This is part 3 of my biweekly game series (first one was LD30, and second one is…somewhere).
Though I’m reconsidering having this as biweekly and upping the schedule to once a week. My ideas for these is that they are vignettes and as such they are brief and so far the time investment is as follows:
- Detail Programming (timing text appearance, small details, etc)
- Basic Game Design
There’s really no reason I can’t do these in a week, only my first one for Ludum Dare 30 probably went over 12 hours of investment, which was mostly due to writing.
Postmortem Brain Dump for A Journey,
A Journey is number three in my biweekly game series (number two is got “completed”, but I want to add sound before I post it), and the basis of this project was a focus on two specific keys on the keyboard: escape and return. In computer literacy these two keys represent very specific functions but I was interested in these words as actions: to escape and to return.
Escape - break free from confinement or control.
Return - come or go back to a place or person.
These are strict definitions from the dictionary but already they illustrate far more power than their programmatic functions. I began to look at these words as from the perspective of someone making a choice, and in that regard they are treated in an either/or context. Will I, or in final presentation - will the character, choose to escape or to return? So as I developed this dichotomy, I began asking questions as to what the greater context of the decision was; is this a grand pivotal moment or does it carry the same banality of choosing what cereal to eat for breakfast? Eventually I arrived at the decision that the pretext was of little importance and that the weight of the decision would be illustrated by the effect rather than the cause.
From here, I developed A Journey from an aesthetic viewpoint. I recalled being (rather boring) experience of being on the train lately, watching the (admittedly gorgeous) view of the Colorado Front Range. The mental image of being on a train watching the mountains conjured up a readily available Wild West theme, and I began to imagine my character (who, it could be argued has been the same character in all three games, something to be explored later) riding a train West, watching nameless peaks in the distance.
Spoilers Below (the game takes 15 seconds)
So here I have my character, who hasn’t received a name or story yet, standing on the back of a train, staring into a vast mountain range. And what are they thinking about? What, at this time, does it mean for them to escape, or to return? I’m not sure I actually have to authority (right?) to make that decision for them, so I settled on an aftermath with elements of magical realism, which some may see it as symbolic but I don’t want to say this did not happen. When, as a player, a person* tells the character to return, they simply walk back inside the train car. If the players tells the character to escape, they suddenly leap into the sky and fly away. There is no further explanation for these actions so how do we (as audience or players) interpret this? Do we apply a viel of realism to the pixels and call their flight symbolic or did they really fly away? By returning to the train, are they defeated, or is it acceptance? Though the escape ending seems better, it was not my intent to make a good ending and a bad ending. They are open to interpretation but I’m not sure one decision is better than the other.
*So, that brings me to a discussion of the aspect of this vignette I, personally, found interesting: the identity and agency of the player. The character in A Journey might traditionally be called the player character because the player provides the input for the character’s actions. This is often, I think, a false equivalence as it implies the player and the character are either the same or at the very least, there is a strong connection. The character and the player are separate entities, but still - the player gives action to the character, so how are they related? Beginning in Greek mythology and philosophy is the idea of the daemon, a spirit existing as a link between gods and humans. In Plato’s Symposium, Diotima describes daemons as “interpreting and transporting human things to the gods and divine things to men,” as well as acknowledging the divine source may be benevolent or malevolent. Socrates, in Plato’s Apology of Socrates, has a daemon that provides him warnings, yet never provides direction. It is understood that a daemon is a metaphorical personification of the self-conscious, but the idea of a supernatural being acting as a link is a fascinating concept. So the research topic resulting from (as this series is a experiment of rapid game design as research) A Journey is to connect the daemon to the player - player as daemon. A super interesting question, for me at least, but one that brings up a complicated initial problem to solve. If a daemon is the connection between the divine and the human, and I substitute human as character and substitute player as daemon, what is the divine?
I’m going to leave that question open-ended and leave potential answers for another day, because well, its complicated and I don’t know how to approach answering yet.
What I can do right now, however, is reflect on how I arrived at this question. From the creation of a game requiring less than 10 hours of development to a response quickly approaching 1000 words (which is another lesson learned - write about your work, often) trying to connect games and players to a 2000 year old philosophic device and mythological being. And I haven’t even gotten to evolution of the word daemon to demon yet, yikes. I’m aware that my experiment in rapid prototyping may not always lead to valuable thoughts such as this, but it seems common enough (though I am only at three games and really have only written one, this one, extensive postmortem) that rapid game design is hopefully a valid method of research into play and games (aka, like my whole thesis question). Design and practice as research. The other aspect of this though, is rapid game design a form of play - which I don’t have an answer to yet.
Misc takeaways, mostly technical:
1. Remember to tile backgrounds correctly. Would’ve saved me 30 minutes of adjustments on the background.
2. Walking animations are difficult, but at this point I can start reusing sprites, as I’ve decided (have I?) to focus on this character.
3. I didn’t scale the sprites this time in photoshop before hand. While in the final piece it makes no difference, Unity’s sprite preview does not upscale well, which made distinguishing different sprite frames difficult.
4. The time to make text sprites in Photoshop is worth it, because Unity’s default UI is gross, next up: make Sprite buttons, etc.
5. Like I mentioned above, due to the actual time spent creating these I may bump production from biweekly to weekly (goodbye sleep).