Extra Punctuation

Space, Flying and Space Flying


“Thank you for the hilarious review of Dark Void. We’re big fans of Zero Punctuation here at Airtight Games, and we were thrilled (and a little scared) to see you review the game. We loved the review, though, and are particularly happy to have gotten the ‘Zero Punctuation’ treatment.”
– Jeff Combos from Airtight Games, via email

No, thank you, Jeff Combos, for your mail, which I reprint here mainly because I like your surname. Tell me, have you ever considered making fighting games? Just a thought.

I love flying in games. Not only does it give me the invigorating sense of freedom that man has envied from the moment he first glanced up from his cave to see a flock of pterodactyls sweeping past, but it also instantly evolves gameplay into the third dimension. Flying combat is all about speed and quick evasion, rather than squatting behind a chest-high wall popping at something vaguely head-shaped poking out from behind a pillar.

But you know what’s even better than flying? Dual gameplay balancing both flying and ground-based tactics. The flying becomes much more satisfying for me if there’s something I can compare it to. I’m forever disappointed by most straight flight sims like HAWX or Crimson Skies because you always start the missions in the plane and up in the air, the terrain so small and distant you might as well be hovering over Legoland. I’m waiting for a game like Crimson Skies where you have to take off at the start, and if you see a nice green field somewhere, you can land, get out, stretch your legs, maybe have a bit of a picnic before returning to the dogfight.

This is what I liked about Dark Void, of course – anytime one-button switch-over between cover-based ground combat and rocketing off into the sky. I just wish Dark Void could have let me like it a bit faster; as mentioned in the review, you have to slog through a fair bit of generic cover-based shooting and a wee bit of platforming to unlock the full-flight jetpack which the game is allegedly about. Actually in all honesty there is a brief prologue flight mission, which I am 99 percent certain Jeff Combos and his friend Bill Roundhousekick must have added to the game after someone brought up this very same issue to them.

I’m not sure why flying works best for me when it’s broken up with more mundane gameplay. Perhaps flying all the time just feels too special, like if you ate wedding cake for every meal of the day. More likely, though, it’s the juxtaposition. That’s also why I had a lot of fun with Prototype, Infamous and a lot of the Spider-Man games; you start off on the ground, walking slowly along with all the other plebs, the tall buildings looming over you in mockery of your tiny stature, random passers-by tripping you up and gobbing on your coat… and then BAM WOOSH YA-HA all the dirt-dwellers get to suck on your vapor trail. And then you smack into a building.

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So, flying is fun. And what else is fun? Space, that’s what. Three dimensions of endless free movement, mysterious planets, alien monsters, supersonic rocket ships, and green-skinned belly dancers with glitter all over their cheeks. So flying around in space would be doubly fun, right? And therefore videogame designers would fall over themselves to make such a thing?

Apparently not. This is something I’ve ragged on before here but it bears repeating: When the hell did space-flight games quietly die? Because they certainly didn’t quietly stop being fun. The most recent game I’m aware of that had full-control space exploration was X3: Terran Conflict, which suffered from the major problem of this genre: trying to be like Elite. That is, incorporating a whole bunch of incredibly boring trading, technicals and bureaucracy when all I really want to do is fly around in my supersonic rocket ship, kill monsters, and kiss glittery green cheeks.

My theory is that space games died out because they’re too easy to make. As mysterious and wonderful as space is, there doesn’t seem to be that much in it. Rendering a big ol’ cube of bugger-all and some particle effects probably doesn’t look too good on a developer’s resume. Well, fuck it – I wanted another game design project, so I’ve gotten hold of a version of Unity3D, and if I think space games are so easy to make, then they’ve got to be within my paltry technical skills. I’m going to bring back fun space games even if I have to do it all by myself. Fun Space Game might even do as a title. Now I just have to figure out how all this 3D business works.

Obviously, I don’t have the resources to make a game where you can switch between ground-gameplay and space-flight, which if done well would hypothetically make my balls explode with joy, but never mind. Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter tried it, and that game was absolute pants, so maybe it isn’t meant to be.

“Honestly, Yahtzee, you really think Too Human is worse than Sonic Unleashed?”
– JeffBergeron, via Twitter

What, are you stupid? Of course it is. At least Sonic Unleashed doesn’t… oh. Ohhh. I see your plan. You’re trying to make me say something nice about Sonic Unleashed so you can quote it out of context on forums full of oblivious furry-loving dickbiscuits still manfully trying to convince themselves that Sonic is worth a damn.

Well, I’m not falling for that one. It’s perfectly possible for one game to have absolutely no redeeming features, to be a ball of stale jism floating through the zero-gravity interior of a space capsule full of lonely bearded astronauts, destined to eventually splat coldly and unpleasantly upon the sleeping face of the chief engineer, and for another game to be even worse than that.

To use another metaphor, if Sonic Unleashed is getting all your fingernails haphazardly stapled to a train, Too Human is all of that and also you’re being drowned.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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