Here’s the finalized version of my scratch game project. A quick explanation, though I don’t think it’s necessary. I originally wanted to create something that would sort of represent life, how we have to avoid obstacles and reach our goals. That ended up being harder then expected, especially with my limited artistic talents, so I ended up going with something a bit more metaphoric (I slapped on the subtitle A Game About the Inevitability and Unpredictability of Death in order to show the original theme I wanted to convey), and because it took me longer than I expected to tweak the enemies so that they acted a little less predictably, I also ended up with something a bit more simplified. Still, the game has a beginning (click to start) middle (avoid the enemies) and end (eventually you get killed by the Space Octopi – this is unavoidable).
So anyway, there’s that.
This ties in a bit more with what we were going over a couple weeks ago regarding how games are made, the development process, and looking at early Atari-era game production, but this is still a rather interesting interview between Satoru Iwata and the guys who originally worked on Nintendo’s Game & Watch systems in the 70’s. There’s a lot of overlap with how they went about making things and how western game developers went about, this part sounds like it was practically ripped right out of the article on Valve’s Cabal process:
“Kano: It was important throughout the entire Game & Watch series that when a player messed up, they realized the game wasn’t being unfair.
Izushi: They would think, “I’ll try again!”
Yamamoto: If a ball fell and the player was certain that he or she had caught it but the game said otherwise, it would be frustrating.”
It’s also neat when they talk about just how much work went into making the games (early versions had no programing and were done entirely through hardware) and how that process evolved. In tying in with what we were talking about this week, it’s also neat to see how these games were made with so few people – with everyone handling several aspects of development – and yet pumped out so quickly.
The Void (also known as Tension) is a game from Russian developers Ice Pick Lodge — who also made Pathologic. It’s been out for a couple years now, but it still manages to impress me. I’ve included the trailer at the top of this post so you can get an idea of what the landscapes look like and what the gameplay is like. As for plot, well Ice Pick Lodge likes to sort of stick players right in the middle of games without ever really telling them explicitly what’s going on. But, here’s the wikipedia explanation for what’s supposed to be going:
“The game is about a soul that accidentally lingered in the Void, before absolute death. The Void is a purgatory-like place, in which the most valuable thing is Color, a liquid that represents lifeforce. Color is scarce and famine is a usual thing for its dwellers — beautiful naked Sisters and deformed monstrous Brothers. Color is a universal resource in the game — at the same time it is the hero’s health, armor, stats and ammo. With the help of Nameless Sister, the soul finds out that there is a way to escape and be reincarnated again on the surface, but in order to do this the player must disguise himself as one of the Brothers and eventually confront them.”
I picked this game up on Steam a couple months ago, and unfortunately have had little opportunity to actually play it, but what I have played has been pretty phenomenal. The game is an odd mix between Okami, Half-Life and Shadow of the Colossus. If that doesn’t pique your interest I don’t know what will.
While reading the essays out of The Game Design Reader, I noticed that a lot of the developers talking about their development process made a specific point of saying that they tried to make their games fun. One quote in particular stuck out to me, emphasizing this point, from Ken Birdwell’s The Cabal: Valve’s Design Process for Creating Half-Life: “I had never worked on anything whose primary constraint was that ‘it had to be fun.'” This stuck out to me for several reasons, one because there were certain points during Half-Life where I remember not having much fun (too little health, too many enemies) but I remember continuing to play through the game because I was already so invested in the story and the character. Secondly, though, I have one friend in particular who believes that no game has yet been made that could be considered “art,” because games are always focused primarily on entertaining the player, on giving them a “fun” experience. This line of thought is explained somewhat by article linked to at the top of this post. I disagree with his initial claim that there is no game available right now that can be considered art (Shadow of the Colossus, Flower, Braid amongst others) but I do agree with both my friend, as well as the Destructoid article, in that games being made now are tailored mainly towards entertaining the player. It’s rare that a game comes out that actually challenges players. When’s the last time you stopped shooting aliens with your laser rifle to ask yourself, “why am I shooting these aliens?” Specifically because, for many “mainstream” video games, the story is used as an excuse to put the player in a situation where they are able to just have fun without thinking about it. Anyway, that article is pretty interesting and I recommend giving it a read. Here’s a quote to get you interested:
“If I told you that from now on, literature should only be written if it’s deep and surreal and complicated, you’d think I was a pretentious windbag. If I told you that movies should only be made if they’re loud and action-packed and pointless, you’d think I was a simpleton. Why, then, has it become socially acceptable to say that video games should only be entertaining? Or that one can only play games to be entertained?”
Along the lines of video games affecting not only how storytellers go about telling their stories, but also how we go about interacting with said stories, I’d like to point everyone to the website MS Paint Adventures. In this online webcomic, Andrew Hussie (the creator, writer and illustrator) uses the form of a mock text adventure game to allow for users to submit their own ideas of where the story should go. Hussie then takes these suggestions into account and furthers the story according to them. He’s finished one such story in the past (and there are two additional ones that remain unfinished) and is currently working on another one. While the current story has veered away from this process — Hussie still uses the mock user input format, but provides the input himself to further his story as he sees fit — he still includes references to video games aplenty (the text adventure input of the comic itself, as well as references to EarthBound and other video game tropes such as leveling up, there are even sections of the story where the player/reader can control the characters via their arrow keys, etc.). If you want an idea of how this user interaction affects Hussie’s ability to tell his stories, you need look no further than his previous epic Problem Sleuth. Or, for those who do not have the free time or patience to read through the 1000+ pages that make up that story, there’s also the comparatively shorter (and unfinished) Jail Break. Regardless of whether you think that Hussie succeeds in his ultimate goal of making his readers laugh, it’s still interesting to see how story telling is affected when user input is taken into account in real time. Oh, and for anyone wondering, the title comes from MicroSoft Paint, which Hussie originally used to illustrate the adventures (though he has since moved on to more advanced programs).