Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Do I Spend Valuable Time (Alpha Mission and Amagon)

"Why should I bother" is a question frequently asked, and, if we're being honest, frequently worth asking. For instance, it is worth asking what positive role my dissertation will or even might play in the world. It is worth asking what value the last ten years of my life spent pursuing higher education degrees was worth given the wholesale failure on my part to get a job. These are interesting existential questions that deserve committed and deep attention.

It is also worth asking why the fuck anyone bothered to make Alpha Mission or Amagon, a pair of utterly pointless games, albeit for different reasons.

Alpha Mission falls into the classic genre of shooter. I want to point out that I have thus far done 33 NES games, a full SIX of which were shooters. None of these six were innovative. None were clever. Only one - Air Fortress - was even remotely interesting as a game. The rest were generic, formulaic executions of the genre that added nothing to the world. And while I can understand what causes a shit game like Aliens 3 to come into the world, Alpha Mission, a game that has no licensed property behind it, is far more puzzling. People got together and created a generic and pointless shooter for the sake of doing so. Why?

Amagon is different - for one, it's a side-scroller, not a shooter. It's also almost, but not quite, an OK-good game. Almost. It's very, very hard, yes. But that doesn't invalidate it as a game. It has no continues and so is basically unbeatable, yes. But again, Battletoads is a good game. And look, it has reasonably tight controls, sensible hit detection, and behaves more or less as expected. So why is it bad?

Because the bosses are basically unbeatable unless you have a specific power-up of which there is one hidden in every level, held by an enemy who is unmarked in any particular way. And there's no back-scrolling, so if you miss it, well, you probably shouldn't have missed it, now should you have.

So basically, take a good game, and then for no discernible reason add a mechanic that renders it functionally unplayable. And, I mean, this took work. You had to actively decide to make the bosses unbeatable. Why? Why did someone do this? Why was it considered a worthwhile use of someone's time to take a good game and add a feature to make it suck?

Why should I bother. A question we should ask more frequently.

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