Wot I Think: DLC Quest

By John Walker on March 20th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

DLC Quest has escaped the murky mire of Greenlight, to be on Steam proper. How does this satirical platformer fare, in the bold cruel world? I’ve played through, spent all my imaginary money, and can tell you wot I think:

DLC Quest doesn’t quite work. Because it isn’t the thing it sets out to satirise. What it is, is an amusing – often laugh-out-loud funny – short platform game (two, in fact), that takes cynical swipes at the nature of modern gaming. Your character at the start can only move to the right, until you unlock the Movement DLC allowing moving left and jumping. All the necessary abilities to continue on are unlocked in the same way – collecting in-game coins, then buying the new “DLC” from a shopkeeper character, in order to progress.

It’s presented very well. Cute graphics, lovely jokes with animations only unlocked once you’ve “paid” for them, the completely superfluous addition of zombies, and many other appropriate, witty snarks at the rather odd state of microtransactions and DLC that have infested gaming, as publishers seek every avenue of “monetisation”.

But it isn’t it. DLC Quest, seemingly by an accident of its commentary, has employed a perfectly valid mechanic for a platform game. Gathering coins to unlock abilities, with each new skill allowing entry to previously inaccessible areas and thus the collection of more coins, is a sort of Metroidvania device that proves a rather decent way to play such a game. Of course at the start you’re without animations, music, even a pause button, and the wit of this is directly appreciable. But you’re also without double-jump, weapons and maps, that are perfectly valid additions to an exploratory platform game, sensibly unlocked through play. It’s definitely arch and critical in its deployment of them, sarcastic remarks read on signs, or uttered by other characters stood in the world, but it always feels like a commentary on a system with which you’re not currently engaged.

I think DLC Quest could have been a really interesting statement, rather than a quite fun game in its own right, had it only committed to the idea it was spoofing. The game costs money. Albeit a very tiny amount – £2 at full price for both DLC Quest and the even better Live Freemium Or Die. I wish it could have been a free game, with each of its in-game purchases requiring a genuine transaction of money, totally the £2 asking price by the time you’re finished. To have to genuinely fork out the 20p, to go through the process of entering payment details to gain those necessary skills, would raise this to the satire it seems to want to be.

Perhaps that’s impractical – tiny transfers of money can often cost more to process than they’re worth. But unfortunately the result is a system that completely fails to make its point. Spending coins gathered in the game on in-game items – that’s gaming! That’s a good thing.

It’s worth noting that the brand new Live Freemium Or Die campaign is even better than the first, far more aggressively sniping at unpleasant tropes in modern gaming, while offering some really very decent platforming. It’s trickier too, and in being so, again creates that same situation again of a rather good game, reliant on coin collecting mechanics that in no way act as a critique. Still though, key words here are “really very decent”.

For £2 (and £1.60 right now) there’s no good reason not to grab the game. It’s a well-made platformer, albeit a brief one even with the new levels. And there are some proper chuckles inside, none of which I’ll pointlessly spoil. It makes some grumbling commentary with which everyone will likely find some catharsis, while entertaining with enough hidden areas, bonuses to seek, achievements (“awardments”) to hunt down, to wile away a good couple of hours. It’s a touch heavy-handed in places, the opening few minutes writing its jokes on pianos then dropping them on your head. But it certainly falls short of its ultimate aim, and I so dearly wish it could somehow have required genuine financial transfers throughout. At that point, it would be a genuine satire, rather than a pleasing spoof.

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60 Comments »

  1. grundus says:

    I’ve had this for ages thanks to what I think was a Bundle in a Box, er, bundle. Only just got round to getting Desura working which reminded me of it, then a day later it’s released on Steam. I think that’s as good a sign as any to finally try it out… Then John here gave it the nod as well, so I’m just off to give it a go.

    Edit: Just found the first (I think) collectable DLC pack. I like this game!

  2. napoleon_in_rags says:

    Looks fun. Is there a way to get it other than Steam? I don’t shop there anymore, on principle.

  3. Rikard Peterson says:

    I’d have thought that being a good game would be a good thing, and I’ll rather play that than an interesting statement. If you’re making fun of something, the thing you’ve made should be at least as much fun as the thing you’re making fun of, and be a good thing in itself. Making something intentionally broken is a bit pointless.

    Edit: That was not particularly well phrased. I have you get my point anyway.

    • malkav11 says:

      Honestly, I’d been avoiding the game because I didn’t want to play another Achievement Unlocked style “oh no look at how bad these modern gaming trends are” quasi-game that really had nothing to offer besides exaggerated spoofing of stuff that doesn’t particularly bother me. The idea that it’s actually a pretty decent Metroidvania-esque platformer makes it much more appealing.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        I reviewed this a while ago and found it to be “a celebration of classic gaming rather than a bitter poke in the eye at more modern gaming”

      • Baf says:

        Honestly, I think you’re underrating Achievement Unlocked. Once you get past the limited comedic value of its lengthy achievement list and trivially-obtained starting achievements, AU becomes a riddle game, where the riddles are unexplained achievement names and the answers are unlikely platforming activities. And maybe that’s not your cup of tea, but some of us like that sort of thing. It’s the prototypical “satirical, but actually enjoyable anyway” game.

    • Ayslia says:

      I don’t think that’s Mr Walker’s point though. He doesn’t want something “intentionally broken”; he wants a game that states its point more effectively while still maintaining its entertainment value, and he offers a suggestion for doing so, through actually paying for the game in bits and pieces.

      • Droopy The Dog says:

        He’s not wrong saying the charges on smaller transactions pretty much cripple that idea though. They’d pretty much have to pay their bank so you can pay to play their game, at which point they should probably be making a banking satire.

        Best bodge I’ve got it make the game technically f2p, but have to unlock everything other than the menu with an imaginary currency and sell it in packs a-la MS points, each pack being just big enough to unlock all the bits.

  4. Xocrates says:

    I find the argument that the satire doesn’t work because you’re not actually paying real life money for the “DLC” disingenuous. Satire doesn’t have to BE what it is satirizing, and even less so if the target is generally perceived as unpleasant.

    To do so is essentially to do “art for art’s sake”, which while certainly a valid approach, does not necessarily improve the quality or effect of the product.

    There are many other valid arguments on why the DLC mechanics don’t quite work, and based on the article (haven’t played the game yet) the reason why it doesn’t work isn’t because you’re not paying real money, but because it works too well as a game mechanic. What’s lacking doesn’t appear to be the monetary component, but the inconvenience component.

    • Triplanetary says:

      Satire doesn’t have to BE what it is satirizing

      No, but it helps. The classic example, “A Modest Proposal,” is a classic precisely because it took the exact form and shape of the kinds of arguments it was satirizing. Or the movie Galaxy Quest – not just a spoof of sci-fi movies, but essentially a solid sci-fi movie in its own right. The “science” side may be patently ridiculous, but then, Doctor Crusher once had sex with a ghost.

      • tormos says:

        Interesting fact, satire fans! (I actually just read this myself) A Modest Proposal was directed at social engineering, not (as I was taught) Utilitarianism. Evidence for this? it was actually written over a decade before Bentham began to publish! I found this interesting and moderately relevant (although somewhat challenging to relate to gaming)

        • drewdupe says:

          Hey, that’s interesting! I was taught the same way as you, and I never really took the time to question it.

        • Quickpull says:

          That’s interesting. Are you both in the UK? We discussed ‘A Modest Proposal’ in a college English class here in the US and it was pretty plainly discussed as criticism of the English upper class and how they oppressed the lower classes, the Irish in particular.

          It wouldn’t surprise me to learn the misconception comes from a bit of revisionist history and cognitive dissonance. There are lots of examples here in the US too, especially ones revolving around slavery.

      • Tssha says:

        Not a ghost, an “anaphasic lifeform”. ;) ;)

  5. emertonom says:

    Reminds me a great deal of “upgrade complete,” which is pretty amusing, though quite brief.

  6. NoTanFightFan says:

    This is a game that would go well with Steam Workshop, allowing players to create there own quests and stories. Hopefully the devs. consider it at some point.

  7. zeekthegeek says:

    Honestly I found it too short and too shallow a statement to care about when I got it in a bundle.

  8. Nick says:

    “I wish it could have been a free game, with each of its in-game purchases requiring a genuine transaction of money, totally the £2 asking price by the time you’re finished. To have to genuinely fork out the 20p, to go through the process of entering payment details to gain those necessary skills, would raise this to the satire it seems to want to be.”

    What an utterly terrible idea.

    • Kirjava says:

      Precisely- if something is so “satirical” you don’t even engage with it (as sounds like would be the case for me if Mr. Walker’s idea were implemented) then what, honestly, is the point? I would be too busy being annoyed at the intended annoyance to notice the satire. “Hey, your game makes incisive and satirical points on the nature of modern gaming! Congratulations, but I didn’t get to see most of it because I was too pissed off by how accurately your product mimics the nature of modern gaming!”

      • motoki says:

        Agreed. There’s a fine line between making fun of something annoying and being annoying. Obviously, everyone got the point they were trying to make. To take that to the literal, anal level that the author of this article suggests would not only not be financially feasible (as the author himself admits yet continues to make that argument anyhow) it would annoy people resulting in less people playing.

        The point of satire is to get your message across, which this game does. The point isn’t to piss people off at your satire, it’s to make see the ridiculousness of thing you are satirizing.

  9. Freud says:

    I don’t think the joke is good enough to charge money for. I think it makes whatever point the creator is trying to make less poignant, since this game provides less bangs per buck than many DLCs.

    • HappyJellyfish says:

      Basically some guy decided to make a simple sprite ‘game’ over a weekend, attacking an easy target(the absurdity of todays DLC), packaged it all up and decided to hock it for $2 everywhere he can. This should of been a 2 minute video or even just freeware.

      This sort of rubbish just hurts indies.

  10. junsumoney says:

    DLC Quest is a decent game on its own, but its comedy is mainly expressed through the words rather than the gameplay. You’ll talk with the NPCs and read signs and they’re lampshading the whole game and lampshading their own lampshading. They’ll poke fun at video game culture and trends. But other than that, all you’re doing is platforming and collecting gold coins and backtracking to progress. As a parody, it ultimately fails.

    • Liudeius says:

      As much as I have no problem paying the tiny amount they are asking, I have to admit that it’s no better than your average free flash game.
      But 99% of the iPhone app store is no better than the average flash game so…

      • junsumoney says:

        Yeah, pretty much. It’s basically a glorified flash game. I don’t think it’s worth the purchase since you’ll forget about it after you play it.

  11. Liudeius says:

    Drat,
    Now I have to buy DLC for my DLC satire.
    Although I can’t say I’m complaining. I think I’ll wait and hope to get Live Freemium or Die in a bundle like I did with DLC Quest.

  12. BisonHero says:

    That sounds like Little Inferno, except it sounds like DLC Quest breaks the 4th wall a lot more directly. I suppose Little Inferno was taking a shot at mobile games and Facebook games in particular, whereas DLC Quest is going after microtransactions and DLC.

  13. Mbaya says:

    It’s a game I’ve wanted to get my hands on since I saw in on XBLIG (that is a thing, right?), seems like some good light hearted fun.

    It’s also interesting to look at the game (and gaming in general), and ask just what is okay to hide behind unlocks? Ignoring Paid DLC entirely, we already unlock the likes of levels, classes, weapons and skills in many games as we play.

    Some games go as far as to ‘keep’ content locked for some people (such as certain raids on World of Warcraft or larger difficulty spikes), and that’s a shame.

  14. IshtarGate says:

    I found it a pretty boring game that missed its mark by not having actual DLC. It does a better job of satirising the grinding part actually, because you do nothing in this game but obsessively hunt coins, especially since you generally need every coin you can find to buy the DLC packs. I don’t know if it’s intended, but the game seems entirely oblivious of how boring it is, and that imo, makes a stronger statement on modern games than whatever DLC spool it has got going on.

  15. crinkles esq. says:

    But it certainly falls short of its ultimate aim, and I so dearly wish it could somehow have required genuine financial transfers throughout.

    Really? Who would actually pay real money to unlock the punchline? Maybe you’re floating in a love-orb of money, but I think I’m quite alright with just the concept of paying money. I don’t need to actually become poor to get the joke.

    • John Walker says:

      Um. The game costs money to buy. As the text says, my idea is to break down that payment over the course of the game.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        It would drive home the point if it did if in the way of “you paid £2, 20p of that went to the zombie DLC”. But it actually looses the point if they charge for the DLC (even if just a penny). Why?

        You enjoyed the game. You enjoyed it because it was Metroid like in it’s collection of items and progress. Now, what if you changed both this game and Metroid to require paid for DLC (at full price, because we know the industry don’t work that way. But even F2P Metroid would be applicable here).

        Is the game as fun? Is the game as engaging and captivation as an experience and play? If paid for DLC reduces the experience, does it reduce the value? If it reduces the value, does it mean your paying to get less?

        I don’t think we could play Metroid set up as a DLC game. If this game was paid for DLC, would people play it less, and miss the point of the criticism the game brings forward? By removing the cost of the DLC, and using in game points, does it not show that it is better to not include “real” DLC?

  16. basilisk says:

    I think there’s a much simpler reason why this really can’t work as satire – I have yet to see a game that would put core mechanics in a DLC. There are your “expansion” DLCs and “fluff” DLCs, but I honestly haven’t seen any “make the game actually work” DLCs.

    The idea is good enough for a chuckle (I think I’ve played some short freeware version of this some time ago), but doesn’t work at all the minute you start thinking about it a bit more.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Do the extra skimpy bikinis not count as “core gameplay mechanics” in DoA Beach Volleyball 2?

    • ColdDeath says:

      How about the “True Ending” DLC for Azura’s Wrath, i’d say that’s pretty bad and kinda close to being a core part of a game

    • TechnicalBen says:

      There are some extra items, weapons and vehicles that can be considered “core” in a lot of games now.
      Or “special edition with extra levels/endings” that come out only for 1 console or 1 DLC pack (Batman?).
      “Core”, only in F2P games, but that’s only to try and keep the illusions up. You don’t make it obvious your selling a lemon when in the car showroom, right?

      • basilisk says:

        I really wouldn’t call “items, weapons or vehicles” core elements when most of the time, it’s just something that’s in the game already, except with a different model and slightly different numbers under the hood. The game still essentially plays the same. The same applies to extra levels – it’s just quantitatively more of qualitatively the same experience.

        The point is that in DLC Quest, you can’t move your character left until you pay up, which is something that makes a pretty massive difference in gameplay. I’ll agree this does have some parallels in the F2P world (wasn’t the Star Wars MMO thing “pay to sprint”?), but doesn’t really have much in common with the way DLC is used.

    • chackosan says:

      Isn’t exaggeration one of satire’s main tools? I mean, people weren’t actually eating babies when Swift wrote that letter.

      • basilisk says:

        Yeah, but my point is that this is exaggerating a trend that doesn’t even exist. It’s the slippery slope fallacy, all grown up and turned into a game.

  17. drewdupe says:

    Reminds me of upgrade complete, a fun little flash game I found some time ago. That was a really fun game to me so I guess I’ll check this out.

    Also, if anyone is interested: http://www.kongregate.com/games/armorgames/upgrade-complete

  18. SuicideKing says:

    I want the Psychological WARFACE Pack. Yes, i really do.

  19. Flavioli says:

    The proposition of breaking down the actual cost into microtransaction costs sounds very interesting but I see one overlying issue with it.

    Say they did what you suggested… the two outcomes, as I see it, could be

    1) players happily and gleefully part with the microtransaction money to unlock stuff to keep going with the game… since they are enjoying themselves with the game, they will actually enjoy paying for those microtransactions, which is probably not what the creator intended. Since it’s all paid for anyways (as in, they are expected to total 2 dollars in microtransactions by the end of the experience) it won’t convey much of a message, unless…

    b) players get annoyed at the clunkyness of the microtransaction part… it might seem to be passing the right message about the effects of microtransactions… but I think it will instead just make the game clunky based on design; since the microtransactions here are an inherent part of the game’s design, rather than an attempt at an actual cash-grab, the player will probably just get irritated at the design choice, whereas I feel that the main problem people have with microtransaction models has to do with the feeling of being ripped off by uncaring game companies that sacrifice customer loyalty in order to make a cash-grab. So, as a result, the creator would end up making a bad design choice that doesn’t really convey the message that he is trying to say, since the consumer will not actually feel ripped off by any of this.

    I think the message this guy is trying to deliver is difficult on a game like this because making a compelling point about how annoying microtransactions can be would involve making game decisions that cause the game to be crappy for reasons that the game developer probably wants to avoid in the first place, such as an actual cashgrab. So the game will either legitimately piss people off by enforcing the kind of thing they hate (bad) or it will fail to piss people off by not making a very compelling point at all (also bad). Or something.

  20. RevEng says:

    I played this back when it was only on XBLA and I laughed my ass off. Sure, it’s not quite satire as John points out, but that’s being pedantic. It’s a great spoof of the silliness of DLC, unlockables, fetch quests, and all the other ridiculous things that games do to us. It was short, but sweet, and I laughed at every joke and every quirk. And unlike, say, Little Inferno, I didn’t feel betrayed and cheated by it. If I actually had to perform financial transactions, I think this would lose a lot of its charm; instead, collecting coins so I can use them to “buy” essential parts of the game is witty and enjoyable.

    Seriously, buy it. It’s totally worth it.

  21. Luaan says:

    It could have been a meta-meta game, where you’d have to make money in the “realer” world to fund your playtime in the DLC Quest in-game. Like there could be a fast food mini-game, where you’d have to make burgers to pay for your DLC cravings or something.
    I mean, it would help to bring the satire home, it would not make it a better game game of course.

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