Monday, March 9, 2009

world of goo on the downside of google

faceless Wow, we were pretty hateful this weekend. Oscillating between disapproving and venomous, we managed to use some variant of the relatively obscure word “vitriol” twice in two posts. Hating stuff is way fun, but I think it’s time for Charge Shot!!! to love again.

Two things happened this weekend that forwarded my development as a gamer – I finally finished Dragon Quest V, ending a two-week streak during which I played nothing else, and World of Goo went on sale for five bucks on Steam.

It’s one of those games we seem to like a lot around these parts – a small, independently-developed affair, it’s inventive and engaging and will probably influence more games in the future than a shelf full of Maddens. Its music borrows occasionally from Danny Elfman’s book, which is fitting enough given the Tim-Burton-meets-Don-Hertzfeldt art direction. It’s not flashy and it’s certainly not as detailed or pretty to look at as is Braid, but it’s not ugly by any means.

Its writing is clever in that sharp, self-referential way that indie games of late seem so fond of – recall the tongue-in-cheek delivery of You Have to Burn the Rope and you’ll be close. Most of the game’s dialogue is delivered on sign-posts written by the mysterious Sign Painter, and they use these notices both to educate about game mechanics and to great comedic effect, making jokes about how life seems like a giant physics puzzle and making callback jokes to earlier levels. When the game is loading, in lieu of an actual “loading” message it spits at you a series of quick “progress” indicators, including “scraping funds” and “debating games as art.” Well played, 2D Boy.

It’s not all cutesy cleverness, though – the game is also laced with a subtle but pointed message, poking fun at big companies that have arisen out of this whole Internet business, most notably Google. No one ever comes out and says it, but the vaguely malicious World of Goo corporation is similar to the Internet giant in a lot of ways – they’ve both fully pervaded their respective societies, and they both have fingers in nearly every pot they can manage. Like Google, the World of Goo corporation stores and has access to all your information – search results, emails, chats, blogs, shopping habits and the rest – but it absolutely won’t share it with anyone.* If you think I’m reading into anything, consider the fact that most of the game builds up to a confrontation with MOM, a computer system who just loves to let all her users know about the great special offers they are missing out on. MOM has an email address. Also, she targets advertisements based on the contents of your emails and your browsing habits. Sound familiar?

World of Goo has a point – I mean, I like Google, at least the Google I read about in press releases and news articles but the fact is that they’ve got massive amounts of most of our information, and have only their word that it’s not being shared with anyone. I use Google for all my personal and professional mail. This blog, its images and its RSS feeds are all handled by three separate Google or Google-owned entities. About two-thirds of our (paltry) ad revenue is generated by Google, and our hit-tracking software (provided by Google) says that some five percent of you read this blog in your Google Web browser. They’re trying to supplant Microsoft Office with Google Docs. They’re trying to take over your phone with their Android operating system. Yes, they offer a lot of very useful, very competitive products, most of them for free, but in the long term I don’t know if it’s best practice to have one company so effortlessly dominating so many fields. They’re benevolent now, but what happens if they choose not to be later?

Oh well. I’ll worry about it later. I’m going to check my Google-owned email, watch some videos on YouTube (which Google owns) and then I’m going to go to bed, which I am fairly sure Google is in talks to buy. I’ll let you know what kind of deal I get.

OH YAH btw i really liked this gmae A++++ game of the year would buy again!!1

* – That asterisk doesn’t mean anything in particular, but is rather meant to represent all fine print in all contracts everywhere.