Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Steven Poole’s strug­gle to find the trig­ger in the enig­matic Re­so­gun

One ad­van­tage of be­ing some­one who mostly writes about sub­jects other than videogames is that I am hap­pily in­ter­ested in the mo­ments when it seems that I am a par­tic­u­larly stupid, or at least ir­re­deemably non-‘core’, player. And so I here con­fess: I did not un­der­stand House­mar­que’s Re­so­gun. My friends were rav­ing about it on Twit­ter, so I bought it on its PS4 re­lease, and spent half an hour mar­vel­ling at the pretty vi­su­als – re­mem­ber the time when vox­els were the fu­ture of 3D ex­plo­ration games, in­stead of the fu­ture of retro shoot­ers? – and won­der­ing what the hell I was sup­posed to be do­ing.

It seemed to be a bit like De­fender (one of my all-time favourite videogames), but why were the lit­tle green hu­mans in boxes? And why were they some­times out of the boxes? And why did they some­times turn red in­side their boxes? I did some cur­sory googling, but to no avail. So I as­sumed I was just not get­ting it, what­ever it was, and aban­doned the game. Re­so­gun, I de­cided, was su­per­bou­tique and niche: some­thing for the ul­tr­a­clued-up, wired-in crowd. Not for me.

Then Re­so­gun came out on Vita in De­cem­ber, and thanks to Cross-Buy it was free, so I down­loaded it again. And this time I did some more googling, and there was a lot more to read about it. Even the de­vel­op­ers had at last put out a man­ual for the game. So I tried play­ing it again, and of course it is a glo­ri­ous neo-retro twitch shooter with lov­ingly en­gi­neered risk-re­ward me­chan­ics, bosses that are some­how both for­bid­ding and hi­lar­i­ous, and a beau­ti­ful elec­tronic sound­track. It is the most retina-tit­il­lat­ing, rush-in­duc­ing kind of in­ter­ac­tive fire­works dis­play, and was my sec­ond-best Christ­mas present af­ter a gift membership of the Wine So­ci­ety (a writer has to have his pri­or­i­ties straight, af­ter all). It is now my favourite game on Vita, bar none. Re­so­gun, I very be­lat­edly saw, is just amaz­ing.

But maybe, ac­tu­ally, I hadn’t been stupid in the first place. Maybe I was just one of who-knows-how-many play­ers of Re­so­gun on its first re­lease who were flat-out dis­cour­aged, rather than epis­te­mo­log­i­cally se­duced, by the ap­par­ent lack of in­for­ma­tion sup­plied with the game about how to play it. That de­ci­sion ev­i­dently pleased a lot of peo­ple, but I won­der how many more it sim­ply puz­zled and frus­trated.

Some kind of brief in­struc­tions are, of course, the norm. Ever since “Avoid miss­ing ball for high score,” the vast ma­jor­ity of videogames have come with di­rec­tions — more or less la­conic, and of­ten leav­ing im­por­tant as­pects to be dis­cov­ered by the player, but still gen­er­ally de­scrib­ing the game’s main aim. No doubt, how­ever, dif­fer­ent peo­ple have dif­fer­ent lev­els of tol­er­ance for mys­tery. Ev­i­dently the early

Re­so­gun adopters who wrote the ex­cited fo­rum threads de­tail­ing all their lat­est dis­cov­er­ies in re­verse-en­gi­neer­ing the mys­te­ri­ous game­play and its nu­ances were hav­ing fun. And this is not a sort of fun to be despised, but it’s a sort of metagame that doesn’t ap­peal to me. Let me just play the game and see whether I like it, rather than hav­ing to fig­ure out what the hell the game is in the first place.

Try an anal­ogy with a much older game. Imag­ine not know­ing how to play chess, and not be­ing able to find out (by, say, read­ing chess books or In­ter­net tu­to­ri­als), and yet be­ing ex­pected to en­joy a chess videogame in which noth­ing was ex­plained, and you (or your fan com­mu­nity) had to work out all the rules by your­self by trial and er­ror. As a so­cial ex­er­cise, this could also be quite a thrilling in­vi­ta­tion to group de­tec­tive work. But my point would be that the game of chess it­self is much more in­ter­est­ing than just get­ting to the start­ing line in terms of com­pre­hen­sion could ever be. And so re­fus­ing to ex­plain it re­tards the su­pe­rior en­joy­ment that a player will ex­pe­ri­ence once the rules are un­der­stood.

Sim­i­larly, I find it much more fun to play Re­so­gun with some un­der­stand­ing of what I am do­ing than I did when I was won­der­ing what the hell Re­so­gun was about. Dif­fer­ent strokes, per­haps. But some­times with­hold­ing cru­cial in­for­ma­tion threat­ens to look too much like an ar­ti­fi­cial at­tempt to cre­ate so­cial-me­dia buzz. And

Re­so­gun is too good a game to be mar­keted in such a gim­micky way. Give me my weapon — my Re­so­gun, ah, my res­o­nant gun, my res­o­lute gun, my re­source­ful gun — but please also ex­plain how I am sup­posed to shoot the bloody thing.

Let me just play the game and see whether I like it, rather than hav­ing to fig­ure out what the hell it is in the first place

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