UPGRADE COMPLETE: Meta-sarcasm

By Alec Meer on July 11th, 2009 at 2:41 pm.

A game to make you laugh at games, a game to make you feel a little bad about yourself, and a game in which you destroy hundreds of spaceships within mere moments. UPGRADE COMPLETE has much in common with meta-brother-in-arms Achievement Unlocked – it turns one of the peripheral systems of gaming into a game itself. In this case, it’s a shmup built around chasing upgrades – spending in-game cash on more powerful weapons’n'that. Also, on new menu buttons, on background music and even on a more jolly GAME OVER screen. The combination of out and out silliness and excessive visual escalation is an awful lot of fun. At the same time, I’m not entirely convinced the gag/swipe works – and perversely, that might just be because the game itself does work rather well…

First up, its target/victim isn’t quite as immediate a scourge as achievements were. It’s satirising an issue that’s a lot less prevalent, and a lot less annoying. Hands up if upgrading your character/abilities in a videogame is something that makes your wee boil? That said, a compulsive desire for new stuff is something that a lot of games spin to their advantage, at the expense of depth and character – Diablo and its many slavish copycats being the best example.

UPGRADE COMPLETE seems a little bitter about this: “maybe next time you’re playing a game you’ll rate it more on how much fun you’re having and less on how complex the upgrade system is“, says its ending screen, with palpable poisonousness. Of course, you can upgrade this winning screen into an agreeably over-the-top, self-celebratory party exclaiming how awesome you are, but even that’s dripping with sarcasm. Bitterness definitely fuels this wee webgame.

I wonder if the creators from Armor Games had intended to create a deliberately annoying experience- that earning cash to buy a Mute button or to ugprade the game’s graphics from Atari-esque blobs to sharp cartoon ‘splodes was supposed to come over all infuriating and futile. In fact, watching this small thing escalate and change so obviously is hugely entertaining. But not as much as designing your own ship is – it’s entirely modular, built from a collection of weapons, boosters and coin-collecting magnets of your choice. Each of which is upgradeable, natch. The placement is impressively open – see my stupid horizontal weapon array (the red blobs inside the blue crescents) in the screenie above.

Come the end of the game, you’re a veritable death machine, even if you do look a five year’s old first, fugly Lego experiment. I worry, a little, that such a neat system has been unfortunately lost to the satire – that modular ship design in shmups is a wonderful, smart idea that’s really worth exploring, and here it’s been thrown away as one snide gag amongst dozens.

Nonetheless – UPGRADE COMPLETE is a worthy experience and experiment, and it’s well worth looking inwards at yourself as you excitedly, expensively upgrade your missile launcher to level 5 and wonder why.

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42 Comments »

  1. Jonas says:

    Yeah I had a lot of fun with this too, and the problem with the “judge a game by how much fun you’re having” point is kinda lost when I’m having tons of fun upgrade everything :P

    Still, even disregarding the satire, I loved it for the sheer hilarity of earning nicer menu graphics.

  2. orta says:

    I enjoyed this, and I’m with you on the novel ship designing part was kind of lost in the great joke about upgrading. I got to 110% and was happy about it.

  3. Helm says:

    Upgrading to level 5 missile launchers is a matter of survival.

  4. Dzamir says:

    I UPGRADED EVERYTHING! NOW I AM COMPLETE! MWHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  5. M_the_C says:

    I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as Achievement Unlocked. Possibly because I disagree with the premise. Yes you should rate games on how fun they are, but if the upgrades (often a major part of flash games) are not satisfying then the game needs more work and doesn’t deserve rating as highly.

    The game itself was pretty reasonable, but ultimately relied too much on it’s upgrade system.

    Plus I preferred the Line drawing graphics more than the ‘upgraded’ two that followed…

    Fun while it lasted.

  6. Dead Fish says:

    I got the impression that Achievement Unlocked was more of an achievement (hur!), because it didn’t kick you in the balls with what it was trying to say.

    This game is almost like, “Look at you and your hollow taste in gaming! You are the problem!” while AU was a lot more whimsical and better satire overall.

    At the end of this game, I was more interested in just playing the shmup part and not be bothered by what the creator was telling me about his issues with gaming…

  7. Paradukes says:

    I like complex upgrade systems…

  8. DK says:

    I’m sorry guy who made Upgrade Complete – I’m having too much fun to read you telling me how little fun I’m having.

  9. MrBejeebus says:

    thanks to the handy game timer i bought in game, I know now that ive sunk almost an hour into this beast!

  10. A-Scale says:

    I tried to play the game on my crappy work computer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the proper level of Flash to play the game. The irony of my need to “UPGRADE” my Flash player was not lost on the game designer.

    For the record, I love upgrades. I played Phoenix on my TI-83 calculator for a year or two simply because of the awesome upgrade system.

  11. malkav11 says:

    Yeah, I dunno. They can try to tell me upgrade systems and achievements are silly and bad and I shouldn’t like them, but the fact is, I do. I love them.

  12. Lim-Dul says:

    I think Alec missed the point a bit.

    The game isn’t satirizing mainstream titles with upgrade systems. It’s all about those run-of-the-mill Flash games on sites like Kongregate or Armor Games itself.

    You have 50 similar-ish “kill the zombies” or tower defense games with no skill required whatsoever but hundreds of stupid upgrades.

    In that regard Upgrade Complete is a successful parody.

  13. tmp says:

    Surprised there’s no upgrades for the upgrade system itself… maybe in UPGRADE COMPLETE: Expansion.

  14. Tei says:

    once you updates the ship full, it can clear a level 20 withouth moving… :-)

  15. Jaytay says:

    well it sure kicked the shit out of that rocket ‘satire’ game the other day.

  16. DMJ says:

    You’re awesome! CONGRATULATIONS FOREVER!!!

    There was more entertainment in this blip of a game than in some full-price releases.

    But I’d definitely agree: This came across as PRO-upgrade rather than ANTI-upgrade.

    Can I upgrade to the sequel now?

  17. Lambo says:

    I liked it. But if its making fun of traditional upgrade systems the I dissagree with it. Imagine if GAL CIV had no ship editor. Its not main draw but its a really nice feeling, upgrading your stuff. Pretty much every game has some sort of upgrading. RPGS let you upgrade your skills, shooters eithre let you upgrade via the discovery of better guns or by using some system to improve your current ones. ANd this is because we all love progression. And the idea for improving the other aspects of the game, EG menu and sound upgrades. I actually like that idea, as long as you start with something good improving it is always fun.

    If its a poke at those flash shooter games, where your only goal is to keep shooting hoardes to get the big ass chain gun upgrade then I guess thats fair. A lot of them are exactly the same except for setting. But not all of them.

  18. Wilson says:

    Yeah, I enjoyed this game. I even played it twice (to see what the biggest ships looked like at the worst graphics). Upgrades have never really bothered me and I haven’t played too many mediocre web-games.

    Also, the upgraded ending screen is the BEST I have seen in a long time. I felt a real sense of achievement with that screen. As satire, I think it fails. As a humorous overextension of the game concept of upgrades, it works beautifully. I’d say ignore the somewhat bitter sounding end screen (I was enjoying myself actually – so there) and instead have fun upgrading. And then you win, forever!

  19. RobF says:

    *puts hand up*

  20. Persus-9 says:

    Not as good as Achievement Unlocked but still quite good but I didn’t like the bitterness and I didn’t like the fact the game over screen unlocked about half way through.

    My favourite build was similar to Alec’s but I only had 8 missile launchers and four magnets. That way I caught every single coin and I didn’t have to bother with the whole pesky movement thing, I just had to hold space bar until I won.

  21. Mighty Florist says:

    I’ve had the ending screen up for a good hour and change now, and am probably not going to close it today.

  22. Ryx says:

    I really wish you’d post about MoneySeize instead.

  23. Salem5 says:

    Ehh, in the most negative gameplayelements I’ve ever expierienced, a “complex Upgrade System” would be placed on the Last. Thought it could be done better than how most games implement it. Anyone played Megaman battlenetwork? for GBA? I really liked the puzzle upgrade system. If I could see more of THAT, I’d be happy.

  24. Zero says:

    I think Lambo and Lim-Dul have the right idea. If I have to play one more banal, gameplay-devoid shooter/platformer whose only idea of injecting fun is to give the player an upgrade system, I think I might claw my own eyes out. And to tell the truth, if you read the comments sections on Kongregate you’ll see what I mean. Hell, there’s a “badge” called “0/5 needs badges”, which is an actual complaint people have sometimes — that without an achievement system that increases their “level” on Kongregate, a game is not worth playing at all. I don’t think this guy is lashing out for being burned so much as he feels the same way I do about how few people (particularly on Flash portals) play games for their own merit anymore; it’s all about achievement whoring to some people.

  25. Premium User Badge

    mrpier says:

    Bit too easy wasn’t it?

  26. The_B says:

    CONGRATULATIONS FOREVER!

  27. Psychopomp says:

    CONGRATULATIONS FOR-
    DAMNIT B!
    *shakes fist*

  28. Frank says:

    Maybe it’s making fun of the crap games on Kongregate et al. or MAYBE it’s making fun of their crap users who always whine “it would be better with achievements” and “All Kongregate games need achievements.” The site is friggin’ overrun with adolescents.

  29. MadTinkerer says:

    As someone who has played a lot of games on Kongregate in particular, and flash games in general, I am also pretty sure the guy was targeting poorly made flash games that have a lot of “upgrades” but no substance rather than upgrade systems in general.

    It’s like MST3k: making something horribly tedious into something really entertaining.

  30. lesslucid says:

    My biggest problem with this game is that the enemies can’t kill you. Even if you fail to kill all the enemies and clear the level, you still get to keep all the money you collected. There’s absolutely no way to fail to make progress at it, which kind of numbs my sense of it being a “game”.

  31. DarkNoghri says:

    I find I’m annoyed, because it won’t give me the last achievement. :(

  32. DarkNoghri says:

    …. nevermind, found it.

  33. Nameykins says:

    Very enjoyable 30 minutes or so. Much to my shame I -really- enjoy upgrading things for upgradings sake and had a blast doing it in this game.

    Something about seeing you progress from a level 1 peashooter to a leevl 9683 GODLY MACHINE OF DEATH AND APOCALYPSE never fails to entertain me.

  34. Supraliminal says:

    Jaytay says:
    well it sure kicked the shit out of that rocket ’satire’ game the other day.

    I certainly agree. (Bloody queen spider thing *shudders*)

    After some heavy testing, I found this game quite amusing.
    It’s a shame there is no challenge at all, as That ship upgrade personalizing tool holds some true potential. If they make a sequel, it better be a bit more serious when it comes to the game.

    Something about the graphics too. I played nearly the whole game with those BigpixelBlobAtarisweetOldgoodinesArtlikeMinimalisticAwsomness graphics. The “Modern” upgrade graphics just didn’t light my fire.
    Going even deeper (so Antony(how many of you DID read the credits?hmm.) if you’re really making a sequel listen now). There should have been an older graph version: Everything drawn with letters just like in Nethack (roguelikes rock btw). My ship would have looked like this:

    L L L L
    Mi
    Mi C Mi
    Ma Ma
    B SP B

    Ahh.. character-based graphics.. *drool*

  35. mojo says:

    they should add more music upgrades. it gets boring after a couple of waves

  36. Tei says:

    Moar upgrades!!

  37. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Grin-worthy, and in fact, although I’d have dismissed the ‘game’ part easily without the whole upgrade premise surrounding it, the fact that it isn’t the point makes it more fun.

  38. pepper says:

    I love this game, they did a great job, had a laugh at the final endscreen!!

  39. n.n says:

    I think the creator accidentally made his upgrade system, you know, fun.

    If the upgrade system was “cosmetic” or “by the numbers”, it wouldn’t be as interesting. Here you really do have the motivation to try and figure out a combination that allows the game to play itself. The gameplay isn’t so much in the shooting but more in laying out the spaceship so it can destroy everything and collect all the gold with minimal player intervention – kind of like one of those robot programming games. There isn’t a “game over”, but figuring out how to do that in the least possible time is in its own right a pretty interesting experience.

  40. Lintman says:

    I agree with Alec that the bitterness/sarcasm seems directed at the player with that final screen comments basically saying “Satisfied now? That’ll teach ya! Maybe you learned your lesson this time!”.

    Like Achievement Unlocked, Upgrade Complete’s “joke” is apparent right from the start, but unlike AU, UC acts like the players aren’t “in on the joke”.

    Personally, I think this could have actually made a pretty cool game if they made it as a straight game and made the gameplay better. I guess that would have defeated their “point”, but again unlike AU, I don’t think there’s all that much to their “point”.

  41. Bob says:

    I hope someone makes a game making fun of messages in games one day and the devs trying to be smart dudes.

  42. PooPooOnYouYou says:

    UPGRADE COMPLETE seems to succeed in a way that the designers never intended. Of course the gameplay is painfully simple, but gaming has been trending back to the games of yore so it came at a time when the punchline just couldn’t land right.

    From my perspective, the whole point of the game is that YES it is fun. For a very long time games have revolved around collecting items, equipment, and skills, but today’s newer games are on a sublime level of dumb. Why should I upgrade twenty different things when the first thing is the best thing in the game (i’m looking at YOU, infamous)? UPGRADE COMPLETE rebuffs this trend by making *everything* better than the last thing.

    So, I say to the designers: you totally missed the mark, but thanks anyway. Seriously.