How not to make a video game

Too often developers tell a beautiful story bogged down by horrendous game-play decisions that leave the player with a sense of “did they even bother testing this game beyond a couple times?” Too often western games borrow from Japanese games in the philosophy that it’s completely okay to bash your head against a metaphorical wall with little payoff. A wall that only increases in artificial difficulty because the developers want it that way and not because it comes off organically from the game-play mechanics or story. Oh you’ve mastered the controls? Well, lets take these checkpoints which were evenly, and nicely spaced out, and you can bash your head against the wall because now they are few and sparse. Oh, you wanted to play a quick game and hear a beautiful story recited by a father to her daughter about the father’s uncle? Yea, take two cups of go fuck yourself, and one cup of nope, and welcome to A Story About My Uncle. A game that doesn’t understand what it wants to be. “You can go almost anywhere” is what the game says early on. Early on, you realise, that’s a load of shit. You can only go where we, the developers, want you to go.

I play games to escape. Playing this game started off that way and quickly turned into a sweaty palms fest of needing high skill and intricacy. Linear passages turned to open space linear passages that are very difficult to judge where to go. Though this does nicely result in the player feeling a sense of “huh, that was the right way to go”. Sadly, any feelings of accomplishment are quickly buried because the game goes “oh, you thought that last bit was hard? well get ready to go bash your head against the wall again”. THANK GOD, the game was free. I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone if it cost money. An exercise in futility and how much time are you willing to waste practising the end bits (Ice cave) over and over, spending more than 3X the amount that you spent anywhere else in the game. I’ll be honest, I didn’t beat it. And I don’t think I ever will. I’m stumped because after pulling off an insane amount of platforming, the game rewards you by putting you at the edge of a cliff with no obvious answer. And when you do realise the stress and insanity of platforming you’ll have to accomplish, you ask yourself… is it worth giving a fuck about A Story About My Uncle?

The answer is fuck no. You don’t design a game to be an ever increasing series of stronger walls to bash your head through. Want an example of a good puzzle platformer? Quantum Conundrum. Portal. Q.U.B.E (and number 2). The Turing Test. This game is a fraud that uses a beautiful and whimsical story to barely thread together a series of rooms. And within these rooms, is a system of first person platforming with jumping, high jumps, momentary thrusts forward, and a very limited grappling hook. Using momentum to fling yourself across large distances and open spaces onto precarious floating platforms. Momentum which follows random laws of the developers own making and often not even making sense to its own system, leaving the player often frustrated at having to make repeated attempts at what should have been rather easy.

3/10 game. 2 for story, 1 for system of movement (limited grappling hook).  -7 for constantly making the player do a series of every increasingly harder tasks with no payout in between. Never does the game let you rest, or give you a breather, or even plateau for that matter.

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