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I was kind of expecting some kind of fanboy backlash in response to the Sonic Generations video, but the general response was more along the lines of “well, what were you expecting?” Sonic being rubbish just seems to be something everyone accepts about the world. Like cancer. And that occasionally the sea just rises up and flat out murders entire island communities. Where that analogy breaks down, though, is that not many tsunamis are funded by large inexplicable numbers of people giving it money.

The question that hung over me while playing Sonic Generations was who, exactly, the game was for, and by extension for whose benefit the franchise exists at this point. The whole cartoon animal thing and most of the dialogue leads me to conclude that it’s for kids. Which people always seem to find to be a useful argument to throw out in defense of literally any criticism one gives. But what kind of kids want a game that builds itself upon nostalgia for a game from 20 years ago? So … fanboys, then? The kind of fanboy that fills everyone who shares their slightest opinions with deep feelings of shame? It doesn’t seem like it’d be enough of a niche. Maybe people who like Sonic are just part of that mysterious, voiceless collective of blank-faced non-people who vote for the X-Factor and take up most of the queue at the post office.

There’s a moment in the ending sequence of Sonic Generations when modern fuckface Sonic assures his past self that his future’s going to be awesome. “Oh, Sonic,” I said aloud, shaking my head. “Didn’t have the heart to tell him about Sonic All-Stars Racing, did you.”

Anyway.

That small percentage of you who still read my personal blog that I never update may have noticed a couple of weeks back that I released a quick trailer announcing a game I’m working on that nears completion. It’s called Poacher, and it’s a 2D platformer modelled after the Metroidvania fashion that I’m making in Game Maker. I figured since I’ve never been above wittering on tangentially about my game development ambitions in this column then it would be remiss of me not to explain myself.

The life of the critic is a tragic one. All critics must harbor some ambitions themselves for the creation of the things they talk about, that’s why they feel they can explain what’s working and what isn’t. But the moment the critic releases a creative endeavour of their own, it inevitably falls under close scrutiny. Because if you can find ways to harshly criticize the work of a harsh critic, then you have won. You absorb all his powers. You hold up your sword and undergo the Quickening – oh, no, wait, that’s Highlander. Roger Ebert will never be allowed to forget that he wrote the screenplay for Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and the trailer I released has solicited a great deal of comments highlighting how shit it looks.

I’d probably be more disheartened if I intended it as some kind of commercial venture, but happily I don’t. Like all my personal game projects, it was something I was working on more as a hobby than anything else, just to keep my brain alive. Sooner or later I end up having worked on a project for long enough that it starts looking finished and I have to start thinking about sticking it online as freeware so I can tell myself it wasn’t a complete waste of time. So no, my pixel art isn’t quite to a professional standard and I wasn’t about to pay someone else to do my hobby for me. I apologize. Odds were even that I’d either finish the game or I’d toss it away to work on that puppy idea instead and you’d never even have heard about it.

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I haven’t finished and released a game since Art of Theft all those years ago, what with my glittering writing career getting in the way and everything, and Art of Theft was itself an attempt on my part to get away from solely making text-heavy adventure games and towards the challenge and gratification corners of the triangle. So yes, Poacher is a 2D platformer that tries to do the mix of story and gameplay thing that I always prefer games to have.

The protagonist is Derek Badger, a stout, middle-aged Yorkshireman with a shotgun, who is poaching rabbits at the local lord’s estate when he discovers the entrance to a mysterious underworld and gets embroiled in an aeons-old conflict between a race of ghost-like spirit entities and their evil counterparts, the Dark Ones. I was trying to come up with an alternative kind of hero, a character who was relatable, heroic without seeming self-righteous, and capable without seeming cocky or being overly idealised in his masculinity. I liked the idea of a pragmatic, unflappable, down-to-earth working class sort encountering all kinds of bizarre magical events and creatures, none of which seem to cause any fear or astonishment because his no-nonsense north of England attitude is ingrained in him to the very bone. Derek does the right thing without angst or hesitation, but there’s an enigma about him, because his accent is so thick the other characters find him almost impossible to comprehend.

As for the gameplay, my intention for it came out of playing one of those insipid shooters that has you spend ten hours in cover doing the pop-up shooting gallery thing but every now and again they make you man a turret or ride a vehicle with a completely different control scheme, in an attempt to relieve the monotony that serves only to enhance it somehow. I can’t remember which game it was because honestly I could be describing fifty different possible candidates, there. But it made me wonder if there was any realistic alternative. If your core gameplay gets boring after a while, is there anything you can do to help that besides add gimmicky set pieces?

So what I set out to do with Poacher was to stick with the same basic controls throughout – move, jump, shoot in four cardinal directions – but to give each section of the open world a distinctly different gameplay “feel”. So some areas are more about vertical travel and some horizontal. There are bits with lots of swimming and puzzley bits where you have to shoot switches to set platforms or make liquids flow out of pipes. I guess I had to switch things up a lot to keep my own interest in it all alive, but you might like the result. Maybe. Also there’s boss fights with giant rolling skulls and bunny rabbits.

Poacher is pretty much done, give or take some testing (I’m determined to watch at least one person getting to the secret extra hard boss fight) but after that I guess I’ll stick it online somewhere somehow. Cross that bridge when we come to it. Hope you enjoyed this extremely self-indulgent column where I should have been talking about Sonic. But did you see that photo on the first page of this column? Was it a picture of Sonic? No, it wasn’t. Neither was it a picture of a young Rolf Harris on his way to a 1920’s newspaperman cosplay convention. Asshole.

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. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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