Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Owlboy, Roguelikes, and recreational mathematics.

"Don't they teach recreational mathematics any more?"

I haven't stopped playing video games. Just WoW.

Recently I played through a great mid-price indie game ($25 is mid-price, right?) called Owlboy. It felt like a SuperNES-era zelda game, all exploration and adventuring. The amazing thing that this game does is so simple it seems dumb it hasn't been done before. It's a metroidvania-style platforming game but instead of platform jumping you just fly.

Owlboy is the most vertical game I've ever played. Imagine zelda-style world map exploration, but you just keep flying up, and up, and up and up and up. The music changes as you keep moving up, into and through a seemingly endless sky full of floating islands; towns, dungeons, friends, enemies, secrets. And you collect coins and unlock additional weapons and buy upgrades and eat vegetables to regain health.

It's got a pretty decent Final Fantasy style story to it too. I'm generally opposed to unskippable story scenes in games, but I didn't mind these ones too much. (For the record I thought The Stanley Parable was pretty cool, and I didn't bother to "play" Dear Esther.)

More important than any told story Owlboy has atmosphere.

And now I've played through it all twice and I'm bored with it. If only there was a way to somehow generate unique gameplay situations every time you played, he said, awkwardly segueing.

I played a bit of The Binding of Isaac, quite a bit of Spelunky, and a metric fuckton of Darkest Dungeon.

I love the roguelike genre. The inability to completely control your environment creates a need to play to 100% of any potential advantages, and to weigh every choice carefully using incomplete information.

I see it in a way as a simulation of life. Failure may be inevitable, but every choice matters. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so the simplest route to success is generally the best one.

The other game I've been playing is Hearthstone, which is based on Magic, which on balance probably deserves its utterly generic name. I mean since it literally invented the genre.

Magic is a competitive game played with two (or more) people. The gameplay is based on generating interesting math problems and game theory style psychology. From a pool of hundreds of cards, players create a deck from which they draw cards at random and use the unique functions of these cards to try to win the game.

A major feature of Magic is that it's impossible to know what cards your opponent has or what cards you will draw next, making it effectively a roguelike game-- each player weighing their choices using incomplete information.

Magic is not a game for people who are bad at losing. It will teach you that control is an illusion, that there is no status without challenge, and that in any complex system incredible things will always happen.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've just learned about and bought and downloaded a follow up to Limbo called INSIDE. It looks pretty cool.


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