Space Giraffe! (and the new if somewhat late editor…)

By: Xander

On: August 28th, 2007


Space Giraffe is the new XBLA title from Jeff Minter’s Llamasoft. Jeff Minter for those who might not know is the legendary (infamous?) mind behind the instantly recognisable and always awesome ‘Tempest 2000’. I always preferred ‘Llamatron’ more myself, but mostly because I was pretty young at the time and I couldn’t think of any better reason to blow the crap out of anything than to save beasties. Recently (read: 6 days ago) Space Giraffe hit XBLA at the very modest price of 400 MS Points, which I think is around $5/ï¿¡3.40 (for those who dislike mentally detaching themselves from the reality of what they’re actually spending). Critically, it’s been met with a pretty mixed response, with an 8/10 from the highly regarded ‘Edge’ Magazine and a 2/10 from the US OXM.

Review scores that far apart don’t only happen in Game Tunnel Monthly Round-ups, aparently. Luckily here at TIGSource we don’t rely on ratings systems or averages, mostly because it’s been a while since we studied maths, we’re a little rusty and we sold our textbooks with the answers filled in long ago to save up for impending lawsuits. So, I wont bore the crap out of you with that kind of thing (ignoring the fact that I did just that 15 seconds ago), and instead I’ll just tell you what it’s like and whether it’s something you should try to check out yourself.

And yes, yes it is…

The gameplay is really very different to Tempest, where whilst the essence is similar, the execution is refined. The main innovation is the Power Zone, which is basically an area of the playing field which constantly decreases unless you increase its size by attacking the enemies. By extending the Power Zone you increase your own powers – for instance, enemy bullets travel slower, you have additional firepower which can be directed unlike the main cannon and you earn the previously mentioned ability to ram into the enemies into the abyss for bonus points and multipliers, or just to get revenge on the sneaky ‘><’ shapes that have dragged you away time and time again taking your highscore with it.

Space Giraffe is… sort of like Tempest. Saying that has probably doomed me to be eaten by Jeff’s trained attack sheep (Fluffy: will devour writers for daily petting, grass… and great justice!) but it’s easy to mix the two up. The basis of the game is Tempest after all: your movement is restricted to the line of a strange shape as you blast away oncoming enemies. You can jump to avoid enemy attacks. You have a Super Zapper you can use once a level as a screen clearing attack. But it’s not that it doesn’t share similarities with Tempest, it’s that Space Giraffe is Space Giraffe. Your Super Zapper doesn’t scream ‘Eat Electric Death!’ You can only jump a finite amount of times using pick-ups called ‘Jump Pods’, and while you can shoot the enemies coming towards them, the only way I know of to increase your multiplier exponentially is to ram the enemies off the face of the level. Seriously. The first level is a GIANT outline of J Allard’s face (google for many a meme). Where Tempest left you in the dark recesses of space, Space Giraffe shoves you battling into a Windows Media Player Visualizer inhabited by the specters of Microsoft Executives. In a good way…

Speaking of which, compared to the relatively simple scoring system of Geometry Wars and T2K, Space Giraffe really does leave you to try and work a whole lot out for yourself. There are many different techniques beyond rushing the enemy to boost your score, and the best ways to find them are through experimentation. It encourages this kind of play with the very forgiving inclusion of being able to restart the highest level you reached, as well as being able to earn back the score you did have by successfully finishing the level. It’s by no means a way to cheat the leaderboards, because once you’ve reached the final level you can’t improve on the score anymore without playing through previous levels and improving on your last attempts, and I think that’s a relatively bold and rewarding choice. It still lets gamers go after the highest scores they can get, but it eliminates some of the grind of having to go through earlier levels you’ve mastered twenty times over, you can simply skip the easier ones that you’re proud of and pour your time into boosting scores on higher levels.

Well sorry for how long this turned out to be, feel free to kick my ass about that in the comments below! Feedback would be very handy, seeing as this is my first post and all. Later posts will be much smaller for the most part, but if anyone has any thoughts on this kind of post for XBLA style (parting with your hard-ended money/ill-gotten booty) releases, please do post away. Anyways, in the end what my argument all boils down to today is this: this is not Tempest, it’s Space Giraffe. And it’s all the better for it!

  • Oddbob

    What is it about SG that makes it impossible to write about in just a few paragraphs? :D

    I love the game, its out there, mental and sure, not exactly shy of a handful of flaws either but still ace fun.

    Desperately needed someone to come in occasionally and reign Jeff in a bit, but for what it is and just the fact it even exists – I salute the Giraffe.

  • Derek

    Whoo! Excellent first post, Xander, and don’t apologize for the length (if you know what I mean).

    I’ve been meaning to try this one out. Anything that people love or hate I’ll probably get a kick out of at the very least. And the people that have enjoyed it have been people who I respect.

  • Butzo

    I’d like to see Jeff Minter’s take on Yar’s Revenge.

  • Oddbob

    The Quotile would win ;)

    Oh, not *take on*, sorry!

  • Butzo

    A game where you play as Jeff Minter himself and have to take out the Quotile yourself, shooting it 20,000 times Takeshi no Chousenjou style.

  • Dominic White

    The incredibly low OXM score and be attributed to one simple factor – the reviewer was crap at the game and didn’t want to admit it.

    Someone can dig up the links if they want, but basically, Minter himself was a bit suspicious, so checked the global scoreboards. That reviewer (OXMDan on Live) had somehow gotten to level 31 without getting any of the Achievements, and with a cumulative score of around 6 million points.

    A friend of mine bought the game last night, with no idea what they were doing, and told me that they had gotten 8 million by level 7.

    Simply put, the OXM guy had never seen a point multiplier in the game. Apparently never used the power zone. Never gotten an extra life. But had slogged through anyway, despite the game getting harder and harder.

    The OXM guy basically tried the game once, failed spectacularly, didn’t even try to go back to the start to figure out why he was losing so hard, and wrote a hatchet-job review.

    Don’t you just love professionalism? To think that these people actually get paid to know about games, and write about their experiences.

  • gnome

    Ok. It’s obvious. I need a bleeding Xbox 360. Any offers?

  • Radnom

    I personally prefer long posts :P

  • Cas

    Though I’m sure SG is an excellent game, nevertheless the OXM reveiwer’s opinion is totally valid. How did he manage to have a crap experience? How likely is it that a lot of other people will have the same experience?

    It’s a great piece of criticism: the Yak should give it a good beady stare and start tweaking the game to ensure that no-one else has the same miserable experience. *That’s* professionalism.

  • Dominic White

    So, if I were to go up to any arcade game, play a level or two without understanding what I was doing, completely fail at the game, then wrote a lengthy diatribe about how much the game sucks, that would be valid?

    I thought that game reviewers were paid to actually have the knowledge and skills required to objectively assess the qualities of a game and then describe it to the potential audience.

    Perhaps I’m expecting too much from reviewers.. But then again, they’re getting paid, and I’m not. The idea of gross ineptitude earning paycheques just rubs me the wrong way.

    I’d just like to mention that a girl I know who seldom plays games beyond solitaire, and maybe a bit of pokemon, tried this today and got 5 million by level 6 on her first try. By comparison, the paid professional got 6 million by level 31.

    That’s transcendent levels of suck.

  • Oddbob

    It’d be valid if the game left the ruleset to guesswork, yes – and whilst I do love Space Giraffe that’s precisely what the game involves.

    The explanation of the gaming world and what you have to do leaves a lot to be desired. I find it far too easy and convenient to point the finger at someones poor skills but if I was Jeff I’d be asking myself “why did he get such a poor score?” and “why did he fail to grasp it so badly?”

    I know of precisely no arcade game with an ever changing set of rules of play and with the level of depth that SG has. It’s a game that demands persistence and the rules change as you progress. New enemies and idea’s aren’t subtly introduced, they’re thrown at you – heck, even the flowers ruleset changes on a level to level basis.

    It’s fairly obvious Dan probably tried the tutorial, then tried the game and thought “what in cocks name?” then likely out of some sense of duty parried on to the early 30’s just to see if it got any better or any explanation was forthcoming. Obviously, for him – it didn’t and I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall when he hit The Wrong Pill.

    I don’t see that as a failure of the reviewer, more a failure of the game to communicate properly. And that *is* a problem in this day and age – we didn’t know any better in the eighties, we do now. Old school isn’t an excuse.

    But I still love it to bits :-)

  • Melly

    I’ve wondered if we can make the fact that you have to grasp by yourself how to work with a game that doesn’t give you many hints an actual design choice, and make it work well in a day and age where gamers aren’t like the kids of the NES era, who could afford to spend an hour or so trying to figure out just how to get to the next level.

    We seem to live in a time where time is ever more scarse and so is the patience of people. Though I’m pretty certain that the more vague is a game, the greater is the feeling of achievement once you figure it out.

    If it’s done right, of course.

  • Tanner

    This and skate make me want a 360. VERY BADLY. I <3 Jeff Minter. One of Indie gaming's greatest minds.

  • Mizumon

    In the end, it’s somewhat like having to respect the fact that a lot of hand-holding goes into today’s games – once you leave gamers out in the cold, they don’t know what to do anymore.

    It’s a blessing and a curse – not every reviewer is sadly going to open-minded to independent gaming, and will probably expect professionalism from these games. It’s just more proof that the industry is still a little swollen around the ears.

  • Jason Rohrer

    I haven’t played SG, because I don’t have a 360 (and I don’t know anyone who has one, come to think of it—mine is still a PS2 world with a few Wii sprinkled about). However, I did play Tempest 2000 to death on the Atari Jaguar, and I snatched up Tempest 3X (or whatever it’s called) for the PS1 when I saw it in a bargain bin (actually not as slick as T2000, but then again, who still has a Jaguar).

    Okay, so that’s my relevant gaming background.

    Minter is the genius who made a smashing remake of an arcade classic. Granted.

    But why go back to that same skeleton for this new game? Perhaps you can add features and change the rules a bit, but if you have a “claw” (or whatever it is) on one end of a 3D web, with enemies coming up the web at you, then it is a Tempest-like game.

    Perhaps that’s the problem—when looking for a genre, we scratch our heads and say… “uh, the Tempest genre?” Because there only was one Tempest, and the other similar games at the time were obvious Tempest knock-offs (Web Wars for the Vectrex). It’s not like a true genre of “3D web games” was ever spawned. If there was such a genre, there were only about two people working in it: the guy who made the original Tempest and… Jeff Minter.

    So why can’t Jeff break the mold? Branch out? Try something completely different?

    Same complaint about Nifflas. Knytt was a big enough jump from WIADF, but now Knytt Stories?

    I know that creators tend to get stuck in ruts once they find something that works (like ID software with the FPS, or Jackson Pollock with splatter painting), but why?

    Maybe it has something to do with having fans and not wanting to disappoint them.

    (Oh, and I found a proper genre name: tube shooter [via wikipedia])

  • Anthony Flack

    I’d say that, yeah, you could consider an obscure ruleset and blindingly confusing presentation to be valid design choices; absolutely.

    However that’s not to say that it then gives you a free pass. You can still dispute whether they were GOOD design choices.

    Maybe it works, but if you make a game that is deliberately opaque then you have to accept that it’s going to polarise opinions. Ultimately if someone misses the point of your game, then that is a problem that you as a designer ought to at least give due consideration to.