Perspective (2012 game) review…

Perspective (2012 game) review after the break…

Perspective (2012 game) review…

It may surprise younger gamers to learn that the computer game, “Dungeon Master,” was once considered a “killer app.” What is a ‘killer app,’ you ask? ‘App’ stands for ‘application.’ It is a phrase used for something so popular that you buy whatever you need to buy in order to use that application. For instance, if you want to watch a movie on a DVD, you buy the DVD player (Let’s assume you already have the television) so that you can watch the DVD. That DVD is then considered the ‘killer app’ because it was the DVD that prompted you to buy the DVD player.

“Killer Apps” are nothing new in the world of computers and video games. For as long as computers and video game consoles have been available to the public, there have been extremely popular programs and games that people have wanted to use or play with. “Donkey Kong” (the original), was considered a “killer app” for the Colecovision video game console because, quite frankly, when you played the Colecovision version of Donkey Kong, it was just like playing the arcade version. Younger gamers may not appreciate this historical perspective but, back in the older era of video game consoles, video game consoles often did not have the computing power to graphically match the stand-alone arcade machines. Colecovision, though, managed quite nicely to translate Donkey Kong to the video game console and if you had a Colecovision AND the game cartridge “Donkey Kong” to go with it, then you soon made friends. Many friends.

Video game console players might remember the historic rise of Nintendo and their blockbuster video game, “Super Mario Brothers.” For a generation of console gamers, the first few musical notes from that game will be etched into their brains until they are dead, along with the iconic sound effects when their character performed various actions.

“Killer Apps” do not necessarily have to be video games, though. “Microsoft Office” for the IBM-PC pretty much sealed the fate of other computer companies such as Atari and Commodore. “Microsoft Office,” a bundle of office productivity software including a word processor, electronic spreadsheet and a database program, was what many fathers and husbands worked with at the office and, if they wanted to be more productive, they then bought an IBM-PC computer for home so that they could continue their work at home. To heck with Little Johnny and Susie; Let them play their video games on an IBM-PC, Dad needs the computer to work on his monthly budget reports.

Younger gamers may not also realize that there was a time when computers were not popular at all… Until the “Internet.” Sure, games were popular and applications were popular but they were “popular” within the context of computer and video game console users. Computer and video game users were not necessarily considered “cool” and “sexually desirable.” The “Internet,” which emerged around 1992 – 1997 (it depends on what your definition of “emerge” is), made computing socially acceptable for the masses. Want to buy a sweater without leaving your house? The Internet. Talk to someone who likes that obscure movie no one else in the neighborhood even knows about? The Internet. Show the world your collection of cat and dog salt and pepper shakers? The Internet. Sell your collection of cat and dog salt and pepper shakers at a price above just giving them away? The Internet.

Which leads us back to “Dungeon Master,” which was a “killer app” for the Atari ST computer. The world of computer graphics and computing power has made “Dungeon Master” a modern-day relic; It hardly impresses unless you have a fetish for really “old-school” graphics and gameplay but, for it’s time, it was quite the game. It won countless awards (back when “Game of the Year” actually meant it) and is sometimes considered one of the primary reasons why the Atari ST computer remained financially viable for the Atari corporation as long as it did.

“Dungeon Master,” though, started a chain of events which continues to this day. Dungeon Master inspired a group of programmers to create “Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss,” which was a very impressive first-person 3D game for it’s time. An equally inspired programmer looked at Ultima Underworld and thought that his programming team could do one better, which evolved into “Quake,” the world’s first polygon-based first person shooter. The computing breakthrough of “Quake” made the very concept of portals possible, first with the many failed attempts of “Prey.” “Narbacular Drop,” a college course project, would pick up the concept of portals several years later, followed by a more polished version by that same team called simply “Portal,” which has gone on to collect more awards then a dump truck can carry in one load. And “Portal” has gone on to inspire the age of “Gimmick” gaming where an entire game is based on a single, quirky game play mechanic. It is sort of like the game programmer’s equivalent of heading to California to look for gold – The toil might take decades but all it takes is that one, large gold nugget to make all those years of hard toil worth it.

One of those “gimmick” games was a game called “Fez,” a long-in-the-tooth-in-development game that was rooted back in the “Super Mario Brothers” age. “Fez” posed the simple question, “What if the side-scrolling world had more then one perspective and the gamer could play on more of those perspectives, not just from the ‘side’ but also the ‘front’ and the ‘back’?” It was an intriguing concept delivered with delicious effect; After all, a generation of gamers had been weened on side-scrolling games and, with the advent of first-person polygon gaming, the world of side-scrolling games had declined precipitously since. Merging the two genres, if ever slightly, enticed both camps – The benefits of 3D technology helping the world of side-scrolling action become relevant again.

“Fez,” though, was slow in development and it’s long period of development quickly turned it’s gimmick from revolutionary to a joke. It was soon regarded as “vaporware,” a product claimed to be in development but then quietly cancelled. “Fez” took so long to come to market that a knock-off clone, “Babel,” gave everyone a look at the mechanic itself. “Fez” would eventually come to market and garner some critical praise but it’s long development cycle tarnished it’s reputation and the gimmick that the game was based upon.

For all of the revolutionary gimmickry that “Fez / Babel” introduced, though, there were some limitations on the gimmick. There were only a few perspectives that the player could face. Much like “Dungeon Master,” a player could only face the game from certain perspectives and from only one distance.

“Perspective,” a 2012 game, elevates the “Fez / Babel” gimmick to a new level. Gone are most of the restrictions of only a few perspectives. Non-orthographical angles are often times necessary in order to aid the character along and, in more advanced puzzles, quickly switching from viewing the 3D game world and controlling the character in a “2D” game world is essential.

In “Perspective,” you control a character from the fictional video game “Ortho Graphic” (get it? get it?) who escapes the trappings of a 2D game within an arcade machine into the 3D real world video game arcade parlor. The building has all the trappings of a typical 1980’s arcade – Cheesy wall graphics and carpeting, coin change machines, and the like. The character walks on blue surfaces and must avoid orange surfaces (instant death). In the 2D world, the character is walled around by orange, so don’t touch the border. The character jumps from one arcade machine to another, each arcade machine introducing one new puzzle. The puzzles get progressively harder, eventually introducing several new concepts. Eventually, the character “escapes” the arcade into an alternate dimension.

The initial puzzles and concepts of “Perspective” are astounding and comparisons to “Narbacular Drop / Portal” are not exaggerated. This game is the logical extension of the “Fez / Babel” gimmick, much the same as the polygon-based game play of “Quake” was the logical extension of it’s sprite-based predecessor, “Doom.” There are no villains in this game, save the orange areas of any particular playing field. There is, blissfully, no timer or “lives” – Fail all you want and you’ll simply be reverted back to your last safest point. The soundtrack to the game is almost gleefully 8-bit, enhancing the retro-1980’s vibe.

The game is not without it’s faults, though. There is no level editor so enjoy the levels that there are, especially the earlier ones that rely solely on changing your “perspective” in the 3D world. Saving the game is also a bit peculiar – Apparently, the game saves for you and only once. I’m not sure if this was due to technical limitations or the ever-shifting “console” culture of ridding the player of the freedom to save their progress at their leisure (you know, “checkpoints”).

More serious quibbles emerge, though, the farther along you play. Like all “gimmick” games, this particular one falls into the trap of not knowing when to quit while it’s ahead. It’s core game play mechanic, changing your perspective in a 3D world to help out your character in a 2D world, is exemplary. Additional game play mechanics, though, begin to bleed that initial game play mechanic dry. For instance, the game introduces moving objects, some of which you need and some of which you need to avoid. Some puzzles require split-second timing between switching from the 3D world to the 2D world, often in mid-jump or in mid-fall, in order to succeed. Indeed, the more the puzzles rely upon twitch game play, the more frustrating and forgettable the game becomes.

Finally, there isn’t much story in the game and what presents itself as a story isn’t very involving. One aspect of the game that was surprising was how homogenous the levels were despite jumping into various, seemingly different arcade machines. Yes, “Perspective” is an amateur effort – Sacrifices needed to be made simply to make the game possible. Yet how realistic is it to jump into arcade machine after arcade machine and find the same backgrounds each and every time. It makes no sense – Imagine if “Asteroids” looked the same as “Berserker” as the same as “Joust.” They don’t but, in “Perspective,” the arcade machine gimmick is just a way of introducing a level and nothing more. There’s no “character” to these levels except for the new mechanic or strategy that they introduce.

At one point, the player enters a “ruined” arcade building and here, I thought, there was some story-telling personality. Doors that the player couldn’t open were now slightly cracked open, giving the player an oh-so-enticing glimpse into… Something? What was causing all of this? The “W” in “women” is scratched out to produce “omen” which I thought was a particularly neat bit of under-the-radar storytelling but then the player leaves this world and emerges right back into an “unruined” arcade building setting. Huh? Did I miss something?

I stopped playing the game once the “moving obstacle” puzzles became too unbearable. I liked “Perspective” when it was about using “perspective” but as the puzzles became more twitch-based, I lost a severe amount of interest. I was dumbfounded at how easily I was able to uninstall the game with little interest in continuing. If there is a revolutionary conclusion, odds are, I won’t be seeing it unless someone puts a video up of it on the Internet.

In conclusion, I think that the core game play of “Perspective” is amazing. The initial puzzles in “Perspective” are as advertised and people will certainly glean at least a good hour or two figuring out the puzzles in relative glee. The initial “1980s arcade” setting and soundtrack cements the initial impression. From there, though, the experience begins to erode as more twitch-based game play emerges. Without a solid back story, there is nothing to counter the frustration that builds and that frustration eventually causes a stoppage of play. With no level editor for players to toy with and create their own levels, there is little reason to replay the game unless you are showing someone else the game.

I’m interested in playing this game again when a level editor is attached to it. Until then, the first portion of this game is pretty nice to play up until you need reflexes more then reasoning to get through the puzzles. You might see things differently, but that’s just my perspective.

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