Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

Why I’m Doing This

I recently got into a super interesting conversation with the guy that wrote this article on the game God Hand (an entirely remarkable game experience; his write-up is fascinating and worthy of your attention). He's a brazen and intelligent mandude (we need more of these) who at some point in our very engaging conversation asked me an important question. "Why do you do this? Why design and criticize beat 'em ups?"  I realized that before I could answer him I had to do a little digging and this is what I brought back up with me from the hot, wet mind-earth.

First and foremost, beat 'em ups are my favorite genre of game. Obviously. But they're my favorite genre of game because I'm actually a very violent human being on a fundamental thought level, and I find beat 'em ups both beautiful and therapeutic because of it. Now before I go any further let me just firmly state that I do not live a violent life! In fact, I maintain very effective intellectual overrides that ensure the people and objects in my environment go as undamaged by me as I can possible make them. But the truth here is that my primitive soup of subconscious intent is very destructive. Why I'm like this is a completely different conversation that has no place here! But it is who I am, I am fully at peace with it, and I regularly exorcise it with activities that provide me with a sense of power but don't involve actually hurting anyone or anything. Things like good exercise, personal writing/art, and playing beat 'em ups. As a genre of games they are incredibly satisfying on a tactile level (when built properly) and inherently challenging. Smashing myself into games like this and emerging from the other side a much stronger entity is cathartic.

However, the last thing I want to do is just slap more mud on the pile. Beat 'em ups have barely changed in the 25 years they've existed and they're currently nigh unbearable as game experiences. In their primitive arcade form they were magnificently straightforward in their delivery of fun and challenge. But when they permanently migrated to consoles they collected a bunch of detritus that has rendered them much less engaging and valuable: contrived stories, ridiculous cutscenes, distracting quick time events, boring vehicle segments, unlockable mechanics, etc. Fortunately for fans of the genre, the fundamentals are not only wholly intact but they've gotten better over time! Furthermore, those fans are still there. All of the people that grew up playing the traditional beat 'em ups of yore are still very much alive and breathing. They're just a bit older now and they're buying every God Of War, Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, and Platinum game yearning for that unique tactile purity that only good beat 'em ups can provide. It's a huge group of hungry people and I am making it my responsibility to give them what they want and more importantly, what they need. It's time for our precious and most cherished genre to grow up and move on to the next phase in its life. This is why I'm doing this. The old fans can be satisfied and new fans are out there. While I'm not automatically assuming I'll be successful in this regard, I do believe you owe it to the things you love to try.

To answer the second part of that question, the criticism is an exercise in both analysis and sharing. By breaking them open and looking closely at their insides and outsides, I can better equip myself to create a better product for you. By sharing it, I can better equip you to create a better product for me. See how beautiful that is? ;)

  • hi! tim rogers, editor-in-chief of here.

    i just want to let you know that one of the side-missions of Action Button Dot Net is to run as many four-star reviews of GOD HAND as humanly possible.

    here is mine:

    i just want to let you know that i think you’re a cool dude, your game looks neat, it has neat friction, and we share a love of ziggurats.

    so: you are welcome to submit a review of GOD HAND, in any form you see fit.

    for example, you could even review GOD HAND using unity mini-mini embeds from your own game. that would be a heck of a neat critique.

    • Hi Tim Rogers! I am now familiar with you and your “website” of “reviews”. I would call it more of a “painful haven” of “exacting and critical analysis” which is the best type of place I could possibly have at my intellectual disposal. Thank you. And thank you for the kind words about my game.

      I am glad we now exist in the earth shaking throes of a mutual sense of “cool dude respect”; biceps bulging as our hands grip the other’s forearms. I feel the same way about Mr. Todd Hamish, btw. My point is, I am desperately crushing on Action Button Dot Net the way a young boy does on his first hot art teacher.

      I probably will not submit a review of God Hand as I don’t feel like I can say anything at his point that you guys already haven’t.

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  • thatguy

    so I’ve been reading a bunch of your stuff, not all of it but i frequently come across your distaste for unlockable mechanics in beat em ups. Why is this? I mean most games have them. To me they are a form of pacing and a way to not bombard the player too much at the start. It would be completely weird and gamebreaking to have every thing unlocked at the beginning of a zelda game or such.

    Plus unlocking mechanics seems to be like a tutorial or what i like to call “taking the portal approach”. Well portal wasn’t the only one but seems to be one of the better games that do. Basically portal adds layers and layers of gameplay mechanics over the course of the game. Its only at the very end where they fully let you solve puzzles with everything. Essentially 90% of the game is a tutorial. Most people don’t notice this but a lot of people seem to like this approach.

    God of War even does this to an extent gradually giving you weapons and abilities throughout the game.

    So whats so bad about it?

    • To address the Zelda comment (because I understand the point you’re trying to make), the crux of a Zelda game (and Metroidvania games as well) is to systematically open the world up to you in a metered and fun way. Games like that are built on this idea; it’s at the core of their pacing. It would indeed break the game if you could immediately go wherever you want, especially if the game is trying to present you with a narrative of some kind.

      But the key difference is that the crux of a beat ’em up game is to have engaging combat encounters. That’s why they’re made. Sure, they sometimes contain narratives and light sessions of other gameplay types, but they’re made to deliver combat experiences. This is why I love them and buy them and talk about them! When the game has locked up combat mechanics it makes me feel condescended to, tricked, babysat, and a whole other slew of negative feelings.

      I fully and completely understand the idea that people generally like to have complex systems introduced to them slowly, but I am a high level player and don’t need that. It’s a nice gesture, but it compromises my enjoyment. Let me start working with all the tools from the start, please! I’m good at this! That’s what is so bad about it. As a high level player, I came to get in a fight and shed some blood and instead I had a hand tied behind my back and a children’s rubber sparring glove put on my free hand. As much as I love the beat ’em ups of the Third Age, they all subscribe to this idea of slow drip mechanics.

      In any case, I’m conscious of the different player’s needs. As far as Aztez is concerned, I do not intend to have any unlockable combat mechanics, but have every intent of finding a good way to introduce people to all the mechanics so that they do not feel overwhelmed.

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