John And Kieron Argue About Limbo

By John Walker on August 4th, 2011 at 4:55 pm.

Kieron sneaking up on John.

Having played and reviewed Limbo yesterday, John found himself at the end of Kieron’s (particularly sweary) disagreement gun, and as is always the case the two of them argued about it. An argument that can only be shared with the world. Whose side are you on? FIGHT! (This contains significant spoilers, folks.)

Kieron: I should finish playing Limbo and do my evisceration of it.

John: Do you hate it?

Kieron: Moderately famously so.

John: Oh. Well, you’re wrong, cos it’s great.

Kieron: Rick Dangerous for Goths.

John: Except nothing like that.

Kieron: Total trial and error game with a dark, edgy aesthetic. It’s incredibly mean spirited.

John: Have you read my review?

Kieron: Yes.

John: I’m fairly sure that’s the point.

Kieron: You’re forgiving it. I’m not.

John: I’m not forgiving. I’m recognising that it’s deliberately forcing trial and error to change the atmosphere.

Kieron: It’s a tosser of a designer laughing at you, every step of the way for being a fool. It’s the world’s most dickish DM.

John: It only comes in after you’ve started using dead bodies to walk on, caused people to be hanged to progress, etc.

Kieron: Edgy!

John: You’re aware that’s not an argument?

Kieron: I sort of suspected I’d hate it from the second I jumped off the first log and it kills you for it. “Prick” I think at the designer.

John: I’m not aware of a point where you die in that way.

Kieron: Go to the first log and jump off it. If you fall, you’re fine. If you jump off it, you die, because you fall just too far. It’s a designer who finds that kind of thing funny.

John: This does seem to be your issue rather than the game’s. If a game is deliberately designed to have the design be mocking you, that’s a clever experience. It’s when it’s because it’s poorly thought through or badly made that it’s an issue. You don’t like being laughed at. Tough shit – get over yourself.

Kieron: Clever, but cuntish. And all about the designer. It’s just Rick Dangerous with a different aesthetic. That’s exactly how the game works.

John: No – all about the experience you’re having. The designer isn’t there.

Kieron: The designer is there. They created it.

John: Don’t make me hit you with Barthes.

John: I’m amazed that a game fucking with you bothers you this much. Rick Dangerous was just badly made. Limbo is deliberate, and carefully timed.

Kieron: Firstly, It’s your problem not the game’s,” is a silly argument. Of course it is. It’s like me saying you giving Magna Cum Laude 3% for its outrageous sexism was your problem, not the game’s. Something can be completely accomplished in what it’s trying to do and still be rejected, because the philosophy the object expresses is vile. And you’re deeply underestimating Rick Dangerous – it wasn’t incompetent. It was how the designers thought games should be. They thought that killing you without warning was funny and did so with all the craft they could muster. Which sounds kinda familiar, doesn’t it?

John: I think you’re being a priss. The game one-ups you, and so you’re trying to get it back.

Kieron: For a man who hates April Fools so much, it’s an interesting argument to take.

John: Because there’s no embarrassment or humiliation here. You go, “Oh, you fucker!” And then you adapt.

Kieron: As an aside, I’ll admit that Limbo does its best to sell the joke – that its deaths are so well done tries to transfer death to a moment of joy.

John: Yes. Especially when you see entrails.

Kieron: But even then, I’m left rolling my eyes and thinking “Well done – you have complete control of reality and have managed to make me do something stupid. You must be a fucking genius! I’m so impressed. And with a dark and edgy aesthetic too!”

John: But that’s the point! The whole game is about being controlled, about the mindlessness of going from left to right at any cost, for no purpose.

Kieron: So what?

John: The fact that you’re dragging dead bodies to use as platforms in water before you reach any of the trial and error stuff – it’s a really interesting statement on what we’ll do to go from left to right.

Kieron: Or just gothic nonsense, seemingly powered and inspired by the same emotions which make kids tear legs off spiders.

John: See, it’s too easy to say that. To sneer at the aesthetic because you don’t like it messing with you just looks weak.

Kieron: I’ve written positively about sadistic games. And I’ve written about incredibly hard games.

John: If the game didn’t mess with you this way, of COURSE you’d be praising how lovely the presentation is.

Kieron: I’d probably praise it anyway. But since I hate the game as a whole, I can use it as a symptom of a wider malaise in the developer’s thinking. It’s a coherent statement, sure – but it’s a coherent statement I disagree with absolutely. Thinking this is a good idea is a terrible idea.

John: But you look like you’re desperately clutching. “And… and… you’ve got a stupid hat!” Especially since it’s not flipping gothic. It’s just black and white. There’s nothing gothic about it. It’s noir, if anything.

Kieron: Nah, it’s forming a coherent argument rejecting the whole thing.

John: It’s not coherent to say, “And you’ve got a stupid face!” because someone annoyed you. It’s silly.

Kieron: I may have read more pop gothic-aligned culture stuff than you, but the mixture of gore and death and sadism as comedy is pretty much how it’s done. I mean, you read Johnny the Homicidal Maniac? This files next to that. Thinking about it, I’d do a compare and contrast with VVVVVV. As the “man can withstand anything but unfairness” line I came up in that does leap to mind. That the payoff of the “punchline” in Limbo is having to traipse through a bunch of stuff to try again. It’s a waste of my time, because I’m only having to traipse through it again because the developer has forced me to do me so. And life’s too short.

John: There are only two points in the game where it makes you traipse. Otherwise the checkpointing is perfect.

Kieron: Traipsing even across a screen when it’s not my fault is a “fuck you”. Don’t waste my time.

John: Have you considered that the problem might be that you’re just a big wuss baby?

Kieron: Says the man who doesn’t like hard games. I do.

John: That’s penises you’re thinking of.

Kieron: I do like hard penises. This is also true. I just can’t stand unfairness. It’s a waste of my fucking time. And a developer who thinks wasting anyone’s fucking time for (primarily) his own sadistic amusement? Fuck him.

John: Well, we’re back at the start of the argument again.

Kieron: RICK DANGEROUS FOR GOTHS.

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267 Comments »

  1. 20thCB says:

    Barthes??? Go read Burke instead grrrrr

    • Alphabet says:

      Why? They were both geniuses. (Though I think Barthes is being mis-used in this otherwise very fine piece). Seriously, though, everyone should read S/Z!

    • Monkey says:

      Rubbish goalkeeper to boot

    • Ruffian says:

      I understand what kieron is saying though I side more with John as far as limbo is concerned. Seems to me that he’s just frustrated about being put into an unwinnable situation that takes a death and restart, for the player to realize it’s unwinnable – at least by conventional means. Which I can understand when something like this is overused, but when, as in limbo, the solution is pretty much instantly revealed upon death (unless you’re slow) I can certainly forgive it. It was certainly not the games main mechanic. Another thing I think Kieron is basically saying about it is that it’s not really that clever a game mechanic at all because, it’s basically just a hidden solution – any old dummy can hide something.
      Once again though, not something that was used through the entirety of the game. I can remember like 2 maybe 3 spots (where i didn’t at least have the right idea of what to be doing puzzle-wise). So I can forgive, if for nothing other than the lovely aesthetic and abstract/strange little story.

  2. LionsPhil says:

    But…Rick Dangerous was good.

    • Baboonanza says:

      Yeah, I loved that game.

    • Wulf says:

      I kind of felt that Rick Dangerous was trial and error for the sake of trial and error, sort of like Super Meat Boy, and it wasn’t much of a game beyond that. How to explain? I felt like it was stripped of fun, it was the basic element of frustration that a game can have. It was a glorious meal that was dissected to find one, singular ingredient and then presented to you as an overly bitter example of that ingredient. And you are then told to eat it.

      I think that this is what KG is trying to say about Limbo, to be honest, is that there’s a dissection, dismantling, and deconstruction of games going on here. Some of those are clever. If you’ve ever read Kid Radd then you’ll have pleasant memories of someone confronting the very nature of games, and apparently someone who shares a brain with me because of how they confronted the intrinsically violent nature of games. In fact, if I might have a moment, I would like to direct everyone toward Kid Radd with the most honest and heartfelt recommendation I could give. Kid Radd? It has worth.

      Anyway, the point of a deconstruction is that you have to make some sort of sense of it, but I don’t actually think that Rick Dangerous does. I think it just discards the other pieces without even stopping to examine them. It takes apart the very nature of platform gaming, as I mentioned, and finds one, single part. It then presents that microcosm as an entire game. But it’s not a game, it’s just a museum of annoyance and frustration. The things that would actually build it up into being a game aren’t present. They’re just not there.

      What you have then is an overall lack of depth. It’s clever. It is so clever in its own way. But it’s clever in a strange way, it’s clever in a way that completely misses the point. It’s intelligent, but it’s also… inexperienced. It’s like a protoform of gaming. It’s like something that came before Pong. It’s sort of like the evolution of gaming, it’s like… hey, let’s take an old game like Jet Set Willy and dissolve it down into the purest sense of frustration, those moments where you simply felt the game was broken and unfair, and then let’s make an entire game about that.

      Let’s make a game that’s purely about screen memorisation, not even about muscle memory, where you have a chance to complete something fairly quickly (like you can with, say, Veni, Vidi, Vici), and let’s force the player to simply approach the game like homework. “Take this home work with you, be sure you memorise at least 20 screens, then you can move on.” It’s… grind. And it’s not like you’re learning anything worthwhile, you’re not growing in anyway by doing it. And it’s just missing the magical, ethereal element of fun. Fun can be many things to many people, it can be moving troops around on a field, it can be being scared, it can be gratification, but ultimately there’s this sense of depth and growth which fosters fun in all games.

      The only sense of this in Rick Dangerous is that the graphics change a bit, you don’t actually feel like you’re getting any better at it, because unlike VVVVVV you’re not allowed that. It doesn’t have a difficulty curve, it doesn’t have the sort of scenario where you can simply feel like you’re improving over time, and then it doesn’t save a hard challenge for a point where it would be completely fair. It’s like… imagine if you made a game over Veni, Vidi, Vici, where the configuration of it changed every time you tried it.

      I just don’t think that Rick Dangerous is a good game. I don’t think that Rick Dangerous is a game. That’s just my opinion, but if you agree with it, then it’s yours, too.

      Limbo might have a lovely aesthetic, but I actually get what KG is saying, it’s that Limbo is probably not much of a game either, in the sense that Rick Dangerous wasn’t a game. It might be lacking that sense of depth and growth, it just feels static, essentially. I’m not sure if that is the case, but it sounds like it might be, and if Limbo really is like Rick Dangerous, then I know I won’t like it. (Despite liking the aesthetic, which I will admit to liking, yes.)

    • Zarunil says:

      @Baboonanza:
      Me too!

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      mechtroid says:

      OH YES, SOMEONE ELSE WHO READ KID RADD! I used to read that comic from back to front every 2 years or so. Seriously, if you want an example of sprite comics done right, that’s it.

    • Alphabet says:

      @mechtroid

      “If you want an example of sprite comics done right, that’s it.”

      I didn’t know that I did. But I did!

    • Greengrassblueskies says:

      Rick Dangerous was one of my favorite games as a kid. it was brutally punishing, sure, but like all hard games the satisfaction from mastering it was immense. It was like being Indiana Jones, only you had to go through dozens of takes to get the scene just right. And when you had it, you felt like a total badass weaving your way through the trap-filled tombs. You even got a “spidey sense” for detecting where the next death awaited even in new areas. Seeing a stray pixel here or a suspiciously straightforward route there was all it took to make it through alive sometimes.

      I miss games like this, so Limbo is a real treat.

    • sinister agent says:

      You are all banned from video games forever.

  3. Dominic White says:

    “Tough shit – get over yourself.” – Harshest words I think John has ever fired off at Kieron… and completely on the mark. Kieron’s entire rant reminds me of one guy over the Something Awful forums who absolutely LOATHED Braid. Why? Because it had no tutorial, and because the way you found out you could rewind time was by dying, so that the ‘rewind’ prompt would appear.

    Most people thought that clever. This guy thought it was a personal insult, directed at him, from the developer, who was clearly a dick.

    Sorry, Kieron – this reads like you’ve got issues that you need to work out for yourself, not anything wrong with the game.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      There was an awful lot of bitchiness in there, that shouldn’t be in normal arguments, but works in this one because they know each and each other’s prejudices so well. I don’t like ad hominem arguments in general though – address his arguments, don’t tell him he has issues.

    • Lewie Procter says:

      I absolutely love that it is possible to 100% the first world in Braid without using the rewind power. One of my favourite things about it actually.

    • LintMan says:

      I’m totally with Kieron on this one. I found John’s “get over yourself” and “it’s your problem, not the game’s” and “you’re being a priss” absolutely obnoxious. He seems to be bashing Kieron (and by extension all the people who feel the same way as him) because he has no actual logical response to his points.

    • Nalano says:

      No. No tutorial implies there’s a cogent and correct path and you just don’t know it.

      This game is about a system which needs you to fail.

    • Popish Frenzy says:

      @Griddle Octopus
      Hmm not sure but I dont think its an ad hominem, john’s arguments here appears to be “you reason for disliking the game is silly and the silliness is motivated by a quirk of your personality; that the designer didnt take it into account doesnt make it a bad game.”

      As an aside, kieron’s counter is also unconvincing since (as Dominic White’s story illustrates) its possible to have a silly or incoherent reason for disliking something and that it doesnt make a very persuasive argument. So we cant dismiss all “it’s your problem not the game” arguments out of hand. Of couse that still leaves open whether kieron’s reason is actually silly, not sure myself:)

    • qrter says:

      The “Tough shit – get over yourself” line is bullshit, because of the line that precedes it: “You don’t like being laughed at.”.

      Who the fuck likes being laughed at, especially by a game, something you’re playing for your entertainment?

    • Zyrxil says:

      But it’s not laughing at you. That’s the quirk- you imagining the game laughing at you just because it killed your character.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, I never felt the game was laughing at me either (tangentially, that’s exactly how the guy that hated Braid described the feeling of having to die to get any direct instructions). Each death was a sickening, tight feeling in my stomach that made me want to apologize to the little boy for not saving him from a horrific death, but I never felt any spite behind it, and definitely no humor.

    • malkav11 says:

      Whereas I went through what I’ve played of the game (I have no idea how much, and I didn’t stop because I wasn’t enjoying it, I’m just flighty) and with each new challenge I took it in, and went “oh, you wonderful arseholes. You beautiful sadists.” I fully agree that it’s sadistic. I just don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s not really trying to cause me, the player, pain. It’s being thoroughly, thoroughly cruel to the poor player character.

    • Josh W says:

      Sounds like this game is incredibly well designed then; it specifically points out a thing about old platformers and does it.

      The result is something that is a matter of personal taste, subjective, and to argue about it is to draw up big battle lines.

      In other words, if you can’t criticise it for achieving it’s aim badly, all that’s left to argue about is whether you agree with the designers intent. It’s personal.

      But while it sounds well designed, I’m on KGs side. I want expression, exploration and system discovery in my games; rote learning, luck and repetition are not my style.

    • Sweetz says:

      @Dominic White: Agree. He has serious self-confidence problems if he thinks Limbo is about the “developer laughing at him”. Being a contrarian in order to artificially establish one’s identity also often goes along with that.

      My friends and I (all of whom are software developers) rarely will all like the same game; however, we unanimously think Limbo is brilliant. First time I’ve ever seen someone fling such ridiculous vitriol at the game.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      Chill out guys, I seriously doubt they’re actually at fisticuffs over this, it’s just a bit of jokey hyperbole

    • anonymousity says:

      John just launched ad hominem attacks at Kieron where as Kieron had a coherent holistic point he was conveying.

  4. Teddy Leach says:

    You know what? I DID feel it was like Rick Dangerous.

    I HATED Rick Dangerous.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Rick Dangerous hated you too, like pretty much every platformer from the era.

      But at least it had good title music.

    • Barts says:

      You know what? You remind me of my father.

      I HATED my father.

    • Wulf says:

      Yeah, I hated Rick Dangerous too. To the point where I felt the need to just take it apart, above. I just don’t think it was a game. And no, it was nothing like the other games of the era. Jet Set Willy had a far better sense of growth, exploration, adventure, and even fairness that was completely absent in Rick Dangerous.

      There were hard games, yes, but I think it’s the most massive fallacy ever to accuse people of talking about difficulty when they’re talking about fairness. Good grief. Look, I like hard games, just like Kieron does. I loved the hell out of VVVVVV. VVVVVV made me happy. Some of VVVVVV’s expansion levels made me happy. (Trip to the moon made me smile from ear to ear.) But VVVVVV (and Trip to the Moon!) was fair.

      Rick Dangerous was completely unfair. You had to memorise every damn screen to progress, but there’s no growth in that, it’s just memorising screens. It doesn’t mean that you’ll do better at it, it doesn’t mean that you’re growing as a gamer, it doesn’t mean that it’s challenging anything other than your memory, it’s just… there. It’s pretty much an anti-game to me because it’s robbed of all the wonderful little elements that come together to make a game.

      Games can be hard AND fair. Rick Dangerous was hard AND NOT fair. There lies the difference.

  5. Curvespace says:

    Another World?..

    It’s been 20 years since I played it properly, but I seem to remember a lot of trail and error in that.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      You can file Another World next to Limbo, really. Lovely game, and even important, but – fucking hell – I wouldn’t want to play it again.

      KG

    • Lemming says:

      Exactly. That’s probably Limbo’s biggest influence, but it’s hardly been mentioned in articles about it. And every remembers that game was a bitch, but a beautiful one. It didn’t make us hate the game.

      And I don’t feel like Limbo was trying to be edgy for the sake of it or was bad design hidden in that ‘edginess’. I felt the trial and error component (of which isn’t the entire game, its like two sections) was a symptom of the oppressive atmosphere. the dead kids everywhere is proof of that design.

      If it was, say a Mario-style game that just rammed in that trial and error a couple of times for the lols, then KG would have a point. But it isn’t. It’s showing you all the time that this world wants you dead, and as clever as you think you are the world can be one step ahead at any time so watch your back.

      it doesn’t abuse this, it does it just enough that it affects how you play the game. if it was constant trial and error, sure it would have been just unfair. But doing it a couple of times during the whole game just makes you feel edgy, which, is the feeling the designers want you to have.

      Oh and it’s not Gothic, it’s nihilism if anything.

    • The Sentinel says:

      “It didn’t make us hate the game”

      Ohhh yes it did. Another World is a classic, beautiful, wondrous piece of digitally animated story-telling but it royally SUCKS as a game.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I always remember that Another World “only” got 81% in Amiga Power. Because of its Trial & Error. Hearts 4 AP 4EVA.

      KG

    • BooleanBob says:

      @Curvespace – Speak for yourself, it certainly made me hate the game. Pretty graphics but too vicious to enjoy.

      See Abe’s Oddessey for the weird point in the middle where it’s still trial and error, still scales from faintly to brutally unfair, but at least the designers have tried to make some concessions to ease frustration (and aren’t just kicking back and laughing at the player).

    • Wulf says:

      I remember Another World fondly for the tank.

      DOOT DOOT DOOT, pres butan. KABOOM!

      But on replaying it recently, I remembered the trial and error sections that drove me crazy, especially one that made no sense at all and was all sorts of buggy and glitchy. So yeah, I think Another World would’ve worked better as an animated film. Plus it sucks that Conrad dies. :| I’d always believed that the alien had saved him — it was a last minute save, filled with bravado and romance, it was pure adventure. But it becomes meaningless with Conrad dying.

      So whilst I love Another World, there are a whole slew of things I felt it did wrong, yes. But, again, I loved Another World for the incredibly alien world, not for the gameplay, and on replaying the enhanced edition I actually had to use a guide in order to not go insane. It just wasn’t structured well. Though really, I don’t think it was quite as unfair as Rick Dangerous, and it did have some fantastic moments of reward.

      Like freeing the lion things, and the tank. DOOT DOOT DOOT.

    • patricij says:

      Definitely. I can still remember those bloody ventilation shafts…aargh

    • 8-bit says:

      another world? I would have to disagree, at least in that or the oddworld games when you enter a new screen and you can (usually) see what dangers there are before you proceed. Limbo blends death traps into the background giving the player absolutely no chance to avoid them first time around, its more like heart of darkness really. all similar games, but limbo and HoD just cross the line into taking the piss territory with the way they treat the player.

    • fuggles says:

      @Wulf, I doubt you’ll ever see this in the middle of this wall of opinions, but Lester does not die in Another World, he IS rescued at the last minute, just badly hurt. Erm, spoilers….

    • Nallen says:

      Thanks for ruining a game that’s held mystery with me for 15+ years.

      NO REALLY.

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      Hypocee says:

      The difference is that, per Wulf’s thing above, Another World was T/E and hard and poorly checkpointed, which makes for tedium. I quit at a room where IIRC you step in the door and must immediately and rapidly duck, shoot, shield, blast, shield, shield, shoot. Recall that with one button, shield and blast are different-length holds on the same button. In isolation that would have been a mild difficulty spike, but when the next three screens keep sending you back there, the answer is no. Limbo is well-checkpointed and the actions are all simple.

      Not to mention that it almost always warns you.

  6. Griddle Octopus says:

    I’m with Kieron, I have to say. The game’s a dark joke at the expense of the gamer, and is almost totally pointless. Style (good, if a little passé style) without substance.

    • The Sentinel says:

      How low can I go, says Mr Developer. “Limbo” indeed.

    • Koozer says:

      I concur. Kieron wins!

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      Aluschaaf says:

      YES! Finally somebody says it! I tried it and was utterly disappointed after all the praise it was given beforehand.

    • Owain_Glyndwr says:

      You, sir, win the Internet.
      But yeah, the game is an extremely well made piece of nihilistic pointlessness.

    • noodlecake says:

      Passé? Limbo is a first of it’s kind game. And visually beautiful too! I’m enjoying it! I can only play it for like 20 minutes at a time because since my mum spilled red wine on my laptop it gets red hot and slow when I try to do anything fun for more longer than that.

    • Laephis says:

      Yup, Kieron wins.

    • Bart Stewart says:

      Agreed. If (as argued elsewhere here) the entertainment value is in dying shockingly, then the correct game design would have been to build lots of one-time-only deathtraps — not force you to die over and over and over again to reach the next trial-and-error deathtrap.

      Insisting that “how can I make you fail?” design has merit is like declaring that the school bully must really like you because he puts so much time and effort into finding new ways to torment you.

      Those who don’t pretend to enjoy being abused (and paying for the privilege) have no need to feel defensive about it.

  7. Lewie Procter says:

    Hmm.

    I think trial & error is fine as long as both the trial and the errors are fun, and I found the puzzle solving and the dying fun.

    I also don’t think it actually forces you to fail all that much. If you’ve got your wits about you, and you are expecting it to try and fuck you over all the time, you can avoid a lot of the deaths. It’s also pretty good at not kicking you back too far when you die.

    Would having the sands of time in it make you hate it less, Kieron?

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      I think the turgidness of the main player’s movement is both the best part of the design and the worst thing about the game. If it had Trials-style instant-restarts and some story beyond the rather-clichéd design, I would have liked it much more.

    • Lewie Procter says:

      It has a story. You have to complete the game.

      Edit: as in that’s all the story I need, really.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      I need more from a story than one I make myself, especially when the rest of the interaction is as limited and slow as this; you need stuff to fill in the lonnng gaps where you’re redoing the same thing for the tenth time. Funny, because of the design, I was waiting for something witty and clever in the story, like Braid had, and didn’t get it for Limbo. I played through the whole thing and thought that it was mechanically poorly paced and didn’t make good use of what it had going for it.

      The Spider was wonderful though; nothing else matched that bit.

    • Wulf says:

      The entertaining thing is that I don’t even think the spider part will work for me. I think spiders are wonderful predators, and helpful too in a number of ways (know your ecology!). They’re vastly underappreciated critters and feared for reasons that I cannot begin to understand.

      But that means that I won’t be scared of the spider bit, either. Really, it’d be like being chased by a tank filled with cartoon orcs or something for you guys. It’d probably be funny, but not scary.

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      Saul says:

      Agree with Lewie. I found the deaths darkly hilarious. I didn’t feel punished, because death barely distracted from playing – the punishment is only a two-second pause for reflection, and then you’re off again. And there weren’t many places where I died more than a few times.

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      Hidden_7 says:

      @Wulf

      Speaking as someone who has put a decent amount of effort into controlling his arachnophobia, spiders scare me for reasons I don’t really understand. It’s something about their shape, the legs, the way they bend, the way they move, that is just wrong in a really primal way. The fear is obviously not any sort of rational one, and I don’t act on it in a rational way then, that is, I’m not seeking out and destroying spiders, not buying poisons, however their shape is still unnerving. I’ve thankfully gotten to the point where a single spider in my room doesn’t paralyze me anymore, but if a spider-shaped thing appears suddenly, or near me, I’ll recoil. It’ll take quite a bit of psyching myself up to look at the wikipedia entry on spiders with images enabled, for example.

      This is all in service of pointing out that, at least for me, the fear of spiders isn’t in any way alleviated by pointing out that they are often quite harmless, and actually fairly beneficial to humans, since the fear isn’t even alleviated by the thing being a PICTURE and NOT REAL. Because it’s irrational. It defies understanding. In any case, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, enjoy your ignorance of irrational fears, because they aren’t fun, and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.

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      Hypocee says:

      Phill Jupitus’ great standup routine on his arachnophobia: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12Tn38T9o5U It’s just a switch that gets flipped in some people’s brains, explaining that they’re cool doesn’t help and is inadvertently cruel. My mom spent her whole childhood outdoors and much of her adult life as a wilderness educator; she’s also severely arachnophobic.

  8. pyjamarama says:

    I liked Rick Dangerous, I will love this game then

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I liked Rick Dangerous too. You had cool hat, and bombs, and a gun. What’s not to like?

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Carebears hate Rick Dangerous. Its too much game for them.

  9. Mike says:

    I like the idea of what John’s trying to say, but my impression is that it’s hard, if not impossible, to prove that this is the intention of the designed throughout the game. You might argue that that doesn’t matter – that those people who see splotches painted by a dog and call it art are justified to do so, and that if John feels the game is making a statement then it might as well be – but I think if Kieron’s irritated by the game’s design then it’s a valid point to make.

    Especially as a reviewer, because it means there’s probably a segment of the gaming audience that will be similarly irritated. Also “Kieron: Clever, but cuntish.” is a great byline.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      It’s totally the point of the design. And I’m definitely on John’s side of the argument, even though I don’t think it always executes perfectly. Limbo revels in trial-and-error and makes it the heart of the puzzle and artistic design. If you miraculously managed to complete the game without dying, you’d have a much poorer experience. And that’s what makes Kieron’s complaints about the design a bit odd. The fun isn’t in solving the puzzles. It’s in failing them first, and being treated to a carefully crafted, often shocking death. It’s not trial and error in the Rick Dangerous sense of having to memorise the threats and execute precision platforming. It’s trial and error in that the error is the point of playing.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Ham Solo says:

    I guess Kieron doesn’t like “I wanna be the guy” , too.

    • Xocrates says:

      I wanna be the Guy is designed specifically for masochists. The whole point there is for you to fail in the most unfair way possible.
      Even the people who like that game hate it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ham Solo says:

      I think the goal is to overcome the most unfair traps possible.

    • Xocrates says:

      For the player, maybe, but the designer very clearly just wants to kill you.

    • psyk says:

      I was going to say the same thing. Kieron I think you should do a write up of it, would be an amusing read.

      The games just harsh, the room with the invisible platforms right near the start is a joke or I’m missing some hint as to where the platforms are.

    • lurk says:

      IWBTG is a really good platformer once you get used to how it works. Getting killed by unfair traps isn’t that offputting since you’re going to hurl yourself into a wall of spikes a few hundred times anyway. It’s not always unfair, but it is always hard.

    • Merus says:

      I’m internet friends with the designer of IWBTG, Kayin, so naturally I’m an expert (this is a joke). Anyway, from what I remember of his intentions, it’s supposed to be unfairness as comedy, not so much masochism. If you’re going into the game expecting to be able to beat it, then yes, absolutely, it’s masochistic, but the game lets you in on the joke so you can enjoy the surprise of being killed by gravity-defying apples, or the moon, or Mike Tyson.

    • Premium User Badge

      Oozo says:

      I’m with Merus. IWBTG is, just like Asshole Mario, not just unfair. It’s absurdly unfair, to the point where it becomes funny. Then again, I also still like Another World, so I’m maybe a bit maso anyway.

  11. johnpeat says:

    I bought Limbo for 360 with points I’d been given for Xmas and foolishly decided to play through it during a particularly unpleasant bout of flu/fever I had at the time.

    I was pretty low – I’d been unable to go out or move around much for 2 days and I was feeling a bit ‘caged’ (not to mention light-headed and nauseous!!).

    The atmosphere and mood really, really ate into me – I got to hating it, as a game, because of it’s trial-and-error nature, it’s obtuse approach to ‘achievements’ and a few specific bits which riled-me-up no-end.
    I reached the end without realising I was anywhere near it (not because it’s short or anything, just because it has no sense of any narrative arc which is obviously deliberate) and I have to say it was ASTONSHINGLY brilliant – really, truly stunning – a real ‘night into day’ moment.

    I can sit back now and realise that it might not be the best platform/puzzler ever made, it might not really do anything radical or new and it might even be ‘for Goths’ but I CAN tell you, without a moment’s hesitation, that no video game has lodged itself in my memory in the way it has…

    I really do feel like I went thru the game personally – I remember puzzles as if I’d experienced them first-hand – I feel quite priveleged to have played it and I doubt I’ll ever return to it.

    I cannot recommend others do the same tho – it’s not a good place to be tbh

    • Handsome Dead says:

      i was going to say things but dominic’s “ASK ME ABOUT HAVING SUPERHMAN REFLEXES” transcended my wanker threshold.
      jesus christ you guys are a joke

      i am so overloaded by wanker enegry i cannot even reply to the right post.
      what have you done to me

  12. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’m partially with Kieron on this. Trial and error play is almost always annoying when presented like this. But in this case it didn’t irritate me enough to not be charmed by the game, and play through it.

    Also it is gothic and expressionist, not noir.

    • Captain Hijinx says:

      Every game uses Trial and error.

      Limbo is just harsher about it than other games. If someone doesn’t like that, fair enough, but to chalk it up to poor design rather than a lack of ability or willingness to adapt to the challenges the game presents seems pretty weak to me.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Not all games use instant-death trial and error.

      “Limbo is just harsher about it than other games.”

      Yes. That’s the point being made.

    • Dominic White says:

      There’s a lot less trial and error involved than anyone here seems to be suggesting. While there were a few times I died just because something came out of left field, that was usually only a 5-10 second setback. Most traps CAN be avoided simply through careful observation or having your reflexes honed to razor sharpness by games like VVVVVV or Super Meat Boy.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      …and then you have you to stump incredibly slowly to get back to fail again. :)

    • Jockie says:

      It’s only partially trial and error though, it’s partially that you know something hideous is going to happen when you push the lever and if you look at the environment around you, you can kind of predict that. So when you avoid the cruel trap the first time you encounter it, that’s something to feel good about.

      It’s a game of brinkmanship (especially the spideriffic moments, where you are essentially stretching a rubber band, before it snaps back and twangs you in the face), where you have no choice but to continue left to right, despite the fact you know someone is toying with you, willing you to die. It’s cruel in a way (and yeah I did shout twat at the screen several times), but for me it instilled a feeling of, ‘I will beat you’, rather than ‘I hate you’.

    • Xercies says:

      I find it weird that Kieron loved the trial and error of VVVVVV especially the veni, verci, verdi thing, and of course liked Super Meat Boy which goes out of its way to be trial and error a lot of times. And hated Limbo for it being trial and error at some places. i find that a bit confusing.

    • roosten says:

      @Xercies
      While I can’t speak for KG, the important distinctions there would be that with Veni, Vidi, Vici:
      1) You can see the whole thing ahead of time, in fact you are obliged to, and consequently the actions that you need to take to complete it are laid out ahead of you absolutely clearly, and
      2) It’s completely optional, you can win the game without ever getting that trinket.

      Now, if Veni, Vidi, Vici had walls that moved around as you flew up and down, or spikes that flew at you from the walls, then I would say that that was more unfair than difficult. The only bit of real unfairness on VVV is the disintegrating block at the top, but I do think that’s the only place where it is unfair as opposed to just difficult.

    • gwathdring says:

      I don’t think the disintegrating block is unfair at all. The idea is that to complete it, you need to go through in one complete motion. Also, every time I did it, I found it a lot easier if I flipped the instant I hit the platform. Everytime I waited a moment on the platform I lost momentum and had trouble died much sooner afterwards.

      I haven’t played Limbo, but I’ll say this about trial and error games:

      VVVVVV encourages you at every step of the way. It is as pandering as a game that physically difficult can possibly be. It goes out of its way to be friendly, delightful and positive to the player. But most games don’t do that. Most games either challenge you in a more adversarial fashion or pull you along like an inconvenient passenger, warning you not to touch anything or get into any trouble. I don’t like the easy, pull-you-along pandering games unless they have some interesting interaction that makes up for the lack of challenge. Sure, I might not consider it a game, but if the story and the scenery is interesting enough it might still be worth my time. Usually, it isn’t.

      The other class is a bit more complicated. The games that dare you to beat them, that relate to you like an arch-nemesis. They ask you, rightly or wrongly, to overcome not only the challenges in the game but also the biggest hurdle of all: our pride. As an example, at the end of the 2008 Prince of Persia (the gameplay was mostly easy and not especially interesting to me) … they game didn’t quite end. The credits rolled, and a voice offered to give my companion back to me for what I knew would be a terrible price. I wasn’t satisfied because the game was over as far as what I wanted the character to do (I wanted to leave, alone and sad but with the world intact) … but I was not allowed any closure. When I went through the motions to try to get some closure, I walked right into exactly what I expected: unleashing the destruction of the world for my own selfish cause. And I HATED it. I really hated it. I felt betrayed. Because I knew it would happen, but the game wouldn’t let me leave! It wouldn’t let me have a proper ending. I couldn’t have closure if I wanted the game to end my way … and just so it brought me in line with the character in a stroke of brilliance: he couldn’t have closure with his companion dead. He could never feel completely satisfied with what happened … but he could still choose to do the right thing and accept that pain and lack of closure. Instead, he out of selfish desire to bring her back to a life she didn’t want and I out of selfish desire for my proper ending, released something disturbing in ourselves. I was mad and I wrote the game off (and I still write much of the gameplay off now). But when someone mentioned it on the good game endings thread … I realized what actually happened. I was bested by my pride. The game manipulated me, and I blamed unfair design instead of listening to what it was trying to say–either as narrative or as philosophy.

      I resent the implication that the game designer of Limbo is some sadistic wanna-be God who delights in using torture to instill you with his inept philosophizing and as such the game falls flat. I resent the implication that because the game fails to send some sort of emotional impact to a lot of players, it isn’t allowed to think of itself that way and is instead a piece of sadistic slop. I could be wrong, but I think the game very much intends to be something other than pure sadism, or at least wants to say something with its inaccessible difficulty. It very well may fail horribly in conveying any such message, but I feel like a lot of players are claiming the game can’t possibly have one simply because either they failed to get it or the game failed to deliver it to them.

      I’m not saying Limbo works as a game, or as a message. I haven’t played it. But I have experienced pride getting in the way of my games. And I’m not sure we should accuse games that are “difficult without being fair” of being invalid. I don’t think the sole purpose of a game needs to be unadulterated fun, and as such I’m willing to accept games that give me a unique experience for the sake of that experience or that artistic message or that learning opportunity. But I also know that, even with my philosophical stance being friendly to that sort of game, my pride gets in the way and causes me to complain about challenges I should have relished and techniques I should have enjoyed. It’s a tricky situation, and it’s one of the biggest hurdles for gaming as art: as an interactive medium, we put players into the moment more than any other medium. That means, when we hurt characters and manipulate them unfairly, the player absorbs that emotional impact differently then they would in a book or a movie, and because they experienced the violation first hand they will require more time and distance before they can reflect on the same exact same narrative situation in a similar way. Designers that want to challenge us and make us uncomfortable have to be really careful with what tropes they use, because we as gamers are so sheltered in our gaming experience and because gaming speaks so easily to our pride and frustration.

      P.S. I’m very glad no one is using the word pretentious, that I’ve seen. That comes up a lot in discussions about indie games. I despise that word: it implies that only certain people, games, and so forth are good enough to have certain ideas. That you have to meet some minimum arbitrary standard to talk a certain way or think a certain way. People can be arrogant, and have ideas that seem inspired by arrogance. But the word pretentious, to me, means something else. It presupposes insincerity of belief. It means “I am better than you. You aren’t good enough to talk like that, or think like that. You don’t mean anything you say. You are thinking and talking above your intellectual station. Sit down, boy.” It is one of the more ugly forms of hypocrisy to my mind, calling something pretentious.

  13. Captain Hijinx says:

    Never change Kieron.

    Despite having no point, you sure can waffle on with utter shite.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Do you want to take the insults somewhere else, please?

    • Captain Hijinx says:

      Insults? What Insults?

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      “Despite having no point, you sure can waffle on with utter shite.”

      That, sir, is an insult, a content-free sentence that ignores what he’s trying to communicate.

      You hath offended my friend, sir. Name your second, we’re meeting at dawn.

      /gloveslap

    • Berzee says:

      “That, sir, is an insult, a content-free sentence that ignores what he’s trying to communicate.”

      Did you not read the article? Comments like that are just carrying on its spirit. =)

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      To state the obvious: John and me having fun with each other is a different thing from most of the commentators doing it.

      KG

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Oh, I did read it, but you may note the insults are both a) between two people who have been dear friends for many years and b) leavened with delightful insights into their subjective perceptions of the relative importance of different elements of game design. The statement above had neither of those merits.

      /slapslapslap

    • Captain Hijinx says:

      I’ve been reading Kieron long enough to know that he can be deliberately obtuse for his own amusement, he’s a fantastic writer and i’ll always enjoy reading him, but saying the game is too hard and i don’t like it is not a point of any kind, it’s just an opinion, and a fair one. Just not worthy of a conversation piece.

      (“I dislike you being overly polite! I have insulted another commenter directly. Oh man! I won’t do it again, probably” – Ed)

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Key argument to take away, btw: Hardness <> Unfairness.

      KG

    • Berzee says:

      “To state the obvious: John and me having fun with each other is a different thing from most of the commentators doing it.”

      Yeah =) Me too

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Keiron acting a dick in the article is okay, but commentors expressing similar is not allowed?

    • Juan Carlo says:

      LOL

      This is the internet. Moreover, it is an internet blog.

      If you are going to write on an internet blog, especially one with a comment section, you are going to need a thick skin.

      Plus, that’s what makes blogs fun. The commenters giving the writers shit when they deserve it and praise when they deserve it.

      Ya’ll are too British, I think.

    • Bilbo says:

      “Commenters are what make blogs fun”

      “Racism”

      Why don’t you suck a bag of dicks

    • Echo Black says:

      “Racism”? Where?

    • Nick says:

      “Ya’ll are too British, I think.”

      Derp.

    • Echo Black says:

      Can you even call that racism? What the hell!

    • Berzee says:

      Oh I get it, it’s not racist ‘cuz it’s against the BRITISH.

    • Bilbo says:

      Yes, you can absolutely call it racism. The whole “Race just means skin colour derp” thing really gets on my tits.

      That said, I apologise (somewhat) for the vulgarity. I just couldn’t disagree more with the idea that “commenters are teh goods” and think it speaks volumes of how fucking horrible and repugnant commenters are as a phenomenon that one would come out and say something like that

    • Juan Carlo says:

      Well, if you read my original post I never said that commenters (alone) are what makes blogs fun.

      I said what makes blogs fun is the ability for commenters to have some back and forth with the writers, disagreeing or agreeing with them as they see fit. That’s the wonder of internet blogs. They are like more democratic magazines in which the readers have instant feedback. The main articles, if they are good, should work as interesting pieces in themselves but they should also be a jumping off point for discussion in the comments section.

      Of course, given that it’s the internet, there will also be a certain amount of anarchy involved in this. Which can be good, or bad. 4chan, for example, is internet as anarchy–to the point that it’s nearly impossible to read or get anything out of. I do like a bit of anarchy, though. For me something like the AV Club is the perfect example of how the commenters can be both highly intelligent and anarchic at once. Their comments mix the high brow with the low in such an amusing fashion.

      But I’m getting off topic, I think. My original point was that if you are going to write for an internet blog you are going to need a thick skin and learn to take the low blows with the accolades as they come. So I just thought it kind of amusing that everyone was taking offense at the OP’s incredibly mild comments like it was the worst thing they’d ever seen or something.

    • Bilbo says:

      Labelling someone’s critical opinion “utter shite” while offering no alternative viewpoint yourself is roughly equivalent to taking a shit in their mouth and calling it ice cream, so forgive us for not being too forgiving of that commenter’s position.

      And if you think that commenters are some kind of salve for the runaway egos of internet bloggers, again, you’re fucked - readers are the yardstick, not fucking dickheads who want to create a name for themselves by shitting all over the work of better people. No readers = no blog, it’s that simple – any number of very successful, very popular sites operate to a high degree of editorial excellence without a mob of foaming know-it-all cunts to yah-boo their every post and fucking wank themselves off into the bargain

      Side note:

      “I never said that commenters(alone) are what make blogs fun”

      And nor did I accuse you of saying that, so shut the fuck up and get your head out of your arse

  14. Evoc says:

    I didnt like this game either. But mostly because i hate puzzlegames, “oooh, another room with switches and boxes, wooo”, fuck em. >:(

  15. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    “It’s a waste of my time, because I’m only having to traipse through it again because the developer has forced me to do me so. And life’s too short.”

    • noclip says:

      But isn’t that essentially an argument against games in general?

    • Xocrates says:

      Only if you consider games a waste of time.

    • Nevard says:

      @Noclip: Uh, no?
      Only against games that force you to replay sections multiple times because it kills you without warning (and often on purpose)

    • Rhin says:

      @noclip:

      You’re generalizing the statement too much. Both are wasting your time in the sense that the “simply walking” parts of a game are wasting your time, but a conscious design decision to increase walk-time requires some real justification. It’s like the difference between waiting for an elevator and waiting for an elevator that inexplicably stops at every floor.

    • noclip says:

      By this logic the aim of playing a game is to master artificial challenges that only exist because they were put there by the developer to form a game. Isn’t that a waste of time by definition? I’m replying to these on my phone at red lights, so sorry for the out or order responses.

    • Josh W says:

      Ok some intrinsic reasons it’s not a waste:
      “I enjoy the experience of this game, because of it’s beauty, it’s amusing dynamics, whatever, it’s the sort of thing I like to be doing”
      “I enjoy learning stuff increasing in mastery of these systems”
      “I like the uncertainty and exploration of new stuff, what have they got for me here?”
      “People see the best of me when playing these games with me, and it brings out their hilarious side too”

      Some extrinsic reasons:
      “It improves my reaction speeds, problem solving, and resolve to find solutions in every day life”
      “It allows me to use different parts of my brain that feel underutalised everwhere else in my life”
      “I can explore issues here in a way that I can’t in other media”
      “It allows me to change my perspective on time so that I can skip through periods I would otherwise be worrying in, and reach them fresher than if I’d used that time fruitlessly thinking ahead”

      Depending on why you like games, repeating the same section not because you’re learning stuff, but because you didn’t do the last bit quite fast enough, can be a total waste of your time.

  16. DarkDobe says:

    The pressure-plate sequence was, I felt, one of the only sections of the game where there was NO way to avoid a death by studying the scene. It really did come down to a matter of trial and error, as there was no indicator of which section was safe and which was not. Suffice to say the scant few puzzles that took this approach – of more or less forcing a death in order to learn – ended up being my least favourite.
    On the whole, though, I feel Limbo does an excellent job of letting you observe the challenge ahead and react in time to avoid death. Most, if not all of the potential elements that will kill you are always visible from the get-go, though it does throw a few twists in now and again, particularly with the brainworm segments – though most of those can be negated by following a rather standard approach that works on ALL of the puzzles and areas in the game, namely – Explore the area fully before you trigger anything!

    • OptionalJoystick says:

      Dying at the first pressure plate my response was “Hoho, you tricksy bastard. I see what you did there. And I can see what you’re going to do next, too.”
      Of course, knowing what was coming didn’t help – I utterly failed to clear the jumps a huge number of times. I felt the payoff on that particular section was well worth it, though.

    • Zyrxil says:

      But there absolutely was, even if the solution requires you to be somewhat meta-aware of platformer puzzle design in general. If you’re not rushing, you’ll realize that the puzzle, as you can see it, is ridiculous: A big crusher with a button under it, so just jump over the button. But wait, that’s a stupid puzzle. The platforming requires you to do the obvious jumps, but the puzzles require some thought. The too obvious must be wrong- the button is the safe spot.

      Granted I wasn’t 100% sure, but I survived the first crusher. Then, presented with the second crusher, you again take pause and consider- Why 2 identical puzzles one after the other? They simply can’t have the same solution, or else there is no point to having two of them in succession. Then on further examination you will notice they are not absolutely identical; the second button is slightly smaller, and the first puzzle’s button has a depression surrounding it- the actual trigger. Therefore, the solution to the second crusher is the opposite of the first- jump over the button.

  17. bionicsheep says:

    I think that the constant death is a really central part of the game experience and the message the game is trying to convey. It’s all about morbidity, pointlessness and niihilism, and by forcing you to watch these incredibly painful deaths over and over the developer is adding to the overall atmosphere of pessimism and futility the game is creating.

    Unlike most platformers, Limbo is more about the experience of playing and the atmosphere it creates as you experience it than the joy of successfully navigating a puzzle. Sure, that’s still there, but the death is so central to the atmosphere of the game that making it ‘easier’ – or, I guess, ‘fairer’ – would diminish the impact of it.

    I usually agree with Kieron, but man, you are totally wrong about Limbo!

  18. Skusey says:

    While I don’t love it as much as John, I certainly don’t loathe it like Kieron does. It’s beautiful, haunting, disturbing, but not something I’m going to want to play again. And I don’t think that it was designed with the purpose of questioning what the player would do to go from left to right, it’s just trying to be shocking, and it succeeds at that.

    Edit: Also, more of this sort of thing please. It’s great to see two people so fervently disagreeing with each other, even if the arguments within are somewhat thin.

  19. Premium User Badge

    Hanban says:

    Gonna go out on a limbo and say that they kissed and made up after this.

    Didn’t like Limbo, after the few hours it took to complete it, I didn’t feel like I had gotten my money’s worth in terms of enjoyment.

  20. passingstranger says:

    But it’s not always simple trial and error! A lot of the stuff can be solved with some critical thinking before jumping. I feel that should be mentioned.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yeah, I think that’s why I didn’t hate it. There were a number of traps I spotted and avoided.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      I don’t mind getting caught in unavoidable traps – I just loathe having to inch my way back to them again and again; time rewind or instant retry or some mechanic like that to erode the time between attempts is necessary though.

  21. Fedora says:

    Gotta say, I was very surprised by the amount of praise John gave this game. I played it on release and had to force myself to try to finish it (now can’t remember if I did though). I bought it mainly on the aesthetic and I guess I figured there would just be more to it. The aesthetic ended up not working for me – without context, the dead bodies are there to just be dead bodies, etc.. and it’s lost on me. Cool for the sake of cool is something I am not.

    It feels like the designer wasn’t much of a gamer. Since gameplay was the only thing keeping me going, it was hard to finish when I realized the gameplay was shit. Trial and error just is not fun to people like me, there is hardly a sense of accomplishment, no way to see yourself improve over the course of the game, and you feel like you got dicked 90% of the time when you die rather than being a mistake you can learn from. It wasn’t a mistake, your judgment was perfect, you had no way to know the floor was going to fall away.

    I’d have probably appreciated the aesthetic more in high school when I used to wear all black and listen to Marilyn Manson however it really doesn’t add much to the game because there is nothing to flesh this place out.. at all. Cool for being cool.

    In the end, I wanted to enjoy it and was surprised I didn’t. That this game passes for acceptable and even “good” by today’s standards points out to me that I need to re-assess my criticisms against games like this that I feel are a step backwards, because obviously some people whose opinions I respect enjoy it greatly.

  22. Quilty says:

    “It’s fucking shit!”

    “No it’s not.”

    “FUCK SHIT STUPID”

    Quality journalism right there. Maybe you should spare us these exchanges in the future.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Or: we can continue posting whatever the fuck we like!

      Hooray!

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      Maybe you should also try reading the words around the naughty ones too.

      Personally thought this was a great read and want more discussions like this, particular when the opinions are so strong.

    • Chris D says:

      I think this was possibly my favourite thing on RPS this year.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I’m voting for the latter, with my wallet.

      The day RPS becomes a “serious” site is the day I unsubscribe.

    • Marijn says:

      Well, to be fair, John actually did make some good points. It was just disappointing to see Kieron not even trying. We all know he can do better.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hanban says:

      I loved this piece!

    • Chris Livingston says:

      I thought this exchange was great! Not everything has to be high-end journalism. It’s nice to hear people just talking the way people talk.

    • Premium User Badge

      Daiv says:

      RPS: Where the Hive Mind will battle itself to the death for your amusement.

      Real opinions, by real Mans.

    • Chris D says:

      While it was undeniably fun to watch John and Kieron go at it, this article was actually only superficially silly. Just underneath the thin(ish) crust of swearing and bitchiness there were actually a number of interesting design questions thrown around. Is unfairness always bad? What is or should be the relationship between the designer and the player? Objectivity vs Subjectivity in reviewing/playing. Philosophy expressed through mechanics/aesthetics. And most importantly, what is the difference between Gothic and Noir anyway?

  23. Leeks says:

    God, I loved reading this.

  24. Moni says:

    I really wish you would record RPS talk ‘em ups in audio or video form.

  25. Gassalasca says:

    1. You say ‘Rick Dangerous for Goths’ as if it were a bad thing.
    2. “Something can be completely accomplished in what it’s trying to do and still be rejected, because the philosophy the object expresses is vile”
    Wrong. The Birth of a Nation and Triumph des Willens even more so are still watched, enjoyed and praised as owrks of art. Their vile ideology doesn’t come into it. Or if it does it makes them even more interesting, as a marriage of sublime aesthetics and moral corruption can’t help but be fascinating.

    EDIT: Hm, I typed this before any comments appeared; sorry if somebody already said this.

    • Xocrates says:

      “Can” is not the same as “will”. And not all things that accomplish what they’re trying to do are good. I’m pretty sure the transformers movies accomplished what they were trying to do, but they were still terrible movies.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      As Xocrates says, though with the closeness of the Magnum Cum Laude reference, I can see why you may think otherwise.

      KG

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      But they were bad movies because of various technical things they did wrong, and perhaps because they’re intellectually bankrupt (that is, entirely idiotic). Not because we surmise some negative personality trait or philosophy led the creators to make a bad film. That’s just a lazy way to try to discount something we don’t like.

      As critical consumers of media, it is our job to consider the actual message being conveyed (i.e. unconscious sexism, racism), and on the back end, the real world ethics of the creative process (i.e. the OSC and Firefall brouhaha) – not the intent. Intent doesn’t matter. Building some narrative where the creator is or is not a tosser or pretentious because the work makes me feel blahblah is just that – a personal fiction.

      As much as I might hate the Transformers movies, and however tempting it is to accuse the creators of being money-grubbing soulless hacks, I’m not going to argue that’s a good reason to deem the movies bad. If I want to make a serious attempt at attacking those films, I need to talk about the facts of the actual film and what those facts say explicitly or implicitly.

      If you remove all the annoying personal attacks on Limbo’s creator, I think Kieron does raise some good points. And I get that the style of the piece is all about being bombastic and silly. But given the general anti-intellectual bent of the internet these days, I’d really prefer we don’t reinforce the idea that you can attack media (especially of the “big-idea” sort) based on its creator’s imagined pretensions or personality faults.

    • Berzee says:

      {retracted due to lack of transformers knowledge}

    • World One Two says:

      Yes, I’m all for a work of art standing on its own merits, removed from the intent of its creator. I love the rebuttal in the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, when a girl discovers her favourite author hated his books and just wrote them for money. Her response: “who the hell was he? He was just the writer.”

      I sort of don’t give a shit what an artist’s intentions are. Art isn’t a fucking conveyor belt where a product is assembled and gift-wrapped and fed to you. Art is grown, given birth to, and only truly comes alive in that weird space between itself and your own brain reacting to it. As everyone draws on different wells of experience and emotional leaning and whatnot, these spaces are unique to each interpretation.

      John found something in that space, Kieron did not. The discussion between them is illuminating and entertaining, but there’s no winner, neither of them are right and wrong.

    • Xocrates says:

      I have to agree with that the intent of the author is only relevant to this discussion in the sense that a work needs to have fulfilled the author’s goals in order to have have “accomplished what was trying to do”, however that’s not the key here, the key here is the “be rejected, because the philosophy the object expresses is vile” part.

      As such I don’t think the issue here is that John found something and Kieron didn’t, so much as they disagree whether or not it is a good thing.

      To all effects Kieron’s original quote is perfectly accurate, but we need to take in consideration that something will never be fully rejected, since there will always be someone somewhere that approves of it. Kieron can espouse that Limbo is a perfectly good game with a horrible philosophy, and as such reject it. This does not mean that John is wrong in embracing it.

    • World One Two says:

      I think I just find the idea of art accomplishing its aims yet still being vile to be reductive. Of course it’s true, but that’s because the intentions of the creator aren’t really important in how the final piece stands.

      Returning to Transformers, Michael Bay wanted to produce a visual spectacle that would provide a return on investment — which he achieved. But I hate the thing because its characterisation is terrible and its sentiment is clichéd and its subtext of American hegemony and militarisation doesn’t present the complexities of the world in a true light. Who cares what Bay wanted? The point is he made a bag of wank.

      Researching an artist’s aims can enhance your appreciation of their art, but it shouldn’t be necessary. Whether the intentions of Playdead were to fuck with you in Limbo to engender a sense of oppression, or simply to fuck with you because they’re bastards, shouldn’t much matter.

      What matters is how it actually /feels/. To John, apparently it felt majestically oppressive. To Kieron, pointless in its cruelty. Both interpretations are valid.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      This has become a really fascinating sub thread.

      There’s certainly a point where the only thing left to say is “well, the interpretation is subjective”. But I’m not convinced that’s what the argument in the original post was really about. Maybe I just like arguing for the sake of it, however…

      Anyway, I see it as a theoretical dispute; Kieron seems to be saying “this entire part of the developer toolbox (trial and error puzzles which instakill you) is off limits regardless of whether it matches the tone and message of the game. It is simply bad gameplay, fullstop. The mere act of choosing this mode of gameplay indicates that you are this sort of bad person, you horrible man”. I don’t like to put so many words into his mouth – I could easily have it wrong – but that’s how I read it.

      Personally I don’t think anything should ever be taken off the table like that. This mode of gameplay needs to be re-analyzed from the ground up in each new situation, and it needs to be considered if it might just be the best solution for the current game.

      I agree completely with Kieron that it is inherently a difficult type of gameplay to do well and to make work. 99% of the time it’s not the right solution. But he didn’t succeed in convincing me that it wasn’t the right solution in this specific instance, because he didn’t try – he just dismissed it out of hand by comparing it to entirely different games, and essentially saying it didn’t matter if the gameplay suited the tone and atmosphere of the game, because he didn’t like it.

      Maybe this is just a matter of reading way too much into what was supposed to be a silly little conversation. Wouldn’t be the first time I was guilty of such a thing.

    • World One Two says:

      Nah you can’t read too much into a subject, you can just find it interesting for longer than other people. And that’s fine.

      Plus I think this is a fascinating argument. I’ve not played Limbo yet, but I’m certainly ambivalent about the same unfair system used in Another World. Part of me wants to argue its corner, that it’s an effective technique for rendering the hostile environment of the alien planet — that actually it says some profound things about the vulnerability of life, makes you aware how delicate a thread we hang off in every moment, the vast number of circumstances we need to sustain life, and how any one of them could so easily be shattered.

      And then there’s the other part of me, the part that goes, “WHAT YOU TWAT HOW COULD I HAVE KNOWN THAT? ARGH BASTARD,” every time I die.

  26. 20thCB says:

    Interesting debate/argument but it’s clear that your respective animosity and love of the game are founded on different perceptions of what the game’s intended effect is. Admittedly I’m only halfway through the game but I’m really enjoying it so far, and that’s mainly on a visceral level, like a sort of subtle horror where you’re constantly on the run, death stalking you at every turn. A little like the whole “on the road” segment of Half-life 2, one running from the world, only in Limbo, slower-paced. Also, horror films benefit from being able to show you the gruesome yet cathartic ends of other characters – here those deaths are displaced onto the main character.
    One thing I do disagree with is the description of the game as trial-and-error – I mean, it is that, but that kinda sells it short. Death here is of course a shock/scare tactic but there’s no need to think of it as something insulting. As a puzzle game, Limbo tends use death as a means of demonstrating the mechanics of the puzzle. Not that there aren’t “cheap” deaths, but given the speed at which things move in the game, I don’t feel as though the designers expected you to jump off every cliff…

  27. DukeOFprunes says:

    Limbo is a splendid game and you lot are all girly men.

  28. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    This was great, more fights between RPS please!

    I certainly don’t particularly like the trail and error style of gameplay, although I think Limbo just about gets away with it. For example, I swore at the game when it dropped both of the infamous blocks on me, but smirked when it flipped this on it’s head seconds later.

    I also jumped from the first drop and died, as Kieron did. For about an hour after that I was wary of any fall, but have not died from one since. I’m not even sure if you can plummet to your death anywhere else.

    I can’t defend them as John does and, if it wasn’t for the art style, tone and the cleverness of the puzzles, I think the insta-deaths would be more infuriating, but as it is they don’t detract from the game.

    (Edited to make it read a little closer to the English language. )

  29. weizur says:

    I have to agree with Kieron on this one I don’t get this game and it bores me immensely. Why it sold so well on console and probably now on PC I have no idea must be the purity of the aesthetic alone.

  30. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    … what’s wrong with Gothic stuff?

  31. Meneth says:

    John, you’re my favorite but on this I’ll have to agree with Kieron. Sorry.
    After watching TB’s video of Limbo, the game just seems to be a dick for no apparent reason at any opportunity.

  32. godkingemperor says:

    I thought Limbo was insipid garbage. So in love with its turgid and cliche concept, with the gameplay itself playing second fiddle, and languishing in mediocrity. I don’t like how its popularised the method of making up for a lack of good game design with allusion to depth.

    Can’t say it excites me. I feel about this game as I do Mortal Kombat. Posteuring as ‘cool’ so people will ignore the poor job they did.

    • Ravenholme says:

      I think this is what annoys me about the game, the allusions to depth whilst not actually having any.

      It’s an art-astrophe, not a game. And not even particularly good or clever art.

  33. PanzerVaughn says:

    I prefer ‘exploration of mortality’ than “bullshit surprise spikey sodomy”, but realisticly I can’t think of any murder commited against me in Limbo that i would consider ‘unfair’. im still 75% though, but it seems like most of the ‘bullshit deaths’ are behind me now.

    There was points of “Oh, i didnt see that there, Oh, thats going THAT way. or “oh, that seesaw threw me a tiny ammount and ruined my running momentum”. But thats learning and exploring and learning just how i jump and turn and run.

    Im tempted to think the first half of thegame is almost a tutorial, as it just seemed to get alot simpler and straightforward. I had collected my understanding, and now had the tools to tear through puzzles proper.

  34. Deekman says:

    The only issues I had with the game was the length and lack of narrative.

  35. drlemon says:

    Last night i was thinking about what games this could be compared to. The first two that came to mind were Another World and The Adventures of P.B. Winterbottom. Anyone else have a comparison???
    On another note, i really don’t mind trial and error. It’s what most puzzle games are, at there simplest form.

  36. chabuhi says:

    I think if Limbo had been both Trial & Error AND hard then I would have been murderously enraged by it. But, I think it was EASY trial & error. I don’t feel that I had to replay any sections more than a couple of times to get it right. It’s a maze in the dark, so what do you expect?

    There are many other games that were far more infuriating because I simply don’t possess the reflexes of a mongoose on amphetamines.

    • Zarunil says:

      Exactly how I feel about it. I hate replaying the same piece over and over again, but I never had to do it enough in any part of Limbo to hate the game for it.

      Dying in spectacular ways is part of the game. It is trial and error, but nowhere near as much as SMB or Rick Dangerous.

  37. Donjonson says:

    I think I might actually play it again, really enjoyed it the first time around.. good argument guys, good hustle.

  38. outoffeelinsobad says:

    I’m with Kelron, but it’s strange to me that he isn’t the one defending the game’s message.

  39. Marijn says:

    A theme of this year seems to be “playing for the experience” vs. “playing to win”. The second approach doesn’t really work with games like Limbo and, for instance, LA Noire. In both cases, the design failures that really made some folks mad (trial-and-error in Limbo, interrogation in LA Noire), were mitigated and even explained if you let go of your usual gamer’s need to win and just let yourself be carried along by the experience. Both games frustrate our natural gamer’s impulses, explaining both the angry reactions and the elated ones.

  40. Barts says:

    Has anyone thought of Eversion? Also a dark platformer, also effing with player.

  41. The_B says:

    But the real question is, is John Kieron a terrible healer goth?

    (On a more serious note – I’ve still not been convinced to get it yet. I tried the demo on XBox and it never really clicked with me, and I’m still not entirely sure why. I have a feeling some of the arguments mentioned here are to do with it, as I agreed that artistically, it’s a great game. There was just something that didn’t pull me in terms of playing it like say, Super Meat Boy did.)

  42. bateleur says:

    You know what this debate needs? Little clickable buttons so we can vote for who we think won.

    When it gets them, I’m clicking Kieron’s button.

    Oh, and there should be a thing so that if someone clicks John’s button it deletes their RPS account and then forwards their email address to a bunch of spammers. That might seem harsh, but they’ll chuckle gleefully at the elegant malice of it all.

    • Symitri says:

      What it needs is a series of Youtube videos in the style of Old Old Spice Guy vs New Old Spice Fabio Guy with 10 second video replies between them.

    • Marijn says:

      I agree with John, but I have to admit that was an excellent putdown of “our side”.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      It was pretty good, but is wrong in one important way – and actually does a great job of illuminating a key point of this whole debate in its wrongness:

      In deleting our accounts and flooding us with spam, no value is added. There is no content or subject matter that this sadistic action serves, no emotion or aesthetic or atmospheric effect.

      Limbo – and other creative works that use challenging, unfair, abusive, or manipulative techniques to compound and increase their effectiveness – does have content, theme, tone, and atmosphere which are all working together – with the help of the sadistic deaths – to create a unified experience.

    • Josh W says:

      Don’t be absurd, unlike the game, we know there is an explicit message in such an action, because we know it has an agenda. The same cannot be said for the game.

      The emotional effect of such a button would be that of ironic frustration and tragi-comic reflection on the consequences of your principles, questioning the audience’s responce to cruelty, and their willingness to receive it and still come back for more.

      It may not be based on creating an alternative world, but as a “reality game” equivalent, it is probably even more artistically effective; being preceeded by a discussion of unexpected cruelty, and so offering grounds for re-interpretation of common irritations of life. Every piece of spam you accidently click on from then on is not merely an annoyance, but something that is possibly directly related to a choice you made. The real world is overlayed with the same “choose to be messed around with” mental stance that people do when knowingly purchasing the game. It is open ended, free, audience specific, and explicitly shows an awareness of the traditions it is embedded in.

      In other words that post, if implemented, is just as artistic, if not far more so, than the game.

      It’s also pretty funny!

  43. Swabbleflange says:

    Aside from the fact that I hate trial-and-error deaths, my main problem with Limbo is that it sabotages its own carefully designed atmosphere by its continual instant-death gameplay. All the evocative, spooky silhouette visuals and subtle sound design flies out the window when I’m brought crashing back to reality by constant retries.

    I finished the game out of sheer bloody-mindedness and never revisited it.

  44. wiper says:

    As I like both Rick Dangerous and goths, I’m happy to say that I agree with both of you.

  45. Gothnak says:

    I hate platform games, i hate pixel perfect jumps, i hate death and then restarting the level…

    Then Braid and Limbo came out, and i learned to love…. Then i realised they were the exception and i hated all other platform games again.

  46. Squire says:

    I’m with Kieron, if I had to pull that rope down past the two circular saws one more time than I did then I would’ve had a rectal prolapse.

    Could’ve just been wind though.

  47. Symitri says:

    I’m with Kieron on this. I don’t hate it in with quite as much vitriolic rage, but I do feel there’s a huge divide between something being cruel and something being difficult which Limbo just doesn’t hit right.

    I’ve seen my character die in all sorts of manners over the past day as I play it on and off and I always end up feeling slightly depressed for it, because for most of the puzzles I have no choice but to accept I’m going to die a couple of times. And this, as a mechanic, is fine. That is, it’s fine when you can use what you’ve learned for a while as a frame of reference on how to approach the next series of puzzles but Limbo tends to use a mechanic then throw it away immediately after, leaving you to figure out what the next gimmick is after dying. Again. To something completely different.

    It did have that poignant moment where I watched a guy swim at me and drown, letting me jump off his floating corpse to forge ahead. It left me wondering how much more poignant the game would have been if the corpses of your failed attempts were left littered around the landscape in a Demon Soul-type fashion and usable as platforms. Heck I would pay to play a game where I could commit suicide 50 times just to build a pyramid of corpses to cheese an irritating platformer bit that’s just a bit too finicky. Who wouldn’t?

  48. Chris Livingston says:

    I enjoyed it. I think it was a little heavy on the trial-and-death, because the few times where I made it through an entire screen without dying the first time was immensely satisfying, and it could have used more of that (or maybe I just was too careless). Still, since they made dying so brutal and gory and visually interesting, I found I didn’t really mind it so much. All in all, I found it a really engrossing experience.

    A little disappointed with the end: I thought the best parts of the game were where you were being chased by giant spiders, and the final puzzle just being another in a long series of puzzles felt a little “Oh, I guess I’m done now. Okay, then.” I think a chase by a horrifying monster would have been a better thing to go out on.

  49. The V Man says:

    I’ll out myself right away and say that I’m siding with John on this one.

    I don’t think at any point is this game a joke on the player. Take the section with the two pistons – my first go through I avoided the button-looking thing as I figured it would lead to smashy-death. On the second one I did the solution to the first piston and died. Did I take this personally? Hell no, it was semi-hilarious. Now take that distraction (the comedy of death) and mix in the little chase that comes after and you’re hard put to remember which one was solved which way. Your reward: Smashy-death to your enemies. How is that not fun?

  50. airtekh says:

    I agree with Kieron to an extent. It felt a lot of time that the game goes out of its way to kill you in the most unavoidable fashion.

    I do think the game is worth playing purely for the atmosphere though. The art and sound design are just phenomenal.