Noiz2sa by Kenta Cho (2002)

Kenta Cho plays it by the rules. His works are instantly recognisable as shoot-em-ups, genre pieces following the conventions laid out in the halcyon days of arcade gaming history: rRootage plays out the Ikaruga theme of good-and-bad bullets, Torus Trooper is a shoot-racer descended from Tempest and Zero-X, and even more recent and weird games like Mu-cade or Tumiki Fighters can somehow fit into the commercial game taxonomy without much shoehorning.

But the genre framework underlying every game of Kenta Cho’s is dressed in the trappings of the rules he makes for himself. Anybody can study Cho’s rules, because he writes them in a particular mark-up language called BulletML. Yes, just as Tim Berners-Lee created a language for describing how hypertextual pages reference each other in a distributed Internet of independent servers, Kenta Cho has created a notation for describing the geometric dance of barrages of bullets, their shapes, their colours and game-play.

Noiz2sa is an early study in the art of bullet barrages and playing strategies. It is Cho’s Well Tempered Clavier, in which he challenges several of the aesthetic assumptions of the genre, showing off a talent for composing dizzyingly varied game stages out of a self-imposed set of constraints. These constraints also happen to be his main enablers. Cho’s BulletML library is to him what the modern chromatic scale was to JS Bach. By comparison, rRootage would be Cho’s Art of the Fugue, a work which is more focused in a single form (the succession of game Boss battles) and on the red/white alternation by player and adversary.

Noiz2sa’s visuals are also different from the usual shoot-em-up’s. The game’s muted colours-on-white background palette is reminiscent of the final level on Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez, minus the synaesthesia, the quantisation of the shots to the music, the story and the figurative graphics. Noiz2sa is pure abstraction, a distillation of shooterness played against the pastel doodles of a hyperactive six-year-old draughtsman with Asperger’s. Cho’s Noiz2sa scenarios are flat and staunchly geometrical, with only a hint of 3D parallax scrolling in the background to suggest motion against what looks like a sheet of paper.

Sooner or later we will have consumer-grade electronic paper displaying full-colour animated graphics at twenty-five frames per second, and one of the first games to be ported, maybe after Tetris, will be Noiz2sa, for no game is fitter for a paper-game reflected-light medium.

Kenta Cho plays by his own rules, but he lets others play too. Any programmer in the world could port Noiz2sa to that hypothetical e-paper book/console. Cho is a Free Software practitioner whose works are released under Open Source licenses. This allows anyone to take his code and repurpose it, packaging his games into the repositories of GNU/Linux distributions. Cho’s rules also come with a permission to bend them. His BulletML library is also free for anyone to use and modify, and the genetically mutable enemy bosses in Hiroza T Ohkubo’s shooter Warning Forever proves that tradition, convention, style and personality can live together in the world of Free Software Art.

By Javier Candeira