the artistry and psychology of gaming

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SkyRoads

SkyRoads

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

This week’s game is platformer with mechanics so tight you’ll forget all about asking why there was gravity in space.

SkyRoads

“Roads” is a bit of a stretch, it’s more like SkyBunchOfBlocksInTheSameDirection

Genre: Racing Platformer
Link to Game: http://www.bluemoon.ee/history/skyroads/index.html
Game Info: Released as shareware in 1993 by Bluemoon Interactive, and now freely available for download on Bluemoon’s website.

Let’s go back to 1993 for a moment; where 3D graphics (while having existed in some form or another since as early as the mid 70’s) were beginning their first big push towards their future dominance of the gaming landscape. PC gamers in 1993 were greeted with DOOM, which added multi-plane depth to the up and coming FPS market, while console gamers received Star Fox, showing off solid objects in a way that no isometric perspectives or mode-7 landscapes could compare with. With advances in the technology of that era, 3D was becoming much more of a reality, capable of producing crisper effects with greater speed, and small time Developer Blue Moon Interactive acted on the change by updating their previous effort Kosmonaut into a full international release called SkyRoads.

Speaking of greater speed, I should also mention that while Blue Moon is in reality a small coding group operating out of Estonia, they have also been a key team in developing some of the most widely used peer-to-peer communications technologies to speed up the file sharing process, as well as house several team members that have been integral in programming such later peer-to-peer services as KaZaa and Skype. These guys have some serious programming chips on their shoulders, and in looking back at SkyRoads after all these years, its not hard to see how this team would one day be destined for greatness.

Walls, tunnels, gaps, traps, a lot stands between your ship and the goal.

SkyRoads is essentially a platforming game, where the players control a small spacecraft that hops through the galaxy across a series of 3-D panels varying in length and height that come flying towards the player from the horizon. One could of course question the mega-whiplash one would receive if this were a viable form of transportation, or point out the near-unfathomable density required for any of these flying panels to maintain their own gravitational pull on the passing ship in space, but really none of that should matter, as SkyRoads is simply a blast to play, even after all these years.

By today’s standards, the graphics are certainly nothing special, however they are still more than serviceable for the game, and the use of color shading across the floor tiles coupled with the smooth scrolling speed allows for some clever visual effects to occur during some of the more creative stages (the “Misty” and “The Earth” areas in particular). However, the real staying power for the game comes in its tight and responsive controls, maintaining the excellent arcade-style twitch gameplay that is (thankfully) starting to resurface after its near decade-long hibernation in the gaming industry. Also correlating with today’s gaming landscape, the fairly short length of each of the stages and their immediate availability allows for the difficulty in SkyRoads to present itself without being overly punishing.

Yup, not a lot of road here…

If all the game offered was hopping on different tiles, there wouldn’t be much to merit any attention years down the line. Thankfully, SkyRoads offers several variants to change the pace of their intergalactic bunny hop from time to time and offer some forced strategy. The first comes in the colored tiles that present themselves throughout the game. While many colors are utilized in the different levels there are certain colored tiles that will always dictate a specific action. Some tiles are “slippery” which will cause your ship to maintain the direction it was heading in without being able to correct it, while light red tiles will cause your ship to explode on contact (unless you carefully move aling their outer rims in a process called “Burning”). Light green tiles will automatically accelerate your ship, while “sticky” dark green tiles will slow you down. Blue tiles fill up your supply gauges. These tiles are well incorporated into the level designs and appear at clever moments during traversal, sometimes dictating certain paths, and sometimes obscuring the correct one.

The second level of variation comes about in the game’s meters for speed, gravity, and the ship’s oxygen and fuel supply. While speed is a metric controlled by the player (slow speed can get you through the beginning stages easy enough, but high speed is still required for later levels with longer jumps), the other three present themselves through the level design. Some stages will require you to replenish your supplies in order to reach the goal (in a great comedic moment, one level has an obscured supply panel that if you didn’t notice, you’ll end up on a straight shot to the finish and run out of fuel while the words “GAS” scroll by, written in panels along the side). Several levels will also have weaker and stronger than average gravity, making your ship’s jump jets to range in effectiveness from sky-high floating, to absolutely nothing at all.

While the sprite based design work does show some age, the accessible gameplay in SkyRoads remains as fun as ever, and with its freeware rerelease, everyone is still able to track it down and enjoy it.

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