Tales from the Dev Side: Why is Conflict Fun? by Adam Spragg

Although his Hidden in Plain Sight was not an overwhelming success on Xbox Live Indie Games, Adam Spragg still received near-universal kudos from critics for his efforts.  Even my infamously cold heart warmed to it as I played with three interns who probably hate me and call me mean names behind my back.  I’m betting on “Take-a-Bath-rine” although I won’t rule out “Catheterine.”  If they had known my alias was “Kairi” I’m sure it would have been “Cry-ri.”  Which is absurd.  I beat them like 20 games to 1.  If anything, I made them cry.  Or maybe I’m being paranoid.  They probably didn’t call me anything too mean.  I can deal with Catheterine.  I’ll call off the hits.  Well, maybe.  I’m guessing I won’t get my deposit back.

Okay, so maybe I don’t handle conflict (real or imagined) as well as I should.  Adam views conflict differently.  In this very philosophical installment, Adam shares his thoughts on how conflict is the chief reason for a game being fun.  And you know what?  I think he’s on to something.

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Dark

It’s still Thursday in Alpha Centauri.

I think I would be hard pressed to come up with a game that’s a bigger violator of what I call the “Google Rule” than Dark.  Let’s put it this way.  I searched for “Dark” on Xbox.com and set the results per page to 90.  Dark falls all the way to 88th, the very bottom of the first page.  And once you get over to Google, good luck.  The word “Dark” alone brings up nearly two billion hits.  And then my point was lost as I typed this, because when I searched for “Dark Xbox” it was the second result.  Ah ha, but then I added “Indie” to “Xbox” and it somehow dropped Dark completely out of the top 100 results.  My point is, it needed something other than Dark.  May I suggest adding “Crap” to the title?

Dark is really, really awful.  It tries to mix Limbo-esq minimalistic presentation in platforming with Little Big Planet-style manipulable environments.  Well actually, this came out before Limbo, so another point is lost.  Meh.  Off my game tonight.

The problem with Dark is the physics are horrible enough that I couldn’t get the floor to correctly break apart the way it’s supposed to on the second stage, after multiple attempts.  With no direction given, I’m not entirely sure I was doing enough to accomplish this.  As best as I can tell, I was supposed to push a large rock off a cliff and let gravity take over.  The problem is, gravity didn’t put in enough effort and the flooring got sandwiched between the rock, then stopped moving.  I tried jumping on it to smooth things along, but my dude had no weight about him and I somehow got pinned between the two things, unable to move at all.

Given that each section of the game could take as little as a minute to finish, it seems odd that a chapter-skip option is included.  After three or four failed tries to break the floor properly, I realized why it’s there and skipped to chapter 3.  About five minutes later, I finished Dark, because the whole thing takes like ten minutes to beat.  So what did I think?  Didn’t find the graphics impressive despite what others would say.  Bad play control.  Unclear objectives.  Physics that don’t work.  A final puzzle that took me literally under ten seconds to solve on my first try.  It’s maybe the biggest waste of a dollar I spent this year.  It’s between this and some novelty chewing gum I bought for a buck that dyes your tongue black.  I gave it to an intern at work to screw with them and they didn’t care about being the butt of a joke because “whatever, it still tasted good.”

Screw it, I only played this because my buddy Mark at GRcade told me I could finish it quickly if I was short on time for a Katch-Up.  Which I was.  Now I can pretend this never happened and move on to Fez.  I would tell you not to play Dark, but actually this game came out three years ago and probably would have been totally forgotten if I had just left it alone.  What can I say?  Oops.

Dark was developed by Andrew Russell

80 Microsoft Points were absolutely shocked to read the critical praise this game got.  Well, different strokes for different folks I suppose in the making of this review. 

There’s some cool buttons right below this review that allow you to share my stuff on all kinds of social networking sites.  Help my site grow by taking twenty seconds to click one and share.  If you don’t, I will switch the Puppy of Sadness‘ food from his preferred Kibbles ‘N Bits to a generic, off brand food, causing his sadness to reach weaponized levels that I will then unleash upon the masses, ridding the world of joy forever.

Spoids

Spoids received a Second Chance with the Chick, which corrected many issues with the game, resulting in it getting the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval.  For my continued thoughts on the game, read it as well

Update: Spoids now costs 80 Microsoft Points.

If someone asked me what my favorite genres are, I probably wouldn’t think of tower defense.  That’s kind of odd, because it’s not uncommon for me to like the tower defense games I play.  It’s actually funny.  When the time comes to rattle off my favorite games, stuff like Plants vs. Zombies, GemCraft, PixelJunk Monsters, Crystal Defenders, or Ninjatown probably wouldn’t warrant a mention.  Yet all the games I just listed have likely stolen more life from me than smoking has.  I can’t put my finger on why this niche genre doesn’t hold a special place in my heart.  Perhaps it has to do with these games having a drop-off point where they stop feeling fun and begin feeling more like a time sink.  It’s the same reason why MMOs like World of Warcraft or Phantasy Star Online also wouldn’t make the short list of most amazing games I ever played despite investing years of my life playing them.

One of four screenshots chosen by AirWave Games to showcase their game on the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace. And thank God. I was worried this would be one of those titlescreenless games for a second there.

I’m not sure that’s it though.  Because I’m typically satisfied when I finish a tower defense title.  And not just in a “thank God I don’t have to play any more of that” type of way.  Oh, that factors in a little bit.  Among other things, it’s typically around that time that my brain starts to remember to do important things like doing my job and taking a shower.  But it’s bizarre, don’t you think?  It’s almost like upon completion of a tower defense game, my brain immediately deletes any record of me having fun.  Some kind of survival mechanism, no doubt.

Spoids is the first traditional tower defense game I’ve reviewed thus far.  I’ve done hybrids like XBLA’s Dungeon Defenders, action-bent ones like Video Wars, and whatever the fuck you would classify The Cannon under.  Oddly enough, the two XBLIGs were leaderboard games and Dungeon Defenders was one of my favorite games of 2011.  I honestly don’t know why this isn’t one of my favorite genres.  I’m starting to think I might be unconsciously racist against it.  Maybe that’s why I was so apprehensive to review Spoids.  It’s one of those games.

Spoids has a nifty presentation and semi decent voice acting (which might be a problem for other reasons, more on that later), but this is really a plain-Jane, no frills, utterly generic tower defense game.  It’s kind of fun too.  Unfortunately, the balancing in difficulty is a bit off, and by “a bit” I really mean “there is no balance at all.”

There’s eight levels in Spoids, so the game is pretty short.  It’s single player only, so the only replay value comes in the form of medals.  Every stage is graded on the platinum-gold-silver-bronze scale and is based on various benchmarks the game sets for you.  Each objective is clearly spelled out, but usually comes down to staying alive for X amount of time and/or not taking damage.  This is a problem.  I totally aced the first stage and figured I was going to be gung-ho to rip Spoids to shreds in about an hour.  Nope.

It’s rare that I talk to my fellow critics about a game before I write my own review, but in the case of Spoids, I talked to my amigo Tim Hurley of Gear-Fish, who did a review of this a few days ago.  Like me, he didn’t score many medals outside of bronzes.  He also didn’t finish the game.  As it turns out, I actually made it further than he did.  What it comes down to is the speed of which enemies hit is much faster than you can reasonably be expected to build your defenses.  You only get extra money based on the enemies you kill, so you’re very limited in what you can do to defend yourself.  You can set turrets to attack specific enemy types, or fire on them based on parameters that you set, but otherwise the scope of what you can do is limited.  In later stages, where there are multiple enemy entrance points and various channels for them to deviate from, I tried and tried and tried to do anything to score better than a bronze medal and couldn’t do it.  I’m convinced that it’s probably impossible sans one specific method which the developers themselves figured out in development.

Spoids was the straw that broke the camel’s back and inspired my recent editorial on game difficulty.  As maddeningly tough as stages 4 through 7 were, at least I was able to beat them (after multiple attempts with each), albeit in the most minimum way possible.  Stage 8’s only goal is “fend off the entire attack.”  Couldn’t do it.  Spoids has several enemies that you have to build specific towers to fend off.  There’s invisible enemies that phase in and out.  You need to build radar towers to make them visible.  However, these have a limited range (I swear it seemed more limited by game’s end) and cost money that can’t be spent on things that actually attack.  Likewise, waves of flying enemies come in that are only vulnerable to missile towers, which don’t attack anything else.  The thing is, the missile towers kind of suck at their job, so you need to build a lot of them.  But, they cost way too much money given that they can only attack one enemy type that appears only sporadically.  Yet, even when caking half the screen in them on level 8, the flyers still got by.  I shit you not.

There’s also carrier enemies that are total bullet sponges.  Even when putting up the most powerful turrets, along with stuff to slow them down (which you can’t really afford on stage 8 given all the other shit you need to be doing), they take an absurd amount of hits to destroy.  And once they die, they unleash fast-as-hell enemies that skate right past your defense and lead to your failure.  You have to juggle all of this.  I never came remotely close, and I probably tried no less than fifty times using no less than fifty different combinations of defense.  Again, I’m sure someone on the development team beat this (at least I sure hope they did) but literally nobody I talked to this week about the game (six people, including Tim) could.

Despite having fun, I can’t recommend Spoids in its present state, because I believe in a fair fight and I don’t believe you get one with it.  I do have to note, before hitting the brick wall at the very end of the game, I did have fun.  I think.  Again, my brain deletes all memories of joy related to tower defense titles.  But I have found various post-it-notes scattered throughout my house saying “Spoids is fun.  Don’t forget.”  Yes, it is fun.  It’s also infuriating and maybe even impossible.  You know what?  I want them to fix the issues and I want to do a Second Chance With the Chick on this game.  It’s very rare I say that in a review, but it’s true.

Oh, and in closing, the Spoids is 240 Microsoft Points, which is overpriced in my opinion.  Of course, their hands were tied because it came in at 200MB.  The cut off for 80 Space Bucks is 150MB.  Which leads me to ask this question: where the fuck is all that 200MB going?  Maybe in voice overs.  It has those.  They’re nicely done, but totally unnecessary.  Otherwise, the graphics are kind of simple.  Not horrible, but not exactly cutting edge or anything.  I can’t tell you what I thought about the music because I typically play games with the sound muted.  I like to hear myself think.  But seriously, what happened to this game?  How did it balloon to 200MB?  Why is it so fucking hard?  And why am I tempted to go take another crack at it?  It’s got some Spoiding to do.

See, I did a Ricky Ricardo thing there.  He was Cuban, like me.  Also, not funny.

Spoids was developed by AirWave Games

IGC_Approved240 Microsoft Points have a father who thinks doing the Ricky Ricardo “Lucy, I’m Home” voice every single time he gets home never gets old and is WRONG in the making of this review. 

Spoids is also available on Desura for $2.99.  This version is unverified by Indie Gamer Chick.  The XBLIG version is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Indies in Due Time: Easter Special – April 8, 2012

Happy Easter, and surprise!  Indie Gamer Chick and Brian are here with some new XBLIG trailers for your consumption.   Hit it!

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