get right on it. But, think: What are you climbing towards? What gets you there? What do you find there? You know, normal essay prompt stuffs.

  7. I totally forgot to check out those interviews and while your reminiscing of World of Goo has made me want to load that back up and play it again, I was captivated by what Bennett Foddy was saying about the whole ‘health as numbers’ thing and tutorials and literacy in games. I touched on that at the Expo when we were upstairs having an overpriced drink. Leveling, XP and stats and stuff. I even brought up Dark Souls which segued into the story/narrative not being so apparent or sought after because of all the typical combat RPG stat fluff being right at the front of the experience.

    Ever since my brother started playing MMOs, and me watching him bash numbers out of his enemies, I’ve always wondered why modern games, particularly RPGs have to be so abstract. Thinking about it, DX:HR can kind of get away with its abstractions, the HUD, the health bar, your energy meter/battery power, radar etc. because you’re augmented with various technological devices. The hazard suit in Half-Life was kind of the same and perhaps even the Pip Boy in Fallout but generally speaking, those sorts of things usually bug me as well. And to quote Alan Hazelden: “I hate tutorials”, amen! Any game which lets me start playing without having to bash me over the head with a tutorial gets extra kudos. Vessel in particular comes to mind.

    I could relate to what Jenn Frank was saying about the sparse graphics and sound equating to a lonely experience. That kind of feel doesn’t exist so much these days. I think the last game to make me feel quite lonely was probably Knytt. And Penumbra. Which reminds me, I must check out Night Sky and Saira…

  8. I love NightSky and want to marry it. Though you absolutely must play normal mode before hard mode — the things that make it a calm, meditative experience get pretty annoying when you keep having to go back to the beginning of the level and redo the first finicky thing you can get past one-third of the time.

    Have you tried Osmos? It gives me the same lonely feeling of being a ball hurtling through space, and has some of the same enforced slowness and waiting as NightSky. For some reason I don’t usually find it as frustrating when I mess up and wipe out my progress in Osmos, though it’s not like I’ve finished it either.

  9. Yeah Osmos is great, although the ‘orbiting’ levels I found really frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, they were excellent and very clever, but I had difficulty with them, constantly adjusting my trajectory and expending my size in the process. When I played it again more recently I think I got into the ‘groove’ a lot more and they didn’t seem quite as difficult. I remember using the time slowing/speeding up mechanic too which made things a lot easier. I always described Osmos as Katamari in a petri dish. Lovely soundtrack as well, great to drive to in Fuel!

  10. @mwm: It was the music that grabbed me first, followed by the apparent emptiness of the screen. What followed, the actual puzzle mechanics and ascent to MOM (something that didn’t excite me as much as the initial wonder), do not feature prominently in my memory. For me, it’s that instant impact of the music filling the void and painting the scene with a specific emotion. Possibly also the banality of agency that is presented.

    @Gregg: It was this very podcast with Bennett Foddy I was referring to when we had that discussion at the Eurogamer Expo. I suspect the death-by-numbers approach of such games is something that will recede into the past with only dedicated hardcore left to support it, much like text adventures. While it remains a “contemporary” design mechanic, there’s something anachronistic about it. Then again, don’t stats improve the arithmetic skills of those playing them? The more we strip away…

    (Another FUEL mention! I haven’t played the game for ages.)

    @Matt W: I’ve not played NightSky but I suspect the the ‘ball mechanic’ in Knytt Underground is similar when I played it in Copenhagen back in April.

  11. Ahhh, that makes sense! The Expo is already becoming a rushing blur.

    In recent years, the only game that comes to mind where I’ve done actual honest-to-god arithmetic (on paper too) is Solium Infernum. That can get a bit heavy at times.


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