5 answers about why there is a conference for queer gamers

Over on Polygon there is an article about a conference looking at LGTBQ* gamers’ rights. The site has quite a progressive and liberal readership, and the comments so far are very positive towards the idea.

However, this is the internet, so of course in other places the existence of such an event is causing anger. I’ve seen the same questions/objections come back over and over again in equal rights movements, so I thought it worthwhile putting together a list of the greatest hits and some answers:

1. Can’t there just be gamers? Why do we need to create communities within communities?

Altogether, around 10% of the population is not heterosexual or cisgender** (born the physical sex they feel they are inside) but this group is barely visible in games and gaming communities. In hardcore gaming communities there is often a strongly abusive response to women showing their presence – LGBTQ people are almost invisible compared to women, and derogatory terms for non-heterosexuals are very common as online insults and objecting to these can result in more abuse.

It is scary to go up against these kind of odds by yourself, but it is unpleasant to have to play as characters that you don’t feel reflect your experience of life. There are many stories of black children growing up and never seeing a black hero in a story, or girls growing up and never seeing a strong female character in their films (Colin Stokes did a great TED talk on this topic). Even as an adult, we crave seeing reflections of our lives in the fictions that we enter, but when 90% of the world is apparently happy with a product, how do we start that conversation?

Could LGBTQ communities and conferences not really be necessary? The world is changing and perhaps gamers and games developers will change their attitudes by themselves, but why would they? They have the games that fit their current tastes and they are surrounded by people who appear to be just like them, so there is no immediate incentive for them to change. In other words, without creating a smaller group and some division for a while, there is very little chance that the larger group is going to learn, evolve, and improve for everyone’s benefit. When someone says why can’t there ‘just be be gamers’, and why are divisions needed, that is the answer. It’s complex and requires explanation, especially because ultimately the questioners are right: no-one wants division, but this idea of ‘just gamers’ is really a denial of the status of anyone being different from them.

Division highlights the need for change, and many don’t want that, as the next two objections show, and change is necessary, as the last objections show, but without some division this will never come.

2. Why do you have to bring sexuality into games?

Sexuality is already in games, it’s just that it’s overwhelmingly frequently heterosexual in its nature, and heterosexuality is so much like the background noise of life to most people that they never notice it. It’s like an air-conditioning system that you never hear until it suddenly stops; the sound was always there, but it’s only when something changes that you realise it.

This is called a heteronormative attitude – where there is the assumption that heterosexual attitudes are so much the normal and natural state that anything that conflicts with these assumptions becomes at best weird or unnecessary, and at worst branded as evil, unnatural, or a threat. This was reflected recently in society with the debates about the legalisation and recognition of gay marriage.

From Mario in love with Princess Peach, to Dom and his wife in Gears of War, heterosexual relationships are already present in games, so a LGBTQ conference about games is not bringing sexuality into games, it is only attempting to expand the field of experiences that games can address.

3. It’s not realistic to have a gay love story forced into my future alien warfare simulator – why does there need to be a conference about creating a Gay Agenda for gay stories in everything?

No one is insisting that there should be gay stories in everything, just like no one is insisting that heterosexual love stories should be in everything.

If there is such a thing as a ‘Gay Agenda’ then it is to make queer*** behaviours and lifestyle choices more accepted so that everyone can live peacefully and productively together in society, no matter their preference of their own sex/gender or that of their adult partner. If this can be reflected in games then that is all for the better. (It isn’t about trying to get people to have sex with kids or marry horses, as some conservative politicians and religious leaders like to suggest, but I hope we can all agree that those kind of statements are either malicious attempts to derail the discussion into meaningless territories to stall movement on actual issues that they want to avoid, or simply terrifyingly ignorant.)

Games are not separate from society: they are a medium through which stories and attitudes can be conveyed. It would be irresponsible for television and books to only tell stories about a man in a state of primal fury who kills everyone he sees, just as it would be strange if the stories they tell never included anyone who is gay (for example). Only a couple of decades ago, television programs had no gay characters… Doesn’t that seem so strange now? It’s not like gay characters have been jammed into every series, it’s just that alternative lifestyles are there as part of the menu of character behaviours that writers can use. That diversity of choice has made the stories better.

A conference about equality in games is not about forcing gay stories into inappropriate places, it is about giving developers more choices and showing them that these options are supported by the community.

4. Gay people would be the first to complain if heterosexual gamers were to make a conference just for themselves. It’s so hypocritical!

Again, we’re back in the territory of heteronormative privilege. If this is the first time you’ve heard of the concept then have a read about it because it’s a very powerful tool for understanding these kinds of debates.

Public-facing games conferences like E3 and PAX are heavily oriented towards a non-queer audience – which is fair enough because the majority of society is heterosexual and cisgender… But the weighting is so heavy that anything that does not fit this becomes a problem. Worse than this, the grouping is again overwhelmingly focussed towards men at the moment, leading to further issues when male privilege becomes involved.

Male privilege is the ugly twin of heteronormative privilege. Again, this is an important term, so if it’s new to you then it’s worth reading about. In essence, it talks about a social system where being male (or appearing male) gives rights that women do not have.

Challenges to male privilege in the gaming world have been met with some very extreme responses – threats of violence, murder, and rape are not unknown for even small questions regarding the representation of women in games. Given that women are a little over 50% of the population, you would think that it would be easy for them to get heard… Right? Now amplify that by the smaller community of active queer developers and gamers who want a little more respect and it should become clear what the scale of their problem is.

The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) recently ran into difficulties because one of the founders of Penny Arcade posted a string of Tweets that increasingly showed a lack of awareness of transsexuality. This resulted in one of the exhibitors making the following statement:

We are a four-person team. Two of us are women and one of us is gay. Gone Home deals in part with LGBT issues. This stuff is important to us, on a lot of different levels. And Penny Arcade is not an entity that we feel welcomed by or comfortable operating alongside.

Back to the original question about why queer people need a LGBTQ conference – when the major conferences feel so unwelcoming and that they misunderstand queer issues so massively, it is hard to create anything new or unique outside of heteronormativity and male privilege. All LGBTQ conferences welcome ‘allies’ from those outside the LGBTQ groups, just as E3 ostensibly welcomes diversity too, but when booth babes (women in small outfits solely designed to attract the dominantly male visitors to exhibitors’ stalls) are still permitted it is hard to feel that the event is anything but oriented towards a heterosexual male audience. That is the reality of the business model at the moment, so it is understandable, if sad, that these are the tactics being used, but it is equally understandable that a LGBTQ audience might feel that they are not wholly welcome in that environment.

5. Games don’t need queer people or ideas.

I lied at little at the start – this isn’t something I’ve seen said so openly, but it is the essence of every other argument I’ve heard, and in the end it is deeply flawed.

We are supposed to be working in an industry that values the creation of new and exciting ideas, but we are facing a problem: as the money spent to improve graphics begins to have smaller and smaller effects on the final game, the search for innovation must come from other areas. Gameplay mechanics are one area where innovation is possible, but new genres and really significant changes are becoming rare. Visual experimentation away from realism is another path we are taking, but most of all we are in a position where innovation is frequently being pushed onto the game’s narrative. This is a place where historically games have performed very poorly, but where there are proven examples of the same story being retold in new ways for hundreds of years…

And yet we are limiting ourselves. Time and time again, we are making the same story with exactly the same characters in near identical settings: a late-twenties to mid-thirties heterosexual man is on a quest of revenge for the death of his wife, set in a post-apocalyptic world (or building sites and sewers if it is the modern day).

The idea of ‘queer’ is very powerful here. In society, ‘queer’ means people who do not conform to ‘normal’ heterosexual behaviours and gender representations, but in games, where normal is even more restrictive, being queer becomes something more. It would be ‘queer’ to have an old person as the protagonist. It would be ‘queer’ to be gay. Or to not want to fight. Or to be a child. Or to be fat. Or black. Or Russian and not a criminal, Middle-Eastern and not a violent extremist, or Japanese and not a computer genius who is into robots. Or in a wheelchair. Sadly, it is often still queer to even be a woman.

I will always remember an anecdote from an essay by female queer theorist:

She was presenting at a conference on gay and queer issues in literature and had mentioned during her talk that she had a boyfriend. At the end of the talk a person in the audience asked ‘you’re in a straight relationship so what gives you the right to talk about queer stuff?’. She replied: ‘When I fuck my boyfriend with a strap-on it feels pretty queer to me.’****

Queer equality isn’t just there to improve the lives of people who are LGBTQ, it has effects on the quality of the whole industry’s output. In a situation where the prevailing attitudes of games culture is frequently aggressively heteronormative and male-oriented, even women become queer in the eyes of many gamers.

Like any good equality movement, progress in this area will be hard and there will be opposition, but in the end everyone benefits from a greater diversity of characters and relationships in our games. Getting this right will also not only make our stories better, but maybe the the story of the bisexual, polyamorous, black, Brazilian woman who works in a graphic design office will inspire some new gameplay mechanics too. What happens to games when we take away stories of men with guns out for revenge? What happens when pulling a trigger doesn’t fit with a character? When their movement is slow or limited? How do we tell the stories of the women, the downtrodden, the unusual, the people that we’ve never played, and people never dreamed of playing yet?

In other words, how do we play the stories of the queer? This sounds like the way to find new gameplay and make the industry better for everyone.

You know… That sounds so good, I think that someone should organise a conference about that.

*LGBTQ = Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer
**Cisgender = Your self-perceived gender is the same as your physical sex, for example a cisgender person would be cismale if they were born in a male body and feel male inside too, but a transgender person would be transmale if they were born in a female body but feel male inside. Also, I know there is controversy about the 10% figure, but by all admissions the research data on this topic is extremely hard to collect reliably.
*** Queer = over the past couple of decades, ‘queer’ has been increasingly claimed by individuals, groups, and academics as a catch-all term for people whose attitudes and expressions of sexuality do not fit the heterosexual and cisgender thought and behaviour model.
**** Sadly, I don’t have the book any more so I cannot look up the name of the writer or exact quote. To my surprise, Googling for queer women with strap-ons did not produce relevant research data.

New Fragments of Him video review from CinnamonToastKen

A prominent YouTube video game blogger has reviewed Fragments of Him. It’s nice that his entire coverage of the gay relationship is ‘So… You’ve got a male couple’, and that’s it, exactly as it should be. Thanks CinnamonToastKen!

Also, a very amusing namecheck for Fragments of Him in a video he posted a week later:

“I played Fragments of Him, which was about a homosexual couple, and it really didn’t have anything homosexual about it other than it said ‘him’ in the story, and that seemed to have bothered a lot of people… So I figured I’d just go and find the gayest game that I could since you’re a bunch of homophobes.”

(Starts about 10 seconds in.)

More Fragments of Him reviews…

We’ve been getting more fantastic reviews for Fragments of Him!

A lot of this has spoilers, so if you haven’t played the game then please take the time to play through it on Kongregate over here. It takes 10-20 minutes.

The latest reviews:

The story will keep on getting clearer as you proceed so, take your time, maybe grab a napkin and get ready to shed some tears.

http://www.creepygaming.net/2013/05/fragments-of-him-dealing-with-important.html

This next one is possibly my favourite so far:

This is one of the rare games where very few of the players are far off from tears — or, at the very least, most players seem to easily understand that inclination. That’s no small accomplishment for any artist, nevermind four European developers tinkering with a new style.

http://weirderweb.com/2013/05/13/what-to-play-today-fragments-of-him/

That reviewer also posted a really nice playthrough video in which he nails many of the ideas that I was trying to communicate in the game. It’s very fulfilling to see someone understand so many of the ideas that we were trying to convey. It contains the whole game, so if you haven’t played yet you really should check it out before watching:

Enjoy!

Giant Bomb reviews Fragments of Him

It doesn’t take much to cue the waterworks these days, but Fragments of Him, where a man tries to move on from a relationship shattered by a fatal car accident, hit home hard. The “game” part takes the common feeling of avoiding familiar people, places, and things that remind you of what you’ve lost, and makes it the core mechanic. Saying more about how it plays out is best left unsaid, except to provide fair warning to anyone who might be triggered by the game’s sensitive material. I had to walk from my desk.

http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/worth-reading-05-10-13/1100-4638/

Fragments of Him has been getting some good reviews…

So, a couple of weeks after making Fragments of Him in one weekend, the game has started getting reviews:

http://indiestatik.com/2013/05/10/fragments-of-him-deals-with-the-loss-of-a-loved-one/

http://indiegames.com/2013/05/browser_pick_erase_the_memory_.html

The game is also top of the list of ‘highly recommended’ games on Free Indie Games:

http://www.freeindiegam.es/2013/05/fragments-of-him-mata-haggis-tino-van-der-kraan-elwin-verploegen-henriette-sande/

I’ve also been contacted personally by the head of a very large games company (I won’t name them on here because I didn’t ask if I could credit the quote) to say how much he enjoyed the game:

It’s just so energizing to see original ideas thriving in games.

Suffice to say, we’re very happy with the response so far!

Fragments of Him – Designer/writer post-mortem – creating a narrative game in 3 days

Introduction

My name is Dr. Mata Haggis and I was the narrative & game designer/producer on Fragments of Him, our entry to Ludum Dare 26.

I had never done a game jam before, so this was a new experience for me. I was fortunate enough to have two talented developers ask me to join their team. Between us we created a narrative game experience with one programmer, one artist (and his 3D modeller girlfriend for an evening), and myself in only 72 hours.

Below you will find out what a narrative designer does on a game jam, what a producer can do, and a little more about the decisions that I made when creating the title.

Before we go any further you should play the game:

http://www.kongregate.com/games/Aceria620/fragments-of-him

Seriously. I mean it. This post will have a lot of spoilers very soon, so go play the game now and come back in ten minutes.

Done that?

Really?

Okay, let’s talk about the process…

 

Starting

All game jams have a theme, and this one’s theme was ‘minimalism’, and I wanted to do a game with a very prominent story in it. I worked on several ideas in my head, but the one that stuck was investigating why a person would choose to live in a minimalist style in their house. The result of this was the idea that the lead character had lost their partner and couldn’t stand to be reminded of the loss.

In narrative terminology, the loss of the partner would be referred to as ‘the inciting incident’. The process of creating minimalist spaces gave me a gameplay mechanic too.

I pitched the concept to the team – one artist and one programmer – and I was fortunate that they were enthusiastic about it. There were several key decisions that are worth examining here:

 

Scope

The theme was going to need a lot of art. Specifically, the world was going to need a lot of models in it. I immediately said that the world was going to be stylised and colour coded: the protagonist (the ‘hero’ of the story) would be blue, and yellow would be used to indicate the dead partner, along with objects related to that partner. Everything else in the game was going to be white – this would allow the artist to focus on building the space and objects without worrying about texturing any of it.

In terms of showing figures in the environment, again I needed to keep a close eye on the scope of the project. I asked the artist to create one generic character model which would be used for both the protagonist and the dead partner. In every scene, these figures would be posed in a tableau (a static pose that suggests narrative action). In this way we could give a powerful idea of character relationships without the difficulty of animating figures.

For the programmer, there were a few challenges that I had to consider. The audio and subtitles would need to be displayed, there would need to be highlighting and signposting of affordances, and the most difficult task was probably going to be the final scenes where the gameplay mechanic (clicking to remove objects) is reversed. By keeping these interactions very simple, I could limit the complexity of the task that I was giving to the programmer.

 

Sexuality

I voiced the lead character of the game, and I am male. In the game, the character talks about his dead boyfriend. I felt that the story would work perfectly with either a male or female partner character, but I also feel that non-heterosexual relationships are under-represented in gaming, and so I had a preference for making both characters male.

I described the outline of the story to the team and they had no feelings either way on the gender of the partner, and so we ended up with a story about coping with grief, where the lead characters happen to both be male.

When stories are told about the death of a gay man, they often focus on stereotypical perceptions of gay lifestyle choices: drugs, promiscuity, clubbing, and of course HIV/AIDS. I didn’t want to tell a gay love story; I just wanted to tell a love story.

I know that the audience for any story will be predominantly heterosexual, with then lower proportions of gay, bisexual, and transgender players. Part of my goal was to ignore the non-heterosexual elements and to write a story that anyone could relate to. I did this by choosing to focus on the small things in people’s lives.

I suspect that anyone who has had a break-up, especially after living with a partner, can relate to the quiet sadness of removing one towel from the bathroom. I think that feeling of sorrow is a universal experience that has nothing to do with sexual preferences, and that is what I wanted to convey in this game.

A benefit to the choice of going for a homosexual relationship was that the artist only needed to make one body and animation rig, saving him a lot of time!

 

How to write a good story quickly

I’ve been writing for several years and have cobbled together a system which works well for me. I’ve based it on several sources, but the main ones are ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Synder:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1932907009/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1932907009&linkCode=as2&tag=theothersid08-20

… and ‘Will Write for Shoes’ by Cathy Yardley.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312359004/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0312359004&linkCode=as2&tag=theothersid08-20

Neither of these are high-brow books on how to create your epic masterpiece, but they are very focussed on creating a tight, enjoyable story.

I put ideas from the books together and now here’s what I use whenever I start writing:

Before the inciting incident – ‘Save The Cat’
Show the life of the character before life goes wrong. The character does something that makes you like them (‘save the cat’).
5% – Inciting incident
Something changes that forces the protagonist to act.
25% – Plot point one – state the external motivation
What forces the protagonist to make this clear statement of their objective?
50% – Plot point two – the low mid-point
It appears impossible to complete the external motivation, protagonist loses hope
75% – Plot point three – Hope
The protagonist is given hope that they can fulfil their external motivation goal, but only if they truly dedicate themselves to it.
90-95% – “The Black Moment”
The external motivation appears impossible to fulfil.
95%-100% – Resolution
The story concludes in a satisfying manner – this may be successful completion of the external and internal motivations (a happy ending), it may be a failure on external motivation but a success in the internal motivation (common in comedies, romance, or tales of self-discovery), success of external motivation but failure of internal motivation (common in tragedy and tales of self-discovery). It is not typical for a story to end with failure of both external and internal motivation – this is the total failure of the character to grow or succeed and makes an audience wonder why they spent their time with the character.

 

I use this whenever I write and it’s working out pretty well for me so far!

In the case of Fragments of Him, as with other stories I write, I began from a feeling and worked back to an inciting incident. The feeling was a person clearing away all of their belongings to create a minimalist living space – why would they do this? This question led back to the inciting incident – the objects were related to grief at the sudden death of a partner.

From there I worked through the template, filling in the gaps. For Fragments of him, it looks like this:

Before the inciting incident – ‘Save The Cat’
Scene – Park. Feeding ducks, narrator talks about how good life is.Two characters – protagonist is blue, the ex is yellow. All other objects are yellow too.

The player clicks on objects (or parts of objects) in the scene, they turn transparent.

5% – Inciting incident
End of first level – the player has been removing the polygons, when everything is transparent except for the main character – the partner dies.
25% – Plot point one – state the external motivation
Scene- House. Protagonist wants to remove all traces of the ex from his life.
50% – Plot point two – the low mid-point
Scene – Street . It appears impossible to remove everything – everywhere he goes there are reminders. He doesn’t want to go outside.
75% – Plot point three – Hope
Scene – Office. If he can remove everything from his interior spaces he feels like he might be able to cope.
90-95% – “The Black Moment”
Scene – back in the empty House. Protagonist is sitting on the floor. Ex appears behind…  The protagonist feels like he will never be free of the memories, even when everything is gone.
95%-100% – Resolution
As the player clicks to remove the ex from the House scene, the protagonist’s colour changes, blending the two into green – the ex has become part of the protagonist. The player clicks through the scenes, where the transparent objects are back. As the player clicks on the transparent objects they turn green too. This goes much faster than the removal.The protagonist understands that the ex is part of him. Things are different, but life will go on in a new way.

As you can see, I’ve used the basic structure from the template to create a narrative arc that is satisfying and also that integrates with the gameplay – at each step I have made sure the interaction with the game adds to the plot.

I chose locations where it would be viable to have few characters in the scene because of the limitations on the art scope.

Dialogue

There are three variations of most of the instances of dialogue in the game. These are chosen randomly during each play through, giving a slightly different experience for each time.

The dialogue was written with three key events in mind:

  • The start of a level
  • Removing a particular object or a percentage of objects
  • The end of a level

The start and end triggers would give the main plot points, and the objects would trigger smaller memories.

I recorded the audio in a make-shift audio booth constructed from a pair of curtains and a clothes rack on a €100 digital microphone. It’s not ideal, but it did the trick. I then edited the sound files into one or two sentence chunks with some antiquated software. This was very laborious and time consuming for me, but sometimes design requires this kind of repetitive grunt work to get the project done.

 

Other audio

Ambient audio and music is absolutely essential in selling any emotional experience: I believed this going into this project and now I am utterly convinced of this. In every scene there are several audio triggers built into the environment that work in a very subtle way to make the spaces feel more believable.

I have a suspicion that the audio space of a game may be more important than the visual style when it comes to creating emotional resonance. Most of this work will never be noticed by the player on a conscious level, but that it exists in the mix is important. In the apartment, did you hear the muffled footsteps of a neighbour going down the hall? Or in the office, did you notice the sound of typing outside the room, or the noise of a plane flying past overheard? Probably not, but they’re there, and they help you feel that the space you are in is alive.

For the music, I found a wonderful website of free music: https://musopen.org/

Everyone on the team instinctively felt that a piano score would suit the mood. I tried several pieces and found a 14 minute piece by Chopin that fitted the feeling I wanted to create… Then I had the laborious task of trying to cut it into pieces that would loop naturally.

Sound effects were more difficult: I wanted to get musical notes again but failed to find a copyright free source for these, and so I used generated audio tones with echo effects on them. It’s not ideal, but it does have the advantage that they contrast clearly with the ambient and musical soundtrack of the game – clear audio feedback is good, although perhaps this could be more polished.

 

Environmental storytelling

To begin with I found a lot of reference material for the spaces that I wanted to create for the game. I recently went on a trip to London (possibly the greatest city in the world for any form of storytelling) and had decided that the story would be set in a location similar to Knightsbridge and Hyde Park.

We set up a shared Dropbox folder and so all of the reference material was instantly shared across the team.

As the artist worked, we often talked about ‘exactly what kind of lampshade would he have in his office’ or ‘what does he have on the side in his hallway’. Every time I was asked a question like this I would always think back to how I imagined the characters to be, what kind of people they are, and what their priorities are in life. Wherever possible, the art was always created to support the characters: if it didn’t say something about the people that owned the object then we would keep looking until we found a better, more expressive choice.

Sometimes the artist would create a space that inspired these choices. He modelled the handles on a drawer for the apartment in a particular way that made me realise that my characters were a little old-fashioned in their choices, or the filing cabinets were placed away from the wall in the office, and I would see that and decide that the character might have dropped a book down there but felt too depressed to be bothered about the effort of retrieving it. This iterative loop was very rapid, where I fed the artist ideas, and his responses inspired me to understand my characters more.

 

Interface design

We wanted to keep the interface minimal, but there needed to be various elements to help the player understand what they needed to do. These were designed by me, but implemented by the programmer on the team.

Here is a list of events and the feedback I designed:

Reticule – not on object: Reticule is white
Reticule – on clickable object – (before second house scene): Reticule is yellow
Reticule – on clickable object – (during second house scene): Reticule is green
Reticule – clicking on empty space: Reticule pulses blue

Note that I also designed negative feedback (when the player clicks but there is nothing to remove from the game at that point). It is always important to make sure that the player knows when they are doing something wrong! Audio cues were added to support the visual positive and negative feedback systems.

In the world, we had highlighting in yellow, the colour of the dead boyfriend, to show objects that could be clicked on. There was a yellow bar at the top of the screen that got smaller when the player removed more yellow objects, and on the title screen the buttons were highlighted yellow when you started the game.

After testing with a non-gamer, we found that this still wasn’t sufficiently clear, and so a pink outline was added to objects that could be clicked but were too far away…

Which still wasn’t enough, and so we added a timer that means that clickable objects pulse slowly yellow after the player has been on a level for two minutes.

Bug tracking

I created a spreadsheet of the bugs for the game, allowing us to test, iterate, and improve all of the game over the last twelve hours of the game jam. It seemed trivial when I started the spreadsheet, but as the day wore on it proved to be invaluable in helping us focus our attention.

Lessons

I need to upgrade my audio recording equipment and learn some more modern audio software. This part of the process was extremely time consuming and I feel that the quality of the audio could have been improved if I my skills in this area were more advanced.

Try and arrange to have an actor available for the weekend! My vocal performance is sufficient, but I think we could have added more emotion with a more powerful performance.

Convey the most difficult scenes more clearly to the programmer as early as possible. I don’t feel I did a good enough job in getting across my idea for the ending of the game at an early enough stage, resulting in pressure on the programmer at the end of the three days. If I had handled that better then maybe the ending could have been more polished.

Even with all of the highlighting on the interface, we still get comments that people find it frustrating to find the last object in a scene. What can I learn from this? Well, HIGHLIGHT ALL TEH THINGS! And that MOAR HIGHLIGHTING STILL is one way to go. Really – it’s hard to understand just how much highlighting is needed… But of course this has to be balanced to not break the mood of the game. Tricky. The other option would be to allow players to progress after they have got most of the objects and not require 100% completion… I don’t know about that. Many people like playing to completion, but I suspect a narrative game needs to remember that the story is more important than 100% completion. Believe me when I say that this balance is something I will think deeply about on future projects.

Testing the game resulted in big improvements on the interface. I definitely want to do this for future games I make – I think this probably doesn’t happen often for game jam creations!

Conclusion

I’m very proud of what we have created. As the first few comments started rolling in about players starting to cry while going through our game, I couldn’t help but think of Steven Spielberg when he said that games would only be art ‘when somebody confesses that they cried at Level 17.’

I’ve made games where you rip the heads off of space marines, games where you slam cars into each other as fast as you can, or where you control a monkey in a spaceship collecting space-bananas. I’m proud of those games in their own ways, but this game was very personal for me.

We have all felt loss at times, or incapable of coping with grief, but this is normal. We are supposed to feel like that sometimes, and we just have to learn how to cope with it. When I say ‘we have all felt loss’ I mean that I wanted to show the universality of these feelings, gay, straight, and all the places in the middle and completely off the sides too. These are things that we share, and dividing our stories also divides us as a society.

I wanted to convey a message about acceptance and hope, and ultimately make people feel that there is always something more to look forward to. I have always believed that games could do that, but Fragments of Him has proved this to be true, at least for some players. I feel incredibly inspired by this experience.

My thanks go to Tino and Elwin from the award winning SassyBot Studio (http://sassybot.com/) for asking me to join them on this adventure, and thank you for reading this post-mortem of our game.

About Dr. Mata Haggis:

I’m a games & narrative designer with over ten years of experience of making both indie and AAA games, and writing for games, television, webcomics, and print. This blog will track my work on interactive creations (and possibly some of the non-interactive work I do too).

For nearly three years I have been teaching the next generation of games developers on the IGAD (International Games Architecture & Design) programme at NHTV University in Breda, The Netherlands. It’s a very highly rated course, taught entirely in English, and if you’re interested in learning more about games development then I highly recommend it:http://made.nhtv.nl/

 

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