I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a Dying Light person. You may be surprised to learn that I have a neurotic compulsion as relates to some aspect of a game, I’ll pause while you absorb the shock, but if a game has co-op I always wonder if I’m “doin’ it rong” playing it in single player, with neither co nor op. Sometimes I don’t get back to games if I can’t find a partner. It happens.
I played it with Gabe for a little bit, but I don’t think it was for him; we didn’t have a bad time by any means, but the natural inclination of the open world to make you do everything but the specific thing you are trying to do - multiplied by a value that increases with each participant - meant that we spent most of the time hitting a single prostrate zombie and talking about the same kinds of things we would be talking about if we were doing absolutely anything else.
Also, when the zombies didn’t drop any Ascendant Shards, he logged. So that’s probably that.
I mentioned when I got back from PAX South that there were certain trends in play there, ones I’ve watched with delight online and then had a chance to see made flesh. I can’t get into the indie penchant for arena brawlers right now, but that ground is being furiously tilled and occasionally strange obelisks are discovered just below the surface. No, I gotta get into this sports shit. I have told you that I have fraught relationship with actual sports outside ping-pong but I have an endless appetite for simulations of real or imagined sports. And apparently I’m not the only one.
Super Slam Dunk Touchdown is probably the densest knot of sports on record, with more than forty megasports per square inch. This is a game where a soccer goal has a basket on it also, and you build your team from Football Players, Roller Derby Players, Hockey Players and the like, and then a ball from a random sport drops in and you have to make sense of it all. Plus, the people showing off the game wore referee uniforms, which classed up the entire showfloor. I was also drawn into a fateful round of Sportsball on the Wii U, which might just as well be called Super Joust. I say fateful because I thought I was “man” enough to choose a super heavy, high skill bird and I really, really wasn’t. Hopefully obliterating me at my own show was a high point for the brutal and lawless highwaymen on the opposing team.
Iron Galaxy has its cyberthumb in a lot of holo-pies, and next to a machine running Killer Instinct: Season 2 was a fucking buffet of sports interpretations. Gunsport is novel, and not just for making the Sport part a suffix instead of a prefix. The best way to put it, I think, is that it’s team-based dystopian volley-pong. Which is a good thing to be, if there were any doubts.
Capsule Force I love, love, love. It’s possible that this game is Sports Adjacent, and not just in a literal way at the show, but also as an indicator of its position on the Great Diagram. But it has teams fighting over a ball, so I’m leaving it here. In Capsule Force, two teams of two are trying to get all the way to the enemy capsule - imagine that even touching the flag in a CTF match scored you a point, and that’s what we’re talking about here. It don’t know that I’ve ever felt so “hyper” playing a game, because that’s all it takes, one touch, so all the switches of your awareness get flipped - probably to the detriment of your skill. Individual players can shoot each other, or charge for a powerful beam; they can also shield in a kinda Super Smash way. But the main thing at the core of it is the novel MegaMan style playfield: it takes place on several adjacent screens, moving left or right to each team’s capsule. Two tiers of fast platforms can be jumped on to whisk you, one screen at a time, to your destination. So Capsule Force could also be called Laser Train Tug-o-War, and who wouldn’t want that.
The last one in Iron Galaxy’s fucking carnival of amusements is Videoball. There is a lot to distinguish it. But I need to get something vital out of the way first: it is made by Tim Rogers, who is my Satan.
I was drawn to the screen of his game, like a moth, inexorably drawn to that which moths crave above all else. Some moth thing, who knows what it could be. But I began to get the sense early on in my conversation with one of the creators that it was Tim Rogers, just that sorta tingle you get, that “Oh shit, Jesus Christ, this is Tim Fucking Rogers, isn’t it” sorta vibe. He suggested during this conversation that based on my writing, he always sorta thought we’d get along. Because I have a condition that makes me unable to say the good thing, the proper thing, which has made life in the Age Of The Personal Brand an unending nightmare, I said, “Your writing makes me want to fight you in a bar.”
So you might think that this is was an inauspicious pairing. But here’s the thing that makes my Rogers Policy so complex: when it comes to his own games, I love his instincts. If he was just whoever he is and then he was just wrong, I would never feel the thorn jostle in the wound. But he’s got it. Whatever is required to do this thing, this impossible thing, he’s got it.
The other games I have mentioned all leverage pixel art. I love how each has done so, I have no beef with artists. They have all committed to their own take on it. Videoball trades on the double reverse irony so core to its creator, the demon womb Tim Ass Rogers. It has as its thesis that the elemental, one button gameplay on offer would have been all clean vectors, if our forebears could have done so. So there isn’t a pixel to be seen anywhere. It’s all eternal shapes. I can see them now.
The gameplay can take many forms; it reminds me of how you could flip various switches on an old Atari and apply various mods to the rules. Maybe each team has two goals. Maybe there’s terrain. Maybe there’s, like, five different balls. At its root: imagine that every player is one of the triangle ships from Asteroids, except instead of shooting damage, you shoot force. Got it? It’s soccer, played with Asteroids ships. There are four levels of charge on the fire button, which is the only button. The first three are levels of force, and the fourth one actually creates a square you can set up in front of the goal if you want. You could set it up somewhere else, but the goal isn’t a bad place. Now: these interactions very legible, which is vital for something in this continuum. You have to know what’s happening, and it doesn’t take long to get there. You’ll know the “rules” by the end of the first game, and then you’ll want to play with them. For example, touching the ball (or getting hit with it) essentially stuns the player. So the ball is also terrain that can be used against opponents. What I like about sports “games” is that they are functionally speaking wargames. They are about position and tactics. This is a real-time, tactical wargame. Fuck this fucking guy.
So, Tim Rogers. I live every moment of my life in repudiation of his. I don’t want him to be right about anything. But he’s right about this.