Terror Tower

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Terror Tower

Release type: Freeware
Release date: July 19, 2014
Levels: 1
Author: Rylie James Thomas
Website: Glorious Trainwrecks
Related games: Teatime Game, PersiaTron, Blipp in: Power Panic!

Terror Tower is one of four games designed for a game jam held by the Glorious Trainwrecks community, in celebration of Andy Stone's release of Game-Maker's source code. All four games were assembled over a short span on the evening of July 19th, 2014, while the authors chatted and exchanged design tips over IRC.

In this case, Thomas approached the project sort of laterally. Instead of spending his time producing resources and developing a traditional game design, he chose to use the jam as an opportunity to pick apart RSD's engine and explore the nuances of its unusual error handling.

One of Game-Maker's big strengths is its simplicity. Its file formats are pretty much raw, unencrypted data. Its parsing engine will accept pretty much anything and try to make sense of it, with few complaints or instability issues. You can feed the engine a corrupted file, and like the minus worlds of Super Mario Bros. or Metroid, it will shrug and try to make something of the data. You can neglect to specify a file, and the engine will fill in the blank in the most logical way it can.

Sometimes you can make good of these glitches; Blinky 3 doesn't specify character files for most of its levels, allowing the engine to carry over the character you select in the very first screen. With Terror Tower, Thomas chose not to specify a palette file -- so the engine carries over the palette of the randomly-generated title screen. Ergo, you will never quite know what the game will look like. It may be a pastel forest, a gloomy glitch-dungeon, or a technicolor eye-bleed.

So right out of the gate we're dealing with a glitch aesthetic. This was a deliberate thing; Thomas bent the engine to see what would happen. This sensibility then extends through the entire design, such as it is.

Mapping the uncanny in Rylie James Thomas's Terror Tower

There is only one level, and no exit point -- so Terror Tower is in effect a trap. The player can enter, but can never leave through any positive, deliberate action. The world is disorienting, filled with peculiar and slightly distressing imagery and difficult-to-predict behavior. All of these elements are original, and seem to look just fine no matter the palette.

With the game's glitch identity in mind, Thomas' decision to carry over Pipemare's Smiling Save Pete Pipeman reads as less of the expediency that it at first appears and more as an element of a postmodern design process. The entire game is sort of a hip hop remix, working within the system's error threshold to undermine the surface mechanisms and air out the uglier truths beneath the surface. So, why not use the engine's de facto mascot? If we're going to glitch out Game-Maker, let's bring along something familiar for context.

This is a hard game to read. If you don't pay attention, it seems like the Game-Maker equivalent of a GeoCities page. The more you stare at it, though, the more that you realize its expressive intention. Terror Tower is working with a fairly sophisticated set of ideas. It's just, it only had a couple of hours of design-work to explore them. So, maybe its argument isn't as well-defined as it might have been. And yet... it does haunt the subconscious. So clearly Thomas hit on something here.




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Produced for and available from Jeremy Penner's "tribute to postcardware" community, Glorious Trainwrecks.

Archive History

Produced on July 19, 2014 for Glorious Trainwrecks' Game-Maker Source Release Jam, in celebration of Andy Stone's July 11, 2014 release of the Game-Maker source code.

The game was entered into the archive upon completion.