Thursday, 19 August 2010

Dressing Up

I've been mulling over many ways to present the idea of dressing up.
This is the best solution I have found.

I was pleased to hear Big Fish founder Paul Thelan referring to the interactive novel in a recent interview.
So close!
There isn't enough time or scope in a casual game to create a narrative anything like the narrative of a novel. The idea of breaking an iHOG into 'chapters' is a purely functional device. None of these 'chapters' present scene questions or turn, and more often than not, they develop nothing beyond the opening of a door. They bear none of the characteristics of a chapter. However, it is beneficial to parcel the game into chunks, primarily for purposes of locating one's place chronologically in the game. (Handy for dev and player alike.)

My thoughts are very different now to those I harboured five months ago.
Back then, I figured, largely through misleading feedback and preconceptions, that the story of a casual game is tolerated, rather than treasured; that the act of solving puzzles and exploring beautiful environments took precedence over any story device.
Let's have a look at how plot can give meaning.

The standard HO scene goes like this:
Player studies a scene, looking for listed items.
Player finds all the items and then receives a reward.

That's a fun endeavour for sure.
But I've devoted a good deal of time to giving HO scenes meaning, and this can be done by integrating the scene and the act of searching and finding into the plot.

*Margrave IV spoiler alert*

In the final scene of Margrave IV, Eddie comes face-to-face with the boatyard Seer. (A Seer is a metal face; the face is connected to a soul which is housed elsewhere; the face is essentially the physical interface, allowing Eddie to chat with the souls - the personalities - of the dead. They have telekinetic powers.)
This final Seer is the huge, rusted face of a deceased girl named Ula. Ula is the final choke: she will open the gates to freedom once x, y, and z are accomplished.
Ula is lonely. She wants to play a game... of 'hunt the thimble'. She takes Eddie's thimble and hides it.
Now, when the player enters the HO scene, they are astonished to find the entire scene filled with thimbles!
The mechanic is unchanged; however, it is now imbued with meaning.
The boatyard HO scene is set amongst the wreckage of dozens of boats. This allows me to instantly underpin the emotional topography visually with threat. Then comes the sudden humour of the hidden thimble scene. And then I turn the scene, revealing Ula's true character, not simply through narrative/dialogue, but through the next series of plot-dependent games/puzzles.

*Spoiler ends*

It's this plot-gifted meaning that is so rare in casual games.
Furthermore, given that the look and feel of the entire world is ruled by the needs of the plot, every puzzle and mini-game has an inspiration, and that inspiration is not simply an aesthetic one, but is something far deeper - it is something with meaning - something functional, with crafted resonance.

The puzzles and mini-games of your standard casual game exist in their naked form.
I recently saw a door that was choked by a sudoku puzzle which had been placed onto the door. Solve sudoku, open door. Some attempt had been made to integrate the puzzle aesthetically. But that sure as ballyhoo ain't at the core of the player's emotions.