“Gamma Bros” Review
I wonder how many games we have already lost, if not lose forever, because of Flash being proprietary and owned by a company who has zero interest in preserving any history whatsoever? How many games are locked away under a dead engine, horrible for both its intended purpose (website design? really?), its unintended purposes (Flash is a notoriously slow, buggy, and uncustomisable games engine. Animation universally looks cheap, unless an inordinate amount of effort is put into it), and for any other possible purpose anybody would consider using Flash for (such as being the most insecure part of any Web browser which supports it). In short, it is the Web’s failed abortion, a monster created by an uncaring parent, rightly criticsed by everyone who ever had to deal with it, and was only popular for the same reason Windows was popular: aggressive marketing, anti – customer practices, and digital handcuffs which only allowed for products made in Flash to be used within Flash itself. Just like all of Adobe’s products.
We all used Flash. We were all stupid kids back then, unaware of its dangers. Most of us know what it was like to play Web games on Armor Games, Kongregate, Newgrounds, and so on. Jayisgames was the Quran for these games, and school computers were the Mecca we all strafed around, gleefully wasting our youth. What we did back then is inexorably a part of our culture… and the culture is owned exclusively by Adobe, and will never give it up, for they have no monetary reason to do so. Imagine that. Not doing anything nice because you can’t make a buck out of it. The ultracapitalist is worse than scum.
One of these locked – in games is one called Gamma Bros, which is one of the best Flash games I’ve ever played. It was made by the legendary Web developer Pixeljam, who you may also know from Dino Run, and is up there with the likes of Nitrome and John (the “achievement unlocked” elephant guy) as the most renowned and celebrated makers of Web games. They may all have attempted to break into “real” games, but even as their efforts fail, they will always be known in our hearts as the friends we could rely on in our youth.
As the months pass, time marches on, and Flash continues to be universally derided and stops being supported, there is a mighty good chance that those friends will remain in our youth. It is not a matter of if Flash ends up dead, but when, for history is being made as new generations are born, better with technology and educated from the mistakes of our forefathers. When Gamma Bros is no longer online, and when Flash is as dead as DOS, that is when we will know the evil of proprietary software. That is when we will understand what happens when we allow a company to control our culture. But for now, we are fortunate enough to have a few copies online, still under Adobe’s control, but still available to be played.
The Bros Steamroll
This is the type of game that should be taught in game design schools, fawned over by YouTube “developers”, and remembered not just as a way to pass the time, but as a respectable piece of art in itself. Because there is an art to it, adhering to a philosophy that might be called “pragmatic design”, where the best way to design a game is most often the simplest, and the best way to program that is in the simplest ways. It’s a game whose elements are extremely simple and predictable, to the point where it is not only intuitive to play, but also to create a clone of, and is a template that heavily influenced my very first foray into real games design. Indeed, Gamma Bros was the crib notes for the main mechanics, a statement that will be more meaningful once I am famous enough to release it and have it be played.
The plot? Visit your wife and don’t blow up — also cribbed. The gameplay is a space shoot – em – up, the abbreviation for which, SHMUP, took me a silly amount of time to learn, where you can travel in eight directions and shoot in the cardinal ones, creating movement that is free to evade and yet demands planning to attack. The enemies act in predictable patterns, though sufficiently random to avoid boredom, and so can be memorised to make later gameplay easier. You’ll need to memorise them so you can destroy enemies for their coins, which you are forced to collect to buy upgrades to stand a chance later on, causing a simple risk – and – reward mechanic of either getting money or dying trying. Reinforcing the risk is letting your bullets shoot faster the closer you are to enemies… something that simple adds in so much complexity to the game, and it’s brilliant for it.
The game doesn’t overwhelm you with bullets, no, and not even with enemies. Unlike other shooters which demand you focus exclusively on patterns, this one is all twitch action. It in, in essence, an actual arcade game, where those who are typically “good at video games” have their skills tested in their purest form, unlike many other games which simply rely on manipulation of complex mechanics, such as routing, artificial intelligence, stat values, and so on. You are instead simply expected to survive the constantly – challenging waves of enemies, destroying enough to earn your upgrades, and keeping your health as high as you can bear. You are given two brothers, one as a back – up, to help you. If one dies, he’s not coming home for dinner.
We have gotten too coy with the medium of games, where we admire them as technological behemoths and not as the original things they once were: time – wasters designed for the purest form of fun. As the anonymous literary dogma says, “time you enjoy is never time wasted”, but we never felt they were anything other than cheap fun, and we certainly weren’t gaming for the stories. That came later, and I am proud that they did, for it means that we may become heroes rather than simply watch them, to learn tactics, strategy, mathematics, and everything else to do with game theory that we may use in our lives. Without story, without meaning, one cannot call a medium “art”, for art inspires us to either think, feel, or do. When games got stories, they became art, and not just functional pieces of programming brilliance.
But with maturity comes freedom, and as with modern art we have a great deal of lazy storytellers who cannot craft worth a damn, we also have the freedom to represent more subjects and more controversial ideas than ever before. With postmodern literature, too often we had pretentious, minimalist authors come along and preach the values of a complex story with a narrarator that hated being there. Where Hemingway sucked and Vonnegut proudly took his torch, the same applies to every other artist in the wake of Picasso, where they are given the freedom to express any idea, but the vast majority choose to do it poorly. We see this very same mentality in games… with better computers come worse programmers, and with hardware that does “more, more, more”, we have companies that put in more games, more developers, more budgets, on every platform they possibly can, and yet never advance beyond prolefeed for the simple fact that they do not understand what games can do when they are treated as games and not just as another opportunity to market a brand to an uncaring, unfeeling, unthinking type of human being who cares so little of their time that they will not have lived before they die.
The medium of games has not evolved since the Nintendo 64 days, where stories had to be told in a way that would fit into just 64 megabytes, and not the barbaric 800MB limit allowed on the PlayStation, and with capacities which skyrocket to the point where nothing important may ever be said in a game, lest all that disc space be wasted if not for Vaseline polygons. Any games company attempting to fill up the entirety of a 25GB Blu – ray disc is run by raving loons who are not qualified to produce television commercials, let alone a multi – million dollar industry that changes faster than banking regulations changed after the Great Depression — and this on a yearly basis. Not mentioning that any industry, as there are capitalistic reasons it is called the games industry, that spends tens of millions of dollars on any sort of entertainment whatsoever, is a blindly idiotic one, who fails to realise the same product could be made at 10% of the cost if the management of such companies had any idea what to do with their massive amounts of wealth and privilege. But then we aren’t a very smart industry, are we?
Although Gamma Bros does not say anything smart about gaming, or does it have any message at all beyond being an extraordinarily well – designed game, it hearkens back to a time where games could only have the simplest of stories, where a game could be a game and not just a bastardised movie, where they could fit into five megabytes and have more excitement, depth, and customer loyalty than that of a product a hundred times, or even a thousand times, that size. It’s what somebody looks at and still thinks fondly of, as a developer and as a player, because it inspires inspiration in thousands of basement programmers who look at it and think to themselves, “maybe I can be a developer”, as simple as these games are to create. It’s a game that one can actually feel proud of playing. How many big – name releases do you feel proud to play? Perhaps, for every Gamma Bros, there are a hundred little pieces of trash floating around the Internet, perhaps I am morally bound to find the 1%, and perhaps I have found it in this title.