This is something I've been meaning to write about for a while now. On the 20th of November, I attended a shooter tournament (in German) in a gaming establishment in Neulengbach (in German), a town outside of Vienna.
Because this actually came up surprisingly often: these are 2D shooters, played in stand-up arcade cabinets, not 3D first-person games. I'd call them 'old school', except they're not. This is a vibrant scene, much like, say, interactive fiction.
Tobe was there as well - in fact, he's a big shooter fan, has known the organizer for some time, and enabled me to be there. He took some pictures of the event, and also wrote a blog entry about shooters.
I had a very good time. Everyone was very nice to the new guy who wasn't very good at playing shooters (nor at playing the many pinball machines that are the normal source of income for the venue).
I also learned many interesting things about shooters and arcade game collecting. For instance, I learned of the existence of Cave, a Japanese company that produces beautiful shooters on a regular basis. (So many, in fact, that the next shooter tournament will only feature their games.)
Tobe had already explained the intricacies of the scoring mechanisms of these games to me, but it was fun to see it in action, and also to see how really good players go about avoiding clouds of bullets that fill the screen.
Andranik, the organizer, pointed out a crucial difference between console shooters and arcade shooters. Console shooters are about finishing the game, about getting to the last level, beating the last boss, and then maybe selling the game. This is not the point of arcade shooters (I watched people play through Cave's Storm Of Progear in about 20 to 30 minutes). The point is to master the intricate scoring systems in order to maximize your score. So first you need to learn how to avoid the obstacles and the waves of bullets, and then you need to strategize in order to do the right things in the right order to get the big score multipliers. Which is easier said than done: it requires talent, and practice. (For the record: I'm still at the "learning to avoid bullets" stage.)
The interesting thing about that for me was that it reminded me that I've been focusing on big "mainstream" AAA console action-adventures for a long time now, but there are people out there who want something different from their gaming experience. Enough people that you can make a living out of making games for them. It's not a blindingly new insight, but it's good to reminded of that every once in a while (which is the topic of another blog post I have lying around).
Finally, I cannot write a blog entry about shooters without mentioning two games:
- Treasure's Ikaruga, which combines beautiful graphics with a mind-bending damage / scoring system. It's probably the best-known shooter to appear on the mainstream gaming radar in recent times, and it's gotten good reviews everywhere. I may never play it, but I recognize it's qualities, and I enjoy watching other people playing it.
- Cave's Guwange, which is set in demon-infested historical Japan, and for once doesn't let you control a spaceship or plane, but a warrior. So it's like a shooter dressed up a hack and slash game, sorta kinda like Diablo on speed, a concept which I find hilarious somehow. Plus I really dig strange hybrids, and Japanese mythology.