WARP ZONE Game Club - Void Stranger

I, too, started playing Void Stranger yesterday, on account of everyone talking about it both here on the forums and elsewhere online. It‘s incredibly impressive, but there’s one thing that‘s been bothering me since last night that I figured I’d mention here for prosperity, depending on how the rest of the game follows up on it. Spoilers/speculation below:


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The structure of some of these rooms has made it clear that the big “mind-exploding” gimmick everyone seems to be going gaga over will involve some sort of new ability/NG+ feature/etc. which will start recontextualizing puzzles and allow for deeper exploration into the many mysteries this game is clearly signposting. This seems well and good, if not heavy-handedly predictable. My main concern is how one of the tablets, the ones that insist “it's not worth trying to figure these out right now,” was shattered and had binary code (or some representation of it) showing. I‘m going to say it right now and never apologize: if this game’s big moment involves revealing that the whole thing has been in a simulation or in a video game or anything along these lines I‘m going to be massively disappointed. Why are we as a medium, as a culture, still stuck on this idea of centering narratives on video games being video games? Is anyone still impressed or surprised by this? I never finished Zeroranger because I could smell that some twist like this was on the way and I simply couldn’t muster the energy to pretend to care. I‘m otherwise surprisingly invested in all the other narrative elements Void Stranger is introducing, but this tease and my passing familiarity with Zeroranger has me concerned that this is just how these guys are. If I’m wrong and this is just, I don‘t know, some kind of red herring or a singular fourth wall break for the sake of itself (yuck), it’ll still suck but it at least won‘t color my perception of the entire game. If they continue down this path of rolling around in meta-video game commentary I’m gonna be embarrassed that I ever got so invested in this game to begin with. I don‘t understand why so many indie games love this style of storytelling so much. It’s not cute.

@“Funbil”#p132854 Currently stuck on floor 73 and >!if they‘re gonna pull a bait and switch I kinda wish they’d just do it already, cuz I'm really not enjoying the puzzles so far. For all its clever presentation, I find its implementation of tile replacement way too simplistic, and it seems like they struggled to craft interesting levels or game objects around it. Trying to withhold judgment for now because ultimately I know (I hope) the puzzles will evolve, but this early part of the game feels so carelessly constructed it actually makes me less interested to know how they subvert it later on.!<

@“Bbtone”#p132864 I started consulting a guide for puzzles that took me 5+ minutes somewhere shortly after B100, but I similarly started losing interest earlier than that like you are right now. The first 50 or so floors felt fresh, it‘s an interesting twist on a game structure nearly as old as the medium itself, but I agree that the puzzles start getting a little less considerate as they go on. Instead of being cute ways to implement this new idea, it feels like these more recent puzzles are trying to prove how clever the gimmick is. It’s a shift in tone I don‘t appreciate. If it wasn’t for the narrative I‘d probably put it down right where I am currently (B140-something) – which is why I don’t mind using a guide, since the gameplay has become secondary to my reason for continuing, but also more critically is the reason I‘m concerned about the narrative’s direction. If this too goes down the drain then there won‘t be anything left for me. We’ll see.

I‘m a little curious about something. Spoilered out of an abundance of caution but I’m just talking about a repeating thing that happens like 30 minutes in: >!when you (general you, not addressed to anyone in particular) get to the trees and the game asks you about rest, how have you treated that? I will rest, and actually rest. I'll go do something else for a while. Come back another time. Seemed like something the game wanted me to play along with.!<

@“Mnemogenic”#p132872 ||I also actually rest! I have noticed the trees are placed almost perfectly in exact 30-minute increments somehow. They must have really focus-tested the puzzle sequences to get that timing right. I feel like if the lengths between them were much longer it‘d be easy to get fatigued; 30 minutes is the exact right timing for the game to gently suggest stepping away and clearing the mind. Forcing the window to close is also a great way to compel players to behave this way when it may not typically be in their nature. "Well, if the game’s already shut off, I'll do something else for a while."||

@“Mnemogenic”#p132872 >!Most times I just open it right back up. I typically stop when I get bored or stumped, so a couple times now I've opened the game back up after a break to find I was only a few floors away from a mandated break lol.!<

Good call. I was starting to worry about us clogging up the other thread.

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I'm thankful for this thread, and am enjoying the discourse here so far.

I'm not playing the game, because I know I hate sokoban puzzles, and don't want to sit through several hours of sokoban puzzles just to experience something that people who review video games online have decided is some mindblowing narrative device. I'm skeptical that the reward will be worth the effort, personally.

Partly, I suspect that the magic in the Void Stranger experience was for people going in entirely blind, and discovering the twist for themselves. If you start playing the game because you've heard people saying that there's this cool twist that you just gotta see, some large percentage of that magic is immediately lost.

And yeah, like @Funbil beautifully pointed out, if this is another video game about the fact that it's a video game, that's just not that exciting or clever anymore!

Still I do think there's probably something _there_ there with Void Stranger. I just wonder if it that something will prove to be impressive to people who aren't so immersed in video games all the time that they play them for a living, or as part of their living.

I‘ve gotten a bit deeper (I think I’m on floor 82) and I‘m starting to feel my lackluster puzzling skills. Took me more than an hour to travel between stops. I accidently spoiled myself regarding how many floors there are, and it’s made me nervous about how tough this might actually get.

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@“whatsarobot”#p132929 another video game about the fact that it’s a video game

is this the case? That's what I had assumed because that's the typical move "deep" video games make, but jojoestar got mad at Inscryption for pulling the same old shit but was high on this game

@“yeso”#p132992 ||After reaching two of apparently three endings last night, I can confirm this is about half true, or maybe 100% depending on how the third one may have been foreshadowed. This is not explicitly about video games (yet*), but it does do that classic goofy thing of visualizing a character‘s shaky emotional state with NES-styled tile garbling “glitches,” and any value from repeat playthroughs requires players to break the rules by moving tiles from the UI as if they’re floor tiles and other decidedly fourth-wall-y stuff. The closest comparisons I can think of are the two Anodyne games, which I similarly thought were lacking anything meaningful to say and dressed it up in the language of video games to seem unique. There‘s cute and clever mechanical moments inside of this framing, but it’s basically dropped any pretense of being about anything in particular anymore.||

||*I say "yet" because the second ending involved a computer scientist clacking away at a keyboard in front of some monitors, some soldiers apprehend her for doing some science stuff, then a void/portal/etc. opens up on the largest screen and a huge monster comes out. I think the monster was a reference to _Zeroranger_. This is after six hours of an otherwise fantasy-flavored story with no hints of sci-fi at all, save for the cracked tablet I mentioned in my first post. I've got an awful feeling in my stomach that this fourth-wall stuff is going to become diegetic in the third "true ending" by way of this scientist.||

Both of these games are extremely hard to talk about without “spoiling” but I will try my absolute best to give a pitch to the skeptical in a way that I will feel comfortable not putting behind a spoiler tag:

System Erasure's games do not have narrative twist endings as much as they have mechanical twist endings. There are certainly plot twists and reveals and the like in both of these games, and the substance of those twists might smell of cliche in this genre, but that is not in my opinion the thing that they are doing that stands apart from other games, which is how they play around with metaprogression, replayability, lives, continues, etc. in a (at least among the games I've played) relatively novel way.

In both games, a person replaying the game is going to have a wildly different experience than someone playing the game for the first time, not because they know some narrative twist or because they have some muscle memory or practice built up or because they have a bunch of things unlocked, but because their understanding of what the game is doing at a mechanical level is different. Their objectives in each level are different, their understanding of their available options are different, and their place in the full narrative arc is different even though they both might be playing on fresh installs with no save data. The progress is kept track of more by what the player has learned or seen more than it is kept track of by a save. And I think that's pretty cool.

But mainly the thing I like about these games is that both the 1st playthrough and the 100th playthrough are somehow well tuned. Without any sort of gimmick attached to them both ZeroRanger and Void Stranger would be among my favorite shmups or puzzle games respectively on gameplay alone. The fact that they also do interesting stuff with the medium is more of a bonus than the draw.

For a moment I was very confused because I remembered an ongoing conversation about the game on the other thread which seemingly disappeared and I had no idea what's going on with that until I found this thread. Very fitting to find it here, given what the game is actually about…

I saw a couple of posts I found interesting and wanted to reply to some of them.

**To Funbil**

@"Funbil"#p132854 When I read your first post and your suspicions about what direction the narrative might take I was going to suggest that, while a degree of skepticism is generally healthy with regards to any piece of media, if you lean too heavily on that it may end up becoming a type of distrust that could end up depriving the game from the space it requires to surprise or broadly please you, effectively poisoning your own enjoyment of the thing. But given that you also said that neither are you enjoying the puzzles and the general mechanics/flow of the game perhaps you've reached a level of negativity towards the game that makes it very hard for it to be successful, so maybe taking a break or doing something else that helps you changing your mindset helps? Maybe even putting the game down entirely, I don't know.

Not that I think Void Stranger is that special or deserves any kind of special treatment, but rather that I think it's very hard for any creative thing/piece of media to do anything for you if you don't have a level of interest/faith it's going to be worth your time. If you feel like you have lost that the two only things that have worked out for me in the past are leaving it for good or recovering that interest somehow. On that second scenario one thing that has also worked out for me (other than taking a break) is having a friend helping change my perspective a bit, so here's hoping that this interaction has that effect!

**Speaking of the levels and puzzle design**

@"Bbtone"#p132864 @"Funbil"#p132870 My first playthrough took me around 8-10 hours, by the later half of that I was also starting to lose interest, even ended up risking the spoilers by checking out some guides, same as you did. I have some mixed feelings in this regard because one big criticism I've always had with popular subversive games like Undertale is that there isn't enough meat on the bone game-wise. The "subversion" happens too soon and it loses a lot of impact because there wasn't enough to subvert to begin with other than a general sense of "classic turn-based RPG". Inscryption works better in this regard but the subversion ends up being dumb and detrimental to the experience, but they did put the effort of creating an interesting enough game in its own merit before they start recontextualizing it.

With Void Stranger there's also the aspect (that you'll end up figuring out if you keep playing) that ||all of the rooms and puzzles have to accommodate mechanics and nuances in movement that are not available from the beginning.|| So you end up with puzzles that may look like either too simple or overly complicated but that have to serve purposes that are not immediately apparent, and I can imagine that it must have been a nightmare to balance out, so I feel like cutting them some slack on that regard.

**Nature of the first run**

I feel like the first playthrough wants to find a balance between clearly acting as tease, cluing the player on what may be hidden, while also having enough substance on its own, and it may not be entirely successful in that regard. But at least at the point where I'm at I kind of get it and, as I said, I'm lenient given the scope of what the game is trying to achieve. Also once you find ||some of the hidden mechanics and secret means of traversal you can massively trivialize|| most of the rooms, which leads to a sense of satisfaction and achievement that wouldn't have been the same if the game didn't put that level of resistance the first way through. That said, I do agree that the game could have benefited from trimming like 15% of the least interesting rooms.

Either way I think it's balance I find massively hard to strike, and at least imo they did a commendable job even while I find there is space for improvement in some regards.

**Comparison with Inscryption**

@"whatsarobot"#p132929 @"yeso"#p132992 Thankfully this has nothing to do with Inscryption (so far). I haven't 100% finished the game yet but at the point I'm at it seems less about ||the game being a game and more "in universe" in a similar way to what for example Nier does by presenting a fantasy setting that ends up including some sci-fi aspects.||

**The reason why I'm liking it**

Contrary to @"Funbil"#714 the reason why I'm interested/invested (disinterested in his case) has less to do with the actual narrative which so far I would classify as enjoyable videogame nonsense, and more with the way the game captures the spark of the pre-internet era games such as Zelda 2, Tower of Druaga or Simon's Quest. That unfiltered sense of mystery and discovery, the feeling of doing stuff that manages to feel cryptic and unintented by the game design rules, but that in truth is very much intended, and kind of the whole point of the experience.

Druaga is definitely the main comparison that comes to mind

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@“Funbil”#p132996 >!The closest comparisons I can think of are the two Anodyne games, which I similarly thought were lacking anything meaningful to say and dressed it up in the language of video games to seem unique.!<

>!Yeahhh. I like Analgesic's games for a lot of reasons, but they sure do fall apart when they have to wrap it up lol!<

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@“JoJoestar”#p132999 So you end up with puzzles that may look like either too simple or overly complicated but that have to serve purposes that are not immediately apparent, and I can imagine that it must have been a nightmare to balance out, so I feel like cutting them some slack on that regard.

I got this sense early on, but having just played _Corrypt_ (which features similarly dual-purposed puzzles), I find _Void Stranger's_ wastefulness really stifling. Both games were made with different goals in mind, no doubt, but I just can't get behind a design that dictates the first eight hours of game feel like a total slog.

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@“JoJoestar”#p132999 less to do with the actual narrative which so far I would classify as enjoyable videogame nonsense, and more with the way the game captures the spark of the pre-internet era games such as Zelda 2, Tower of Druaga or Simon’s Quest.

So glad to hear this, cuz this is why I'm still sticking with my first playthrough. I find the story pretty drab, but equally I love all the narrative touches embedded in the gameplay (very impressive for a tile-based puzzle game) and the way it withholds necessary context.

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@“Bbtone”#p133010 Void Stranger’s wastefulness

There is a ymmv angle to this, because you can see here people like Tracy finding it one of the best designed puzzle games ever made, you or Funbil who seem to be having a more negative experience, and me, who stands more in the middle. I was generally having a good time on the first run and it was only the last hour or two when I started to feel exhaustion but "wasteful" is not a term I would personally use with this game.

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@“Bbtone”#p133010 cuz this is why I’m still sticking with my first playthrough.

I will say that, contrary to other games in this particular style, I wouldn't recommend Void Stranger to anyone who didn't have at least a bit of interest in this specific style of puzzle design (which more than an actual sokoban is kind of a sokoban + lode runner hybrid).

In fact I had one friend, who generally has a bad time with both puzzles and overly difficult games but who is very into weird niche stuff in this vein, ask me if she should buy it and advised against it because in order to enjoy this game you absolutely have to engage with these mechanics, and that's a hard thing to do if you are not invested in this particular style of gameplay.

As much as I like the secrets and the more action RPG-ey/adventure game-esque elements, they share the weight of the experience along with the music, story and the rest of elements in a way that requires you to be invested in the whole package rather than one specific aspect in order to fully enjoy it. This to me is speaks to the actual strength of the game, in the sense that it demonstrates there is actual substance to the main mechanics outside of any twists and gimmicks there may be, contrary to so many other games attempting a similar structure.

Seeing how some of you are already falling off the whole thing I really do wonder if any of the surprises are going to be enough to sway your opinion (hope to be wrong, though!).

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@“JoJoestar”#p132999 the actual narrative which so far I would classify as enjoyable videogame nonsense

I guess I should clarify what I found intriguing about the plot, because for the most part I agree. It wasn't nececssarily the events themselves that grabbed me, but rather the disconnect to the current playable circumstances. I was compelled to reveal of the story to see how it wound up like this, how Gray wound up in this weird cavernous dungeon hole, and what any of that has to do with a demon princess marrying a king. "Something really cool and really weird must happen to get from there to here" – that's what I was invested in. Having that "cool and weird" thing be something as trite as a simulation/video game/etc. is what I was concerned about in my original post. Maybe things will start looking up in this third ending, but it's seeming like my investment was misplaced as I feared.

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@“JoJoestar”#p132999 perhaps you’ve reached a level of negativity towards the game that makes it very hard for it to be successful

Now that I'm on successive playthroughs and I've seen the tricks this game has up its sleeve, I don't want to give the impression that I hate it or anything! The points both you and Tracy are making about it mechanically are 100% true. I still don't think it's especially perfect, it's way too precise and strict for my tastes (that final "standard" floor was really trashy), but it is a bit of a marvel in its multidimensional design. I respect it very much as a Video Game, it just also happens to be playing into a particular narrative trope that historically bothers me.

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@“JoJoestar”#p132999 On that second scenario one thing that has also worked out for me (other than taking a break) is having a friend helping change my perspective a bit, so here’s hoping that this interaction has that effect!

I have appreciated the insight from you and others very much!!

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@“JoJoestar”#p133026 I was generally having a good time on the first run and it was only the last hour or two when I started to feel exhaustion but “wasteful” is not a term I would personally use with this game.

Yeah "wasteful” sounds much harsher than intended, and I failed to elaborate at all—what I meant to say is there’s a _lot_ of game before any twist(s), and as someone who loves to bash my head against sokoban puzzles and _tolerates_ the old style of arcade-y puzzle game (like _Lode Runner_), it frustrates me that, with some major restructuring, I could probably be having fun _right now,_ rather than four hours of standard puzzles from now.

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@“JoJoestar”#p132999 I have some mixed feelings in this regard because one big criticism I’ve always had with popular subversive games like Undertale is that there isn’t enough meat on the bone game-wise. The “subversion” happens too soon and it loses a lot of impact because there wasn’t enough to subvert to begin with other than a general sense of “classic turn-based RPG”.

That I feel totally the opposite about _Undertale_ really speaks to my impatience with _Void Stranger_ lol. I see _Undertale_ as _all meat_---in fact I'd argue it could've used even _less_ RPG battling (more boss fights, no random encounters). I don't even think of it as having any major twists, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it on that basis---from beginning to end I feel it stays true to what makes it special.