Friday, 10 June 2011

"Alternately maddening and sublime"

Another quick video game post. Title is a quote from a review of this game, which I think describes it very well.

I bought Inside a Star-Filled Sky because it was cheap, recommended by people, and it looked like an interesting idea. The interesting idea being infinity. I'll refrain from going on a tangent about infinity, because that would probably take quite a while and have very little to do with the game.

In IAS-FS, you control a little spaceship-type thing. Appearances vary a bit, but in general they look somewhat like more detailed space invaders. You can see one in the picture up there. You move around using the WASD keys, and shoot by clicking the mouse in the direction you want to fire. I find this control system rather odd, and I can't say I'm really used to it yet, though I imagine if I keep playing the game I will become more so. You move around maps, shoot enemies, and pick up power-ups. And if you find a relevant little area, it will take you up to the next level (You start on level 0). Having moved up, you then gain the benefits of the power-ups you picked up in the previous level. And you just keep trying to move up.
Then, there is one more interesting mechanic: you can go into things. If you want different power-ups, you can go inside yourself to find some, then go back up to the level you were previously on. You also go inside yourself if you get killed - it knocks you inside yourself. If you want a better power-up than the one you've found, you can go inside the power-up and change what it is by what you get while inside it. And if a particular enemy is bothering you, you can go inside that enemy and hopefully make them less dangerous by what you get while inside. Of course, while inside any of those things, there are more of those things, which you can go inside. So you can keep going down levels if you want, just as you can keep going up. This is where the infinity comes in. I assume there is actually some limit, because apart from anything else, surely there must be a limit to how high the level number can go? But practically speaking, you can go on pretty much forever I think.

Now, of course, because the game is infinite, you can never complete it. You can only do some more. But, well, it's fun. I rather like it for this, because it's something I can just play a bit of, then stop, at any point. There are no specific points I might want to get to before stopping, I can do so anywhere, and play as much or as little as I want.
The graphics are simple and pixellated. As I said, it feels a bit like more detailed Space Invaders. And that's fine. They may be simple, but they're functional. They suit the nature of the game - for something like this, you don't want beautifully rendered 3D landscapes, because they're not the point of the game, and they'd limit the ability to have the game go on forever as it more or less does. Also, a point which I haven't mentioned is that the levels you move around are essentially the things you're inside. You go inside an enemy, it zooms in on that enemy and gives you a load of spaces inside it, which you  can move around. You go inside yourself, you are inside yourself, and I'm pretty sure the levels you're otherwise moving around are what you will then become when you move up a level.

So, to the most important point - the gameplay. As I said, I feel it's very well summed up by the quote I used for the title: "Alternately maddening and sublime." It's very fun, moving around the levels,  but it can be very frustrating when you suddenly run into 3 enemies and find you really don't have the right power-ups to easily dispatch them. Difficulty does increase as you move up, and also sometimes when you go inside things - power-ups, I think. They want to make it hard to improve your power-ups. Makes sense, but can be frustrating. Because, while the difficulty of the levels increases as you go up, you remain able to only hold onto 3 power-ups at a time. So you have to pick which ones you want, and sooner or later you'll find you really need different ones (Because, say, the enemies have longer range than you and you have no space to dodge), and go in search  of more useful ones for what you're now facing, have difficulty finding them, and end up struggling with some particular area, several levels down from what you're really wanting to be going for, and possibly having forgotten why you are several levels down.
In particular, extra hit points can only be gained through appropriate power-ups, which means one less slot for upgrading your weaponry. This is something I would definitely want to change. I feel that you should have one set of power-up slots for health and possibly shields and the like, and one set for your weaponry. It'd make things much easier, because you wouldn't have to worry about a useful weapon upgrade knocking out your extra HP or vice versa.

In general, though, it's very good. Fun, and easy to dip in and out of, as I said, rather than requiring an appreciable time commitment every time you open it up.

OK, next post will be about something other than video games, definitely. I had something in mind, but I've forgotten what. Shakespeare, possibly. Anyway, see you round. Now I'm going to try and go inside myself to look for a better 'job-finding' power-up. =P

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