ONE MORE GO: INTELLIGENT QUBE, OR MURDERING STEVEN SPIELBERG


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6.3.2009

Margaret Robertson

9 Replies

I’m not playing it coy this time. The game I’ve gone back to this week has no truck with coy. It is Kurushi, the ‘Modern Times‘ of videogames. If you’re American you might know it as Intelligent Qube, which means you missed out on the oh-so-subtle ‘I krush u’ pun of the European title.

It will have crushed you, nonetheless. It’s a game that pits a tiny, fragile human against an implacable, advancing wall of giant, granite cubes. There is no winning, only surviving. There is no reward, only a fresh wall of furious, thundering monoliths. It is, in many respects, the most frightening game ever made.

Why go back to it? Because it remains one of the neatest strategy games ever conceived. Your job is to lay mines under the advancing wall to destroy the light grey blocks, while avoiding damaging any ‘forbidden’ black blocks. As the cubes roll forward, you detonate whatever mines you have laid under them. The only thing stacking the odds in your favour are the green blocks: hit one of these, and it will take out all the blocks around it.

That’s it. Destroy the grey blocks and get out of the path of the black ones. Failure comes either by being crushed, or by running out of ground to retreat along. You need excellent spatial skills and the ability to think three steps ahead, and you have to do it all fast.

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It’s also one of the cleverest games ever conceived. I’m not entirely kidding with the ‘Modern Times’ reference. This is a game about how one apparently powerless person can take down the faceless system. It’s about our need to measure ourselves against machines, and machines against ourselves. And, if you ever make it all the way to the end, it’s about death. And not the St-Peter-meeting-you-at-the-gates-with-your-childhood-dog-and-a-mug-of-cocoa kind of death, either.

This week, though, I’ve been playing to lose. This week, I haven’t been the brave, battling human, the tiny spark of organic potential refusing to be ground in the gears of industrialised progress. This week, I have been the cubes. This week, I am become death. I am become rage. I am become unstoppable, howling fury, mashing the pathetic, scuttling bug of a human beneath my perfect planes and razored bevels. Because, this week, that tiny human hasn’t been man. He’s been a man. A very specific man.

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Steven Spielberg.

This week I’ve killed Steven Spielberg three dozen times. I’m feeling better about the whole thing now, so I’m not going to vent any more steam about his increasingly asinine – and frankly pretty arrogant – repetition of the ‘games won’t be important until they can make you cry, which up until now they haven’t been able to, but don’t worry I’ve come to fix things’ line.

Just because he’s proven, time and again, to have a better grasp of how to entertain people than any other human being alive doesn’t mean he knows squat about games. Or about how games can be so emotionally sophisticated and thematically resonant that I’m currently using one built out of nothing more than flat grey blocks as a in-house psychotherapist.

No, there’s no need for any of that now. I have dealt with my anger issues. I have let go of my rage. I am at peace. Largely thanks to the other thing that Kurushi made me realise. Stuff Mario, stuff Master Chief (You fool! I could have offered you so much more than stupid old Cortana.), stuff Viewtiful Joe and Sackboy and KK Slider. My favourite videogame character of all time is the Cube.

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When you think about it, pretty much all Cube games are brilliant. Kurushi, brilliant. Devil Dice, brilliant. Animal Leader, Nintendo’s oft forgotten angular exploration of sex and death, brilliant. Tetris. Brilliant. Lumines, brilliant. Tetris Attack, brilliant. Mr Driller, brilliant. Super Puzzle Fighter, brilliant. Every generation, every platform, Cube delivers.

And no carping, please, about blocks and cubes being different things. Mario is still Mario whether he’s in 2D or 3D. The things that make me swoon about Cube – his orthogonality, his ability to be whatever colour you need him to be, the neatness – Douglas Adams would say the kentuckyness with which he fits against other Cubes – are there whether he’s got depth or not. And the more I play with him, the happier and calmer I get. I’ve swapped my desktop for some nice Ellsworth Kelly. I’m lunching on feta and croutons.

So, in the end, I’m grateful to Spielberg. He may need high-def, motion sensing, Natal-enabled kit to get excited about the potential of games, but the rest of us only ever needed a few straight lines and a handful of vertices to know we were on to a winner. And it’s not very often you get to feel smarter than a man with three Oscars and two billion quid.

[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can't stop going back to.]

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COMMENTS


  1. A friend of mine once said that IQ is what he imagines hell must be like… but man, what a game. I was lucky enough to have a friend who had a copy, and it was spectacularly fun. SCEA would be smart to make it available again for download.


  2. “It’s like the square screen we saw all of our movies on in the early 1950s. Then The Robe came out in Cinemascope. And then came CinRam and Imax followed. That’s what [Natal] is.” – Spielberg

    So…Natal is a change in aspect ratio, Mr. Spielberg? That makes sense. Because movies didn’t emotionally affect us until they changed the aspect ratio.


  3. I just had a long, long conversation with a VJ friend of mine about the genius of Intelligent Qube.

    I’m totally shocked that it never reached tetris-like popularity, worldwide. One of the best games ever made, replay after replay, it somehow engages both one’s sense of the vastness and the arbitrariness of the universe and the Rubik’s cube twisting, math joy part of the brain.


  4. If Mr. Spielberg thinks games cannot bring about the genuine emotions that can bring someone to tears so far, then yes I would agree he doesn’t know shit about gaming, because that is so miserably, stupidly wrong.


  5. A New Challenger

    Portal is a glaring omission :) Adventures Of Lolo is less glaring, but I’d argue for that one as well.

    For the curious, Intelligent Qube is a bit hard to find, but there’s a PSP remake/port called IQ Mania: Intelligent Qube that came out in Japan that might be a bit easier to grab.

    I’ve never played it, but I remember when it came out, and I was always curious.


  6. ChristopherDrum

    I have many reasons to hate Steven Spielberg…
    • Every Indiana Jones movie outside the original Raiders
    • AI
    • Hook
    • The Lost World
    • Minority Report
    • War of the Worlds
    • His fetish with scenes of precocious children eating food

    His comment about gaming just extends an already healthy list. For the record, Planetfall brought tears to my eyes when Floyd died. So, it isn’t that gaming has never been able to do this, it is that the medium is handled so ham-fistedly by those who run the companies. Are we really surprised that men with thick necks and shaved heads who speak in the most clichéd dialogue possible aren’t eliciting emotional responses from us?

    Given his track record (and really, why do we keep letting this man have a pass?), how am I supposed to believe that Spielberg, of all people, can rescue us from the horrors of clichéd storytelling? As the author of this post shows us, IQ creates an emotional response in the player without even needing a storyline! It seems that what we have is a disconnect between the tools available to game makers and how those tools are utilized. Blaming the external interface as the reason for not being able to emotionally connect to a gamer is to fail to look within for the real reason. By that reasoning, books should be just as incapable of eliciting an emotional response.

    The problem isn’t the medium, it’s the artists.


  7. It just goes to show you that Spielburg hasn’t played a wide enough variety of games.

    The Key Visual Arts games are fairly well known for their ability to move people to tears. Even their porn games.

    “he’s proven, time and again, to have a better grasp of how to entertain people than any other human being alive”

    Hayao Miyazaki beats him, hands down.


  8. Ummm… Margaret, everyone else,

    Spielberg does find emotion in cubes. He created Boom Blox for Wii which is all about cubes. All this is taking one comment he made completely out of context and extrapolating it to an entire article.

    He believes videogames should be fun and accessible first of all, which is why he created Boom Blox. If all he cared about was bringing emotion to a medium that he felt didn’t have it, that game wouldn’t exist.

    So he’s excited about videogames, give him a chance, see what he comes up with. Is the market too crowded to allow him in? Are gamers too elite to allow a director to become a designer?

    …This is sensationalism at its finest. I know gamers are very sensitive about the videogames as art debate, and I myself am purely on the side of accepting them as a valid artform, but put down the pitchforks. Mr. Spielberg is not your opponent here. Perhaps Roger Ebert is. More probably, it is a person like Jack Thompson.


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