Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Geometry Wars (Bizarre Creations)

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Geometry Wars is as genius as it is simple and reminds us that the days of high score popping in titles like Asteroids and Galaga are not over.  This is a fast-paced game that requires pattern recognition and the ability to weave between enemies with the hardest of shups.  In the end, just like in the arcade, it’s all about the score.  The most impressive part of this story is that this multi-million download powerhouse began life as a free minigame.

Project Gotham Racing (or PGR for short) was an Xbox exclusive franchise developed by Bizarre Creations (who also developed Blur) that focused on arcade racing for the win while doing it with style.  You advanced your upgrades and car with “kudos” that were awarded by doing everything from clever weaving to power slides.  In PGR2 when you entered your garage, where you could customize and upgrade your cars, there was a minigame you could also play called Geometry Wars.  It was a basic shooter that used only the two sticks to play – the left stick controlled the movement of your craft and the right stick controlled the direction your ship shot bullets.  As you progressed, the game would get more and more frantic until you were getting swarmed at every moment that you were alive.  Couple that game design with the Atari-style graphics that look like they could have been lifted from a vector monitor and you have an instant hit.

When the Xbox 360 launched in 2005, Project Gotham Racing 3 was to be a launch title and prior to launch there were plenty of arcade re-releases ready to be a part of the Xbox Live Arcade service.  I’m sure someone at Microsoft saw that featuring a standalone version of Geometry Wars  would be a no-brainer to go head to head with the likes of titles such as Galaga and Contra.  If you picked up PGR3 and headed into your garage, you could play a demo of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved.  This version of the game had the classic style with a full-screen grid and the vector graphics, but it also contained a bright glowing high-resolution version that was larger than the screen.  This meant that as you played, enemies would be bombarding you that you wouldn’t get to see until they were almost upon you.  It gave way to plenty of forum chatter about Microsoft’s newest HD console and some gamers admitted to playing the Geometry Wars demo more than the so-so PGR3.

Around Thanksgiving of that same year Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved launched on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 points ($10) and immediately became the must-download title.  I don’t know anyone that has a 360 and doesn’t own one version of Geometry Wars.  Its simplicity gives way to the overwhelming urge to play it again and again – not to mention its small size makes things like load times and slow respawns unheard of.  To this date I get on the leaderboards and try to top my high score (because I’m certainly not competing with the top players among my friends, let alone worldwide).

As you could probably expect, this title was then ported all over the place.  It made appearances on the DS, Wii, PC and iOS – sure, there’s no PSN version but PS3 players can play near-clones like Super Stardust HD if they need to.  Bizarre even created a sequel, Geometry Wars 2, on XBLA to integrate multiplayer (co-op and competitive) as well as consistent updates on your score versus your friends.  This title is a perfect example of how old school gameplay and mentality can be integrated with contemporary innovation and net glorious results.

Tomorrow’s journey is for all you music lovers out there.  It integrates your own songs to create levels on the go and convert them into a high-scoring phenomenon not unlike Geometry Wars.  I’m talking about none other than the amazing indie title Beat Hazard.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm

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