Weekly Roundup 07/29/2012

RTS? Tower defense? Or proof that genre labels don't really work?

I started off this week by wrapping up a game of Civilization V: Gods & Kings, and then decided to take a break on Civ V for a bit and move on to some other games. That included, somewhat randomly, Swords & Soldiers. I was browsing through WiiWare games that have gotten good reviews over the years, since I’ve largely ignored the service and wanted to see what I’ve missed, and Swords & Soldiers stood out. It’s been dubbed a RTS, but I don’t know that that’s the best descriptor for it. In fact, I don’t really know of any conventional genre that the game fits into, but maybe describing it as some weird RTS/Tower Defense hybrid is kind of accurate? Like a RTS you collect resources (or in this case, a resource), there is a tech tree containing various units and spells, and use a point-and-click interface to control the battle. Unlike a RTS, however, the view is that of a side scroller, and you can’t actually control any of your units directly. As you build them they just walk across the battlefield in a straight line towards your opponent, who’s doing the same thing on the other end of the screen.

Anyway, I didn’t really enjoy the game that much, unfortunately. I think the idea is neat in theory, but in practice it never clicked with me. And even that is hard to explain; I can’t tell if it’s the game’s doing or mine. The tech tree for each faction is pretty limited, and the way you clash with your opponent near the middle of the map with limited ability to micro led to a bunch of stalemate situations where I felt like neither of us was advancing. I’d continue to try every option available with no perceived change one way or the other, and eventually just stopped. All the missions I beat (which was most of them) took about 5 minutes each. So it’s weird to me that I could sit there for 20 minutes and make literally no progress on the later missions, yet was also never in fear of losing. Like I said though, I don’t know if that was me or the game. There’s either something I’m missing that’s making it unnecessarily difficult, or the game is poorly designed in some way that I can’t quite place. That lack of feedback is pretty annoying, and I don’t want to finish the few missions I have left.

Spelunky is as devious as it is thrilling.

Otherwise the main item of the week was Spelunky. I took the plunge into that madhouse, and have been really enjoying it. I’ve never thought of myself a fan of roguelike style games, but between the Souls games and Spelunky I may be becoming one. Where the Souls games are slow and meticulous though, Spelunky is fast and furious. I generally find myself dying within 5 or so minutes of starting, and while I’m sure a lot of people feel like that’s simply wasted time, I feel like I’m always making some progress. Even when I die I’m learning enemy patterns, new environment interactions, what risks are worth taking and which ones aren’t, and most importantly, new ways that I can die. I play tennis, and a mantra I’ve frequently heard applied to the sport is “You have to learn all the ways you can lose before you can win”. I feel like a similar approach holds true for games like Spelunky, and I tend to find that process pretty exciting.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT ATTACK THIS MAN!

And boy, are there a lot of ways to die in Spelunky. I’m constantly caught off guard by any number of things that I had no idea could even happen, and those moments can be simultaneously thrilling and soul crushing. In a lot of games such interactions can feel like arbitrary progress inhibitors; simple “Gotcha!” moments existing outside the normal realm of gameplay that become trivial once you memorize the trick. With Spelunky, however, that is the core gameplay, and it’s used in a way that makes sense. The entire design of Spelunky forces you to learn every single interaction, and learn how to cope with them in order to survive. Then, and this is perhaps Spelunky’s real genius, it makes the game short and randomizes the dungeon layouts to the point where you’re constantly jumping into new variations of the same mechanics. This makes it more than simple memorization. You have to really learn every single piece of the game’s core tenets to get through, and you’re only going to learn them by experiencing them. Make no mistake: Spelunky is totally crazy, and ridiculously tough to penetrate in some ways. But it’s also a kind of crazy that I appreciate, and I’m enjoying throwing myself into the fire. Now if I can just finish that damn temple shortcut...

Finally, I also started my long standing quest to play the core Zelda games that I’ve never played before. I did this with Metroid and Final Fantasy once upon a time, and now it’s Zelda’s turn. First up is The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, which I started this weekend, and have made some decent progress in. I’m not trying to rock the boat here... but that’s a Zelda game. You probably have a good idea what to expect. It’s likely I won’t have much more to say about that, but I will save any thoughts on it for next week, after I finish it. So that’s going to do it for now, until next time!

Currently playing: Spelunky, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

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4 Comments
Posted by MajorMitch
RTS? Tower defense? Or proof that genre labels don't really work?

I started off this week by wrapping up a game of Civilization V: Gods & Kings, and then decided to take a break on Civ V for a bit and move on to some other games. That included, somewhat randomly, Swords & Soldiers. I was browsing through WiiWare games that have gotten good reviews over the years, since I’ve largely ignored the service and wanted to see what I’ve missed, and Swords & Soldiers stood out. It’s been dubbed a RTS, but I don’t know that that’s the best descriptor for it. In fact, I don’t really know of any conventional genre that the game fits into, but maybe describing it as some weird RTS/Tower Defense hybrid is kind of accurate? Like a RTS you collect resources (or in this case, a resource), there is a tech tree containing various units and spells, and use a point-and-click interface to control the battle. Unlike a RTS, however, the view is that of a side scroller, and you can’t actually control any of your units directly. As you build them they just walk across the battlefield in a straight line towards your opponent, who’s doing the same thing on the other end of the screen.

Anyway, I didn’t really enjoy the game that much, unfortunately. I think the idea is neat in theory, but in practice it never clicked with me. And even that is hard to explain; I can’t tell if it’s the game’s doing or mine. The tech tree for each faction is pretty limited, and the way you clash with your opponent near the middle of the map with limited ability to micro led to a bunch of stalemate situations where I felt like neither of us was advancing. I’d continue to try every option available with no perceived change one way or the other, and eventually just stopped. All the missions I beat (which was most of them) took about 5 minutes each. So it’s weird to me that I could sit there for 20 minutes and make literally no progress on the later missions, yet was also never in fear of losing. Like I said though, I don’t know if that was me or the game. There’s either something I’m missing that’s making it unnecessarily difficult, or the game is poorly designed in some way that I can’t quite place. That lack of feedback is pretty annoying, and I don’t want to finish the few missions I have left.

Spelunky is as devious as it is thrilling.

Otherwise the main item of the week was Spelunky. I took the plunge into that madhouse, and have been really enjoying it. I’ve never thought of myself a fan of roguelike style games, but between the Souls games and Spelunky I may be becoming one. Where the Souls games are slow and meticulous though, Spelunky is fast and furious. I generally find myself dying within 5 or so minutes of starting, and while I’m sure a lot of people feel like that’s simply wasted time, I feel like I’m always making some progress. Even when I die I’m learning enemy patterns, new environment interactions, what risks are worth taking and which ones aren’t, and most importantly, new ways that I can die. I play tennis, and a mantra I’ve frequently heard applied to the sport is “You have to learn all the ways you can lose before you can win”. I feel like a similar approach holds true for games like Spelunky, and I tend to find that process pretty exciting.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT ATTACK THIS MAN!

And boy, are there a lot of ways to die in Spelunky. I’m constantly caught off guard by any number of things that I had no idea could even happen, and those moments can be simultaneously thrilling and soul crushing. In a lot of games such interactions can feel like arbitrary progress inhibitors; simple “Gotcha!” moments existing outside the normal realm of gameplay that become trivial once you memorize the trick. With Spelunky, however, that is the core gameplay, and it’s used in a way that makes sense. The entire design of Spelunky forces you to learn every single interaction, and learn how to cope with them in order to survive. Then, and this is perhaps Spelunky’s real genius, it makes the game short and randomizes the dungeon layouts to the point where you’re constantly jumping into new variations of the same mechanics. This makes it more than simple memorization. You have to really learn every single piece of the game’s core tenets to get through, and you’re only going to learn them by experiencing them. Make no mistake: Spelunky is totally crazy, and ridiculously tough to penetrate in some ways. But it’s also a kind of crazy that I appreciate, and I’m enjoying throwing myself into the fire. Now if I can just finish that damn temple shortcut...

Finally, I also started my long standing quest to play the core Zelda games that I’ve never played before. I did this with Metroid and Final Fantasy once upon a time, and now it’s Zelda’s turn. First up is The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, which I started this weekend, and have made some decent progress in. I’m not trying to rock the boat here... but that’s a Zelda game. You probably have a good idea what to expect. It’s likely I won’t have much more to say about that, but I will save any thoughts on it for next week, after I finish it. So that’s going to do it for now, until next time!

Currently playing: Spelunky, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I like the tennis/rogue-type analogy. That's very true of games like ZHP and Recettear, which are two of my favorites in the genre. I haven't played a rogue-type that's really grabbed me since those two, but I'm glad to see another person enjoying the genre. It's got a lot of room yet to grow and evolve.

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Posted by MajorMitch

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Thanks. I haven't played many games of this style, but I've liked the ones that I have played, and I agree that there's room for them to grow. I can imagine all sorts of crazy and interesting things they could do. Recettear is actually a game I'd like to try if I could find the time, I thought it looked pretty neat when it came out.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

If you can get past the saccharine characters and trappings, there's a hell of a lot of fun to be had with that one.

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