Capsized: Deus

It wasn’t much longer after my last post that I finally finished the final level of Capsized, titled “Deus”. It’s a triple boss fight against big aliens, and it’s a learning experience. I mentioned in the last post how the final few levels make you learn to use the tractor beam (or magnetic grapple or whatever it’s actually called) for navigation. Deus makes you forget about that. It’s fought entirely in zero gravity, so you can float about endlessly and not have to worry about running out of jetpack fuel. And it’s something of a dirty trick, because in order to actually beat it, you have to use the tractor beam in other ways, which you have to figure out. For example, the first stage of the boss has an attack that consists of creating a sort of gravity well that pulls you in and hurts you. The only effective way to resist its pull is to quickly tether yourself to something stationary. The third stage creates and throws big spiky exploding things at you that home in on you and inevitably hurt you a lot unless you quickly grapple them and throw them away — preferably back at the boss, because that seems to be the only way to take down his shield. I don’t think I ever found any use peculiar to the second stage, though. It makes me wonder if there was some trick I missed.

After you kill each boss, you get a respite in which you can stop and pick up any ammo or health lying around, including stuff dropped by creatures that the boss summoned. You signal your readiness for the next stage by grappling a crystal dropped by the boss when it died and throwing it into what looks like a small volcano. (Small for a volcano, that is. It’s larger than the screen.) This, too, took me a good long while to figure out the first time. I hadn’t even noticed the crystal when it appeared, because I had been pretty much constantly running away from the boss when it was alive and didn’t stop immediately when it went into its death throes. The weird thing about this is that the game gives you pretty explicit instructions at each step of what to do. Throughout the game, there’s an onscreen compass pointing in the direction of your current objective (or the closest current objective, if there are multiple concurrent things), together with a single verb, like “collect” or “destroy”. But I had got into the habit of ignoring this. In most levels, what you actually want to do is explore. The compass isn’t always useful, because it always points straight at your objective, even if the direct way is blocked. But you can always find your goals by exploring thoroughly, and you’ll probably wind up finding some extra ammo caches on the way. So I had pretty much forgotten about the compass, even though it was right in front of my nose the whole time. Even once I had remembered it once, I kept forgetting to look at it when I wanted to know where the boss was lurking.

Capsized: The later levels

Capsized has twelve levels. I was actually confused about this for a while. One of the few ways the game reports your proportional progress is via secrets: it keeps a running tally of how many you’ve found out of the number available, and also tells you how many are available on each level you’ve unlocked. So I knew that level 11 contained the last of the secrets, but that seemed like a strange number of levels for a game. Well, it turns out that the final level contains no secrets, being essentially just a boss fight. I’ll go into that in more detail once I’ve actually beat the thing; what I really want to talk about is the last few levels before it.

The levels increase in length and difficulty as the game progresses, the former being basically a function of the latter: masses of tough monsters take longer to kill, and increase the odds that you’ll run out of lives and have to start the level over from the beginning. (Remember, your life count does not persist from level to level in this game.) None of this is unusual, but it seems to me that there’s something of a spike here: around level 9, all of the sudden I was taking multiple sessions to complete a level, rather than completing multiple levels in a session.

The game as a whole has a pleasing variety of level goals. To list a few in order of increasing complexity, your goal can be to reach a destination, defeat a specific monster, destroy scattered structures (jamming devices that are preventing the rescue ships from finding you), or locate specific objects and bring them back to your starting point with your tractor beam. Only in the last few levels does it feel like it’s starting to repeat itself. I don’t know whether to call it “running out of ideas” or “recapping what you’ve learned”.

But the chief thing that distinguishes the final levels is the degree to which that tractor beam comes to the fore as the main way you interact with the game. Or perhaps this isn’t a function of the levels so much as of my own increasing familiarity with the thing: earlier on, I’d frequently forget I had it, or that it could be used as an aid to movement, and be stymied by a platform too far up to jump to. It’s easy to forget about when you’re spending a significant portion of your time on each level with a recharging jetpack, which is an easier approach for such things. But I think there’s something to be said for the idea that the later levels encourage its use more: they have significantly large open-sky areas, punctuated at random with floating platforms, globby clusters that resemble fatty tissue and which I think we’re supposed to take as the nests or hives of the yellow airsquid that also start appearing in force at that time and in those areas. And once you’re routinely slinging yourself around Tarzan-style from these things, it’s easy to discover other uses for that mode of movement. Like, the beam is springily elastic, and it’s easy to make yourself go rapidly snapping around on it like it’s a rubber band, which is an excellent defense against enemies that have to aim at you to hurt you. I’ve fought entire battles in this mode.


I'm the guy on the left.Capsized marks a milestone for my hardware’s continuing slide into obsolescence. The monitor I typically game on these days is a projector — a cheap “business” projector with a native resolution of 1024×768. This is more than enough for most of the games I play, but it’s getting to be a stretch for some of the newer ones, which are designed with a higher resolution in mind. (Dungeons of Dredmor, for example, seems to have a fixed pixel size for its various pop-ups, and at 1024×768, they take up more of the screen than they really should. It’s playable, but I wind up opening and closing my inventory a lot, where other players probably just leave it open all the time.) Well, Capsized is the first game I’ve played that doesn’t even support 1024×768. The smallest it’s willing to deal with is 1280×1024. Fortunately, my projector is willing to fake this, with results that look okay from my customary viewing distance.

So, what is it doing with all those pixels? Throwing in lots of scribbly detail, mainly. This game has ludicrously over-detailed hand-drawn art. Even the rock walls aren’t simply displayed as solid rock, but as masses of tiny individual rocks without any obvious tiling pattern. It’s a style that I associate with things doodled in notebooks over the course of very long meetings, although of course here it’s animated. And I don’t just mean the foreground: vines sway in the breeze, alien bird-analogues drift about in the distance.

Alien, yes, for this is a game about beleaguered astronauts with worried expressions, crash-landed on a jungle world. So no, there isn’t really any capsizing involved. The title was presumably chosen as a synonym for “shipwrecked”, even though it specifically means “tipped over”, which isn’t really applicable to a spaceship. But I suppose the nautical term helps to establish the metaphor of sailors stranded on a remote island, facing unfamiliar tropical wildlife and hostile natives. And yeah, the inhabitants of this planet are plainly modeled on notions of the primitive savage, with their large masks and blowguns — although, for all that, they’re powerful enough to pose a threat to humans with spacefaring technology and blasters. (Not enough of a threat to actually stop you, of course.)

Now, about those blasters. This is one of those platformers where you move with the keyboard and aim with the mouse, a combination that seems to have become ubiquitous in platformers these days. You have a FPS-like assortment of different weapons, such as a machine gun that fires rapidly but inaccurately, a slow but powerful laser, homing missiles, and so forth. Your basic blaster can be fired infinitely, but the ammo for your other weapons is limited, and can be found scattered through the levels, usually in hard-to-reach places. What’s unusual about this is that you start over with just your basic blaster at the start of each level. So, there’s the hoarding problem solved: every level is completely self-contained. Lives are also reset with each level, as is the status of your jetpack fuel.

The whole business with the Jetpack fuel is interesting. Being able to fly tends to ruin the platforming, so jetpack fuel is found in quantities designed to run out. But what if you use up all the fuel on the level and thereby render bits inaccessible? The game solves this with recharging jetpack fuel, which you can find towards the end of the level. This places the same limit on how far you can fly at a stretch, but regenerates when you’re standing on the ground. This is invaluable for hunting for the level’s last few secrets, because they tend to involve hidden tunnels in those overdetailed rock walls, and the entrance hole can be anywhere, at any elevation.

The thing is, that’s almost all you need the jetpack for. Your astronaut can jump pretty high, and climb vertical surfaces, and comes equipped with a tractor beam. This last is like a combination of Half-Life‘s gravity gun and a grappling hook. That is, you can latch it onto objects to lift, pull, or hurl them, but you can also latch it onto the ceiling above you and swing from the glowing force beam thus created. To the extent that this game contains puzzles, they involve the tractor beam: tricky climbing, rearranging obstacles, transporting boulders to where you need them as weights or stepping-stones. This is also the main way that the game shows off its physics engine.