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May 30, 2013 - RAGameSound
Last week on this blog I began exploring what I see as an emerging videogame genre that I call VideoDreams. Some examples of VideoDreams are Proteus, Pixejunk 4am, Panoramical, Frequency Domain, and our own experiment, SoundSelf. If you know of other VideoDreams, please let me know, as I would like to play them.
As a VideoDream developer myself, I'm interested in the patterns unifying the dream-like experiences that have been most inspiring to me. I began last week looking at explorative gameplay. This week I'll be exploring two unique ways that VideoDreams facilitate a sensually powerful moment with systems that don't necessitate, or even outright discourage, an intellectual engagement.
Rejection of Implicit or Explicit Goals
Goals are almost completely taken for granted in computer-programmed self-contained interactive-experiences (erm... videogames). Given all of the possible enriching interactive experiences one can imagine though, why have we settled so comfortably on goals as the backbone of player experience - rather than experience as the backbone of player experience and goals as a useful tool for facilitating certain experiences? I suspect this is because computer-programmed self-contained interactive-experiences (blah blah videogames) are necessarily framed by rules and systems from creation by nature of being computer-programmed, so it's an elegant step to make player experience consciously focused on exploiting those rules and systems.
Videodreams reject implicit or explicit goals and focus the player's awareness on the present, or at least the near-present. This is not necessarily an outright rejection of goals, but a rethinking of how goals fit into the overall experience. In Proteus, the player may choose a free flow of self-defined goals like "I want to get to the top of this hill" and then "I want to see where this frog is going", but because the system does not provide extrinsic valuation of these short-term goals, they are subject to the player's whimsy and pleasure.
It is currently my belief that any goal, even player-defined ones, draw the player into thinking about the future rather than staying grounded in sensuous appreciation of the moment. Creating an experience where even player-defined goals evaporate as quickly as they form is one of our goals in developing SoundSelf. Whether or not we can sustain the player's sense of wonder while limiting dramatic use of anticipation and expectation, though, has yet to be seen. Can we be simultaneously zen and awesome?
Rejection of Implicit or Explicit Meaning
As leaving behind implicit or explicit goals has given the player room to follow their whimsy, so leaving behind implicit and explicit meaning gives them room to provide their own context. Save for UI elements, these games reject symbolism and intentional meaning in favor of hollow sounds and shapes. It's interesting to me that of the games I've listed, only Proteus includes explicit recognizable forms (trees, flowers, hills).
All objects have the capacity to generate meaning. A number floating in the top left corner of the screen means (to most players) a score that spirals the player into focusing on making it go up. A gun means (to most players) an object for destructive interaction with an environment, and spirals the player into looking for things to shoot. Simple shapes aren't free from these meanings, but they bring less baggage.
Because a videodream attempts to engage the player sensuously, it's important the dream not distract the senses with an intellectual puzzle. The storytelling impulse is so strong in humans that the slightest loose-string invites intellectual spiraling that can draw the player's attention away from moment.
On the other hand, providing a blank canvas free from meaning offers the player an opportunity to project their mind and dance with a reflection of themselves.
May 23, 2013 - RAGameSound
When I filled out SoundSelf's Steam Greenlight page, I hesitated over the "genre" section. Given that "psychedelic mindfuck" wasn't on the list, I asked myself - is SoundSelf an Action game? An RPG? A Casual-Horror-Puzzler?
Clearly it's an Adventure title! An adventure into your mind! An adventure of self-love and discovery! An adventure as every breath is itself an adventure! An adventure into something new! Don't you understand?!
Some of you disagreed with me. Fair enough.
In this series of blog posts, I'll be exploring the characteristics of what I see as an emerging genre in videogames that I'm calling "Experiential Not-Games." As a developer of an Experiential Not-Game, I'll be exploring the patterns I see emerging in this space, and the ways we're exploring those patterns in SoundSelf.
Some early examples of Experiential Not-Games are:
Proteus (available from Steam now) - a walk through a musically responsive island.
PixelJunk 4am (available on the PlayStation Store now) - a house music mixing/sharing experience with PlayStation Move controllers.
Panoramical (Release TBD) - a musical landscape controlled by the dials and faders of a midi controller. It's no coincidence that Panoramical shares a co-creator with Proteus (David Kanaga).
Frequency Domain (Release TBD) - the player flies through the peaks and valleys generated by the game's music's FFT graph.
SoundSelf (Release TBD) - Our own game, in which a light and sound show dances with the player's sustained voice. Also not yet available (but we'll be at the Indiecade booth at E3, you should comay hi)
The first commonality I see arising in these games is explorative gameplay containing inexhaustible and infinite discovery.
In SoundSelf and Proteus, the player is presented with a complex system that cannot be mastered, but whose exploration reveals a glimpse of new and beautiful possibility beyond every corner. Unable to achieve a position of control, the player is forced to surrender to the infinite beauty, or to rage-quit.
In Proteus, that exploration is of a literal physical space. Your visit to the island is temporary over four seasons, with each season changing the flavor of the entire experience.
The other games I've listed have within their system an exhaustible possibility space that *can* be mastered. Once the system is understood though, the player's exploration turns (infinitely) inward as they use the system for self-expression. These games are sublime in the way that learning a musical instrument is sublime.
In SoundSelf, we're trying to exploit both of these explorative paths by presenting the player with systems that are comprehensible enough to be explored for self expression, while periodically changing the rules of that system so mastery is impossible. This is a delicate balance - as a system that is too obtuse or too transparent quickly loses its magic.
In traditional games (and in life outside gaming) we see this balance played out in multiplayer experiences. Another mind is a complex system that responds to player behaviour unpredictably. That unpredictability contains patterns that can be grokked on a surface level, but the depth to which the player can recognize more and more patterns is infinite, or at least beyond the capacity of an equivalent mind. Furthermore, because another mind has memory, the impact of player behaviour ripples permanently through the system in a manner whose long-term impact goes beyond this moment (e.g. by learning the player's own predictable patterns).
We're currently exploring methods of making SoundSelf "remember" player behavior, so as to facilitate a sublime relationship like a player may have with another human. We'll go more into detail on the successes and failures of those methods after our next experiments.
May 17, 2013 - RAGameSound
We've just launched SoundSelf's website and forums. If you're interested in the game, come say hi, we really want to hear from you.
March 9, 2013 - RAGameSound
So we've posted a bunch more information. Thanks for stopping by! And please check out our Kickstarter page, that's the best way to help us right now: http://kck.st/XtXAtA
February 28, 2013 - RAGameSound
We're staying pretty quiet on this page until after our Kickstarter - because that's what's going to make the biggest difference to us right now! We'll update this greenlight page when we're much closer to shipping.