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Indie Nation #40: Fantastic Blood Boy

4:01 PM on 11.14.2008 // Anthony Burch

Fantastic Blood Boy isn't just remarkable because it's a fun game (though it is), or because it has awesome visuals and an awesomely almost-but-not-quite-annoying soundtrack (though it does), but because, when explained verbally or through text, it sounds like the most confusing game in history. Once you've played with it for about a minute, however, everything becomes completely clear.

Made for the TIGSource Video Game Name Generator competition, Fantastic Blood Boy teaches us how quickly we gamers can internalize and comprehend even the most seemingly confusing game rules, so long as they're presented in a graceful and consistent way through the gameplay itself. 

If you try to read the in-game instructions, you might well be so confused that you'll want to turn the game off altogether and do something less confusing, like particle physics. After a few moments of play, however, the rules simply click: what was impossible to convey through conventional written language suddenly makes perfect sense, through the sheer power of gameplay.

Play it (download link at the bottom of the first post), or hit the jump for more.

I will try, to the best of my ability, to explain how to play Fantastic Blood Boy in plain English.

You're a little red dude who cannot die or get hurt in any way. Little blue dudes want to destroy your blood crystals, but you can't let them. Run or jump into the blood crystals to move them away from the blue dudes. Bombs and missiles and skulls will spawn that allow you to kill the blue dudes but cannot hurt you. After you kill a blue dude, his body will fly into the air, spraying blood. If you catch the blood, the screen will fill with a rising wave of more blood. When the screen is totally full, you will get another blood crystal, which will increase your points but is also susceptible to destruction by the blue dudes. Also, large, black, indestructible monsters will begin roaming around and if you touch them, they'll imprison you for a short period of time until you can button-mash your way out of their stomachs. If you lose the last blood crystal, the game is over.

That, hopefully, was pretty goddamn confusing. If it isn't, then that either ruins my point and the game isn't as complex on paper as I thought it was, or means I'm better at explaining things than I thought (the latter is probably not the case). 

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Still, for whatever mental work you had to do in order to understand that synopsis of the game mechanics, it's infinitely easier and less time-intensive to just play the game. Though it might take you a little while to work out that you are indestructible and that it's the crystals you have to protect, after that everything falls into place. Even the stuff that doesn't fall into place (I can imagine players not trying to collect the blood, or spending a majority of the game doing so unintentionally) end up being nice surprises along the way and in no way hinder your ability to understand what the hell is going on in the here and now.

It's games like Fantastic Blood Boy that convince me videogame manuals and written, "How To Play" tutorials should soon be considered a thing of the past. Nothing explains gameplay like gameplay (with a few helping hints), so why bother writing all the instructions out? Why force your player to spend their time with something outside of the game itself just to learn how to play that game?

Of course, I think my experience with Fantastic Blood Boy was helped by the fact that I did read the instructions. I was completely confused by them, but they gave me a context in which to judge and understand the mechanics. Perhaps that's all that needs to be done: give the player a general idea of what they're going to be doing, and let them discover the rest. Beyond how easy it is to learn through great game design, it's simply much more satisfying to discover things on your own (or at least, to feel like you discovered it on your own). 

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But I digress: Fantastic Blood Boy is a fun, fast-paced game which is simultaneously charming in its simplicity and addictive in the complexity of its mechanics. It feels like an old-school arcade game, but arcade games were never so frantic and confusing and cool.

Play it, and enjoy it. And don't get discouraged by the instructions, should you read them.






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