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Ludum Dare 38 – ‘The Other’

We are here again.

This time the theme was ‘Small World’.

As usual, I tried to do a novel spin on the theme. I made a short game about the ‘small worlds’ of those who are fearful of the ‘other’ around us, and how they might benefit from being more open-minded and engaging with the ‘other’, whatever or whoever (in the case of this game) it may be.

Keep in mind that I’m British, from London (who voted to remain in the EU) and as a country we’ve just voted to leave. These kind of issues are rather ‘live’ around here at the moment!

You can go see my Ludum Dare page, where there’s a link to play the game straight away (I tend to use Construct2 for jams and publish to HTML so it’s instant play in a browser).

Beyond Eyes

Beyond Eyes

This was a genuinely different and affecting game, and well worth a play by anyone who looks for more than the latest high-octane FPS. Whilst not without its faults, this is a really good look at how we can use mechanics in games to increase their emotional range.

You play the part of a young girl who loses her sight in a bonfire accident. Some time later, a cat starts to visit her regularly and they become friends. Then, one day, the cat doesn’t come back. Even though Rae (the player character) is scared to leave the safety of her garden, she’s so worried about her friend that she feels she must find out what’s happened to her.

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It’s a premise, but one that’s easy to relate to and that plays on the child-like innocence that forms the core of the mechanics and narrative of the game. Movement is simple – use the stick to move around and then press an action button to interact every now and again. In essence, a third-person ‘walking simulator’. But the world only reveals itself (in a beautiful, painterly fashion) when it makes sounds and smells, meaning that the player often has to walk into a pure blank white expanse of nothing with little knowledge of what’s there, hoping that they’ll find something significant or be going the wrong way. Once you’ve passed through, the world fades away again as you ‘forget’ exactly what was there.

An interesting twist on this, from time to time, is that not everything is as it seems – what Rae thinks she hears, and what is actually there can sometimes be radically different, and this is used to great effect throughout Rae’s short journey through her local neighborhood (the game takes about 2-3 hours on average, although I took much longer – see below!). Without wanting to spoil the surprise for the reader, I can vouch that there are some interesting and touching surprises in store using this device.

Not only are there surprises, but there are several things that Rae – as a young, delicate child who’s unsure of her surroundings, finds scary and difficult to deal with. These things often form barriers to progress (such as dogs barking, or a flock of seagulls that she can’t perceive quite 100%) and whilst simple, they mesh together with the narrative and back story so well that you don’t really mind.

And so the game is a journey of a young girl’s courage to overcome her limitations and fears in order to find her feline friend. That this takes place in such an average everyday setting only makes it all the more touching – you really have a chance to experience how Rae feels as she explores the surrounding town’s streets – both her fears and her joy found in simple things.

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The slow pace of the game suits the subject matter, but I would have liked an option to move slightly faster – traversal at points was often laborious and felt unnecessary. However, it’s difficult to see how this could have been achieved – there’s no way a blind, timid young girl would do anything else other than step cautiously through an environment that she doesn’t recognise very well. This was compounded in one particular section for me – on a pier, where I spent ages walking around in circles, unable to find an object that I needed to solve one of the sparse puzzles in the game. This quickly became frustrating – I was lost for about 45 minutes! A little more variety in the environment of that section would have made things a lot easier for me.

Ultimately though, I feel I learned a lot having played Beyond Eyes. It allowed me to empathise with the fears and thoughts of a young child caught in a world that they can no longer fully comprehend, and it used simple and elegant devices to show just how much more we can achieve with video games with what we’ve already got, without any need for hi-res textures, particles effects and virtual reality.

Should video games be shorter?

Are video games any longer than they used to be? If they are, is this necessarily a problem and is there a case for shorter games?

So I was watching this episode of the excellent PBS Game Show on YouTube (which, if you’ve never seen it, is well worth a watch and there’s a good range of topics to choose from.):

I haven’t had chance to catch up with the discussion around the video yet (this is usually summarised at the end of the video the week after), but a quick look at some of the discussions of this topic on the internet left me pretty amazed at how narrow-minded people were when it came to this topic. Many of the most vocal voices in these conversations were essentially repeating different versions of, “the longer, the better, the more value for my money. If you don’t finish a game then it obviously wasn’t good enough.”

But I don’t think that’s what the real message of these people is, actually. It’s more along the lines of, “If you can’t be bothered to finish a 60-hour game, then you’re obviously not committed to this medium and you’re not a real gamer”. Few would actually say that, but to me that seems like the sub-text behind most of their responses.

It’s likely that most of those voices are younger players with fewer demands on their time – perhaps students or in some cases still at school, and so they have not experienced the various challenges of trying to maintain a gaming hobby as you get older and have other things (in my case a full-time PhD and a young family) take up your time. But what’s more disappointing is that this kind of mentality is still reminiscent of that which led to the GamerGate fiasco of 2014 – that to be a ‘gamer’ you have to ascribe to certain set of values, practices and aspects of identity. i.e. If you’re not happy with how long games are, you’re not a real gamer.

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This thing is, we don’t see this in other media. No-one claims that if you can’t be bothered to listen to a 20-minute jazz track, or a watch a 3 hour 20 minute film then you don’t really love music or love film. Plus, the magnitude of time is important here – 3.5 hours would count as an very short game (Brothers: Tale of Two Sons is about this length). 3.5 hours is a long evening. Anything more is several sittings. I’m playing Persona 4 for the PS Vita on my commute – this game is over 100 hours! How long is that going to take me to complete in real time?

All this raises an important issue as well with regards to the potential for expression in the medium. If we want more emotionally engaging games, or games that do things differently, then we need to think very differently about whether length is all that important. Wouldn’t it be better to have quality over quantity? This is important from two angles:

  1. It’s very difficult to launch a new IP or experiment with the medium when there are so many lofty expectations to be attached to every release. How can we expect games developers and publishers to take those kinds of risks when everything has to be so massive? If people were happier with a shorter form of game, this would encourage innovation.
  2. Games that are attempting to create a deeper and broader sense of emotional engagement (my pet topic, I know!). If you look at most of the games that are known for offering a different and more emotional experience then you’ll notice that they tend to be shorter. Dear Esther, Gone Home, Journey, To The Moon, Papa and Yo, Brothers (already mentioned), individual episodes of the Telltale franchises such as The Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us. It’s difficult to say for sure without further analysis, but this would suggest that perhaps these kind of deep experiences just aren’t possible over longer stretches of time, and that maybe only shorter games can facilitate this – maybe ones that can be experienced and completed in one session.

What is clear, however, is that expectations have got to change. If we want this medium to grow, diversify and not become ghettoised, then we need to allow all sorts of people to be able to approach and engage with games, and that means allowing all sorts of games to be made, and not just judging a game for it’s length-per-pound or how much of our time it will help us waste away.

Global Game Jam 2015

Another year, another Global Game Jam! This year the theme was ‘What do we do now?’ Not really as good as last year in my opinion, but a theme is a theme!

So this year my game jam experience was a bit different. Last year it was amongst 150 people or so, crammed into SAE Institute in London, passing out under the tables for a few hours a little bit of kip on Saturday night, and ending up with a very INcomplete game.

This year, since I was doing the game jam with my PhD programme, there were only 11 of us. Additionally, we were booked into a 4-star hotel (which happens to be part-owned by the Uni of Essex. Convenient!) and had a butt-load of pizza, sandwiches, red bull and coffee provided. This was as close to ‘Game Jam Royalty’ as someone can get I reckon!

Not only that, but together with a super-team comprised of Mihail, Andrei and Christian, we actually managed to finish our game (more or less!). You can play it here.

Crazy Cabbies is inspired by Crazy Taxi by SEGA, but in our game each wheel is controlled separately. This means that you have to work with your other team mates in order to guide your taxi to your fare, pick them up and deliver them safely whilst not running over people or crashing into cars.

Recommended for minimum 2 players, ideal with 4, for ‘testing purposes’ you can of course play it with one person with 4 fingers!

It is strongly recommended you spend a few seconds in the tutorial first!

Made in Unity 4.6.

I was responsible for the idea and the world design, level building and procurement of art and sound assets.

Enjoy!

Emotions in Games (talk at LEGup)

Last night I gave a presentation on ‘Emotions in Games’ at the London Educational Games meetup (LEGup) at their website launch party (you can see the new website at edugameshub.com). I’ve also written an article for it’s opening which you can go straight to with this link.

Many thanks for those that gave me feedback on it. I hope it wasn’t too much info in the 5ish minutes that I was given, but I do hope it gave many people food for thought about games as an art form and how we can better design them.

As promised, you can find the slides/prezi that I used here: Emotions in Games Prezi.

I’ve written some notes on each slide because there was rather a lot of material I was trying to convey. My problem here was that I recently wrote my MA thesis on how ambiguity can be used to broaden and deepen emotional engagement within videogames,  so trying to select and condense an 18,000 word essay into 5 minutes is a definite challenge!

Notes on slides below. Feedback welcome and appreciated.

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