Thou Shalt Not

Played a couple of new flash games today, Depict1 and Tower of Heaven. Both games are in the tradition of the “arty platformer” or something along those lines. That is, they both take pretty standard (or sometimes brutal) platformer action and twist it (as we have seen with great sophistication in games like Braid or Limbo).

In the case of Depict1 and Tower of Heaven, the key element is an “external voice” which adds rules or advice to the existing play. In Depict, the game revolves around the voice lying to you about what you should do – if it says to collect gems, this means the gems will kill you; if it says to avoid spikes, you jump on the spikes. In Tower of Heaven, there’s a direct line to God, who introduces rules progressively as you play – no touching the sides of blocks, then no walking left, then no touching living things. And so on.

Tower of Heaven is very hard – I only made it to level 9 before I reached a boiling point of frustration – the combination of the rules with really quite difficult jump timing and maneuvering and time pressure meant I wasn’t prepared to go on. Depict1 is pretty straightforward and I finished it without difficulty. Both games, though, make their claim to originality based on a kind of contrarian voice that intervenes in the gameplay (see also: Loved). The voice is Depict one is the classic unreliable narrator, while Tower of Heaven’s is essentially an antagonist.

They differ hugely in how play is affected by the voice. Depict1 is essentially trivial – at the very start you learn not to trust the voice and from then on you simply do the opposite of what it says. As such, it’s really just a textual exercise of negating its sentences. Admittedly it’s slightly interesting from a story standpoint, but it does little for gameplay. The voice in Tower of Heaven, on the other hand, has real power over play – the game becomes ridiculously hard as the rules are layered on.

Both these games come from the tradition of “abusive games” I suppose – games which are at least in part designed to frustrate and “over” challenge the player. What’s particularly distinctive with both compared to other abusive games is that they give the game/designer a specific voice – there is a particular entity who is abusing you, turning the player-designer conversation into something more explicit.

Bring on the abuse, I say.

7 August 2010
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