Electron Dance
21May/13Off

Shooting Spirit

This is the first part of The Shooting Gallery trilogy.

Shooting Gallery: DRM in game

Cinema and literature have shown they can weather the storm of time: The African Queen can make contemporary audiences laugh, Nosferatu is still disturbing and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice remains a favourite. But videogames are cursed. The cutting edge corrodes with frightening speed and the once-pioneering designs of yesteryear give way to frustration when compared to leaner, smarter modern work.

But sometimes this zeal for the new bites off more than it chew. The text adventure reportedly died a long time ago – but there’s still a thriving interactive fiction community. The industry also tried calling time on the point-and-click adventure – but take one look at Wadjet Eye Games, for example, and we’ll see it’s still possible to build a viable business with the point-and-click. Just because a particular form has dropped out of the mainstream favour, it doesn’t mean it is dead, antiquated or has nothing more to offer.

The 2D shooter experienced a similar fall from grace and yet, like the point-and-click, continues to enjoy a commercial life. However, unlike adventures which are story-driven, the 2D shooter has earned less critical attention. A shooter is a shooter, it seems, end of story. This seems ridiculous when faced with successes such as Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Everyday Shooter, or even efforts to sketch out new territory like Leave Home. Vlambeer made a big splash with the intensive Super Crate Box and their aerial combat shooter Luftrausers is on the horizon.

Before I began writing about videogames, I had dismissed the 2D shooter as “passé”. Today, I am a passionate advocate for the shoot 'em up. But what is so fascinating about the 2D shooter? Let’s ask some shmup developers like Rob Fearon, Kenta Cho, Matt James, Charlie Knight, Jonathan Mak and Stephen Cakebread that question.   

Rob Fearon: I like lasers

Rob Fearon has created shooters such as War Twat, Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! (SYNSO) and the recent Death Ray Manta (DRM) which was exhibited at the Indie Games Arcade at Eurogamer Expo last year. All of Rob’s games can be purchased from his site.

Death Ray Manta

Death Ray Manta

You know, it's tempting to answer with something along the lines of "well, it's the purity isn't it, the direct connection between muscle and machine" but it's pretty much rubbish. So is Bejewelled, so is Zookeeper, so is Quake. But still, it's a nice thing to try and tell ourselves, yeah?

Truth be told, I like the lasers. Which probably sounds facile, it is facile but it's entirely true. I like the unreality of them, I like the abstractions, I like that there's nothing you can't put on that screen, there's no reliance on having to be real, there's no reliance on having to be abstract, you can just throw anything on there and no one blinks. But most of all, I like the lasers because they sear across the screen in the prettiest of colours and there's never been a single, solitary point where I've sat there and thought "you know, I'm really bored of that now".

It's the one subset of videogames where making a game starring a fish with lasers wouldn't be considered a novelty. No one bats an eye, no-one's there for the main character, no-one's there for the story, they're there for the colours, the sights, the sounds, the near misses and the explosions. And yet, you can have a story either heavily tied to the mechanics a la Leave Home or played alongside your adventures like Sine Mora or you can have it vague, something to wrap around your adventures a la Treasure or just plain mental like a Minter.

It's such a wonderful, wonderful canvas for expression with such extremes of deviation. No one's constrained by manpower so you can take them off anywhere and I can sit comfortably playing Robotron, I can smile myself senseless with the latest Gridrunner and all the history it appropriates or I can stand up to a Cave game and let it all become about play.

But mainly, I just like the lasers. Lasers are great.

Kenta Cho: Immersion

Kenta Cho is a prolific Japanese developer who has created a vast, free library of 2D shooters. Cho's games are exciting, tough and always different. Some of his games can be downloaded from his website while others are available on Flash portals.

Gunroar

Gunroar

I like the special sense of immersion I can feel only while playing a 2D shooter. A sense of immersion can come not only from realistic 3D graphics, but also from the powerful experience of playing 2D shooters. When I'm playing a 2D shooter – especially a bullet-hell type shmup – I feel a sense of unity with my fighter on the 2D screen as I'm avoiding tons of incoming bullets.

I think it's a unique experience in a 2D shooter and I really like it.

Matt James: Close to the surface

Matt James (hermitgames) released the “metaphorical shooter” Leave Home in 2010, which Electron Dance covered in detail last year. Leave Home can be purchased from the hermitgames website.

Leave Home screenshot

Leave Home

Really my decision to make a shmup was because that was what I felt like playing at the time. Originally I suppose some of the first games I played were shmups, I have nostalgia for them. I remember discovering R-Type on my friends Atari ST, impressed that it was designed in such a way that we'd get a little bit further each play. I also remember playing Axelay on another friend's SNES until 3 in the morning. My friend’s older brother, earlier in the evening, castigated us both for playing other people’s games rather than writing our own.

In shmups the design is close to the surface, it's easy to see. I have nostalgia for designing shmups and thinking about their design. Nostalgia and some sentimentality about the past – my past – was a key theme in Leave Home, although that probably grew out of the fact it was a shooter as much as making it a shooter was an intentional decision in the first place.

Charlie Knight: Playground

Charlie Knight (Charlie’s Games) has worked on many shooters such as Irukandji and Bullet Candy; his most recent work is Scoregasm. Electron Dance explored his back catalogue in 2011.

Scoregasm

Scoregasm

I’m not really fascinated with shooters, at least not in the definitive sense of the word. I like playing skill based games, ones where I can test my reactions and hand-eye coordination and see cool stuff when I do well. Something I can zone out to, that takes all of my concentration and patience to succeed in. Split second decision making, pattern recognition, that sort of thing. I’m not into the more passive stuff. A skill game is something I like to involve myself in, not something I do to pass time. A good shooter is one of these all consuming skill things I like. It has to be the right one though, I'm quite picky.

As for why they're not covered adequately in critical circles, I guess the cynical answer would be that they don't get enough clicks. Maybe that's the reason coverage of the wider gamut of indie titles has reduced in recent years too? Or maybe there's not a great deal of need to write about or reference a genre of games whose mainstream appeal was all but dead when the bulk of your readership was still wearing nappies? You know you can be 23 now and not have been born until 1990. If only I'd known a decade ago.

Shooters used to be THE playground for devs to push amazing special effects and visual tricks as well as experiment and evolve twitch gameplay in fun new ways. Stuff like the screen filling bosses in R-Type or the pseudo 3D scrolling sections in Axelay and the power up system in the Gradius games. Stuff that was really fun and impressive and wouldn't be much good in a sidescroller. Then computers and consoles started to be able to do half-decent 3D.

The basic gameplay of a 2D shooter doesn't map to 3D in the same way as a platformer or adventure game. These other types of game are much better suited to being able to convey a sense of scale and immersion through visuals on account of the relatively slow pacing and the room to explore and absorb your surroundings. Outside of one or two games (Starfox 64 being the one that immediately springs to mind), most of the early 3D shooters were disorientating, simplistic and visually bland. Computers at the time didn't really have the grunt required to draw the waves of cool looking enemies on top of the typically detailed and intricate playfields of the popular 2D shooters like your R-Types and Gradiuses, so you'd end up with something that was either a shoddy compromise or something set in outer space, and black with white dots don't compare to a cool 3D tomb full of monsters and traps or whatever. Anyway, bad games means bad reviews means bad sales. People wanted 3D, 2D was old hat and that was pretty much the end of shoot-em-ups in the traditional sense in the mainstream.

Then there's the other side of the story where those developers that stuck with 2D shooters used new hardware to evolve the genre into something more niche than ever. They're way harder these days, and it's not just down to the massive number of bullets on the screen. Complex score mechanics, power-up methods and dynamic ranking systems make them a complicated thing to get a handle on. You need to sit and concentrate and learn how they work, and be prepared to fail a lot, so pretty much the opposite of current AAA titles.

Jonathan Mak: Make music within it

Jonathan Mak (Queasy Games) created the abstract Everyday Shooter in which attack patterns are structured around the game’s soundtrack. More recently Mak worked on the PlayStation title Sound Shapes.

Everyday Shooter

Everyday Shooter

Over the years, what I've realized about the shooter genre is that it's the perfect (but perhaps not the only) canvas for the marriage of sight and sound. It's because the game rules are so simple: touch nothing and to a lesser extent, shoot everything. You can practically throw anything onto the screen and have fun dodging it. You can twist the rules in any way but so long as you stay true to the core rule (dodge everything), you've got yourself a pretty fun game.

So from here you can experiment with all sorts of things. Personally I loved playing around with visuals, patterns especially in motion, pathways, space, and then committing these things to the screen and dodging it. It's like looking at a painting but your focus, your eyes, they become physically manifested in the game as the player. And as you move your player across the screen it is like running your eyes across the canvas of a great painting.

As we are talking about video games, it makes sense to play with sound. Again, because the rules are so simple you can add any device you need to create sounds. The analogy is the same: close your eyes and think of the soundscape as the canvas. What sorts of things do you hear? Manifest them in the game and then run your player through it. Your ears and aural focus are manifested in the player. Everyday Shooter in particular uses the bullet as a way of triggering sounds. Think of the bullet as the drumstick that beats the drum, or the finger that strums the strings of a guitar. Because the shooter rules are so simple, I can put any enemy on the screen and transform them into musical instruments triggered by the bullets of the player. So, the rules of the shooter are so simple and expressive that one can even make music within it.

Stephen Cakebread: A different beast

Stephen Cakebread is the developer of Geometry Wars, originally a mini-game in the Xbox title Project Gotham Racing 2 but later released as a standalone product on both Xbox and PC. Geometry Wars is sometimes credited with revitalising the 2D shooter genre. Eurogamer recently posted a retrospective of Geometry Wars but it can still be purchased through Steam.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (image taken from MattPlays)

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (image taken from MattPlays)

I think the fascination with 2D shooters starts from the much faster pace of action they can command over their FPS/3PS counterparts – movement and dodging in particular usually play a big role due to the increased spatial awareness the player has from the 2D viewpoint.

2D shooters frequently make use of slow moving bullets (in contrast to the standard instant hit weapons in FPS games) which adds an additional element of dead reckoning into the mix when aiming and positioning your player for a shot.

In fact, a 2D shooter can be fun in an empty arena devoid of any obstacles or cover. Dropping an FPS player into such an environment would generally be considered bad design, yet many 2D shooters work best in such a setting!

So I think the lasting appeal of the 2D shooter comes from how truly a different beast it is from the FPS/3PS and where the FPS space is starting to feel stale, I think the 2D shooter is still ripe with possibility.

Next: Entropy

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Comments (25) Trackbacks (4)
  1. Agreed on all fronts. I didn’t realize that I never redownloaded Gunroar onto this laptop, so that was a good reminder. I’ve always really liked Kenta Cho’s stuff, especially the variety he could wring out of a single game with different modes.

  2. Early warning system: Looking unlikely to be a post next week as I am off to Japan. There will be something next week, however.

    @BeamSplashX: You’re really spoilt for choice with Cho’s games but I’m not very good at them! Gunroar is great, though.

  3. Ooh, very nice. I’ve started getting a bit more into top-down arena shooters in the last few months, and have been trying to beat some of your high scores in Waves. You and Craig Lager.

    I bought Rob Fearon’s multipack a couple of weeks ago and am looking forward to trying some of those out!

  4. I think part of what makes arena shooters, 2D shooters, etc so great is that the core rules of the experience are so simple and easy to grasp – so you can get going immediately. Even players who can’t handle controlling an avatar in a 3D space have no problem with this kind of game. But you can then layer on so much more complexity or variation (or not) and produce an experience that is mechanically and sensorily distinct and presents a challenge to players of all levels.

    On the subject of a lack of critical attention, though: perhaps it’s just that a lot of the time there isn’t much to say about some such games, beyond that they can be a lot of fun, unless you’re so deep in the genre that you can compare and contrast the mechanics? I’m probably being unfair here, and it’s probably just me that doesn’t know enough about the genre to really say much about it, so I look forward to being corrected.

    I’ve begun composing some thoughts on Waves, and I’m looking forward to Fearon’s games, and I have Leave Home and qrth-phyl still to play, so… oh, it’s early in the morning. Where my cup of tea at.

  5. @ShaunCG: Oh God, Shaun, my scores are generally rubbish. I’m pretty sure anyone could beat them. My son could beat them. I’m a great example of someone who loves these hardcore skill-centric games yet have no hope of mastering them.

    Interesting thing I find about Rob Fearon’s games is that the mechanical twist is usually in the controls. DRM, for example, cries out to be a twin-stick shooter but it’s not and requires a different style of play – thus Rob is unlikely to relent to player requests to make it twin-stick. I think SYNSO 2 is my personal favourite of his games, but I haven’t devoted enough time to them if I’m honest.

    On the “simplicity” of the experience I’d like to bring up the point that Charlie makes here which is that the modern shooter typically isn’t that accessible. Yes, we can pick up the game and blast away, but to become a survivor and escape rapid-death-frustration requires serious effort. Space Giraffe is notorious for turning players away and many still speak ill of it.

    This is levelled at your point and not you personally – I’m disturbed that potentially “there isn’t much to say” about some shooters, because I’m wondering if that betrays a lack of imagination. SLAP SLAP HANDBAGS AT DAWN. Shooters very much live and die on their mechanics whereas a number of FPSes that have little to distinguish them mechanically from their brethren still get plenty of attention with heavy weighting on the story. Mechanics are still very important and analysing something as raw and elemental as the shooter, I think, would be good for all of us. Games are often discussed in terms of their decision trees (the FPS as pretty Twine) and there’s a lot of Dishonored discussion, for example, that inevitably looks at the story and the world-building. This is important stuff but it’s not the only stuff (I tried to cover all aspects of the game over the course of the Dishonored quadrilogy).

    I really like Rob Hale’s Waves, it’s very pure. Total Biscuit hated it which is sad, but it has a sleek beauty about it. I’m also rubbish at it though.

  6. On “accessibility”, perhaps we are working from different definitions here. If a game can be picked up and played by an inexperienced player, even if they can’t do that well at first, I’d describe that as accessible. If a game takes a few hours of play before an inexperienced player can understand what they’re doing/doing wrong/grasp the basic mechanics or controls, I’d describe that as inaccessible.

    So Starseed Pilgrim is inaccessible in a good way (so I gather). A lot of 1st-person 3D games are inaccessible to inexperienced players who can’t translate their perspective to this 3D game world (the old staring at the floor or ceiling classic). Most modern RTS games are inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t played loads of RTS games. Whereas the arena shooter is easy to grasp: you can put anyone in front of a copy of Geometry Wars or Waves or Beat Hazard and they will pick it up quickly and have a blast, even if their scores suck.

    I had thought of Minter’s games as being pretty uniquely out there, but perhaps my inexperience with the genre is showing. Are there a lot of 2D shooters that are so oblique?

    P.S. I foolishly conflated arena shooters with 2D shooters in my second comment. I would stand by arena shooters being pretty snap accessible. 2D shooters is a much broader thing and I wouldn’t describe Space Giraffe, Ikaruga, Gradius etc as being anywhere near as accessible.

    P.P.S. I appreciate that this is entirely distinct from accessibility in terms of visually- or motor-impaired users.

    P.P.P.S. As a writer about videogames I’m still struggling with a narrativist bias. I’m fascinated by AJ’s thoughts on games as he is quite intensely mechanically focused. Okay, so “mechanic” is a pretty broad term and can refer to many things, but I’d say that a lot of core game mechanics I don’t tend to find that interesting to write about. I find it leads me down a path of just describing what you input, what that outputs, ways that can vary etc.

    P.P.P.P.S. Have you heard Total Biscuit’s voiceover work in Space Pirates And Zombies? It is *awful*.

  7. @ShaunCG: Yes, any shooter can be picked up but if someone can get frustrated quickly, I don’t think that’s accessible. We probably should not argue about the word “accessible” itself. Let me clarify what I mean.

    Kenta Cho’s stuff can kill you pretty fast. Leave Home is designed to kill you a lot (infinite lives, finite time) and the difficulty ramps up as soon as you start getting better. Waves is quite brutal. I’d argue Charlie’s Scoregasm has a great learning curve – it grades the levels and locks out harder levels unless you can prove you’re doing well. Beat Hazard is probably a good one, too. Shooters are made for people who like shooters, who are good at them: they have their own lore and traditions (combos, score mechanics) that a newcomer may find off putting. So while it seems anyone can walk in that door, only a few may actually stay. To get why these games are actually interesting, you need to look below the shooter surface.

    Space Giraffe is pretty much out there due to (a) a frequent misunderstanding of the mechanics and (b) onscreen chaos. But I’m lumping in with “inaccessibility” a lot of shooters that have a passionate desire to kill you (Leave Home), require serious thought (Everyday Shooter) or are insane (bullet hell).

    There are plenty of forgettable shooters out there, of course, which are much simpler on Newgrounds or in the app store, but these are the kind of games that would also convince players that shooters hadn’t changed in thirty years. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, it is merely a thing, like FPS games require some practice/experience.

    I think I’ve mentioned previously that I’m lurching back to mechanics as my focus – it makes me nervous if I spend too much time on story, because this isn’t a literary review site – and I think that’s showing up more this year.

    The fundamental differences in some of these shooters are so important. Leave Home’s defined play length, adaptive difficulty and procedural orchestration of events. Scoregasm’s honed set-pieces and player freedom. DRM’s deceptive simplicity and its deliberately dangerous controls. (I’d call Beat Hazard a much more “narrative” shooter, that it’s power comes from the game’s symphony rather than the actual shooty mechanics.)

    No, I have not heard Total Biscuit’s work on S.P.A.Z..

  8. Shmups are one of those genres that I have always felt very distant from–like fighting or sports games, I never really learned the language and so blunder through. I loved Leave Home–I’d actually found it EXTREMELY welcoming because you don’t get a game over. Remember, for non shmup gamers, points aren’t really a Thing. Getting a low score doesn’t feel like a punishment to me–not seeing the end is, and Leave Home is designed so you do see the end. You don’t just get a few minutes of play and then a chastizing game over and a return to the beginning–the game is happy to present itself to yuo no matter how well you’re doing. I love how the more you play it you begin to “feel” the variants in the levels–you see a bullet patter than wasn’t there before and you realize you’re doing well. I like the groove of it.

    That said, I’m not the type of person who’s usually interested in playing a only a few levels over and over again–I thought Sine Mora was beautiful, but I *beat* it and I don’t feel like replaying to get a better score because why.

  9. I understand plenty of concepts from fighters and shooters, but my reaction time is just terrible. I’d go as far as saying shooters and fighters derive interesting mechanics from ever-tighter demands on your reflexes, which makes critical analysis of those mechanics difficult for otherwise interested people. Sure, I can get into a flow state pretty easily, but I’m bound to slip up, which then leads to a fatal chain of mistakes and (usually) giving up.

    I’m toughing out Mega Man romhacks only if their quality/novelty isn’t outmatched by their difficulty, which has left me with… three. One I gave up on was really, really cool, but I couldn’t even comprehend how to survive for more than half a minute, even with save states. Lots of modern 2D shooters approach or exceed that level of difficulty with no way to ease challenges by saving.

    @Richard:
    Sadly, something like R-Type Final with it’s 100+ ships could get me to replay levels, as I don’t mind combing over the same environment with new toys. Probably why I liked Devil May Cry 4 more than most did and still love me some Dynasty Warriors.

  10. Fair enough HM, there is not much point in arguing over where goalposts sit.

    Inclined to agree about Beat Hazard, and as for the others I think I shall drop the subject until I’ve played some more games. It’s good for me that this miniseries has come along now.

  11. @Richard: I’m not familiar with Sine Mora although I feel like I should be. I must remedy this. Thanks for letting me know what shooters are like for people who don’t get shooters. One of these days I’ll probably have a good think about the scores in games, because they got largely replaced with cheevos. I know you like that word.

    I played a little International Karate when I was younger but stuff like Mortal Kombat never really attracted me. I’m not much of a fighting game guy.

    @BeamSplashX: “…which makes critical analysis of those mechanics difficult for otherwise interested people.” But isn’t this kind-of saying that those games are a bit tricky so you can’t really expect analysis? We’re only going to get deep evaluation for games that are easy? Because I see here the dumbing-down problem we’ve been complaining about for yeeeeeaars that AAA is too easy, tutorial-heavy and now we’re so pleased for Dark Souls and games that slap us in the face — except shooters have still been doing this all the time.

    I have absolutely no problem with people not liking shooters or finding them too difficult, but I think that’s a separate issue from finding not much writing out there about shooters.

    @ShaunCG: No, don’t get me wrong, I was only saying that disagreeing over the meaning of “accessibility” was a red herring. Your point is that anyone can sit down in front of a shooter; I was saying that the complexity and frustrations to be found within means that perhaps many potential players walk away after five minutes. That is, the surface simplicity is negated by what’s inside.

    As Richard points out, he can still get something out of shooters despite not being a great fan of them. This anecdote suggests you’re right, but then again Richard is weird.

    (I’ve not dabbled in Beat Hazard Ultra which has a lot more different types of enemies.)

    As per usual, this mini-series goes to odd places and is not a comprehensive look at the 2D shooter by any means. So talk away =)

  12. @HM:
    I’m not saying it’s a fault of difficult shooters or difficult games at all, it’s just a fact that you’ll get fewer deep analyses since you need crossover with skilled players. A lot of looks into game mechanics in these cases can unfortunately be lacking in criticism (“I’m not going to badmouth MY game” etc.).

    I used to try and discuss different directions for Devil May Cry 5 to go in on GameFAQs once (obviously in the distant past when I could handle that place). For fans of a game all about being creative with your abilities, I’ve never seen people more close-minded about change on a game message board. I’m one of those people willing to be critical that would be “discredited” since I never want to bother beating Devil May Cry 3 on the highest difficulty.

  13. @BeamSplashX: As mentioned in the Entropy article, Jonathan Blow thought Space Giraffe required so much persistence that it might raise the bar for videogame criticism. I don’t know if he foresaw the shift towards textual analysis.

    I think it’s more tricky when the game works in different modes – essentially Space Giraffe only has a “hard mode” whereas DMC3 has difficulty options, which (I guess) do not affect fundamental change. I think there would obviously be value for someone to write about the higher difficulty but it might not offer as much bang-for-buck critical value.

  14. Kenta Cho is my favorite shmup developer, I treasure hir games even more than Cave’s or Zun’s! My absolute favorite is Noisza, rRootage and Parsec 47, with the latest one being the most genius of them all, yet kind of hard to get into until one realizes that it takes a different kind of playing than one is accustomed to, with the main focus being on sacrificing control for crazy flying-in-the-face-of-the-enemy-tactics. Since a couple of years back, I have not been able to “go back” to the standard model of three lives and pre-set enemy patterns, yet haven’t found many good shmups that have procedurally generated levels and combine this with the idea of getting very many extra lives and playing forever. Geometry Wars for this reason was too a hit with me, the first one more so than the second!

    Anyone have recommendations?

  15. Long time no see you in the comments, Ava! The latest Kenta Cho shooter – I did give that one a whirl, definitely a weird take. I didn’t persist with it but then again I’m pretty bad at most of Cho’s shooters! That doesn’t mean I don’t love them though.

    I would strongly recommend hermitgames’ Leave Home. It’s not exactly playing forever as each game is limited to five minutes, and there is a specific boss sequence at the end – but it’s a real test and plays differently each time. By pushing the difficulty up during the play (collecting blue chips and not dying) it becomes a totally different challenge. One of hermitgames’ influences was Kenta Cho.

  16. It feels good to be remembered. :)

    Wow, I didn’t realize Kenta Cho has started making games again, so I will check out a couple of things today for sure! http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~cs8k-cyu/

    Leave Home I played and I do like the concept very much! It is definitely very parsec47 in that you yourself set the difficulty by playing more or less risky. The game didn’t stick with me though, due to the second-to-second shmupping not being my cup of coffee. There it reminded me more of Tumiki Fighters, only without the interesting mechanic of taking fallen enemy ships and adding them to yourself (a mechanic which seemed initially promising but in the end got very absurd, thus making highscore-chasing very frustrating and even quite luck-based when your ship is the size of the whole screen and you either got shot and lose everything, or not).

  17. Ava, I remembered you wrote some long comments at the end of Where We Came From. I don’t remember everybody, but that stuck out. That was two years ago, now.

    I’ve not played Tumiki Fighters but that description you’ve put out there sounds like it would problematic.

  18. Oh yeah, that’s right. Loved that series. :)

    Heh, Tumiki Fighters even got remade for the Wii, but I think the problems remained:

  19. You know, I remember thinking to myself when I played DRM that ‘This would be better as a twin-stick shooter’, but then I caught myself: what if this game was intended to be a ‘head-on’ shooter? What if you were expected to manage your space and ensure you had enough room to spin round and hurtle back into the face of the enemies closing in, guns a-blazin’? I read Rob’s blog post on why it wasn’t and will never be a twin-stick shooter and how making that change would fundamentally alter the very nature of the game. It was really interesting and I applaud him for sticking to his guns and explaining why DRM is what it is and why.

    Kenta Cho! Until Ava mentioned Tumiki Fighters I didn’t think I’d played any games by him. I loved Tumiki Fighers if only because it was so silly and gratifying in a similar way to Katamari Damacy. It’s not about elegantly dodging, surviving and scoring points, it’s about shooting enemies out of the sky and progressively snapping downed foes on to your ship, growing and growing in size until you’re this massive unwieldy jumble of crafts firing all manner of projectiles everywhere. It reminded me of my Xenon 2: Megablast days and the cheat trainers.

    With regards to Sine Mora, it’s an interesting title. The time as health dynamic (get hit, lose time to complete the stage) is a very cool idea but I had constant difficulties being able to tell what could hit me and what couldn’t (especially the environments themselves) and certain projectiles were tiny and very hard to spot. Getting hit also causes your crucial weapon power-ups to fly out from you in a very Sonic-losing-his-rings way, which, in a shooter just doesn’t work well because you end up killing yourself trying to frantically pick them back up again, or, if you leave them or happen to miss a few then the bosses are significantly more difficult, especially on challenging. There’s also things like enemies coming from above and behind you with no warning, trial and error environmental navigation, and screen shake(!) — this can be disabled thankfully. I really enjoyed the odd narrative structure, the writing, voice acting, graphics and music but the gameplay itself, after finishing it on challenging and going for a second run to unlock the alternative narrative and ending, proved too much for me. Expletives were ejected, and that was just the story mode which, from all accounts, is ‘easy’ compared to the arcade mode. I was too scared to try that though.

    I played Everyday Shooter on the PS3 before it was released on PC and it’s probably one of my favourite shooters because every level is a puzzle that you have to survive to solve and solve to survive. There’s no core mechanic for the player to master or designer to twist as each level is entirely different. The soundtrack/audio design is great too (the guitar riff for the first level, man!). I’m pretty crap at it though and refuse to practice the levels individually preferring to go from the beginning right through to which ever level is giving me trouble. I’m on the level with the planes. Fuck those planes.

    As for other shooters; I threw the towel in on Ikaruga, a beautiful design and core mechanic but intimidatingly difficult. Hydorah was a blast back to the days of R-Type and Turrican. Jamestown is amongst my favourites thanks to a raft of characters each with different abilities and a solid co-op component that works beautifully with the game’s ‘vaunt’ system. I dabbled with Puppy Games’ Ultratron recently but my staying power with the more score driven shooters isn’t so good (although I’ve really not played many). Having said this, I ought to give some of the shooters mentioned here and in some of your other articles a go because I’m not averse to them at all. Captain Forever is one I’ve always meant to check out too.

    On a side note: I remember watching a video of Doom in full swing and that was as graceful and mesmerising as any sort of 2D bullet hell thanks to the slow moving projectiles and perfect strafing and spinning of the player. Well, I suppose there wasn’t much verticality to Doom — no jumping, no aiming up or down so perhaps it was a kind of 2D…

  20. Sorry for the wall of text!

  21. Gregg: I agree about Tumiki Fighters, in that it isn’t a good shmup for chasing high scores, but quite endearing in its own way. If you liked Jamestown, perhaps you will like of of Linley Henzells games, which I enjoy very much in their abstract-musical composition and subweapon and upgrade systems:

    http://db.tigsource.com/games/white-butterfly
    http://db.tigsource.com/games/garden-of-coloured-lights
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFLPxuA4JaM

    Although last time I checked the colors were all weird when playing on windows 7. I emailed Linley about it, and zie told me it was an easy fix that zie would make, but alas I never saw that change…

  22. Oh excellent, I’ll take a look Ava, thanks!

  23. Don’t worry about the walls of text around here, Gregg, they’re all the rage these days. You may remember I was famous for wall-of-text comments on other sites in my early Electron Dance days.

    Yeah, the thing about DRM is that twin-stick shooters are so commonplace now and removing some of the controls creates a different (old-skool?) dynamic in the game. The lazy turning of the Death Ray Manta itself is something you have to get a handle on and live with. I died a lot when I first tackled DRM. This was after reading Rob Fearon wanted to give players a good time and not punish them (I am paraphrasing here).

    I love the number of shooters you’re happily dropping into these comments, Gregg. Maybe I should’ve consulted you ahead of the mini-series!

    I remember Rob Fearon getting mad at locked content, citing Everyday Shooter holding the game back until you’d “earned enough points” to unlock them. I’m a bit like you Gregg – I kept playing from the first level, but I noticed I was dying so quickly on later levels, having played for a while to get there, that I began to level unlock to practice. I remember the joy of conquering the third level, Lush Look Killer, because it seems so motherfucking impossible after the first two levels. Build 88, the fifth level, is my favourite in terms of the visual/audio mix but I’ve been stuck on the sixth level for a long time – Bits of Fury which is just madness. I know I should give it a spin again some day and finish it.

  24. Just played SYNSO:CE, War Nose and War Twat. Oh god. I am AWFUL at these games.

  25. Me too, Shaun. I’m not very good at Rob’s games.