I’m on the last bit of Stray (BlueTwelve Studio), and I have mostly enjoyed my time being a cat. They have captured accurately the feeling of being a cat, I think, and I love that you can just take the time to sharpen your claws, lap water from a puddle, or curl up in a ball and snooze. You can also have a few specific NPCs pet you, which is really sweet.
I almost quit the game, though. I’ll tell you why. I mentioned in the last post about my difficulty collecting the things I needed to make progress. I finally realized I had been in both places before, but I just hadn’t looked around thoroughly enough. In one case, the item was under a mess of papers on the floor, which means I didn’t push them around enough to find it. In the second case, it was that I missed the safe that was nestled on the bookshelves. I had the keys, but I had forgotten about it when I didn’t find the safe during my first walkaround.
I could say this is my fault for not looking closely enough, but it’s not completely my fault. I have spatial issues and the camera controls aren’t terrific. Or rather, it’s easy to miss cues if you swing the camera around too quickly. In addition, it’s not always clear why you can jump on one ledge and not another. It’s frustrating and I wasted hours trying to find these two items.
It’s somewhat on me because I could have just looked it up, but I didn’t want to. My brain was like, “YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIND THIS YOURSELF, YOU DOLT!” When a game is cozy, I feel extra pressure to figure it out myself. That’s just from me, though. It’s not as if anyone is saying, “Do this yourself, numbnuts.” That is what my brain is telling me, though. “Why are you finding this so hard? Anyone can do this!” I know that’s what people with disabilities are made to feel, and I have to say, it’s corrosive.
I know it’s me a lot of the time. Rather, I know it’s my issue and not the game. Just like my shitty reflexes (we’ll get to that in a second) is me. I try to keep my mouth shut about it, but it makes my enjoyment of a game really take a nosedive if I can’t find a way around it.
Now. Let’s talk about the Zerglings. That’s not actually what they are, but that’s what I call them. Zurks. That’s the actual name. Tell me it’s not derivative of Zerglings. There are also, apparently, sentinel robots that will shoot you, but I have not seen them yet.
So. The Zurks do a Zerg rush (yes, I’m sticking with that. Deal with it) that will quickly overwhelm your poor kitty if you don’t get away fast enough. You can try to dodge around them, but that’s not always possible because there are so many of them. You can also hammer ‘B’ to detach from them, but–and here’s where the hidden disability part comes in–I cannot hammer the B button fast enough to do this most of the time. I think you’re supposed to be running at the same time, but I cannot hit the B button fast enough to withstand the swarm. Late in the game, I’ve wondered if I was supposed to press B in unison with how the prompt was flashing, but I didn’t have the chance to check it out.
I can’t tell you how frustrated I got by this and how much it took me out of the game. Ian and I were talking about it, and I understand that they want to give a sense of danger, but it nearly had me quitting the game.
Look. I know this is a me-thing, but I don’t need frantic gameplay in the middle of a cozy game in order to feel like I’m playing a game (and to feel like I’ve gotten my bang for the buck). I’ve had this issue with cozy games before (like Spiritfarer (Thunder Lotus Games). Oh my god. The platforming in that is such hot trash. There was a time late in the game that I nearly quit because of the platforming).
I’ve had this beef since I began gaming–if you’re not a platforming game, don’t have platforming. Now, I want to add to that, if you’re going to have QTE in your game, have another way they can be done. In addition to fucking up the button pressing several times, I also couldn’t look around fast enough to see what I needed to do while escaping the Zerglings.
Ian and I had a heated debate about this. He was saying the devs wanted to make it feel dangerous and raise the stakes. I understand that, but for me, it was completely deflating.
And that’s the whole point of disabilities. Things that are normal or even easy for normies are difficult or nigh impossible for me. I can’t press the button faster–I literally cannot. I tried so hard, but I failed again and again. I actually swore doing it, which is not the vibe of the game at all.
I finally made it through the section, but I felt wrung out. That’s not the point of the game, I know, and I’m sure that wasn’t what they wanted me to feel. If they could have offered a constant pressing (which I tried), that would have been so much easier. This is the kind of thing that I want to be chill about with indie devs, but it really makes it hard for me to play the game. I just acquired something that makes dealing with the Zerglings so much easier, but it was a pain to get to this point.
Ian said that the purpose was to give a sense of menace and imminent danger. I understand that. However, for me, it didn’t do that–it just made me frustrated and ready to quit the game.
I do not play cozy games for the gameplay. I never have. I’m playing them for the ambiance and the emotions they engender. I do not need quick time events or platforming to make me appreciate the game. In fact, because it’s usually not done well, it pulls me out of the game and makes me want to play something else. There was a brief bit of gameplay in Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall) that made me grit my teeth as well. Here’s the thing. In a game that is mostly just walking around and absorbing the story, a minute of intense gameplay now and again is so jarring.
Just get rid of it. I don’t need it, and more to the point, I don’t want it. I would enjoy Stray much more if I didn’t have to run from the Zerglings or try to do bad platforming. That’s really all I ask for at this point.