Gateway to Idiocy

Sometimes, a game looks fun at first. Then you play the game and you ascribe any lack of fun to your lack of skill. Then you realise that to continue to play will simply mean a frustration of biblical proportions.

Such a game, is Gate 88.

For those of you who know me, I don't get angry easily. I'm also a glutton for punishment, as evidenced by the time I played Alex in some uncountable number of Super Smash Bros games (n64 version) just to get one victory. However, for the first time in my life, today I lost patience with a game within an hour.

Such a game, is Gate 88.

To summarize the game, you have a space ship. Your ship builds a command post and various other buildings. These buildings give resources, grant research, and do other miscellaneous things. Some make fighters, others are turrents that shoot missiles, bullets, and push things away. The game is retro-like, and definately goes for that kind of feel in the music and whatnot.

However, the game suffers from so many problems I can't even begin to describe how not fun it is. I'll try anyway.

Firstly, there really isn't a limit on resources. Because of what normally would be a nifty design quirk wherein you get resources from destroying the enemy's ships and buildings, they are never in short supply once the game is going. Even if fighting was minimal, you can just build up to a certain number of resource producing buildings and everything is fine. There is a cap on how much resource one can have, but it barely matters since everything is cheap.

Secondly, there isn't build time. Maybe I'm used to Blizzardesque RTS games, but it would have helped this game a lot. Because buildings are built instantly, many problems ensue. It becomes suprisingly easy to destroy even a well defended enemy base with what can even be shoddy turret placement and a few pot shots.

Thirdly, dying sucks, big time. When you die you can respawn and replace your command post. At first, this seems nice. The problem is that there is nothing preventing the person who just wiped you out from just crushing you again, and again, and again. While they're crushing you and you desperately try to respawn, they can be researching all sorts of nifty upgrades.

In the end it becomes a lesson in futility. You can't research without the buildings, but you can't build because you haven't be able to research anything that would help you against the person who has been free to research whatever they want. You can try a myriad of things, even their own tricks against them, but even if it works, they can respawn and having already gained the advantage use it to great effect.

As an example, my brother and I both teamed up against one player who was killing us both. After dying a dozen times apiece we killed him once, and then proceded to be crushed a dozen times more before we got fed up with it.

After analysis, I came to this conclusion about why this game that was terrible got on my nerves in a way other terrible games didn't. Built-in unfairness bites. If a game doesn't force fair play, there won't be fair play (at least over the internet). Without fair play the victor feels empty and the loser feels crushed and hopeless. I had a game where I continually crushed a guy. It was so easy I really felt uninvolved and unsatisfied. Later, when I was crushed, I was simply frustrated and angry.

I have no problem with being out fought by someone. If someone is a better player than I, they have every right to win. What I dislike is when, having been beaten in an instance, the next instance is weighted towards the favor of the person who one the last instance. It's like if in Deep Blue's historic battles with Kasparov, for every time a player won they could choose to remove a piece of the opponent's at the start of the next game. By game seven someone would probably not want to bother playing without a queen, two rooks, and two bishops.

What makes games like Halo 2, Soul Caliber 2 and StarCraft fun is that after each instance of battle ends, the new one can start relatively fresh. When I die in Halo 2, I spawn with two grenades and a sub-machine gun. While my opponent who killed me still has a rocket launcher, it is not even unlikely that I could kill him with just what I spawn with. While not entirely level, the playing field is close enough that a person who died does not have a huge disadvantage. In fighting games each successive round renews both players fully. The fun comes from an even competition wherein the loser does not lessen his chances of later victory through defeat.

Gate 88 is not such a game.

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