I’ve finally managed to get a show-able version of DRM off to a few people for WAVE 1 of SHOWPEOPLETHEGAMEOGEDDON*. In the run up to doing so, there were a fair number of things I had to hastily tidy up and sort out before I was comfortable letting it out the door.
The show-able version isn’t everything I’d hoped, I had a few hold ups during the week, the usual life things that I tend to forget about if I don’t check the calender every day and oh yeah, that was that day, right? So it’s a little rough around the edges here and there and that’s a thing that happens. I don’t necessarily like putting stuff out there like that but I accept that it’s better to have it under noses as is and to fix it up in the remaining time than not let anyone see it. But there was one thing I couldn’t let it out the door without. The tone of the text being exactly how I wanted it to be. The language. How DRM speaks to you.
I find the dyed in the wool way that games treat the player terminally dull for the most part. No, no, not just that, I hate the way some games treat the player and I hate the way it’s seen as a thing so much that we don’t even stop to think exactly how GAME OVER feels. Or how being called a LOSER or a FAILURE by a game feels. As if the punishment of death isn’t enough, it’s then compounded by the game rubbing it in. LOOK AT YOU, YOU FUCKING FAILURE. YOU HAVE DIED. HAHAHAHA.
Of course, there’s a place for that. Somewhere. Maybe only really here. But GAME OVER, it’s a thing isn’t it? A tradition to denote the end of your time playing this game is now. It’s sudden, it’s abrupt, it’s harsh. It’s something that’s done but why? Why must we continually use it?
We’ll happily embrace the shiny of achievements and hand them out for taking a shit in the bathroom given half a chance yet achievements are so often things that feel like token items, concessions to making the player feel good. It’s an awkward feeling of “not really meaning it” compounded by the insistence that if you want to published in certain quarters (or the curious belief that if you want your game to do well) then achievements must be included. They’re no substitute for telling someone that they’re not shit. You don’t need badges for that, we’ve got words. Words don’t have to go ping and give points. Let’s start using words like we mean them. Let’s think about those words.
I like to be careful with the language I use in my games. I think it’s important to be careful about the language we use in games. I believe it’s responsible to think about what you really want to say and whether the language you use in your game is appropriate for saying what you want to say. And I think it’s important to ask ourselves about the smaller things like whether a game over message has to necessarily be something final, something to be considered a failure as opposed to just a fail state.
Do we really need to be treating GAME OVER as the normal thing to say in 2012 just because it’s something that’s sort of been there a very, very long time now? I think, as daft and slight as that may sound, it’s the kind of thing that we really should consider when writing our games.
With DRM I have a specific mood in mind. I have a specific aim. I want to make a game where exploding things looks and feels good. I want the player to feel good flashing lights at themselves, I don’t want that shifty uncomfortable headache that Beat Hazard provides, I want a certain amount of joyousness to things. And whilst DRM-as-a-game has traditional failstates (you hit an enemy, you die, ta ta) and I’m really tremendously not afraid of killing the player off in this or my other games, I don’t see why that should be considered an actual failure or a loss. If the player has even got one screen in, I want them to know that I value that. I want them to know that I value their time spent on this and I’m not going to abuse them for being distracted, I don’t want to abuse them for accidentally wandering into a nasty, I don’t want to abuse them for doing something the game is absolutely designed to let happen. I don’t want the closing feelings of their round to be “THAT WAS A BIT STUPID, EH?”.
DRM is a game about celebrating. The explosions aren’t the pyrotechnics of war, they’re the pretty lights of fireworks brightening a bleak November night or the explosive celebration of the new year being welcomed in. I want the language to reflect that. I want the language to be celebratory when it can be and I want it to be fun when it can be.
It’s why neither SYNSO or DRM have a “game over” message, it’s where SQUIDAGEDDON came from and it’s where DRM informing you that you were glorious, you reached X stage with a score of Y comes from. I don’t consider the player a failure for dying or being knocked out of the game, it’s an inevitability, especially when the game is so flashy lighty and has enemies in it that kill you, right? Yeah, yeah, it’s a small change in the grand scheme of videogames but it’s integral to how DRM feels. I’d sooner celebrate what the player has done and that’s precisely what I do. Everyone who plays this game will, at some point, hit a nasty and die. It’s punishment enough that you lose your progress and you lose your game. Again, a failstate doesn’t have to make the player feel like a failure.
Besides, I’d also sooner not take anything as “the thing you do because it was done in 1978 and we never let it go”, too easy, too simple, too fucking boring.
The language I use in DRM is a small token fuck you to the traditions that we’re too often scared to break and a “thank you, I value you” to the people who play my games. It’s a small thing, sure, but it’s an important thing to DRM and to me. We should always consider how we’re communicating with and what we’re communicating to the player with what we do. Inside and outside the game.
*I’ll do Wave 2 a bit later in the week (*waves at Mo*)