Author Archives: Max Boyer

War of the Clowns Version 2 Postmortem

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The start of the game.
For my second paper game I decided to revisit the War of the Clowns story from the perspective of one of the townspeople. I designed the game as a simple RPG with five scenes: home, home internal, park, convenience store, and convenience store internal. The player could travel freely between these scenes. The actions available to the player were moving from side to side, picking up items (a knife and a gun), and interacting with certain environmental objects (the bed, the clowns, and the other townspeople). The game had a time limit of five ‘days’. A new day would begin each time the player interacted with the bed. For each day that passed, the clowns would gain another follower in the park. After four days passed, the clowns would equip bats and the convenience store (where the gun object could be found) would close. On the fifth day the townspeople would turn violent and kill the player, ending the game. If the player killed a townsperson in sight of another townsperson, or killed one of the clowns in sight of a townsperson, a police officer would come and arrest them, ending the game. Visually, I attempted to illustrate the difference in perspective from the first iteration by giving the clowns a more threatening appearance and humanizing the townspeople somewhat with the inclusion of eyes and hands. I wanted to communicate that they clowns held a sort of hypnotic influence over the people gathered in the park, so I created two different versions of the townspeople, a “normal” version in which they had pupils in their eyes, and an “indoctrinated” version that was lacking pupils. I also decided to alter the scale somewhat, replacing the multi-story buildings with a single-story house and shop. I created red blood puddles to emphasize that the player character was more affected by the violence than the clowns were in the first version. img_0765

The player did not behave as expected.

The playtest did not go as expected. The player elected to resort to violence almost immediately, taking the knife from the house on the first day. They tried to cut down one of the bushes outside their house, an action that I declined, and then went on to murder the convenience store clerk. They then took the gun and used it to murder the only townsperson with the clowns. Because no one but the clowns witnessed these crimes, the player was not immediately arrested. The player then proceeded to kill both clowns and went home. They asked if they could kill themselves, an eventuality I had not anticipated. I declined their request. The police officer arrived at their home, and they murdered the police officer (whom I had neglected to provide with a weapon). As there were no more possible actions, I ended the game at this point.

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The player killed every other character in the game on the first day.

The most striking lesson from this playtest was undoubtedly the tendency of players to test the limits of your system. I expected the player to behave within the bounds of normal social behavior, and expected them to resort to violence only in the later stages of the game, if ever. In retrospect this was an unbelievably foolhardy assumption. That being said, although I was taken by surprise and unsure of how the system would respond in a couple of cases (killing the only spectator in front of the clowns, for example; do the clowns call the police? I decided no), overall I was able to extrapolate a response from the rules I had laid down for the world. The fact that an unexpected narrative emerged from the system I had created feels like something of a triumph, and, in my opinion, led to this iteration being feeling much more “alive” than the last where the player’s actions were much more severely limited.

I also realized a short way into the playtest that I had not given ample consideration to the tendency of players to experiment with any interactive game object they are presented with. I expected the player to take an initially non-violent approach, but the only obviously interactive objects I provided them with were implements of violence. If I were to do a third iteration on this game, I would be tempted to hide the weapon objects from the player somewhat and provide them with interactive objects that might encourage them to explore other avenues.

It is also worth noting that the bed object did not give any indications as to its interactivity, and although this issue did not impact the playtest, it would likely have proved to be a stumbling block for any player that did attempt a nonviolent approach.

War of the Clowns Postmortem

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The beginning of the game.

My first paper prototype was based on the flash fiction piece War of the Clowns. The piece tells the story of two clowns who carry out a mock argument and battle in a public space in a city. Eventually their conflict inspires so much sentiment in the spectators that the community self destructs and they make off with the townspeople’s money. My game allowed the player to take on the role of one of the clowns, choosing from a set of three actions for their character to carry out. By choosing the correct actions, it was possible to gather spectators and eventually cause them to fight each other. More chaos resulted in the spectators dropping more coins, which the player could collect. The game ended when all of the spectators were dead or had fled the scene.

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The player throws a pie to gain spectators.

Visually, I wanted to communicate the emotion of the story from the clowns’ perspective. I attempted to visually distinguish in show their importance both through their size and their level of detail compared to the faceless spectators. I opted for a simple, superficially friendly but distorted representation of their facial features in an attempt to communicate their jubilation and appeal from the perspective of the spectators while also indicating the distorted nature of their personalities.

The playtest itself showed the design to be successful in that the player seemed to be able to grasp fairly intuitively how to play the game, although the nuances of how the player’s actions caused a reaction in the spectators could have perhaps been clearer. The player showed a tendency to choose the “bat” option fairly early, causing the spectators to kill each other before they had fully amassed. The player also showed in interesting an unexpected tendency to attack the spectators directly.

The end of the game.

In retrospect I feel as though the options provided to the player were overly limiting. In attempting to remain faithful to the source material I ended up restricting the player to a narrow range of actions and outcomes. Given that the player seemed to express destructive tendencies even beyond what the clowns did in the story, it would be interesting to leave the player with a few more options and a little less guidance, and allow them to stumble upon the destructive outcome of the game naturally. Ultimately, I feel that increased player agency in this game might have functioned to create a more empathetic understanding of the situation from the clowns’ point of view.

   

Gumiho Post-mortem

Getting Gumiho to its current state has taken a lot of work! Maybe a bit more than I expected! But it’s been very rewarding to see the game slowly take form. I still haven’t finished the game, but I have implemented all of the major scenes in at least a rudimentary form. Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.50.46 PM

The Gumiho title screen. I wanted a font that was elegant but unpretentious.

One of the biggest challenges of creating Gumiho has been learning all the skills and tools necessary to realize my vision for the game. Creating the game involved work in Animate, Photoshop, Unity (and Unity C#), Audacity, and Garage Band, all tools I was completely unfamiliar with before starting the project. Learning to produce the results I wanted using these tools and my rudimentary art, coding, and sound design skills has proven to be quite challenging and has involved a lot of trial, error, and reference to tutorials.

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Gumiho’s first scene. The environment in this scene ended up changing quite a bit from the paper prototype. Ultimately, I felt as though the “shrine” setting fit the narrative better than the more mundane rural setting that I had originally planned on using, and created some interesting ambiguity in the relationship between the PC (left) and the NPC (right).

 Creating the art assets was one of the most time consuming aspects of the process. Most of the art was created using flash, and it took me some time to figure out how to achieve the aesthetic I was aiming for within the program. Ultimately I’m fairly happy with what I achieved, although the majority of the sprites, with the exception of the PC in the first scene, are currently lacking animation. Although the PC’s animation is functional, it lacks the fluidity I was hoping to achieve. Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.52.09 PM

The game’s platforming sequence. I had some difficulty with this scene. I knew how I wanted to present the narrative through gameplay, but I couldn’t figure out what the platforms should look like. Ultimately, I decided to borrow from Buddhist symbolism. The lotus flowers, representing the potential for an individual to attain purity despite murky surroundings, felt like an appropriate visual accompaniment to the teardrops that lead to the “PC death” ending.

Unlike the opening scene, which proved to be fairly straightforward to code and was primarily challenging from a visual perspective, the platforming sequence was something of a technical challenge. Originally, my intention was to make the heart and tear holding platforms spawn in “sets,” with the higher platform being smaller and holding a teardrop, while the lower platform was larger and held a heart. The platforms were to be placed at varying heights. This design proved difficult to implement, and I eventually settled on a simpler solution in which most of the platforms spawn at a fixed height close the the bottom of the screen, and the tear platforms spawn at a second fixed height close to the top. They no longer spawn in sets, and the rate of occurrence is simply randomized based on a variable the determines how often they will spawn.

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The first time the player kills the NPC, as evidenced by the single filled in heart in the tracker in the upper left. This scene loads after the player has collected enough hearts in the platforming sequence.

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 The “PC death” ending. Art not final.

Overall I’m fairly happy with the state of Gumiho, although it will be difficult to know to what degree I succeeded in achieving my original goals for the game until I’ve successfully linked up all the scenes (some lingering issues remain with the code that controls fading from one scene to the next) and tested it on fresh players who are unfamiliar with the narrative. The project has proven to be quite challenging in almost all aspects, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot and can’t wait to finish this game and move on to the next one! Thanks to all my classmates for providing great feedback on my game throughout the development process, and to Angela for teaching such an amazing class!

Gumiho Project Proposal

The primary inspiration for Gumiho was the potential that exists in interactive media to create dissonance between the player and the player character. I wanted to create a game in which the PC’s interpretation of events in the game world is at odds with the player’s assumptions, prompting the player to reconsider the nature of the PC once the reality of their actions is revealed to them. In order to accomplish this, I chose to base the narrative off of the Gumiho myth in Korean folklore. Essentially, the PC is a Gumiho, a sort of fox demon that takes on a human form in order to seduce humans and eat their hearts. The Gumiho must regularly consume hearts in order to stay alive. If they manage to consume enough, they may become a normal human Gumiho aims to be radical by calling into question the value of “progression” in the game. The game presents two possible outcomes: either the player collects enough hearts in the platforming sequence to kill the NPC and claim their heart for themselves, or they abstain from collecting the hearts and sacrifice themselves in order to save the NPC. Taking the hearts leads to the longest experience, and allows the player to continue through to what feels like a more natural outcome; the player must repeat the process of collecting them several times for several different NPCs. It is also in a sense the most easily attainable outcome, however, as the hearts are placed in more readily accessible positions as opposed to the teardrops that lead to the PC’s death. Further, the outcome that results from taking the hearts is not necessarily the most emotionally fulfilling for the player, as it forces them to cause harm and does not allow them to play the hero of the story, or even a positive character (although the relative satisfaction derived from the two endings is, of course, ultimately determined by the disposition of each individual player). By disrupting the expected relationships between effort, time invested, and narrative reward, Gumiho aims to push the player to consider current conventions with regards to narrative presentation in video games. Gumiho1

An early version of the game’s story, before the platforming sequence had been finalized.

The precise narrative structure went through several iterations before arriving at the version that was used in the paper game. The game uses a sort of runner section to represent the PC’s thoughts in abstracted form, and one of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to implement this sequence in a way that would make sense to the player. Part of the solution involved paying careful attention to the continuity of visual elements between the “real” and “abstracted” segments of the game. Gumiho3

It took some time to arrive at a narrative delivery that was clear while still retaining the original meaning of the story. In this version the platforming sequence is starting to take form.

The paper playtest was successful insofar as that the players were able to interact successfully with the game and follow the story from beginning to end. Unfortunately, however, I did not receive much in the way of feedback that might lead to revision of the proposed game.  I am somewhat concerned that the testers’ familiarity with the game’s narrative may have obscured any remaining issues with narrative clarity. Gumiho2

Above: The paper version of Gumiho. Artwork for the platforming sequence still hasn’t been finalized.

We derived the following asset list from the paper game: Background 1, Background 2, Trees, House, Male NPC, Female NPC, Male NPC dead, Female NPC dead, PC human form, PC fox form, PC fox form dead, Platforms, Hearts, Teardrops, Broken heart, Heart-tracker Interface.