You Have To Burn The Rope

You Have To Encourage Your Friends To Subscribe To Play This Thing


There are apparently a lot of people who play this game and have difficulty figuring out what the fuck you're supposed to do. That factoid is the pearl of this game, and an indictment of the way the games industry has trained its population of players. It also says something about the algorithm of human stupidity. This is a game that is fun because of how you relate to it, relative to how other people relate to it.

Basically, the same skills this game tests are what our public schools try to cram down your throat, and yet don't succeed nearly as well as a five minute Flash. Just take in information, pay attention, and then use that information to determine a solution. It's a pretty fundamental process, you could call it the scientific method, or synthesis, or in some contexts, common sense. It's also on of the fundamental ways that games engage people cognitively, such as the way people observe why Tetris blocks disappear and then fold accordingly, or the way people observe crime and pollution and housing prices in SimCity, and try out a new zoning pattern. You found the grappli... I mean You Have To Burn The Rope takes this process and flays it out for you, cured and dried, like a nice piece of jerky wrapped in fresh leather.

The ending song has drawn plenty of comparison to Portal. What's interesting about that comparison is the ways this game isn't like Portal, namely all of them. What they have in common is a purification of this cognitive cycle of synthesis and adaptation. Portal builds off the complexity of its components after gently introducing you to them one at a time, and sure, GLaDOS might compare to the instructive text here, but then again so would Shodan, or that really obtuse narrator from Ultima IX. YHtBTR is the inverse of Portal, a veritable enema of complexity, and yet, there in the remnant is: Mini-Me.

Am I getting through clearly? You have to burn the rope.


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Astoundingly, this game has inspired a remake.

As IF.

I'm not exactly recommending it, mind you.

Emily Short

You Have to Burn the Bridge

This game made me uncomfortable. I mean, it's basically an insult, right? The author was annoyed about "hand-holding" in games and does a sort of reductio ad absurdum..."Okay, you wanted an easy game, so you get to play this pointless game; then it will taunt you both for playing a pointless game and for expecting more than five minutes' diversion out of such an easy game." And given that I feel as though it's better to err on the side of caution in giving more information to the user, it almost feels like a personal attack.

meh, I had more fun trying

meh, I had more fun trying to find a way to dodge fireballs and damage the boss with the axes then following the instructions. But neither of these were challenging nor rewarding.

Your weapons

Hm. It was only on the second playthrough that I saw the line about how your weapons won't hurt the boss and wondered "What weapons?" I hadn't pressed the down key at all up to that point, but found it easily once I was specifically looking for a weapon key.

No te procupe

I'm pretty sure the author had no malicious intent here. Please don't be offended.

I found it pretty harmless, myself

I don't know why, but I found it more friendly and funny than that. It was like the author was saying, "okay, let's pretend you're playing this game that's insanely unfair because you have these weapons that don't hurt the boss monster, and you haven't gotten clues about this obscure back way to harm him; now, supposing that, wouldn't your play experience actually be a lot MORE fun if someone just told you what to do?"

Then again, I didn't spend a whole five minutes on it. Two, maybe.

Something has to be pretty awful for it to feel like a waste of my two minutes.

But I was amused.

Emily Short

Games Criticism

I'm a little concerned that this is where "games criticism" is going to take us: the elevation of one-note jokes like "You Have to Burn the Rope" or thought experiments like "Passage" above actual games like "Portal."

Because good poems with a

Because good poems with a few lines are going to kill good full-length novels.

A perfect parody of how good

A perfect parody of how good "gamedesign" seems to be misinterpreted as "marketing towards a maximum demographic (dull people)" by so many developers.

Read this article about Ted Levine recommending "stupid stories" to aspiring game developers.

And I really used to respect that guy.

The same can be said about actual gameplay. If it can't be explained with pressing one of 3 buttons features are simply cut from the game with no replacement. Good from the marketing point of view, but also very, very lazy - and dull.

If you like that, you'll

If you like that, you'll love this:

teh greatest RPG ev4r!!!111!

There are several things going on here

...which deserve to be considered separately.

One is the least common denominator effect -- trying to come up with something that will appeal equally to people with a wide range of tastes and preferences -- and I agree that that can be pretty deadening to any kind of art or entertainment project, especially if the original vision was for something much more specific. (Disclaimer: I haven't played BioShock, so can't say whether it was in fact boring. What I've heard so far suggests "interesting but flawed" is a better description.) The "respect the audience" slogan seems especially ironic in this circumstance, since when I think of respecting the audience I normally think of expecting the audience to rise to a challenge.

I also flinch at the point about "trusting the mystery", because while I understand where the impulse comes from, I think this can lead to bad story-telling and bad game design. It's fine to leave unexplained things in the game world if you have a reason to leave them unexplained, if doing so doesn't cripple the main things you wanted to achieve with your story, and if you know what the answers are (or know that the answers aren't narratively important). I don't need to know how the Portal gun works, and neither do the authors, because it has no bearing on the story. I do want to know more about GLaDOS's development, because that is important to the story, and while I hope the authors had specific answers in mind for certain questions, I'm not at all sure that they did. But I already went on a long ramble about the blank and left-out bits in Portal.

Television series are a bad role model in this respect because a TV series often needs to be a series of hooks: what is going to happen next week? and the week after? KEEP WATCHING! If you never answer any questions for the audience, though, the fascination may give way to a cynical suspicion that the artists are just incompetent or don't actually have answers in mind at all. I stopped watching Lost, Alias, and (earlier) the X-Files after a certain number of seasons, because though I was initially fascinated by the mysteries they set up, I lost faith that the answers would ever be revealed or that the writers had anything in mind other than to string the audience along and make money.

And "skip any backstory for the player character" I realize is a pretty common approach, but I think it's pretty limiting.

With that, though, there are also some things that I think are very good advice.

One is the point that the setting shouldn't be boring to look at, but that it should be used to convey as much information as possible. The player spends a lot of time interacting with his environment, so it makes sense to make the environment part of how you tell the story -- especially parts of the story that aren't important to experience directly. I don't think there's anything lazy about that. On the contrary, it leverages the inherent strengths of the chosen medium. (Cut-scenes mostly don't leverage the strengths of gaming: they don't let the the player explore or act.)

Stripping out extraneous historical detail is also probably not a bad idea. Lots of SF novels have absolutely mindblowing amounts of detail that has no bearing on the main narrative; it's there because SF readers are especially interested in world-building, but even as an SF reader I still find myself occasionally thinking "...and?" during a particularly long digression about, say, the technological details of a recent terraforming effort. Focusing your story on the interesting parts is not a cop-out. It's good writing practice for many disciplines. Admittedly, if you're thinking "*sigh* I guess I have to tear out all the most conceptually interesting parts of my story because my players are going to be drooling idiots," something has gone really wrong. But most of my games have gone through a stage of rigorous simplification where I threw out some scenes and puzzles, narrowed the focus, made some of the details optional and moved them into the background. It's not necessarily about marketing pressures. (I write freeware interactive fiction.) Sometimes it's about what the story will bear in this structure.

Likewise (to answer the specific point you made), simplifying the user interface so that it's easy to understand is not necessarily a concession to idiots. A more transparent user interface lets the player engage more completely in the game. Also, trying to make the user interface smoother and more transparent is not an easy or "lazy" process.

There's a final suggestion in the article that's half right: this thing about story coming last and being driven by the gameplay. That takes a good observation -- stories and gameplay don't work together unless they've been designed to -- and gets the wrong conclusion out of it. The narrative and the core mechanics of the game need to evolve together. I want my interaction to be whatever kind of interaction is going to let the player engage most deeply with the story -- especially with the story's crisis points -- by meeting some important challenges under emotionally charged circumstances, or by making difficult choices. (There are also one or two other possibilities for narratively-charged interaction, but those are the most common ones.)

The problem with a twist ending that falls flat is not that it removes the mystery: that's telling the player the end of the story, and I'm in favor of it. I get annoyed when the author refuses to tell me the end, unless there's some very special circumstance explaining why the game should be left hanging. After all, I've been playing all game in order to find out what happens. There are other narrative reasons why a twist can fail: the player saw it coming too far in advance; it's a boring twist that doesn't put the events of the story into a new light; the player is given nothing to do in reaction to the twist; etc. (Without having played Bioshock I don't know whether it was one of these reasons or some other reason, but I don't think the fact of revelation was likely to have been the problem.)

Anyway. To pop the stack a whole bunch and go back to answering you, rather than critiquing the article: I'm not sure anyone said that YHTBTR is a better game/work than Portal. But I tend to think there are two ways something can be great: it can have a great vision, and it can fulfill its vision perfectly. YHTBTR takes an extremely unambitious vision and carries it off (in my opinion) perfectly. That's usually the easiest thing to do, in the greatness stakes, but that still doesn't mean that it is actually easy in an absolute sense, or that the results are worthless. Portal strikes me as having done a nearly-perfect execution of a somewhat curtailed vision; and Bioshock, by the accounts I've read, a flawed execution of a pretty ambitious one.

Emily Short


I wouldn't call this a "poem," I'd call it a funny limerick -- and like a funny limerick, I'm not sure it can really carry the weight of all this analysis. This, Passage, ROMCheckFail, Gimme Friction, etc., they've all got interesting ideas, but I wouldn't call any of them "games." And not just because they're short -- I'm sure my first few games of "Tempest" together took less time than it took to play YHtBtR, but I'd still be sticking quarters in that machine if I could find one.

As far as measuring its value by the achievements of its goals, well, if Bioshock was like a sumptious feast, parts of which were only half-baked, and Portal was like an excellent sandwich (but only a sandwich), then I'd argue that YHtBtR is like a very fine pig-in-a-blanket -- one fun bite, but not much of a substitute if you're looking for a meal. And not really worth thinking about too hard.

Poems Vs Novels - Fight!

Fear not my friends, for, like Goku, the long-form game will suddenly find i's inner strength and redouble it's attack right before the short-form game blows up its planet.

Think of it like this: measured in quantitative terms of length and volume and density of interactivity, games like this or Passage are clearly not superior to a long-form game that wasn't a content-heavy, linear parade of bullshit. The problem is, the economics/design/luck of things doesn't produce too many of these, except for maybe S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - which we've had on the site.

I suspect by having the audacity to pay more attention to focused, small games that turn assumptions on their head, we raise the bar for the "real" games to be leaner, more focused, with their content arrayed around a unique, manifold design.

Or maybe I'll destroy your planet!

This vaguely reminds me of

This vaguely reminds me of 4'33" - it's an idea too basic to repeat, but it's worth it to get it out there.

On the other hand, 4'33" didn't have as good music. So there you go.

Sorry, too old for Dragonball references

And that's why we come here and play them -- because someday, somebody will hopefully draw some of the really interesting mechanics out of these little half-formed experiments and come up with a great, innovative game (long or short). I'm not trying to suggest that the blog (which is great) or Manifesto are not worthwhile efforts. I just have no idea what kind of game is going to come out of a process that gives YHtBtR a 10 and dismisses Portal and Bioshock as "content-heavy, linear ... bullshit." (A game I wouldn't want to play, I suspect, but obviously my tastes are suspiciously counter-revolutionary.)

Maybe the rhetoric's just gotten a little overheated to get attention. I didn't feel the need to comment during the whole Passage thing, but YHtBtR? I call "bullshit" that this is the first shot in the revolution.

Robinz: yes, that's a great

Robinz: yes, that's a great comparison.

Jim: not trying to fire off any shots in no revolution. Just trying to celebrate stuff that plays in interesting ways.

For the record:

I like Portal, though I liked it better when it was called Narbacular Drop. :D