[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

 

Introduction:

For about a decade after I originally played it, Jak II was my favorite game. In the run up to its release back in 2003, I spent over a month convincing my parents (especially my violent-media-averse mother) that it would be alright for me to purchase the game, despite the fact that it would be rated ‘T for Teens’ and I would not quite yet be a teenager.

My ironclad arguments included that I had already played the T-rated games Ratchet & Clank and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4; that Jak doesn’t get access to guns until partway through the game; that the enemies in Jak II simply vanish without any blood when killed; and that I had already completed its E-rated predecessor, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Ultimately, I doubt my folks were swayed by any of those arguments. Rather, they probably relented because I was almost a teen anyway, and I had demonstrated so extensively and so annoyingly the depth of my desire to play it.

In fact, I had not simply completed Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. I had one hundred percented it. And the game did not reward that effort with a chunk of additional gameplay, as had titles that I had previously one hundred percented (such as the entries in the original Spyro trilogy); instead, it simply provided a short, cryptic cutscene lightly teasing the inciting incident of Jak II. This may go some way to justifying my eagerness to play the sequel. Nevertheless, when I did finally get my hands on it, I was astonished by the quality of the game.

Jak II screenshot with piloting zoomer in slums - Naughty Dog, retrospective analysis, analogy, comparison

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[Game: Jak II, Naughty Dog, 2003]
Jak, Too:

Extolling the Virtues of Naughty Dog’s Second Jak & Daxter Title via an Unintuitive Analogy

was last modified: July 29th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

 

prog.1 screenshot with late-game level - Vector Arcade

Introduction:

Today I am writing about a somewhat unique take on a common indie gaming design trope: casting the player in the role of a computer program. It worked for A Virus Named Tom and it worked for Thomas Was Alone; but does it work for Vector Arcade’s new platformer prog.1?

I played through all 48 of prog.1‘s levels three times prior to writing this review (my reasons for doing so are available below as well), and I am ready to provide my assessment. The general form of my experience with the game is that I am mostly pleased with it. I enjoyed the gameplay, loved the visual design, and found the story energetic. But I also found the game light on content and had a number of minor nitpicks.

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[Game: prog.1, Vector Arcade, 2016]
Pithy Platforming:

On the Strong Visual Design, Strong Thematic Gameplay, and Light Content of prog.1

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Rogue Legacy, Cellar Door Games, 2013]
Turned Up to 11:

Rogue Legacy‘s Remix Bosses and the Virtues of Nonlinear Difficulty Scaling

 

[On the five-year anniversary of Rogue Legacy‘s release (two years after this article was published), Cellar Door Games patched Rogue Legacy with an update that (among other things) allows players to buff the characters for the remix boss fights. This significantly degrades the remix boss mechanic in Rogue Legacy as an example of the inflexible, nonlinear-scaling elements discussed in this article. The article remains archived in its original form, however, as the general theoretical case it makes remains intact (as regards the earlier version of the game, and all other instances of this type of design in other titles). – The Gemsbok]

 

Rogue Legacy screenshot with castle - Cellar Door Games - remix bosses - nonlinear difficulty scaling

Introduction:

Today’s topic is yet another indie game, and yet another roguelike-inspired game, and yet another game that I will be praising for its satisfying difficulty. But having covered similar topics so many times now in this series, I would like to do something a little different with Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy by discussing its implementation of remix bosses as an absurd (and, from my perspective, totally welcome) spike in difficulty.

I have done this a few times in this series so far, primarily when covering games that have already been met with overwhelming praise by critics and audiences alike. In such cases, rather than throwing my praise on the praise pile, I try to offer something new, from a reading of the pixel art in FTL to a look at the atmosphere in Spacechem to a precise account of The Binding of Isaac‘s succession of The Legend of Zelda. Today’s angle: Rogue Legacy‘s various remix bosses may be seen as a prime example of nonlinearity in the scaling of a game’s difficulty, which produces potentially unintuitive benefits for the player.

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[Game: Rogue Legacy, Cellar Door Games, 2013]
Turned Up to 11:

Rogue Legacy‘s Remix Bosses and the Virtues of Nonlinear Difficulty Scaling

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games, 2014]
As From a Time Machine:

How Shovel Knight Embraces and then Rises Above its Capacity for Nostalgia

 

Introduction:

Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight is a game whose Kickstarter campaign‘s success may be attributable to, above other merits, nostalgia for the SNES era of games whose aesthetics and gameplay Shovel Knight promised to deliver. It’s a winning formula, and one on which many other projects have been happy to capitalize: sell the gaming population its own childhood.

Such projects, often full of wry nods toward and inside jokes from NES and SNES titles, wear the clothes of classics. They have pixel art as a matter of convention, and scrolling text as a matter of principle. But Shovel Knight is a special game, because it does not merely wear the clothes of the classics; it is a classic, every bit as deserving of acclaim and status as are the titles whose trappings got it funded.

Shovel Knight screenshot with NPC village - nostalgia - Yacht Club Games

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[Game: Shovel Knight, Yacht Club Games, 2014]
As From a Time Machine:

How Shovel Knight Embraces and then Rises Above its Capacity for Nostalgia

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Spelunky, Mossmouth, 2012]
Platforming Perfection:

The Incredible Design and Even Better Execution of Mossmouth’s Spelunky

 

Introduction:

Derek Yu’s Spelunky first appeared as a freeware game in 2008, and it soon became a beloved piece of software for many gamers in the know (including acting as one of the two biggest influences on Edmund McMillen’s design for The Binding of Isaac). Yu then turned his attention (enlisting the help of Andy Hull under the Mossmouth heading) to a ground-up HD remake of Spelunky, and its release garnered a victory in the design category of 2012’s IGF, followed by PC Gamer naming Spelunky‘s Steam release their game of the year for 2013. That second accolade resulted in a lot of controversy, with gamers all over the internet commenting concerns about how a simple 2-D indie game could possibly beat all of 2013’s massive studio releases, with each franchise’s fans arguing their case.

If you know me well, you’ve already got a pretty good idea of what sort of remarks I made toward those negative reactions. Mostly, I wondered whether most of those commenters were merely judging the game by its cover art, as it were, and had not actually played the game. As it stands, I would not only concur that Spelunky was the best game released in 2013, but I would go yet further and say that Spelunky is one of the best games I have ever played. To explain why, I will now compare Spelunky to the original Super Mario Bros. games.

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[Game: Spelunky, Mossmouth, 2012]
Platforming Perfection:

The Incredible Design and Even Better Execution of Mossmouth’s Spelunky

was last modified: August 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski