Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Luftrausers

 

 

At.

 

 

I joined Twitter in 2010.

I had been unemployed for almost a year since graduation and was eating through the endless time on my hands by looking for work, writing, and reading.

The year before, I developed a larger appreciation for Japanese culture.

For Japanese history, art, literature: Expanding beyond the world of games and anime.

In 2009, Jake Adelstein released his memoir: Tokyo Vice.

It told the story of Jake’s life in Japan as an investigative journalist and the only American to be admitted to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club.

Having turned down the opportunity to work in Japan, I was able to experience Tokyo through his work.

After finishing Tokyo Vice, I spent days finding a way to get in touch with Jake.

Due to the sensitive nature of his work, he had made himself difficult to find.

Scouring the internet was fruitless, so I settled on the only public face he had: Twitter.

I explicitly joined Twitter to tell him how much I enjoyed his book.

I was absorbed by it.

After a few exchanges with Jake, I had no idea what to do with this network.

When I moved to Rochester, I stopped writing.

When I started working, social networks didn’t mean much to me.

Through SRK, I found the Rochester FGC and because of that, after a three year absence, I was pulled back into maintaining an internet presence.

I reopened Twitter in 2013 and saw how much it had changed.

The sheer amount of content Twitter was producing, the amount of access it was allowing.

I understood it better now.

I had been listening to the Insert Credit Podcast since its inception, having been a follower of the original site.

I always felt Tim Rogers understood games and language on an intrinsic level.

I always felt he understood what was necessary to express and understand.

After hearing him plug his Twitter account on numerous podcast episodes, I went on to find him.

I thanked him for his excellent writing. He thanked me back.

I was still buying games from Gamestop and stopped by one day to purchase Muramasa Rebirth.

A child was digging through the used game bin and found a knockoff, CoD-style, console FPS.

As I handed the money to the cashier, I overhear the child pleading with his father:

“I want to get this game because I want to be in the army when I grow up!”

I laughed. I remember dropping lines like that to convince my parents of whatever games caught my eye.

At home, I related the story to Tim.

He wrote back: I could have just downloaded Kokuga for the 3DS and I would never have had to leave my house.

I looked up Kokuga.

I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this game.

 

Seal.

 

Kokuga had been released for a year by the time I downloaded it.

As I have often stated: I have a deep, profound love of STGs and have always prided myself on knowing of the ones that mattered.

I couldn’t believe how I had lapsed here.

Kokuga was not only made by G.rev, one of the world’s last remaining and most storied STG houses responsible for the likes of Under Defeat, Ikaruga, and Border Down, but was also directed by Hiroshi Iuchi: Director of Radiant Silvergun, Gradius V, and Ikaruga.

What makes G.Rev’s STGs different from Cave‘s is that they all rely on a combination of fringe mechanics that push the conceptual identity of the genre.

Cave is a company driven by pure arcade action, overflowing with style.

G.rev is a laboratory.

Ikaruga has color-switching. Radiant Silvergun has seven weapons. Border Down’s levels change depending on where you are shot down.

And Kokuga isn’t any different.

Kokuga is not afraid of experimentation and may be the purest form of G.rev’s vision to date.

The game takes place in an era of war between two nations and the player is tasked with piloting country A’s most advanced weapon: Kokuga, a tank of the future.

This is a game made at the cross-section of freedom and gambling.

The player is left to choose where to begin the game.

Levels are all labeled alphabetically and the general trend is that as levels progress upwards, the more difficult they are.

Unlike many of its famous ancestors, Kokuga is a multi-directional, non-scrolling shooter.

It maintains the verticality of other shooters, but allows the player more maneuverability.

The levels are very tightly designed. Nearly claustrophobic.

Levels are littered with obstacles and embedded/mobile enemy types.

To succeed in Kokuga, the player must be aware of the spaces around them, more so than in nearly any other shooter I’ve seen.

Kokuga isn’t just about dodging bullets, it’s about tactical positioning and resource management.

It’s a roguelike disguised as an action game.

The game takes place on the top screen, while the bottom screen is utilized for selecting powerups.

There are four powerups, assigned at random, sitting on the bottom screen.

Any one of them may be selected at any time to bolster either the tank’s defensive or offensive ability.

Each powerup is limited in both duration and frequency. Once you use a powerup, another one is assigned to the slot at random until they run out.

Burn through powerups too quickly and the boss fights become overwhelming. Burn through them too slow and the player is bogged down by the enemy.

This is a game that actually holds the player accountable for the decisions they make.

This is a game that does a fantastic job at giving the player a simulation of the responsibility that comes with power.

The player is free to decide where they would like to enter the world and after making the choice, they are thrown into closed, tight spaces and forced to fight through swarms with very limited resources.

This transition is seamless.

In a traditional STG, the player is only ever allowed to make micro-tactical decisions that mainly involve movement.

The urgency in classic STGs is filtered through the forced scrolling levels.

Even in newer STGs, urgency is manufactured through inverted mechanics: Sine Mora uses time/time-manipulation. Luftrausers uses a simulation of gravity.

While there is tactical urgency in Kokuga, the focus is more on the broader, more strategic plane.

It is a type of urgency which burns slowly at first and accelerates as the level becomes increasingly difficult.

This is further reinforced by the smooth, calm movement of the tank itself. Nothing feels rushed.

Kokuga’s greatest strength is that it does not rely on only one mechanic.

Even though by releasing it on the 3DS eShop, one may get the impression that this isn’t an important game, it is by far the purest manifestation of G.rev.

One of G.rev’s weaknesses has always been their over-reliance on one main mechanic around which others revolve.

One of the problems with Ikaruga was that after awhile it’s color-switching became so overused that it quickly lost its novelty.

With Kokuga, G.rev have been able to multithread their innovative style, creating a game full of interesting mechanics that fit together in a near-perfect way.

Kokuga’s systems not only maximize the game’s obvious strengths, but give the player a more dynamic experience by broadening their access to choice while throwing in a randomness element (powerups) within already tight margins.

Kokuga is a deep meditation on elegant, immersive, mobile game design.

It’s frightening this game almost passed by me unnoticed.

It’s frightening that it has flown under the radar of so many others.

Kokuga is everything G.rev have worked toward: A pure distillation of their innovative style.

With it’s somber tone, wonderful styling, and mechanical coherency: It is the true evolution of Ikaruga.

A true evolution of G.rev’s experimental precision.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

 

Barren.

 

Recently, Vlambeer and Devolver released a game: Luftrausers.

The game is a monochromatic 2-D alternate WWII-era combat flying shooter. Unlike other shooters (DoDonPachi, Ikaruga, Ketsui, etc.), the screen does not scroll and there are no levels. As the pilot of a ‘Rauser’ you are tasked with destroying as much of the enemy as possible in one screen while under a ceaseless onslaught.

The game mainly takes place over an unidentified ocean. At the beginning of the game your plane launches from a ship and immediately enemy planes and ships begin their relentless attack.

The sky has a ceiling which the Rauser cannot cross (depicted in-game by thick cloud cover) while the ocean is the lower threshold which you can dip into briefly.

Rather than having your typical ‘choose 1 of 3 ships’ present in many Japanese STGs (I hate the term Shmup. STG: Shooting Game), Luftrausers allows you to customize your ship by letting you unlock and choose the different parts: Gun, Body, Engine. The variety across the various parts ensures that no two builds feel even close to being the same and each time you launch with a new build, its name briefly appears on the bottom of the screen. The music also changes depending on the build.

You have no health bar and this is not a one-hit kill game.

Your indicator of health is the density of smoke coming off of your plane.  The unique mechanic here is an extension of what we have all become used to in modern FPSes: Stop shooting to recover health.

Luftrausers forces the player to balance offense and defense by implementing a point scoring system similar to many action/arcade games. The more enemies you kill in succession, the more your score multiplier increases. The multiplier maxes out at ‘x20′ and will only last for as long as the player can kill enemies quickly.

The score multiplier is important for competition, but what drives the mechanical narrative of the game forward is not only how many enemies you kill, but also the completion of various missions.

Each of the three parts of your Rauser has a set of missions attached to it. One weapon might ask you to score more than a specific number of points in one game, while the body might suggest that you kill a number of enemies after death (it’s possible), and the engine might task you with taking down a particular kind or set of enemies.

Completing these missions allows the player to unlock newer parts which fundamentally change the way the Rauser operates allowing the player to grow as a pilot.

All of Luftrausers’ mechanical components act only to push the game forward in efficient and creative ways.

 

Ashura.

 

Vlambeer has not had an easy time of things the past year. Vlambeer nearly ceased to exist due to the extreme stress of fighting against a clone of their wildly successful mobile game: Ridiculous Fishing.

The anger and resentment at potentially losing everything had drilled down into their core. This sentiment came out recently when one of the people behind Vlambeer, Rami Ismail, published an article on Kotaku titled: ‘We Made This Game When We Were Angry.’

Rami discusses how he can no longer relate to the person he was when working on Luftrausers, the anger he felt just isn’t there anymore. At one point, he even declares that “Luftrausers is a game made by people who don’t exist anymore.”

The worst kinds of people are the kinds of people who never find growth after some hardship. The kinds of people who remain frozen in a single emotion, a single time that ends up slowly defining them over their lifetime.

It is especially important for game developers to allow themselves to feel and express a wide-range of emotion in what they do.

While I am happy that Rami and Vlambeer have grown past the anger and resentment that fueled Luftrausers, the game itself is a beautiful example of a game crafted from one emotion: Rage.

 

Fall.

 

Before Luftrausers, the game which encapsulated rage most viscerally was God of War III. In it the anti-hero, Kratos, seeks vengeance on the Gods that toyed with and betrayed him.

The game gained notoriety for some of the extreme violence that took place. One scene had Kratos gouging out the eyes of Apollo during a QTE near the end of the boss fight.

The God of War series has always had a few problems. The biggest of those problems is the conveyance of Kratos’ rage to the player. The player never feels the anger, hate, or betrayal that Kratos did.

After playing through GoWIII and not feeling the impact of Kratos’ desire for vengeance, I went back and played through every God of War game before that to try and track the narrative again. I wanted to trace how Kratos arrives where he does in the third chapter.

Even after doing that, I couldn’t find his rage.

Where the narrative in God of War falters is that Kratos is already angry from the beginning. Where do you go from the point of rage? More rage? That doesn’t work.

The developers themselves acknowledged in an interview that after GoWIII, they wanted to scale back Kratos’ aggression because he was becoming an unrelatable, one-dimensional jerk.

God of War’s expression of rage is something the player is shown, rather than made to feel: An enormous catharsis machine churning alone, surrounded by mannequins. There is no edge or relevance here.

God of War was designed as a conveyance of aggression and spectacle rather than being a product of aggression and rage. This is why Luftrausers is the better designed game: It was born whole-heartedly from a darker place.

 

Gotterdammerung.

 

Luftrausers is angry, almost nihilistic.

In casting the player as the only pilot gunning against the swarms of enemies, there is an insinuation that your ‘side’ has already lost whatever war you were fighting. That at this point winning doesn’t matter: Kill everything you can.

This starkness is further enforced by the monochromatic color scheme which only shows the silhouettes of your Rauser and the enemy, almost as if everything is being drowned in the light of some setting sun.

I’ve noticed when playing Luftrausers that I start every attempt with the usual strategic logic only to very quickly be driven by some primal desire to take out as many of the enemy as I can. The music itself is a militaristic dark electro theme that pulls the id out of the player.

When jets go down, they go down in an arching silhouette of flame, eventually crashing into the ocean. When large battleships go down, they explode in massive fireballs and sink in ruin. When you can’t hit the enemy with bullets, you ram them and rip them apart.

In the Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote:

” If one’s sword is broken, he will strike with his hands. If his hands are cut off he will press the enemy down with his shoulders. If his shoulders are cut away, he will bite through ten or fifteen enemy necks with his teeth. Courage is such a thing. ”

Luftrausers is courageous and asks you to be the same.

Luftrausers doesn’t show you what rage looks like, but it makes you feel it in your bones. Nearly every explosion has a weight that shakes the screen, as if every enemy killed is a minor victory.

There is a particular Rauser build that allows for a nuclear detonation upon death. The explosion is in the shape of a giant skull.

The only elegance and extravagance you are allowed in the game is the ability to maneuver. Different engines propel and turn your plane at different speeds with different effects. Movement is the only aspect in which the player can flourish and even then you can use movement to destroy enemies through momentum.

All of these features are present in Luftrausers normal game, but just as the games design unlocks the primal conciousness of the player, the game itself dives further into its own nightmare once the player unlocks ‘SFMT Mode’ which spawns enemies at a near impossible rate.

The music is replaced with air raid sirens.

In SFMT, Luftrausers does away with all mechanical and design courtesy, it is simply a beating of the heart in the void.

Luftrausers is a masterpiece of game design. I have never seen a game like this.

This game was built from the ground up to express a single emotion in a very compelling, engaging way. Everything from the game mechanics, to the music, to the art all work together effortlessly to drive rage deep into the bones of the player.

In my previous post on war, I stated that at some point in war you just stop caring who is winning and who is losing, you just become angry at everything.

Luftrausers isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about expressing yourself one last time. It’s about burrowing deep into the soul of the enemy and flourishing in the dread.

Vlambeer have done something amazing here, and while they may have moved on and grown past the milestone that Luftrausers represents, it will always be a testament to their resiliency and the strength of their self-reflection.

 

Muramasa.

 

ELEVATION

Above the valleys and the lakes : beyond
The woods, seas, clouds, and mountain-ranges : far
Above the sun, the aethers silver-swanned
With nebulae, and the remotest star,

My spirit! with agility you move
Like a strong swimmer with the seas to fight,
Through the blue vastness furrowing your groove
With an ineffable and male delight.

Far from these foetid marshes, be made pure
In the pure air of the superior sky,
And drink, like some most exquisit liqueur,
The fire that fills the lucid realms on high.

Beyond where cares and boredome hold dominion,
Which charge our fogged existence with their spleen,
Happy is he who with a stalwart pinion
Can seek those fields so shining and serene:

Whose thoughts, like larks, rise on the freshening breeeze,
Who fans the morning with his tameless wings,
Skims over life, and understands with ease
The speech of flowers and other voiceless things.

-Charles Baudelaire (Trans. Roy Campbell)

 

 

I HAVE A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

-Alan Seeger