World of Goo: Conclusion

After you reach the ending of World of Goo, there are two avenues for pursuing perfection. First, each level has an “OCD” 1“Obsessive completion distinction”, according to the game. challenge associated with it — usually of the form “rescue N goo balls”, but sometimes it’s “finish in N moves” or some other variant. I managed to pass a few of the easier such challenges in the smaller levels without meaning to, but I don’t intend to make a serious effort at it. It reeks of frustration.

The other optional challenge is one I’ve mentioned before: freeform goo-tower building at the remains of the World of Goo Corporation campus. This, I spent a considerable amount of time at, both after finishing the game and during the process, mainly while progress was slow. There are in-game suggestions that there’s something to see if you build high enough, but the end cutscene seems to suggest otherwise, that no matter how high you build, you’ll still be striving at the end. At any rate, I found this challenge fairly compelling, and spent a lot of time on it when I finished the game proper.

The next day, while at work, I noticed a unexpected variant on a familiar mental phenomenon. It’s not unusual for the quick but intensive training provided by a game to cause people to see patterns from the game in real life, especially if the patterns are strong, simple patterns that one has never had a reason to notice before. Many people have reported this happening to them with Tetris, and I’ve spoken before about experiencing it with Puzzle Quest. But this was a little freakier: I started seeing the slow wobble of a large goo structure in the unmoving windows on my desktop. (Source code looked particularly unstable, because of the slanting indentations.) I don’t recall experiencing anything quite like this with any other game. Seeing patterns where they actually exist is one thing, but this was seeing illusory motion just because my mind is primed to see it, like a long, slow afterimage.

At any rate, it’s a pretty neat game. Although many of the puzzles are basically variations on building a bridge or tower, it does a good job of always approaching it in a new way. Sometimes it’s the terrain that makes it different, sometimes it’s the available goo types. New goos with different properties keep on getting introduced until very near the close of the game. There’s inflatable balloon goo that can be attached to your structure to help it resist gravity, water-droplet goo that only attaches to one vertex and hangs down (potentially forming long descending chains, if that’s what you need), highly flammable matchstick-goo — come to think of it, all it needs is an earth goo to complete the elemental tetrad. I suppose that niche is taken by the stone blocks in world 4.

The stone blocks are not goo, in that they don’t move of their own accord and you can’t attach them to a goo structure, but they have two attributes found almost exclusively in goo otherwise: you can pick them up with your mouse and reposition them, and they have eyes. Little cartoony ones. Eyes of this sort are the lazy approach to anthropomophizing: I’ve seen them applied to things as unlikely as Tetris blocks and Pong paddles, game elements that really don’t need to be anthropomorphized. And it always seems to be accompanied by incoherent chirps and squeals from the creatures made anthropomorphic. So, yeah, I’m far from a fan of this aesthetic. But then, I look at this game and I ask myself what it would be like without the eyes and the squeals, and I have to admit it would be pretty dry — it would be a lot like Bridge Builder, in fact. Perhaps 2D Boy has actually figured out how to do this style right. It remains to be seen if the secret can be articulated clearly enough to recapture it in another work.

1 “Obsessive completion distinction”, according to the game.

World of Goo: Product Z

Almost done: I’ve been through all the levels except the epilogue. The epilogue apparently has only three levels, but from what I’ve seen, they’re doozies. (The word “doozy” isn’t one I normally use, but World of Goo inspires that sort of vocabulary.)

There’s a running plot thread, communicated mainly through clickable signposts throughout the levels, about the World of Goo Corporation’s mysterious “Product Z”, which is supposed to change the world forever. It turns out to be (SPOILERS!) the Z axis: “World of Goo is now 3D!” This seemed like a really bold move: could the game really make the jump from a 2D interface to a 3D one three-quarters of the way through? It was at this point that I realized how strong my faith in the author was. I trusted this “2D Boy” (ha ha) to pull of the transition well. However, the whole thing immediately turned out to be a lie. There is no 3D, in or out of gameplay. There’s a shift to an “information superhighway” theme, with the World of Goo Corporation Headquarters (where you build your tower) temporarily turning into “My Virtual World of Goo Corporation” until you finish world 4, but unless computers are just supposed to connote 3D somehow, I don’t see why it was even mentioned. I’ll note that the next level is actually set on the ruins of a disused information superhighway, so apparently a lot of time passes between worlds 3 and 4. Maybe the entire 3D era came and went between levels — a commentary on the fate of big-studio games?

Also, the whole computer-themed world passes by without making any puns on “GUI”. I can’t decide if this is a wasted opportunity or a sign of an admirable sense of restraint. Thinking about the other jokes the signposts crack, though, I don’t think I can really believe the latter.

World of Goo vs. Braid

Over at, there’s a spirited dicussion of the recent PC release of Braid which turned in parts into an argument about whether or not it’s a better game than World of Goo. There is of course no real reason why a player has to pick one over the other — you can play both, for goodness sakes! — but they both occupy the “indie puzzle game” niche and were released in the same year, which means that they were up for the same awards. The Rock, Paper, Shotgun staff itself has been been a hotbed of pro-goo sentiment since before its release, periodically bringing it up in reviews of other games in an offhand “why can’t they all be this good” way.

My own feeling is that Braid is more compelling. I mean that in a simple and objectively-measurable way: Braid inspired me to keep playing until I was finished, while my WoG sessions have been relatively short. Whether that makes it a better game is a matter of opinion. It may just mean it’s an overall shorter game, and the prospect of imminent completion is enough to keep me going. (Compare my recent lack of progress on the other two games I’m in the middle of: both are JRPGs, the canonical weeks-of-padding genre.)

Beyond that, it should be noted that the two games are trying to produce different experiences. Braid aims to be thoughtful and sad, with touches of the uncanny. “Here’s a piece of your childhood”, it says to the player, “only now it’s grown up and disillusioned.” WoG‘s ambitions are in a wackier direction, with over-the-top dark humor: its message to the player is more like “Oh no! The cute little goo balls are being SOLD AS FOOD!” Braid‘s art is impressionist-influenced watercolors; WoG‘s is cartoony ink sketches with a sort of Tim Burton/Dr. Seuss look. Braid‘s music is heavily cello-oriented (even some of the bits that don’t sound like cello are cello); WoG kicks off with a polka. So to some extent, it’s a matter of taste here, of which of these two styles you prefer.

There’s one really major difference in the philosophy of the gameplay design: Braid‘s puzzles have more definite solutions than those in WoG. That is, Braid‘s puzzle-solving primarily involves leaps of intuition — what the DROD community calls “lynchpins” — whereas the WoG puzzles are more about execution: most of the time, you know what you have to do, you just have to create a structure capable of doing it. Any such structure will do, as long as it works. By contrast, alternate solutions in Braid tend to be just slight variations based on the same insight. Again, some like the one, some like the other. I’ve waxed rhapsodic before about the “moment of realization”, and how it’s one of my main sources of enjoyment in games. But puzzles based on that sensation are ones where the player gets stuck, with no idea how to proceed, until they have the crucial insight. And some people really don’t like that.

World of Goo

And while we’re on well-regarded indie puzzle games, I might as well pull this one out. 2D Boy’s World of Goo has gotten enough good press that I didn’t hesitate to purchase it off Steam a few weeks ago when it was on sale, but didn’t have the time to start it. That’s happening a lot lately. Every weekend, Steam puts a large and temporary discount on one or more games, and it’s going to be the ruin of my attempts to reduce the Stack.

My first impression of the game is that it’s Bridge Builder crossed with Gish. Which is unfortunate, because those are both obscure enough titles that I’m going to have to explain them now. Bridge Builder (and its sequel Pontifex) is exactly what it sounds like: a heavily physics-based game in which you have to design river-spanning bridges that don’t collapse under their own weight under various physical and budgetary constraints. Gish, which is on the Stack still, is a gothy 2D platformer about a sentient blob of tar. Coincidentally (and somewhat oddly), these two games were made by the same team. Or perhaps it’s not coincidence: I’ve detected what may be shout-outs to Bridge Builder in WoG‘s first world, suggesting that 2D Boy is a fan of theirs, or at least aware of them.

But to this a third influence must be added: Lemmings, with its chirruping doomed wee creatures that need your help to escape. The goal in each level of WoG is to help the roaming goo balls to reach an outflow pipe, usually by building a bridge to it out of their living bodies, which are most easily connected in triangular grids. Some species of goo can be detached and reused, others are effectively killed the moment you join them to your expanding structure. All survivors are sent to a special area with a competitive metagoal: build as tall a tower as you can, while clouds representing the tower-heights of other players on the net loom tauntingly overhead.

Even though I’m still in the lower ranks hieght-wise, I’m finding it gratifying to look at the details on those clouds and snicker at how much less efficient they are than mine — “He has twice as many pieces as me, and he’s only just a little way above me!” I only wish I could see their structures, rather than just their stats, because I’m curious about how other people are building their structures. (I suppose I should try Google. People must be posting screenshots.) My own best efforts are Eiffel-Tower-like: I start by making as large and as regular a triangle as I can, then when it’s thick enough, I start mining out the middle bits that aren’t needed for support any more, and put them up top. The broadness of the base, even when it’s reduced to a pair of legs, tends to minimize the structure’s wobble.

And yet it still wobbles. Wobbling is pretty much the point of goo; the whole game is built around what’s been called “jell-o physics”. For this reason, screenshots really don’t communicate the gameplay very well. You can look a picture of a nice slim tower and not realize that it’s swaying back and forth with an arc larger than the screen.