GALAGA and the Allure of Power

Well, I’m on vacation right now, and there’s an arcade with GALAGA in it. One of my favorite classic arcade games, for your information. So naturally, I was going to sink some quarters into this old machine.

So I’m playing and, naturally, I’m going for the double-ship upgrade. For those of you who are unfamiliar:

  • You allow your ship to get captured by one of the “commander” ships (and you “lose” a life).
  • When the commander ship flies down, you destroy it to release your captured fighter.
  • The fighter docks with your other fighter and you get double firepower (in essence, getting your lost life back).

However, during one playthrough, I royally botched things up and destroyed my captured fighter instead of the commanders… twice. At that point, I didn’t want to take the risk again and I focused on flying solo.

And in doing this, I came to an interesting conclusion: the double firepower may actually function as a ploy to try and “trap” the player. Oh, the double firepower is definitely useful, and its definitely risky to attempt this manuever, but the true consequences of my actions had never really hit me before.

First, you may literally avoid shooting the commanders because you want them to “capture” you. What? I want to be captured? I don’t want to defeat my enemies? In later stages, where the action gets really frenetic, why o why am I “going easy” on the enemy? Careful shooting may spare nearby enemies as well. For crying out loud, just open fire.

Then when you have double firepower, your ship is twice as big. Oh wait… I’m twice as big a target now. Dodging enemy fire and ships just became a bit more difficult. See, enemy firing patterns are actually very predictable, but threading the needle is much more complicated when you’re twice as big. This is especially difficult in later stages where enemy offense picks up.

Sure, having more firepower helps with taking out enemies quicker and especially is helpful during the challenging stages. But manueverability can keep you alive longer, and the challenging stages technically can be cleared with the single ship… hard perhaps, but doable.

Its like GALAGA is trying to trick you into a mouse trap: “Here, I have this wonderful little powerup for you… except I’m actually tricking you into a more vulnerable position. Enjoy your cheese, though.” Evil, isn’t it? Both modes (single and double) are certainly playable, but now I see definite advantages to flying solo as well.

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Posted in Design

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