Sawbuck Gamer


Little Boxes

Parameters is the best spreadsheet you’ll play all year.

By Todd VanDerWerff • May 24, 2012

Half the fun of Parameters—the addictive new game from Japanese browser game genius Yoshio Ishii—is figuring out how to play. The instructions that pop up when the game begins mention going on missions and defeating monsters, stuff that will sound familiar to any gamer, but then the player is confronted with a blank space that looks more like an Excel spreadsheet than a game. There are locked squares and open squares, all marked with “0%.” There are other, yellow squares, marked with numbers. Up top, there are bars indicating “Recovery,” “Attack,” and “Defense,” which seem straightforward enough. It’s all familiar, certainly, but it also doesn’t look quite right.

The first playthrough of Parameters, then, is all about figuring which gaming mechanics go where. Clicking on a square creates showers of green numbers, yellow cash amounts, and multi-colored letters. As progress is made, new options open up, and secret spaces appear. The game captures that sense of figuring something out, of suddenly knowing how to do something you didn’t know before and thereby making something that would be difficult extremely easy. That it does this in a one-screen environment—which resembles what would have popped up when hitting the “boss key” on a computer game in the ’80s—is even more impressive.

Parameters is surprisingly deep. The game’s mechanics, which boil down decades of complex design into simple mouse clicks, are surprisingly soothing, the chase after those little showers of numbers a just-difficult-enough challenge to feel satisfying without feeling like a challenge. Few will find all of the secrets the first time through, when the goal is simply to kill all the monsters. It’s when the game ends and tells you how long it took you to finish the labyrinth that the real fun begins. The compulsion to go back again and again, to do just a little bit better, is difficult to resist.

Parameters is one of the rare browser games that could stand proudly alongside far more complicated outings as one of the best of the year. The game plays off nostalgia for games of old, asking you to fill in the details on your own, until all those little squares become something different and more sinister than blank boxes flickering on a screen.

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588 Responses to “Little Boxes”

  1. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Alternate headline: Excelsior!

  2. Merve says:

    Todd, I know you’ll never spill your secrets, but I gotta ask anyway: where the hell do you find these weird games?

    • Limeade Youth says:

      This one’s been out for at least a few weeks at Jay Is Games. 

      This was a fairly awesome game. I just wish two things: one, there should be a harder setting for another play through, and two, there was a little less money harvesting.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        I just wish I could sell my hard-earned gold in exchange for real USD.

      • caspiancomic says:

         Okay, when I got near the “end” of the game (or what looked like it at least) I was having to farm cash for ages in order to afford upgrades I needed to beat the biggest baddies. I thought I was doing it wrong, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who had this problem.

        • morley says:

          I found that once I unlocked the “slot machine” tile, it was easy to farm money; it only costs $10 to roll, and the payout is huge, so you can literally just keep clicking on it until it coughs up dough.

      • root (1ltc) says:

        1) All initial elements need to be randomized – the square layout and dimensions, the values in them. 

        2) Squares should only be accessible by having cleared adjacent squares.

        3) Cleared squares should have a highlighting randomly moving around the board (think Press Your Luck) where hitting it at the right time gives you an increased attack/increased defense/more money generated.

        4) The prices of the specific stat upgrades after the initial $100~ squares for offense and defense seem high. This is leading me to believe that the best means of attack might be to build movement first as to constantly march around the board and pick up gold without stopping, then buying your way into higher stats using the fixed 1 upgrade point @ $200 square. Clearly, the only reason why one should buy a key is if a mistake has been made.

        • Limeade Youth says:

          I absolutely agree with 2 and 3.

          However, because the way the boxes are set up, I don’t know how easily you could implement 1 and still maintain a smooth gameplay flow.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          And I somewhat disagree with 4. As you said, there’s a defense and attack that are roughly fixed at $90, each of which boost you by 3 each time — clearly a better value than the $200 square (which needs a gold key, in any case). But the only flaw with the others (which boost by 18 for ~3500, so still a deal) is that they don’t tell you how much of a boost you get for your money, which makes proper investing hard.

          I like your other suggestions, though — the “treasures” that unlocked for me seemed randomized, so why not everything else? (I like that you have to find your own way around the board, though, as opposed to carving out a specific path.)

        • lokimotive says:

          I totally agree with 1. I was thinking this would be a great Android game if it randomized things. I was thinking it would be perfect for the Android, because that’s what I have.

    • Sam Saper says:

      Lots of them were featured on the links page… coincidence? Probably

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Using only his powerful television review mental faculties, Todd conjures them from the ether of the Internet (or “ethernet,” if you will).

  3. Destroy Him My Robots says:

    Am I familiar with Windows XP Excel spreadsheet programs? No, but sometimes I pretend I’m a bird.

  4. Limeade Youth says:

    Did you ever find the slot machine in the box to the right of the 226/226?

  5. Aaron Riccio says:

    It’s Diablo 0; all the pointing, clicking, and farming, none of the frilly object names, fancy animations, musical cues, or other game-interfering rubbish. That said, I beat the “secret” 9999/9999 boss and wondered what the last thirty minutes had been for. 
    I wonder what the fastest run of this game is.

  6. doyourealize says:

    This game drew me in even as I was thinking about how stupid it was.  Thanks for this!

  7. Chris Holly says:

    It really does kind of boil the essence of RPGs (especially ARPGs) down, doesn’t it? “Fight” monster (numbers) until monster is dead and gives up loot. Use loot to buy items and increase your ability to fight monsters and gain more loot.

    Not a criticism, just an observation.

    • doyourealize says:

      I actually imagined my “hero” going into “dungeons” and fighting “monsters” and getting “missions” from “townsfolk”. Made me think I don’t need the actual game, just something to beat. Nooo, that can’t be right.

      • Limeade Youth says:

        “something to beat”. 

        OF CO….wait, wrong site.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          AVC in jokes are fun. My favorite was when you someone eat it, though. That was under a blog about the wii fit, which I guess would fall under gameological jurisdiction now, so can we bring that one over here?

        • doyourealize says:

          Nicely done…is that a first on this site?

  8. HobbesMkii says:

    I never unlocked the box in the far right upper corner. But I did everything else, including defeating the Copyright Notice Boss.

    • ImANarc says:

      I didn’t get that one either.  I even spammed the slot machine to buy my way to 200 HP.  I…need help.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        Yeah, spamming the slot machine was much more click-effective than spamming some random mission square. It took me forever to figure that out. I was thinking the late game was nothing but a click-fest money grind, and then I realized that the slot only cost $10 and paid out much, much higher.

    • zerocrates says:

      I got the top-right one (MAXIMAM COMBO!) but didn’t get the top-leftish one.

  9. caspiancomic says:

     This feels like it should be some kind of antique proto-game cousin to Adventure and Rogue and all that, a sort of all-mechanics no-art skeleton of a game that a team of engineers might have made in 1979. It contrasts nicely with Bloop, an all-art barely-any-mechanics iPad game from a few days ago. I’m sure there’s some kind of scholarly observation here to be made about strong mechanics versus strong presentation, what the correct balance is, how much polish is too much versus how much is not enough, the same with mechanics, how the two worlds interact with, compete with, and reinforce one another, etc etc. I’m not sure if I’m the guy to make it though.

    • Girard says:

       It basically boils down to the old form vs. content distinction/discussion prevalent in all art forms, but in games the formal issues are ludic ones (“mechanics”) rather than composition or color or whatever. You could weigh the merits of this kind of game (or even more purely formal games like Tetris) against something more narrative (Heavy Rain or whatever) similar to the way you could discuss the relative merits of a Brakhage film vs. a Coppolla or a Barnett Newman painting vs. a classical history painting.

      And there are people who straddle both emphases, and marry conceptual content and formal issues pretty equally, I guess like a Francis Bacon or Neo Rauch in painting, or Masaaki Yuasa in film or, in games, maybe Jason Rohrer or something.

      • caspiancomic says:

         See, I knew there was a better man for the job than me.

      • memaxar says:

        I think the combination of formalism and abstract narrative/concept describes the majority of “art games” as currently practiced.

  10. DukeSilver says:

    I unlocked everything! 63 minutes for me… probably a little long, but I didn’t know until halfway through that you could click the boxes again and get more cash. 

    • root (1ltc) says:

      I think a normal good run would probably be around 20.

      Build offense first, then movement/action, and finally defense.

      • doyourealize says:

        Any hints on how to fill up that “Combo Bar”?

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser says:

          Build up your Action Points. It seems to go by how often you collect money – you have to make it so that you can get a continuous, regular stream of money coming in without having to wait for your action points to refresh.  I found it pretty easy to get full with 80 ACT and a good recovery speed, but I’m sure a patient gamer could do it with less.

        • ShrikeTheAvatar says:


      • I’ve started playing this about once per day when I just need to think about something else for a while, and I’m down to a pretty consistent 20 min. The creator of the game Tweeted that he finished in under five.

    • Aaron Riccio says:

      Yeah, I didn’t get the whole re-clicking of mission boxes (not enemy boxes) for a long time, but as the review noted, I sort of like the idea of figuring it all out on my own as I go. It’s not as if there’s so much here. (I didn’t realize that I could boost my stats, for instance. Made it surprisingly far by just BUYING them.)

      • doyourealize says:

        Did the same thing on the first playthrough, thought I messed up and restarted, and then had about 40 points in the 2nd playthrough before I realized how to Level Up.

    • doyourealize says:

      Yeah, it took me 60 minutes.  I couldn’t believe I had been clicking boxes for a fucking hour.

      • apathymonger says:

        It took me just over an hour too, but I spent about ten minutes figuring out how to start, and took a break in the middle.

  11. Chuck Spear says:

    Mind. Blown.

    Seriously, there are no words.