To Strafe, Perchance To Doom

Note: This is an old post ported over from a gaming blog that I used to write alongside my longtime friend Mento. Images did not survive the import process, and unfortunately I have no idea or record of what they were, so these posts are presented in all their jacked-up, ugly glory. 

A plasma blast from the past, Doom is an evergreen FPS from once-giants Id Software. It’s about some guy on Mars who shoots all the bad guys. It’s perhaps not a game that requires much of an introduction, though that is not to say that there isn’t a lot going on here.
Like any child of the 90s, Doom was a huge deal among those who only occasionally had access to their parents’ Windows 3.1 PC. It was crazy, it was intense and it was super-violent. This was around the same time I was discovering the VHS copies my parents had of RoboCop and Terminator as well, so it all coalesces into a bloody mist of wonderful, premature grown-up entertainment that I could only occasionally (and surreptitiously) have access to.

Pfft, four imps and a shotgun zombie? Puh-leeze.

I have to say, though, that most of my time spent in the UAC laboratories on the twin moons of Mars were on the SNES version, in many ways perhaps the hardest of the iterations. For one, you could barely see shit, due to the considerably lower visual fidelity that Mode 7 and Nintendo’s other graphical wizardry could provide in lieu of cutting edge PC technology. For another, the SNES Doom did not let you make intervening saves during missions, which meant I never had the courage nor patience to play on anything harder than “Hurt Me Plenty” (Doom’s colorful analogue for medium difficulty). It also doesn’t have cheats, at least not any I was cognizant of. No IDKFA or IDCLIP to rely on for difficult situations. It was more than nerve-wracking, let’s just say.

Oh, that’s not good…

Now that I finally have the XBLA copy, deciding I had very little else to spend 400 points on, I’ve been rocking Ultra-Violence (the game’s Hard mode) and having a blast. The game’s changes are ever so subtle on this mode: The mechanics behind the game won’t change, so you don’t take more damage, get less bullets per ammo pick-up or have any other unjustifiable impediments. Instead, there’s just more monsters. Way more monsters. Tougher monsters, too. The game then becomes more focused on skill than exploration, though the latter is still important if you want to have something more than a few pistol clips to kick the next roomful of demonic butts. It’s a classic example of a difficulty mode making a considerable gameplay difference, beyond simply “you will die more and get frustrated a lot”. It’s really the difference between “Alien” and “Aliens”: Some of the atmosphere of dread and trepidation is gone with having so many of the monsters in your face with every new door you open and corner you turn – but it’s no less tense, especially when your ammo conservation skills are failing you.

Needless to say, it’s gotten me a lot closer to figuring out why Doom was such a hit back in the day. Buy some points below and get Doom II as well! It’s the same, but with even more antagonistic map design and a demon that resurrects other demons!

Fez Roh Dah!

Note: This is an old post ported over from a gaming blog that I used to write alongside my longtime friend Mento. Images did not survive the import process, and unfortunately I have no idea or record of what they were, so these posts are presented in all their jacked-up, ugly glory. 

As you could tell by the title, I wanna shout about Fez for a bit, the new Xbox Live Arcade game by Phil Fish and the others at Polytron. Fez has been making all sorts of waves recently, given its storied, troubled background and the slightly, let’s say, incendiary comments Fish made on the creativity inherent in the current Japanese game development community, or apparent lack thereof.

It’d be all too easy for me to turn it around (so to speak) on Fez and talk about how puzzle platformers with a cutesy retro approach and at least one central gimmick is hardly a soapbox from which to deride the lack of creativity of others, but instead of doing that (or, I guess, concurrently with doing that), I’ll go on record to say that Fez is pretty great.

Protagonist Gomez, pre-hatwear.

One’s first playthrough of Fez is the sort of low-hassle Indie platformer we’ve all experienced a few times before, whether you’re a fan of Braid or PB Winterbottom or have spent any amount of time in Newgrounds‘ games section or Kongregate or Armor Games (all great time-waster sites, incidentally). The collectible cubes are lying around the topography waiting for you to figure out how to spin the world around in such a way to form a path to them. The universe is spread out as cuboid nodes on a map, so there’s some degree of Metroidvania-esque exploration to be done though the many branching areas. Otherwise, it’s a rather simple jaunt through a series of very pretty pixel worlds, which are filled with nice little graphical details such as cute pixel animals hopping around and a sky changing color as it slowly goes through a day/night cycle.

It’s the other half of the game where things start getting cerebral. The player will have encountered several rooms that, instead of presenting its golden prize from the offset, will require a puzzle of some sort to be solved beforehand. Doing so awards you “anti-cubes”, which are just as plentiful as their regular counterparts but far harder to find. These puzzles require you decrypt the in-game language, decipher the meaning behind oft-spotted glyphs formed of tetranimos (which are, as all gamers know, the shapes from Tetris) and occasionally go a little meta such as manipulating the console clock and using a QR code reader (though it’s purported that the QR puzzles have alternate solutions found elsewhere in-game for those without that technology).

The 2D worlds are actually 3D. But I won’t tell if you don’t!

Fez likes to envelop itself in mystery, possibly to prompt the sort of “what does this mean?” viral promotion that has, inevitably, surfaced from how vague some of the puzzle leads have been. A cynical viewpoint, perhaps, but it’s not hard to mistake intent given how successful it’s been in spreading awareness for the game.

So, ultimately, what am I saying about Fez? It’s a fine game, is what. It’s expansive for an Indie game, but not expensive. It’s colorful, cartoonish and bright, but also thoughtful, deep and subdued. It has the sort of metaphysical aspirations in puzzle design that the Myst games had prior (and Fool’s Errand prior to that), and given Fez’s predilection for gloriously rendered yet hauntingly lonely environs as well it’s clear Fish is a proponent of the Miller bros’ CD-ROM epic.

It doesn’t feel like a brand new paradigm in gaming, but rather a layered homage to one man’s fondest game experiences. I’d say that’s perhaps more than enough reason for anyone to want to share the experience, especially for only 800 MS points. Buy some below, and maybe use the other half for something less cute? Like Doom 2 perhaps.