1000 Amps

While I’m on numbers, I figured I might as well give 1000 Amps a try. A recent release, I’ve just managed to get all the way through it over the weekend, and find the experience most satisfactory. This is a puzzle-platformer with the emphasis on puzzle, and I think it’s worth commenting on its technique.

First, the basics. This is a game about a struggle between light and darkness. I don’t mean that as as a metaphor for good and evil, I mean literal light and darkness. The gameworld is a large tile grid divided up into rooms, and each room starts off completely dark, with no visible content. You illuminate and reveal tiles by bumping into them, and generally the first stage of figuring out any room consists of just blundering about blindly for a bit until you learn its general shape. Now, some tiles are light tiles. Light tiles, once illuminated, give you more power, which lets you jump higher, but only in that room. Every new room you enter starts off dark, and thus you start off powerless there. For that matter, if you leave a room without completing it, it’ll be back to complete darkness if you come back. To complete a room and render it fully illuminated forever, you have to illuminate all of its light tiles.

Why would you leave a room incomplete? Well, for one thing, some of them are unsolvable until you find certain upgrades. Most of the upgrades are in the extreme reaches of the map, and difficult to obtain, but the very first one is put right in your path early in the game, essentially as a way of letting you know that this game has an upgrade mechanic. This first upgrade lets you teleport to the position of the mouse cursor by clicking.

Possibly your reaction to this is to question how a platformer that lets you just reposition your avatar wherever you like could be at all challenging. But that ignores the reason why it’s in there. Game designers don’t grant you extra powers to make the game easier, they do it because it lets them make the game harder. Once you have teleport ability, it starts becoming necessary to use it, sometimes in non-obvious ways. And there are significant limitations on its use. You can’t teleport until there’s at least one light tile illuminated, and every time you do, the tiles in your immediate vicinity go dark. In confined spaces, you may be forced to snuff out the light that lets you teleport in the act of teleporting. Still, even given these limitations, teleporting, when you get it, fundamentally alters how you can approach the game, and makes it less about Meat Boy reflexes.

Now, the first several rooms you encounter are immediately solvable. When you start encountering ones where you need an upgrade first, it breaks a pattern. And that break is itself part of a general pattern for this game: it sets expectations, then it violates them. You start off thinking of rooms as things you can solve as soon as you reach them, but that doesn’t pan out. Even then, you still think of rooms as self-contained units that you can solve without reference to the contents of any other room as long as you have the necessary powers, but then you start discovering rooms whose solution depends on approaching them from the right direction. In some cases you can only solve a room if you jump into it from the room below, which means you have to illuminate that room enough to support such a jump. Some rooms don’t have floors. Some aren’t even contiguous — they’re made of up multiple pieces, separated by other rooms, and the only way to get from one piece to another without leaving the room is by teleporting. I won’t go into the last couple of surprises, but it does keep on redefining what’s possible right up to near the end. And that’s kind of cool.