Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chaos Field

It is difficult to indulge in the Dreamcast community without hearing a great deal about "shmups". Or, as I call 'em, "flying space shooters". Even though they're often not set in space. Shut up!

Anyhow, there is an absolutely primal pull to these games. Once you realize you can interact with moving pictures, probably the first thing you want is to make pictures go by very fast. Second, you want to make things blow up (=make/control pictures of 'splosions). Thus, the two original genres of video game: driving/racing, where pictures go by quickly; space shooters, where pictures go by quickly and Blow Up!! There are times when I absolutely want to play nothing else.

This dovetails beautifully with the 'Cast, since for the past couple years, new shumps come out for the little grey guy!* On yon Nets, I had researched a bit and determined that Karous was the most interesting to me, (pretty!!), that Radilgy was a stout second, and that I gotta buy Rez** (to play) and Ikaruga to cement my nerdly bona fides.***

Last Hope, Trigger Heart Excelia and Trizeal didn't rate for me, for whatever reason.

So, after all this planning, all this research and effort, I found myself at the mall on Portland's recent Snow Day, buying Chaos Field. Review-wise, this game was pretty much a non-entity. Some authority named "Randorama" held it to be pretty thoroughly mediocre, whereas the delightful Richard Davies thought it was super-fun.

What strikes me most about it, aside from the great music is that this most simple of genres, this pick-up-and-play arcade staple, has somehow morphed into a bafflingly difficult "Hardcore" game style.****

Once, you could move around, touching nothing (maybe a powerup now and again) and firing, ever firing. Maybe you'd have two different attacks, and you might have an area-attack option. If you were lucky, that area attack would destroy enemy fire, raising your defensive options to two. With one or two exceptions, my beloved Iridion II and the less-compelling Nanostray both hewed to these ancient conventions. But Chaos Field?

You fly around, not touching enemies. You can touch chargeups, but it's better to collect them by holding a button down for a bit, which prevents you from doing anything else (firing, etc.). You fire, ever are you firing. There's a second gun, too, an area-attack option that you have to charge. And a defensive weapon that you can charge. And you have a sword! This sword can attack enemies at VERY close range, but its primary purpose is to swipe-away enemy fire in like a 270-degree arc around you. Which you have to do a lot. A LOT. Because this is a "bullet hell" game. The screen is usually completely filled with enemy fire, and I have yet to discover exactly where the fabled "hit box" on my craft might be. And everything happens within very demanding time limits. And there's a bunch of combo-based scoring options that'll make you want to finish each stage with a flurry of charged attacks.

These already establish substantial increases in complexity for the genre. Even leaving aside the wholly insane bullet hell crap, the genre's clearly changed a bunch since I was shoving quarters into Raiden. And all this change comes before I mention Chaos Field's actual claim to originality, pace Randorama: you can play in either of two "fields". In the Order Field, you hit less hard, and so do they, and they give out lots of chargeups. In the Chaos Field, you hit super-hard, and your charged attacks can autotarget enemy fire. But they hit much harder, too, and the fire patterns are even more challenging to...navigate. Survive.

I've got like ten fucking hours in this thing and have made it to the third stage (of 15) exactly one time. P'raps this is due to my predilection for playing whilst intoxicated ("shit, bitch, I'm drunk right now!" is sorta the Contradiction family motto), and p'raps it's a sign of my badness at video games.

However, as Tycho says somewhere, we're in this for increasing challenges coupled with increasingly-cool visual rewards. And in the Chaos Field, when you target a whole BUNCH of shit at one time? Man. It looks really nice. Usually once a game starts to go south for me, I just flip into that field and do charge-attacks until I'm out of continues, just so I can see some pretty pictures.

Anyways, until Radio Allergy comes out, or until I talk myself into dropping a vasty chunk of dough on an import shooter, Chaos Field will serve my shooty needs most adequately.

-Fat

*There's reasons for this, having to do with the existence of magic places in Japan called "arcades" and the Dreamcast-like innards of some arcade cabinets. Some chick named Naomi is apparently responsible for this, but I (a) understand this point imperfectly and (b) am bored by it (this point).

**Rez is by the dude who did Space Channel 5, so. Must-have, obviously.

***Actually, looking over the links while I compiled this, Radilgy is more attractive to me than Karous. Since the former'll see a Gamecube port (!) in the next couple months, I'm going to buy it. And while I've got you here, in this buried footnote, I shall offer an embarassing admission. I bought Chaos Field for the Cube. I want to support the 'Cast, I want to buy imports...but I scored this one for 15. Radio Allergy will be 20. If I stuck to my grey guns, I'd drop sixty fucking dollars. Sixty! Really hard to talk myself into that. I'm sorry.

****Iridion II also had an absolutely great soundtrack. Nanostray too, maybe? Haven't made it far enough to tell yet.

1 Comments + Unabashed Criticism:

Blogger Fat Contradiction said...

Full disclosure: this piece, though in the first person, and based on some of my experiences, was actually a revision of an email I got from Chris Collision. And parts of that email were 'way better than what I ended up writing. Therefore I below reproduce the relevant portion of his email, recieved at like 6.15am. I...doubt he was up early, if you know what I'm saying.



in the prehistory of games
(as Bagel roamed the banks of the great Columbia)
(when we had to pay to play
rather than play to own
((see the prostitute analogy, above)))
there were two primal joys;
1. the joy of seeing pictures move by at high speeds
2. the joy of seeing pictures move by at high speeds with explosions (that we could cause)

these joys rather quickly became canalized into two genres (respectively)
1. racing
2. flying shooters

and time passed and we forgot the faces of our fathers
and the genres changed but little but the world changed but good. (the joys changed hardly at all, if at all.)

once, the flying shooter was in the arcade, and was like Twin Eagle, or Raiden or something. a man could walk up to the game with a few quarters and master the grammar [nope. it's the lexicon.] nigh-instantaneously. like pac-man, or galaga: you fly [move], and you can't touch anything, or you die. you shoot: things die. sometimes there are "power-ups": if you touch them, your shooting gets better. the grammar by which these items are combined AT THE TIME was essentially no harder to master: the power-ups might alternate, forcing you to touch them only at specific times, lest you abdicate their advantage; the power-ups might linger near high-risk areas, forcing you to balance more-potent offense against the prospect of perishing.


the world changed but good. the simple pleasure(s) of the shooter somehow became a niche taste [as the arcades vanished], and the robust pleasures of pick-up-and-play (easy to learn, hard to master) somehow [change word] attenuated into the pale satisfactions (hard to learn, impossible to master) of the foul "hardcore gamer". I wanted something as like Raiden as possible. I wanted to fly around, and shoot things, and blow them up. I wanted the graphic representation of this to be fast, fluid, and infinitely responsive to the mashing of the fire button. I had not reckoned on the way the world...moves on. [Thanks to the estimable Shin'en, I'd had exactly what I wanted with Iridion II, but I wanted something for a bigger, self-lit screen...]

I have of late become mildly obsessed with the "Dreamcast shooter community". That there could be one community of Dreamcast enthusiasts is amazing--and heartening--enough, and my involvement with same should need no elucidation at this time. The community of shooter-enthusiasts is not at all unlikely: it is, after all, one of The Primal Pleasures of the medium. So perhaps it is no surprise that the two should overlap; nevertheless, the existence of people who want to play an outmoded type of game on a machine that lost out in the marketplace six years ago...this is interesting to me.

And so it was that I did research on Dreamcast shooters. (I disdain the typographical convention "shumps". Primarily this is because I cannot formulate a properly dignified pronunciation for the string.) Rez and Ikaruga are, duh, the ones to have. I did a bit of bidding, recently, trying to scam a copy of Rez. Lost the auction by fifty cents. With less than five minutes to go. And to-day, while the city was shut down by an inch of snow, the mall shoved a copy of Ikaruga in my face. --Back up for a second.

There are, and have been, NEW shooters coming out for the little grey guy that could.

This interests me not only in my shooter way, and in my Dreamcast way, but in my political economy way. I am in no way comfortable with the commodity. Indeed, I am in no way comfortable with capitalism. However, there is a large part of me that wishes to support the following sort of economic behavior:
making available a niche game
for a failed (obsolete? cult? nifty? thoroughly underrated?) platform.

And so it was that I did research on newer Dreamcast shooters. Radilgy and Karous were the ones that caught my eye, for whatever reason. Cel-shading, being new: that's good enough for me! I steeled myself for some irrational purchasing. Here, though, my tastes betrayed me: these games are all sixty fucking dollars!

Sixty fucking dollars!

I WANT a Dreamcast shooter, but sixty dollars? I'd largely settled on Radilgy. Then...it were announced that the game would be ported from the arcade to the Dreamcast...and then to the Gamecube. The Gamecube port would see US release. For twenty bucks. I love my Dreamcast. But I don't love it three times more than I love my Gamecube. It was here that the cracks in my Dreamcast-shooter plan began to apepar.

Then, to-day, with Portland all but useless with an inch of snow on the ground, I leveraged my day off into a trip to the mall. Where, as I mentioned, I saw a forty-dollar copy of Ikaruga for the Gamecube. Now, it is indisputable that this is the shooter-fan's shooter. And it's a collectable! But I don't collect shit, I just play it. And I'd rather the Dreamcast version. And it didn't have its booklet with it. And it was forty dollars, when I had a fifteen-dollar gift certificate...and Chaos Field was fifteen dollars.

Obviously, I now own Chaos Field. It's by the makers of Radilgy, and is good, which paradoxically makes me far less likely to buy Radilgy when it drops for the 'Cube as Radio Allergy. I already gave you money for something good, why I'm gonna give you money for the same thing again? (Well...because I crave a shooter with cel-shaded graphics...and it's going to be twenty bucks...also I really want Karous. And Ikaruga.) Anyways, Chaos Field.

One really good review, as always, from the UK. It's a hard game. Hard. No longer is there a move/shoot dynamic. Now there's a dynamic of: move; attack weakly with no particular risk; attack strongly with cost but no particular risk; attack strongly with great risk but no particular cost; attack such that the costs of other attacks are offset by fuel you'll acquire; a difficult time limit; and (a lot of) other considerations. This flying shooter is no pick-up-and-play title: this is a title resting on well-established conventions, aimed at those who have thorougly assimilated those conventions, and, I'm here to tell you, pretty inaccsessible to somebody who's yet to indoctrinate herself into that sphere. And yet...rewarding. In the classical way in which overcoming frustration is a great reward.

[Armada.]

1:27 AM  

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