Why do the pretty ones always hurt so much?

Dynamite Headdy. Cave Story. Hitogata Happa. Why are so many of the most difficult video games also the cutest? Maybe my brain just automatically forgets games that are both ugly and frustrating. Added to the “cute but evil” list comes Within a Deep Forest, a completely free game that casts you as a little blue ball, bouncing around a delightfully whimsical little world filled with the most frustrating jumping puzzles known to man. According to the plot, the evil Dr. Cliché has attempted twice to build a world-freezing ice-bomb; the first attempt was a total failure, and resulted in a sentient, bouncing blue ball (that’s you). The second attempt succeeded, and now the clock is ticking, and only you can save the world. Even though “the clock is ticking” according to the plot, there is no time limit, so you have plenty of time to take breaks now and then to watch the adorable creatures and Fraggle-like people who decorate most screens, going about their daily lives more or less oblivious to your presence.

Surprisingly, the game was created with Multimedia Fusion, but shows no signs of it, and has none of the problems that usually plague games made with game creators. The graphics are equally adorable and beautiful, the soothing music goes a long way toward keeping you from destroying all humans when you die for the 900th time, and the sound effects are perfect, with each of the 10 different types of balls you can become making a different and wholly appropriate bouncing sound. There’s exploration, there are power-ups (in the form of getting different types of balls), there are plenty of secrets; I’d even be tempted to call it “Metroid-like”, although there is no mapping feature and there are no bosses. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly frustrating. The cuteness goes a long way toward compensating for the frustration, however, and in the end it just barely won out enough to encourage me to complete it; despite the cuteness, this is certainly not a “casual game”. If you’re “hardcore”, though, and live for frustration, then this is definitely the game for you, and it even has a “Speed Run” feature with an online scoreboard so you can show the world just how absolutely superhuman you are.

Thanks to the insert credit forums for the tip!

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Time to get your competiti… on?

I have a half-finished article about ways in which I think the video game industry could benefit from being more like the movie industry, which I’ll post when it’s finished. In the mean time, the item at the top of the list is “lots of little game festivals”, similar to all the tiny college film festivals that exist all over the world. A steady trickle of tiny cash prizes from various tiny festivals for his short film Bed Head bought Robert Rodriguez many a dinner while he was working on El Mariachi.

To that end, here’s a short list of game programming competitions and festivals that I’m currently aware of. I’m going to try to put together one of these lists every month of all the game competitions and festivals currently going on. If you know of something that’s not in this list, please tell me about it in the comments.

  • After the success of their “Horizontal Shooter With Boss” competition, Shmup-Dev has announced their second competition, which is dragon-themed, and ends on July 1st, 2006.
  • The Slamdance Guerilla Gamemaker Competition ends September 30th, 2006. It has a $25k maximum budget limit on games, and a $45 entry fee. There doesn’t appear to be any starting-time limit, so you can polish off older projects that are gathering dust and submit those. This is the closest thing to the “many little game festivals” ideal I’m aiming for.
  • Armor Games has just started their 4th Flash Game Contest, which also ends September 31st. As one would suspect from the title, it’s limited to Flash games. Scoring in the competition is based on how well the game does on New Grounds. They have some very impressive prizes, and bonuses for using Stick Figures and for 4th of July themed games.
  • Funny Junk is also running a Flash Game Competition, which ends May 20th. They allow 5 submissions per person, and the submissions do not have to be new material. The first prize is an iPod Nano, and the second and third prizes are iPod Shuffles.