Gish on Mac

One nice thing about the Steam Play initiative (Valve’s nascent cross-platform support) is that it makes it very easy for me to find out when games I’ve purchased become available for the Mac. This is an important thing to know for those games that don’t work right on my PC. Just the other day, I noticed that several of my indie bundle games had been quietly ported while my attention was elsewhere. My first instinct was to finally try And Yet It Moves, which I haven’t yet been able to get to run on my Windows machine at all, but I can’t get it to run on my Mac either: the download is eternally stuck at 99%, and attempts to run it anyway yield silly errors about the servers being busy. So instead I gave Gish another shot. I might as well; I’ve bought it in a bundle at least one more time since my last attempt, for something like five times total by now.

You may recall that the last time I played this game, it was crashing on me frequently enough that I figured out how to exploit the crashes to aid my progress. Without that help, the game is in a sense easier. I hold myself to lower standards, not seeking every secret or every coin, just trying to get through the levels as fast as possible. The first world breezes by when approached like this. It’s quite freeing; I get to do all the acrobatic stuff that I mentioned back in my first post — which, it turns out, I still remember how to do.

Which is fortunate, because it isn’t at all obvious, and this game has a pretty steep learning curve. In a recent online discussion, someone asked “Did anyone actually like Gish?” — to which the answer is obviously yes, because it won some awards, but it definitely doesn’t give the player the sense of immediate power and ease of movement that most platformers strive for, and that probably turns a lot of people off. Another discussion I recall pointed out how Mario 64 engages the player by making it look like Mario is really enjoying himself, running around and leaping into the air and shouting “Woohoo!”, to the point that it almost seems a shame to put the controller down and deprive him of his thrills. Gish enjoys himself too, opens his mouth wide in a wicked toothy smile when he’s fast and airborne, but it takes a degree of mastery to reach that point.

One thing I keep forgetting: one of the developers on Gish was Edmund McMillen, who went on to create Super Meat Boy. SMB is also too difficult for a lot of people (possibly including me, although I haven’t given up on it yet), but for opposite reasons: moving around in ordinary environments is almost too easy, with the result that you leap into sawblades all the time. At any rate, I give him credit for exploring extremely different points within the possibility space of the platformer genre, even if both of these games are at heart glorified Mario imitations.

4 Comments so far

  1. matt w on 16 Feb 2011

    This inspired me to download Gish (I bought the Humble Indie Bundle 2 but haven’t started a lot of the games) and — well, I eventually was able to move around enough to get to the last boss level, but man does combat in this system seem non-fun. Maybe I should put in more time with it, but I think I might more enjoy something that let you swing around in a similar physics-puzzley setting without all the threat. Maybe this means that what I want is World of Goo.

    Also, what kind of design decision is it that if you quit a level you lose a life? Thank heavens for your tip about easy mode. I guess this is designed to prevent you from cheating by quitting when you’re about to die, but I think that shows a lack of trust in players, who after all aren’t actually hurting anyone by cheating.

    Actually I think there’s sort of a general principle here. I had a conversation with Victor Gijsbers about permadeath systems — I think they should delete the file when you save/die rather than when you start up, so you don’t lose your game if you crash. He pointed out that that would let you cheat by quitting without saving if you were about to die. But not only does that show a lack of trust in the player, it punishes law-abiding players who suffer a crash, while rewarding those who’ve backed up their save files. And in fact this exact experience led me to start backing up save files in nethack, though I didn’t use them to cheat. And you found something similar with PC Gish, perhaps; your buggy program led you to do something that actually is cheating.

    I guess it’s not really quite parallel, but it seems to me that this sort of unforgiving treatment of reasonable things you might want to do (like quitting a game in the middle without losing progress) leads to cheating, kind of the way nasty DRM can drive people to piracy, or so I’m told.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 16 Feb 2011

    The whole notion of giving the player a limited number of lives at all is of course a throwback to coin-op days, and was probably intended here to be charmingly retro. Thank goodness McMillen rethought this when designing SMB. Although see Gregory Weir for a fuller discussion of this subject — he points out several situations where limited lives are still defensible.

    On permadeath, I’m of two minds. I agree that allowing the player to recover after a crash is a good thing, but on the other hand, on the few occasions when I’ve needed to take advantage of this ability, I’ve still felt like I was cheating. Unless the system is constantly updating the save file, you’re going to wind up going back in time somewhat after recovering, and probably taking advantage of information you didn’t have the first time around. So to some extent, I feel like real recovery is impossible: once you’ve crashed, the real game is already lost.

    Also, please be aware that World of Goo is basically a construction game without a player avatar, so you don’t really get to “swing around”. Mostly you want to create structures that swing as little as possible.

  3. matt w on 17 Feb 2011

    “Unless the system is constantly updating the save file, you’re going to wind up going back in time somewhat after recovering, and probably taking advantage of information you didn’t have the first time around. So to some extent, I feel like real recovery is impossible: once you’ve crashed, the real game is already lost.”

    I think that’s a valid point of view if you feel that way, but I also think that the designers should be putting that choice in the players’ hands rather than making it for them. For me, having out-of-world knowledge that the priest on level 14 has a cloak of protection is a lot closer to the real game than having to start from scratch because the game crashed. It may depend on the details of the game, but in general I don’t think it can hurt to give the player the choice. (Nethack does have a recovery utility, so the designers are trying not to punish the player for crashes; it just didn’t work on the mac build I was using.)

    Thanks for the link to the Gregory Weir post — I’d read it, but it was worth reading again. I pretty much agree with him entirely, especially “Making a player re-demonstrate their mastery of levels 1 through 3 in order to test their mastery of 4 is bullshit.” I can see the point of view that you don’t want a save point after (say) the Misery fight, because if you can’t get through that cleanly you’re going to get slammed on the next fights, but that’s usually what isn’t going on with limited continues.

    Thanks also for the heads-up on World of Goo (which I’ll surely play anyway, when I get around to it). I guess what I’m thinking of can be seen in Mirror’s Edge 2D — I can do all kinds of crazy jumps and build up a lot of momentum, but I like to be able to rest a bit, so I don’t enjoy the levels with enemies at all. Fortunately in that game they’re all optional. Of course that game very much gives you power and ease of movement from the beginning. I’ll probably give the world one boss another try sometime.

  4. matt w on 17 Feb 2011

    Having just made that comparison, I’m amused to see that your post on (3D) Mirror’s Edge came right after your post on crashscumming in Gish. How did you find moving from the one game to the other?

    (I think I accidentally left this comment on another post first. Sorry.)

Leave a reply