Endlight comes as close to an embodiment of pure chaos as any game I’ve ever played. It’s a simple concept and very simple to play—navigate freely through twisting, shifting, and bizarre 3D landscapes to find and collect golden hoops—but I found the violent onslaught of lights and noise that envelops the action to be very off-putting at first. The deeper I dug into Endlight, though, the more I found it to be a remarkably engaging, surprising, and unexpectedly funny game—and one that I will (probably) never be able to play again.
Endlight is developed by Jim McGinley, who describes himself (not entirely seriously, I suspect) as “one of the greatest players of TRS-80 action games today,” and it was in many ways influenced by those old-time games. “The best TRS-80 games filled the screen,” McGinley said. “People aren’t doing that anymore, but Endlight is. No matter where you look, there’s NO empty space.”
He’s not kidding. It’s virtually impossible to get around Endlight’s environments without crashing into things. But the Steam page actually encourages it: “Dodging is for cowards, start SMASHING.” The secret is finding the requisite mix of smooth flying and brutal impacts that will keep you flying long enough to collect the 10 hoops required to complete each level.
I’m an old TRS-80 guy myself, which may be one of the reasons I clicked so well with Endlight, but what I really find fascinating is that even though it looks like a game that should be endlessly replayable, it’s not. In fact, it’s not replayable at all. Levels are only accessible in a set linear order, and once each level is completed, it’s gone for good. Even more unusual, so is the whole game once it’s done: You literally can’t go back and start again, even after you’ve finished it.
McGinley explained to me that this aspect of Endlight is an essential part of the game’s design. Each level is finished when you collect 10 hoops, irrespective of time, and depending on your luck that can sometimes happen in a matter of seconds. “It’s super fun when that happens,” McGinley said. But, he added, it becomes a lot less fun when beating times becomes the goal, because those records are more dependent on luck than skill.
“Let’s say you replay a level with the intention of finishing it more quickly,” he said. “You’ll quickly discover completing a level quickly is more about the random procedural generation than player skill. Not good.
“So replaying levels would require us to ensure levels couldn’t be finished in 10 seconds, which would make Endlight MUCH less fun. To keep Endlight super fun, we can’t offer a replay.”
You get one shot
There is one exception to that rule, which I think is wonderfully weird and clever. On December 9 of every year, there will be a unique in-game challenge that every player will get one shot at. Anyone who beats the challenge will be given an in-game “coupon” that allows them to replay Endlight once, from start to finish, at any time over the course of the next year, until the next “Right to Replay” challenge comes around.
“I’m sure many people will HATE this ‘reward,’ but to me it’s the funniest, most memorable reward of all time,” McGinley said. “I think people will come around to appreciating the humour.”
Let there be no doubt, McGinley is serious about this: He said he’s done his best to ensure that things like changing your PC’s clock or messing with your registry won’t enable Endlight to be replayed, and that the only way to get the replay coupon is to beat the challenge. And even if you win the coupon, you’ll be strongly discouraged from using it: “We make a big BIG deal out of trying to redeem the coupon. There’s a lot of verbal pressure put upon the player NOT to redeem ‘The Right To Replay’,” he said.
That fits with the overall tone of Endlight, which peppers its rapid-fire action with casual, and often very funny, commentary from the developer, which appear as floating messages in the game—some seemingly random, others triggered by specific events. In the level Dune, for instance, a message popped up saying Ray Bradbury would be proud of my performance.
It was quickly followed by an apology for getting the author wrong:
And then another one:
There are also message relating to the development process, the developer’s opinions about certain levels, exhortations to drink more water, not-quite-inspirational “hang in there”-style words of encouragement, and “surprise chats” that promise to tell “the worst story in videogame history.”
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And while Endlight’s levels are sometimes very short, the game itself promises to be very big: There are more than 100 levels in the base game and McGinley plans to release another 25 levels per month, free for all players. (For the record, those aren’t replayable either.)
Endlight is clearly not for everyone (for one thing, it includes a very well-deserved “seizure warning” message) but I’m having a lot more fun with it than I expected. It’s intense at times, unexpectedly relaxing at others, and a lot smarter than it looks at first blush. I don’t know if I’ll finish it—the Steam page guarantees that it’s impossible to get stuck on a level, but holy cow there’s just so much of it—but I’m definitely eager to get back to it.