Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Everyday is a Shooter

Thanks to Leigh Alexander at Sexy Videogameland for mentioning my blog yesterday and to Mitch Krpata again for getting the word out in the first place. I never imagined anything I ever wrote would make its way past the 3-4 close friends and family members I assumed would be this blog's sole audience, and to get notice from people who are legit top-shelf game writers means a lot. Thanks!

I caved in and bought a 60 gig playstation 3 last fall, even though I had reason to believe that there was not much worth playing yet. There wasn't much from the Sony camp to tear me away from the 360 this Winter. (This is even before my unexpected and crippling addiction to Halo 3's multiplayer, which seized me by my hidden passion for lasering and swept me into its jagged maw. I was lasering people in my dreams for weeks.) So the PS3 mostly sat there looking pretty and doing yeoman service as a part-time Okami upscaler and Planet Earf bluray player. But while I was waiting for Metal Gear Solid 4 to come out, I discovered what is still the best ps3 game I've ever played, Everyday Shooter.

Everyday Shooter was created by Jonathan Mak, who apparently made this entire game-- visuals, gameplay, and music-- single-handedly. Everything I know about game design (which is admittedly very little) tells me that this is a staggering accomplishment; almost all contemporary console games are the product of large teams, and the ps3 is reputedly an onerous platform to develop for. While the basic game mechanics are simple (a twin-stick shooter in the style of Geometry Wars), Mak took these well-worn mechanics and elevated them to art.

The first piece of this vision is the game's synthesis of music, visuals, and gameplay. Inspired by Tetsuya Miziguchi's Rez (which was itself inspired by and dedicated to Wassily Kandinsky), Mak designed the game so that the player's movements and shooting help to create the game's music and visuals simultaneously. Dying enemies spray geometrical gouts of color and produce runs of twangy guitar notes. The musical idea extends to the level design-- each level plays like track in an album, and has a distinctive visual style and musical palette. You can even play the levels on shuffle. The music itself, which is all just Jonathan Mak playing an electric guitar, is amazing; it's the kind of stuff Brian Eno would be doing now if he grew up playing Castlevania.

The second piece of the vision is the variety of the gameplay that Mak manages to sqeezee within the confines of a standard twin-stick shoot 'em up. Each level of the game has a new set of enemy types and behaviors, and also a different “chaining system.” In each level there's a way to “chain” enemy kills-- in some cases it's shooting bombs that float across the field in a particular way, in others it's killing certain enemies in a certain order-- and doing so both makes it easier to manage the hordes of attackers and produces more glowing unlock points. This mechanic gave each level a sort of puzzle-y feeling, as I probed the game to find the trick that allowed me to get through. Because the chaining mechanics took some of the pressure off my substandard reaction skills, I found that the game kept producing these calm-in-the-storm moments: even as the enemies bore down on me from all sides I was concentrating on finding the next link in the chain that would clear the screen. The effect is oddly soothing.

These elements come together so perfectly sometimes that it manages some moments of capital-B Beauty, a rare product in the videogame marketplace. There are moments of beauty to be had here that come from picking up a controller and engaging with the game's rules, and at times I think Mak means say with this game too, and it is this: Everyday is a shooter. Beneath the hostile welter of sound and vision there is a hidden, beauty-making logic to be discovered.


jv said...

I'm glad this was released on Steam some time ago, because, as of yet, (and pending Fumito Ueda's next game) , I haven't succumbed to dropping the cash on a ps3. I'm glad for those refreshing $10-$15 mark gems. They are especially lovely to those of us that consider game purchases to be significant financial events.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

@jv I was just thinking today that with the decline of the single-platform exclusives (like Ueda's next game, which is the sort of thing really worth caring about on this front) the thing that really sells the ps3 as a platform is that its PSN games are so original and well-chosen on the whole. It's good that ES came out on Steam because it's a shame these gems carry a $415 price of entry.

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