Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bad Rats - 10/20 hours

The thing I've noticed about "bad" games is that, whatever the potential strength or weakness of their core concept, they also tend to get the small, peripheral details wrong.  For example, the volume control in Bad Rats' audio settings does not work correctly. If you mute the volume so that you might listen to a podcast or music while you're playing, the change does not take place until you finish a level. This is true even if you change the settings from the main menu.

That seems sloppy to me, but honestly I'm in no position to criticize. I'd never given much thought to menu options (mainly because, in the past, they'd simply worked). I have no idea what goes into making a volume control functional. I guess my assumption would have been (had it occurred to me to question it) that volume control was handled automatically by Windows, and the menu was merely a convenient intermediary. Obviously that is not the case.

That a game could have such a flaw, and that I could go so long without realizing it was possible is enough to take my breath away. When I stop to think about it, I realize that I have no idea how one would even go about programming a menu in the first place. I took a programming class in college, and never came close to learning how to do something like that (though, if I'd been assigned it as an exercise, I have a feeling that my notional audio settings menu may well have had a similar flaw to the one in Bad Rats - the delay in implementing sound changes feels to me like a shortcut, where you only check the settings while loading a new level to avoid a variety of annoying bugs).

The complexity of modern computers is staggering, and the intricacies of programming for them are difficult for the layman to imagine. It is a miracle of capitalism that we wind up using that power for something as silly as games. That Bad Rats even exists would be impossible to explain to, say, Julius Ceaser. I feel like I should temper my criticism with a degree of humility.

On the other hand, I don't understand clockwork, either, and yet that would not stop me from complaining about a watch that failed to keep proper time. And, for all that making a game like Bad Rats is beyond my personal powers, I can't help but notice that while Skyrim also had the occasional physics glitch, it nonetheless managed to get its menus right.

But that's just me being snarky. I actually finished map 45 at around the eight hour mark, and having completed the whole game, I'm inclined to be generous. It's kind of inexplicable that, time and again, the "solution" to beating a level was to repeatedly retry the exact same setup until the physics engine happened to fire in exactly the right way, but there was a certain amount of fun to be had in setting up these rat-based Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions, and once I learned that missing with the ball did not necessarily mean that I "failed" the level, it was not particularly onerous to reload the map a few times. That said, it was damned sloppy design, and I'd say that the eight hours I spent beating the game probably contained about four hours of gameplay.

Maybe that's why the game is the way it is. Maybe the inconsistency of the physics is a way to stretch out the game, and make it seem bigger than it is. Yet, if so, it's a baffling decision - what's the point of giving people more, if the extra portion makes their experience worse (he said, having gone to many, many all you can eat buffets)?

I think it's probably irresponsible to speculate. I should just accept Bad Rats as an experience and not attempt to tie it to a particular meaning. Like the universe itself, the maps of Bad Rats are in constant flux, and they will be what they are, regardless of whatever order I try to impose upon them.

I think, for the next ten hours, I'm going to try and play this game empirically, and experiment with the physics without trying to "solve" it. There must be some method to the madness, and perhaps, if I approach it with a spirit of open inquiry, I can find out what that method is.

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