Wed Sep 29 12:48:06 EDT 2010

wherein bbot complains about colors

Mayflight is a very retro game. Very, very retro. So retro you expect to see "Copyright 1990" at the bottom of the title screen.

That is a statement that will make a certain kind of gamer happy, but hold on. Mayflight isn't neo-retro, a type of art direction characterized by great big cuddly pixels and chirpy synthesized music. You know, like VVVVVV, Spelunky or Minecraft.

No, Mayflight is authentically retro, so it has great big cuddly pixels, chirpy synthesized music, hideously ugly color palettes, soul-crushingly terrible controls, droolingly moronic UI, and pants on head retarded level design. It's very retro, in that almost all old games were very bad.

Mayflight is made by one John Harris, who does a monthly column for GameSetWatch, and who doesn't appear to have a personal website at all. Accordingly, he dedicated a column to his game.

The relevance of the game to the theme of his column, roguelike games, is that Mayflight features a lot of procedurally generated content, and therein lies the problem.

Mayflight suffers, and suffers badly, from the classic bugaboo of procedural games: generating interesting random content. He also wrote a column on how he generated the background images, which reveals that the algorithm has access to the entire color gamut. This has serious knock-on consequences, in that you can never trust important visual elements, like enemies, pickups, or how much time you have until you die; to stand out against the screen.

Rather than solving this programatically, like having enemies be the inverse of whatever they're standing over, or floating UI text over a box, John decided to just have them cycle through all the colors. This results in the powerups, the powerups you depend on to extend the clock, and thus to not die, are very briefly quite visible against the background, spend rather more time being hard to see, and are occasionally completely fucking invisible.

John then went on to render all the text, everywhere, in the entire game; in cycling rainbow colors. You get the feeling he wanted to cultivate a Space Giraffesque like-whoa-the-colors-man psychedelic experience, except the backgrounds are static, and are so frequently hideous, that any such effect simply doesn't exist.

I realize that I haven't spoken of the gameplay. It is thus: When you start the game, you have ten seconds to live. Kill enemies and grab pickups to extend the timer. Concordantly, at the beginning of the game, you move the slowest, and jump about as well as a white man.

Why do game devs keep fucking doing this? Granting the player usable platforming controls only after playing for fifteen minutes is like spitting in the face of someone just starting the game.

Not that the controls are terribly useful even when completely unlocked. You "fly" by mashing the jump button, which rapidly exhausts the flight bar, which means you spend a lot of time standing around waiting for it to recharge, while watching the timer tick down. Movement in general is about as crisp and responsive as dragging a rake through treacle, which is definitely something you want in a platforming game with a time limit.

But at least it doesn't cost money. Worse games have been worked on by many more people, then baldfacedly sold in stores, like things of actual value.

Posted by | Permanent link | File under: Game Design, nerdery