Slaughterball, Bloody Freaking Fun

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Recently, thanks to Erik at Frog the What games, I had the chance to play through a two-man game of Slaughterball.  It is an inventive and exciting game about a futuristic game, based on handball and combined with genetic mutants and freaks.  These people have been altered by companies to run faster, hit harder and have keen senses.  It’s almost like someone tried to create a human “master race” through genetic alteration, but all they managed was a really badass football team.  This game is up on kickstarter and they’ve been funded to their first stretch goal!  Get in there now and you can still get some serious early-backer swag!  You can also head to the Slaughterball website to get some more information about the game itself!

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Yes, that team looks just like a bunch of orcs.

My favorite part of this game is how everything feels like you should be narrating it with an announcer’s voice, and this is what I did.  It was legitimately one of the most entertaining times I have had sitting on my friend’s floor, playing a game.  As it went, we chose one of the four teams that came with the review copy.  I favored the spartan-themed Swords of Damocles whereas my friend went with the buxom Valkyries.  Now the pieces on the board are referred to athletes and the people playing the game are coaches, which makes sense considering either could feasibly be labeled “players,” so they opted to eliminate that distinction altogether.

Each athlete has 5 stats: accuracy, agility, brawling, speed and toughness.  Accuracy shows how good they are at throwing the ball, so when throwing the ball at a goal, you get the number of your accuracy worth of murder dice to roll.  I call them murder dice because they are covered in knives and skulls.  The more knives you get, the better you roll, so get knives.  To get the shot in, you have to get a number of knives equal to or greater than the shooting distance in squares between the shooter and the goal.  All of the tests work similarly with one stat giving you a number of dice and then another being the stat you roll against for the opposing athlete or just quick checks to see if you make a goal or pick up a ball mid-move.

Once you have your team selected, you have to place the little guys and gals on the board.  Everything is pretty well explained, though.  Once you’re all set up, it’s time to play.  Now each team’s turn encompasses three phases: draw phase, onslaught phase, cleanup phase.  The first phase is where you can discard any number of cards and draw more.  This allows you to mix up your strategy at a moment’s notice and keeps you from stagnating in actions.  There are a lot of cards, don’t be afraid to ditch the ones you have for something better!  During the onslaught phase, your athletes can move, chop (attack, basically) and pass or shoot the ball.  Moving and passing or shooting the ball are all pretty self explanatory, but chopping is where you use your athletes to attack the opposing athletes.

Successfully chopping the other team’s athletes is a good place to start really doing damage.  When you chop, it incurs a DnD-style chop test (with the brawling stat) which you roll the murder dice for.  For our game, both teams’ razors ( the skinny, accurate, fast ball-shooter) ended up in the slaughterbox, which is sort of the game’s hospital.  Except instead of healing the athletes, they are allowed to just lay there bleeding while kids and viewers throw popcorn and ice cream cones at them.  Getting off a chop attack will successfully down an enemy and, usually, score you points! Getting off more chops while they are down will get them injured, slaughter boxed, possibly penalized…. and more points!!!

That's not a scar!  I'll show you a scar!

That’s not a scar! I’ll show you a scar!

When you start the game, the goals are closed and the ball shoots out of a ball-port.  These blast the ball high into the sky, at least in my mind.  The athletes run in, grab the ball and then run into the meat grinder at the center of the board.  Wait…. fuckawhadinnabaht!?! No, they aren’t running headlong into a literal meat grinder like ball-playing lemmings, they are running into a section in the center of the arena filled with skin-slashing spikes, sandpaper carpeting and possibly demotivational posters.  It’s like the chokey for genetically-engineered athletes.  The best part is that you get extra damage on opposing athletes for knocking them down in the meat grinder.

Once someone runs the ball into the meat grinder, all the goals open and you can start making shots.  Keep in mind that any time you don’t run open goals or make a shot with the ball, anyone with the ‘Shot Clock’ card can use it to get an athlete in the penalty box, redeploy the ball and get a little edge over your opponents.  The structure of the game allows you to get some serious synergy, too.  During your onslaught phase, you can select three different athletes (indicated with the onslaught tokens) to make two moves each.  These can be used to run, chop, pass and shoot, as stated.  A lot of times I would use one player to run, grab the ball, throw it to another athlete who would run it to the razor or shoot.  My buddy Dave got two goals in the first round of the game this way.  Granted the ball practically deployed into his hands, but you roll a die to determine which port it comes out of, and the dice are always in that guy’s favor.  Gameplay is fluid, thrilling and fun.  Mostly fun.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn't work.  Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back it up.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn’t work. Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back your strategy.

Notice the letters in different shapes on the athletes’ cards.  These show the different types of athletes.  Int he actual game there will be lovely plastic pieces that have differently shaped bases, but the review copy had these useful proxies.  There is the butcher or ‘square B’.  This is a big fucker that will chop anything and often ends up in the penalty box when you can get the card.  You’ll have one on your team.  The razor or ‘circle R’ is a lithe and speedy little fucker with four-arms who can move like nobody’s business.  These guys make a lot of the shots.. at least until they end up in the slaughter box.  You also have one of these.  There is also the cleaver or ‘pentagon C’.  These guys are pretty good defensive athletes.  They have decent accuracy, agility and speed, but they aren’t much for brawling and chopping.  This means you can use them to run the ball and score pretty well if you lose your razor.  Then there are the slashers.  These guys have higher toughness and brawling than your slashers, which makes them decent for defense.  These guys will be good at carving (providing interference for athletes running the ball) and generally defending the guy running the ball long enough to get a score in.  They are a little slower, less accurate and agile than the cleavers.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box…

I may have mentioned that there are penalties and fouls that you can call.  I love the way the rules are explained for this in the game.  A great way to look at the rules is like the truth during a great story: never let either get in the way of a great time!  This means that the referees of the game are all but fucking terrified to step into the arena.  I would be too with these genetically-altered freight-train people charging and chopping each other all over the place!  Each team looks like a scarier version of the Monstars from Space Jam!  Fuck!  So there are penalty cards, which can be used to call fouls.  This represents a time when a referee was paying attention long enough to call a foul on a player, likely getting himself side-lined to the slaughterbox in the process.  The thing is, violence is one way that the sport itself is so popular.  These athletes knock eachother down, injure one another, rub eachothers’ faces in the meat grinder etc. all for points and the entertainment of fans.  It is like soccer would have been in an ancient roman gladiatorial arena and it is brutal, spine-shattering fun.

One thing that I wanted in this game, which really disappointed me, was that there seemed to be no option for a “fantasy football” league.  You know, an option that would let you alter the stats of your team, name your athletes and get more into it?  I told this to Erik, the game’s creator and he said this:

“In league mode you can design your own roster, picking which athletes are on your team, you can spend winnings to increase your traits and skills.  However, there is no build from scratch mode in this release. That’ll be in the next Kickstarter. ;)”

Back this game NOW!!!!!  This is going to be something awesome that we nerds can have for our own!  It will be a sports game that will allow us to weave in our love of football, american football and other sports that will allow us to make our own teams, then compete on a larger level!  I can see this game being the next big international board game, like Warhammer.

I was playing this game and just imagining the athletes in the arena, I want to see this game turned into a show on adult swim.  Seriously, think about it.  The world has enough personality, there are several layers of conflict (athletes against eachother, teams and their coaches, all the athletes on the board and the referees, the fans and the referees), and you can throw in the TnA of the cheerleaders (available as an extra purchase on the Kickstarter) to make it a great show with an an amazing world.  On top of all that, it would be EXTREMELY relevant considering all the violence in sports these days and it already has a nice fanbase going.  For now, this is just an awesome game, and I am still hotly debating backing it although I can’t really afford to right now.  I mean, look at this game!  I only played a scrimmage, although I wanted to get a larger game going.  It is a great time and it allows you to fuck with the rules, bullshit and not get too upset over getting screwed.  You’ll be screwing up the other player at some point, too.  Sure, they are already backed, so let’s work on getting those stretch goals met!

EDIT: I recently caved and contributed 110$ to this campaign.  I got the early razor and the cheerleaders!  Ra ra! EDIT EDIT: I just bumped my backing up to 180$.  The things that made me do this was the fact that I was already at 150$ due to add-ons.  I also wanted to get my mitts on the extra team that was unlocked (Fury) and I wanted to get two teams’ cheerleaders! Sis boom ba! EDIT EDIT EDIT: Yea, changed it again.. hopefully the last..  230$ now so I can get my name on a card and a couple of cheerleaders teams! WOO TAH! ED.. oh you get the idea..  So I caved and I went for the Hall of Fame backing.  480$ for my name and picture in the game as well as the cheerleaders and every perk from the Butcher level.  I guess I will be really abstaining from backing people for a while! X P!

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Introducing Dakota and Project Shadow

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Most people haven’t heard of Living Dream Entertainment, and for good reason.  This is another group of gaming idealists that have a vision defining, for them, the perfect game.  So far everything I have heard and seen out of these guys is impressive, despite things being in an early phase.  To be honest, they remind me of Elysian Shadows Team in the sheer audacity of their project and what they want to accomplish.  People should know who they are and what they are planning because it will be something really special when it is finished.

Living Dream Entertainment is a small independent game development team working on a game called, A Shadow’s Tale, through a process they call Project Shadow.  I wasn’t too sure why there was such a distinction between the two, but I have come to understand that Project Shadow will also invite players and fans to contribute to the finished game itself.  No seriously.  You can make a quest, a character, customize their style, how they fight, who they are: nearly fucking everything.  Check it out here!

Dakota Barrett, founder of Living Dream Entertainment, was happy to answer some of my questions about themselves and the game they are creating.  So who are these people and how did they come together?

“Originally my team started out as many indies do: a group of friends with a common interest.  That team died over about the course of two months and got down to just me.  Around this time I was getting some money in doing odd jobs and I started to contract freelancers.

“First there’s Riley, our character artist.  Her job is to draw the busts of characters that you see in dialogue, and often everyone else’s work is based around her creation of a character.

“Then we have Tony, who seems to be the favorite of the public, which is rightly deserved because the guy has a lot of talent. His concept art has a unique style.

“Devon worked with us on and off for several months before becoming an official member of the team.  He does our code work and makes a lot of my crazy ideas come to life.  He’s the reason we’re able to push an outdated program like RPGMaker into the modern age.

“Elbert does our sprite art and animation and he’s really good at it.  We spent four months going through dozens of applicants for the position and it wasn’t until I met Elbert that I knew I had the right guy.

“Saad is our composer and most recent addition to the team.  Unlike everyone else, I wasn’t actually looking for a composer at the time.  Saad was just interested with the project and sent in a sample of his work.  I loved it so much that I included it in our announcement video of Project Shadow and asked him to join our team.

“I run social media, talk to journalists, run the business and all the legal work that comes with that, and I make everyone’s work show up and coordinate in-game, creating the world for the player to enjoy.  But at the heart of it all, I’m a designer and writer.  All the stories, dialogue, and gameplay mechanics start off as ideas in my head.  I have about three gigabytes worth of just notes alone.”

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Yep, the skill is visible.

So this is already a strong team of talented individuals with a common purpose.  From the teaser trailer for the game itself, I know I got a strong impression.  So, if Dakota is the main drive and energy behind this game, what brought him into gaming and games development?

“Throughout my childhood I played a lot of games through frequent visits to BlockBuster when it was around and you could get a game for a week, which was perfect for me because I usually binged a game until I beat it.  I’ve played all sorts of genres from big AAA titles to the little indie teams, but I think where I truly fell in love with games was with role playing games like Final Fantasy IX and X, Knights of the Old Republic II and the original Fable.

“As I entered adulthood I started to bind my passion for games with my passion to write.  I tried out a few development programs, such as Unity, Blender or Game Maker, but the one I settled with was the one that best served my roots as a gamer, RPG Maker VX Ace.  It’s a pretty simple program that could allow even a child to make a game but over the time I had it I started to find how to push it further and further and when I started to really see the potential with the program I started working on the very early concepts of A Shadow’s Tale.”

Projects of passion are often rare gems, because they are so hard to attain.  When such a project can be made possible, they often turn into impressive entries in a genre and even in a field of art.  The biggest obstacle is often money, and that can kill a project before it ever even happens. How has A Shadow’s Tale gotten its funding so far?

“It started out as a birthday/graduation gift.  I was the first in my family to graduate high school, which isn’t much of an accomplishment, but it was something.  So I took what was likely meant to be the means of buying a car and put it towards making a game.  When that ran out, I started funding the project with what I could from my paycheck, which to this day is  just a part-time, minimum-wage job, so progress has been slow.  Our goal is to crowdfund with the community we’ve built up, but we’re not quite ready for that just yet.”

Each game has its own draw, something makes it stand out.  What are the features of A Shadow’s Tale that will really set it apart from other games of its type?

“Simply put it’s how the game is designed overall.  It’s not meant to be a retro throwback to the games I and others grew up on, it’s meant to be Living Dream’s first step in showing what the industry is capable of producing.  Though it’s an open world RPG, it takes inspiration from all sorts of games, old and new.

“To be more specific I would say the focus on your actions is at the heart of the gameplay.  In many games that I enjoy, like the Mass Effect series, you get to make choices that change the universe you play in and could very well cause your experience to be completely different from all your friends who played the game.  But if you look back, almost all these choices centered around dialogue.  The hundreds of people and monsters you killed didn’t change anything and where you went didn’t really matter as long as you completed the main goals of the game.  With our game we’re putting a focus on what you do, as with reality it’s not so much what you say that affects others and who you become, but what you do.”

So what is the complete vision for the game itself?

“As I hinted at earlier, our goal is to deliver not just a game but an experience; one you’ll look back on for years to come as I have with the hundreds of hours lost in the universes of RPGs.  A world in which you grow attachments to the characters as if they were truly your friends or your enemies.  One where your actions changed the world.  I believe that what people want is their actions to matter.  For something we did to have an affect on the world, be it big or small, to know we made a difference in other’s lives.

“That’s my goal for the game at least, for Project Shadow itself you could say it’s the same thing but in the real world.  I want our community to truly feel like they had a part in making the game without handing over the files and expecting them to make sense of it.  That’s why we’re allowing the community to co-design elements of the game alongside us.”

Whoa. Badass.

Whoa. Badass.

That is a lot to shoot for, so the game itself has to measure up to this, helping the player insert themselves into and influence the world in a noticeable way.  What are some of the mechanics of the game and how will they facilitate this?

“I would say our combat system is probably the most interesting mechanic of the game outside of the responsive world system.  RPGs have been going back and forth between the blood pumping excitement of live action and the tactical thinking of turn based combat.  They both have their benefits and downfalls and I believe we found a unique way to combine the two.

“In the game the controls are rather simple: WASD to move and spacebar to interact and use skills.  Now that second part is the key to shaping combat.  When you press space, a wheel of icons displays over the head of the player.  This wheel technically consist of dozens upon dozens of interactions and skills, but since that would be a pain to cycle through, we’ve made it contextualized; depending on what you’re facing, it will only show what makes sense with that person or object.

“As with the rest of the game, this was designed to give the player a choice in how they go about getting past enemies.  In a sense it’s more like a puzzle than straight up combat.  You could go around in stealth taking enemies down one or two at a time.  You could break, throw, or burn objects to cause distractions.  Use skills or dialogue to manipulate people, or straight up fight your enemies in turn based combat.  Even the turn-based combat itself is designed to give you challenges through three gauges, health, energy, and fear.”

What games have you played an liked?  From there, what games can you say have influenced A Shadow’s Tale?

“I mentioned the RPG genre before and some games that are a part of it, but I pull my inspiration from all types of games.  I enjoy simple and quick RTS games like the Command and Conquer games or Halo Wars, which I still play on occasion.   Shooters like Destiny and some MOBAs have also left their mark.

“Two games which probably have the biggest impact that aren’t straight up RPGs are Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  They both have RPG elements but they’re almost entirely based around quick combat in first person.  Both of which I focused on stealth and I had great joy is crawling in air vents only to come out and beat someone to death with a refrigerator (Yeah I’m probably a bit too violent).  This approach of deal with enemies how you want was really enjoyable and that can be seen in our own combat, though it isn’t a straight up choice between stealth and action.”

I love these emblems.

I love these emblems.

What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?

“We will be doing crowdfunding, but it won’t be through Kickstarter.  That is why we’re creating Project Shadow which works like the crowdfunding with Star Citizen, this sort of build over time instead of all at once approach.  Except our design is not so much to keep raising more and more money and add more to the game so much as we want the community to be a part of the design with us and get to see right away what their money goes to.  When you contribute hundreds of dollars it’s not really fair you have to wait months to even start to receive what you paid for and it’s usually physical merchandise and not the actual game itself.

“Instead with Project Shadow you choose what you want to co-design such as a character.  Once you’ve selected what type of character they are, where in the world they live, and what the character consist of we’ll get to work with you within a few days and start fleshing out the details so that the artist can truly bring your character to life and you get to watch the whole thing happen.  If you want you can share it with the world too, just avoid any spoilers.”

Awesome!  Well that is good to hear.  I will be interested to see how this community develops!  What can you tell us about the contest?  Where do people participate?

“We’re giving the community a chance to co-design a character prior to the fundraising of #ProjectShadow.  Now usually you would cover the cost of your character, but this time around I’ll be covering the cost for the winner.

“So how do you participate?  All you have to do is write us your idea for a character and we’ll select our favorite and start working with you on bringing it to life.  All the details and guidelines can be found here, which I recommend you read thoroughly if you want to win.  One last note: unlike with Project Shadow, you won’t be choosing the character type.  Instead, we selected one for you that is one of the more interesting and costly to make.  Out of the character types (basic, advanced, keeper, friend, faction member, faction captain, and major) this one is a faction captain, which is a mini boss as your enemy or a faction-related quest giver as an ally.

“One of the key features of Project Shadow (actually the entirety of Project Shadow) is that it allows anyone to be a part of the creation of a game.  It’s really great in that you get the benefits of coming up with ideas and seeing your creations come to life without having to deal with the stress of actually being on the team and hoping the game does well because your livelihood depends on it.  You get to create whoever or whatever you want that fits within the fantasy world we have created, and in doing so you get to share it with the world and at some point experience it in game as well.

“We may not be doing the crowdfunding now but you can still join in by getting in touch with us.  Tweet us @LivingDreamEnt, or use #ProjectShadow on Twitter.  Or you can email us at, livingdream3r@gmail.com

“It’s really important that you do because even though it’s not giving us the funding we really need to make the game it shows us the community is ready for this and they want to be a part of it.  The sooner we see that people are ready for us and we too are ready for them the sooner we can get this started and start to build a world together.”

The vaulting halls of the Hunters' Guild!

The vaulting halls of the Hunters’ Guild!

Awesome!  Personally, I am really looking forward to this community event.  Living Dream Entertainment is taking on a whole new approach by getting players and fans involved in the creation of the game itself.  As the game is developed, players will get to have input on what gets added and it will be, in more ways than normal, our game.  A game that we don’t all just love and play, but a game that we’ve all given input and some of even helped to design!  Dakota also wanted to leave a special message to followers and fans:

“Thank you for reading this article and please follow us and share us with friends!  This Project is entirely based around a community we’re beginning to build, and we encourage every one of you to participate and get involved!  If you like our art share our DeviantArt account.  If you like what we’re doing on YouTube, share it.  Don’t be afraid to contact us at anytime because we’re here for you and we’ll get back with you as soon as possible!  Please consider following @crotchetygamer and his blog.  He’s a great guy and amazing with words!”

This interview is based on an email correspondence between myself and Living Dream Entertainment.  The conversation has been lightly edited for flow, coherence and grammar.

Dev Discussion: Modern Gaming and How it’s Evolving

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Today I will feature a discussion that I happened upon on the internet.  Developers were having a heated exchange about an age-old argument that most often causes bloodshed between gamers.  For the sake of constructive intellectual exchange, I will curb my PC bias and look at this objectively.  Note also, Console v PC.  I will make fun of Mac gamers.  That is comedy that writes itself.

Gamers often get into heated debates over which is better: PC or Console gaming.  Console gamers often cite titles and communities as the strongest factors favoring console gaming, while PC gamers will fill your screen with chart after chart displaying the raw power of a PC compared against consoles, or grab screenshots to illustrate the visual differences between the graphics.  While each side certainly has a compelling argument, which really is better and , more importantly, where is it leading us?  This exchange focused more on the evolution of the various facets of the industry, rather than an argument over which is better.  Joining the Crotchety Old Gamer in the discussion, we have three fine gentlemen: Joe Yeats (@ProceduralJOYE via Twitter), a developer from the UK currently working with Autelia LTD on Human Orbit, a procedurally-generated simulator about shaping a computer-controlled utopia.  Max Krieger (@MaxKriegerVG via Twitter), an Indie Game Developer from Chicago and student at DePaul University.  Drake (@DMODP via Twitter), a programmer, designer and writer.  I came late into the discussion, but some very intriguing points were made.  Feel free to join the discussion in the Crotchety Gamers United Steam group!

Lightly paraphrased, Max said that the time-proven model of Mac vs PC illustrates why Console and PC gaming will coexist.  While Drake and myself were somewhat confused by the statement, Max was happy to provide a more detailed explanation on his viewpoint:

“[…] In this age where computing platforms are all headed in the same direction, the differentiating factor that will be key to platform sales remains the image and curated experience of that platform. I used Mac OSX as an example because it shows how illogical this thinking can be – OSX is really cumbersome for a lot of simple tasks, doesn’t play nice with industry standards, and only runs on a very closed line of hardware, but people lap it up because of the image it supports: a creative, media-oriented one that strives for intuitive use over flexibility. Make no mistake, I am not an Apple/OSX fan, but they’re one of the biggest proven examples of the curated platform image in the modern tech industry.”

Max does make a good point.  Essentially, he is saying that the biggest difference between the PC and console crowds is the image they use to represent themselves.  With the development of the Steam Machine, this viewpoint was never better supported.  Steam started as a PC gamer’s wet dream, but recent implementations in the retailer (such as Big Picture mode) reveal a strong push toward console gaming.  Not to mention, the fact that the Steam Machine plans to license its construction out to third parties, which will create a variety of hardware builds, make it a bit of a frankenstein PC-esque Console.  With companies bridging the gap between the two worlds, one has to wonder when the differences will be declared null and void.  Drake had a similar thought process, but with a different approach.

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Drake also did me the favor of elucidating his view:

“The reason people often side with one or the other and not both is […] because they’re polar opposites. They have their own unique control schemes. Consoles and computers are polar opposites not [just] because of their difference in controls, but in their difference of experience. First, [PC gamers] don’t have to move to a different part of the [house] to experience games. They’re right there on the same machine we use for work, surfing the web, social media, etc. Second, [PC gamers] can open windows […] for reference material […] but this is also good from a social standpoint. [PC gamers] can take screenshots and post them [on the internet], we can respond to [people] on our favorite social network, etc.”

So, as you can see, Drake has a solid point, too. Despite consoles, such as PS4, recently enabling access to other forms of media and direct internet streaming capability with the touch of a button, there are still a myriad of things that PC’s can do that still remain unavailable to Console gamers on just their consoles.  Drake continued, elaborating on the features of the console camp:

“I feel consoles are the extremist response-time choice. […] For response-time challenges, the question is: Who can execute the highest number of actions in the shortest amount of time? It provides a completely different experience from computers.”

My personal experience with computers, however is totally different.  The mouse offers pinpoint accuracy while playing a game.  How can you get more direct than pointing at it with your mouse? The answer is getting a touchscreen and pointing yourself.  Of course, Drake had his own response to this:

“[…] A controller’s reaction time is far more demanding. It’s more than clicking a billion times a second. It’s about hitting the right buttons at the right times and getting your fingers everywhere they need to be without looking down at [the device]. Console games often assume the player’s really good at this activity to the point they make [players] do everything all the time. [Console gameing] is about just doing.”

Of course, I would offer that this depends on the player.  I grew up on PC gaming first, so the ‘WASD’ model is practically gospel for me.  Sure, different games have different controls, some even have demanding hotkeys, but use of them is up to you.  You can customize the experience to your own play-style, and the majority of games tend to use the keys immediately adjacent to the ‘WASD’ keys for additional actions where applicable.  Not to mention, the sticks on a controller can’t be as accurate as a mouse.  A mouse is literally point-and-click.  Controller sticks are more indirect.

Joe’s thoughts on this topic were a bit of a combination:

“It’s obvious that some genres are better aided by certain input hardware than others. This is certainly the case with simulators and strategy games, which usually do better with a keyboard and mouse. I don’t think it’s necessary to expound on this.”

Max largely agreed with Drake’s assertion of their differences, but had his own interpretation of how this affects gaming.  The tech he refers to is more the innards and less the interface devices:

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Max got more specific in explaining this part of his thought process:

The Playstation 4’s success also may owe itself to [platform image], but it’s too early to tell. Sony has always given the PlayStation brand a mild sense of curation by endorsing or even producing avant-garde titles on the platform, moreso than any other console maker in history. Going forward, this curation may end up being the PS4’s largest difference when PC hardware overtakes it again at an equivalent price point.”

Around here, Joe had some relevant input on the topic:

“The technical boundaries between a console and a desktop machine have become increasingly blurry over the years – but we’re all still pretty sure what they each are and when we make a decision about how we want to play a game, we know how to compare the ‘desktop experience’ to the ‘console experience’. We all know that we can hook our PC up to the TV and use a bluetooth controller for a ‘console-like’ experience: but most of us aren’t going to do that. The reputation and image of the formats has been accrued over a generational time period – we couldn’t shake that easily and there may not even be a good reason to do so (even if all games were available on all platforms). When I play a game on a console, I know that it has been tailored for the specific controller that I’m using, for the hardware that it’s running on. I can expect a reliable game experience without having to faff around. The experience has been designed for me down to the slightest detail. I don’t even have to tweak the graphics settings. I just need to switch on, plug in & tune out.”

The conversation gradually drifted in the direction of mobile gaming.  Drake disagreed that mobile gaming had a different target demographic and said that it targets everyone, presumably everyone with a mobile device.  Of course, just in the virtue that targeting “everyone with a mobile phone” is a task achieved differently than targeting “everyone with a specific console”, it logically follows that it is a different target demographic.  In fact, because of the similar situation of iOS v Android, console and pc gamers might find themselves on either side of the mobile discussion depending on their devices.  In this way mobile almost has a market that is totally separate from, but still noticeably influence by the gaming market comprised by PC and Console gamers.

Of course, Drake also touched on a separate issue that abounds in the mobile gaming market: the quality of games:

greatmobile

Now, before someone starts cluttering the comments sections with cries of Angry Birds adoration, Drake is referring to the fact that simple, casual games, like Angry Birds, currently dominate the mobile market.  And while he is right in that great mobile games are hard to find, they are far from non-existent.  The greatest example of a mobile-specific game that uses its functionality is Ingress.  Read about that game here.  And Ingress isn’t the only one, but, to my knowledge, it is the first.  Windows phones will be able to play QONQR, a game that wants to be Ingress, and X-Tactics, a game that is just like “Fuck Ingress!  And now for something completely different!”  Of course, location-based games are certainly not the only angle mobile gaming could take.  The fact that progressive-thinking developers have tried, and failed, to make augmented reality games more accessible overall shows that we are still a long way from making it work effectively, even with Google Glass.  So, Drake definitely has a point with mobile games being “designed to waste time while you [wait] or short experiences.”

Of course Max breaks back in and asks for a thought experiment:

“[…] If all consoles disappeared overnight, could mobile [gaming] fill their place? Yeah. But they’d have to cater to both convenience and involvement – two contradictory ideas that dilute platform image.”

This is true, but if gaming were to be forced onto mobile devices, I find it believable to find games evolving to replace what was lost – FPSs utilizing the mobile device in question combined with the player’s surroundings, RPGs that focus more on tap-controlled characters, etc.  In short, mobile games wouldn’t stop being the simple, casual games, but these types of games would be joined by an overwhelming number of widely varied games and genres.

There was more discussion about Mac OS vs Windows, of course.  This piece of the discourse was meant to display how the image-focus model has affected other markets aside from gaming.  Max posited that Mac OS continues to sell primarily because it does “normal user” better than Windows. He continued saying that Windows tried to retake that ground by creating Windows 8.  This undermined the “pro” part of Windows, which upset their users. Then, when Windows repaired the alterations to their OS, the image of a “jack-of-all-trades” OS persisted. Max maintained his standpoint, saying “image is everything.”

Max’s final thoughts on the discussion were pretty broad, but still relevant.

“Ultimately, I believe that the current trend of consuming media in any environment is one that will plateau once our near-omniscient media viewing capabilities lose their novelty. It’s an undeniable phenomenon that certain forms of media are better consumed in certain environments and settings. The biggest obstacle to a unified platform for all gaming is not the tech, nor the interface, but human nature itself – not something that can be so easily overcome. Nobody expected the PS4 to be doing as well as it’s doing right now, and I think that alone is proof enough that human nature has a lot more twists left in the evolution of gaming tech than we expect right now.”

Drake came from another angle, though, saying that games are a form of media.  And if there is one thing that is true now more than ever, it’s that people want their media no matter where they are.

everywhere

Joe broke into the conversation here, pointing out the relevance of the feature of PS4 where it can be played remotely from the Vita.  Drake admitted that he hadn’t tried it, but named a relevant issue with that right off: not every PS4 owner has a PS Vita.  Drake also suggested that the Vita isn’t the best handheld to carry around with you.  Joe threw in some more thoughts of his own regarding the PS Vita.

noway

Drake added saying that it really needs to be a native experience that still feels extremely great. But to do something like that, you’d have to take the ‘app’ structure and generalize the controls, then change the controls so they cater to every device the game might appear on.  He had a lot to say about this especially, and there was also a considerable piece of discussion about porting.  That will be included in another piece since this one is long enough already.

If you’ve made it to this point, please remember, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic!  Come join the discussion on my Steam Group, and let’s see if we can get some interesting exchanges started!

Ludum Dare, Indie Dev Explosion!

LD_logo

Although I had a hard time finding anything about it on the Ludum Dare site itself, I have come to understand that the primary Ludum Dare competition occurs more than once a year: the current version being LD48.  Founded in 2002, Ludum is a competition that focuses on rapid game development, and it translates from latin as “The Game Giving”.  Other translators state “Providing patronage to a public duel” is a potential translation, but I don’t see anything but Game Devs here, so we’re going with that first one.

On the Ludum Dare website, it is said that “for many people, it can be difficult to find or make the time to create a game or prototype for yourself.  We’re here to be your excuse.”  And that is awesome, considering it also says they are “keeping things extra indie.”  Honestly, they had me at hello, but extra indie?  Exemplary.  So LD serves as the proverbial grease in the joints of a game developer’s mind, giving them a reason to just create what they can and throw it into the mix, just to see what they can come up with.  This is noteworthy, and it serves to challenge people to make something quickly; this most recent run of the competition taking place August 22nd – 25th.  With only 3 fucking days to create a coherent and playable game, that is one hell of a challenge.  And no one but gamedevs would be crazy enough to select Challenge: Accepted.

Ludum Dare 21

Ludum Dare 21

So what happens when they get more than they expected?  Pictured above you will see the games of LD21, during which Ludum Dare received 599 titles, pictured above.  Now, think about that for a minute.  Each of these games provide experiences that run from a couple minutes all the way up to some clever little 10 minute engagements, depending on how good you are at the game.  Each title is played by the judges and the best ones are selected as the winners.  So who are these judges?  In an interview with the man behind the competition, Mike Kasprzak, he told me just how LD works.

We assign everyone a random subset of all games to judge. If you play a few dozen, a few dozen will play your game. The system is built to reward people that play games with attention by others that play games. As far as scores are concerned, once we have a couple dozen, it’s enough to estimate what the games average score will be. So we deal with the large quantity of games by not playing them all, but by playing some.

So the people judging the games are also people who submitted games, then the community votes up its favorites.  This is a democratic process that would make the ancient Greeks and the Founding Fathers (US) wipe a tear of pride from their eyes. Of course, with every competition, there is a victor.  Competitions reward winners in a variety of ways.  So how does Ludum Dare reward its winners?

Wait... what?!

Wait… what?!

So wait wait wait..  You’re fucking telling me that the winners don’t get more than a hi-five and handshake?!  Yep, that is what the man said.  To give you an idea, some of these Indie Developers willingly commit hours to their games, eschewing sleep as long as possible just to get in the next couple lines of code.  Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying this is unfair. Devs submitting to LD know what they are up against and the rewards, and they do it regardless. And Ludum Dare grants these people a way for their work to be seen and their voices to be heard, which makes it all the more awe-inspiring that, come LD season, Twitter is flooded with bittersweet tweets from dedicated game devs.  What Ludum Dare encourages is nothing short of remarkable.

If I wanted to submit to Ludum Dare, when would I do it?  And how many submissions does Ludum typically get?  Initially, Mr. Kasprzak told me they were getting just more than 100 submissions per event.  Now? Well…

I heard a sound like a thousand shits being shat, and then... silence.

I heard a sound like a thousand shits being shat, and then… silence.

LD_reasons

Of course, there are probably other contributing reasons.

Of course, I suggest that there are more reasons than just the number of events.  Even if the same people were submitting for every event, if there were only 200 people in the first event, that would be 400 altogether.  This year so far there have been about 2500 submissions per event.  There is no expletive I can issues that adequately summarizes this.  I would suggest that the increase of submissions is attributable to the fact that Indie Developers aren’t just on the rise, they are exploding exponentially.  And I don’t mean spontaneously combusting, either, I mean their numbers are increasing at a rate comparable to an epidemic.  Then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and Mr. Kasprzak suggested his thoughts.

LD_easy

Like what? Like Unity 3D or Unity Marketplace or.. Yea, the list goes on like this for some time…

So this is clear evidence that gaming is starting to migrate away from the major industry and into smaller dev shops where real magic can happen.  Away from AAA gaming and publishers, you have independent companies, which can be only a few people or fifty talented artists, which are developing games on their terms incorporating elements that they want.  With no one else looking over their shoulder, they have the freedom and the drive to make the best games they can.  That might slow down individual games; but considering the situation altogether, with so many indiedevs there are games constantly coming out.  And they aren’t just crappy little games, either.  Many of them are just as exciting as major industry games, if not more so.

So what are some games from Ludum Dare?  I have played a few of them myself, and I have to say, they vary from one developer to the next so widely that I cannot comprehend having to choose the best one.  But here are a few of them.

Fuel Runner

by Robot Friend Games

Casual bike ride with radioactive materials on my back

Casual bike ride with radioactive materials on my back

Fuel Runner is a game with a loud color palette and no sound.  You start off planetside as a spacesuit clad bike-rider that jumps from one platform to the next.  Don’t fall too far, or you’ll explode.  Luckily you start from your highest-cleared platform. It is pretty easy, too, at least until you get into space.  Then shit goes nuts.

Falling up.. AAAAAHHHH!!

Falling up.. AAAAAHHHH!!

Once you get outside the atmosphere, the platforms you are on become barriers of instant death that you soar past, floating away into the abyss.  I haven’t made it to the end yet, but I cannot imagine this having a happy ending.  Lots of fun, though!  Lovely art, too!

 

The Static Speaks

by idovingx

This game is more of an interpretive piece.  My young brother likes this band called 65 Days of Static.  I asked him where the weird-ass name comes from, and he responded thusly:

“In the 1960’s the Soviets did this study where they tested the effects of white noise on participants.  Unanimously, people started losing their grip on reality and began hearing and seeing things in the static that wasn’t there.  The conclusion is that, given totally chaos the human brain tries so hard to recognize a pattern, that it starts to create one where there is nothing.”

                                                                                                                                                – Brother Jeremiah on 65 Days of Static

Now, The Static Speaks takes on a creepy aspect that makes me wonder where this is going.  This game takes the form of a first-person adventure game.  It is short and creepy with vaguely depressing titles in a twitchy font.  You wake up from a weird dream, watch static on the TV, a door appears, you die (?) in a bathtub and the house flies apart.  Then it cuts directly to you hovering in space surrounded by tv’s broadcasting static with a weird blob above you.  Select a tv and it’s over.  I ended this, said “WTF?” tried it again, and realized I had done it right.

Watch the tv closely when you play...

Watch the tv closely when you play…

Hip Hop Planet

by SnoutUp

Snout up has shown a love for the use of vector graphics, and has made some downloadable apps, as well.  His Ludum Dare entry is a fun little arcade game featuring a spunky little character that jumps between planets collecting diamonds.  Hit the up button once to jump, twice to jet-pack.  Let and right moves you around a planet and spacebar lets you change the rotation of the planets.  Avoiding obstacles, you have to collect all the diamonds you can!  When you jump to another planet, the background changes to resemble your current planet!  Get your best time, or just beat this challenging little play!  It is a fun and addictive little game that reminds me of some fun times with gaming, down to the sounds it chose.  Add in a jazzy, 16-bit hip hop theme and I would pay some money for this!

On this planet, every week is shark week!

On this planet, every week is shark week!

There are so many talented devs submitting games to this competition, it would be a crime for you not to go there yourself and see what they have to offer!  The timer says there are 19 days left to try them out, so get on over there!  Of course, Ludum Dare doesn’t exactly make a lot of money, and is sustained by the contributions of its supporters!  Please get on over there and make a contribution if you can!  Ludum Dare helps developers to explore creative concepts that they might otherwise never get the chance to explore, so whatever you can contribute would be greatly appreciated by the entire Indie Gaming community. If you can make a contribution, tell them the Crotchety Old Gamer sent you!

Elysian Shadows, Preview of 2D Paradise

ES_logo

 

You backed it on Kickstarter and now it’s happening.  We were excited about the mechanics, but what about the elements we’ll all fall in love with?  Who are the characters? What are their struggles?  What is their world like?  I wanted to know, and Falco Girgis and the Elysian Shadows Team agreed to tell me.  So what’s behind the game?  Find out with the Crotchety Old Gamer!

I am excited as anyone about playing this game, but who will be our window into the world?  Who is the main character of Elysian Shadows, and what drives him?

“The main protagonist of ES is named Julien. He is the son of two famous “diggers” who were well known for their research of the ancient ruins scattered throughout the land of Elysian Shadows. Julien grew up traveling with them on numerous expeditions and learning about the different ancient cultures of the past. He was well on his way to following in their footsteps as an accomplished digger, when the two mysteriously wound up missing during an expedition. An adolescent Julien was then sent to live with a family friend, the local museum owner, where he grew up despising the ruins that claimed his parents. Rather than exploring them with a passion and thirst for understanding as he had in his youth, he now scours them for a means to survival, plundering and looting their treasures just to make ends meet. 
Julien has virtually no motivation to take part in the party’s quest in the beginning. He is thrust into the action by necessity rather than choice, and it’s initially the other party members who drag him along on the journey. For Julien, this is a quest of personal growth. It’s him having to come to terms with his traumatic past and face the ruins that caused him so much pain, and his struggle to reignite a long-lost passion that died along with his parents. Julien’s character represents crawling back up and trying again after suffering an extreme loss or emotional defeat. Whether this be a metaphor for learning to love again after heartbreak or learning to try again after seeing your dream project crushed on Kickstarter. Heh heh.”
Julien and the other diggers have to rely on physical weapons when excavating ruins because magic is a power reserved exclusively for the religious. While the technology for Julien’s time is not particularly advanced by today’s standards, many of the weapons and artifacts the player encounters within the ruins from civilizations long past are far more advanced than those found in his own time. The diggers and the scientific communities rely on these kinds of manufactured and uncovered weapons for combat while the religious are strictly magic-users. But what if Julien and his friends somehow discovered a way to use magic as well?”
Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound...

Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound…

Julien, like most people, is dealing with a  secret pain.  His struggle might be unique to himself, but each of us has our own climb from the bottom.  Each of us has a cave of terrible darkness and untold treasures unique to our souls that we must brave before we are free to be who we are.  Joseph Campbell wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces, which concerned itself with the way characters like these resonate in each of us.  What about the world, though?  What is the story told by the world Julien and his people will inhabit?
“Elysian Shadows is a world caught in constant conflict between magic and technology. Magic is associated with faith and the religious. Technology is associated with scholars, scientists, and explorers who have turned away from The Creator’s divine gifts in an attempt to better understand the world around them. The technologists are seen as heretics, while the religious are seen as sheep, following blindly. Julien and Eryn, who both work for a museum, are sent on an expedition to uncover a valuable artifact for a new exhibit. The two quickly find more than they bargained for in the ruins. They stumble upon a discovery that thrusts them into the middle of this mounting conflict between magic and technology, forcing them to unlock the mysteries of ancient civilizations and prevent their own people from sharing this fate.
The storyline of Elysian Shadows was heavily influenced by the moral dilemmas of our own technologically advanced society, especially with recent advances in bio-engineering. With stem cell research, cloning and the human genome sequence, science challenges religion on a fundamental philosophical level. Science is beginning to encroach upon powers that many people argue are reserved exclusively for God. Do we have any business modifying our genetic make-up? Is it moral to alter a fetus before its birth? Is it wrong to artificially produce life in a laboratory? Science claims that these advances could drastically benefit all of humanity, while religion claims that we are meddling with things that we have mo business meddling with. We wanted to create a story that was more than just a superfluous JRPG experience. We wanted something that would make the player think; something that would engage them intellectually and emotionally.”
Lovely vistas!

Lovely vistas!

Elysian Shadows seems like it will strike a chord that resonates with our own lives, possibly even a few nerves, but who would we be if art never asked hard questions?  And how we answer these questions are part of what make us individual from one another.  Our varied ways of thinking and how those come together for a common goal are part of what has made America what it is today: a center for all people to share ideas freely, and sometimes those ideas reach back out to the people that created them.  So how will the characters accompanying Julien contribute to the game?
“Julien is initially accompanied by the lead female protagonist, Eryn, who is a tech-savvy university student. Eryn helps her father run the local museum, showcasing various exotic and mysterious artifacts from the surrounding ruins. While Julien’s past has rendered him jaded and disinterested in discovering the secrets of these ruins, Eryn explores them passionately in hopes of uncovering their secrets often dragging Julien along for the ride. She is a strong-willed tomboy and often the most level-headed and responsible member of the party with a ruthless pragmatism. 
The two adventurers find themselves in the company of one of Eryn’s professors after his lab is ransacked and his research is destroyed ( presumably because he was getting too close to a breakthrough with his work ). While Professor Rand is brilliant, he’s also infamous for dysfunctional antics and living a life of excess. His peers in academia generally disapprove of his hedonism, but they are often forced to concede to his genius and gift for piecing together puzzles. Rand serves as a non-traditional guide for the party, and he is well-versed in the ancient ruins and their technology. Unfortunately Eryn finds herself having to guide Rand just as much throughout their journey, keeping his arrogance in check and ensuring that his decadence doesn’t get the party deeper into trouble along the way.”
...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

There is a big adventure out there for us

Allies and enemies and what separates the two is a major point of reference in how each of us live our lives.  It says something about who we are and what we want.  Note that Julien is already surrounding himself with those that spend their time largely concerned with the ruins, the very thing that he blames for the loss of his parents.  This means that, despite his feelings on them, somewhere they are still very much a part of him, maybe even one he wants to love again as it would be the only emotional link back to those happy days of youth exploring with Mom and Dad?  Eventually he will have to face those emotions, and his friends will be the ones to help.  So, what about the game itself?  How will each of these characters actually work together?  I was allured by the claims to an inventive new system for skills and jobs – How will these systems work and how will they be reflected in each character?
“It’s actually a mixture of two different systems. We ran into a kind of design dilemma early on when we were dreaming up skills and abilities for characters. On one hand, we wanted each character to have their own unique feel and play style. We didn’t want every character to feel completely interchangeable, and we wanted to give each their own innate strengths and abilities. But on the other hand, we are huge fans of job and class systems, and party customization is something we very much wanted to do with Elysian Shadows. We really wanted to give the player the freedom to customize their party as they see fit.
So we wound up with a hybrid system where each party member learns their own unique set of skills and abilities during combat and storyline progression. They each have their own unique skill trees and pools that are independent of the other characters, which is how we intend to make our characters unique and interesting. Then  each party member can be assigned to a certain class wherein they unlock class-specific skills and abilities. This allows the player to really fine-tune their party, offering a considerable amount of strategic freedom within the combat system, while still allowing us to create unique and interesting characters.”
Giant swords and power help, too!

Giant swords and power help, too!

This means the class you choose for each character determines what role they will play, and allows you to dictate how the party reacts to challenges.  Alongside this, one character might have access to certain elements within there skill tree that other characters simply cannot get to – the same way Falco and myself might both become developers, but we would end up using those skills to completely different ends and learn different, though equally useful, methods of making games.  Well, damn, I am glad I contributed to the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter!  Of course, there are still 5 days left to contribute to the ES Kickstarter, but what about those that miss the opportunity?  How much will they have to pay and what outlets will the game be available on?
“Since we’re targeting so many different platforms with completely different indie markets and economies, we can’t really set a fixed price point across each. The price of ES will most likely be adjusted so it’s comparable to other indie games available on each platform. Currently, digital copies of ES for Steam and OUYA can be preordered for $15 through our Kickstarter. This also includes our development tools, ESTk and ESGamma. The standard edition of Elysian Shadows for the Dreamcast will be $49, which includes a professionally produced jewel case, color instruction manual, and pressed disc thanks to our publishers at Watermelon Corp. The game will look like a 100% legit Dreamcast release picked up from a commercial retailer back in 1999. You will also be able to choose between PAL, US, and JAP style packaging so ES will match the rest of your DC collection no matter what region you’re in!”
Painstaking attention to detail, thorough skills and class systems, complex characters and a complex storyline balancing the the beliefs of a world against the pain of one kid: Elysian Shadows is going to have something for everyone, and a little extra to boot.  I have never been this excited for another modern retro game; not Shovel Knight or any other mainstream title.  Elysian Shadows, however, is more than just a modern retro 2D RPG: it is our modern 2D RPG.  More than just this game, I look forward to the ripple effect that this game will create and how that will resonate across the industry.  Here’s to hoping it contributes to some interesting developments all the way around.  But whether or not it does, either way, it’s going to be an awesome game!  As always, you can check the Elysian Shadows website for more about the game!

Why is Bojan Brbora Merging Film and Gaming?

capsule_main

 

At the end of July I reviewed 4PM, a game that you might say takes games a little too far.  Receiving mixed reviews, this game boldly stares down such topics as alcoholism, adultery, drunk driving and suicide.  While I can say that  topics with this gravity don’t typically feature in games, it is a trend that is on the rise.  Today Bojan Brbora, the serbian cinematographer behind 4PM, discusses his motivations with me and sheds a little light on what is driving this dramatic explosion of artistic games.

For those not entirely familiar with Bojan and his work, he gave a little personal background:

Cinematography used to be my full time job up until two and a half years ago, when I came to the UK from Serbia and earned an MA in Game Design at the National Film & Television School.  This is where I made 4PM, as well. I worked full time in the Film industry back home for about 8 years before deciding to take a break and learn this new medium.  Currently I try to split my work 50/50 between Film/TV and Game Design, and I am quite keen on continuing to work in both areas.  The projects that I mainly seem to work on are drama related, which is probably why 4PM is in the same category.

So Bojan has years in the Serbian film industry, but what would make someone take the step into gaming directly from film?

Around three years ago during slow periods, I was playing things like Mass Effect and Deus Ex and realised how much I had grown attached to the characters, especially after making choices and changing their path in the story.  I really felt like I was participating in the narrative, and being responsible for what happened on the screen; something which you rarely get in other media.  I thought this was really interesting.  What if one applied the same thing, but created a more contemporary and contextually relevant narrative?  Since this isn’t commonly done, I decided to give it a go and signed up for the course here in the UK.

(beware of spoilers) In 4PM you play as a reckless alcoholic named Caroline, who is grieving over the loss of her father.  Granted, she is personally responsible for his death due to her inebriation at the time of the car crash.  After another rough day at her soul-sucking deskjob, Caroline decides to sneak down to the bar for a drink.  On her way, she runs into a man who throws her a listless glance and continues past her to the roof.  You then get to decide to follow or go to the bar.  Following him you can learn the truth about yourself and save him.  Going to the bar gives you a front row seat to his suicide, as he lands on a taxi parked in front of the bar.  Atop the roof Caroline learns that recently she has been having an affair with a married man – the jumper on the roof – whose wife is leaving him.  Despite Caroline failing to remember any of this, she does have moments of recollection where the past comes trickling in to haunt her.  On that rooftop she faces down herself, the truth of what she has become and where she wants her future to lead.

Given the gravity involved, I wondered at the inspiration behind the narrative Bojan concocted to accomplish the task he set out for himself.  His answer sounded like the beginning of numerous indie films.

4PM started out as a situation, a meeting of two strangers on a rooftop at sunset with some sort of mystery element bringing them together.  Extra tension was provided by having one character on the ledge, ready to jump.  It was a very simple setup, from which I wanted to expand and see who these characters are, and why they are really there.

A very humanizing situation

A very humanizing situation

So why create a game that is more a dramatic narrative than an actual game?

I think the reason why I made more of an interactive story than a game is because I really wanted to expand what the medium can do and try to attract people who are not gamers; hence the removal of most classic game elements and introduction of film language, which is more recognizable and an easier transition for most people.

Bringing non-gamers into a game like this is a challenging task.  Interactive media are the only ones in which you take part in a story, driving its significance deeper into the player.  Each action taken in-game is part of a developing story, which makes the internalizing of story elements that much easier via Suspension of Disbelief.  Such internalization is made even easier by games since the player doesn’t just see it happening to people on the screen, they experience it happening through their decisions as they play out via the avatar of their own conscience: the primary character of the story.  Of course, if the end result doesn’t accurately detail what the player might be working toward, the story could be rejected outright.  So, what this cinematographer proposes is an immeasurably more difficult task than what film sets out to do: film shows you a story and ask you to think, such games challenge you to live a story and see where your decisions lead it.  This process is profoundly more difficult since the interaction between game and player is exceedingly more intimate than that between film and viewer, and the interaction itself largely occurs in the mind of the player.

So this becomes a natural obstacle for the creation of such narrative games, making the player navigate events and emotions that they might altogether avoid themselves.  But as movies challenge viewers to place themselves into a character and understand the context of their lives, so, too, does 4PM.  You wake up in bed as Caroline, and her life and decisions become post-it notes and empty bottles on the floor.  Her life becomes yours for a short time and learning who she is becomes a large part of the curiosity of 4PM.  Then, by making decisions that control Caroline, you adopt her as the chosen form to explore the story.  And it is a tragic story.  So why make a game that is this tragic?  Is there a greater message here?

Through developing the details of the story with my writer, Stefan Kaday, something kept pulling us down this very dark path and outside of just typical thriller material.  We stumbled onto some very real and difficult themes, but in my view, this could only be a good thing as it felt like something novel; a place where few games want to go.  It is a difficult thing to research, as nobody really likes talking about things like alcoholism, guilt, suicide and compulsion, so most of the conversations with people that had gone through them had to be indirect and were quite often emotionally draining.  I don’t believe 4PM has a direct message, it is more an exploration of how complex human relationships are and that a lot of us suffer every day, but we rarely face or talk about this due to some ridiculous social stigma.

Pick your poison

Pick your poison

So the nature of the game itself is its topic: exploration of these themes rather than a judgment on them.  The player decides the path that Caroline takes, and decides what they see.  Therefore, it is ultimately the player that dictates the message conveyed by the narrative.  For this reason, 4PM was victorious in its task.

Games like this are not uncommon, though, and have recently been cropping up everywhere: Depression Quest, Papers, Please and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.  Bojan was happy to provide his thoughts on the rise of the dramatic narrative in games.

It is a sign of the medium finally growing up and having a big niche in serious, adult themes.  This is a good sign, and I hope developers continue to do more projects relating to real world issues, though there is still quite a bit of work to do in making these experiences more subtle and entertaining to a wider audience.  This is only a matter of time though, and I am sure the next few years will bring some ground-breaking work.

And that is solid logic.  People seem to be buying these games, so it would follow that more of these games are forthcoming.  Can we expect more of these games from Bojan Brbora?

I am currently doing some work for other people to survive in the UK.  I also needed to take a break from being in charge of absolutely everything on a project, as it left me psychologically drained. I am developing a few ideas and prototypes, though, and VR seems to be quite an interesting new platform, one currently worth exploring.  I’m also working on some film ideas.

Games, of course, take a team of developers given the enormity of their content.  Who were the people on 4PM’s team?

While this was essentially a one-man student project, I did work with a few people from the film courses to make the project really unique.  Stefan, whom I already mentioned, fleshed out the story and plot, wrote the dialogue and served as an excellent fresh pair of eyes and counterweight to my crazy ideas.  Neo Peterson was instrumental in filling out the world with sound and audio atmosphere.  Terence Dunn was the main music composer, and did an amazing job putting together the orchestral and some electronic pieces.  I am also very thankful to the guys from “Kazoo”and “et_” for letting me use their music as it plays a huge part in making 4PM what it is.  These are all extremely talented and kind people, and I look forward to working with them again in the very near future.

What was you favorite part of developing this game?

My favorite part of creating this game was working with other creative people, bouncing ideas off them and learning these complex, new tools to make the project happen.  It also brought me to a new country, where I met so many new, talented people and expanded my horizons.

Games like this really have the potential to make games something more, and help us explore our world in ways we never expected.  Although some dissenters fail to visualize the potential of such experiences, games are moving into the realm of true art, a modern art that is just as powerful and relevant as any film today.  Bojan had some final thoughts to leave readers with regarding this.

I would like to urge people to support projects like these, both socially and financially, as it is the only way to move the industry forward and avoid stagnation.  They are currently experimental, and rough around the edges, but the end goal is something spectacular, so we really need your support.

Hopefully we can develop these games into something spectacular. 4PM is available now on Steam for 4.99$. Thank you for reading.

 

Please note that material has been lightly edited for flow and coherence.