Binding of Isaac (BOI)
The Binding of Isaac is a top-down 2D roguelike in which the player assumes the identity of the protagonist, Isaac, and attempts to escape from his murderous mother by going deeper down each floor of the basement. Progressing further down each floor requires the player to kill all the enemies encountered and defeat the boss guarding the entrance to the next floor. Along the way, power-ups can be obtained to strengthen or weaken Isaac. The game ends when the final boss is killed, prompting the ending scene to start showing. New content is unlocked on completion of certain achievements, with some of the content being new power-ups, new floors or new ending scenes.
Lens #7: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad
Mechanics: Enemies and bosses are characteristically different from each other. Power-ups obtained are stackable with each other. Permadeath keeps the game tense and engaging. Floors being randomly procedurally generated makes each playthrough different and gives me a chance to discover interesting and sometimes hilarious interactions between enemies and power-ups.
Story: Controversial story that touches on dark themes, e.g. religion and child abuse. Each ending is ambiguous and open for interpretation. It piques my interest to keep playing to unlock more endings to further understand the story.
Technology: The game is made in Flash, which while is good enough for the scale of this game, introduced slight lags when activity on the screen got too hectic. This caused slight irritation when the lag occurred, but not enough to spoil the experience.
Aesthetics: Cute artwork but disturbing enemy sprites.
Overall, the aesthetics and story complemented each other well. The cute artwork was deceptively contrary of the dark themes, creating a unique experience. The mechanics kept things fresh for players that want to keep replaying to know more about the story. Its biggest flaw was technology, which the developer agreed and eventually changed in its sequel: Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.
Lens #27: The Lens of Skill
BOI in its essence is a game of skill. Besides testing my reaction speed, it challenges me to make decisions on either rushing each floor or to spend a longer time on each floor farming to possibly become stronger. Each subsequent floor becomes harder, requiring the player to farm floors to become stronger. However, spending a longer time on each floor means possibly taking more damage, making the later game harder.
Lens #20: The Lens of Judgement
The game judges me on whether I have good reflexes and can make smart decisions, and the achievements unlocked and amount of progress made in each playthrough affirms my skill.
Lens #49: The Lens of Visible Progress
BOI shows my progress during a playthrough. Power-ups all make visible changes to the character and the projectiles. Each new power-up that is picked up add to the change in aesthetics of the character sprite, showing how powerful the character has become. The game also shows the progress of the player’s career in playing BOI. It shows the tally of total number unlockables and how many are left, even changing the start menu to reflect the progress that I have made in unlocking all content of the game. This appeals to the completionist in me, urging me to keep replaying to unlock everything.
Lens #53: The Lens of Control
The control scheme is simple; WASD for movement and arrow keys to shoot projectiles. Use SHIFT to set a bomb, Q to use an item, and SPACEBAR for the spacebar item. Controls respond fluidly to the command of the player. Enemies are fair in that their own AI and movesets do not change. Whenever I lose in the game, the irritation I feel is always with myself as the outcome is due to my control.
My Friend’s Experience
I got a friend who was new to BOI and got him to play a few games for me.
Lens #2: The Lens of Surprise
At the start of the game, players are simply thrown into the game with four instructions and nothing else. Everything from then on is a surprise for new players. How enemies and bosses move and the effects of power-ups. Nothing is explained at the start and there is enjoyment in exploring new things.
Lens #29: The Lens of Chance
Due the random nature of the game, sometimes the power-ups received are quite underpowered. The friend who played the game felt that the game is too “RNG-reliant”. The power-ups received dictated his progress in the game, and thus became too random.
Lens #69: The Lens of the Weirdest Thing
The setting of the game is weird. Weird monsters appear in the basement and the further down players go, the more detached from reality the game becomes. The ending revealed on completion of the game do not explain anything directly and leaves them puzzled and interested to make sense of the whole story.
Lens #10: The Lens of Resonance
The dark theme and issues dealt with in the game resounds with players. Players can empathise with the main character, and it forces players to think about these controversial issues that are seldom covered. It creates depth for the game and offers additional meaning for players playing it. It creates for a more satisfying playthrough.
Comparing the two sets of notes, we both agree that BOI is a satisfying game where the good controls and level design provide an interesting and enjoyable experience. The weirdness of the story and dark theme explored gave the game additional value, making the experience of the players more meaningful.
Using the Lens #7: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad, we can see that of the 4 elements, none is more important than the rest. Developing the game in Flash has resulted in a somewhat subpar game, where if better technology is used, a better experience for users can be achieved.
However, from the two experiences, we see that there is a conflict of Skill versus Chance. I thought the game had more emphasis on skill while my friend thought that the emphasis on chance. This brings about the difficulty of how to balance skill and chance, which corresponds to Lens #34: The Lens of Skill vs. Chance. In my opinion though, while BOI’s element of chance with power-ups does indeed contribute to ease of a playthrough, an immensely skilled player can still complete the game without strong power-ups. The balance of skill and chance in this game is still acceptable.
From all the lenses we have identified and judging the game based on them, I would argue that BOI has a good game design. The game is designed to be hard for starting players, and through the gradual improvement of the player, the game judges them and reaffirms their steady improvement. The element of chance and randomness of the game allows replayability, which helped to maintain the interest in the story.