Wait, don’t go away just yet! It’s more interesting than the title makes it sound!
Basically, Interplay is a video game developer and publisher that owns a ton of different IPs including the Earthworm Jim series. And what the announcement means is that they’re selling some of the IPs they’ve done less with to new owners.
So why is this interesting?
Well, Earthworm Jim 1 and 2 were great games for the SNES and Mega Drive. And while Interplay’s attempts at getting sequels made (Earthworm Jim 3D and Menace 2 to the Galaxy) were god awful, the original team is still interested in making a fourth title in the style of the classic ones.
Up until now, that’s been impossible.
But now with Interplay selling it? That means that franchise creator Doug TenNaple can now potentially work on a brand new game in the series, assuming a company that’s willing to work with his team buys the license. That’s good news for fans of the franchise, and could potentially lead to the ‘Rayman Origins’ of the Earthworm Jim series.
And that’s not all, there are also a few other potentially interesting IPs here too. Clayfighter is also being sold off, and that’s a cult series whose fans likely want it revived as well. And while there was an attempt at a 2016 game that was eventually cancelled by Interplay, it’s possible that a new owner could bring this series back to its former ‘glory’ as well.
Sacrifice (an obscure real time strategy game) and Descent (a pretty good FPS) have definite potential too, and most of the other IPs on sale were at least decent when they were originally released. Here’s the full list of IPs being put up for sale:
- Earthworm Jim
- Run Like Hell
- Dark Alliance
So yeah, good news for fans of those titles, because they’re now ever closer to being revived by someone who truly cares about the series and doesn’t just want to see it abandoned. Let’s hope this happens, and some of the games above get new instalments by their original creators!
Recently, a bit of controversy has started up about YouTube’s new ‘advertiser friendly content’ rules. Basically, they’re a list of things that are seen as ‘inappropriate’ for monetisation.
They’re bad. Bad enough that just about every big channel on the site has complained about them and said that enforcing them will kill YouTube. Seriously, Gaijin Goomba may have said it best here:
But while they’re bad for most people in general, the rules are worst for one specific group above all others. Namely, gamers and gaming fans in general.
Why is this?
Because by definition, they make it a risk to post gaming content on YouTube.
This is because every one of these points is dangerous for gaming videos. For example, take the point about ‘sexually suggestive’ content. The one about ‘partial nudity’ and ‘sexual humour’. What can that easily describe?
Oh wait, a lot of video games. Dead or Alive is the obvious one, and the VR demo footage makes this even more apparent. As is the entire Leisure Suit Larry series, or any other gaming franchises that focus around adult humour and a character spending the entire game trying to get laid. And that’s just the start of it. What about games like GTA, where some games are shown in a sexual way in some situations (like say, the strip clubs)? How about a typical racing game where attractive women are shown next to the cars at the start or end of the race? The list just goes on and on.
Imagine someone was digging through an old attic and found a crumbling and yellowed scrap of paper that held these cryptic lines with no date or name:
The king of the amorous peerage,
You, with tearless on the twain;
The falchion death — approached the forth assay,
With mickle lord with evil and duke with choice,
Upon that the crystal warrior cried, seized,
which caused his arm to be scanned by his sleight,
Renewed the shall none imprest, misjudging for a day
That I ever were.
There would be something captivating about it. The lines don’t really mean anything but they sound like they should. Phrases like “The king of the amorous peerage” and “tearless on the twain” have a nice bounce when read aloud. Throwing the lines into a plagiarism checker comes up 100% unique, and Google offers no answers. Even if the discoverer decided the poem was nonsense, it would be hard to dismiss: some long-dead person had to come up with these words and feel they were worth writing down. Even without any context, the humanity grants it an importance.
Now imagine that those lines were written by a Java program that builds text by knowing which letter is most likely to come next based on a statistical analysis of the frequency of letters in a 16th century epic poem (Orlando Furioso) that I copy-and-pasted into the program straight from Project Gutenberg. The gnawing mystery of the first scenario is replaced by an “oh, neat.”
Where the discoverer of the hypothetical attic note might have been driven to madness, bidding thousands in an auction to win an unearthed volume of poems by The Tearless Twain Poet, I doubt anyone would really be interested in sitting down and reading the hundreds, thousands, or millions of stanzas the Java program could churn out. It can produce so many words the amount becomes irrelevant. The semi-coherent sentences and sonorous turns of phrase become amusing coincidences, interesting to us humans but really only a temporary accident the computer made in while completing its calculations. It’s the same principle behind why things like the Voynich manuscript still earn public attention six centuries after its creation, while the equally mysterious and contextless creations of a computer, well, don’t.
And this is why I wasn’t surprised when the No Man’s Sky hype train slowly chugged into the station of ambivalent and middling reviews. When people excitedly talked about the game’s eighteen quintillion planets, I thought, oh no, they’re expecting eighteen quintillion Skyrims. I knew it’d quickly gain the “what’d the computer make this time?” aspect that reading eighteen quintillion stanzas of the Java-created poem would. Sure enough, the people speak: “A mile wide but [an] inch deep” (Steam review, Squirrely1337). “The planets are mostly identical and have an empty sterile feeling to them so what’s the point of having millions of them. [I’d] rather have 3 interesting ones.” (Metacritic review, Bortx) “Every planet is a different shade of rocks … it’s like driving in the suburbs … it’s completely desolate.” (Rich Evans)
Not that I wanted No Man’s Sky to fail—I’m not a monster. I got as excited as anyone when a game (with colors) based on random generation was showcased and stole hearts at E3 2014. I don’t believe any popular video game has fully tapped into the allure of endless content and true surprise that random generation can provide, but there’s an important problem with random generation—how do you get attached to it? How do you stop looking at random generation as a tech demo (“what it’d make this time…”) and more like a game? When it comes to nostalgic ingrained attachment, can an algorithm’s temporary creation ever create a Bob-Omb Battlefield or a Hyrule Field?
When wanting to create meaningful random generation, there are decades of video games to take inspiration (and warning) from. Random generation has been a part of video games from their earliest years, where it meshed with early games’ abstracted graphics and limited memory. Even though modern video games don’t have the space restrictions they once did (AAA games regularly balloon up to 20–30GB, while some games like Grand Theft Auto V are over 60GB), modern games have continued to find new and varied uses for random generation’s capabilities. No Man’s Sky held its random generation as its innovative selling point, yet eight years before, Spore had a comparable variety of random planets, aliens, vehicles, and music. However, it remains best known for its genre-hopping gameplay and emphasis on player design. In Spore, the random generation was a tool to flesh out the background of what was a fun game, not the game. The randomization-heavy “roguelike” genre has also had a modern renaissance since Rogue, the genre’s namesake, was released in 1980. Roguelike and roguelike-inspired games like The Binding of Isaac and FTL: Faster Than Light use randomized levels and rewards to maintain the feeling of a fresh start and not knowing what lies ahead of you and requiring the player to prepare accordingly. (As opposed to the Dark Souls games where the reward comes on the fifth replay when all the challenges that frustrated you on the first play are left right where you remembered them.)
But every now and then a game earns attention for its randomness alone, especially when discussing the size of overworlds in video games. Before No Man’s Sky’s trailer made headlines, Minecraft was famous for having the enormous video game overworld. Its in-game map stretches thirty million blocks in each direction, which, if one assumes a block is a meter, is several times bigger than the surface of the Earth. Yet for all that terrain, exploring it leads to a familiarity with the game’s algorithm. “This is where that biome ends and another begins,” “this biome has ground blocks of sand,” “this one has steeper hills,” etc. In single-player Minecraft, the terrain becomes mere resources, an unsoiled canvas upon which to build your favorite SNES sprite or a calculator or what have you. Even though exploring the terrain has limited entertainment value, the terrain nonetheless succeeds in creating the feeling that the Minecraft overworld is genuinely enormous and full of resource and potential.
In 1996, the second Elder Scrolls game Daggerfall used random generation in a similar way. The game’s square mileage is difficult to calculate, but estimates lie between the square mileage of Britain or mainland Europe, depending on the method used. Is that ambitious awe-inspiringly huge overworld fun to explore? No. The land between cities and dungeons is filled with literal miles of bumps and front-facing bitmaps of plant-life, and its monotony is extremely apparent in time-lapses (here’s one covering the length of a small region in the game’s continent). But like Minecraft, this giant world serves a subconscious purpose. When the fast travel estimates two days to fast travel to a dungeon four pixels away on the world map, you believe it. When an NPC gives you twenty days to find mummy wrappings, you don’t snicker about how in real life it only takes ten minutes to walk to the dungeon like it would in a modern RPG—you skip on resting in inns so you can give yourself enough wiggle room to get back in time before you’re thought dead. When a queen worries about her kingdom, you’ve seen the expanses of land and crowds of NPC’s she rules over, not the thirteen named NPC’s that somehow produced a castle and a surplus of guards to protect it. You’re never going to spend actual hours to walk from city to city when playing Daggerfall, but there’s an honestness about the size, and something empowering about the fact that you can make the trek. (See how a minute into the time-lapse video you break out of the snowy woods to find a city that happened to be in the way and you can travel over it and back into the terrain it sprung from.) While it all made an effective backdrop for the story and freedom-oriented gameplay philosophy of The Elder Scrolls, it was still more backdrop and intriguing-ambition than fun-gameplay-element. [It was for the better that the third Elder Scrolls game, Morrowind, had a small hand-crafted overworld, but it’s disappointing that Bethesda has apparently given up on the dream of a giant life-size continent even though technology has advanced two decades. How are there only two games between Daggerfall and Skyrim? Anyway.]
What path is there then for a game that tries to showcase random generation as a central core to its game, something more than a backdrop or a level freshen-upper, but without the pitfalls of predictability and shallowness that No Man’s Sky fell to? There’s no set checklist, because there’s no set style of video game. What works for a narrative-focused RPG will be different than an open-world survival horror game, what works for a single-player game will be different from an MMO, what works for a sprawling Tolkien-esque fantasy world will be different from an explorable galaxy and space colony. But even across all these different styles of games, there are measures to ensure the random generation adds to the experience, rather than fill the space around and behind the experience.
For one, random generation will gain immediate importance to the player when it becomes the destination, not the things between destinations. This could be as simple as removing some expected modern features like coordinates, pinpoint quest markers, or go-anywhere fast travel. Let NPC’s give the player directions now and then, let MMO players give each other local landmarks to follow, anything to stop the player from barreling over lakes and mountains in a straight line to the floating arrow or the correct X,Y numbers. (Mountains and lakes shouldn’t be nuisances! They should be pretty!) Walking with the plains, following roads and rivers, turning at distant mountains and geological features, counting futuristic city blocks from a tall skyscraper, these are all ways to engage the player with the environment that the game has made…provided the algorithm is advanced enough to provide all these easily identifiable features. It could also mean having to use the environment to your advantage. In a survival game, you could scope out jungles and dense locations certain animals would be attracted to. In an MMO, you could use difficult rocky terrains other players are unlikely to venture in as a safe place to hide your stash, or you could know what convenient parts of the world will draw easy-to-ambush players. In a Minecraft-esque crafting game, resources could be made scarce creating “deforestation,” forcing players to find new areas of the map. The developers don’t even have to dream up every use and strategy, just create a goal, an algorithm to build a world with enough variation and opportunities for interaction, and the players will take off from there.
No matter how good the algorithm appears at first, if given enough access to its results, it can become predictable. Some initial No Man’s Sky reviewers (such as Polygon’s) were surprised with the survival and collection aspects of the gameplay, assuming the game would offer a more relaxed free-exploration vibe. However, I saw this as one of the smarter design decisions on the developers’ part. Giving the player full Google Earth-like freedom to zip around planets’ surfaces at top speed would’ve been liberating, but would’ve quickly cheapened the value and uniqueness of the random creations. Scarcity is always valued. The rock-collecting tasks and temperature management forced the player to slow down and delay the inevitable realization about the game’s limitations. How fun those gameplay aspects were is another story. The trick is not making it feel like the player’s purposely being deprived, even if it’s for their long-term pleasure. No easy task.
I’m the developer in this instance and my ruining it for myself is all part of the process of making a better algorithm, but I learned why it’s so important to hold back that feeling from the player in a completed game. If a snippet of a world (much more advanced than my little project) inspires any kind of awe or imagination (like, say, the first No Man’s Sky trailer did), it’s natural to want to see everything that game can make. And you can show players that big world, but don’t let them kill it for themselves by letting them mash the refresh button as fast as they can.
Another danger to showing too much too quickly is a feeling of temporariness, the feeling that this is what the computer made for you and only you for this point in time. While that feeling can be interesting and surprising in some instances, if the entire game is temporary, why keep playing if every future discovery is just as fleeting and inconsequential as the previous ones? Give players some time to project value and build attachment to the world (best achieved by having things to do within that random environment that are fun). There’s a social aspect lost in temporariness as well. MMO’s have a built-in social element by definition, but single-player games have a less-appreciated social aspect that’s essential to the full experience. Whether in school or on forums or the Twitterverse, a new popular game always comes with a fun window of everyone talking about their in-game experiences, groaning about that same hard boss (and that one guy who keeps saying he beat everything on first try), forwarding the webcomics around, sharing details on the unpatched infinite money exploits, talking about how bad the ending is, and the other things that take the single-player experience to a new heightened level. Even if the player avoids the game’s fandom (a necessary step to enjoy certain games), there’s an importance granted onto the game knowing that thousands or millions of other people have had the same experience that you could be participating in if the fandom weren’t so cringey. Even little things, like recollecting dungeons and fights years down the road in a nostalgic haze to help out your late-to-the-party friend, it all helps build the social element that’s difficult to recreate with a game focused on random generation. There may be a different kind of social interaction that comes out of sharing unique personal adventures without the strong reference point that non-randomized games provide, but it’s important to recognize and fight any possible feelings of inconsequentiality and solitude the randomization may make. [One possible idea: Create a single-player game whose randomization is seeded by real-world time, so while not an MMO, every player shares the same experience and sees all the surprises together and can share where to find them. Players could reminisce down the road, “Remember that time that plain with all the traders got flooded and turned into a lake? And when the volcano erupted and turned the grassy dungeon into a fire dungeon?” Etc. You could even “time travel” to certain times and the overworlds they seeded. I’d love to play this game.]
When taking advantage of random generation’s unpredictability, a “cold hard world” needs to be anticipated. The game Dwarf Fortress (with its official motto “Losing is fun”) is a masterclass of this philosophy in action. The game uses text-based graphics like the early roguelikes, and that abstraction allows it to use extensive randomization and simulation of real-world phenomena to create emergent behavior. One account of emergent behavior was described in a New York Times feature about the game:
“Initially, the sewers appeared as an illogical tangle of blue gashes, but line by line, Tarn worked them into coherence. At about 1:30 a.m., a family of hippos, represented by light gray H’s, swam into the tunnels from a nearby river. Their arrival was an unintended development born entirely of the game’s internal logic. Tarn was pleased. ‘The hippos like the sewers!’ he said.”
There couldn’t be a better example of the joy of new behaviors and events emerging naturally and unexpectedly from a good algorithm. Dwarf Fortress has no programmed “win,” yet it has developed an intense cult following centered around the fun (and often morbidly dark) situations the game spawns. There is a blog (Dwarf Fortress Stories) dedicated to sharing stories of things that happened in campaigns before they “lost,” as well as a lengthy TVTropes page. Dwarf Fortress may be a very niche game with an infamous learning curve, but it shows that “losing” can be as fun, rewarding, memorable, and surprising as “standard” video games goals.
For developers who don’t want to create a game as intimidating as Dwarf Fortress, there are still options to integrate unexpected or difficult scenarios into a typically structured game without infuriating players. It could be as simple as offering emulator-save-state-like saves, or offering limited items and abilities to teleport or levitate out of unfavorable areas. A game could get creative with this, even letting your character permanently die but shifting control to other characters, like the 1999 game Omikron: The Nomad Soul did, or give you Sims or Pikmin-like control over a large swath of people like Dwarf Fortress did. [It should be noted Pikmin 2 did use random generation for its underground levels.]
Another consideration for games that want to use random generation to build immense overworlds specifically (like Minecraft or Daggerfall) is to use macro-level variation on top of all the more immediate variation. Daggerfall actually gave a whack at this by having a few different climates: playing in the south would give you sandy ground with desert flora, playing in the north would give you snowy trees, along with corresponding enemy, architecture, and dungeon variation, and so on. Even though you could only really appreciate it through fast travel, it was still a nice way to change up the game. If you got tired getting the same snowy surroundings, a trip to the desert could freshen up gameplay, until you get tired of the desert dungeons having scorpions with paralysis attacks, then you could pack up and head off to give another region a shot. Minecraft, however, doesn’t have any differences between the corners of its massive map. The land changes on a micro-scale of course, alternating between the different biomes, but there’s no variation in the way those biomes start and stop as you travel hours across the map. If you were dropped into a random-place in the map Dude, You’re Screwed-style, it might as well be the map’s dead center from what the surroundings tell you. Take a look at a biome map released by Mojang:
It looks like an even uglier map of the Holy Roman Empire. There is change throughout the map, but in a consistent blotchy way. Compare this to a World Wildlife Fund map of Earth’s ecoregions:
There is a variation within the variation. Some ecoregions are small, some follow along mountain ranges, some sprawl across the width of continents. Some ecoregions can only be found on one continent. Not that a game’s goal should be recreating Earth—realism rarely implies fun, but a shallow predictability can take you out of a game and start thinking about its code. With macro-variations, travel has a new reward. Regions have a character—every three square miles isn’t a bundled desert, plain, mountain, and tundra region that repeats over the surface of the planet like an old tiled Windows desktop. When you travel a substantial distance, you should be rewarded with things you’ve never seen before, not just a different iteration of the same world you walked from. It means developers will have to hide a good chunk of their hard work from the player when they first start, but it’s in the name of long-term enjoyment. Traveling across that giant world won’t give the player the sad realization that they’ve already seen everything and are wasting their time, it’ll give the feeling they haven’t seen anything yet and more could be out there.
These suggestions so far have been loose to remain useful to the many different kinds of games one could make centered around random generation. There is, however, one absolute rule that no video game should break: it has to be fun to actually play. An interesting world only benefits a game when there’s a game to benefit. No Man’s Sky’s biggest sin wasn’t that its random generation was boring, it was that it wasn’t very fun. No improvements to its random generation would have saved it if the gameplay didn’t expand beyond slowly walking between rocks and upgrade stations, with the vague end goal of flying to a white screen and New Game Plus file. Even games with memorable worlds that were simply fun to hang around in are anchored by a fun gameplay or rewarding sense of achievement. To use Mario as an example, the relaxing resort vibes of Super Mario Sunshine or otherworldly physics and grand scale of Super Mario Galaxy would mean nothing if not for the simple joyous pleasure of running and jumping and flying around in a free 3D environment at the center of it all. In a combat or strategy-oriented game, there is the underlying feeling of personal growth as you learn to outmaneuver enemies and hone your tactics. In an RPG, there is the feeling of working your way to the top as your character gains experience, advancement, and copious loot and tackles on harder and harder enemies. Without these elements to keep you playing, an interesting world or interesting use of random generation is like an ornate painting in the lobby of a doctor’s office—the painting’s still interesting, but you’re not going to hang around the lobby a minute longer than you have to.
Even though many games with random generation came with caveats or only used it as window-dressing, I don’t see this as a knock against random generation, but a call to action to create a game that truly taps into the potential given by wide-scale random generation these games have only hinted at. The fact that random generation continues to allure us and make us dream of giant surprising worlds makes me think that it can be done right one day. Even though No Man’s Sky is not shaping out to be the awe-inspiring hundred-hour sinkhole people hoped for, it has reopened the gaming public’s eyes to see random generation as a tool to build endless worlds, and hopefully through No Man’s Sky’s mixed reception a new wave of developers will step up to fulfill the promise it made.
A few days ago, a mysterious page went up online in regards to a new Astro Boy project called Astro Boy: Edge of Time.
And dear god, did it sound amazing. The game would be based on the work of esteemed manga creator Osamu Tezuka. Suda51 would be working on the game’s development. Heck, it’d even have elements from other Tezuka mangas in the same universe! What could possibly go wrong here?
Well, apparently the genre, that’s what. You see, Astro Boy: Edge of Time is not the type of game you’d expect from this franchise. It’s not an action game, like the amazing Astro Boy: Omega Factor on the GBA. You’re not flying around blasting enemies out of the sky in a futuristic world straight out of the original manga.
Instead, it turns out the project is a collectible card game. Or more precisely, a digital collectible card game like Hearthstone. It’s got some positives to it (like the expected online multiplayer) and it will be released for PC as well as smartphones, but it’s a far cry from what Astro Boy fans actually wanted from the title.
In addition to this, it’s also on Kickstarter, which isn’t exactly a great sign. Why? Because Kickstarter tends to work better for games that a dedicated fanbase really wants. Like say, how Banjo-Kazooie fans backed A Hat in Time, Lobodestroyo and Yooka-Laylee. How Mega Man fans backed Mighty No 9. Or how Castlevania fans backed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
Games that don’t offer what the fans want in regards to genre or content tend not to do well there. If Color Splash, Young Conker or Metal Gear Survive was on Kickstarter, it would be very unlikely to reach its goal before the campaign ended. They could be perfectly good games, they’re just not what people wanted from those franchises.
If this had been Omega Factor 2, it would easily hit its $50,000 goal in about two days. But a digital card game? Not a chance in hell, sorry.
Either way, that’s apparently what the new Astro Boy game is, and what Suda51 has been working on. If you do want to back it for whatever reason, you can find it on Kickstarter here.
Astro Boy: Edge of Time Kickstarter
So what do you think? Is Astro Boy: Edge of Time a good idea? Or is the genre simply all wrong for this beloved franchise?
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
You’ve heard of it, you’ve probably seen it, and you might have even played it. A game that caused a spark (more like a ka-boom) in the nostalgic indie community, praised heavily, back-to-back by it’s indescribably enormous community.
Debatably an RPG game where you don’t have to kill anybody, it may already be clear why it’s so popular. The game has quite a lot of charm put into it and it’s characters, generating a lovable aura around the game as a whole. It’s been widely very well received (given a 10 from Destructoid and IGN) and has gained an unbelievable amount of popularity in the past months.
However, being a game received as well as this, not many have pointed out it’s flaws or given criticism on it, so that’s what I’m going to do today, and I’m going to knock out the biggest offender.
Seen above: The battle screen, along with the earliest enemies you can see in the game
Undertale’s battle system comes with four options.
Fight is self-explanatory, you fight to defeat the enemy.
Act provides you with various actions that may influence the enemy’s behavior, at the cost of a turn.
Item is where you can use your items that you’re carrying with you (your pockets have a maximum of ten slots)
Mercy provides the options of “Spare” and “Run.” Running speaks for itself, and I’ll get into Sparing later on in this section.
As said earlier, Undertale is (again, debatably) an RPG game where you don’t have to kill anything. You can go through the game without hurting a fly. Literally. This is done through the Sparing system, where battles would usually go like this;
- 1. Go through a sort of “empathizing puzzle” with the Act function
- 2. The monster calms down
- 3. Spare them using the Mercy function
Doing this, as long as you haven’t killed a single monster, you are trailing along the (albeit straightforward and easy) “good” path, which fans have affectionately named the “Pacifist Route.”
Seen above: A situation where the player is outnumbered, which can be solved with total peace
There are two other paths; the aptly-named and self-explanatory “Neutral Route,” and the big star of our topic today, the “Hardmode” of Undertale, fittingly named…the “Genocide Path.”
Being a game where it’s main slogan is “Undertale, the RPG where you don’t have to kill anyone,” this is obviously going to attract some attention. Some derives from the people wanting to test the waters and see if it’s true or not (spoiler alert: it’s true), but some brave souls are willing to see if they can kill every single enemy in the entire game. This, too, is possible, thanks to Genocide.
The random encounters, while mostly random, are finite. Yes, there are not an infinite amount of enemies in the game, and if you make it a goal to kill every single one of them, then suffice to say, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Seen above: In a scene exclusive to the Genocide Path, a character threatens the protagonist for their choice(s)
Now that we’re getting to the point, I’ll now explain why the Genocide Path as a whole is the biggest problem in Undertale.
In this path, your goal is to kill every enemy you can in the game so that there’s nobody left. It seems simple enough at face value, but remember how I mentioned earlier that this game has random encounters?
That’s right. That means you have to grind. Euck, ew, and *barf,* I know, but this is intentional game design.
Grinding in video games has widely been received to be repetitive and boring, but when it comes to Undertale, this is completely and 100% intended, as the path is intended to be “difficult.” …Difficult? Well, grinding isn’t really difficult, is it? It’s just tedious. But I digress.
Seen above: The magical screen of “alright I can finally move on to the next area,” notice the level
Straying off the topic a bit to make a rhetorical point, tons of (but not all) video games come with more than one difficulty. For example, the 1993 classic Doom has five.
Difficulties in video games serve many purposes, and when it comes to more challenging ones, it would pay off in a rewarding or satisfactory way. One game might offer a better ending for beating a harder difficulty (such as the Megaman NES games), while others may hand out unlockables or bonuses (like Sonic Adventure 2 and it’s multiplayer costumes), or it may not give anything at all. Well, at least not practically. You’d still get severe bragging rights for completing and A+ ranking all of the Dark World levels in Super Meat Boy.
Seen above: The Kid, as he appears in Super Meat Boy (2010)
But on a rewarding note, unlocking The Kid is possibly the greatest feeling anyone could achieve playing Super Meat Boy. And rightly so, seeing as his warp zone is the hardest to complete in the game.
The point is, difficulty done right is rewarding the player for overcoming bigger challenges. So you may be wondering: “Ooh, Undertale’s really positively received! I wonder what the reward for beating Genocide is? It must be something really cool, because of how awesome this game is, and stuff…”
You get. Absolutely. Nothing. The game does not reward you at all for completing Genocide. In fact, it tries to outright berate the player for choosing to play the path! You read that right, it doesn’t just try to make the protagonist feel guilty, but the player as well. This is intentional game design.
Seen above: One of the two (yes, two) truly difficult bosses in Genocide, the “True Hero”
Throughout Genocide the game is giving constant reminders that you are a soulless being. The boss seen in the above image is said to be the acclaimed True Hero set out to stop you, the human, from killing all of the monsters in the underground. It’s debatably the hardest fight in the game, harder than any of the path’s final bosses, not just Genocide’s.
The game tries so hard to push it’s simple moral of “if you’re not a jerk, everyone’s got perk” that it seems to miss the entire point of providing drastically harder challenges to the player, which is allowing the player to feel rewarded for overcoming said challenge no matter the realistic feelings or morales of the characters involved. Heck, Shadow the Hedgehog rewards players for choosing to follow the inhumane “Dark Side” with unlockable weapons.
One could argue that’s the entire point, not rewarding the player, but then just…why? Would it even be defined as good game design at that point? I’m going to be perfectly honest; I don’t think it is.
Seen above: The final boss of Genocide, right after a difficult-to-avoid surprise attack to start off the battle
By the end of Genocide you’re greeted with this guy, accompanied by quite possibly the most popular soundtrack from Undertale, Megalovania. At this point in the game, it no longer cares about guilt-tripping the protagonist, it feels the need to guilt-trip you.
Throughout the battle, he talks about oddities in the time-space-continuum, how timelines are jumping left and right in weird positions, and specifically how it’s your fault. I’ll be blunt and explain it; he’s saying that you saving/reloading your game over a Genocide path save file is creating a bunch of incomplete timelines everywhere and ruining time as a whole. That’s literally it.
So not only by breaking the fourth wall are they berating the player for coming this far, but they’re effectively ruining the immersion Undertale has been trying to build up throughout the entire game. This is intentional game design.
Seen above: After winning the fight
So you’ve beaten the final boss. He crawls (and dies) offscreen, you exit the battle, and move on to the next few rooms the game has to offer. You come across the flower character you met at the very beginning of the game, kill him too, and the screen goes black, which soon becomes occupied by this character.
As if Genocide wasn’t already bad enough, this event is the cherry on top. To boil it down, you’re offered a choice between erasing or not erasing the world, but no matter which you pick, you’re going to be greeted by a jumpscare, which ends in you taking an unreasonable amount of damage, and likely dying. And then the game closes.
…Wait, the game closes? That’s really weird (and akin to a not-so-well-written creepypasta). Well, okay, your first instinct is to start the game back up. So you do that, and…
…You’re greeted with a completely black screen, and the sound of howling wind. The logo doesn’t come up. The save file load screen doesn’t appear either. You wait a minute, nothing happens, you wait a couple more minutes, nothing happens.
Naturally, your next thought would probably be “What’s going on? Is my game bugged? Can I not play my game I spend $10 on?”
It soon becomes clear that you really can’t play the game anymore, and that you’ve probably just wasted $10…at least, unless you somehow figure out that you have to wait ten full minutes before a cutscene will begin to play out, wherein going through with it will allow you to play the game normally again.
I am not kidding. This is a real thing. This is an intended feature in the programming of Undertale.
Intended. Game. Design.
Seen above: After the 10 minute wait, the game literally asks you if you want to play it again
Ultimately, your reward for beating Genocide is a fake-out scene intent on making you believe you just wasted your money on it, and if you weren’t told about having to wait 10 minutes on the blank screen previously, you very well could have wasted your money!
And that’s not all. Being a part of Undertale’s community after having played Genocide through to it’s fullest extent is virtually impossible, as by the nature of Genocide’s severe punishment and discouragement wrought onto the player, a lot of people see it as an opportunity to berate you as well.
A community making fun of itself is bad, albeit passable due to the fact that there will always be bad apples in any community. But a community being encouraged to harass one another over an ultimately subjective choice is even worse. It divides the community up into sections, which goes against the entire point of a community. But I digress. This is going a teeny bit irrelevant now, so I’ll wrap it up.
All in all, Genocide tries too hard to convey a moral instead of focusing on what makes a video game enjoyable, and as a result fails to deliver a rewarding experience in the form of unlockable content, good endings, or even bragging rights to players looking for a challenge. There is zero reason for you to play Genocide, and it’s reason for being a choice in the first place is questionable at best. You’re better off playing Pacifist.
…Speaking of Pacifist, if you are intent on playing it after you finish Genocide…
Seen above: The bad ending you get at the end of Pacifist if you had completed Genocide before playing it.
Yes. Even after you’ve admitted to the game that you’re such a horrible monster for killing so many harmless creatures, even when the game “forgives” you and actually allows you access to the title screen (and thus, the game) again, it flips a switch that enables this bad ending at the end of the Pacifist Route, juuuuust to remind you how much of a jerk you were in your previous save file. Just so you can never get a happy ending. Because all you were looking for was merely a good challenge, as well as a reward to go along with it.
With that said, please remember that this is just a game, and also don’t forget to respect your fellow community members even if they are soulless killing machines. I hope you all have a wonderful day!
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