Wolfire Receiver: Immersive Gaming Done Correctly
June 18, 2015
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“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” —Og Mandino
A little less than a year after I got Receiver with my Overgrowth preorder, I’ve finally beaten the game touted as a highly detailed gun mechanics simulator with procedurally-generated worlds and permanent death. This unique combination of elements means that Receiver is likely to be one of the most challenging games around, more so than The Impossible Game and The World’s Hardest Game. However, this difficulty arises as a consequence of its simplicity: Receiver forces players to first learn how to reload their weapons properly, and initially coming from most shooters where smashing the ‘R’ button triggers a reload animation, Receiver requires an intricate pattern of coordinated, precisely placed keystrokes to reload a weapon. It takes roughly two hours to fully master all of this; being able to reload any of the weapons from muscle memory without looking at the keyboard is immensely satisfying, but also just the beginning of the game. The next task is to focus on finding eleven tapes scattered though a procedurally generated world where starting resources, enemies and tape placement is random. Even the most skilled player may find themselves entering a room and dying in an instant because of a turret or hover-bot’s placement, forcing them to start over. This ceaseless cycle of death and failure leaves players frustrated, often to the point of rage-qutting. Players with a more open mind will persist, and through reinforcement learning, eventually develop a mastery of the weapon mechanics and a fear of the killtrons’ distinctive detection sound.
- It might come as a surprise to some, but I’ve spent 34 hours in Receiver, which places it fourth overall in my Steam Library: owing to idling, I’ve got some 971 hours in Team Fortress 2 (and would probably have roughly 40-50 hours of actual play time), making it first. Second place belongs to Skyrim and third place is Bad Company 2, although half of that is playing through the campaign.
- This much replay value is not bad at all for a five dollar title: a quick computation finds that the game costs 15 cents per hour to play. My personal benchmark for value is a dollar per hour, so if a game manages to cost a dollar per hour or less, then it’s money well-spent.
- While Receiver makes use of a procedurally generated world, I’ve found that tapes tend to spawn in more or less the same areas. Consequently, there are some places that are better to explore in detail than others. Quite personally, I absolutely love the apartment assets: only furnished with the basics, these rooms feel very cozy and relaxing compared to the emptier, more intimidating and darker lower floors.
- I understand that my posting patterns have been quite inconsistent this month: my research work’s slowed down slightly, given that I’ve needed to debug my model for minor but somewhat jarring bugs (between supervising and helping undergraduate students out). Said bugs have been fixed, and the model works alright: I’m mostly back on track at present, and soon, work can begin on the project’s virtual reality component.
- Besides my thesis project, the summer’s epic food quest continues: last week, I attended a superlative Nerd Night talk on Dr. Caleb Brown’s discovery of a new horned dinosaur after enjoying a Reuben sandwich in a British-style pub. Then, on Saturday, I was out for dinner with the family, which, amongst other things, included a delicious wonton soup and pan-fried mayonaise shrimp. Monday saw another excellent steak, and as I am wont to do (ever since 2013), I do enjoy thinking about whether or not reality is a simulation before savouring said steak.
- I’ve still yet to try a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich, but that’s on the schedule for this summer. Returning to Receiver, one must keep an eye out for tapes everywhere; there are some occasions where tapes will spawn in an apartment’s sinks. Fortunately, to make tapes, flashlights and rounds easier to spot, Wolfire’s developers had the foresight to provide a glowing effect around items to ensure they can be easily seen. While some find the tapes to be uninspired, I personally love them: one of the tapes suggests that listening to the tapes repeatedly confer supernatural powers. Cleverly, those playing the game frequently will eventually memorise the tape’s contents.
- With enough practise, it becomes possible to accurately hit vital components on the killtrons from a considerable distance outside of their operational range. Bullet physics is accurately simulated in Receiver, so one does have to aim above their targets for distant shots, and a very nice touch is that bullets can ricochet off the environment. I’ve had several instances of a ‘missed’ round bouncing off a wall and managing to strike a killtron to disable it.
- As vital as a cool nerves, a quick trigger finger and wits are in Receiver, sometimes, blind luck means that tapes are easily found. During one memorable game, I found two tapes right beside one another. There are some tapes with no dialogue, and just chanting. Allowing those tapes to run their course will add to the number of tapes absorbed.
- There are some games where resources are plentiful, and on one particularly lucky match, I found most of my tapes in an endless expanse of rooftops. I soon passed my record of eight tapes absorbed to reach ten, and noticed that in an open area, there had been another tape lying in plain sight, guarded by a single killtron. I emptied my magazine into it to disable it, and moved in to claim the eleventh tape.
- Thus, on June 14, a little less than a year after I started playing Receiver, I finally beat the game for the first time. This particularly lucky run took around 25 minutes, and with all eleven tapes collected, the game concludes. 33 hours after I started, I was both lucky and experienced enough to complete an immensely rewarding journey: Receiver is a surprisingly involved game for such a seemingly simple title, and has much more depth than most players imagine. The same might be said of most relevant skills in life: anything worth doing takes time to learn and become familiarised with.
These two seemingly simple developments lead to a degree of immersion in Receiver that even triple-A titles lack; how are these elements able to cultivate a sense of being a part of Receiver? It turns out that the lack of a health system in Receiver, and the ever-present killtrons eventually lead players to associate the killtrons’ detection sound with death. This leads players to immediately withdraw, retreat, hide or ready their weapons. However, some scenarios may lead to panic: being rushed by a hover-drone or entering a turret’s line of sight can lead to some interesting behaviours. One may empty an entire magazine at the killtron and miss every shot, or else fumble a reload while running away from a pursing killtron. Other times, death comes out of the blue, as swiftly and unexpectedly as any jump scare in a horror game. Paranoia may strike in yet other ways: how many enemies are there in the next room? Is that killtron really disabled or should several more rounds be put into it to make certain? Receiver is not even a horror game, and it can frighten players more effectively than most games of this genre. Through reinforcement, Receiver is able to effectively convey the sense that death is swift and often unexpected. This aspect contributes to the immersion in Receiver, forcing players to make full use of caution, as well as auditory and visual cues within the environment, in order to survive. The ever-present, unexpected nature of death keeps players on their toes, giving the sense that players are genuinely trapped in a building with nothing more than a weapon and their wits. This difficulty makes completing Receiver immensely rewarding, and in immersing players fully into its environment, Receiver illustrates how well-designed game mechanics can make a game far more entertaining than graphics alone.