In which I compare Space Giraffe to Ulysses.

Space Giraffe

The first time I saw Space Giraffe, I didn’t realize it was an excellent game. Jeff Minter was showing it off at the Game Developer’s Conference, and it looked just like Tempest, except you could push guys off the top of the web sometimes. And Jeff kept saying it wasn’t Tempest. But he was not sufficiently able to communicate to the audience why the game was interesting (which I verified, through several conversations, after his lecture. People pretty much thought it was just Tempest with some psychedelic stuff).

When I first started playing Space Giraffe on the Xbox 360, I thought it was okay. If I were a reviewer who granted scores, I’d say it was a 6/10 or 7/10 game. It was cool, but nothing too special.

But as I played some more, I came to understand the game. And now I am bubbling with enthusiasm for it, such that I could only give it a 10/10. Maybe it’s still a little bit early to make such a high judgement — I can only competently play up to level 18 or so — but what I’ve gotten out of the game has already been worth well more than the measly $5 purchase price.

Maybe you heard of the mild controversy that’s erupted around this game. The first published review came from the Official Xbox Magazine, where the reviewer, Dan Amrich, gave it a horrible score of 20/100. He claimed the game was ugly and unplayable.

Jeff Minter, on his blog, wrote a somewhat angry rebuttal claiming that Dan A just didn’t understand the game and wasn’t playing it right. Normally when developers do that, it’s a sign that they are just checked out of reality — their game isn’t very good, and they are refusing to accept reasonable criticism. That wasn’t the case this time, though. Minter was right — the reviewer failed to understand the game.

That excites me, in a certain way: a game has come along that, just maybe, will raise the bar for game criticism; not because it’s trying to be all intellectual or anything, but just because it’s willing to break out of the mold and be something different, something unusual, something that requires effort to appreciate.

You’ll see that the user reviews on Metacritic for Space Giraffe are fiercely divided; people either rate it 9-10 (those people mostly understand the game, I claim), or 0-2 (don’t).

I realize I’ve been beating around the bush and haven’t yet said why the game is so good. Well, I don’t feel that I could do it justice. You just have to play the game, and feel it. By way of cursory explanation, I can say that the interaction you have with the enemies is really neat, and has its own distorted-world logic that is internally consistent and makes for compelling gameplay. And also…

… yes, it’s often hard to see things. You’ll often get killed by bullets you couldn’t see through the flashing background colors, and sometimes you won’t even know where your Giraffe is. Usually that’s the sign of a bad game. This time, though, it is a major part of the point. As you proceed through the levels, the enemies not only get more numerous, faster, and more devious, but the game also pushes you deeper into the land of warped perception, and then demands that you see through that. Well, often you can’t. At first. And then you start to see the patterns, and then you break through, and then you are sailing through this batch of levels, dancing the whole time. This game is about expanding your perception. It demands that you learn to see. Most of the reviewers who gave the game low scores, I claim, were too closed-minded; they weren’t receptive to this kind of teaching, which the game is obviously telling you it wants to do, if you are quiet enough and listen.

The game could be much clearer about its intentions. There’s a tutorial, but it only teaches you the basic game mechanics (and not very clearly, at that). The tutorial never says anything like “this game is going to throw ever-more visual insanity at you, and your job is to make sense of it all”. That would have been undesirably heavy-handed, but I know that if Jeff had structured the game so that this intent was somehow clear to the player from the start, there would be many fewer bad reviews.

Space Giraffe would be an interesting addition to the curricula of game studies courses, because it brings the process of game literacy acquisition into sharp focus. Most people these days who would take a video game class understand enough about games that the literacy part is taken for granted. But Space Giraffe pulls the process into sharp focus, because even as an experienced player you must go through a long process of discovery.

(Dare I say that Space Giraffe is something like the arcade game analogue of Ulysses? Is that controversial enough? Will it sufficiently piss off the reviewers who gave it low scores?)

50 thoughts on “In which I compare Space Giraffe to Ulysses.”

  1. Jon, you’ve convinced me to get the game. I’m excited, mostly because I enjoy art that pushes new modes of perception and requires you to re-learn how to experience the world.

  2. My total lack of appreciation for Joyce notwithstanding, you make an excellent case for Minter’s game. I played a demo off PartnerNet a few weeks ago and was unable to fathom its appeal; it struck me as noisy and a bit disorganized. Since I hold the rigidly defined order of titles like Ikaruga as the gold standard for my taste in shooters, I soon drifted off never bothered delving deeper into Space Giraffe.

    I think now I see what I was missing. My return to Space Giraffe will have to wait until I finish BioShock (OMG mainstream title oh noez!), but thanks to you I’ll give it another spin. Well played, Jonathan.

  3. My PC won’t run Bioshock well, and no way would I buy the gamepad version, so I am waiting for an upgrade on that one…

    Anyway, it did take me a while to get into and understand Space Giraffe. At first I just thought it was kinda okay, notable mainly for its free-spiritedness. But now I totally love the game. I just had one of those “I really want to go do thing X today… but I’ll play just one more game… okay now just one more…” situations today, and that almost never happens to me any more.

    I think Minter could have done a better job of making the game communicate itself. Maybe next time he will work on that part…

    “Changing perception of the world” is a theme that has interested me for a long time, and that I want to explore in games. One of the prototypes I am working on right now has that idea built in, but it’s more of a slow, long-term change. But now also in the back of my head I also want to make a game that’s about fast change, like Space Giraffe but in a different direction (not psychedelic, but still playing with color, shape and texture… maybe switching between a representation and its dual, or things like that).

  4. “Ugly and unplayable.”
    Isn’t that a contradiction of terms for those over at OXM? I thought they only care about how a game LOOKS rather than the way it plays.
    In any event you make great points about the criticism of Space Giraffe. In this world of sequels and remakes, how often do we see anyone try to make something original, albeit a spinoff of a classic shooter like Tempest. Are we in a world where anytime something new or unique is attempted, it gets a low score, only to have said developers conform to the cookie cutter shooters that are the glut of mainstream software? Good thing we have visionaries like Yak to offer us something unique, and since Space Giraffe came out I have enjoyed it. Yes it took me a while to get the hang of it but in due time, just like Yak said in his Google Tech Talk session, it all makes sense to me now.

  5. Agreed. I think that the change of perception you pointed out is one of the things that games can do better than non-interactive media. I’ve already rambled about this at length on my own site, but I had that experience upon finishing Rez. While it’s not generally regarded as a thoughtful game (quite the opposite; to some it’s little more than hallucinogenic escapism), watching my psychedelic shootouts slowly evolve into a quest to awaken an existential computer was especially eye-opening, partly because I wasn’t expecting such depth from a rail shooter.

    I can’t wait to see how that prototype turns out, Jonathan!

  6. I havent played space giraffe yet but afaik minter is well known for pursuing two aspects of old school arcade shmup culture that arguably started with defender. The most obvious aspect of this is the presentation of psychadelic visuals as both an integrated aesthetic experience and also a gameplay mechanic. The second thread is one of refining and extending the already narrow area of shmup style scoring mechanics.

    Being an avid shmup addict Im really into this whole pattern-recognition gestalt thing. You only have to watch superplays of ikaruga (the custom made double plays are amazing) or people mastering psyvariar, to see how people can get beyond the visual complexity/confusion to some sort of zen-like interaction. Similar shmups like cave’s (espgaluda,ddpdj etc) or the beautiful abstractions of kenta cho etc follow a similar path.

    However I feel that unless the complexity serves some sort of purpose you can integrate with as a player then it does just become an indulgent eyecandy binge. Im not sure where Space giraffe lies on this line. If Rez wasnt so beautifuly designed It could easily be just a trippy screensaver with space harrier on top.

    IMO perceptual changes can just seem gratuitous unless the user has a noticable degree of control within those shifts. Or unless those shifts are used for some important narrative/environmental change of direction of perspective. They can also offer more opportunities to break the fourth wall etc (eternal darkness,mgs) although Im getting way of track now.. 🙂

  7. it’s quite a coincidence that gamasutra have just put out an article on difficult gaming and highlights the difference between skill-based games of the era SG originates and current games.

    you can see how the week willed reviewer would give up and declare the game unplayable after the third or fourth time they’ve been destroyed by an unknown something amongst the visual carnage SG puts you in the middle of. However, the more determined amongst us soon learn that it’s not just about being able to see. sound plays a huge part of the game when the visuals become more obscuring. how the environment reacts with sound is just as important as visual clues. and the side shots. the side shots are very important to clear out stray bullets when performing bull runs (amongst dealing with all the different enemy types). and i don’t think they’re mentioned in the tutorial. if they are then i missed them because i only learnt about it when reading through a FAQ on gamefaqs. it’s easy to see how not knowing about side-shots can make the game appear unplayable to the reviewer.

  8. Comparing Space Giraffe to Ulysses is basically spitting on Joyce’s grave.

    Space Giraffe is mediocre to the last degree and yes I understood how to play it. Ulysses, however, is one of the finest novels ever written and is truly an epic masterpiece.

    The infamy around Ulysses was its controversy, particularly the description of when Bloom masturbates on the beach to the sight of another girl and the girl being AWARE that she had aroused Bloom. Space Giraffe is just indie garbage that should have been a piece of freeware, not tarnishing XBLA.

  9. I honestly think you’re one of the most pretentious video game bloggers I’ve ever read, and as such it’s little wonder that you’ve managed to apply both the acme of modernist fiction and laughably outrageous stoner rhetoric to a hamfisted arcade game.

    Minter has created a game that’s so fiercely divided not because people ‘don’t get it’, but because it’s not inherently a fun game. Minter himself has published documents and manifestos on how to _properly_ enjoy the game, and this is absolutely unforgiveable. A video game should not force you to figure out how to enjoy it — how to play it, sure, but enjoyment is something that lurks in the very mechanics of a game.

    To call it closed-mindedness that prompts people to give Space Giraffe such terrible reviews is simply sophomoric, and to expect people to swallow that a game entitled Space Giraffe that is utterly devoid of original gameplay — and which, incidentally, is riddled with idiotic, pointless internet memes — is in some way _deep_ of all things is just plain stupid.

    Minter’s game tries very, very hard to be Rez; tries with all of its might to be Every Extend Extra; attempts with every iota of its 360 visualization engine to be of all things GOOD and yet excels only at being another rehash of Tempest. No matter what you or Minter angrily shove down the throats of gamers.

  10. Hey Jonathan, I can’t find your email on the web anywhere, probably a good move as that’s the best way to fill up your inbox with spam. Anyway, just wanted to say that that video I took of your keynote speech at Free Play is finally up on Sumea. You can see it here:

    Oh and I also wanted to say I picked up those two books you mentioned, Persuasive Games and A Theory of Fun. I just got them in the mail today, so haven’t had a chance to look through them yet. I’m looking forward to getting into them!

    Hope you get this, your keynote speech was great, and so was the panel afterwards =0).

  11. It’s kind of weird, but I had my “road to Damascus” with Space Giraffe just yesterday. Having purchased it on launch day I set it aside, not really knowing what was going on. After a few more goes it clicked and I got it, way to go Jeff another classic.
    You have to know what to look for as you say, not just rotate side to side shooting. If one plays it on that level(just shooting) then it is indeed a 2/10 title.

  12. The problem with people today is, they want everything too easily and freely. I haven’t played a game in years which truly challenged me, not *really* – everything belongs in it’s own box. Every boss has it’s own weak spot, which is so thoroughly overdone that it’s entirely predictable.

    I like games that step outside the box, Space Giraffe is one of them.

  13. So if a game is poorly explained in its tutorial and uses irregular visuals to add a challenge, that’s comparable to a piece of work that takes a deep appreciation of history, literature, politics and culture to be fully unlocked?

    It’s a cool game with good mechanics and some neat ideas, but really complexity is not the same as brilliance. It shouldn’t be about the effort needed, but more the end product.

    Space Giraffe’s tutorial could have been made easier to explain and lost little of its charm. I don’t think Ulysses could have been written in any other way.

  14. Jeff Minter / llamasoft has always made thoughtful, interesting and very playable games -right back in the days of the Commodore Vic 20.

    Gridrunner, Attack of the Mutant Camels etc. all took you into a slightly strange, trippy world that with a little persistance would suck you in and absorb you in a different environment.

    I’m really glad he’s back and doing different things again – there’s more to games than ridiculously over-complicated keypress combinations and expensive graphics.


  15. Paul, and Crucified:

    In my comparison of S.G. with Ulysses, I was not attempting to say that S.G. is some kind of Great Work that will be held up as an example decades from now. That’s why I used a lot of hedge words in that sentence, as opposed to saying something direct and forceful, and also why I titled this post the way I did (if I didn’t think it was at least a bit humorous to compare Space Giraffe and Ulysses, then I wouldn’t have named the post that way).

    My point was that Ulysses is on its surface pretty damn unreadable. You have to invest a lot to understand it, but if you do, there’s a lot of reward there. If you rewrote Ulysses in plain English, it just wouldn’t be the same book, so saying “the text should have been cleaned up to be more readable, why didn’t this guy have an editor?” would be extremely naive criticism. I also liked Ulysses as an example because it’s old enough that the consensus is in: it’s a good book. There were, early on, a lot of critics saying it wasn’t.

    I actually think that a lot of what Space Giraffe achieves it sort of achieves by mistake — Minter didn’t quite have the intention I would have liked him to have. But the result is still there, and it’s an interesting work.

    Crucified: I’m not sure how you think you can claim that Space Giraffe is somehow objectively not fun. I played it and had a lot of fun; in fact it is the most fun I have had on my Xbox 360, including the bigger $60 games (the only game that has come close, for me, was Guitar Hero 2). Sure, not everyone’s going to like it that much, but that’s not the point.

    I don’t think it is closed-minded to give Space Giraffe negative reviews. If a reviewer has competently considered the game, and still thinks that it sucks, then great. The problem I have is that most of the negative reviews don’t seem to have come from people who have competently considered the game. That’s not necessarily surprising, since Space Giraffe is a more difficult game to understand than, say, Gears of War. But a good game critic — or even one who is qualified for his position at a basic level — should be able to jump over that bar, or at least realize that the bar has been set a few inches higher than usual.

  16. Crucified: Also, you wrote this:

    “a game entitled Space Giraffe that is utterly devoid of original gameplay”

    which leads me to believe you didn’t actually play it much. The gameplay is actually very original, even though it seems like Tempest at first. What you do is very different. Tempest is a “shoot the bad guys before they get you” game, but Space Giraffe is a “manage chaos and cultivate beneficial situations” game. They feel totally different.

  17. Space Giraffe,

    I understand how to play it! I am a great believer of giving a game a thorough play before I pass judgement.

    Did I enjoy it? No not at all I actually think it is absolute pants but hey thats just me and my opinion (before anyone jumps down my throat)

    I actually love geometry wars but many people hate it so each to their own!

    What I do find amusing though is OXM’s take on games, essentially they gush all over something usually (especially seeing as they are the sort of publication that give favourable reviews to developers/publishers who spend money advertising with them)

    I personally never bother with OXM, they only magazine worth reading (and I dont work for them!!) is GAMES tm its the only one without all the fanboy tosh.

    In fact they dared to criticise Halo 3 multiplayer beta which is almost magazine suicide! Kudos to them I say.

    Way off topic apologies.

  18. I was a massive fan of Minter back in the day and Gridrunner and Attack of the Mutant Camels both offered a welcoming antidote to the over-emphasis on visuals that was growing even at that point in time. I’m so pleased to hear the Yak’s back!

  19. John, you made a comment that talks about perceptions. And how to “Changing perception of the world” which immediately made me think of conflict in games.

    As a DM back in my Dungeons and Dragons days one of my favorite thing to do was to have a party encounter some monsters. Then only to get deeper in that cave and find their families and society cowering from the partys desire to kill all things. Which always created fun dillemas for people who spent a lot of time invested in the personalities of their characters.

    This is a area video games has seemed to show little interest in. There are always the games that let you chose the moral path or immoral path. But rarely do you have to deal with the consequences.

    To take the ever growning FPS World War games as example. Having to alternate between being a US solider hunting down Vietnamese, to then in the next level playing those Vietnamese in God simulator. Where on one side you want to successfully complete your objective of hunting and killing the “enemy” But right after you have to manage the people who live in the rice patties you just burned to the ground. You have to help them find their loved ones. If you wish to “win” the game you have to continue to complete these objectives on both sides.

    Would this change the way you play as a solider?
    Maybe calling less air strikes, and doing a bit more observation before shooting?
    What if your objective on the Vietnamese side was to set up more bobby traps or invest enough resources in training your young boys to use AK57s.
    Would this be hard for people to do?

  20. “I don’t think it is closed-minded to give Space Giraffe negative reviews.”

    “Most of the reviewers who gave the game low scores, I claim, were too closed-minded; they weren’t receptive to this kind of teaching, which the game is obviously telling you it wants to do, if you are quiet enough and listen.”

    You’ve already made very clear that you’re arguing subjectivity, and as such it’s irresponsible to have made the latter point — especially because throughout your review you’ve made it abundantly clear that in your eyes to not enjoy this game is to not understand it. I’ve played it. I’ve understood it. I don’t find it fun. I don’t find it fun in the least. Again, a game should not require you to dig deep beneath its surface to enjoy it — it should definitely have a great deal of subtext that you CAN locate if you desire, but not that’s necessary to enjoy it on its base level. Especially a game with no story and no actual words beyond played-out internet catchphrases and inane emoticons.

  21. Many of Jeff Minter’s games appear initially to be too hard and difficult to control. After a while, however, it is possible to play on an intuitive level and do things that you didn’t even consciously realize that you were doing and get through seemingly impossible levels. No one else can consistently produce games that lead to ‘play by instinct’ so well. Keep playing until you get it!

  22. Space Giraffe might be stupidly cheap, but let’s face it: there’s better and more original flash games on the web for free. Minter hasn’t done anything new for decades. He just bolts trippy visuals on to ancient shooters that he stole the ideas for in the first place and then demands praise for it, throwing fits at anyone who doesn’t pay homage to his ‘genius’ and attempting to rubbish them in the most childish way possible. That’s why he and his development team took it upon themselves to stack the XBLA scoreboard with their own astronomical scores after the 2/10 review – to show off.

    And yes, I understood it. I understood it’s an enormous load of tosh. No game should need the level of explanation Space Giraffe requires simply to *enjoy* it, nor should any game that requires so much of the player (and the programmer too, come to think of it) then routinely slag them off should they not play it *exactly* how the programmer wants it played. The sound is all ripped off of public domain libraries, the humour is in-joke cliqueyness at its absolute worst, enemies change behaviour from level to level with no indication what it is, and the visuals are apparently ‘deliberately confusing’ so you have to listen out for audio cues. Which is Minter defending the fact his visual masturbation and poor design actually render the game virtually unplayable in places.

    Oh, and it is like bloody Tempest. People who say it isn’t are just being sucked in to the biggest case of emperor’s new clothes in the gaming industry. Minter is a fraud releasing and re-releasing the same old toss over and over again, and the fact that the NGJ posse such as this blogger (Comparison to Ulysses…I mean, what are you thinking?) are falling over themselves to sing his praises as if he’d delivered Mario 64 in the era of Space Invaders would be hilarious if it weren’t so embarrassing for the industry. I hope he makes zero money off of this shoddy mess so that he jacks it in and buggers off to his farm for good.

  23. I could not figure out the goal of my actions in this game on any level, so I quickly became bored with it. Because the game throws visual noise at you without explaining it’s purpose as a challenge in the game, it is percieved as game-hindering frustration, and rightly so.

    The argument Jeff makes is that players (specifically reviewers) aren’t procedurally literate enough to understand the joy of this system. I think the only issue here is that Jeff designed a game that first challenges you to learn what its purpose (goal) is. How can you fault players for “not getting it” when the game provides little to no feedback into why they should care?

    I’m interested in playing now that you’ve explained that purpose, but the game is still poorly designed as it stands. Katamari was quirky in a similar way, but it still understood how to clearly explain that you were being tested in your ability to pick up shit by rolling. You can be quirky and innovative in your approach, but you can also do it while taking into account the end user experience. Jeff clearly didn’t look at this game from the perspective of the player. Like Jon said, I hope he can learn from this and really nail it in his next product, because I appreciate his unique approach overall. And I hope the same for Braid!


  24. Top stuff! IMHO, I think this exemplifies the real lack of skill and talent in game reviewing and sadly I think in what gamers have been brainwashed in to believing is a good game.

    At the same time however, I’m also a bit concerned that this is the first of many signs that the gaming industry is trying to get a bit too arty farty?

  25. Crucified: Jonathan has already made it abundantly clear that he does not believe disliking the game is inherently closed-minded, but that in some cases people who did not attempt to work on the game’s terms did not enjoy it.

    And what exactly gives you the right to define what a game “should” be? If a game is immensely enjoyable if you *do* ‘dig beneath the surface’, then is it automatically nevertheless a worse game than one which is mildly enjoyable? This is a remarkably naive view, if you genuinely hold it.

  26. Llama’s ! Yaks ! Psychedelia !

    The yak is back, and I for one am a very happy man.

    But Jeff, if you read this, – you must take your creativity and make games that are instantly enjoyable, instantly understandable, instantly gratifying on a shallow level and take no comitment from the gamers. I’m thinking something along the lines of the computer game version of candyfloss. That would be great. Really.

  27. Jonathan: Have you read the whole of Ulysses? I used to make blithe comparisons to Ulysses before I actually read the thing. Your comparison may be intentionally baiting, but do be careful how much you namecheck the work if you haven’t read it (and intend to).

  28. wow – I will have to get a 360, so I can experiance this controversy. I love the ‘debate’ over whats good and fun and should be considered art,. none of which is much more that personal tast. No accounting for that is there? Just based on these comments I will go so far as to say the Space Giraffe must be art as it produces such wildly opposed views in its players. It reminds me of the area of music known as ‘difficult’, sounds that many will call unlistenable while others will find a deep appreciation and enjoyment in. Why can’t we have games that some ppl lov madly while other are violently repulsed? I see that as a good sign for an artform that is far too often stale and derivative, tending towards the banality of merchandise or product. [ note to jeff – if you aint’ got no haters you aint’ doing it right! Keep it up,.. right UP! ]

  29. Crucified, you said:

    “Minter has created a game that’s so fiercely divided not because people ‘don’t get it’, but because it’s not inherently a fun game.”

    But a game that is inherently no fun won’t divide people; people will be united in regarding it as bad. Maybe you can say it’s inherently not fun for people with particular tastes, including your own – but if somebody’s getting something out of it, there must be something in there.

  30. Jeff Minter makes challenging games. It’s not even a friendly challenge. His games spit in your curry, make a pass at your wife, and shoot you a “What are you going to do about it?” look. They are HARD, attack on all fronts and use dirty tricks. You have to develop some very strong skills just to make it through the introductory levels, and the difficulty never stops increasing.

    Some people find that frustrating and never develop the skill required to get anything out of the games. But when you get there, it’s incredibly rewarding. It feels like you’ve grown a new limb.

  31. It amazes me to read people (Ian M) *still* insisting it is Tempest. No, nope, not even close. Quite frankly, I wish it was just like tempest (well, Tempest 2000, or prefereably X3, High Voltage’s port). That game was approachable and straightforward, and most importantly pure-plain fun.

    That said, SG is a bit of an acquired taste. It takes a while to figure it out, and another while to get into it. Yes, it is rewarding, but the approachability factor is a bit of a hump to get over. Moreover, the fact that I have to warm up a bit every time I play it means that it loses, for me, some of the charm of a lot of XBLA games, which tend to be straightforward pick up and play.

    All things considered though, it’s a good game. Hard to approach, hard to get into, and I need to be in the right mood, but once I’m there and in ‘the zone’ it becomes a special thing indeed. That, quite simply, won’t appeal to everyone.

    Minter shouldn’t take offense at reviewers, however. He has made a bit of a niche product, and Frogger is one for the masses: it tells you everything you need to know on that first screen, while SG requires a bit of devotion to figure out all the parts. A worthy endeavour for sure, but it’s not surprising that it simply won’t appeal to everyone. If his next project is just a little bit more accessible, we’ll all be in for a treat.

  32. SG is like Tempest in that it has all the same play mechanics of Tempest and you can play it just like Tempest if you choose.
    However, if you choose to do so you will suck, because if you play it like Tempest YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
    Because it’s not Tempest.
    You see?

  33. I just played Space Giraffe again a couple of days ago before I left on the trip I am on. (I played it while I was supposed to be working on a lecture!) It’s still awesome; it’s still my favorite XBLA game by a significant margin.

  34. I’ve seen a lot of varied reactions to my SG review, everything from “he wanted it to be Tempest and it wasn’t” on through to “he hates indie developers and is on the Microsoft teat.” None of those are accurate, for what it’s worth! I didn’t go into SG expecting Tempest 360K and being angry that I didn’t get it; I wanted Minter’s next game, whatever it was, the way film fans follow directors. It looked weird and challenging and I asked for the assignment.

    The thing is, whether people like the review score or not, most agree with one of my conclusions: that the game did not explain itself well. The tutorial is deficient and does not really educate the player about what they need to know to succeed. I actually enjoy abstract games, I don’t really need everything spelled out for me, and I do enjoy the challenge of learning as I go. But when I can’t even speak the language…that makes it unplayable to me.

    So I didn’t “get” the game after a week’s playtime before reviewing it, and if that makes me incredibly slow, I will have to accept my stupidity and move on. But I maintain that the game is at least partially to blame for me not “getting” it – and others have noted this flaw. Even in criticizing my criticism, they do wind up supporting my point, whether they acknowledge it or not!

    By comparison, Braid does not spoon-feed its audience either, but it is still understandable. It teaches the player what they need to play it, but it does not give everything away in an obvious manner. It explains itself well. And I wish SG explained itself as well, because things may have been different.

    As for everything else…no, I don’t feel I’m incompetent, impatient, an assassin, or anything else that people would like to peg me for being simply because I had a loud unpopular opinion. (Well, not that unpopular; I’ve heard from a lot of people who didn’t like the game, too.) For anybody who cares, I posted my thoughts about the whole SG thing on my personal blog some time ago:

  35. I have to disagree with you on your pretentious, self-serving, vomit-inducing, ego-driven assessment of the most crap game I ever had the displeasure of downloading. No amount of “you just don’t get it” drivel can justify the abortion that is “Space Giraffe” Pure Garbage. In every possible way. Indefensible even. However Kudos to you Mr. Blow. I’ve already purchased a copy of your Braid. I’m very much a fan of the game, but I have to be honest if I’d read this but a day sooner… I would not have. In fact, your defense of a detestable and embarrassing piece of nensense like SG is not the reason I would have taken issue, but rather you’re insipid belief that people who recognized that the game is horrid are somehow less perceptive or intelligent than you are. Oh how convenient it must be to have such keen insight and understanding! Clearly you are my superior. You are victim of the worst kind of judgement, “if I think it must be right. Those who disagree therefor are wrong and imbecilic”. Knowing this about you, I will undertake not to make the mistake of purchasing anything else from you. Congratulations on Braid, it is definitely better than Mr. Minter’s fetid pile of ugly.

  36. I really wonder why Space Giraffe triggers such strong defensive feeling to some people. I wonder what these people are afraid of.

    It does ask for player active involvement, but hey, a game always needs a player. And it’s about the player’s skill. It’s natural a skill takes some time to improve.

    I myself compare Space Giraffe to riding a bicycle. You need to practice…and fail several times. But then it clicks, you find the balance, and from there you can go anywhere at your own pace. One can always learn…and people don’t have to call “Bicycle sucks” because they couldn’t ride it for the first time.

    Maybe the world is getting more and more short-tempered, and there is less space and time for learning new things…(and we see easy to grasp recycled gameplay pieces everyday)

  37. Ugh. I get into this same argument with people about Godhand all the freaking time. Sometimes a game takes more than a cursory examination to appreciate. Especially when the controls/interface/playstyle is unfamiliar. If they didn’t, I wonder how any of us ever would have started gaming to begin with.

  38. Everybody’s right.

    Space Giraffe doesn’t really explain itself. The visuals are, indeed, seriously overwhelming. The gameplay mechanic isn’t immediately obvious. It is frequently contradictory – auto-fire in a game where you’re rewarded for not shooting things? – and the game is consistently hostile to the player. It doesn’t let you in or welcome you – you’re fighting it all the way through.

    All these criticisms that have been levelled at it are completely true.

    Space Giraffe is a constantly unfolding voyage of discovery. It challenges your perceptions – purposefully forcing your conscious mind out of the equation, to bring about a primal, guttural, subconscious, animal experience. It forces you into “the zone”.

    It hones your instincts to see – nay, feel – through different eyes. To sense the order and patterns from amongst the chaos, as a hunter comes to learn his environment so instinctively that he can see what is imperceivable – and seemingly impossible – to others; Broken stems, imprints in the soil, shifted or compacted soil, animal calls and other signs which trace the path of the predator through the jungle.

    Like a hunter. Like an illusionist. Like a brain surgeon.

    Any sufficiently advanced knowledge is indistinguishable from magic (even to its possessor).

    The game, as nature, is “red, in tooth and claw”.

    A predator does not hand out an instruction booklet to its prey on how to survive, or walk around with a “health bar” floating above its head.

    You must learn from experience. You must learn by your mistakes. You are supposed to fail.

    Because it is by these negative experiences that we learn, that we adapt and that we change our perception.

    In the words of Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest, nor the most intelligent, that survives. It’s the one that’s most adaptable to change”.

    Enemies do change behaviour without warning. Life will present you with hostility and it will most certainly, at times, offend you and your sensibilities without mercy nor apology.

    Some people relish this life exactly as it is, and some people detest it with a passion and live their lives in perpetual complaint.

    And once you realise that, in both instances, I’ve written about exactly the same things twice – just from different perspectives, mentalities and angles as to what those points actually mean – then you finally understand.

    Everybody’s right.

  39. Hmm, inflammatory though it is, I have to agree with about 90% of what TinyE said. You think it is a great game… fine I have no problem with that. But it is a matter of taste rather than intellect.

    It’s not that people “don’t get” the game, it’s just that they don’t like 1990’s techno and psychedelia, both of which Space Giraffe is absolutely saturated with to the extent that it’s impossible to ignore.

  40. I am curious whether the people saying Jeff Minter isn’t fit to lick the cover of Ulysses actually made it through their first read of Ulysses without using any secondary sources or summaries, which is more or less what they’re demanding of Space Giraffe players. (Yeah, there’s a tutorial, but as stated, it’s not very good. A reader in the 21st century who knows in advance that Ulysses will involve stream-of-consciousness writing has more of a leg up on the book than a player who’s finished the tutorial has on SG.) (And yes, Ulysses is deeper than Space Giraffe. It’s also more demanding. If SG is beyond the pale, in terms of how much up-front investment it requires before its beauty is apparent, then Ulysses CERTAINLY is.)

    My gut tells me that there’s no way, because the many archaisms and local-to-Dublin references in Ulysses really do make it unintelligible to a modern reader who isn’t already intimately familiar with the setting. But I could be wrong.

    My point is not to call anyone a hypocrite, it’s to say that if we apply the same standards to Ulysses as to Space Giraffe, Ulysses is no more holy or uncriticizable than SG is! They’re both frustrating, and someone who decides they have better things to do is on solid critical ground.

  41. I downloaded the demo of sg a long time ago and thought it was rubbish. I bought braid and played through multiple times and thought the last level was amazing how the gameplay mechanic made you actually think in reverse of what you thought the whole game. Then I learned the hidden meaning of the story books and the depth blew my mind, I thought all of the meaningful games were on playstation network, like flow or everyday shooter. If the man who created braid thinks this game is awesome I’m gonna have to try it again. We need more art games on xbox. I don’t want to button mash castle crashers, I want to enjoy a game like flow or everyday shooter or echochrome or flower or even the last guy. I miss my ps3 now that I remember those games. Please make another xbla game jon, or maybe iPhone game?

  42. Loved space giraffe. Once the initial confusion fades, you are left with a surprisingly complex set of mechanics. The fact that you can’t see what the hell is going on is sort of the point, the game is all about audio. Think of it like this: the bullets that come from your ship are like “feelers” that go out and sense the world, everything they come into contact with triggers an audio cue, telling you how to behave. It’s one of the few games that is impossible to play with the sound turned down, and that is a rare thing.

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