Here’s a fun idea: A digital book about the development of a game that’s also a platform for that game’s release. Game…book… ception? Nathan Meunier, author of This Book Is A Dungeon [This Dungeon Is A Book] describes his new project as “a multi-format creative experiment that merges the worlds of game design, interactive fiction, indie authorship, and self-publishing together in one crazy project.”
Meunier took just over a month to teach himself Twine, and made a dungeon-crawling game he says mixes the interactive fiction elements of Twine with pixel art and the features of a traditional RPG game (try a free demo of the game). Along the way, he documented the process in a book he plans to release on Kindle with the game itself inside.
For the uninitiated, Twine uses hyperlinks and basic HTML to create interweaving, primarily text-based games. Paragraphs are displayed on screen, with branching routes in the narrative highlighted as links. When you click on a link, it can be an important choice with no turning back, or a cul-de-sac—a small missive adding character and place to a story. These games can tell bizarre and deeply affective personal stories, such as Winter Lake’s Rat Chaos; erotic social commentary, as is the case with Benji Bright’s Fuck that Guy; or dystopic science fiction simulations like Tom McHenry’s aforementioned Horse Master.
The API offers the ability to retrieve individual comics, an entire series, components of issues (for example, the cover), events from inside an issue, creator details and individual character data. For example, you can retrieve an entire story arc from the Marvel universe with a simple API call.
The makers of This War of Mine do not see their game as politically or artistically reactionary. “Our motivation wasn’t so much to create a natural opposite to many war games as to create a different kind of dramatic experience, something closer to a tragedy,” Pawel Miechowski, a senior writer at 11 Bit, told me. But tragedy is the natural opposite of Call of Duty-style triumphalism. In turning its focus away from the high drama of conflict, This War of Mine runs counter to a broader cultural project that, through the lens of entertainment, makes us more familiar with—and perhaps more readily accepting of—war itself. Drozdowski will admit that his team hoped to defy player expectation. “Video games have programmed us to see characters in games as enemies, or to believe that there is always a perfect solution, or even a riddle to be solved,” he said. “But, in This War of Mine, there is often no good or obvious choice. It’s always simply about trying to survive the night, in the hope that, in the morning, the guns will have stopped.”
What makes Departure stand out isn’t just its involved storyline, but its surprisingly slick special effects. She’s been collaborating with a visual effects house in the United Kingdom on “making Departure an even bigger project,” and also working on getting the series into virtual reality. While there’s been no official release, at least one eager fan has already found a way to view the two-dimensional video through a VR player.Maque has other virtual reality ASMR experiences in the works as well, including one designed specifically for VR devices. She and Dekotora have co-founded a media network called PixelWhipt, where they plan to create more VR content that combines the intimate sensory experience of ASMR with the immersion of headsets like the Oculus Rift.
This assumption that a game needs to be fun to play can be traced back to the roots of the medium. In The Theory of Fun for Game Design, the developer Raph Koster defines games as mental puzzles. According to Koster, the sense of fun we feel when we play a video game comes from learning and mastering systems that need planning and coordination, much like we’d do in Connect 4, Jenga, or tiddlywinks. Aspects such as story and character are just dressing in the same way that knights, kings, and queens are dressing for the mathematical system at the heart of chess. “This is why gamers are dismissive of the ethical implications of games,” says Koster in his book. “They don’t see, ‘get a blowjob from a hooker, then run her over.’ They see a power-up.”
All the videos from the Game Developers Conference 2015 are now available online. Highlights include:
- Advanced VR Rendering
- Adventures in Text: Innovating in Interactive Fiction
- A View from the White House: Games Beyond Entertainment
- Animation Bootcamp: UFC Animation System
- Anti-Social Behavior in Games: How can game designers help?
- Art Direction Bootcamp
… and many more!
You’re the writer of the latest game in a once popular, lucrative videogame franchise called Shattergate. You’ve never actually played any of the Shattergate games, granted, but somehow you’re writing it anyway. And you’re so screwed.
That’s the premise behind an interactive fiction game called The Writer Will Do Something, which begins at a Monday morning meeting that’s about to get ugly. Your team is six months away from shipping the finished product, and you’ve just heard the first reactions to the game from outside consultants: it’s “unambiguously catastrophic.”
Point two is about where the plot should go. The GM might lay out everything the player characters would need to sneak into an enemy fortress, including scrounged guard uniforms and a supply delivery wagon, expecting the heroes to slip in, steal the stolen relic, then return it to the local villagers quietly. For the GM, that’s the most obvious solution.
Unfortunately, the players have their own ideas. One wants to rally the local villagers to storm the walls. Another wants to stuff a rock into the gullet of a rotting raccoon carcass and drop it into the well. Another wants to spoil the supplies before they’re delivered to poison them that way. In short, GMs learn quickly that flexibility is important because players are unpredictable; you can’t predict what course of action they’ll think is best.
For example, in recent years, a free text tool called Twine has exploded onto the creative scene, offering entry-level designers the chance to create their first text and hyperlink-based games with no coding required. Some of these games are as accessible as choose-your-own-adventure books, and others can be more sophisticated, implementing mappable space, objects that can change states, or graphics, sound and visual effects.
And Twine’s just one popular new tool – there are many other ways to build readable, touchable experiences for the wide, wide world. Most modern text games, whether parser-based or hyperlink-driven, can now be played in a browser tab, which means these competition entries can welcome any sort of player.