In a recent blog post, Edmund McMillen talks about his confusion-and-insanity-themed puzzle platformer Time Fcuk. It’s an interesting read, but the one bit that stood out for me was the bit about the alt levels. Apparently certain levels had multiple versions, chosen at random:

i came up with the idea late one night where i envisioned people playing the game and then trying to look up hints on how to beat a level only to find no one had played the level they are on, in hopes that they would feel “crazy”. this of course didn’t have the effect i wanted…

And yeah, it certainly didn’t have that effect for me. In order to notice the variations, you’d have to either replay the game from the start and notice that the levels were different, or compare your experience in considerable detail with someone else’s. And the player doesn’t really have much motivation to do either: if you like this sort of game, you’ll probably play right through it to the end, and if you don’t, you’ll probably just quit in the middle and not go back to it. The interesting thing is that, while Time Fcuk didn’t inspire this sort of comparison, another recent game did in a pretty big way: Dungeon, a retro platformer by Cactus and Mr. Podunkian.

Dungeon is described by its creators as an “experiment”, but feels more like a prank, or possibly even a troll. The concept was that the game had a number of deliberate problems, bugs, and other causes for complaint, which caused people to post on its TIGSource message board — but different installations would provoke different problems. The game apparently uses a deterministic combination of factors such as the OS version and the current username to produce a consistent experience for each player, even as the content varies among different players. So, some players experience frequent pauses, others get monsters that move far faster than they should, others find a certain jump early in the game impossible, etc. (When I played it, I was lucky enough to get variant #7, in which the only issue is that the level titles are artsy and pretentious.)

The forum comments on Dungeon start off as confused as you might expect, with comments along the lines of “What are you talking about, that jump is dead easy”, but it didn’t take long for people to figure out what was going on. The first clues started coming in when people found that they could fix their “bugs” by running the game in some Windows compatibility mode or other, which alters the OS version seen by the game app. Speculation that the game “modifies its own difficulty depending on the machine or something” started less than an hour after the game was released; by the end of the day, people were starting to compile lists of the variations.

So, I guess the lesson here is that if you want something about your game to be noticed, make it obnoxious.

No Comments

Leave a reply