Working with a collaborator

Having settled on time manipulation, these temporal interventions, as a central mechanic to the project I’m undertaking, I recognised that the back end of this project, the code of the mechanics themselves would be beyond my C# skill set, and also would not be particularly assessed. My degree is in sound design, so really what I need to develop is a project which is well thought out, with good affordances for dynamic and challenging sound worlds, and well implemented. I therefore recognised the need for a collaborator on this piece, someone who would be able to take up the back end work which I focused on generating and integrating assests, as well as the development of the project as a whole. As such, I asked my friend Sandy to help out on the project. He said he’s more than happy to help, and we have already worked on a project together (see The Extraordinary Life and Time of Nigel Farage, Gentlman) so am confident we will work well together and that he has the chops to realise (and reign in) the project.

So we set about talking over ideas (we’re meeting this afternoon to continue this conversation).

Getting on the same page

After agreeing to come on board, Sandy asked me if I had anything in mind beyond using time manipulation as a mechanic, (he also noted that a good place to start would be looking at the different ways games have implemented time manipulation – something I am undertaking). I had several stipulations. First, it wasn’t to be a walking simulator. I have worked on enough of those for now. Instead I want it to be something short, with a tight, arcade style mechanic, which has a high degree of replay-ability (potentially due to a high difficulty curve).

Narratively, the only frame of reference I have, comes from a criticism leveled at the new Zelda (Breath of the Wild – hereafter BotW). Although upon launch it was hailed as the best launch title in 20 years and one of the greatest video games of all time (residing along side other Zelda titles such as Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past, Majora’s Mask), however, Ben Prunty (sound designer for, among other things, FTL) tweeted on completion: “Only issue with Breath of the Wild (purely personal preference): there’s none of the lurking, dark creepiness that Ocarina and Majora had.” Following that up with “Majora leaned into it, but even Ocarina had that nightmare-lurking-just-outside-the-frame feeling inherent in many good children’s stories.”

Having completed BotW around this time I whole-heartedly agreed with this statement, and furthermore decided I wanted to build a project around this idea. It makes me think of games such as Year Walk, stories like Hansel and Gretel. Although both of these examples are more explicit, I’m thinking more something that is implied, normalised, unmentioned. In fact this makes me think a lot about the ‘folk horror’ genre of film. There was a great article in the guardian about it a while ago, containing excellent lines such as: “the countryside harbours forgotten cruelties, with the old ways untouched by modernity and marked by half-remembered rituals.” and: “What’s different, and striking, here is that it is almost a rule in folk horror that the supernatural is banned… The evil is entirely human.” I can definitely feel an idea gestating in this area. How it would mesh with time manipulation is another question entirely…

First pitches

So, after chewing the fat and talking about some different forms of time manipulation in games we began to sketch out tentative ideas.

Sandy had an idea he’d been thinking about for a while, which involved four small vignettes, each representing a different dream, which you move through in a cyclical fashion. I suggested an augment to this could be the player accelerating through them, or even going in reverse through them as the game went on. There are advantages in terms of affordances for sound here: there would be four distinct dream worlds, so lots of room to build up lots of different things (I even suggested each dream could be themed on a different generation of computer console, with limitations to match, however this seemed perhaps too restrictive…). However, the downside of this would be that it would be a walking simulator, something I am keen to avoid.

I suggested perhaps a game where the player starts at the end of a level, and must navigate back to the start of the level, but using forwards controls. To make it harder there would be puzzles to retroactively solve. For example, the player is beyond an open gate facing away from it. They press forward and the avatar moves backwards through the gate. Through the gate there is a switch, however the player ignores it as they are through. They advance some more, and are glitched back to their original position beyond the gate. They must close the gate once they’re through it, so that their mirrored journey makes sense: they came to a closed gate, opened it and advanced through it. Additionally, by getting it wrong the first time this caused a paradox which resulted in them begin reset to their original position, however this also resulted in the creation of a paradox within the game, a physical obstacle like a mini vortex. This lies beyond their original position, towards their starting point. When the player finally makes it to the beginning of the game the mirroring is flipped (perhaps there is a switch at the start of the level?), and they have regular control and movement, and must advance back to the end of the level to finish it. However, each mistake they have made has created an additional obstacle to overcome. The harder they find the level the harder it will be. Although this is an entertaining idea, there are some flaws with it. There is not a huge amount of replay-ability. Once the player has mastered the initial mechanic, the return journey would be very easy. Also potentially there wouldn’t be that many affordances for interesting sound, which is the prime objective. How would the sound in the first half work anyway? Would it all be reversed? It would be hard to learn anything useful from reversed sound cues.

Some more ideas need to be tossed around before any one can settled on. As I say, i am meeting Sandy later today, so will update this entry when we have had more time to talk.

Some time later…

We had an interesting chat, Sandy and I. We talked about problems inherent in the above ‘mirrored’ idea and the lack of really interesting audio affordances.

We began throwing around another idea, detailed in handy list form, below:

Notes on game idea

  • Short, simple arcade style game. Difficult.
  • Each mistake the player makes creates a ‘paradox’ which remains in place in subsequent playthroughs.
  • These paradoxes accumulate and subsequent games becomes harder and harder.
  • As they accumulate both the game world and the sound world adapt.
  • Paradoxes ominous and glitchy in nature.
  • As they accumulate something emerges from the adapted game, a troubling narrative. Possibly some kind of creepy metanarrative. Characters begging not to have to play again?
  • Each time the game is completed the victory become less and less victorious.
  • The ‘true’ end of the game comes after this narrative has fully emerged. It is a bad ending.
  • Lends itself to Sci-Fi setting. Creepy Sci-Fi would be effective. (Cri-Fi.) Would work well with the ideas of paradoxes and metanarratives.
  • The game autosaves after each playthrough. The only way to roll back mistakes is to uninstall and reinstall.

Questions this raises

  • What if somebody played a perfect run each time? Could paradoxes additional to the ones the player makes be added as well?
  • Is the idea of time manipulation getting chucked then? Totally fine with that, however I will require a new thesis title.

I set up a google doc for me and Sandy to work on in a more concise way. This can be viewed here. Currently it is just the above list.