The Pressure to Perform in Cryptark

While most games measure our performance, Cryptark’s decision to double down on this caused Josh anxiety.

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on January 22, 2018

Nothing terrifies me like performance reviews.

I’ve put-off writing this since August, when we were graced with a copy of Cryptark for review. It’s taken me since then—a whole five months—to get here; because I’m scared of games that float my obsession with performance to the surface.

"More than likely, I’ll biff it.  So, there the game sits at the top of my Library, taunting me."
It’s a simple job. All I have to do is get the cheddar: hop into the derelict space wreck, rip-out the automated core brain, get out. Pay day. But there’s a long list of complications: the core is always protected by a shield generator (somewhere else), a jammer blinds me from using my map to plan, and when I actually knock down one of these systems, it often triggers a nuclear bomb. Oy.

If I actually pull it off, then there’s the laundry list of requests on my client’s performance review: did I take out the specific systems they told me to? Did I keep the special systems intact that they want to salvage? Did I trip any alarms, did I use (or abuse) my shields, rely too heavily on healing packs, or… nearly get my pilot killed? But those are all small potatoes compared to the most painful question: How badly did I blow-through my employer’s cash?

You’d think bad performance would be worst case scenario, but then the worst thing happens: I nail it.

My contractor calls at the end of the job, “Credit is given, when due, Captain.” His cold calculating voice expresses gratitude with my performance. He’s even gives me a bonus. It should be a massive victory, but instead of relief, I feel dread—performance expectations stacking on top of each other; multiplying.

The next job, I’m a trainwreck. A nervous nelly that barely gets inside the derelict before I’m overwhelmed by swarm drones, seeker mines, and juggernauts. In sixty two seconds, I’m reduced to a smoldering mech heap. But that’s not the end: the client calls. “I’m disappointed,” he starts.

He puts me on notice. This next job will start in the red. If we don’t make that cash back by mastering all the side-objectives, then it’s game over … eventually. In any other game, death is a relief. A chance to try again. Here, it’s just a massive divot in our journey to financial ruin—a nail in a rolling coffin that won’t receive its final nail until a few stops down the road.

I’m a guy who hits deadlines, and often knocks things out of the park. I make game trailers and I just finished crafting one this past week that might be my best yet. I hit all the bonus-objectives and cut so tightly to the soundtrack that you can feel the beat of the drum to the game’s gunshots. I should feel very good, but instead I feel small waves of postpartum: anxiety over whether or not people will like this trailer, fear that they won’t, and then I start getting all messed up in my head thinking that since people admire my work, it equates to love. The whole thing turns me inside out.

I play games to turn those thoughts off. Except if it’s Cryptark, where all those performance anxieties are dialed up past maximum.

So I just let Cryptark rest on my Steam shelf for months. I’ve filled-out all of the save slots to be right on a penultimate run, where everything’s riding on the next successful heist—all or nothing. More than likely, I’ll biff it.  So, there the game sits at the top of my Library, taunting me.

I’ve got to perform well as a dad, as a friend, as a church guy, and a mentor. Oh, and probably my job, too. Cryptark jabs at what many adults find normal: that low-buzzing headache of needing to perform. For those without this kind of stress, it’s great fun. But for me, videogames need to be some kind of break from that.

About the Author:

M. Joshua Cauller makes unique player-centered indie game trailers when he's not exploring games' redemptive qualities. He can sometimes be found away from his computer (if you're patient). You can follow him on Twitter @mjoshua or check out his trailer production work at http://mjoshua.com