Impressions: Everyday Shooter

I don’t feel right giving this a review yet. You see, right now I’m stuck on stage five, a brownish level with a military theme and a bunch of tanks running around shooting what I can only call “equalizer” beams at your tiny, pixel-sized self. But I don’t need to see the rest of the game to tell you that Jonathan Mak’s Everyday Shooter is one of the best games you’ll play this year.

It’s a big win for indie development, though you should already know that. I’ve already expressed my love for these small-time operations on this blog and two posts in the past day have been dedicated to Mak, himself. It borders on stalking!

I think the notes included with the download shed a good amount of light on the philosophy that drives Everyday Shooter. Mak says that he spent awhile cooking up a game that would push the boundaries and feature all kinds of new, innovative technology. That is, until he realized his project had become bloated and far too complicated for anyone to have fun with. He took a step back, pored over what he’d created, and scrapped it. What then? Mak went back to the games he grew up with, the top down shooters that inspired him in his youth. Of course, later works such as Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez also played a big part in shaping the game we now know as Everyday Shooter, but the goal was to cut right to the core of what makes a compelling experience.

The generation we find ourselves in now is absurdly confusing; technology is foisted upon us rather than merely offered, new SKUs are being invented left and right, and buzzwords rule consumer attention more than real features do. So how exactly does such a lo-fi game find its way to the most powerful console on the market? I’m not sure most of Sony even knows. While Rusty Buchert and pals are out seeking new properties at the Independent Games Festival, all the execs and PR people are “Blu-Ray this” and “CELL Processor” that. These are fairly important pieces of technology sure, but all that unnecessary flaunting draws attention away from the things Sony should be focusing on. I’m honestly amazed that the company which seems to have no idea what direction it wants to go in most of the time is also the same company that’s so friendly to these itty-bitty independent game makers.

I mean, Playstation Network’s underlying philosophy is great and it’s largely the reason why we’ve got games like fl0w, PixelJunk Racers, and, of course, Everyday Shooter. Certainly, Xbox Live Arcade offers a modicum of support for smaller devs, but the process for getting from Point A to Point B is a lot different and tends to weed out games that don’t come from their XNA development platform. Sony (or at least part of Sony’s) approach is a lot more free-form. Games that look cool and have potential, no matter what their genesis may be, seem to have a lot easier time finding their way onto Playstation Network. You may cite Space Giraffe as a counter-example, but Minter’s been around the biz for awhile. This is about giving someone a chance. Sony, if I were you, I’d start taking a look at every decent independent developer you can and start writing up some contracts with these people. Don’t snap them up as if they were some property to hold, but fund and nurture them. You’ll reap the rewards in turn.

Anyway, sorry for that tangent. I should probably get back to talking about the game, though I’m not sure what I can say that won’t come off as being unadultered praise. I’m sitting here having problems trying to think of any truly valid criticisms. Apparently, IGN didn’t. Though you could hardly call their criticisms valid and the wishy-washy comments at the bottom of Ryan Clements’ review do little in the way of clarifying whether or not the game is worth purchasing. So maybe I should relay my impressions vis-a-vis what I think is wrong with his assessment. Thankfully, Mr. Clements categorized all of his complaints right at the bottom for me to find. First:

Although you can move slightly faster when you refrain from shooting, your top speed still feels sluggish, especially in comparison to games like Super Stardust HD or Geometry Wars. There isn’t enough weight/substance to your little pixel to make it feel like you have precise control, and this is problematic for a game with so few gameplay elements. Keep in mind though that this issue isn’t overly troublesome; it merely impedes the game from feeling truly fluid.

I’m honestly not sure how faster controls would’ve lent themselves to Everyday Shooter. To me, it works in tandem with the general, “laid-back” appeal that the game preternaturally exudes. You’ll still confront waves of enemies and screen-filling pandemonium, just as you do in any other game in the genre, but at the same time, this is not a twitch experience. Dispatching enemies relies more on subtle strategy to nail combos instead of a run-and-gun approach to racking up points. Slower movement actually works better in this case because of how the rest of the mechanics are set up. Now, maybe Clements is talking about the fact that you can only shoot in roughly 45-degree angles, and that may bug some people. It’s not a greatly troubling issue, as he says, so let’s move on.

More problematic, instead, is the aforementioned point gathering, which is extremely flawed. The little pixel points (which look very much like your ship), disappear after a very short time. Since you don’t move very quickly, you’ll oftentimes create a huge chain explosion, only to find that the field of beautiful and delicious pixilated goodness cannot be consumed quickly enough, fading away into oblivion. Poor pixels. This wouldn’t have been too concerning had the points been easy to collect, but they’re unfortunately not. Actually flying over all the points is far less effective than it should be, since zipping through a huge clump of them will often yield only a few actual pick-ups (despite the fact that your ship can pull at the points as you go). Again, this problem certainly doesn’t ruin the gameplay – not at all – but it can be a noticeable frustration.

Much like the controls, collecting pixels relies on subtle strategy. In most cases, you will not be able to get all of them. So you’ll be forced to choose which groups will net you the most points. Obviously, go for the blinking ones first, since they’re worth more. And, honestly, the best thing you can do is build combos effectively through timing and finesse. It is not necessarily in your best interest to let the entire screen fill up with enemies before unleashing a combo, because you won’t be able to reap every reward. A better tactic is to attack mid-sized clusters of enemy at once. I can’t give specific hints on this, since every level handles it differently, but it’s general advice that should serve you well in most cases. The second level is a great example, though. Most of the enemies in this stage are colored “nodes” connected by threads, like a gigantic network map. Take out the central core and you’ll destroy everything as the explosion flows down every tier of the network. If you let said network expand too much, though (and it will if you don’t destroy the core in enough time), you’ll end up with an explosion resulting in a number of pixels so large that nobody could realistically capture them all. Attacking the cores while the group of nodes is smaller seems to be the wise decision. Next.

Lastly, we must question the effectiveness of the musical implementation. Mak comments in his Notes section that he was inspired by a number of game designers, including the brilliant minds behind Rez. And while Rez is almost completely immersive and interactive in its musical sublimity, Everyday Shooter is much more passive. This may not bother some gamers looking to play the game, but don’t expect to be in control of the tunes you’re listening to, as you are with other musical titles. Mak’s creation provides you with the music, but it won’t let you control it.

Huh? This one just baffles me. Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I’ve played Rez, but I was under the impression that musical interactivity was handled just about the same in both games. Notes and riffs are triggered in both by completing certain actions (shooting, hitting an enemy, setting off explosions, etc) all layered over a basic track playing in the background. The only thing that Rez does differently, from what I remember, is that the backbeat becomes more elaborate over time and with successful play. There may be a few, small differences, but I certainly wouldn’t call Everyday Shooter’s approach “passive.” I don’t know, maybe I’m misunderstanding what Clements is trying to say.

Everything else is absolute gravy, though. Despite there only be eight stages in the entire game, they really can be quite challenging and are worth playing over and over again to build up those sought-after high scores. Oh wait, there’s a small complaint I can make! No online leaderboards! Then again, one guy accomplished this much. It might be unfair to expect a full online infrastructure, as well. 😉

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~ by Cavin Smith on October 12, 2007.

3 Responses to “Impressions: Everyday Shooter”

  1. No multi hurts more. Then again, that would’ve been too much of a wet dream for him to achieve. I might review the game soon, here’s my boy’s impressions if you feel like reading it. *plug machine*

  2. Dude – there are NO games on XBox Live Arcade that come from XNA yet. There is one on the way that’s known of. XBLA games are done using the same tools, devkit, and technology as the full price releases.

  3. Dunk – indeed. That wasn’t my intention to make it sound like that. More that it was perhaps the only real way for truly independent developers like Mak to get their games onto XBLA. That’s the way Microsoft generally functions, though. I was talking to an engineer friend of mine who deals with robotics and Microsoft is trying to “standardize” that area, too, by muscling in and making almost everybody run their machines on the same platform. Ironically, it allows them to easily use a 360 controller to control robots and even use force feedback. Cool stuff. Anyway, I’m getting away from the point, so I’ll get right to it: Microsoft is trying to control development tools while Sony is taking a more adaptable approach to any worthwhile project that comes their way.

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