Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cart Life reminds me why I’m cautious of indie games

I tend to enjoy big-budget games more than independent games. Polish and production value carry a lot of weight for me, and these elements often take a nosedive with independent games. The majority of independent games tend to be retro platformers with some sort of pixel-art aesthetic, trying to reminisce about the age of the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. While I understand the sense of nostalgia these games try to convey, they lose me in their simplistic design and interaction. That’s not to say I hate indie games. Games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dear Esther, Limbo, and Bastion carve out their own space, standing not only as spotlight independent games, but also as great games.

Jankiness is a term tossed around a lot, but it wasn’t until I played Cart Life that I finally understood its meaning. Cart Life, developed by Richard Hofmeier, is, as he puts it, “a retail simulation for window which showcases the lives of street vendors in a small city which is located in the western United States.” What that effectively translates to is a management game that uses the point of view of immigrants and single parents to create empathy for their struggles. The jankiness of it comes when a mechanic, animation, system, or some part of the game doesn’t work or feel like it should.

Cart Life runs in 640x480, which even as a pixel-art game is deplorable in 2013. Backing out to check the options, there is no setting to set the resolution, but there are graphic filter configurations with each one resulting in a different resolution, none of which fit the industry standard of 16:9. After some experimentation and finding a resolution that works, the game starts up with what is essentially the ugliest title screen I’ve ever seen. The monochrome display is off-putting enough, but as easy to get over as black-and-white television. However, the different sized text and font is ghastly. It’s blocky, hard to read, and is literally painful to look at.

The main menu gives an overview of your character’s hunger and sleep meters along with special meter depending on which character chosen. For Andrus, it’s his cigarette addiction, for Melanie, it’s maintaining a relationship with her daughter Laura. The problem comes when trying to assess these meters. Because of the monochrome aesthetic, I can’t tell what a full meter looks like versus an empty meter. And what is Wednes? If it’s supposed to be Wednesday, why not abbreviate it, or make it a smaller font to fit accordingly. Menus throughout Cart Life are different sizes and shapes, leading to misclicks that frustrate even more by the inclusion of mouse acceleration.

It’s certainly an indie game made by one person, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for poor execution, even if you are both figuratively and literally making it a chore to play your game. Cart Life is an example of why I’m hesitant to dive into independent games, even when lauded. When there is no standard to follow, it’s the wild wild west.

No comments:

Post a Comment