Radical Games: IV

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This semester I’m setting out to make a game that comments on the medical industry by using mythical allegory to explain some of the horrors that occur. To that end, I plan to construct a fantastical world in which the player must constantly give payment to “insert giant deity name here” in order to keep their Family Member alive. While I have not fully worked out all the kinks in this plot the main mechanic involves repeatedly taking things from either the land or yourself to keep your Family Member alive. The initial game was planned to include the main character venturing far out unto the world, but given the amount of time left in the semester, it is unlikely the whole story will be finished. Instead, I will be working primarily on the first main area The Island, The Siren’s home.

The game is radical in that it works to take things away from the player rather than give them things to help them advance. The game gets harder, not because the world becomes less forgiving or more difficult but more so because the world takes so much from you that you may not be able to continue on. It also plays with conventions of myth and works to subvert what most people relate as happier narratives. Also, as a side note, all characters will have gender neutral pronouns. Part of me loved the mysticism and unity it presented in a game like Sword and Sworcery to have the gender of characters be slightly ambiguous.

I took a lot of inspiration from the game What Now? and from Lisa. I wanted something dark that didn’t really make the player ever feel like they were winning. Going forward yes, but winning no. This game is meant to encourage a somber reflection, and I think both What Now? and Lisa really capture that. In addition, the art was heavily inspired by Scottish mythology as it has a lot of strange depictions of creatures and realms. Also slightly Lovecraft inspired but not by a huge margin.

Development has had a number of hang ups. Particularly in the art department, but the story has also been somewhat troubling to finish and develop. While the main mechanic is okay at this juncture, during the paper game I saw many flaws in its scope and how players would typically use the main mechanic. The primary mechanic used to be “Accept Payment” but now that’s changed, will get into it further down. As I mentioned earlier, I had to spend a good deal of time learning value in order to make both sand and the interior of rooms a bit more shadowy. However, after several separate tile maps, I eventually got something I was proud of, then came the water, which quite honestly I still haven’t gotten to the point in which I’m satisfied.

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State of the Game taught me mostly that the world needs to be inverted. What I mean by this is that many thought the water was stone, like the walls of a cave, and I need the water to be lighter to look a bit more like water. Also, the player character needs to have a white border or something to make them look less flat against the sand background. Have yet to approach that experimentation, but hopefully just a white fill behind the player will suffice.

Other than that, I didn’t learn too much from State of the Game. Essentially I heard what I needed to hear and many commented that they thought the protagonist looked quite good as well as the entrance to the Siren’s home that I spent a good deal of time making.


Things got a little dicey during my paper prototype. Essentially none of my main questions were answered and instead I was greeted with a glaring problem: people apparently didn’t care about much of the surrounding world. Mostly due to faulty development on my end, I seemed to leave out some key focalization in the paper prototype and consequently the player played the game somewhat contrary to how I envisioned. This is to be expected and must be remedied. One piece of advice that stood out was that I seemed to have a lot of assets and the world didn’t seem to immediately change in a way that felt impactful enough on the player.


What I came to decide was that the world and scope of the game was too immediately large. Also the wording of the main mechanic needed to be altered so that something might actually effect the player more than just the world. This I’ve decided to illustrate by changing the primary question from “Accept Payment?” to “Give Payment?” altering essentially the entire power structure of the game. The player must always give to receive passage in the game. Whereas the first question put the power of “G-d” into the Player’s hands, this puts the power into the systems hands, the worlds hands.


The game relies on simple story, simple mechanisms, and easily digestible and familiar art to establish a mythic realm of sorrow and burden. The game’s aesthetics work to address the concept of Payment, Guilt, and Debt through abstract symbols, one single line of text, and images. The aesthetic works to emphasize how it must feel to give everything and still have it not be enough and to have to accept that there are some points in which nothing may save or help a loved one.


Chris Haehnel

Author: Kit Haehnel