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The Last Thing Left: inspiration games #5

In the run-up to my audio game, The Last Thing Left, being launched in early November, I thought I’d share links to some of my favourite freely available online games and say a little about why I love them and how they’ve influenced me whilst making this game…

The Heart Attack, Necessary Games

Click here to play the game

It seems fitting to finish my little round-up of some of my favourite games, and games that inspired or influenced me in some way whilst making The Last Thing Left, with a game from the same website as the first one. The Last Thing Left owes a considerable debt to The Heart Attack, as it was this game that made me start thinking about rhythmic tapping as a control option, and how it can feel when you’re dictating someone’s heartbeat, which sits at the fore in my game. The Heart Attack, as the name might suggest, has more of a stressful framework for this where it becomes increasingly difficult to do a seemingly simple task ‘right’, but as with so many of Necessary Games’ output, it’s a really wonderful marrying of form and content and has a genuine emotional punch to it. Something else that Necessary Games do so well is leave considerable space and quiet to allow room for feelings and thoughts whilst playing, something that’s been important for me to try and create with The Last Thing Left.

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The Last Thing Left: inspiration games #4

In the run-up to my audio game, The Last Thing Left, being launched in early November, I thought I’d share links to some of my favourite freely available online games and say a little about why I love them and how they’ve influenced me whilst making this game…

A Blind Legend, DOWiNO

Click here to download the game for free

I couldn’t really think about some of the games that have been touchstones or influences or me whilst making The Last Thing Left without thinking of audio games. They’re still quite a niche area – with some notable examples like Papa Sangre and The Nightjar those most likely to be known by those not explicitly seeking them out. The reason why A Blind Legend is a game I’m especially fond of is its total lack of visuals, not even as control cues (controls are arrows or letter keys) and the incredibly rich audio that you can simply enjoy listening to (if you’re not having to fight off enemies or suchlike, that is). Audio games have such amazing potential and options for immersion, a strange intimacy, and engaging players’ imagination, and I’ve massively enjoyed experimenting with that myself.

 

The Last Thing Left: inspiration games #3

In the run-up to my audio game, The Last Thing Left, being launched in early November, I thought I’d share links to some of my favourite freely available online games and say a little about why I love them and how they’ve influenced me whilst making this game…

One Chance, Awkward Silence Games

Click here to play the game (warning: once played, you cannot re-play this game. Kind of the point. You can cheat and use a different browser, device, etc to re-play, but again, playing it once is kind of the point.)

One Chance is a game that is *big* on the consequences of a player’s actions, and places dilemmas at the fore of gameplay. With only six days to potentially save the world, do you throw yourself wholly into your work, with the possibility that all you achieve is spending your final days on Earth alone, or do you prioritise your family and friends, with the possibility that you could actually save them and the world if you weren’t spending time with them right now? Your choices are about moral instincts, emotional decisions, navigating grey areas where you’re completely free to do A or B, and that’s a really satisfying area to explore with a game.

The Last Thing Left: inspiration games #2

In the run-up to my audio game, The Last Thing Left, being launched in early November, I thought I’d share links to some of my favourite freely available online games and say a little about why I love them and how they’ve influenced me whilst making this game…

Passage, Jason Rohrer

Click here to download the game for free

Continuing my fondness for games with straightforward and sparse controls, simple and pixelated visuals is Passage. It also continues the tradition of Games I Like That People Debate Whether They Should Be Called Games. There’s something restrained about Passage, whether it’s the 8-bit design, the scope of what you can see at any one point in gameplay, the slight but meaningful interaction between your avatar and the one other character you meet…No doubt an intense amount of work went into the game but from a player’s experience it feels like it manages to make you feel so much with just the slightest of nudges and the simplest of ideas.

The Last Thing Left: inspiration games #1

In the run-up to my audio game, The Last Thing Left, being launched in early November, I thought I’d share links to some of my favourite freely available online games and say a little about why I love them and how they’ve influenced me whilst making this game…

Loneliness, Necessary Games

Click here to play the game

This isn’t going to be the first game from Necessary Games I reference here – there’s a multitude of games on that site that are surprisingly moving, strikingly stripped back and skilful in their storytelling. What I’ve always loved about Loneliness is the simplicity of the visuals – you end up projecting feelings, character, personality onto mere pixels – and of the concept. As you play, you pass pixels. If you try to move close to them they move away. It’s up to you whether you keep trying to get close to them, keep risking their seeming rejection or desertion, or end up pre-empting their leaving you and so don’t even bother interacting with them. It’s a beautiful game that is entirely about how you decide to play it. Like most games I love, and the kind of games I want to play, it’s not so much about game-as-challenge but game-as-story, and there’s a beautiful openness to the story that Loneliness can tell, the stripped-back nature of it allowing the player to imbue it with so much of their own thoughts and experiences.

A blog post just for you – yes, *you*

Hi [insert name here],

It’s good to speak to you. It’s been too long/only a few days since we last spoke but still feels like ages/a long time coming [delete as appropriate].

…I could try and push this further. But I won’t.

One of the reasons that I’ve made an audio game (The Last Thing Left, being released early next month) is because I was fascinated by how strangely personal and intimate they feel. Someone can look over your shoulder when you’re playing a typical video game – but if you’ve got headphones in, that kind of eavesdropping is impossible with an audio game. Only you will hear what’s happening, and one of your senses is being completely disjointed from your surroundings, and only you get that experience.

Except, of course, all the other players who ever play the game will get that too. So it’s simultaneously incredibly intimate and personal, yet accessible to almost anyone. Trying to make something that feels personal isn’t necessarily new to me – I’ve made a variety of interactive shows, one-on-one pieces and installations, but often the means of things being personal in my theatrical work has been me responding to the individual person. Listening to their stories, adapting what I do in response to what they do, speaking directly to them.

This game – or interactive story, or digital artwork, or – is more of a map that everyone gets, but individuals choose their route through it. I think my aversion to challenge-based game mechanics with this has been about trying to make it feel personal – so that it responds to someone’s deliberate, conscious choice, rather than how used they are to playing games, how good they are with certain controls. Ideally, someone’s journey through it should be determined by their opinions, instincts, pre-dispositions and suchlike, not something more mechanical.

There’s still the theatrical element of someone talking directly to the player, as well – a narrator, borne partially of the audio game format where things can’t be explained or communicated via visuals, and partially because of my theatre background, of wanting someone who explicitly spoke about the player’s choices, who made value judgements about them, who wondered what kind of person they were…It’s probably some of the narrators’ speeches [being deliberately vague here, trying to avoid spoilers] that make it feel, to me, like a personal game. Because there’s someone who, at that point, only you can hear, and, at that point in the game, is not saying the same thing they’d say to everyone else, but is talking about what you’ve done in the game might say about you. 

And there’s specifically space in the game for players to simply think and reflect – and I wonder if that’s the part I’m interested in most, that will be inherently personal because it’s about how the game has made someone feel.

Thanks for reading, [insert name here]

Access: a matter of choice

So, onto my second blog post/mess of thoughts post-GAConfEU on Monday…

Something that’s rattled around in my head a lot since Monday is something that’s not exclusively to do with access, but comes to the fore when access is considered – choice. Now, it feels natural that choice is a large part of the discussion when thinking about video games – player agency being a distinctive element of the art-form.* It’s less common when thinking about performance, depending on the style being considered.

When one talk veered into designing subtitles for VR – where players can potentially look away from where fixed subtitles might be, or common placements for subtitles (such as the bottom of the screen) can obscure content-heavy areas of the screen (tabletops and similar) – it immediately made me think of the difficulty of designing captioning for the kind of immersive shows where audiences have the freedom to move around as they choose.

(If anyone can give me an example of such a show that had captioning *please* tell me, that’s fantastic!)

One of the biggest mantras I probably took away from the conference is: give people a variety of options, then let them choose whichever best aids/suits/improves accessibility for them. There are such a huge range of different access needs that different people might have that the best thing is to give the player control and choice over changes that might need to be made to the game.

In games, this can mean a variety of things – having adaptive controllers and reprogrammable controls, so people have choice about how they physically control and interact with the game; having a selection of difficulty levels so that people can choose what will be challenging and fun for them, not according to some ‘objective’ ideal that might not be aware of their needs; having sliders players can adjust for colourblind options rather than fixed settings that people have to choose between.

Of course, there are elements with games where the player already has choice – where they play it (to a degree, if it’s a portable controller or set-up that they have), how they are sat or the seat they’re in when they play it (as games are something that can be played at home, rather than somewhere that exists in a set place and time, as with theatre), when they play it (again, no fixed ‘gaming’ time as with ‘performance’ times). So even before they play, gamers have a lot more agency than theatre-goers.

So, if a fundamental of accessibility is giving people choice, then how can theatre do that? With the majority of shows, there might be one or two relaxed performances in the run, offering either bare or no choice to certain people as to when they can get along to a show (similarly with stage text captioning, BSL interpretation, audio description and more – though I have been seeing more work with integrated BSL and captioning recently). It might seem that theatre is inalienably less flexible than games – games can be coded to have different options in various different settings, and they’re inherently responsive to players’ controls and choices, whilst theatre has a greater sense of existing *as a thing* separate to the audience.

(Of course, there is interactive theatre, there is game-based theatre, there are forms of theatre less easy to separate or see as a whole independent of the audience. I’m talking in very generalised terms. And even in interactive theatre and suchlike – an audience member can’t necessarily change what they experience independent of other audience members, like a video gamer who can change colour settings for themselves.)

So I’m trying to imagine what a kind of theatre looks like that offers such choice. Likely involving improvisation. Conversations with the audience before and at/during the performance. In some kind of space that can be as flexible as the show itself needs to be. I hope to explore this soon (you know, money and resources and time and energy all very much pending…) but for now I’ll definitely be rolling it over in my head a lot more.

*Yes, I could get into a long post about to what degree player agency actually *is* a distinctive or essential part of video games, since there are games out there that play with the idea of agency and will back players into deliberate corners, where the choices may boil down to what the player does with the game or even if they simply continue to play (and that’s a choice that you can apply to other art forms – whether you keep watching a play, for instance) – but for now I’m going to make the generalisation.