Monday, March 27, 2006

Thinking of Home...

So, the roundtable on home in games has really been nibbling away at the back of my mind. I'm trying to think of how you could make a game which feels like a nostalgic dream.

A lot of movies and series use this idea very powerfully. For example, Macross Plus opens with a scene where two boys and a girl are struggling to get a home-made bicycle-plane off the ground. The song ("Voices" is the name) is also a huge help. The end result is that the scene has the feeling of a nostalgic dream.

I've been trying to think: how could you do a game that feels like a nostalgic dream? The whole way through?

There are a lot of games which touch this idea. Ico and it's successful successor, Shadow of the Colossus are two examples. Even Animal Crossing is an example. But these games don't feel like dreams, they feel like games surrounded by a dream.

I think two things are required, just for a start: an absolute lack of dialogue and a very simple, abstracted game mechanic. Walking around is too concrete, to say nothing of doing battle or collecting carrots. The mechanic can't be too controlling, either: lack of dialogue and lack of concrete control both serve the same purpose.

Remember the last subtitled film you saw? Even if the subtitling was incredibly weird ("the caffiene stings my broken heart") the fact is that you aren't hearing the character say it. In English, the lines of dialogue can only be as good as they are. When they are in another language, they are as good as the reactions of the rest of the characters say they are.

If you have ever watched a good foreign movie without subtitling, you know what I mean. This manifests even more. The story is clear, even without any dialogue. In fact, it might even be better without the dialogue.

This same effect allows The Sims to endear themselves to some players: the Sims are saying exactly what you think they are saying, because all they are actually saying is gibberish.

The lack of concrete controls serves a similar purpose. If your controls are very subtle or organic, then you won't expect precision from the game. You can conceal the idiot logic that drives the game and therefore let the player be pleased with the result he has "caused".

The thing is, you can't use branching states for this. Players are simply too good. They recognize a branching state a million miles away.

So you'd actually need a drama engine. Driven by something totally insubstantial. Ideal in my mind would be the Revolution's controller. Less ideal would be the relative position of a mouse without a pointer reflecting it. Move this way to bring more of this emotion into the game, that way to bleed it out. From dream to nightmare and back, as you twitch your hand. Never controlling the fundamental processes of the game, but guiding them.

Toughie. It would need to be simple, but moderately long. I would prefer something with a tangible storyline that weaves into a romance plot, rather than a straight-up romance plot. Just as a basic example, you could turn the plot to Secret of Mana into a pretty good zero-dialogue nonconcrete-controls game.




David Ludwig said...

The dream-based stuff sounds interesting. It sounds like a long running idea of mine; create a weather simulation game based on some dreams I had as a kid.

Craig Perko said...

Sounds doable. Why haven't you?

Anonymous said...

Craig Perko said...

That's great! That's the sort of thing I'm thinking about, although not in a way I would have made it.