Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Writing What You Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 16, 2012

I picked up Fez on Friday, and enjoyed about an hour or so enjoying the game.  It’s a nice twist on the 2D platformer genre. I don’t have enough experience in that genre to say if it’s unique, but it’s certainly new to me, and quite impressive how the game depends on warping a 3D world into 2D perspectives to do the impossible. I like it.

I was thinking about writing an article about why I don’t make side-scrolling platform games, though that seems to be the most popular indie genre. It certainly would be a lot easier. Not that something of the complexity of Fez was simple. But as a general rule, action games are a lot easier to make than most other genres. There’s a reason id Software started out with Commander Keen. Well, okay, that reason was that Carmack had figured out a way to do side-scrolling on crappy EGA-based PCs. But besides that: It was simple.

So why don’t I do platformers? Well, for one thing, I’ve always been a little allergic doing what everybody else does. I tend to gravitate towards interesting niches. I was going to say that for another, I don’t really play platformers. But that’s not really true. They aren’t my favorite genre, although I do have a pretty good history with ’em. I tend to “graze” games more often than really playing them in-depth, and rarely got very good at any action game. One major exception in my past was the side-scroller arcade game Shinobi. I can’t say I regret all the quarters I put into that machine, but I did get to the point where I could play the entire game on a single quarter – usually a single life.

I learned to really love the patterns, the rhythm. Usually I’d play a section mostly by rote, but on a few levels I’d inevitably get my timing off, or I’d intentionally try a different approach, and that’s when it would get the most fun. My attention would be riveted as I’d respond to a four or five enemies all shooting, leaping, and blocking, trying to come up with the best sequence of moves to survive. I’d done it so many times in similar situations that it was almost zen-like.

So I get the appeal. And while I was never a major Super Mario Brothers fan, or ever that good at it, I still enjoyed the game. Maybe one day I’ll create a 2D-style platformer. I won’t rule it out. I guess technically, I already have, as one of the programmers on Animorphs: Shattered Reality for the Playstation many years ago. But I was brought onto the project late, and we were all laid off during the course of that one, so I don’t exactly consider that one a highlight of my career.

But the truth is, I don’t really have anything to say. Braid, which I haven’t managed to get into in spite of my best efforts, did have something interesting to say and do with the genre. That’s cool. I do enjoy VVVVVV a good deal, and while it’s twist on the genre may be a little more gimmicky, it’s still a solidly entertaining little game. And yeah, I’m enjoying Fez.

I Wanna Be the Guy? Not so much. My masochism really only extends to old-school CRPGs, thanks.

Now deep down I’d love to see love of gaming transcend genre categories and conventions, with the boundaries completely destroyed as presentation and gameplay become truly divorced from each other and yadda yadda. But the truth of the matter is that these definitions are convenient, especially for gamers who would like to not spend the first half-hour of their play time learning to crawl all over again. So we’ll use it as a very broad category that’s a nice island for us to anchor near for the purpose of discussion.

For me, as an indie – I haven’t immersed myself enough in the genre to feel like I’ve got anything useful or interesting to say there yet. I’m a lurker of the category. Nor do I have any game idea screaming to be unleashed that really demands being done as a platformer. I write what I game. Not all of that is ridiculously complex old-school style RPGs, but it stands to reason that after all this time I’ve got a lot of ideas I’d like to explore in that space.

Maybe I’ll make one as a Game Jam concept one weekend. If I find myself smacked around with an idea I just can’t wait to get onto the screen.



Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • NWegener said,

    I love Platformers, mostly because they lend themselves so easily to “simple to learn, hard to master”. I can pick one up and have fun within Minutes but still need Hours to master it.
    It is so satisfying to see how much you mastered the Game in that Genre, heck you can actually perceive yourself becoming better over a timeframe of 5 Minutes. What was brutally hard minutes ago can quickly become, not easy but something manageable.

    The market is sadly oversaturated with Platformers, though. As I chose to make an Action-Platformer as my first game, this is something that I’m angsting a bit over. The Game, so far, does not seem to be that innovative or original.
    For those interested, here is a Link to the Work-In-Progress thread of the Game (with a small playable Version) in the official Unity-Forums:

    Also, in how far are action Games easier to make, or rather compared to what other genres? Not that I don’t believe you, this is a legitimate Question, born out of my lack of experience. I thought the Real-Time-Component of it would make Development harder compared to a Turn-Based Solution (especially if you add Multiplayer to the whole thing).

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – I think you may have just suggested a GREAT topic for a blog post! Expect something later in the week (or next week). It’s definitely one of those things that is considered a truism in the industry, but should always be re-evaluated.

    And BTW, congratulations on your efforts! And good luck!

  • NWegener said,

    I’m definitely looking forward to that. I remember my problems getting Moving Platforms to work in my game, where the Character would sometimes fall through a Platform going up, but only sometimes and only (I think) when the Framerate was above 50 FPS. I’m still not sure whether I fixed that Bug (How do you know you fixed a Bug that only happens rarely :)) and it reappeared throughout all of Development after every attempted Fix. I think the main reason for that was the difference between Update and FixedUpdate(The Former for Character-Movement, which is called at the Beginning of each Frame, and the latter for the Platform which is called at a fixed Time-Intervall of 20ms).

    Also thanks for the kind words. 🙂

  • Craig Stern said,

    “Maybe I’ll make one as a Game Jam concept one weekend.”

    That’s how Ham Sandwich RPG was born. 🙂

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I always wondered what inspired that one… 😉