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A Story’s Worth a Thousand Lines of Code [A Post Mortem]

Posted by
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016 8:18 pm

From a development perspective, Unbecoming is a flat out stupid idea for a jam.  No section of the map is reused,  most mechanics are only ever repeated once (some are literally one-off jokes, like the computer mainframe), it’s short and has little replay value and for christ’s sake it turns into a completely different game three quarters of the way through.

This was a bad idea

About two thirds of the way through development I realized all this as I was looking at some of the other games being submitted into the jam.  They were being smart developers (and I don’t mean this in a sarcastic or disrespectful way at all, they are smart).  Or maybe I should say efficient developers.  When I looked to winners of the dare in the past, what struck me was how smart/efficient development was.  Often games consisted of a clever and witty core mechanic (by no means anything to gloss over or take for granted mind you) extrapolated into either a series of levels or rounds or an endless survival mode or a clever sandbox or procedural generation.  In other words: a game, in the traditional sense of the word.

For background, I was an english and theatre major before I converted to computer science.  I’ve written countless first and final chapters to unfinished stories because I love the narrative form.  In film, literature, theatre, sometimes even in song, it’s been enthralling.  Every game I’ve made so far (except for one) has been extremely narrative in nature, and they’ve all been for jams.  Don’t get me wrong, I pull my fair share of corners cut and sleight of code, and they’re all definitely games in every sense of the word.  But they’re definitely not a traditional game.

When I realized all this, I panicked.  I came up with half a dozen ways to turn Unbecoming into a game that was smartly made: spawning enemies in ever increasing waves, having one standard arena, not turning the game into a silly imitation bullet hell three quarters of the way through.  I’m not saying that this choice was wrong, heck, the game could’ve been a lot better for all I know (though I don’t like to linger on thoughts like that).

But Unbecoming is not that.  It has an end, it has little tricks that took me hours to code or record for a few seconds of payoff.  And because of that it’s short, but I’m proud of it nonetheless.

What I guess I’m saying is that narrative can have a beautiful place in games, as stupid and inefficient as it can be.  In this jam I absolutely loved Wolf and the Moon.

It too doesn’t recycle mechanics, and has a clear story to it, and it’s truly a wonderful experience.  Dissaranged is another absolutely fantastic entry that has elements of narrative in it that really make it what it is.

I know it’s unbecoming to compare oneself to great works of art, but I noticed that this aspect is what I loved about games like Undertale.  There are one off jokes, and new things happen every which way you turn.

Again, I’m not saying non narrative games are bad.  Minecraft is a perfect example of a spectacular narrativeless game.  I do think it takes a lot of work to mix together the art form of the narrative and the art form of the game, to make it somehow not solely one or the other (and I can’t say I myself have mastered it just yet).  Sometimes they marry perfectly, but other times you have to put a lot of legwork into it.  But regardless what you can achieve is a really unique experience that captures truly the best of both mediums.

tldr : bla bla I go to a liberal arts school and I think I’m so great.

 

p.s. if your game is narrative, comment about it!  There are so many games and I’d hate to miss it!

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