Indie-cent Exposure #6: A-QWOP-bop-a-loo-bop…

December 5, 2010

…a-lop-bop-bop TUTTI FRUTTI! I can only speculate as to how Little Richard would have changed the hook to his signature tune had he been born in 1990 and read about horrible running sim QWOP in the sixth instalment of Indie-cent Exposure in the last days of 2010. I am sure, however, that these would have been the first two paragraphs of the post he read, appearing as they do, at the beginning:-

I’m not very good at running. I’m one of those weird, lengthy, limb-flailing types, lethal over short distances but a danger only to myself once the lactic acid kicks in. Reason being, I don’t do it much day-to-day as I’m not often chased, and I’m not one of those people who can run to keep fit and find it satisfying enough to make the necessary sweaty slog feel worthwhile.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no depth to running’s appeal; there’s technique to master, I guess, but not to any particular end, like there is in badminton or foot-to-ball. There’s no system to properly engage with, not enough elements at play to create interesting or fun situations. Not enough game, in short, to distract me from the fact I’m getting fit and my calves are melting.

It’s why you won’t find any dedicated running sims, even in a world that considers UK Truck Simulator marketable.* And rather pathetically, for some reason the official line on making track running fun – and demonstrated in every one of those baffling licensed Olympics games, ever – has always involved hitting the left and right keys in quick succession to go fast as the central mechanic. Yeah.

Not QWOP, though. Imagine Beijing 2008 as ABBA, and QWOP is its reactionary punk would-be-executioner. Only, rather than being Johnny Rotten, QWOP is the punk who takes it so far in the opposite direction that they can’t even function properly; QWOP barely plays at all, and ends up dead on its back. Everybody knows that, technically speaking, QWOP’s a load of shit, but they still can’t stop watching.

QWOP is Sid Vicious. You can play it here.

Made by an Oxford University research fellow and deputy director of a Programme on Ethics of the New Biosciences, would you believe. “QWOP is a game where you do not have superpowers,” he writes. “You do not get to live out your fantasy, but instead you need to regain something many of us take for granted: the ability to walk”. I’m not sure what the message to take away is, exactly, but he’s right to imply that the mechanics are terrible, over-egged bollocks. Bollocks enough to inspire this hilarious comic, and this brilliant faux-instructional video. Bollocks enough that you’ll tell people about it, and probably play it again tomorrow.

So this is all good; we’re having fun with a bad game. But this is where the unique genius of independent development wades in. A team at DePaul University**recently released a game with a similar focus to QWOP’s. That is, having to work really hard to master physical tasks most human beings can perform subconsciously. Whether they played QWOP or not I don’t know; what’s clear is that a few talented individuals with leftfield sensibilities saw the potential to tie a frankly terrible mechanic to a brilliant concept that would make sense of the whole thing. With no money men around to stare at them blankly until they calmed the hell down, they made Octodad.

Octodad is, as you can see, very funny. The potential for hilarity is even greater than that of QWOP, as it pits you against vases and steps and all of the tiny, problem-solving scenarios that make up fatherhood. So many more variables; so many inventive ways to fuck up. Better still, it loops its tentacles around your long-term interest through its ability to make the struggle to retain normality compelling. Octodad’s eloquent diary entry at the beginning of the day reads as follows:-

…My cephalopod nature remains secret as long as I act in a properly human fashion. My darling Scarlet, and my children, this charade is soon to end. I will prepare a DECOY and abscond to my BASEMENT sanctuary. My MYSTERIOUS WORK must be complete tonight.

All the man wants is what he already has, and the means to keep it!

Of course, attempting to apply my usual po-faced thematic analysis to this silliest of all concepts will only make you laugh all the harder, but it’s important. The classic family man hero is Octodad’s warm, gooey centre, and the driver that punts the game way beyond amusing tech demo territory.

It also makes the incredible gulf between QWOP and Octodad an effective counter to all those who have recently argued so hard for the importance of strong mechanics that they’ve dismissed all context as fluff and nonsense. But that’s an argument for another time, and you’ve the difficulties of tentacled fatherhood to attend to. Octodad is available for free, right here.

That concludes the inkiest version of Indie-cent Exposure yet! Return next week for more, and keep your evil eye on BeefJack for my upcoming exposѐ on how FIFA 2010 dealt with my rampant ego. Cheers!

*I’m talking track-style uninhibited running here, not Mirror’s Edge, which is a game about obstacles.

**Brilliant, the links to higher education institutions in both of these projects. It almost feels like there’s international, competing research into bad gameplay ideas going on.

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2 Responses to “Indie-cent Exposure #6: A-QWOP-bop-a-loo-bop…”

  1. Berzee said

    This is the funniest thing I have ever read about Little Richard.

  2. I can’t run the length of myself!

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