Aptly-Titled: Restraining Order

By Alec Meer on November 26th, 2009 at 11:54 pm.

Jim McGinley emails us about his indie comedy-action game Restraining Order. I play it. I go and have a little lie down for a while. And now I write about it. It’s, er. Yes. Ah.

You probably shouldn’t play this.

The concept: a side-scrolling jumping/punching game, in which you are some sort of man-bean-thing chasing a woman-bean-thing. You, in turn, are chased by policemen. Lots of policemen. Avoid or kill them all to, ah, ‘get’ the girl.

The execution: a barrage of ever-changing broken half-songs about love, incest and, well, I couldn’t work out most of them, slathering violence and unexpected Robocop references. Its title, then, is more than apt. This is an insane game. Perhaps a little too self-consciously so, but nonetheless it is certainly arresting in its freewheeling, baleful oddness.

Most especially in that you’re apparently playing either a sex pest or an abusive husband/father of unspecified dangerousness and ultimate intent, so the moments when you finally catch up with the girl bring not celebration at your accomplishment, but a creeping horror as to what it might mean for the woman and her daughter (fortunately, this too is not specified). To the point that I even tried to run away from her at one point, so horrified was I by the image of this green, drooling beast approaching a clearly terrified egg-shaped girl-creature. It’s Benny Hill through a nightmare prism, basically, and there’s a part of my head that refuses to acknowledge all the implications of it. All I know for sure is that you’re definitely caught and arrested at the end of each level. For that, I’m grateful. Yeah, it’s intended as comedy, but…

Beneath the surface horror is an impressively tight game of timing and reflex, and a distressingly apt demonstration of how incapable my frail mind is at recognising and responding to just three separate colours. You hit the blue policemen, you jump over the yellow policemen and you dodge the jumps of the red policemen. Without fail, I would try to hit the yellow policemen and jump straight into the red ones. Again and again and abloodygain. My brain’s refusal to learn is impressive in its way. The blue ones, though, those I could do. PUNCH! Yes.

It builds to strange, beautiful crescendos of bouncing policemen, firing in graceful streams over your head like busybody fireworks. At those points, I get a sense of what it might be trying to do, of how it could a splendid thing rather than an incoherently disturbing one with flashes of cleverness. Then another eerily familiar and faintly hellish tune about Christ knows what starts up, the question as to what happens off-screen between each level rears its horrific head once more, and The Fear creeps up all over again. The below video tells but part of the tale:

It’s a good-looking thing, full of visual invention even at its darkest. A singular game, certainly, but not one I’m… recommending as such. More pointing at it and saying “oh God, what is that?” It’ll cost you just 40Mb of bandwidth and a night of untroubled sleep, and it’s here.

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39 Comments »

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  1. Flowerpot Wang says:

    I don’t really know what to make of that.

  2. sleepygamer says:

    For some reason the link refuses to work for me. I tried a few different domains with no luck.

  3. Isometric says:

    I wasn’t prepared for the singing. I wasn’t prepared!!!

  4. Zerotime says:

    What in the hell did I just watch there?

  5. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    what is this I don’t even

  6. Anthony says:

    Oh… I think I’ll take your advice and not play this.

  7. mpk says:

    Remember that old Playstation advert? That one that went along the lines of “I’ve conquered/saved worlds” etc etc. I’ve done that. I’ve done many, many wonderful things in game and, lately, I’ve been doing a lot of shitty things, because games have started to let you. Most recently I’ve spent a long and distasteful time in the Africa of Far Cry 2 being an absolute shit of a human being.

    But for all the horrible things I’ve done in games, I don’t think I’ve had a more disturbing fifteen minutes than I did just there. Never mind the surreality of it all, my god, this happens in real life. This is what games can do goddamit – and as a message about domestic violence it sure as hell beats that travesty linked to the other day.

  8. mpk says:

    Also: I’m not sure about the untroubled sleep.

  9. Persus-9 says:

    Wow… that was… an experience.

    I was rubbish at the whole police jumping thing but I’m not entirely sure that isn’t part of the point. I completed the game regardless because ultimately there’s absolutely no penalty for failure. You’re just an unstopable evil that the authorities were ultimately powerless to prevent. The only thing it reminded me of even a bit is Fruit Mystery. I guess because they’re both short really disturbing games that aren’t in any way about the challenge where you play at something completely awful. They’re neither of them what you could call at all fun and I really enjoyed both of them in a disturbing sort of way but I don’t think I’d recommend either to anyone unless I was sure they were really interested in having an interesting but in many ways quite bad experience for the next few minutes.

    Very nice to see that the songs are just ogg files so you can listen to them again at your leisure.

  10. Jambe says:

    That was captivating in a terrible-yet-unlookawayable fashion. I don’t know that I’m better for the experience… but I’d like to think so. Perhaps somewhere deep in my subconscious some cog is now spinning. Some lone chain of neurons previously dormant is now FIRING FIRING FIRING, gleeful at having been nudged by this strange game.

    Oddly enough they’re probably the same sorts of neurons which were long ago activated by nonsensical Schfifty-fivery.

    Then again, maybe the universe is but a speck in the beautiful eyes of a goat bound for slaughter.

    What?

  11. Lars Westergren says:

    Sometimes when people describe something horrible in art, it is an attempt to exorcise fears. In this example it could for instance, someone reduces an object of fear to a drooling grotesque horror.. but a ugly and comic one that is controller by the player, and therefore by the artist.

    Unfortunately some can mistake this as an attempt to trivialize the experiences of others.

  12. lhzr says:

    alec is afraid of implied virtual rape. i guess the path (or countless other games with ‘actual’ mature content) would have made him visit a therapist.

    such a childish reaction that it’s endearing :)

    • BigJonno says:

      There’s a world of difference from including rape as a theme in a mature game and putting you in the position of the rapist. Saying otherwise is like saying that Battlefield 1942 is the same as a game where you’re a Nazi with your finger on the button of a gas chamber.

    • lhzr says:

      if the gameplay’s good or if it’s funny or if the graphics are cool or if it makes a good point about something, etc, i’d play that, sure

    • RobF says:

      The Path had “actual mature content” ?

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Ihzr: “if it’s funny or if the graphics are cool ”

      You called Alec’s reaction childish, but somehow I get the impression you are the one who has lived a very sheltered life.

    • Howl says:

      BigJonno, virtual rape is mild compared with what most games ask of players today. Look at Modern Warfare 2. Does it matter which side you spawn as? Do people even notice or care which team they are auto allocated to each round, or what they are killing for? The encouragement to run around and take other people’s lives with guns, knives and explosives is standard entertainment now.

      Have we, as gamers, become so desensitised to violence that we don’t even notice this any more? Cackling with glee as we creep up on a fortified position and riddle the ‘bad guys’ with bullets from behind, watching our score multipliers and multi-kill achievements light up the screen? Are expressions of shock and horror now only reserved for things like rape and physical abuse, which are more common in everyday society? It seems that it’s shocking to mow down an airport of civilians these days but slap a uniform on one of them and sudddenly it’s an e-sport.

    • BigJonno says:

      I’m going to have to disagree with your statement that rape is mild compared to killing. You can kill in defence of your own life or in defence of others. You can kill as the only way to prevent someone doing something much worse. There are times when it is justifiable and most videogames deal with these scenarios. Rape, on the other hand, is utterly abhorrent and never justified.

      I don’t have any objection to rape being a subject broached in games. However, as an adult who is fully aware of the difference between fantasy and reality, it’s just not an activity I want to participate in for my virtual entertainment.

    • Persus-9 says:

      The thing is that most violence in games is rather detached from the real world, it’s all quite fantastical or if any of it could happen in the real world then it’s quite avoidable by doing simple stuff like not joining the army. None of us will ever be in a situation that is anything like the situations we encounter in most violent videogames unless we really go out of our way to do so. The basic story of this game on the other hand could be being played out with your next door neighbour and in all likelyhood you wouldn’t know it. Pretty much any girl could find themselves on the wrong side of a tail like this simply by making a momentary bad character judgement. Now that’s scary.

      @ RobF: I’m not sure if that was a retorical question or not but the answer is no, The Path has no actual mature content and I’d argue never implies anything anywhere near as bad as this game.

    • Wulf says:

      @Howl

      “The encouragement to run around and take other people’s lives with guns, knives and explosives is standard entertainment now.”

      I hear you, and it’s something that actually saddens me.

      I’m not actually bothered by violent videogames, but doesn’t it bother anyone else that a supposedly good character in any game never actually comments on this stuff? I don’t mind shades of grey but I’d like to see more commentary in games about this, I’d have liked the characters in Borderlands to stop and wonder if any of the bandits they were killing were anything other than just the murderers, rapists, and pillagers that people make them out to be. I know they are, but it would add some weight to it all.

      In a level like No Russian, the problem is that the game is making the player feel heroic, and there’s the problem, and it’s things like this that are making sociopathy today’s populist mental illness. It’s not the violence that does it, but the fact that the game portrays all violence as heroic and good, and thus someone who slaughters innocents is a war hero. That is so utterly fucked up.

      It’s the same in Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic isn’t a bad guy, not at all, he’s just trying to make his way in America, he’s a charming little man from the old world who’s brother likes to call him only to yell TITTEEZ at him every few minutes. And yet, Niko Bellic’s actions don’t fit with that, do they? The guy’s a total fucking psychopath, he’s a mass murderer, he’s totally fucked up in the head, and not at all a hero. Just once I’d like to see a GTA game actually end with the main character being arrested and sent to court for countless crimes against humanity.

      I’ll stress, I have no problems with violence, I just get really pissed off when violence against innocent people or animals paints the player as a good guy. If I’m murdering people, I want the game world to treat me like a murdering arsehole, because in GTA and MW2 you’re no better than the raping, murdering, and pillaging bandits of Borderlands, are you? In Borderlands, you’re kind of like a Sheriff of the Future, and I enjoyed that. You’re only a hero because you’re acting on the side of the little people, in the name of law and order, and against clearly evil bastards.

      Yet when Niko Belic beats the shit out of an old lady, is he a hero? No, no he’s not.

      Am I making any sense here?

      I’ll just use two more examples before I wrap this up. In Dragon Age: Origins, I had to do two things in order to be able to get any enjoyment out of the game, I had to install the no blood mod (I don’t think seeing my character drenched in blood and not having anyone react to it is at all heroic, in reality most people would be throwing their guts up, and that’s what should have been happening in DA:O, or the gore shouldn’t have been there) and I created my own mod which made the beasts non-violent.

      Now, at one point, in DA:O I was charged by, like, oh, 10 wolves or something… and I just paused the game and thought to myself… “What?” Wolves don’t behave like that, they don’t charge a group of people who’re armed to the teeth! If I kill them, I’m not going to feel any better than Niko Bellic, thtat’s not at all heroic! So I quit out of the game, right there and then without saving (losing about 30 minutes of play), and I put together a mod which made wolves and a bunch of other healthy, non-blighted creatures placid and peaceful. I felt much better about playing DA:O then.

      And in DA:O, whenever I’m given the chance, every time, I’ll try and talk my way out of or avoid combat, because a hero is grounded in ethics, and a hero doesn’t kill unless there’s no other choice. Spiderman taught me that! <.< So many cartoons and comics as a 70's kid drummed this into my head. And this brings me to the last example…

      Champions Online.

      Now in Champions Online, I totally took up the role of Martin Luther Xavier, because it made me feel happy about my character there. The thing is, a superhero doesn't kill, as stated by ethical comic book heroes a billion times over, it's only a last recourse and it totally fucks them up (more on this later). So my character was a powerful psionicist, and he didn't have even one kill under his belt, he'd simply knock people out and leave them lying there for the police to gather up. The worst that would happen is that they'd wake up with a headache in jail later.

      I was very pleased to see that this notion was supported by finding Talisman in Stronghold, after I had all ready defeated her once, and I assume it was her defeat at my hands that landed her in prison. This meant that my notion about playing a psionicist that never kills was vindicated by the game, and I can't tell you how good that felt, and that was one of the reasons I stuck with CO, that's one of the reasons I still love CO, because in that you really are one of the good guys, like Spiderman.

      Now what's all this in aid of, what's it about?

      I don't think that violence should be removed from games, I don't think that people shouldn't be allowed to play violent games, but for fuck's sake, introduce law enforcement to games, proper law enforcement, not the joke that exists in GTA. What I'm getting at here is that if a play acts like a complete dick in a game, if they're acting like some mindless, retarded sociopath of a butcher, the game should reflect that and take the time to point it out to the player.

      In many games, you can kill, steal, and still be treated like a hero, and that really pisses me off. I’d love to see games take a more active role, like they used to. Wherein, if you steal, there’s a HUGE chance you’ll get caught, and if you are, people will be distrustful of you, they’ll talk about you under their breath as you pass, pointing out that you’re a greedy, thieving scoundrel. If you murder someone, have the peasants look at you with ear, and the law enforcers treat you with disdain, have a general are of pure and unadulterated disgust surround the character.

      Fable touched upon this but it didn’t do it very well, I would really love to see this taken to the next level in all games. If you’re a total, murdering scumbag whom the game world would prefer dead, the game should point out that you’re a total, murdering scumbag who the game world would prefer dead. The game should try and elicit an emotional response from the player for being a total douchebag, they should try and make them feel guilty.

      I mean, why not?

      If we’re going to simulate violence, and a sandbox world, why not simulate realistic responses to violence too? At the moment, this only thing that pisses me off about games is that there are too many games which paint the player as a hero when really they’re a scurrilous douchebag, a butcher, a sociopath, and not at all heroic. I want the reactions of the NPCs and the game world to actually reflect what the player is doing.

      Those calling for censorship are right in a way (GASP, CONTROVERSY!) but I don’t know if they understand why they are, it’s not because a game is violent, that’s fine, it’s because the player can get away with it and be patted on the back. If you kill an innocent, then Niko Bellic’s brother should phone him, talk about how he saw Niko beat up that old lady on the news, cry about it, and maybe even throw up, thus making the player feel like shit.

      You commit the act in the real world, you put up with consequences, so why shouldn’t consequences exist in a virtual world?

      Until games start meting out punishments for virtual crimes where the game recognises it’s a crime, it’ll still be nothing more than idiot food for would-be sociopaths, nothing more, nothing less, and I don’t think that treating a butcher like a hero should be glorified by anyone.

      This might be something RPS could do a feature on! *nudge nudge*

      “Have we, as gamers, become so desensitised to violence that we don’t even notice this any more? Cackling with glee as we creep up on a fortified position and riddle the ‘bad guys’ with bullets from behind, watching our score multipliers and multi-kill achievements light up the screen? Are expressions of shock and horror now only reserved for things like rape and physical abuse, which are more common in everyday society? It seems that it’s shocking to mow down an airport of civilians these days but slap a uniform on one of them and suddenly it’s an e-sport.”

      I feel very much the same way, as I explained above, and I had to quote the rest of your post just to put all this into perspective because you explain it very well.

      I just wanted to give my two pence as to why I feel it’s a problem.

      Douchebags aren’t heroes, douchebags are douchebags.

    • Wulf says:

      In fact, I have more on this… games I’d like to spotlight.

      Fable II:

      This is one game that has the right idea, but it doesn’t take it far enough, it recognises when the player is a total douchebag and responds as such, but not enough. I’d like to see the magicorps called in to “take down this monster!”, I’d like to see other non-player heroes enter onto the scene and try to take the player down, commenting on what a disgrace to the whole of humanity they are.

      I feel that the presence of other heroes who chipped away at the player’s self-esteem would point out to the player that they are no longer a hero, and if they want to be treated like a hero they should act like one. I want to see people running and screaming, begging you not to hurt their children, and so on. A game where the player is supposed to make the player feel like a hero should make them feel like shit when they’re not.

      I do like the direction Fable II took though, and when I had a pure/uncorrupted/good character, I felt really awesome about it, because I knew I was a hero for the right reasons. More games need to pay attention to this, handing out the role and title of hero arbitrarily shouldn’t happen, it should be earned through actions.

      Red Faction: Guerilla:

      This is another game I feel does a little bit to go in the right direction, if you kill innocent miners then people are distrustful of you and treat you in the same way they treat the Earth Defence Forces (or whatever they’re called), they treat you with distrust, disdain, and meet you with insults, because they know you’re just as much of a scumbag as the EDF.

      However…

      If you work to get miner morale up by not killing innocents and working to free them from oppression, it increases morale, and not only do they praise you for being heroic, but they even run to your aid and help you. I think that’s beautiful. It actually made me smile when I was playing the game, that high morale would have people believe in me, because I had a good, ethical cause, and I didn’t sully myself by slaughtering people who were really just miners who wanted to get on with their lives, without living under the boot of tyranny and oppression.

      The miners are an opposed subsection of humanity in Red Faction, and it almost comes over as a racial struggle for equality and independence, and behaving properly in that setting saw the player rewarded.

      More like that, developers. Eh?

    • Alec Meer says:

      Ihzr – as you apparently lack the insight to see the difference between fear and distaste, and between abused and abuser, it’s entirely unclear as to exactly what your argument is.

    • Polysynchronicity says:

      Ever play the indie game “Iji”? For all its mediocre writing and graphics, it did one thing that I’ve never encountered elsewhere: you can play through as some kind of ultraviolent madwoman, killing hundreds and starting to lose it by the end of the game; a complete pacifist who harms nobody at the cost of much-increased difficulty; or some kind of middle ground, where you are cast neither as a saint nor a murderer.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Very well said Wulf. If you polish it up a bit that’s a pretty decent article or blog post there (not just a comment at someone elses blog).
      :)

  13. x25killa says:

    Enjoyed this game except for the singing about incest. That was just fucked up. The colours were magical though and the ending was nice.

  14. Mattaustin66 says:

    Makes you think..

  15. Jim McGinley says:

    (I’m the developer)

    First off, thanks for trying the game.
    The original game was created at the first global game jam.
    We were required to implement the theme:
    “As long as we have each other, we will never run out of problems”
    “Restraining Order” was better than the 50 ideas I brainstormed.
    I liked the resulting game and polished it into today’s version.

    (Spoilers)

    I was hoping the fact you always get caught
    (with ever harsher penalties)
    and the massive comeuppance at the end
    would make all the difference in the world.
    Apparently not, but that was the goal.

  16. FernandoDANTE says:

    5.8 kB/s download? Seriously?

  17. Gpig says:

    Wulf that was amazing.

    I’m impressed that you care strongly enough about violence to exit out and mod a game you were playing. As for me, I’m of the opinion that the more you do something the less it means what it did initially. My favorite albums no longer make me feel the way they did when I first heard them. That new, incredible surprising feeling is gone. Top athletes don’t feel the same pure sense of enjoyment from playing the sport as they did as a kid. It’s about the competition for them. Waking up next to the same woman for the thousandth time doesn’t feel the same as waking up next to them for the first time. There are other feelings now that replace the initial rush.

    It was shocking the first time I saw an FPS, but it quickly lost the visceral meaning, like I had listened to a song too much. It came down to a series of objects and events I was manipulating to win just like in Bomberman or Mario. The context and story was gone and I was just shooting targets. Quake 3 players turn the settings down so much that it ends up resembling a 3D shooting range. An interesting aside to this is the anecdote (apocryphal?) of how simply changing the targets from circles to human shaped caused an increase in the percentage of soldiers who fired their weapon during combat. We’re looking at virtual characters as targets and not people, looking at it as a game.

    This may lead to increased support of the death penalty or torture, but it would be hard to measure. What is easy to measure is the decrease in violence in the last 2 decades in America, just when it would make sense for people to be getting more violent as they are desensitized. People may be desensitized to the idea of violence (with an increase in tolerance to violence being meted out to people who they think deserve it) but when it comes to actual first hand violence, virtual violence does not help. Today’s troops have grown up on violent games and they are trained to be mentally and physically tough, yet it does nothing to lower the PTSD rates.

    In other news, dating sims don’t help you with dating.

  18. Greg says:

    Wulf’s post is “of the year” material, for sure!

    The Hit-Self-Destruct on GTA IV is germane here for sure? http://www.hitselfdestruct.com/2009/03/fall.html

  19. Shadrach says:

    Music_Finished.ogg – such a great little song, listened a lot these last day! Wonder if its the same guy who made the game? Also these guys are great, Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band!

  20. Michael says:

    This game is… awesome. Insane, crazy, somewhat twisted. But awesome.

  21. Jim McGinley says:

    @Shadrach –
    Music_Finished.ogg is actually “Taxi for Two” by Mani from the album “New Demoes”
    Hear it here:
    http://www.jamendo.com/en/track/181661
    Great song. It took me awhile to find it.

    @Everyone –
    All the music is thanks to other people and creative commons.
    It took me a lonnnnng time to find music that fit the game, but that’s all I did.
    A complete list of songs from the game,
    including links to where you can hear/download them legally,
    is in the readme.txt. The artists would love that!
    I’m creating a soundtrack page for my site as we speak.

    • mpk says:

      @ Wulf

      /me give standing ovation.

      Dude, you had me at hello. We’re getting to the point now where games have went from comically inept visualisations of violence (the 8-bit days, say) to comic book violence (the 16-bit era*) to comically pornographic violence (I’m thinking Soldier of Fortune 2 here) to plain pornographically violent games.

      It’s all noise, sound and fury, signifying nothing. Literally, tales told by idiots, because we stare at the screens with mouths open, drooling and jabbing buttons (or, indeed, keys) and not thinking about what we are actually doing, or what the things we are doing actually signify.

      Lets take back the moral highground

      *Yes, I know, I’m showing my console roots. Fuck you, I don’t have a TV anymore or I’d be browsing Rock, Paper, Joypad. ON MY XSTATION.

  22. drygear says:

    What it reminds me of the most is the La La Land games, even with a similar use of music.

  23. AngryInternetman says:

    What the hell did I just play.
    I did play a game, right?
    Yes I did. I hope so.

  24. Juicy McNugget says:

    Kids. This is what you always knew was under your bed waiting to get you.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  25. gladlad says:

    Is it just me, or is the whole indie scene beginning to produce games like the fake ones movies who feature “gaming” characters describe in the script? Remember on Wayne’s World when the old business dude is describing the game Zantar, in which “Zantar is a gelatinous cube that eats warriors in a village. If you eat a chieftain, you go up a level.” All those years ago, I remember thinking “Whatever! That’s the fakest sounding game I’ve ever heard of!” Enter “Restraining Order”. I think it was the reference to the three colors of police that you have to avoid in specific ways. That crazy of a premise with that infantile of a gameplay scheme = fake movie game. My point? The world is a better place now that fake movie games can be reality. And we don’t have to pump any quarters into most of ‘em! Hurrah!

    • Matzerath says:

      That means we’re ever closer to the all-powerful eighties movie home computer!
      Hack into Norad? Sure!
      Make a virtual woman? No sweat!
      Suck you into its fantastical game-world? Piece ‘o cake!