The Dark Side


There’s an ambiguous bit at the end of Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are duelling on the Death Star 2.0. Luke’s hiding from him for some reason, but Vader taunts him out by suggesting that if he can’t be turned to evil, maybe Leia could be. This makes Luke flip out, unleash his fury and beat Vader down. That always felt to me like he was doing exactly what the Emperor and Vader had told him to do. It felt like he was turning to the dark side.  Letting the hate flow through him and all that, right? But nope, I was wrong, turns out that “Actually mate, I’ve changed my mind. I think I’ll still be a Jedi after all.”

When you think about it, this was one of the most believable deceptions of a character in any of the 6 (as of writing) Star Wars films. Before this, and even more profoundly in the Prequels, the merest hint of anger, or jealousy or anything else along that ‘path’ was decisively snuffed out. No complex characters here please! And I always found that rather dull, because of course it’s fine to use the dark side a bit in moderation. Abstinence Only is not an effective method of Sith control.

I’m playing a lot of a Free to Play mobile game at the moment. This has caused no end of inner turmoil because it’s not a proper video game. It has wait timers. There’s tons of grinding. There are RIDICULOUS MICROTRANSACTIONS

That's not a lot of gems.  Seriously.
That’s not a lot of gems. Seriously. See the £22.99 one above? That’s ONE good card pull.

It is the Dark Side, plain and simple. But I just… can’t…stop…

I guess what I’m reluctantly admitting is that they’ve done a good job making a fun game behind all the Las Vegas exploitation. The main moment to moment stuff is typical rhythm action – just tap the correct spot on screen in time to the music. The anime theme gives it a nice charm, especially for those of us who know the show, and there’s lots of variety in the songs. The real genius of it all though comes from the meta-game. You see, tapping to the music scores you points, but when you start out even a perfect run will only get you a C rank, tops. What the hell’s going on there?

Stats! Of course it is! Naturally, your cast of loveable, collectable, FUCKING EXPENSIVE character cards have a skill stat. The higher your team’s skill, the more points you get when you tap.  And that’s the magic, because, at heart, this is in many ways a deck building CCG. Get a good team. Level up that team by feeding them characters you don’t need. Combine two of the same card to make them go super-saiyan for ultimate power!!! Naturally some cards are rarer than others; you get Normals after every game, and standard Rares aren’t too hard to come by. But… say… Ultra-Rares? Well, if you get one from your £22.99 up there, you’ve gotten pretty lucky. And then of course you’ll want to get the same one again to super-saiyan that ultimate power…

I’ll give it this much – it’s compelling. Although I’m not entirely sure how much of a compliment that is. I’m sure slowly drinking myself to death in the gutter would be a good demonstration of the ‘compelling’ nature of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, but that in itself is not a particularly strong recommendation. I suppose what I can say is that I do enjoy the collection mechanics. Building my team, getting the occasional rare character, watching my power slowly grow… it’s satisfying and adds a sense of purpose to what would otherwise quickly become a very dull experience. We have the same trouble designing F1 – at the end of the day you’re just doing laps around a track. How do we keep that interesting?

But those timers… I will maintain until my final breath that the stupidest idea any game designer ever came up with was “Hey… why don’t we force the player to stop playing our game after ten minutes!” This is what keeps an otherwise entertaining mobile game firmly on the Dark Side. To be enjoyed in moderation when you’re between other activities. But only when the game timers allow; I feel its important to never actually spend any money on games like this, because they’re designed in such a way as to make moderate spending impossible. It’s not like dropping £22.99 will get me everything I need. I could spend ten times that and be no closer at all. In a way, I’m rather lucky that the prices are so ridiculously high; if they seemed reasonable then I might be tempted… I mean, it would only be one or two…

Hmm… I’m starting to see Yoda’s point after all.