Notes: Otocky

Otocky (available using an emulator) is a 1987 music game that was released on a Famicon (Nintendo Family Computer Disk System).

It’s one of the first games to feature dynamic procedural game music.

The gameplay is a basic sidescroller/shooter, who’s modern equivalent would be something like Jetpack Joyride.
You fly forward automatically, avoid monsters and shoot everything.

The game however, has a rhythm, to which everything gets quantized, that way, whenever you shoot, every shot plays a note, and everything fits in with the rhythm. (I explore a similar idea in my look at Plink).
Different weapons manifest different sounds and shooting behavior, that fits in with the sound (volume, longevity of the note feels similar to bullet behavior).

At first, I felt like the gameplay is “broken” just because I felt it was awkward that the character moves along with shooting, because you have to select one of the 8 directions and press shoot button to fire, which also moves the character in that direction. I felt like I should be able to align my shot with static pickups to shoot them, but instead that input mechanic interferes with accuracy of my shots. It was frustrating.

Later on, talking with Phil, I started to open my mind up a bit more that the game was released almost 30 years ago, and that current gameplay expectations don’t apply. Its an 80’s game, games were hard back then, it’s a known fact, and I was struggling to accept it. I had to realign my thinking much like I should’ve realigned the position of the character with move/fire mechanic in mind to get the pickups I wanted.

It’s an interesting way to look at this. I can see this game being an attempt to being a “casual” game, a game designed for a wide demographic, perhaps even a game for “girls as well” given a greater male dominance of the market in the 80’s compared to now. It employs much of the mechanics of the time – side scrolling, shooting, lots more shooting, monsters, pickups, special weapons, capturing the likes of Metal Slug, Megaman and R-Type, and giving it a casual skin, yet the game is hard by today’s standards.

Another way I’m looking at it is musical. What does it mean, that shooting and movement are linked? Shooting is the musical and rhythmical essence of this game, yet it is directly linked to player override over automatic scrolling WAIT A SECOND!

…I just paused typing this to go back and play it again, and I’ll be damned.

The direction of movement/shooting specifies the note that is played, which changes with the instrument that you get, and the tempo of the song increases with your success / progression. Smart, feels good.

I need to readjust the way I look at games and judge them when I try to quantify specific parts I’m investigating. I need not to just look at sound/graphics/gameplay as a separate thing, and then say “good/bad/5 out of 10”, but consider the sum of all parts. Every piece has a reason for being (unless it’s a bad design), and needs to be considered in the greater scope of the whole game, It will explain why it’s there and why it needs being, just like my eureka here with Otocky. This thinking will also in turn, lead to designing better games.