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Holiday Break Game Time

Holiday Break Game Time
Things got a little chaotic for me over the last two weeks and I've felt a little bit distracted and was kinda forced into taking a small break on game dev. There's also the fact that Summer Games Done Quick is going on and that is just a constant distraction for the entire week.

So I took a look at my Steam library and there were a couple of things there that I needed to still get through. One of them being Environmental Station Alpha! I've been meaning to play this game forever but I never got around to it until pretty recently. I was a few hours into it and so I started playing it again and took it all the way to ... almost completion? (Spoilers: It turns out this game has a billion hours of post game content, and I think I've done all the major things I can do, and found all the cool things I can find.) So I figure instead of talking about my own games for once I can throw down some thoughts about someone else's game.


Honestly I think ESA is one of the best "metroidvania" games out there right now but I barely see anyone talking about it when it comes to the genre. The game is just overflowing with secrets that are seemingly endless. Even with the hours I've put into it there are still things that I haven't found. The game does an excellent job of guiding the player through the main path but there are always ways to deviate from it and stumble across some crazy secret.

The main thing I enjoy about this kind of game is the overlapping level design. Basically when the levels in the game find new purpose due to the players abilities without altering the actual geometry of the level. The most basic example is a room with some platforms to jump up on. When the player gains a new ability like a double jump, or grapple hook, suddenly the room has a new purpose. Maybe the platforms once jumped on are now perfect grapple points, or just simply with the double jump new platforms can be reached, or skipped entirely.


Environmental Station Alpha takes this concept and blows it up to some pretty extreme lengths. There were areas of the game that I kept going back to thinking "there cant possibly be another secret here" but there was! At certain points the game does alter the level geometry of certain areas to actually mix up the game world after certain milestones have been met, and I'm actually not sure if I like this aspect of the game or not.

Navigating the station accurately actually requires a lot of effort on the player. The game gives a pretty detailed map, but sometimes the map can be misguiding due to how the actual rooms are constructed. You may see what looks like a path to a certain room on the map only to find that navigating that path leads to a dead end that isn't apparent on the map screen. Of course this is solved just with some quick note taking but honestly taking notes is usually beyond the effort I'm willing to put in when playing a video game (sorry!) In a perfect world the zoomed in map screen of the game would have some more detail about obstructions.

The game's core movement system feels naturally fun. The basic upgrades that the player gets (spoilers, but it's in the trailer) is a grappling hook and a double jump. The two of these combined create some really interesting ways to move and as a result create some very interesting level designs. Just simple geometry becomes an interesting movement puzzle combining the grappling hook with a nicely timed double jump. The granularity of the grappling hook also adds a lot of expression to the movement. Depending on the timing of landing the grappling hook to an object the player can be launched back upward with incredible speed. There are some areas in the game that I approached and thought were impossible to navigate with my current abilities, but as I started to experiment with different abilities I would find I could actually do some well timed grappling hook hits, and double jumps, and make it through. Adding more movement abilities later adds to the complexity and expression of the movement and by the end of the game the player becomes a god of two dimensional space.


The last point that really makes the game shine is the boss design. The boss fights in this game are usually composed of simple 2 or 3 attack patterns but they all seem to have such a specific purpose. There are certain fights that feel a little bit more "messy" than others, but most of the bosses in the game can be learned to the point where never taking damage during the fight is a real possibility. The bosses are also nicely designed to work in tandem with the player's abilities. The fights sometimes feel like intense puzzles that require the player to solve with their various movement abilities. The ultimate secret mega fight in the game becomes an intense platforming challenge that feels like an incredibly fun final exam.

Alright! I rambled a little bit but I really want to understand myself why this game appeals to me so much. It's a very inspiring game to play, and I think I learned a lot from playing it. I've gained a lot of ideas and thoughts to apply to my own work, and maybe to my next platformer game which should be a metroidvania because they are the best.


I *loved* ESA. I'm currently playing Axiom Verge and while visually better, in terms of level design and fun, ESA is much better, imho.
Posted July 8th 2016 12:22 PM
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