a review of Reset
a videogame developed by robin burkinshaw
for personal computers
music by timothy lamb
text by Adam Burch

4 stars

Bottom line: Reset is “a rhythm game about rhythm.”

One the biggest problems with our medium is the fact that, by and large, the people making these hecking things are engineers. This is not to say that I have any dislike for engineering. Quite the contrary! I am a proud alumnus of FIRST robotics*. Some of the proudest non-gaming moments of my life were only possible with the dedication of my robotics mentors**. Your modern life*** has been made possible off of the backs of countless thankless engineers. They built the computer you are reading this on, the power lines that power the computer you are reading this on, the generator that charges the power lines, et-cetera, et-cetera. We owe our medium to an engineer’s boredom; Tennis for Two was first played on an oscilloscope. And let us not forget that our Orson Welles is an Electrical Engineer by training. Each of us owes the fine craft of engineering more than we could possibly imagine.I repay these men and women by saluting their efforts, and making pains to spread the nobility of their profession to all those I meet. But it is this same appreciation for engineering that leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that it is (part) of The Problem with Videogames. One thing you must understand is that engineering is not so much a field as it is a mindset. Just as science is not about scientists but rather the scientific process, so is engineering not about engineers as much as it is about the process one must go through to engineer an object. It is about the proper mode of thought; about how to see not only what you have, but what you want. It is about trying, failing, and trying again. Seeing the patterns, the interaction of rules. And then taking those plans, and slowly, surely, painstakingly, making them reality. Engineering is all about the long con; the setup.


One of the key techniques you learn in engineering is the idea of a “General Solution.” This rule of thumb encourages you to find a way to form your current problem (say, building a house on a mountain) into one that you, or someone else, has already solved (is there some way to make the terrain flatter?). This is a technique that has its roots back in mathematics, where rephrasing questions to make them easier has a long and storied history****.

This is an extremely useful paradigm, but when applied outside of its home, problems arise. In the case of videogame design, it leads one to try to fit as many “designs” as one can into a narrow framework. Square peg, meet round hole.

This particular problem is most evident in the so-called “rhythm genre”; Rock Band and Guitar Hero are prominent examples. They were undoubtedly born out of a desire to make a music game for the masses. The men and women at Harmonix are music lovers, and several run bands on the side. The goal when they made these games was to be able to bring their passions to the masses; to let Joe Sixpack get a taste of that sweet, sweet rock and roll magic. Musicians making a game about music — what could go wrong?

Guitar Hero and Rock Band are most certainly not about music. Just as Jason Rohrer doesn’t understand what Passage is about*****, so, too, does Harmonix not know what Rock Band is about. Via their General Solution of Simon Says — their simplification of the nuances of notes into a glorified QTE — Harmonix has made these games into a meditation on performance. What is important in these games is not the beats, the chords, nor even the unique timbre of the instruments; rather, it is you, and how well you have memorized which candy colored buttons to slap. Behold the madness of the “rhythm genre”; born out of music, it is no longer about music.

Reset is a repudiation of this ridiculousness. It has none of the trappings of the so-called “rhythm genre.” No words on screen, save the brief tutorial, no flashing notes, no STREAK MULTIPLIER. Just ships and a chiptune. Where RB and GH lose sight of their roots, making a game about the YOU, Reset never loses sight of its true master: the music. Here is a rhythm game whose soundtrack is inseparable from its gameplay. The speed of your ship, of your enemies, when your enemies are introduced — all of this is born in the beats of Trash80’s classic chiptune. When something like, oh, let’s say REZ, has you and your enemies fire in time with the beats, it is an artificial construct, an arbitrary restriction that strains the system of gameplay by twisting that system’s internal logic. When Reset does so, it is a natural extension of the rest of the game. The entirety of this game’s internal logic is built around Trash80’s Rest to Reset. A rhythm game about rhythm; what a concept.


You start as a traveler, leaving your planet with a single tank of fuel. Your speed is made real by your lethargic turns. This is the pleasure of discovery.New sounds are introduced, and thus you become hunted. Your stiff turns take on a new dimension. Where once there was joy, now there is terror. This is the thrill of being untouchable.You end alone. Your tormentors, your playmates have left. Your turns are no longer stiff; they are limp. You drift in the vastness of space, knowing only that you have arrived. This is the exhilaration of emptiness.


This is Trash80’s “Rest to Reset.” This is Robin Burkinshaw’s Reset. Where does one end? Where does the other begin? What a foolish question.

One is a videogame.

* : Find a team in your area, and mentor!
**Winning Chairman’s at Nationals: 842 4 LIFE
***Not you, Rohrer; everyone else.
****Hey guys, maybe the parallel postulate isn’t always true!
*****A Life Well Wasted, Episode 3: Why Game?

–Adam Burch


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