The Games Of Christmas: December 2nd

By RPS on December 2nd, 2009 at 1:17 pm.


As surely as the snow falls on any day but Christmas day, so the second day in December plays host to the second game on our incredible seasonal advent calendar. It also plays host to a feeling that we’ve forgotten something. Presents? Decorations? Is it the nagging feeling engendered by too many years under the heel of heavy consumerism? We can’t tell, so run, run! Run to the very tip of the indicative hand of the one true leader of the Autobots to discover…

Canabalt!

Jim: For some reason Canabalt reminds me of that thing where kids first learn to walk, but they haven’t quite mastered it, and end up accelerating in a straight line until they crash into something, or simply tip forward and crash in a heap. Good times. It also reminded me that one-button games can be totally awesome. There’s a fascinating article over on Gamasutra which examines the possibilities of the single button interaction, and I can’t help wonder if the designers of the break-neck running game read that before embarking on their masterpiece.

Alec: I have a nemesis, and his name is Window. I can’t think of many other game enemies I fear/hate quite as much as Window. His dread presence is perhaps what makes Canabalt simultaneously so thrilling and exasperating to me. At some point in your breathless free-running escape from the urban apocalypse that’s shaking Canabalt’s greyscale world to the ground, you’ll encounter something very different to a ledge or a crane or a rooftop that requires a split-second jump across to. A window. A huge, plateglass window, just a little below your current vertical position. In an instant, the physics of what’s required from you are torn up, thrown to the uncaring wind. You have to arc up and then down, but colliding with the window while there’s still enough forward momentum to smash you through it. It’s simply a matter of timing, but somehow it feels like someone’s suddenly rewritten the laws of the universe.

I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. I hate you, Window.

I’m pretty good at the game otherwise – but even though its endlessly spooling rooftup run is ultimately a doomed one anyway, the appearance of a window is a sign that my breakneck escape is over. Several months on, it’s still not deterring me from trying again, again, again. This time, I can do it. I’ll show you, Window.

It’s because Canabalt conveys so much from so little. A thin, grey horizontal strip, a handful of pixels that are just enough to demonstrate flailing arms and fluttering suit tails, an indistinct cloud of white that’s so undeniably a flock of panicked pigeons, a constant background shake that tells you Bad Shit Is Happening Here, dramatic, silhouetted cameos from airships and flying fortresses. It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells me the game has no ending – the impeccable urgency of the piece means I will always feel like I’m running to something. This time I’ll do it, I swear.

One button, more sense of purpose than most anything else I’ve played this year. And my archest of enemies. If only you could talk to the windows…


Kieron: I do talk to the windows. Well, talking is probably an over-delicate way of describing it. Think swearier.

Canabalt is just a glorious little thing. I mean, it was made in five days. It’s a statement that, if you’re talented enough, in five days you can make one of the finest games of the year. It proves that anyone talking about the impossibility of doing anything worthwhile in games without an army of programming slaves is basically either a liar, a shill or just a bit dense. It’s an expertly judged piece of minimalism, both in its graphical style and its one-button mechanics. I hope developers look at it as a call to arms.

I also play games with it. No disrespect to Danny B’s splendid score, but I tend to use it as this year’s Audiosurf and drop various other tracks over it, which twists the game’s timbre. The track which I most connect Canabalt to is Music Go Music’s Warm In the Shadows, which I mentioned when I first posted about the game. Modern disco glacial endless propulsion. It highlights the coolness and distance of the game beautifully.

So, I start playing around with other stuff. I reach for Classic Disco and Lost In Music, which only seems to work during its chorus – but everything works to Lost In Music’s chorus. I spin a different way, going epic. Suddenly, with Born to Run playing, the game becomes hilarious. It reaches a climax with the enormous bridge, where the characters desperately spinning arms becoming melodrama personified.

Delightful Girlfriend, on the way to the bath, suggests Vangelis. Which does exactly what you expect it to. A few minutes later, a shout comes from the Bath. “I GET THE FEELING TAKE MY BREATH AWAY MIGHT BE GOOD”. And lo – it’s suddenly an overwrought eighties romantic scene. Win!

Of course, this has me thinking about 80s stuff now, and I reach for Rush Hour, which turns the chase into a giddy silly thing. And then I find myself thinking it’s all been a little delicately feminine so far, so I reach for Motorhead and we’re in a HYPERMACHOHYMNTOVELOCITY! It doesn’t work quite as well when you slow down after clipping an obstacle, but when you’re going full out, it’s a joy – of course, this makes me realise why the Disco worked so well, because it’s weightless nature meant that it embraced the slower speeds as well as the faster. Which makes me wonder how Kraftwerk’s Autobahn will sound and… well, I’ll just go and try it.

Join me. Do recommend your own soundtracks to Canabalt. I’m going to be here all day.

John: I love that this was created in just a couple of days (and then later refined). Admittedly I’ve spent more time playing it on my iTouch than on PC, but it’s exactly the same experience in both forms. One button, really only one idea, and yet so compelling.

It taps into the desire for a high score in a splendid fashion, and most importantly, has an instant restart that makes it very hard not to play yet another game.

My only issue with it (beyond sharing Alec’s frustration with being so rubbish at jumping through windows), is the opening few moments in the corridor. Those two awkward jumps with the low ceiling aren’t part of the game again, and somewhat take away from the pleasure of a split-second restart. I do wish it would start with just a straight run to the smashable window, and then onto the rooftops.

I still insist on calling it “Canablat”, it should be known. My brain decided that’s how it is spelt from day one, and nothing will convince me otherwise.

Also, jumping over giant missiles is brilliant.

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65 Comments »

  1. GGX_Justice says:

    I’m so happy you love Canabalt as much as I do. One of my L4D2 buddies has his latest high score as his spray-paint. Ever amusing to see it climb higher.

  2. gulag says:

    Fucking Window.

    Maybe the metaphor is something to do with crashing OS’s stopping you from getting on with chasing your dreams.

  3. kwyjibo says:

    The most over-written-about game of 2009.

    It’s the same as all those other one button games, but looks a bit cooler. End.

    • bookwormat says:

      It is randomized and gives you a great feeling of “speed”. There is a good partion of diversity and the 1-Button UI makes it very accessible.

      I like it. Even donated a $. If there are more games like this then I say these do not get the attention they deserve.

    • Gut says:

      Not by a long shot. Compared to the reams on on MW2 and the pages spent on the basically unplayable lose/lose, Canabalt was commented on at roughly the level you’d expect for a masterfully made, yet simple game which as an advantage compared to some attempts at indie minimalism was actually good fun

    • Matt says:

      “Over-written-about” isn’t referring to the absolute amount of noise generated. There was more talk over MW2 and Lose/Lose, yes, but those games actually brought up points of discussion that warranted some amount of talk, even if it did turn into bluster at some point. But what’s to discuss about this? It was written in a week, it only uses one button, and it’s a fine example of minimalism in games. What’s left to write about?

      Personally, I played this for about 5 minutes and felt I had seen everything to see. Of course, I’ve never been a high-score junkie, and as such, the game really wasn’t written for people like me.

    • Tim James says:

      Let games journalists have their fun. They put in the long hours steering us through bland AAA crap, so I can’t fault them for swooning over a new but clever fad or two.

      I’ll take SpiritsRL from the 7DRL competition for quick games that enthrall me, but the author stopped updating it before I thought it was polished.

    • DMJ says:

      I guess you could call it appropriately minimalist discussion of a gloriously minimalist game.

  4. Okami says:

    I stopped playing the game after thirty minutes because of the damn window. Curse you, window!

    But I’ve since become a fan of Music Go Music, visiting their myspace at least twice each week to listen to their music (pirating mp3s is soooo 2000) and telling all my friends about them.

  5. Gut says:

    I hate window.

    On the other hand, I enjoyed me some Silent Shout with the game. It just… fit.

  6. Martin Coxall says:

    OH MY CHRIST.

    So many dull hours have been whiled away tapping at this bitch on my iPhone.

    Who knew that one-button gaming could be so literally amazing? WHO KNEW? Answer me, dammit.

  7. Schmung says:

    Don’t you encounter the bastard low celings again if you manage to conquer the window? Mayhaps my mind is playing tricks.

  8. Cooper says:

    So I thought some noughties UK commercial dance would work well.
    Thing is, I can’t find out how to turn off the music on the game. So when I played Uniting Nations: Out of Touch it came in at a slightly lower volume level than Danny’s B piece. Turning one of the most wonderfully vacant pieces of music in recent years into an odd elctronica ambient clash. ’twas a bit weird to say the least.
    Ultrabeat vs. Scott Brown: Elysium (I go crazy) works a charm. “And if I asked, would you stop me from falling, would you save me, would you save me?”
    Edit: Found out how to mute: Press 0. Not sure Out of Touch works now…
    Double edit: Ouch. The edit function in the forums messes the comment in the threads page (no line breaks and adds the sig from here. And that video link blog addon thing? Removes half the post from the forum page – your section becomes unreadale in the forums, Kieron.

    Whoever you vote for, the government wins

    • DXN says:

      I don’t think you can turn off only the music, but if you press ’0′ it’ll mute the game.

  9. thaine says:

    @Kieron

    Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.

  10. WilPal says:

    I never understood why people like this so much, it’s been done so many times.

    • Psychopomp says:

      Wait, are we talking about Dragon Age, now?
      Torchlight?
      I Wanna Be The Guy?

  11. The Sombrero Kid says:

    don’t agree, is decent for what it is, but that’s not much.

  12. Starky says:

    Both the best and worst thing about this game is the random level generation (after the initial start)…

    Great as you never play the same thing twice so it’s not just memorization, and terrible (Gweat and Tewwible even) when it ends a great run by giving you a massively cheap death – usually involving a bumb you must jump over, but if you do you’ll miss the jump needed to the next building.

  13. Rosti says:

    Heh – missed this one the first time around. Thanks Hivemind! Thivemind.

    Am currently enjoying it to the sound of chiptunes, specifically Trash80′s excellent Icarus EP, though I apparently perform better to 80′s power ballads. (And in the game?)

  14. Tusque d'Ivoire says:

    Has anyone bought the movie rights yet for this awesomely atmospheric game yet? ‘Cause atmosphere is really all they need to make a movie out of stuff, and if we’re not quick, Uwe Boll might do it.

  15. Vitamin Powered says:

    I’m still playing this game to Fuck Button’s Surf Solar and Space Mountain (I think this is, what, the third time I’ve mentioned this?). I find in general though that 10 minute tracks seem to work well; they have a slow build up, and by the time they really get going you’ll have died a few times, but the music keeps the flow of the game going.
    Oh yeah, and it looks like an award has been specifically invented for Canabalt to win. Oh go on, tell me I’m wrong.

  16. cyrenic says:

    I guess I’m the only one that’s missed this game up till now? :D

    I died many times because I was looking more at the background than at my next jump. I wish Mirror’s Edge had been this atmospheric.

  17. LeFishy says:

    I worked out the windows but they still thwart me if I haven’t hit enough boxes to slow myself down.

    It’s Canalboat to me and always will be.

  18. Car games says:

    Christmas is coming. So I like to play the games like this.

  19. TooNu says:

    I love RPS, it is awesome when a game I have no idea about is just here easily found and then it’s joy times. Like good food, it’s simple so it’s enjoyable.

    Why the hell am I trying to escape?
    And I am posting this from within EvE :) you’re missing out Jim.

  20. Dave says:

    I just found this thing frustrating and unfun. Stylish, but unfun.

  21. Ian says:

    I’d play/have played this more if I weren’t so awful at it.

  22. Mitko says:

    Quite the boring game this.

  23. Psychopomp says:

    I actually started throwing a bunch of songs into a playlist for Canabalt awhile back. http://open.spotify.com/user/ianakselallen/playlist/3n8FPQf74DOo1XoeJYixGp

    Also, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uevKxa6sjFA

  24. smokingkipper says:

    Go on, whats ya high score? After what seems like hours of play, I managed 11294 meters.

    Also, does the PC version have the ability to determine the strength of the jumps? I have been playing on my iPhone as well, and the ability to do a soft jump (great for the low windows) makes things far easier.

    • Psychopomp says:

      Jesus, I thought my ~5000 was good…

    • DarkNoghri says:

      Current record: 8246m.

      I was looking at something the other day, and realized that there are unofficial leaderboards for this, with records up around 36000. :(

    • DarkNoghri says:

      Also, hard and soft jumps are possible, but it’s finicky, due to the keyboard. It’s not really an analog interface.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      I like that aspect of it. Makes it more of a learning experience. Wouldn’t be as much fun if you’d have only one or two types of jumps.

  25. x25killa says:

    I suggest Stockholm Syndrome by Muse for this game.

    Pretty remarkable what you can create in 5 days :S

  26. Jetamo says:

    I managed to get the time-exclusive challenge card off Kongregate. Windows are, indeed.

    Made by Devilco.

  27. sleepygamer says:

    Metalheads, pretty much any song from Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction album is either thematically accurate, or just awesome to listen to in time with the game. A couple of the tracks have a perfect build up if you can time it right.

    Other metal tracks that I found to work were Set To Fail to Lamb of God and Raining Blood by Slayer.

    I also found the Hell March from Red Alert works well. Even the various remixes/versions tend to work. Hell March 3 seemed to work best.

  28. 1stGear says:

    I immediately booted up the game after reading this article and made it through two sets of windows without issue. I am superior to all of you.

    The trick to the game is to intentionally run into the boxes some times. Otherwise, you quickly reach a point where you are running so fast you don’t have enough time to react to the bombs or you have too much momentum to make it through the window.

  29. Premium User Badge Arathain says:

    Oh lord, Window. I’m glad it’s not just me.

    My current attempt to listen through my music collection in alphabetical order by track title tells me that the Divine Comedy’s Middle Class Heroes is wholly unsuitable for Canabalt. However, The Millenium Falcon/Imperial Cruiser pursuit from A New Hope is coming up soon, and I have hopes for that.

    • Premium User Badge Arathain says:

      Yup, Star Wars actiony stuff is great. I’m onto the Cave Story Remix Project’s Mimiga Vibe, which has gives it a lovely electronic detachment, but with a good tempo that drives you forward. Very nice.

  30. Lilliput King says:

    Heroin by the Velvet Underground and Search and Destroy by the Stooges?

    The Stooges one has a terrible beginning for it, but the rest works brilliantly.

  31. Wooly says:

    I hate you, Window.

  32. Larington says:

    Hmm, whilst I can see the appeal of the game and the one button gameplay is interesting from a design standpoint, I don’t personally find this game at all addictive or worth talking about for any real length of time. And the amount of discussion i’ve seen for it baffles me a little bit, but perhaps thats just because my interests in games lie slightly off to the side of this sort of game experience.

  33. nickylee says:

    ARGH! It’s an iPod Touch not an iTouch! (yes it’s pedantic but I dunno it just bothers me)

  34. yogSo says:

    I think Azul y Negro’s Me estoy volviendo loco (“I’m going crazy”) is a perfect match for Canabalt. I don`t know if the song is known at all outside Spain, but it’s quite famous here because it was the Spanish Cycling Tour ‘anthem ‘ in 1982.

  35. Jad says:

    Does anybody know if there is a version of the flash game that supports mouse clicks? I’d like to put this on my touch-screen-only Archos 5 MP3 player, and the thing requires a working X or C key. I know that they made a no-keyboard version for the iPod Touch, but I don’t have one of those. All I’d need is Flash.

    Also, a mouse-only version would be good for playing on the Wii, tablets, etc.

    • Little Green Man says:

      If you got to the canabalt page and click on the buy link (or something or other) for the ipod version, there is a version on that page which is made for the mouse.

  36. Radar says:

    Also never heard of this until now. Thanks RPS!

  37. Bret says:

    I’m going to try Johnny B. Goode with this later today.

    Figure it would be interestingenough to be worth a shot.

  38. Vinraith says:

    Am I the only one who can no longer bring himself to care about any game whose central incentive for good play is a high score? I thought this was a neat little game, but after a few runs (~5 minutes, generously) I couldn’t see any reason to keep playing. Do I lack a certain gene or something?

    • malkav11 says:

      You aren’t. I find high scores stupendously uninteresting, and in fact I very rarely even bother with score-focused games to begin with. Audiosurf being one of the few, and I use it more as a visualizer than a game.

  39. Premium User Badge Arathain says:

    Oo, Tom Jones cover of Motherless Child is a surprise hit.

  40. EGTF says:

    First play through I seemingly easily got to 4000. So I thought “Heck, lets go for 5000″. I’ve tried for an hour now and I can’t get past 3000, I feel incredibly stressed and frustrated and in a really bad mood. Probably because it felt so easy and fluid when I first did it, and it’s infuriating trying to figure out how smoothly I actually accomplished that.

    I’m getting away from the PC for the rest of the evening (even though I’ve got writing to do) because of this game.

  41. Magius Paulus says:

    Make that one jump into the beginning. I always walk into one box on purpose to control speed right at the start. Sometimes it takes quite long for another box to pop up, and in this way you can always break a bit.

  42. Bret says:

    After some experimenting:

    Johnny B. Goode was generally disappointing, The Clash’s Magnificent Seven was surprisingly solid, and Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads was quite fun.

  43. disperse says:

    Canabalt became less enjoyable for me when I realized that plowing into every box you see is actually the optimal strategy. It should be about unbridled speed, not tripping up on cardboard boxes to stay at a controllable rate.

    That said, it is my all-time favorite Flash-based game.

  44. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Special thanks go to Kieron, for relinking Music Go Music. And probably more interesting music to possibly accompany the running man.

    I don’t play the game for any high score, but for the.. flow, I guess. This is why music like Warm in the Shadows works so very well with this. Although I notice I generally need to pass about 2500m to ‘warm up’. And the running man would make a fine hero in a more Watchmen-like setting. I also play Canabalt because I, for some reason, really, desperately, want him to prevail.

  45. JuJuCam says:

    Off the top of my head, tracks to try include Benny Hill Theme and Iggy’s Lust for Life. I dare not go there, but let me know what it’s like!

    • Arca says:

      Yakety Sax? Things start getting a bit surreal. Unfortunately playing your own music means you have to mute all the audio, so you don’t get the cues for the bomb things.

  46. Zuckerhutbomber says:

    @Kieron
    I suggest “Mars, The Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst

  47. Vadredant says:

    Hmm, even if its a bit tired i suggest …
    - O fortuna by Therion from the album Deggial
    - Gekreuzigt by Oomph from Delikatessen