Monday, 2 September 2013

Blue pill

Michael Brough has released 868-HACK on iOS, the culmination of 5 months of development following the 7DRL it is based on, 86856527. The TL;DR is that you should buy this game: it is the best iOS roguelike (though not by much), the best iOS game released so far this year, and my GoTY, which is something I shouldn't be saying in September.

My question is, given how great a game it is, is when should we talk about it on Roguelike Radio? The TL;DR for that is in my opinion is never - or more specifically, we should have a lively hour to an hour and a half inside baseball conversation full of insight and praise for the game, and then take the hard drives the episode is recorded on out into the desert and bury them next to Jason Rohrer's game meant to be played in two thousand years. (They're digging up the old copies of E.T. far too soon).

The reason for that is far more interesting: this is a game for which a large part of the pleasures of learning to play it is prone to being spoiled, but not for the reasons of any other game I've played and that is part of what is unique about Brough's design. (Caveat: I've not played Starseed Pilgrim, for which you can read Michael Brough's thoughts on here noting that his statement 'you can get better at it. It's not about uncovering obtuse facts; it's about mastering a deep system, creatively using its quirks to your advantage, getting better at it until you're able to overcome anything that's thrown at you.' equally applies to 868-HACK).

868-HACK game is minimalist and procedurally generated, with an online leader board and score chase and score streak elements which should give it longevity, and Brough's original statement of intent was to explore progression systems in games, which it does elegantly along three axes (more if you count the variety of unlock systems in play), with more than enough ways to kill yourself through greed. The programs you acquire in game in an exquisitely balanced risk/reward mechanic are obtusely described in two to four word phrases: but this isn't because the game is trying to be deliberately difficult. Instead, think of each program as an onion, which as you peel off the layers you find new and interesting ways of using it, either alone or especially in conjunction with other programs in the game.

What can be spoiled is the ways of using these programs - all of which are discoverable, and apply logically in ways that make perfect sense post-realisation. But simply by saying a sequence of two programs you should probably try together I risk taking away the pleasure you'll get in figuring them out - either by yourself or in the community of people you play games with. The game post-discovery is still a robust set of systems - you can't break the game by telling someone something in the way you could in a narrative game, and it is probable that I could tell you an interesting interaction but the implications of what I said may not sink in until you are in a position in the game where a life or death decision depends on your understanding of how you can take advantage of the tools at your disposal.

If you're looking for a straight forward description of how the game plays, you could try a review of 868-HACK at 148 Apps (or my post on the Touch Arcade forums, or if you are into Brogue you could try my more obscure post on the Brogue forums). If you remain unconvinced, please try 86856527 which is free on Windows, and then read this somewhat spoilerific brochure for players of 86856527 which was for a long time a beautiful misdirection on what the game was about, but sadly became the top ranking web site about 868-HACK and more pedantic as a result.

Looking back at what I've written above, I'm probably over emphasizing the risk of spoilers, and under emphasizing the myriad ways in which the programs interact. Of course, to talk about that, I'd need you to also have gone down the rabbit hole of playing the game, so that I could start to tell you how X interacts with Y, or why Z is now my favourite program despite its apparent inferiority to A and prone to result in accidental avatar death. For now, you can spoil yourself in more depth on my twitter feed, and an older post where I make the cardinal sin of back seat designing the 7DRL, and wait for the day that a way of forgetting reliably exists.


Joseph said...

I still come to your site every few days to see if you've updated.

Today you pleasure me with your support for this game. I've not played yet, I don't have a mobile device, but I was wondering what happened to this game. This design seemed destined for bigger things. I'm so happy this has happened.

Andrew Doull said...

I want to apologize for my terrible update frequency this year.