The Average Gamer

Indie Rock: ChangeType()

ChangeType wide
I did a module in my first year of Uni about Semiotics, the idea that we constantly derive implicit meaning from our surroundings and often intentionally use this as a form of communication. Red means Hot. Blue means Cold. Green means Go. We’ve decided. We can’t un-decide it. Buckle in and get comfortable, you’ve unknowingly taken a trip down a culturally-specific scenic tour of inferred understanding and at the end there’s a disappointing gift shop where the only thing on sale is you being dead.

These sessions concluded with everyone in the room realising that Semiotics was A Thing That Exists and we felt happy that we’d spent a few weeks learning a new word. I imagine a few people went and bought a Rene Magritte print. Here’s a party trick. If anyone ever asks you to go over what Semiotics is, hold up your middle finger and ask if they know what it means. Then don’t bother to explain any further.

Nitrome’s ChangeType() isn’t a very difficult game, but it makes you think about rules and shorthand in game design and I like that.

It’s a platformer that functions like a platformer. There are spikes which kill you. There are walls you can’t pass through. There are platforms you can jump through and some you can’t. There are coins. There are enemies you can kill if you jump on but will kill you if you hit them anywhere else. There are springs.

Your power is to switch the attributes of these pieces of set-dressing. Now you can turn spikes into harmless platforms and coins into jump pads. Enemies now can”t hurt you. You can turn walls into things that you can walk through. You can flip the world on its fucking head and eat breakfast for dinner if you’re so inclined.

ChangeType 2This only works as a game because it assumes that you’ve internalised all the tropes of a platformer. It doesn’t teach you how to interact with the world, it only teaches you to use your online casino new ability. You know that jumping on a spring will launch you into the air, but you have to learn that if you change the properties of Coins and anything else in the world then you’re able to score points by running into them and removing them.

I like thinking about that. I like thinking about the only reason a coin gives you points is because there’s a bit of code attached to it which makes your counter go up. It reveals the rest of games as an amazing trick of suspension of disbelief and that items only have any meaning because it’s already been decided they do.

Once a year I go back and play another Nitrome game Depict1, which is still an excellent game, if marred by a swath of later games that also function as commentary on the unreliable quest giver. There’s no “swapping” mechanic like in ChangeType(), the comparison is that it undermines your expectation that certain items behave in the ways they’re supposed to behave. That’s cool. It’s cool game design. I like cool game design.