One way to characterise what I’ve been interested in so far with making games is that it’s at least partly about asking questions, mostly about games themselves, though sometimes something else as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if I went that way in large part because of my background in writing about games – to some extent it’s easier to think about games when they’re a bit out of the ordinary.
Rilla came up with a nice name for my (and presumably others’) approach to games, or rather for the “genre” you could put them in: curious games.
I rather like that as a name for something, I think the connotations are pretty good. It’s lighthearted enough, particularly in comparison to “serious games”, to feel like it’s not going to be a great big drag or a downer. Rather, it suggests that the game is going to be at least someone amusing, unserious. But at the same time it also does imply the inquisitiveness that’s at the heart of, well, science and stuff – and not so much on the part of the player (after all, we can be curious players no matter what the game), but on the part of the maker. Ultimately, I like the idea of curiosity driving (some) game making.
Games seen in this light might be thought of as asking some kind of question or poking around a subject, rather than “solving a problem” as some recent discussion described game design as. Game making as problem solving is kind of depressing to me personally – game making as question asking sounds fun! Nor does this question have to be asked of the player – as if the game is some kind of test – but rather it could be more like the game helps the player to ask the question themselves, and poke around it to see what they think.
I’m certainly not issuing this as some kind of manifesto or personal crusade, though. I don’t necessarily think Safety Instructions was asking any big questions. Though perhaps it could be seen as a chance to think “beyond” the final frames of the traditional instructions we get on planes, which of course ignore the potential consequences. The Artist Is Present was certainly “curious” about the concept of waiting and rewards in games, along with the place of “realism” of different forms than physics and graphical fidelity. Let There Be Smite! asked in its small way whether it might be a big pain in the ass to be god, and whether the difference between punishment and forgiveness might get lost in the whirl. And of course GuruQuest was, in some ways, nothing but questions and curiosity personified (and slightly aggravating).
So, curious games. What do you think?
Let be known and let it ring throughout the land that I have finished and release Let There Be Smite! into the world. As is my current custom, it’s not really completely polished or anything, just done enough for it to go out the door. Friend Chad used the term “resolved” to describe such a creation, and I like that. So the game is now resolved and I’m free to move on. It’s a browser game and you can play it over on the games page. The rest of this post might be construed as “spoilers” – though there’s not a huge amount to spoil, to be fair.
So it’s a game where you take on the unenviable role of God at his day job, which is dealing with the sins of the world as they arise (where “sin” means “breaking one of the ten commandments). Which means either forgiving the sinner or smiting them. Over and over again. This operates by having a kind of “surveillance” view and then having dialog boxes notifying you of sins pop up as they occur. As the population of the world increases, so too do the sins. At a certain point it’s bound to get away from you.
And that’s pretty much the point of the game. I was interested in how I could portray God’s job as being incredibly tedious – seriously, paying attention to everything all the time and being so deeply concerned about sins would be pretty painful. That suggested some kind of desk-job metaphor, and clicking dialog boxes seemed like the most inhumanly depressing way of interacting with a game world I could imagine. I think that aspect came out perfectly.
The game is meant to have a particular flow of realisations/jokes. First of all you get the joke of God using some rather clunky retro software to do his job. Then you get the idea that he’s sitting in an office looking at this crappy interface, watching the world roll along. Then that he’s meant to read about every individual sin and make a decision, methodically clicking his choices through. Then the idea that the sins come thick and fast. Followed by being totally overwhelmed and either having the computer crash from overload, or hitting the panic button to flood the entire world, killing everyone, and starting again.
I’m particularly interested in the moment that the game turns into a desire to click any button, rather than the one you would choose. The moment where you’re not reading and responding to sins but to the interface itself. This is a pretty common feature of games generally – we go beyond the state of considering what we’re doing at each instant and toward a desire to simply act and to have an effect. The game’s meant to exacerbate that feeling while also having you do it in relation to something deeply important that you shouldn’t be treating in that way.
So, ultimately, it’s meant to leverage the ridiculousness of a surveilling God and the ridiculousness of our behaviour in games into something resembling both a joke and a critique! All in one slightly poorly made package! All made in two weeks!
Let there be smite! (Though personally I prefer to forgive.)
So I’m still making this game Let There Be Smite and, when I have time, shaking my fist to the North, where I imagine Cactus and his insanely speedy game-creating life are. “Damn you, Cactus!”, I mutter vehemently. Then I get back to slowly coding and drawing an absurdly simple game that shouldn’t be taking me so long.
See, I’m slowly uncovering a rule about game development ‘n’ me. I generally start on a game with some wonderfully naive idea of how long it will take to finish the whole thing. It then takes more or less exactly twice that long just to get the crappiest version of a working concept on screen. It then takes about twice as long again to get to something I could even consider showing to another human being. Which is what I’m approaching with Let There Be Smite. (Initial estimate: a long weekend. Crappy implementation of idea: a week. Not-so-agonisingly painful showable version: two weeks.)
In other words, to get something with a coolness rating somewhere between “turd” and “lunchbox” will take me yet another doubling, which would take the whole thing out to a month. Which is way too long for a game that is more or less literally a joke and involves nothing much more complex than implementing the world’s shittiest dialog box system. And to make it kind of awesome would be at least one more doubling (two months) and possibly more like two more (four months). You can see how this is a problematic thing. Maybe not of Zeno levels, but still a bit painful.
Anyway, my plan is just to release the first version that I can handle releasing – I suspect that’s the only way I’ll ever be able to move onto something new. And I have so many different ideas that need crappy renditions to exist!
So! Look forward to that!
Not having played any of L. A. Noire today, I thought I might as well mention that I’m progressing through a new game I’ve been making. After the Great Data Loss of 2011 wiped out pretty much everything I had, I’ve decided to use those unfortunate events as the impetus to work on something new.
Basically, I’ve been interested in returning to working with Flash for a while, since it remains the lingua franca of online games. However, I’m very over the regular Flash IDE, so I wanted to investigate the world of coding ActionScript 3 without the usual idea – and that means, in my instance, using FlashBuilder instead – the programmer’s Flash, if you like. I’m also using this opportunity to learn some stuff about Flixel, a framework for making games which has various nice features (most of which I’m either not using, or just using awfully).
So, I’m back to coding again, and that’s keeping me happy on the “making” front. The game is called Let There Be Smite and it’s a kind of dumb joke take on religion and god-games. Basically, it equates being god to having the world’s most awful desk job. It’s not fun, per se, but hopefully amusing enough to spark some kind of brief puff of air that might have been a laugh from its players.
Even though it’s insanely simple, it’s taking me a while to put it together (five days now), but I’m aiming to be finished by the end of the week, all going well. Which it won’t, so let’s say the end of next week. This is all part of my scheme to make numerous “the simplest conceivable game” games in an effort to build a better understanding of some of the basics of what I can pull off on my own.
Anyway, I guess I wrote this more to remind myself I am actually doing something more than anything else. Sorry!