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Monthly Archives: March 2009

Hello, My name is Shaun and I’m an addict.

Hello Shaun.

Thanks, I’ve been an addict since oh.. the first time I discovered Donkey Kong. Don’t remember when that was. But what I do remember is how long it took me to beat the first screen. Such a horrifyingly painful game. Designed that way on purpose ofcourse, as an old-school arcade classic it’s entire purpose was to reel in cash while kicking the living crap out of the player and laughing at their ineptitude. Donkey Kong is brutal. There are mechanics coded in the game designed to kill off the player if they’re just doing too well. The way barrels decide whether or not to come down a ladder while you’re climbing it, the way DK decides whether or not to throw a homing barrel at you wherever you are in the screen, Whether or not those GOD DAMN FLAMES will turn around the moment you try and jump them, landing you straight on their heads. It’s all designed to be a mortifying experience that begs a sickening amount of coins to make any kind of progress.

So what’s the trick here? If Donkey Kong is so brutal and unforgiving, why on earth did people play it? Why do people STILL play it? And why on earth am I still playing it!? I think the former can be attributed to the nature of the arcade machine and the latter two largely attributed to a niche market of masochists and my own personal insanity. There’s something brilliantly addictive about a game that presents me with something that’sjust about possible, but will screw you over any way it can, tell you it can’t be done and take every opportunity to remind you that you suck. I don’t even mean addictive in a frustrating way. Well.. Ok frustration is definitely a part of it but while I’m having my arse handed to me barrel after barrel in DK I’m still having fun. Beating a level brings so much more reward to it when you know the game really didn’t want you to beat it.

I’ve had a number of discussions and read a number of articles on how the future of games is in Carrot over Stick. Rewarding the player and making them feel good about themselves, making sure the average player can get through the game, not punishing the player with scarce save points and a finite number of lives. It’s all true and logical and I agree with it whole-heartedly. Staple mechanics of Mario games have simply become outdated. Time limits and Lives are a thing of the past. But I still have to sit back now and again and admire the beauty of a game that thinks it’s better than me.

A specific little sadistic nugget of hellborn fire of this standard is I Wanna Be the Fangame  ( a fangame of the equally sadistic I Wanna Be the Guy. I mention the fangame specifically just to plug it, while both are great I prefer the Fangame to the original, the bosses and puzzles are really creative and inventive. To stop derailing myself, the mind bending satisfaction attained from playing IWBTFG is born, madly, out of the painful frustration that comes before it.  It’s general misleading style is to present you with what looks like a simple ‘walk across the room, jump a couple of times’ problem and then when you take a step or two forwards it will throw tons of random insta-kill spikes and monsters at you out of nowhere. You die (In a nice explosion of red pixels) in one touch of pretty much everything in a level that isn’t strictly a platform (and even those often kill you) Save points are distributed neatly after every set of major challenges and your only weapons are jump, double jump and a peashooter for activating saves and killing some enemies. Each screen requires a painful process of trial and error, some ‘outside the box’ thinking and an intricate understanding of the deceptively simple physics engine. The game tries at every opportunity to lead you one direction with arrows, seemingly innocent platforms and simple looking puzzles, just so it can kill you in the blink of an eye and laugh at you. While the real solution is subtle and hidden, the game doesn’t want you to find it. It wants to see how long it can keep killing you. That said the game remains fair. It is definitely playable and completeable by anyone with the patience and stamina for punishment.

One section of the game nearly made me punch a hole in my monitor, I found a secret area off the main path that when followed lead me to a desert area with a sign saying “Endless Desert” and a save point. Instinctively I activated the save point. Oh the fool I am. I should have known better of this bastardized game. The desert was infact endless. Walk out one side of the screen, brings you back to the other. I was trapped. And I had saved. 

I had to start the whole game again.

I was NOT amused.

But at the same time, I was. It was a brilliant and spiteful trap. Amazing and terrible at the same time. That’s what this game is. Horribly designed, yet Brilliantly designed. To come back to the point I was desperately trying to get to, the satisfaction that comes from actually beating just one of this game’s malicious challenges is something far up and beyond that of beating the entirety of say, Portal. A Fantastic (with a capital F) game that was easily my top game of 2007. Brilliant from start to finish, hilarious, clever, witty and fun. But it just doesnt have that same “F*** YES. I DID IT. I BEAT THAT F***ING LEVEL.” feeling that erupts from a game like Donkey Kong, Mario ROM hacks and IWBTFG. Knowing you overcame a challenge the game thought you’d never overcome, the feeling that you outsmarted the game and wasn’t cleverly lead to solving the game, it’s brilliant. It defies logic, it defies an equation, but sadistic, masochistic, bloodily brutal games will always have a special frustrating place in my heart. You can stand proud and say “I beat IWBTFG.” it’s an impressive feat. Where millions have completed Portal, mere hundreds have seen it to screen 50+ of Donkey Kong. The bragging rights are just worth that much more. 

On that note, I think I’ll go punish myself some more with IWBTFG. I’m pumped now. This game will not defeat me.