02/06/2016

SATISFYING MOMENTS IN VIDEOGAMING

Today's article is all about the satisfaction you can get from videogames. I don't mean the big moments - beating that difficult boss, seeing the conclusion of a grand adventure, remorselessly slaughtering your younger brother in Goldeneye deathmatch until he begins to ponder the futility of existence and starts crying (sorry, bro). No, I mean the smaller moments, little things that hit my pleasure centres and make the withered husk of my heart whisper "yes, good, good" every time they happen. With that in mind, there's only one place I can start this list: Hell.

Boom-Chok-Chok

Doom II didn't change much from the original, because what could you possibly want to change about Doom? That's not to say id Software just made a collection of new levels, however. They also isolated and solved one of Doom's greatest flaws, namely the fact that the shotgun wasn't two shotguns. Thus, the double-barrelled and accurately-named Super Shotgun was introduced in Doom II.


I'm sure most people reading this will have played Doom and used the Super Shotgun at some point, and I'm also sure that anyone who has used it will agree that yes, it is one of the most intensely satisfying videogame weapons ever created. Each pull of the trigger results in a brief frisson of joy as death itself surges from both barrels like the blow of an Olympian god. One of the hard gods, too, not a wimp like Hermes. Everything you're aiming at is either shredded into a demonic flesh slurry or wishes it had been, and the sound - the thud of the gunshot and the chok-chok as you reload - hammers home the Super Shotgun's position as The One True Gun. It never gets old and it never becomes obsolete, either. It's always useful, always powerful and it can clear a room full of people more efficiently than putting one of my mixtapes one at a party. It makes you feel, if only for a fleeting moment, like you're powerful. Then you open a door to a room full of Revenants and have a split-second to marvel at Hell's homing missile technology before that feeling of power evaporates.

Retire to a Safe Distance

Over to my very favourite FPS now with Blood, and a weapon that's satisfying in completely the opposite way to the Super Shotgun. That weapon is the flare gun, and while the pleasure of the Super Shotgun comes from it's raw power and immediacy, Blood's flare gun is more of, oh ho ho, a slow burn.



Hit an enemy with the flare gun and nothing much happens at first: the flare sticks to them, and as they continue their advance you might think they only way the flare is going to damage them is if a passing airliner mistakes the illuminated enemy for a runway and lands on their head. A second or two passes, and then your patience is rewarded - the flare causes the enemy to catch light and burn to death. You might balk at the idea of a gun that doesn't make the bad guys fall over as soon as you pull the trigger, but in this case a pleasure deferred is a pleasure enhanced. It's particularly satisfying when used against the Cultists, the robed, druidic human agents of an evil god that make up the bulk of Blood's enemies. For one thing, even the lowliest Cultist can quickly drain your health if you're caught unawares or trapped by an ambush, so the ability to pop a few flares through an open doorway or window and retreat to a safe distance until the murder barbecue has reached a sufficient cooking temperature is nice. Also, Cultists speak in a made-up demonic language... until they burst into flames, at which point they switch back to English so they can scream in agony without the need for a translator. When the villains drop their eldritch lexicon, that's when you know you've really gotten under their skin.

Cameramen of the 26th Century

In an effort to move this article in a direction that makes me seem less like a violent psychopath, it's over to classic SNES racer F-Zero and the thrill of victory - specifically, the way the camera whips around when you cross the finish line.


A more cynical person than I might accuse F-Zero of being little more than a technical showcase for the power of Nintendo's then-new 16-bit console, with the camera flourish that ends each race being an example of flash over substance. It's good flash, though. Satisfying flash, and it's never unworthy of a miniature fist-pump when you blast across the line in first place to the sound of your racer screaming to victory. It's even more satisfying when you win a close race, because you get to see your rivals just behind you as you disappear towards the horizon, safe in the knowledge that they'll never be able to overtake you and you'll never crash into another of the generic, primed-to-explode racers that limp around the course like a wheelbarrow full of semtex.

From Downtown

NBA Jam is one of those sports games that can captivate people who don't give a toss about the sport in question - people like yours truly, for instance. I have no interest in basketball, but over the years I've spent a lot of time playing NBA Jam, and it's always a pleasure to come back to. NBA Jam's recipe for success is not a complicated one: it strips basketball down to its basics and then makes those basics ridiculously over-the-top, a refinement process that leads to non-stop, end-to-end action and lanky men pirouetting through the air like Peter Crouch on an electric pogo stick. The crazy dunks are one of NBA Jam's big selling points - I don't think there's ever been a game of NBA Jam played where the participants aren't at least subconsciously praying for the backboard glass to be shattered - but personally I get more satisfaction from regular three-pointer.


I think it's the simplicity that appeals to me: the gentle arc, the crisp swish of the net, the commentator not shouting "terrible shot!" at me. There's a zen-like tranquillity to it, or as much zen-like tranquillity as you can summon up with the constant "excited rats in a tumble drier" squeak of shoes on wood. If I'm being honest with myself, and this is probably down to being a Yorkshireman, there's also the satisfaction of frugality. Sure, you might have done three cartwheels, jumped so high that the aviation authorities require you to have a blinking red light on your head and then slammed the ball home while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but it's still only worth two points. You'll notice that's less than three points.

Handle With Care

In Super Mario Bros. 3, Bowser takes over the Mushroom Kingdom by giving each of his Koopa Kids a magic wand so they can turn the various kings of each world into animals, which shows a heart-warming amount of trust on Bowser's part. I get nervous when I see my nephew pick up a cardboard tube, I can only imagine the terror I'd feel if he had access to reality-altering magics. Anyway, the point is that when you defeat a Koopa Kid, they drop the magic wand and it falls from the sky, and it's always felt weirdly important to me that I catch it before it hits the ground.


I know that I'm not alone in this - I've met several people who also felt the strange compulsion to catch the wand. Why? Who can say. I don't think it's a subconscious desire to see Mario gain magical powers, he can already shoot fire out of his hands and fly. It's not like it's going to break, either, although it would admittedly be amusing if it did and Mario had to offer a shrugged apology to each king as they try to command the respect of their subject while in the form of a dog. It just feels right, is all, and it's strangely satisfying when you grab the wand before it lands.

Moonwalking

Since Symphony of the Night, all the "Metroidvania" style Castlevania games have given the player access to a back-dash move, which makes the hero scoot backwards as though they've opened their bathroom door to see a cobra coiled atop the toilet tank. Here it is in action in Aria of Sorrow.



Making this GIF for the VGJunk Tumblr was the trigger for this article, because dodging attacks using the backdash is very satisfying, especially when you consider it's not really all that useful. You can't attack while you're backdashing, and most of the time a simple jump or even just walking the other way would be just as effective. That's not the point, though - the point is it's cool, and occasionally downright cheeky. I'm sure this giant skeleton feels like Soma is taking the piss a little. The backdash is especially important to Alucard, because it's stylish and having style is what sets vampires (or their mopey half-human offspring) apart from other monsters. You wouldn't get a gill-man in a cape, would you?

It's Like Clicking A Ballpoint Pen

On to a more modern game with From Software's PS4 masterpiece Bloodborne, the glorious amalgamation of Dark Souls, Lovecraftian horror, Victorian Gothic architecture and blood. Lots of blood. Everything is blood. The healing items are blood, the currency is blood, even the rocks are blood. It's great. Series director Hidetaka Miyazaki has said that one of the goals of Dark Souls was to create a game that rewards the player with a sense of satisfaction for overcoming the game's challenges, but that's a bit too deep for this article. Instead, here's something entire frivolous.


Each weapon in Bloodborne can be transformed between two different modes at the press of a button, as you can see above with the Saw Cleaver transforming from a brutal, jagged slab of metal for close-range attacks to a brutal, jagged slab of metal on the end of a stick, for long-range attacks and sawing logs from the comfort of your conservatory or outdoor seating area. It's a simple process, but the way your Hunter flourishes their weapon, combined with the absolutely perfect sound design that accompanies each weapon's transformation, means that switching weapon modes is so satisfying that I did it a lot, even when it was completely unnecessary. I refuse to believe there is a single person who played Bloodborne who didn't have a moment where they flicked out their weapon's alternate mode as they slowly walked towards an unsuspecting enemy, because - and I say this with a complete lack of cynicism - it looks super cool.
But which weapon transformation itself looks the coolest? A difficult choice, but it's hard to deny the Boom Hammer.


It's a sledgehammer with a tiny furnace inside that you rev up by striking it like a match on your shoulder. Again, it's called the Boom Hammer. Don't ever let anyone tell you that the Souls games are too serious.

Rocket-Propelled Spiders

You know, I'm not sure whether I'd recommend the Earth Defense Force games to an arachnophobe. On the one hand, you spend a lot of the time being murdered by a churning, relentless wall of gigantic spiders. On the other hand, you have access to high explosives.


This is Earth Defense Force 4.1, but the point stands for all EDF games and that point is the indelible pleasure of seeing a giant insect - be it an ant, a spider or your fellow EDF soldiers, who are as insects before my might - violently ejected into the stratosphere by a well-placed explosion. Watch the spider being launched out of the top-right of the frame. He's gone and he's not coming back. A budget title it may be, but few other game series can match EDF for sheer carnage on a grand scale, and sending a spider back to where it came from (outer space, that is) with a rocket launcher is something that will warm my heart every time I see it happen.

Revenge of the Nerds

There's a clown in Day of the Tentacle, and like all clowns it's a heartless, malevolent presence that lusts for human suffering.


See? A truly ghastly adversary. However, the clown must be destroyed, because dorky hero Bernard needs the laughter box from inside the clown. But how can you slay that which does not live? Turns out it's fairly simple.


You stab it. You get your friend to send you a scalpel by flushing it down the high-tech toilet from the nightmarish future she's trapped in, and then you use the scalpel to stab the clown. It's perfect, really, and the satisfaction you get from it is mirrored by Bernard's expression of glee as he deals the fatal blow. I love the elegant simplicity of the solution to this clown problem - Day of the Tentacle is a game where you have to convince people George Washington is cold by blowing his teeth out with an exploding cigar, so "just shank it" stands out in stark relief and is all the more rewarding for it. Plus, there's the moral satisfaction you get from ensuring there's one less clown in the world.

A Gordian Knot

Capcom's PS2 bushido-em-up Onimusha is a fun adventure, right up until the point where you're presented with a life-or-death sliding block puzzle.


You know what's worse than a sliding block puzzle? Okay, yes, walking in on your parents making love and them not stopping, or contracting smallpox, but what I was going to say was "a sliding block puzzle with a timer." It's not an easy puzzle, either, and all these flaws combined are enough kill my interest in Onimusha, and possibly videogames as a concept, stone dead. So how could this possibly be satisfying?


This is how - the chance to offer a hearty "get bent" to the sliding block puzzle designers of the world.

There you go, then. A collection of brief moments that fill my heart with, if not song, then at least a jaunty whistle. That's what playing videogames is all about, surely? They should be fun, always, and if I find my joy in the act of stabbing an inflatable clown then so be it.

19 comments:

  1. I identify and strongly agree with almost all of these, especially the Mario 3 one--it's one of the ways you're just supposed to finish a level in games.

    Also see "making sure Simon Belmont is whipping when he catches the orb at the end of the level (full extension of course) and Taking A Key For Coming In in Ghouls n Ghosts. If that key touches the ground you might as well start over.

    And oh man, the trick weapon transform in Bloodborne...sometimes when I've gotten strong and confident enough to dominate early mobs I've found myself doing the old "slow walk while transforming weapon to show them you mean business" that you shouldn't even pull out on real people. You've gotta make your own drama in video games, though.

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    1. Don't forget to be airborne when you catch the Orb, or it doesn't count.

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    2. Oh yeah, I can't forget Castlevania orb posing! I would always try to see what strange new positions I could get Alucard to freeze in in SotN.

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    3. The designers clearly caught onto this at some point, because IIRC in "Harmony of Dissonance," you get this big "EXCELLENT!" callout if you manage to catch the orb in midair while the whip is fully extended.

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  2. Aw man, you GOTTA catch the wand. In fact, I would go further and say that you gotta jump as it's falling and catch it in mid-air (but not on the bounce--catching it on the bounce is LAME AS HELL).

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    1. A mid-air catch is definitely cool, but there's something extra satisfying to me about running and grabbing it just before it touches the floor.

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  3. I very agree with moment of using flare gun in Blood
    It offers tactical trick against those demented men
    It is safe and satisfying indeed

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    1. Yep, it's definitely safe and satisfying.

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  4. Proper-noun stew: if you launch a first-level fusion attack right when combat starts and "Owari-Hajimari" is playing during Week 2 of the Japanese version of The World Ends with You, you can make the cars crash to the ground immediately after the "SATURDAY NIGHT!" that ends the opening rap bit, for a satisfying little punctuation on that phrase. I'm sure no one knows what I'm talking about here, but I like it. It's the only compelling reason in that game to put up with Joshua at all.

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    1. I've barely played TWEWY, but I don't have to to know that syncing actions up with the music in a game is *always* satisfying.

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  5. I'm playing Road Rash on the Megadrive at the moment and it's amazingly satisfying when you're in 3rd or 4th place; unable to catch the riders in front of you because your bike isn't fast enough, and just before you reach the finish line, they all get wiped out by a car crossing a junction.

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    1. Oh yeah, one of my favourite things about Road Rash is that the CPU isn't infallible, and that's definitely a satisfying outcome.

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  6. I want you to talk about Bloodborne for Halloween. It's the best modern Castlevania game. Especially if you play with the Whip Cane.

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    1. It really is a great Castlevania game. The character I platinumed the game with was a skill build and I used the threaded cane for most of the game, it was great fun. Maybe I can come up with some words about Bloodborne for Halloween...

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  7. Nice choices, here up mine(WARNING SPOILERS!)

    1.Payback time! (The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion)
    Did you rymenber that snarky Dark Elf in very begging of this game?
    Now you had chance to payback after second Dark Brotherhood quest, have fun!

    2.Bloody Pinata
    Just any game where blow up enemies explodes like pinata filled with candies :)

    3.Flying Tank (Grand Theft Auto 3)
    I hate using cheat chode but :D i can make excuse for this moment in my videogaming life.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EC1VCf5eEY

    4.Lu Bu the wimp
    Lu Bu in Dynasty Warriors 5 at Hu Lao Gate are fearsome opponet for those who had low levels, but ive managed defeat him :) Thanks for bow and arrows and my friend as decoy.

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    Replies
    1. All good choices, especially defeating Lu Bu!

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  8. The Super Shotgun is actually THREE times as powerful, not two.

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  9. It's funny you mention Blood, I had just been flipping through a game mag from 1997 and saw an ad for it. Having never heard of the game, I thought "this is the 90s-est thing in this magazine." The same mag also had a preview for SOTN in which it surmised that the game wasn't quite up to the "32-bit" standards of other contemporary titles.

    Anyway now I know that I was totally right about Blood. I wouldn't have expected that it was actually a good game, though.

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  10. In Green Hill Zone Act 1 from Sonic 1, there's that ramp near the end that sends Sonic flying into a trapezium of rings. By going into it and bouncing on the nearby badniks in just the right way you can collect every single ring there before landing and that feels pretty good.
    Remakes of Green Hill tend to be kind of a letdown to me because even if the ring trapezium is featured it might, for a reason or another, not be possible to collect them the right way.

    ReplyDelete

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