This month in wacky little art games

Friday, February 20, 2009

Comments: 1   (latest 3 hours later)

Tagged: reviews, keita takahashi, pooping sumo wrestlers, noby noby boy, jenova chen, flower

Beautiful. Engaging. Short. It provides an experience, inflects into an emotional arc, and then it's done.

I ate twenty sumo wrestlers. Then I ate my own ass.
  • ...the comparison...

One is gorgeous. The other offers me the opportunity to eat my own ass.

I should outsource this entire post to Yahtzee for the pure joy of hearing him say "eat my own arse" over and over.

What do I actually think?

I am pleased with Flower. I am not very pleased with Noby Noby Boy. (I also can't type "Noby Noby Boy", which is a separate problem. It always comes out "body" or "nobody".)

Keep in mind that Flower is ten bucks and Noby Noby Boy is five, so I'm not complaining of a horrible purchasing decision. I spent five dollars on soup today and I enjoyed Noby more than that soup. But:

You have to read Noby's manual.

Flower drops you in with one screen of "tilt the controller" diagram, and then a few heads-up reminders for tilting and button-pushing, and you're set for the entire game. It's all built around that single interface.

Noby starts with a quick interface lesson in the form of a quiz -- which is brilliant, actually. Getting you to guess the basic controls (in a highly prompted, controlled context which guarantees success). If that covered the entire game, I would be kneeling at the designer's feet.

But it isn't; you still have to figure out the house controls and the rest of the camera controls and the stats-scanning controls. The early gameplay is larded with modal "Do you want to read the manual?" queries -- and I did have to read the manual, a couple of times, before I had everything down.

All of these interactions are good. They're tactile, you can feel them in your hands -- even the menus and the camera controls. But there are a lot of them.

I can see how the designer got there. Noby is a software toy. You have no goals -- nearly, hold off a sec -- no goals which are not self-generated. That means you need a rich enough set of interactions to be able to reach surprising outcomes for quite a while. In contrast, Flower has just one interaction; it surprises you with new environments and new plot developments.

My problem is, I feel like I've played out Noby's surprises already. Two hours, four or five maps, I'm done. I don't know if it's true, but it feels true, because there's no goal structure to lead me into exploring further.

Now, Noby's one overt goal (which I glossed over just now) is to stretch yourself a lot. When enough players have stretched enough, we are given to understand, more game areas -- "planets" -- will open up. (I was around 6100th in precedence on the stretch leaderboard, last night. Yay me!)

So with my droit eye, I see all sorts of crazy new game mechanisms appearing, one by one, over the next few months. With my sinister eye, I see another bunch of levels that are exactly like the current ones, only with alien sumo wrestlers to eat and poop out.

(Did I not mention the sumo-wrestler pooping? Sorry.)

I like the idea of globally-expanding cooperative game experiences. But the Myst Online lesson is, keep the players entertained in between new content. And ideally, match the cooperative goals to the entertainment. So far, Noby is not doing that. (Note that the most efficient way to stretch yourself the the boring way. Straight out, unencumbered. If you tangle yourself around things, you don't stretch much.)

And that's why being done with Flower is satisfying, but being done with Noby is not. So far. I'll give it a few more chances.

Then there's the whole "Boy" thing. I don't think I'm the right person to write that post, because, okay, the last console game I played was Prince of Persia and that was just as emphatically male-protagonist, female-bait-and-reward. But PoP was in the classic hardcore gamer market and it had a script, I mean, it had the self-justification of being about this man and this woman, Thief and Elika.

Noby has as generic and asexual a protagonist as an anthropomorphic protagonist can possibly be. And it's in the casual, for-everyone-including-kids market. It would be dead easy to present this experience as being gender-inclusive -- except for the commentary text and the manual repeating over and over, you are Boy, you are Boy, you are Boy. And Girl is your reward way up in the sky.

Sometimes I find this annoying. And then I remember, right, Keita Takahashi's first game was about your emotionally abusive, passive-aggressively-insulting, quite possibly substance-abusing father destroying the universe and then forcing you to clean up the mess. And he's got enormous genitals. So, the designer is batshit insane. Check.

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