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title="Permanent Link to Face Off: Are modern games difficult enough?">Face_Off_Featured



Are hard-as-hell indie games enough to satiate our hunger for a challenge, or should mainstream developers quit trying to appease everyone and start really testing us? In this Face Off from our archives (originally published October 2012), Executive Editor Evan Lahti gives former Senior Editor Josh Augustine a hard time for his willingness to take it easy.

Make your own arguments in the comments—debate team captains: it’s your time to shine.

Evan: Focus testing is the enemy of experimentation and innovation. It widens the audience of a game by watering down the experience. Portal was harder, and better, than Portal 2, which forewent feats like mid-air maneuvering almost completely. Skyrim gave us a detailed wilderness where falling into a freezing lake meant nothing and dragons weren't much more than giant mosquitoes. Remember what dying was like in Diablo and Diablo II? You had to bravely fight back to your corpse to recover your gear with whatever rented junk you could pull together. I miss that brutality, and the feeling of, y’know, actually losing something.

Josh: And Diablo III offers that: in Inferno and Hell difficulty. Either of which can be played with permadeath on. Knock yourself out.

Evan: I’d love to, but Blizzard insists that I can only earn the right to play on a difficulty that can actually kill me by spending hours churning through Children’s Mode, erm, Normal. For every new character.

Josh: So you’re asking to die more? Dying isn't inherently fun or interesting. It’s not the secret sauce of game design. Even if games are a little less hard, it’s only because we’ve grown out of the binary win/lose states of the ’80s and ’90s. Those were motivated by a desire either to get people to put in more coins or to artificially lengthen 8- and 16-bit games that were otherwise short and simple. We’re in an age of gaming diversity and accessibility. More people are playing games; that’s great.

Evan: It’s not about dying more. It’s about wanting game design that uses difficulty creatively. Look at DayZ: you spawn in a 225km2 world with no weapon, no map, and no compass. You have to eat and drink. Everything is trying to kill you, and death is permanent. Almost every weapon has discrete ammo. If I’m good enough, I can read the stars to find my way.

It’s completely brutal, but more than 400,000 people flocked to it in just a couple months. It’s led Arma 2 to the top of the Steam sales charts for almost as long. Why? Because it does something so few modern games do: it respects your ability to figure it out yourself.

Josh: Difficulty’s out there if you want it. Super Meat Boy, Dustforce, Dungeons of Dredmor, Legend of Grimrock, Amnesia, Mount & Blade... all of these games are variously unforgiving. Dark Souls’ PC release is called the “Prepare To Die Edition.” Dota 2 and League of Legends are making judgmental, complex multiplayer games mainstream again. In Tribes: Ascend, I have to make mid-air skillshots at 225km an hour. What more do you want?

Evan: All the games you mentioned are from independent studios. They’re from the fringes. No one in the mainstream is embracing consequence-driven gaming, and as long as that’s the case, I think game design will continue to stagnate. I’m bored of regenerating health and checkpoints. And MMOs, honestly, they’re some of the greatest offenders of this because they were born from a model where players were paying an additional fee. Almost all of their design is based around appeasement. There’s no concept of failure or loss or struggle built into them. Every victory is just an eventuality: if you grind or pay enough, you’ll get what you want.

Josh: Even if what you were saying wasn’t a complete generalization (have you played TERA or Rift or DC Universe Online? They’re all totally tough)—a lot of people relish the social freedom and friendly atmosphere that MMOs provide by not punishing you dramatically just because you aggroed one too many cave goblins, or whatever. Difficulty isn't some one-setting-suits-all concept.

Evan: Challenge counts, and modern games are missing it. Without it, we’re just passively consuming content, going through the motions, acting out a puppet show of animations, particle effects, and sound. Even with immediate access to YouTube walkthroughs the moment a game is released, most developers are still desperately afraid of upsetting players or scaring them away. When I play something like DayZ, I feel feelings. My pulse changes. I regret decisions. I get mad. That’s valuable.

Josh: Well, while you’re getting mad that games don’t make you mad enough, I’ll be having fun.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Miaow?

Miaow miaow miaow Team Meat miaow Super Meat Boy miaow The Binding of Isaac? Miaow miaow miaow Mew-Genics, miaow miaw miaow. Miaow miaow don’t know miaow, miaow miaow miaow miaow 12,207,031,250,000,000,000,000 cats miaow miaow. Miaow! (more…)

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

The entire gaming world and its robo-dog is currently going from door-to-door and begging for cash, so a shaft of philanthrophic light amidst the Kickstarted darkness is a welcome one. We posted about Mario/McMillen & Refenes mash-up Super Meat Boy Galaxy last week, but it was unclear whether Aubrey Hesselgren would ever share more of his half-gag, half-tribute project with the world. Turns out, he will. BUT ON ONE CONDITION. That condition is cash. Of course it’s cash! This cash will not, however, go to the developer – it will go to The Samaritans. If SMBG is successfully ‘ransomed’ for £10,000, its prototype will be freed and released to the public.

Blood money, I call it! Blood money! And also a very smart idea. (more…)

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Super Meat Boy Galaxy prototype ransomed for charity by creator">Super Meatboy Galaxy



Super Meat Boy Galaxy is a prototype for a 3D version of Super Meat Boy set on a Mario Galaxy-esque globe. It was created by developer at Preloaded, Aubrey Hesselgren, as a 30th birthday present for Super Meat Boy programmer, Tommy Refenes. On his blog, Hesselgren has announced that he's decided to hold his own prototype to ransom in an attempt to raise £10k for the The Samaritans. Here's the ransom note.



Hesselgren describes the prototype as "just a bit of a throw away experiment. It was never intended as a “pitch” to make such a game." If the £10k goal is met, Super Meat Boy Galaxy will be released from its basement, wrapped in a police blanket, led away to safety and then released to the public for everyone to play. If it doesn't meet the target, those who donate will still get a copy of the prototype. Though Hesselgren has hinted that he'll probably end up releasing it for everyone to play anyway adding "I'm the worst ransomer ever."

"Bear in mind that this is a prototype, and as such will not be as friendly and polished as a final game," he adds. "Its main purpose was to investigate whether Super Meat Boy’s kinaesthetically pleasing platforming physics could survive the leap to 3D, given the right camera and level layouts." This video suggests that those pleasing platforming mechanics translate rather well, don't you think?

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Super Meat Boy Galaxy is an amazing mash-up, also: never coming out">smb galaxy



Developer Aubrey Hesselgren has released a video of his "completely unofficial 3D version" of Super Meat Boy, which he whipped up for Tommy Refenes' (one half of Team Meat) 30th birthday. Using Unity and Blender, Hesselgren - also known as HilariousCow - combined SMB's bloody walljumping with the wraparound worlds of Super Mario Galaxy, and the result is a demo/proof-of-concept that's far better than many commercial attempts to move a 2D series into the third dimension.

Of course, with this being a birthday present - and "a bit of a training exercise" - Hesselgren has said that he probably won't release it to the wider world. At least we'll always have this video, which shows that it is possible to convert something like Super Meat Boy into 3D, if you take the time to get over the camera hurdles. Can someone do Binding of Isaac next, please?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Jim Rossignol)

Over-talented game dev Aubrey Hesselgren crafted an unofficial 3D mashup of Super Meat Boy and Super Mario Galaxy, apparently “for Tommy Refenes’ 30th Birthday”. You can see a video of it in action below. Hesselgren says on a Reddit thread devoted to the idea: “It’s just an experiment in adaptation. I kept hearing people write off 3D games with all the arguments about spatial perception, limited information etc, and wanted to try to tackle a few of their points, just for my own edification. I didn’t want to dismiss what they were saying, but I felt like I had to see for myself. I learnt a lot!” (more…)

Announcement - Valve
Today's Deal: Save 80% off the Super Meat Boy!

Look for the deals each day on the front page of Steam. Or follow us on twitter or Facebook for instant notifications wherever you are!

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Let’s stop calling games “too repetitive”">Hotline Miami is all about learning through repetition, then executing a perfect murder-spree.

Hotline Miami is all about learning through repetition, then executing a perfect murder ballet.

Tyler Wilde, Associate EditorThe word "repetitive" commonly has a negative connotation, and it's especially used negatively (all the time, every time, forever and ever) when talking about games. And often it's followed by a bunch of no elaboration at all. That doesn't make sense. I'm sure I've done it before, but criticizing a game for being "too repetitive" and leaving it at that is—strictly speaking—meaningless. A game might lack variety, but every game is repetitive. We repeat some pattern of input—running and shooting, stacking blocks, bouncing balls off blue dots—over and over, and expect uniform feedback. Then the problem changes slightly, and we tweak our input pattern. And then again. And yet "too repetitive" is lobbed at games all the time.

Alright, I know that sounds a bit pedantic, and I do recognize the difference in tone between "repetition" and "repetitive." Lack of variety is a fair criticism, but "too repetitive" is an extremely vague way to say it, and it dodges the truth: when we criticize a game for being "too repetitive," I think we often mean that we just don't like what we're doing. "It's repetitive" is shorthand for "this isn't fun (for some reason)."

If we like what we're doing, repetition is desirable. I like solving puzzles in Portal, and once I solve one I want to solve more. I don't want to solve the exact same puzzle again, but I don't want to stumble into a surprise Sudoku chamber, either. So Portal gives me increasingly clever arrangements of portal-ey logic problems. The puzzles get harder, but they're all just iterations of the same basic spatial problem I solved in the first puzzle. So after all my twisty, knotty figuring arrives at a solution, it always seems just as simple as the first time. That sense of clarity comes from repetition.

Super Meat Boy replays your failures, illustrating your own learning process.

Repetition is also how we learn, and both Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami succeed by embracing that power. They present problems in small chunks—a level in Super Meat Boy and a floor of thugs in Hotline Miami—and rapidly reset them every time we fail. Each attempt gives us new information to apply to the next, building layers of experience on the way to that one perfect run. And that perfect run feels good: it's an accomplishment, like unknotting an especially tricky puzzle in Portal. Except in Hotline Miami there's more brain-stuff and skull chunks lying around afterward.

The same goes for Counter-Strike, StarCraft, and the rest. At their most basic levels, they're about repeating and mutating input patterns to solve variable, but not totally unpredictable, problems. The variables in Counter-Strike, for example, are the guns, maps, and opponents. That's been enough variety to keep us repetitively shooting at each other for 13 years.

Repetition can be pretty damn fun, so we've got to be specific, and always ask ourselves if it's really the repetition of a theme that bothers us, or the theme itself. I can shoot bad guys all day, so complaining that "the shooting is repetitive" in Medal of Honor: Warfighter would be confusing. Further examination would reveal that the guns, maps, and enemies have specific traits I don't like, which has nothing to do with repetition (except that the more I do them, the less I like them).

Fearing the dreaded "repetitiveness" may even be bad for games: that's probably how we end up with off-key phrases at pivotal moments, like a boss fight which takes away the gun I've been using the whole time and sticks me in a surprise platformer. It's variety, but it screws up the whole composition. A performance of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, for example, would not benefit from an unexpected dubstep interlude. No, I wasn't talking to you, Skrillex. Are you drunk? Go home, dude.

Anyway, if at first glance this looks like an ostentatious rant about a personal pet-peeve, then you may have seen correctly. But maybe not: try Googling any game name with the phrase "too repetitive." It's everywhere. I get what's meant by it (sort of, kind of, some of the time), but it says very little. It may not even be a criticism, because games like Hotline Miami wouldn't be fun without repetition. If dying and respawning didn't reset the level, and our prior kills stayed bloodied, it would be ruined. Maybe then we'd say that it's not repetitive enough?
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Cats can't smile ACTUALLY

Four words all but guaranteed to win my attention: “a game about cats.” When said four words are twinned with the knowledge that the game in question comes from the creators of Super Meat Boy and one half of The Binding Of Isaac team, my attention becomes unwavering.

We know precious little about Team Meat’s Mew-Genics other than that it’ll be “randomly generated, strange and involve cats” so even a tiny, kitten-size scrap of detail is enough to cause a flurry of fluffy speculation. Today, that’s two new shots showing in-game characters. (more…)

Product Release - Valve
The Basement Collection, a collection of 9 award winning indie games from the creator of Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, is now available on Steam!

The Basement Collection includes:
  • Aether ( an exploration adventure game )
  • Time Fcuk ( a dark puzzle game )
  • Spewer ( a physics based platformer )
  • Meat Boy ( the super meat boy prototype )
  • Grey Matter ( an anti shooter )
  • Coil (an experimental game )
  • Triachnid (a physics based spider sim)
The collection also features 2 secret unlockable games and tons of unlockable comics, sketch books and even never before scene stock footage from Indie Game: The Movie.

Additionally, if you previously owned Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac, or Gish on Steam, you'll receive 30% off for a limited time!

...

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