Ins and Outs: The Graveyard Bungle Edition

The Graveyard Breakout New Game

Part of the work of “translation” involved in the Indie Bungle 2 is naturally deciding which ‘bits’ of a game you should explicitly represent (through Breakout or around it) and which bits to leave to the side. For that matter you have to even decide what a ‘bit’ of the game being translated is, and then how important or iconic it is, what it ‘does’ in the frame of its game and so on.

So for example in my Breakout version of Tale of Tales‘ The Graveyard I don’t include any representation of the little birds that flit around, but I do represent the tombstones you walk between on your way to the bench. I don’t have the chapel behind the bench, but I do have the shadows of the clouds passing overhead. It’s probably pretty arbitrary, by and large, or at least heavily based on my intuitions about what can make Breakout feel like The Graveyard while still feeling like Breakout.

The most interesting one lately has been thinking about how to represent and deal with the death of the old woman in the game, which is obviously central to the experience (and was famously something you had to “buy” in the real version). More generally, the question of what “death” is in Breakout vis-a-vis The Graveyard _is weirdly frustrating. Obviously if you lose all your paddles you “died” in some videogame sense, but death doesn’t function that way in _The Graveyard at all, it just comes whether you want it to not and without warning (or may not come at all) – so you can’t just make it happen as you could in Breakout by missing on purpose. That’s important: death isn’t a matter of intention or skill (or lack of skill) in The Graveyard _like it is in _Breakout. (And since The Graveyard is about death to some extent, it would be silly of me not to pay attention to that.)

So I implemented death in the same way as in The Graveyard: at a certain point your paddle may just fall off the screen (in the song sequence), kind of in reference to the woman’s falling cane when she dies. And that’s it – the ball then falls off the screen as well and doesn’t reset. (Interestingly this means the song stops too, as it’s triggered by brick collisions – something that isn’t true of the original game.) As for Breakout‘s “death”, I simply removed it by having no paddle limit. After much struggling with the idea of how to represent choose (as the old woman) to leave the graveyard I realised I could just translate that by saying that you leave the graveyard when you literally quit the game (either back to the menu or altogether). Problem solved.

Finally, though, I remembered that a key experience with The Graveyard and death is when the old woman has died and you quit and then restart the (not)game. It restores to where you were, with the woman still dead on the bench, and I felt like this idea was too important not to bring across as well – the “permanence” of death is key. So I added that in too, with the wall of bricks being restored as you left it and with no paddle or ball visible. Momento mori etc.

But then I also realised I needed the ability to start a new game if you died, as that’s also in The Graveyard (perhaps unfortunately? I can’t quite decide if it would have been bolder and better to have permadeath in that game?). I solved this by replicating what feels like one of the only “missteps” in The Graveyard, which is the weird “New Game” button that appears on screen when you return to the dead woman. It seems so absurdly out of place, such a crass piece of user-interface in this delicate moment. As such, I literally took the button itself and pasted it into the Breakout version, where it looks similarly inelegant.

I like that the inelegance carries that way.

23 December 2015
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