Thoughts on the EXPLORE Contest

I'm working on a project with brontosaurus.

We have seven days to submit a game for the EXPLORE contest at Jay is Games. I like our current idea, and I think we should keep going with it. But even if we can put it together in seven days, I'd want to take at least another seven days to playtest and polish it. In other words, I don't want to rush this for the contest.

We could take a break and make a short, quick game for the contest just for fun, not expecting to win anything. I had a few ideas for that. One is to use our conversation history as the game content, since we have plenty of it, and it's interesting. There are a number of ways we could use it, but one very simple way to do it would be combine it with the Linear RPG. Or the typography could be a physical space to traverse, like Silent Conversation, with emoticons as powerups or something.

I was thinking about the Stick Figures story in Tales from Outer Suburbia, and where the story is, or where you might find a game there. It seems to just describe a scene, a place, without turning it into a particular story. It's hard to identify the protagonist, antagonist, and conflict. Maybe the antagonist is actually the confusion felt by the townspeople, rather than an actual character. Who knows? But you can more easily see little stories inside of it, like a kid smashing a stick figure with a baseball bat and getting frustrated, and uncertainty turning to fear and anger.

I was thinking about games, and how you could have a persistent world that is experienced through short, repeated game sessions. Little stories inside a world. Imagine Canabalt if instead of starting over when you die, you start again in the same world, at the place where you left off, or on the ground where you landed, or as another character somewhere else. It is similar to Calamity Annie, the way the narrative progresses even as you play again, where the gameplay repeats, but the world is fleshed out as you continually revisit it.

I'm also thinking about Zero Punctuation. Our conversation history could take the role of the monologue that narrates the images in a Zero Punctuation review. The only difference is that it is a dialogue, in text and not in speech. But the communication is similar. It does not tell a story, it discusses and explains. However, if we were to do this, we'd need a way to automatically come up with the images based on the text since it is not feasible to generate so much content by hand.

Freedom of movement across an image, linear movement along a text. Text forms the goals, while images are the medium of action? One action per line of text, one visual change. How do you create images from text? How do you combine text and action to get an image? The image and text give rise to the feedback. And the text leads the progression.

I was thinking about Spirited Away, my favorite animated movie. If Canabalt is like The Matrix, what would be the equivalent for Spirited Away? For Canabalt, you take the decisions that are implied and make them explicit. Or rather, you make it explicit, since there is only one decision. What equivalent can be found in Spirited Away? What decision can be made with the press of a single button?

But Canabalt is a linear game. You decide nothing. You act, in order to experience. Can exploration be about anything other than freedom of movement? When does exploration feel linear? A map does not dictate a path. When does it feel linear? A maze might have only one path, though it looks like a map. A labyrinth, even more so. Look at the feet. They never change their rhythm, yet the landscape around them changes. Is that exploration? What if they do change their rhythm?

You could make a game where you press a button to turn and change direction. This could be freedom of movement. Is it linear? If your actions have bigger consequences later on, maybe it is not really linear. If you turn here, you got to the desert. If you turn here, you go to the ocean. In Canabalt, your actions now have their consequence now - they do not change your route for the future. Can you explore without changing your route?

I've been thinking about tension before it solidifies into an emotion. I've been able to notice this tension already several times today, and let it fade away without latching onto anything external and feeding off the imbalance that results. I imagine there could be something similar for positive emotions. It all reminds me very much of Daniel Cook's Constructing Artificial Emotions, and I am intrigued by the idea of incorporating this into a game.

Where will this take us? I don't know. We'll see.


axcho said...

"To travel in a region that is unknown or not well known, in order to find out more about it."

I've been thinking more about linear games and exploration. I realized that freedom of movement, the ability to change your route, is not necessary for exploration at all.

All you need to do is travel through a space, even if it's linear, and in doing so, learn more about it. You find something here, that can come in handy over there. That's it.

Jordan Magnuson said...

Great, thought-provoking post.