Wednesday 15 October 2008

Review: World of Goo

John Riccitiello awoke, sweating between the sheets, caught on the shores of a dream like a Cretaceous lung-fish slipping from the mud.

The pipes in the house were clanking and shuddering. He lay there, listening to the bad plumbing, grasping at the last fragments of fugue clearing from his head. The metaphor was obvious, of course, alluding to the release of Spore, whose half-formed legs had stumbled over the gaming public, knocking the critics off perches and planting its seed in the minds of those who played it. With the expansion packs, that seed would grow. Will Wright had done his best work – or had he?

It was the ninjas he worried about. Goddamn ninjas. They scuttled around the Maxis office like beetles under a rock – he avoided the place as much as he could with its fetid stench of stale smoke bombs, and programmers prone to wedging themselves in cracks on the ceiling or hanging clock-like in zen stances on the walls. He’d had to hire them: no one else had the development chops to pull that kind of game off. And they owned Japan - as Microsoft had learned at great cost.

Darker images came to mind – the sewers under Tokyo. He had been there in ’98 to try to arrange the release of the Wachowski brothers. His private security force had warned him against it, but the meeting was near the warzone, and they had skirted a few of the skirmishes. Black clothed bodies lay strewn amidst the wreckage of MSN DirectXdroids. Things, he shuddered, had peeled open people’s heads like grape fruit to get to the hypothalamus. And the consequences? The Xbox releases crashed against the shores of Fortress Tose and failed to get a foothold.

The brothers' documentary about the war gave him flashbacks, sent him from the cinema shuddering like a vet from Saving Private Ryan. He’d anesthetised the sequels because of it: sieved the scum of possibility from the surface of the second. And the third. Robots versus guns? What use was a gun against a thousand Vista servolets drilling into your cortex?

That’s why he needed the ninjas.

It was all about the API – of course. The only way to reprogram the pleasure centres of the brain. Microsoft dominated the landscape, with the warring houses fighting a losing rearguard action against them. Sony and Nintendo held out one hand of hope and slapped supplication away with the other. He knew the capabilities were there. The early iterations of Spore in the EA Advanced Weapons Labs had showed the way. But the cost... they’d had to nuke an escaped Brian Crecente on the corner of 4th Avenue and Broadway. Only a clumsy Gawker clone and a Sims expansion pack which wiped the knowledge of that intersection from the public mind had ensured the cover up. His favourite noodle house had been on that corner. Really great noodles.

He could go to Valve again, hat in hand. But EA had surpassed the brain shunt technology Gabe had defected with – it was only the distribution mechanism that needed perfection.

He sat up, his throat dry. There’d be water in the kitchen.

Sony. Goddamn Sony. The numbers were big – LittleBigPlanet big. He didn’t know how they’d done it: apparently some kind of molecular technology that bound directly to the neural sheaths. They’d looked at chemical procedures before. But rumour had it that Sony had the technology to extract the resulting cocktail directly from the adrenal gland, multiplying its potency a thousandfold. It was something open source. ODE, OGL... irrKlang? He couldn’t remember the acronym - some biotech cooked up in a home laboratory by an enthusiast amateur.

He had his eye on the second tier. Apple, naturally, but their recombinant DNA tech had let them stumble into the game without understanding the rules. Adobe was selling its Flash solution to the highest bidder: another battle front in the making but one that could only deliver in fifteen minute increments. He wondered if he should arrange another attempt on Stephen Totilo – the wounds from the Desktop Tower Defense debacle were still fresh. But it was the little guys who were causing the real problems: penetration attacks from TIGSource were getting more common every day and Stallman still lived, protected by the xkcd mafia, despite that outrageous price on his head. He could feel the sand slipping through his fingers like goo through a pipe. How could he identify the next big thing if he couldn’t even see the potential in his own staff?

He looked down at the glass of water in his hands. The liquid seemed to resolve for a second into a thousand perfectly spherical droplets, each shimmering like an iridescent pearl. Tired – he was too tired. He should get back to sleep. The mind makes mistakes when overstressed – like the time he let Tim Schafer peek at his therapy transcripts. Another waste of time and effort: the only successful graduate of the the Psychonauts program had just been disbarred. The brain is a battleground and only a fool lets his guard down.

He drank deep. Funny. He thought he could hear faint cries of UNATCO as the water trickled down his throat.


brandonnn said...

It's a shame a lot of people won't fully understand this, cos it's really actually a little bit amazing.

But Gray stayed on and manage to get Hatsworth greenlit rather than working on Madden for the rest of eternity, no?

Generally, though, yes to this.

Andrew Doull said...

Thanks - much appreciate the praise. Just wrote it on the way into work. People who'll understand it: Simon (of course), Kieron, some of the people I've name checked... it doesn't have to be a huge list.

It's fan fiction. It doesn't have to have massive appeal.

Yes - with a goo-controlled CEO the possibilities are endless.

Andrew Doull said...

"But Gray stayed on and manage to get Hatsworth greenlit rather than working on Madden for the rest of eternity, no? "

I totally didn't get this until I read the 2d Boy interview on GameSetWatch just now. And I thought I was dropping all the obscure references...

Despite what I wrote, this isn't a specific dig at EA or the game industry. It was more a 'isn't it a great opportunity to be an independent developer, because the tools are now out there to not have to worry about the low level stuff anymore'.

VRBones said...


You need help ;)

I couldn't decide while I was reading it whether it was supposed to be a dream, or fiction, or some warped blood-filled vision of war.

I've read it a couple of times and it gets better each read. It seems like there's 3 layers, the 1st person war layer, the underlying vision of the near future layer, and a little bit of your indie world at the base.

ron said...

wow, andrew, i got about 50% of this, which i think is the ideal amount for balancing laughter with a sense of mystery and awe! thank you! (from one of the 2d boys)

grnchile said...

I wish I hadn't been drinking my coffee when I got to the good bits. Hmm... They were all good, actually. What a mess.

Thanks for writing the best game review (and best take on the gaming industry) that I've seen in quite a long time.

Andrew Doull said...

How many laptops did I ruin with this? :)

Jaco van der Westhuizen said...

Now that I've played World of Goo, I finally get it.

Nice work!