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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Game Design!

Back in those sunny, sleepless, collegiate days I was often challenged to create bizarre video game concepts that have little or nothing to do with math, science, or energy consumption (which is what I mostly deal with on a day-to-day basis). One of the strangest assignments I had was to draw one social issue and one game genre from a hat and sketch out an idea of how that particular game would work.

I think the assignment itself is fantastic idea -- so many mainstream games are simply regurgitated versions of the latest gun-packed cash cows on the market that genres that once dominated the game field have all but fallen on the wayside. When was the last time a generation-defining game like Myst or Monkey Island got exposure?

This complete narrowing of the game industry, which, like the film industry was originally founded on wild ideas gaining mass appeal, is particularly distressing because, unlike film, there's virtually no secondary distribution channel for independent (console) games. Because of this funding for indie games is nearly impossible to find, especially if you want to build -- God forbid -- an artistic video game.

So what were my two lucky selections? While my classmates drew the likes of war and strategy game, I was tasked with a heavier lot -- politics and music game. From this madness I created the following abomination I recently rediscovered on my hard drive:

So, what the hell's the idea here, you're likely asking. Well, it's a bit like Parappa the Rappa, one of my favorite early Playstation games, but more expansive.

To start, you choose your character -- in this case, a representative for a political party. You'll have to adhere to this party's beliefs and construct raps/speeches using their ideologies in an attempt to win over constituents. Each party has an easily identifiable colored icon, in this case provided by Photoshop stock art.

As you can see, the Independent candidate is shrouded in mystery. Why is that? Well duh, you have to beat the other levels before you can unlock him. That's just how games work.

Now that you've decided to be a hippie, you get to start campaigning. Each party has strengths and weaknesses -- more campaign contributions, different vocabularies, base popularity, etc. This first level is the lowest -- the "soapbox" level. It costs nothing to participate. In later campaigns, your dollars come into play -- you need $$ to join a mayoral/senate/presidential race.

This cheat-sheet screen tells you everything you need to know to plan your speech: what the key issues are with your audience, how they voted most recently, and age, gender, and party breakdowns. (Using the party icons on that pie chart would have been a good idea, but oh well.)

Finally, you get to construct your speech. Basically, you have a fridge-magnet style vocab on the left, which contains key words about social issues. You arrange these words on the right to form your speech. Each level has a larger vocabulary, and each party has a different set of words.

The thought is you get more points for: big words, rhymes, positively mentioning issues the audience cares about. You lose points for small words, directly contradicting what the audience wants to hear, and directly contradicting your party's ideals. You also lose points for messing up.

If you want to practice you speech, you get a chance before the big to do. This can be useful for complicated speeches, because each word has a key combo assigned to it, and these can get complex. If you don't keep the beat or mess up too often, your popularity will go down and you may lose the audience. On this level there isn't too much of a worry, but on subsequent levels you're challenging an opponent, so popularity matters.

Jumping ahead, here's a debate in progress. You can see that Lord Ted here isn't doing very well against his Conservative opponent. At least he has enough $$ that he can try again if he fails.

And here's his fail screen. Ted gets some cash for his accuracy, and gains some popular votes based on the percentage of the audience he's captured, but in losing he's lost some key electoral votes. Better luck next time!

Anyway, that's that. An interesting albeit bizarre concept sprung from a strange, severe handicap. I've found that restrictive circumstances often produce wonderful work as you're challenged to create with a limited tool set and open your mind to ideas you may not have encountered with free reign. But that's a discussion for a later date.


Josh said...

Brilliant! Reminds me of how I used to feel about game design. Also, I kind of want to play this. Nice example raps, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Quite stellar. Keep it up and good to have you back!

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