Loaded Questions is a new weekly feature at Game Bias. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet it to @jedpressfate. Questions can cover anything closely or tangentially related to video games or art, including but not limited to criticism, culture, and politics. Questions will be edited for clarity.
Cesar Marquez: Hi Jed. Recently, I read your review of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy. It was great, but I am curious about your complete opinion of game developers like Bennett Foddy, Toby Fox, and David OReilly. In your review, why did you say, “If there’s anything the indie gaming world needs to get over, it’s these guys”?
Jed Pressgrove: I wrote that line because these independent developers would like to think they’re above the big-budget norm and that they have something clever to say, but in reality, their commentary is superficial and insufferable.
To expand a bit more on Foddy, let’s take a closer look at how he views difficulty in video games. In my review of Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy, I highlighted some of Foddy’s in-game comments on difficulty. At one point, he said obstacles in games are largely “fake,” and one of his reasons was that you can overcome most obstacles “just by spending enough time.” But how is this not true for Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy or its major influence Sexy Hiking? You have to spend enough time, or practice, to advance in either of these games. So if you want a unique experience with obstacles in games, Foddy isn’t the answer. Foddy should take note of games that challenge players to think about context and meaning rather than practice mechanics, such as Liz Ryerson’s Problem Attic and Will O’Neill’s Little Red Lie.
Toby Fox’s Undertale (which I reviewed here) is another game that wants you to think its obstacles are different, yet Undertale is as repetitive as any turn-based RPG. The only significant difference (beyond Undertale’s amateurish use of bullet-avoidance action) is that you can either kill or not kill enemies during battle. Fox seems to believe this binary option lends his game a moral dimension that we should care about, and if you play the game more than once (I didn’t), you can see how killing or not killing might affect the game’s world. However, other games, such as the Fallout series, have allowed audiences to see the ramifications of their decisions to kill or not kill, and they don’t ask you to play them multiple times to experience the consequences. Games like Fallout also don’t ask you patronizing questions like “Is killing things really necessary?”
David OReilly is different than Foddy and Fox in that he emphasizes the experiences of random things rather than obstacles. But he is very much like Foddy and Fox when it comes to trying to prove his cleverness. His last game, Everything (see my review here), uncritically employs audio of philosopher Alan Watts. OReilly never dares to directly question Watts’ sayings. This lack of philosophical rigor complements the game’s absurd vision of trees, animals, rocks, and other things. Maybe OReilly’s whimsical approach is funny to some people, but as with Foddy and Fox, his humor doesn’t reveal any wisdom or truth.
Anthony Navarro: How is Splasher any different from other linear platformers?
I picked it up due to what you’ve written about it. The game is a lot less strict in punishment, and it just doesn’t demand tight timing like other games in its subgenre (the physics might be a bit too loose in some cases). I also think it does a better job setting up its fiction compared to Celeste (do they ever explain why Madeline can air-dash?).
But I don’t really see much space for creativity in its level design. It’s very much a pure execution test like Celeste. I didn’t find many scenarios where there was an option to choose between inks. I still enjoyed the game a lot more than Celeste, but I’m not seeing any of the creative expression that you mentioned. Am I missing something?
Jed Pressgrove: I’m not sure if you’re missing something or if we simply play the game differently. I’ll just share what I find interesting about the game.
For those who have not played Splasher, the game is meant to be played at a fast pace, and the protagonist can shoot three different types of liquid: water, red ink, and yellow ink. These liquids have different effects on enemies. Water can outright eliminate certain enemies, red ink can stop enemies in place, and yellow ink can propel them into deadly traps.
I really like the fact that you don’t have to switch weapons to spray different types of liquid. Each spray is linked to a different button, so as you barrel through one of the stages, you can dynamically use the different liquids in whatever way you want. During one segment, you might want to shoot an armored ground foe with red ink to give you enough time to kill two airborne enemies with water. Or if there are traps nearby, maybe you want to propel all of the enemies to their death with yellow ink. The key is making sure you hit the right button in the middle of your run. All of this makes Splasher different than Celeste, which doesn’t emphasize offense, much less dynamic options for kineticism.
On platforming specifically, Splasher is also different than Celeste. Whereas Celeste demands you to take very specific actions to progress, many death-defying leaps in Splasher can be made with a regular jump, with the red ink (which allows the protagonist to attach himself to surfaces), or with the yellow ink (which allows the protagonist to bounce himself off surfaces). There are also many cases where you have to scale walls, so you must choose whether to do so by running up the wall via red ink, bouncing up the wall with yellow ink, or a combination of both. Also, given that these methods result in different splashes of color, Splasher has a messier aesthetic than Celeste, which speaks to the former’s greater level of freedom.
So in the end, what makes Splasher stand out among platformers is its messiness. The stages literally get messy as you spray the liquids, and if you’re trying to hightail it through a gauntlet but your fingers don’t keep up with how you want to express yourself, you will likely find yourself in a mess. That’s why I would compare Splasher to Dr. Seuss’ best book, Oh Say Can You Say? The goal of reading a sentence aloud or completing a platforming level might be straightforward, but once you try to do these things faster and faster, the results can be very humorous (and embarrassing).
Daniel Cánovas: For a top 10 or top 20 list, do you think it makes sense to include both longer games (RPGs, management games) and shorter games (platformers, action-adventure games) given that they have different approaches to gameplay immediacy?
Also, when do you think it is justified for a game to be long?
Jed Pressgrove: If we’re talking about a top 10 or 20 “greatest games” list, I believe it’s fine to include longer and shorter games. Both long and short games can be great, and some games, whether they’re long or short, achieve greater things than others. I’ll also say that unlike many people, I don’t mind comparing different things. Comparisons are about differences as much as they are about similarities. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “apples and oranges.” I hate that phrase because it absurdly implies we can’t compare two types of fruit and that similarities should always take precedence. The saying illustrates a defeatist, uncreative, and close-minded perspective.
The answer to your second question is simple. A game’s long length is justified when one doesn’t see a need for major editing, whether due to monotony, irrelevance, and/or incoherence. Of course, this point involves subjectivity, and it only gets more subjective when you introduce a multiplayer element. For example, perhaps you don’t mind a game being “too long” if that means you get to spend more time playing with a friend. At the same time, this positive feeling might say more about your friendship than it does about the game.