It should be pretty uncontroversial to say that software and hardware have something to do with one-another. This idea is very strange, however, given just how opposite the individual natures of software and hardware are. Computer hardware is the physical, tangible component of computer science: if you took an electron microscope and applied it to a computer, you would be able to see the doped silicon lattices in its semiconductors. Computer software, however, in its ideal form, is conceptual. Software is something that is not necessarily physical. Software possesses the ideas and ‘thoughts’ contained in its programming, and this is something that can’t be manifested physically. If we tried to look at software in its physical form–say, on a hard-drive or on an EEPROM–all we would be able to see or sense is the patterns in which a program’s atoms and electromagnetic charges have been arranged.
The Hogfather: Your Ideal Swine
The character Death in a Terry Pratchett work, Hogfather, puts the dilemma rather well. Obviously here Death is talking about morals, but the argument is analogous to concepts or ideas:
…then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy.
Admittedly, it’s pretty well understood that software is written for hardware–computer instructions are specifically written for physical machines to interpret and process. And, it is in fact true that the line between software and hardware to be somewhat blurry; take, for instance, firmware. Firmware exhibits the features of both software and hardware by being (a) machine-interpretable instructions, but (b) static and physically manifested. But, if software was hardware, how have we managed to construct complex and flashy edifices like Modern Warfare 3 on top of incomprehensible patterns of transistors? How can we copy and mimic the world so convincingly if we were not, at any point, permitted to employ the use of ideas, thoughts, morals &c? In philosophical terms, we have a real dilemma here: are pieces of software just physical parts of the universe, like hardware, or are they something more? Something… metaphysical?
The direction in which I’m now heading obviously seems perilously similar to the mind-body dualism dilemma that has been so numerously and irritatingly rehashed in philosophical writing, so it should appear welcome to the reader when I say this is not what I’m doing to discuss, but that I would like to take a look at what the alleged divide between software and hardware means to video games as an art-form.
The supposed software/hardware dualism mentioned above has everything and anything to do with video games. Video games feature both hardware and software in their constitution, making them an incredibly complex beast to understand when it comes to dealing with them aesthetically. Why? Take video game graphics/visuals as an example. Kotaku recently ran two articles about the graphical prowess of the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles (Graphics Don’t Make Good Characters and Remember They Have More to Offer Than Just Graphics). Both of these articles make arguments to assert that something other than video game console processing power (if not complex and fantastic visuals, which is probably more on the mark) is also needed in order to make a good video game. This other element, character development, story-telling, plot structure/substance, is not as dependent as game visuals on hardware architecture–it is something that is idealistic; semantically speaking, this doesn’t mean the pejorative term of not being pragmatic, but something that is not physically tangible. A character or a story is an idea, a kind of ghost that inhabits the physical shell of an actor or a 3D hardware-rendered model.
Thus far one could say that we seem to have identified another famous dialectic here–albeit one that is potentially illusory, as physicalists (proponents of the ‘software-is-hardware’ philosophy, as I’ll call it) are wont to interject: hardware determined visuals versus almost entirely software-inhabiting story and character development. This kind of opposition seems to have existed since time immemorial–one can easily think of the way paperback novels transformed the way books were read. The same thing must go for video games in the league of Battlefield 3. The kind of artistic malaise in games that critics like Yahtzee on The Escapist identify is evidently not something new, and will probably never cease.
Indeed this fantastic article on the Gameological Society‘s website performs an assessment of the likely future of the mainstream video game industry within a similar framework to that being pursued here. Speaking in light of the mysterious launch of Sony’s PlayStation 4, the critical component of the article comes right at the end:
Creativity thrives under limitations. People who love games understand this implicitly, since the best players find the most creative ways to succeed within the confines of the rules. The Great Train Robbery is a masterpiece not in spite of its limitations but because of them. So if David Cage doesn’t think he can produce an emotional work of art with a PlayStation 3 and an eight-figure budget, maybe he shouldn’t be in the art-making business.
Expanding the technological capabilities of our game machines is not inherently bad, but treating new tech as a magic bullet is a self-destructive delusion (if a familiar one). The reason that so many games suck is not because the technology is too modest. The reason that so many games suck is because so many games suck. Making art is hard. No microchip changes that.
The really important thing about this quote (and the whole article, really) is not that it reinforces the idea developed above that artistic ideas are independent of their physical medium. The important thing mentioned in the quote is that it brings up the idea that artistic ideas can be constrained by their physical medium. It asserts that the medium through which art forms its expression sets ‘rules’ that artists need to find creative ways in which to work. Here we have a slightly more nuanced interpretation of the software-idealism position, which mixes in a little bit of physicalism: hardware determines the boundaries of software’s concepts/ideas/thoughts/substance. One could almost call this ‘soft software determinism’ because a more radical version can immediately be imagined: hardware outright determines the substance of software. Against software determinism you obviously have software indeterminism (or free-will &c) which asserts that hardware and software aren’t causally related.
Enter Jet Set Radio
It’s important to note that the software determinism position is related to the software physicalism question because the software-as-hardware (physicalist) position directly bears on how software and hardware are causally related. If software is just hardware, its realistic-seeming appearance is just a clever arrangement of atoms and magnetic charges. This will become important later on.
In any case, consider Jet Set Radio on the Sega Dreamcast. Its artistic direction was so influential that it inspired a virtual (in the potential and not epistemological sense) artistic movement in video games. JSR legitimised the use of cel-shaded graphics at a time when realism was a dominant driving force in the artistic value system of the video game industry. Realism obviously still remains an important way of going about and making games today, but if it wasn’t for games like JSR (or Windwaker–I wonder if Nintendo saw JSR and decided to copy its visual style?), we’d be left with an overwhelming corpus of mainstream games trying to copy the visual appearance and mechanics of the real world.
Humouring our determinism discussion, we can arguably put JSR‘s cel-shaded graphics down to the limitations of the Dreamcast. See this useful comparison of the raw processing power of the Dreamcast to the Nintendo GameCube and the original Microsoft Xbox. I find it so illuminating that I regularly go back and re-read it to make sure I haven’t missed anything that it might have said. The particularly interesting point it raises about the very modest increase in RAM and, to a lesser extent, CPU processing power relative to the other hardware features of the Dreamcast in comparison to the GC and Xbox is thought-provoking. The Dreamcast‘s unique Z-buffering technology is also interesting.
Cel-shading is most importantly related to the lighting in a 3D-rendered game. It replaces what would otherwise be gradients of light in shadows on models with a larger incidence of solid colours. One can easily connect this to the way in which a game engine would deal with textures (something the Dreamcast was, on paper, noticeably weaker at handling than the other two consoles), and what you have is, like John Teti said in his Gameological Society article, a creative way to succeed within the limitations of Sega’s (admittedly cool) console. Or, more intriguingly, you have the hardware design of the Dreamcast subtly dictating to Smilebit how they should make their game.
What about Gauroud shading on the N64? It was a solution to the incredible challenge posed by the cripplingly small texture cache on the platform. The N64 had its fair share of games with realistic graphics, but the fact that it struggled with complex textures meant that programmer’s favoured method of dealing with this–shading–lead to better performance with cartoon-ish visuals that dealt with simple colours.
More broadly, consider the transition from 2D to 3D graphics. Games like Tomb Raider were unthinkable in the late 80s–the hardware processing power simply didn’t exist to render such complex environments. Games are more or less forced to resort to 2D graphics when being based on more limited hardware. The kinds of experiences 2D graphics can deliver can be brilliant substantively/qualitatively, but they must be far more limited formally than those based in three dimensions: Zelda-esque RPGs, platformers, 2D RTS games. Indeed, search and you will find that 2D platformers by far outnumbered games published in any other genre (much like first-person shooters today).
Zizek and The Matrix
Slavoj Zizek’s Parallax View gives us a good schema to not only deal with the ideal-software/physical-software dialectic, but also that of the determined-software/undetermined-software simultaneously.
In an extended passage in which Zizek discusses the operation of ideology in today political environment, he performs an analysis of The Matrix series. Following his Lacanianism, he works out that the function of the matrix is based on a kind of perversion. The perversion on which the matrix is founded is two-fold:
- Perceivable human reality is reduced to a virtual domain whose rules can be suspended. It’s theoretically possible for someone to do or have anything in the matrix.
- The concealed truth of this apparent freedom is that humanity is actually the perfect kind of slave. Ultimately passive and instrumentalised, humans are farmed for their ability to generate electrical energy.
This dialectic corresponds to, and informs that of the ideal/physical and determined/undetermined ones. Humans are not only divided into ideal and physical components in the matrix, but they are also controlled and possessed by it, in exactly the same way that a piece of game software is with its corresponding hardware platform.
The perfect conception of software as an idealistic form is that which is totally independent and undetermined by its hardware base, free of any kind of limitation or constraint. The best kind of illusion imaginable, any kind of creative desire could be pursued with this form of software: characters of infinite depth, plots infinitely complex and intriguing. The complete opposite of this would be software as a ‘slave’ to a dominant and ‘parasitic’ hardware base. Instead of being a perfect dream, software would really just be a host from which for hardware to ‘feed’. This image isn’t meant to be literal, it means that hardware is just exploiting software in an attempt to ensure its survival. A good example of this would be the way iPhones are propagated by Farmville, and other kinds of ‘casual’ games (the marriage is perfect, isn’t it? A device that is always with you, always requiring your attention). Some more examples are the way operating system update schedules work, always requiring you to keep your device ‘up-to-date’, and the way console launch titles work–to make their console seem appealing.
The way The Matrix solves this dilemma (ultimate freedom/ultimate slave) is by giving Neo the ability to practice the powers he has in the matrix outside the matrix. Zizek quite rightly regards this method of synthesising The Matrix‘s virtual and real worlds as insufficient–much like revealing at the end of a detective novel that the murderer has incomprehensible magical powers. It merely conflates the original premises of the dilemma by trying to confer upon human-kind, in its slave-form, the virtual freedom it is able to possess in the matrix.
Zizek’s preferred solution to The Matrix dialectic puts us on the right track to conceiving a coherent relationship between games and their platforms: why didn’t humans try to sabotage the matrix by refusing to secrete any more energy into it? The important thing about this possible solution is that it is negative: it destroys both humanity’s slavery by the evil machines, and its ultimate freedom in the matrix. What is left is just good old, really-existing humanity–which is in fact a very complex way of arriving at the same conclusion as John Teti: software is partly constrained and determined by the limitations of its hardware, and is in reality physical.
But by performing all of this work, while we rather uninterestingly return to the position that software does have an existence that partly transcends its physical determination (the form that this transcendence takes isn’t of immediate interest), we learn that software needs that obstacle. The idea isn’t the mundane truism that software needs hardware in order to run, but that hardware presents a game designer/developer/programmer with a mould that needs to be broken out of. A good example to demonstrate this point is the amount of first-person open-world games that proliferate our present gaming culture. We’ve reached a point in our gaming hardware development that allows us to render huge worlds, but they’re not necessarily fun or interesting–it’s basically ‘filler’. As Teti points out, Jonathan Blow’s upcoming game The Witness has attempted to make its game world as compact and as carefully constructed as possible. Like Teti, I regard this as good design, and good art. Blow’s piece is evidence of getting over the obstacle of taking orders from one’s hardware base.
Think about some games you know that did their best to transcend their hardware limitations. A few that I can think of are Exhumed for the Saturn, Super Mario 64 (compare with the horribly linear Crash Bandicoot series which stole SM64‘s hub-world concept–NB that SM64 was a launch title!), id software’s Doom and Quake, and the first two Pokemon generations.
I’ve always wanted to square off Virtua Racing against Starwing. That’s a much bigger job than just reviewing either one of them individually, and since I lack the time to immediately that, and, having been playing a bit of Virtua Racing recently, I thought I’d forgo my original plans to review it alongside its early home console 3D-graphics competitor. In its home console form, Virtua Racing is obviously important for two reasons, the first being its conceptual import, and the second its innovativeness in terms of its use of hardware.
Previously, racing titles relied on a carefully constructed two dimensional illusion of distance and depth of environment in order to convey a plausible game scenario. While VR wasn’t the first 3D racing game to do away with these techniques, it was the first to do it well. What was definitely not lost in VR, and indeed continues to be an important concept in racing games after their transition to three-dimensional environments, is its persuasive illusion of speed.
I didn’t find VR‘s Acropolis level to be particularly well-executed level in conceptual terms, but its intermediate-difficulty level, Bay Bridge, a shining example of what Sega and Yu Suzuki were trying to achieve. While VR‘s environment can be divided up binarily, interactively speaking, into obstacles and non-obstactles, Bay Bridge demonstrates the kind of raw, intuitive feeling that you can only get from a (what was then) realistic three-dimensional environment. On the level, you pass through the namesake steel bridge, which is enormous. It towers over you, and the feeling of that empty column of space stays with you the rest of the level. You pass through a mountain in a tunnel, underneath huge freeway-like concrete manifolds, and alongside imposing grey retaining walls. The level design and eye-candy work together to drive home this concept of speed and transit in a very convincing manner.
The only time this breaks down is when you crash, or, through naive level design, become aware that–much like any 2D racing game, Hang On and Out Run being famous Sega examples–basically all of the world is proceeding towards you from a point in the middle of your TV screen. At these two moments you’ll realise just how much VR has inherited from its ancestors, as it will become patently apparent that the car onto which you’re projecting your will, and the environment around it, are not inhabiting the same plane of existence: the player’s car, at times, feels as if it is being drawn on top of everything that’s happening on the screen, like it’s not really ‘there’ on the road. This should all be regarded as forgivable, because, first, most of the time, the player’s car feels flush with the road, and secondly, this criticism is minor gripe. Seeing as the technology powering VR was very, very new, the fact that they managed to pull off a game as atmospheric and realistic as they did is a real achievement.
The second important thing about VR, its use of hardware, is also something worthy of praise. I think it speaks to the great flexibility of the cartridge format that game manufacturers were able to incorporate secondary processors into their games in order to better realise their creative ideas. Today, one is more-or-less stuck with the hardware they have when they come to possess a new game title, but that was not necessarily so with cartridge-based software. Cartridges could–and did–contain extra RAM, or special memory bank switching hardware (think the NES) in order to push the envelope in terms of sprite and background complexity. As with Nintendo and their Super FX line of chips, Sega made use of a secondary microprocessor to handle the calculations necessary to display 3D visuals on their fourth-generation console. What distinguishes VR‘s special chip, the ‘Sega Virtua Processor’ (good old-fashioned marketing spin at work here) from the Super FX is that it was not a full, multi-purpose microprocessor. It was a Digital Signal Processor (DSP).
A DSP is microprocessor that is custom-built for a very particular purpose, which is frequently a very simple and repetitive, but power-hungry task. That’s not to say that all custom-built microprocessors are DSPs, but in this particular case, the “SVP” was designed to perform two operations (multiplication and addition) for the purpose of calculating VR‘s 3D polygonal data, and transforming it into “8×8 tiles” (which one can assume to be 8×8 pixel patterns). These two-dimensional tiles are transferred, ultimately, to the Mega Drive’s video RAM via Direct Memory Access (which is only possible through the use of cartridges!).
You could be forgiven for thinking that the SVP stood in the same league of semiconductor fidelity as the RISC Super FX chip, because, short of performing some sort of hard empirical comparison between VR and Starwing in terms of their polygon-count (VR displaying somewhere between 300-500 polygons @ 15 FPS), early alternative to Z-buffering (see Quake’s Binary Space Partitioning), use of colour, and frame-rate (&c &c), the visuals that both games push are comparable. Honestly, whenever I pick up VR I forget that the SVP is only capable of rendering polygons on-screen in 16 (!!!) colours.
There may be something to be said for Starwing‘s better player game-environment interactivity and command of atmosphere (NB Starwing‘s final level), but, short of performing the all-out compare-and-contrast disclaimed above, Virtua Racing is an absolute stellar title. I’m asserting this despite the fact that I don’t particularly like racing games as a genre–as a game in itself, the world environment that this title manages to convey to the player is reasonably deep and tangible. While I haven’t spoken about the game’s controls at all, its scheme of interactivity is solid. In that manner, it doesn’t fail as a racing game.
The great thing about VR is that it is able to be acquired on eBay and other retro gaming shops on the internet for ten to twenty dollars. That’s a far cry from the game’s original asking price. With Mega Drive systems being correspondingly so durable and cheap, it’s worth getting both and learning a bit about the history surrounding the video game industry’s fits and starts into the 3D graphics era. Retrogarden puts it pretty well when it says that
the SVP chip brought hope to die-hard and downtrodden Sega fans; if Virtua Racing was possible, why not Virtua Fighter too? Could 3rd party developers take the SVP chip and use it to port Doom, or even make a Starwing-type game?
The SVP represents the highly contingent nature of the aesthetics of the Western video game industry from the mid-nineties onwards. The progression to more and more complex foundations of hardware didn’t push more complex artistic ideas with it, as disillusioned Sega fans can surely attest. While VR offered a glimmer of hope, the future wasn’t secure as the industry moved into the mid-to-late nineties, as everyone is so obviously aware.
For a brilliant in-depth hardware analysis of Virtua Racing (which Jump’n Shoot will probably exploit later) on the Mega Drive, see this blog post.
For more information about the “Sega Virtua Processor” (a Samsung SSP160x Digital Signal Processor), see this forum thread.
Let’s face it–Contra/Probotector costs a lot of money. For a game with such simple concepts, its popularity has, ironically, rendered it prohibitively difficult to access in order to play. If you, like many others, are stuck in this predicament, worry no more, because a reasonably inexpensive equivalent exists which harbours just as much artistic quality.
The name of this title is Atomic Runner, outside of Japan. Originally an arcade game, its transition to the Sega Mega Drive saw it undergo a host of changes both in form and in substance. Both Atomic Runner‘s game-play and plot were altered (supposedly for the startling similarity that the original Japanese arcade game bore to the Chernobyl nuclear-reactor meltdown), but this rendered it a far superior game according to the critics (Sega-16 review and forum discussion, GameFAQ review, Krooze’s Haunt).
With impressive mid-life-cycle Mega Drive parallax scrolling, and large (if only slightly repetitive), colourful backgrounds and bosses, Atomic Runner sports very solid game-play. Against many run-and-gun games (and indeed many shoot’em ups) AR really does hold its own. The myriad of power-ups and environments through which to peruse are interesting, and the overall theme of the game, a synthesis of ancient cultures and ultra-modern technology, is well-executed.
It’s both an opportunity and a shame that this game has been overlooked, because its developer, Data East hasn’t really been remembered for any of its fun and imaginative games. I might return to Data East and go through its history.
The only issue that is commonly identified with AR is its length. Because the game is so short, Data East correspondingly made the obvious decision to crank up the game’s difficulty a fair amount. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, though. This was a fairly frequent design formula for many developers, as computer memory and system processing limitations virtually bound them to making short, difficult games.
If the reader needs some persuasion, they should find their attention directed to the following video:
One of the best things about console gaming is when a console begins to enter its late life-cycle period, especially the period of time following the announcement and launch of the successor console to that aging platform.
The great opportunity that gamers face in this period of a console’s life is the movement of quality game titles into game store bargain bins. Given Sony’s announcement of the PS4, one can only wait until the time that many great PS3 titles eventually filter into the bargain section of physical, and accompanying eBay game stores.
A quick perusal of the current PS3 stock in your local game store is bound to reveal each of the following titles, all for $AUD20 and under. Because Bioshock is the only PS3 game I’ve ever really played for some reasonable length, let’s take a look at what some various different gaming sites have said about these games.
Where accessible, non-commercial game-reviewing websites have been featured to provide a bit of an antidote to the very palpable copy-cat attitude employed in commercial website’s game reviews.
Genji Days of the Blade
Developer: Game Republic
Rough genre: Action-adventure
Consensus: Excellent early PS3 graphics, but the game-play boils down to repetitive button-mashing. Combine this with a terrible camera system and you have a very average title.
Hardcoregaming101 (passing comment, third paragraph): “Laughable”
Blazblue: Calamity Trigger
Developer: Arc System Works
Rough genre: Fighter
Consensus: Reminiscent of the developer’s previously-established franchise Guilty Gear, the game’s innovative ‘Drive’ concept expands its game-play and helps to differentiate its plethora of characters effectively.
Developer: Vigil Games
Rough genre: Action-adventure.
Consensus: While the premise and graphics (gothic/fantasy gore?) of the game seem a bit samey and/or ridiculous, the puzzle and exploration elements to Darksiders carry it along nicely.
Developer and genre, see above.
Consensus: While it doesn’t really offer much new, featuring very similar concepts and game-play to its predecessor, its campaign is massive and its artistic direction is elevated to new heights.
Developer: From Software
Rough genre: JRPG
Consensus: This is a solid JPRG through and through. If you’re a Skyrim/Mass Effect/open-world, non-linear RPG kind of gamer, this isn’t the game for you. Enchanted Arms seems to have been unfairly treated by the commercial games media for its adherence to its traditional genre.
Penny Arcade: “A dog, huh? You’re not a cat. Why would anyone like a stupid dog like you? All you do is bark. You never meow.” (link)
Developer: 2K Games
Rough genre: First-person shooter
Consensus: A fairly solid ultra-violent first-person shooter. If you’re known to inhabit this territory, by all means proceed.
Developer: Splash Damage
Rough genre: First-person shooter
Consensus: Its RPG meta-game elements are well-balanced, but nothing to write home about. Similarly, its core game-play concept–first-person squad shooting–is executed fairly, but it may suffer from a lack of replay value.
Dungeon Siege 3
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Rough genre: Action-adventure; Action-RPG
Consensus: A pretty formulaic button-masher (N.B. the way you’ll cycle through loot in much the same way as in Borderlands), but, much like Enchanted Arms, if that’s what you’re into, you’re sure to have a good time.
Rough genre: First-person 3D platformer/shooter
Consensus: While the commercial media seems to have forgiven its short-comings and lauded Mirror‘s Edge for its graphics and conceptual innovation, a couple of independent, non-commercial websites that I trust have slammed this title. For them, the inconsistent execution of its ideas–patchy level design, poor control scheme–really drags it down. Perhaps you’ll be able to forgive this title for its mistakes, like Eurogamer, or perhaps you’ll run out of patience?
Curmudgeon Gamer: “Too often you want to take back a half-second twitch to save you from redoing the same tedious 90 seconds of tricky movement, but there you are again, staring at the same white loading screen and cursing at your aging reflexes.” (link)
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Rough genre: Action-adventure
Consensus: The character development seems to be the stand-out achievement in Asylum, with its game-play sadly losing out. If you’re in for a fairly convincing cinematic treatise that will gratify all of your old Batman nostalgia, Asylum is for you. Of particular note is the game’s fantastic voice-acting.
Red Faction: Guerrilla
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Rough genre: Open world, third-person shooter
Consensus: Like many other open world games, the player might find themselves repeating a lot of behaviours and having to, similarly, repetitively continue from a save point due to a poorly-timed encounter. The best thing about this game, however, is its concept of demolition. I was recently talking to a friend about this game, and they were gratified to report that this idea is executed in a really satisfying way. This may or may not save the game for you. The shooter elements are samey, so perhaps the player could find some solace in Guerrilla‘s theme of revolution.
As you had no doubt worked out by the time you’d reached the mid-point of this list, the titles mentioned here are definitely solid, but not necessarily must-haves. Each of these games, though, has something to commend, and for the small amount you’re likely going to have to pay, you may find yourself picking up a new personal favourite.
This is a 3D platforming game from the late-nineties about an anthropomorphic glove, and its ball. They don’t get any more abstract than this. Considering, though, that two of the best and most popular 3D platforming main characters were a plumber with various magical caps, and a bear with a red bird in its backpack, the outlandishness of Glover‘s protagonist is, strangely, neither here nor there.
Glover is such a different game from your standard late-nineties 3D platformer because its fundamental game-play concept revolves around coordinating yourself with, and balancing yourself against your only tool–a ball–which is both indispensably useful for your cause, but incredibly dangerous. The player, as Glover, must bounce, throw, and roll this ball in order to manipulate the game environment and solve puzzles. What makes performing these actions so innovative is that the physics of this undertaking in Glover is so realistic. When the player stands on top of the ball, the controls become inverted. When Glover’s ball is thrown or bounced against a surface, it bounces away from it along a realistic trajectory. At the touch of a button, you’re able to transform the quality of your sphere, which can make it lighter or heavier, more or less elastic and so on. After coming to master these basic ideas around which Glover was based, the player should start to feel like they’re not so much struggling to master and dominate an inanimate object, but beginning to enter into a partnership with a silent and uncommunicative, but nonetheless willingly cooperative second character.
The unusual nature of working with a ball to explore and interact with a 3D platformer might place the player on a steep learning curve at first, but it manages to open up a strange and interesting new perspective through which to view what might have become a stale and boring game genre. The player is sure to have never seriously thought about just how complex it really is to transport themselves up some stairs, or about coordinating themselves up and around a series of simple slopes. The added difficulty is definitely palpable, but with Glover, a large, varied, and endlessly useful move-set is at one’s disposal. Glover’s ball is a means for such things as reaching distant items and straddling high perches, destroying walls, floating on water, defeating enemies, and providing a speedy escape to tight situations. The incredible number of things that Glover‘s developer has managed to enable the player to do with this ball is pretty damn clever.
While glimpses of this kind of game-play can be seen in games such as Super Mario Galaxy, the nature of Glover as a 3D platformer takes on a completely different character to other games in its genre due to its total reliance on bouncing, rolling and throwing. Getting coordinated with Glover‘s ball-based mechanics can at first be difficult, but mastering it will lead to very satisfying game-play.
Game-play aside, the game’s visuals are colourful and appealing, and it seldom suffers from any frame-rate slowdown or texture clipping. The game’s textures themselves are simple, but they work together harmoniously to show off a well-constructed atmosphere. Glover‘s worlds are incredibly abstract, but satisfyingly coherent, and never shallow. Levels are frequently large, and the N64′s draw-distance (Z-buffer) limitations are ‘concealed’ with copious amounts of fog. This is a bit disappointing because you might find yourself wanting to look beyond the immediate puzzle at hand and give yourself some bearing–and being unable to do so. Other than that, Glover manages to exploit the features of the N64 reasonably well.
If you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t given Glover a spin. If you have, and think Glover‘s not really worth anyone’s time, then you haven’t really been responding to what it’s asking you to do. In many places it will be challenging your hard-wired platforming sensibilities very aggressively.
With so much to offer at dirt cheap prices on eBay, you don’t have anything to lose–and so much to gain!–by picking up a copy of Glover.
Well, Jon Blow’s The Witness is going to be released exclusively on the PS4. That is in terms of its availability in the guise of a console game, however. Those seeking the game on the PC or through an iOS device won’t be presented with a sweaty dilemma.
I’ve always been magpie-like in my choice of console, and have usually arrived at the conclusion after some time that my original choice was pretty much outright wrong. This bit of experience, combined with the fact that my respect for Blow and his ethics, as well as his design philosophy, makes me want to pick up The Witness as early as I can, makes me question my initial disappointment that Blow didn’t choose to make a Wii U release a priority.
Well, never mind that for now. Blow featured Antichamber on The Witness‘s blog, a very different kind of first-person puzzle game. Take a look at its teaser trailer:
It’s worth re-mentioning the virtues of putting effort into good game design in connection with the Sega Saturn once more before it gets old.
In this interview (with, again, Ezra Dreisbach) about the Saturn port of Quake, the reader can find more evidence of Lobotomy Software’s attention to detail in their game design. For quick reference, compare the quality of the level design between the Saturn and the N64 in these two screenshots:
Needless to say, the N64 might have featured better hardware, but Saturn owners were rewarded with a better game. Of particular note is Dreisbach’s repeated attention to dynamic lighting.