An academic review of indie games and indie game studios related to my practice:
Can games focused on history find success in the gaming world?
Education, history, a great sense of humour
Astrologaster is a blast. It is informative, as well as good fun and witty. Playing as Dr Simon Forman, a real person who diagnosed patients through the medium of astrology was enlighting. Actual historical records inform the gameplay, which has inspired my thoughts on combining a love of ancient history and literature and an entertaining narrative.
Astrology, alchemy and the four ‘humours’ come into play as you diagnose a list of eccentric characters with hysterical consequences. Ancient Greek philosophers adopted the four humours which were still practised in medieval times by astrologer meet physicians like Simon Forman. It is this blend of historical information; you can discover in Astrologaster and research yourself later that create magic in a game.
Strange Sickness (2020) a story-based game on historical sickness and featuring games writer and developer Katherine Neil from Astrologaster exceeded its Kickstarter goal. So there is a demand for historical games on strange illness and old medical records.
The importance of artwork, atmosphere and narrative in 4X strategy games.
Frostpunk, funded by Creative Europe, comes after This War of Mine, a game that forces the player to understand a series of morally complex choices. This War of Mine played on your ideas of ethics, morality and freedom as an individual. Frostpunk plays on those ideas again, but this time as a society. I reverse engineered Frostpunk in Challenge Activity Three as a narrative prototype, but the artwork also informs the narrative.
The Frostpunk art team shared concept art and initial sketches in an official artbook available to purchase with the game. The art director and team created a dark, cold and lonely atmosphere. “It all started with it, with a hole. Hole in the middle of the frozen world” (Frostpunk Digital Artbook on Steam 2020). “One of the earliest concepts of our hole, a great ice crater. Almost perfectly round edge was crucial to us. We’ve seen it as a very unique visual aspect, easy to remember & recall by players” (Frostpunk Digital Artbook on Steam 2020). The hole is a narrative device in the game. The hole offers some protection from a frozen wasteland’s harsh conditions but makes leaving harder.
While playing Frostpunk, you are asked to make a series of choices, that all have consequences for your people; those consequences are shown in your town’s decay. The decisions, “the paths you choose as well as the overall condition of your society… sink into the walls of New London to Shape it’s character” (Frostpunk Digital Artbook on Steam 2020).
What makes Frostpunk so atmospheric, so in-depth and so memorable – it’s human-centred. “First and foremost… it is a game about people and what they are capable of when pushed to the limit. This human-centered approach has kept us going since ‘This War of Mine’, but while that game was about individuals, here we wanted to explore it on a grander scale of a whole society” (Frostpunk Digital Artbook on Steam 2020). And your adversary in Frostpunk isn’t a palpable human being that you can fight and destroy, your main adversary is the cold (Frostpunk Digital Artbook on Steam 2020).
On a side note, if I had unlimited resources, money, people and time, I would create 4X strategy games with educational value and emotional intelligence. Other indie games tackling 4X based loosely on mythology include Northguard (2017), Thea The Awakening (2015) and Thea 2: The Awakening (2019) and many more. Thea The Awakening and Thea 2 The Awakening is based on Slavic mythology, which is absolutely fascinating and Northguard more loosely on Norse mythology.
The 2D and 3D artstyle techniques.
Supergiant Games, an indie games studio from San Francisco, are open about the development of Hades. Hades was released in 2018 as an early access game and then officially launched in September 2020.
“We designed Hades as an Early Access game from the ground up. Our foremost goal was to see if we could create something great in partnership with our community — a game that was true to our values about design, worldbuilding, and storytelling, and could naturally evolve based on the feedback we’d get along the way. Every aspect of the game, from its modular structure to its approach to narrative, flowed from this idea” (Supergiant Games 2018).
In keeping with that partnership, the team at Supergiant games have made a series of videos on how they developed Hades, a huge hit that came after successful games Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. The art style for Hades is a combination of 2D and 3D elements. The environment is all 2D painted, with some 3D special effects. ‘How Supergiant Games Create Music & Art – Developing Hell’ (2019) and ‘Inside Hades – 3D Modeling & Rigging’ (2020) look at the development of the art and character design.
Paige Carter, 3D artist describes the process of taking 2D concept art, converting that into 3D models. Colour blocks are added on separate layers matching the 2D art. “After all of the base colors are there I put a black line art layer on top of everything and go in and hand paint all of the black lifework to try and match the 2D look of the character as much as possible” (Carter 2020). She explains that the line work is one of her favourite parts because it brings the models to life. After the 3D model is built it’s transferred to the animation team where it is transformed into the beautiful 2D game we see before us.
Little Misfortune (2019)
Is the gaming community open to story telling games, focused on emotions?
Little Misfortune “is an interactive story, focused on exploration and characters, both sweet and dark, where your choices have consequences” (Killmonday 2019).
You play as an unlucky little girl, unloved and misfortuned. Everything you touch appears to go wrong, and the Killmonday team play on your expectations, your sick sense of humour and our desire to find “eternal happiness” (Little Misfortune 2019).
“I realized that people around the world are willing to open up, to be part of the play in many different ways, and I, as a game designer, want to connect with the person playing on an emotional level” (Martinsson 2019).
The world you inhabit is disturbing, people walk around with masks that have plastered on emotions so they can hide their own expression underneath them. “A game that has been openly proclaimed to have been created with a focus on emotional intelligence, along with the intent of inducing the player to become more aware of their emotions, is the game”(Samuelsson 2020). “As the game design process aligns to the player’s emotional needs and preferences, it allows for a deeper and more dynamic gaming experience” (Samuelsson 2020). The success of this emotionally dark game speaks for the question, is the gaming community open to storytelling games focused on emotions?
When the Past was around (2020)
Can a small games studio focused on art over programming find success?
Mokijen Studio’s focus on the work of the artist over the programmer, offering a fresh take on gameplay. When the past was around is a point-and-click puzzle game about love and loss. The art, illustration and animation are the best parts of this game. The theme is bittersweet and the style of illustration, soft and muted compliments the gameplay. The hand-drawn style adds a personal touch. The game is beautiful.
The team at Mojiken Studio and artist Brigitta Rena were kind enough to share some of their early concept sketches and thought process behind When The Past Was Around.
“To bring out a melancholic atmosphere, we took some architectural references from Surabaya “Kota Tua” district. “Kota Tua” literally means old city. Also, we use lots of Indonesian-Dutch Colonial ornamental and architectural influences” (Brigetta Rena 2020).
Straight away you sense loss, as you play through a series of puzzles you discover more about when the past was around. The musical puzzles in particular offer something special. The theme of music plays beautifully as a metaphor for connection and loss.
When the Past was around has received favourable reviews since it was first released in September 2020.
List of figures
Figure 1. Nyamyam Games. 2019. A comedy written in the stars [screenshot]. Available at: https://www.astrologaster.com/ [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 2. Tom LEMMENS, Wikipedia creative commons. 2013. Body fluids [PNG]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humorism#/media/File:Humorism.svg [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 3. Frostpunk: Digital Artbook. 2019. No title. [artbook] Available at: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1103840/Frostpunk_Digital_Artbook/ [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 4. Frostpunk: Digital Artbook. 2019. No title. [artbook] Available at: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1103840/Frostpunk_Digital_Artbook/ [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 5. Frostpunk: Digital Artbook. 2019. No title. [artbook] Available at: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1103840/Frostpunk_Digital_Artbook/ [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 6. Supergiant Games. 2019. Hades Launch. [wallpaper] Available at: https://www.supergiantgames.com/games/hades/ [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 7. Supergiant Games. 2019. Hades Aug19 04. [wallpaper] Available at: https://www.supergiantgames.com/games/hades/ [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 8. Killmonday. 2019. Little Misfortune. [poster] Available at: https://www.littlemisfortune.com/ [accessed 1 December 2020].
Figure 9. Brigitta RENA. 2020. No title. [paper, pencil]. [online]. Available at: https://mojikenstudio.com/ [Accessed 27 September 2020].
Figure 10. Brigitta RENA. 2020. No title. [paper, pencil]. [online]. Available at: https://mojikenstudio.com/ [Accessed 27 September 2020].
Fig 11. Mokijen Studios. 2020. No Title [poster]. [online]. Available at: https://mojikenstudio.com/ [Accessed 27 September 2020].
Astrologaster. 2019. Nyamnyam.
Astrologaster A Comedy Written in the Stars. Available at: https://www.astrologaster.com [accessed 18 December 2020].
CARTER, Paige. 2020. Inside Hades – 3D Modeling & Rigging [Documentary]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYJ6d1ifSqA [accessed 22 December 2020].
Frostpunk. 2018. 11 Bit Studios.
‘Frostpunk Digital Artbook on Steam’. 2020. [online]. Available at: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1103840/ [accessed 18 Dec 2020].
Hades. 2020. Supergiant games.
Kickstarter. (n.d.). Strange Sickness. [online] Available at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/commonprofytgames/strange-sickness [Accessed 26 Nov. 2020].
Killmonday Games. 2020. ‘Little Misfortune’. KILLMONDAY GAMES [online]. Available at: https://www.littlemisfortune.com/ [accessed 18 December 2020].
Little Misfortune. 2019. Killmonday Games.
MARTINSSON, Natalia. 2019. ‘The Intention of Video Games’. KILLMONDAY GAMES [online]. Available at: https://www.killmondaygames.com/2019/07/25/the-intension-of-video-games/ [accessed 18 December 2020].
Mojiken Studio. Available at: https://mojikenstudio.com/ [accessed 18 December 2020].
MuHa Games. Available at: http://muhagames.com/ [accessed 18 December 2020].
NoClip. 2019. How Supergiant Games Create Music & Art – Developing Hell #03 [Documentary]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQPk9J7spw0 [accessed 22 December 2020].
Northguard. 2017. Shiro games.
SAMUELSSON Elsa. 2020. ‘Emotional Intelligence in Games’. KILLMONDAY GAMES [online]. Available at: https://www.killmondaygames.com/2020/08/21/emotional-intelligence-in-games/ [accessed 18 December 2020].
Shiro Games. 2020 [online]. Available at: https://shirogames.com/ [accessed 18 December 2020].
‘Strange Sickness’. 2020. Kickstarter [online]. Available at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/commonprofytgames/strange-sickness [accessed 18 December 2020].
Supergiant Games. Available at: https://www.supergiantgames.com/team/ [accessed 18 December 2020].
Thea The Awakening. 2015. MuHa Games, MuHa Games Monster Couch.
Thea 2: The Awakening. 2019. MuHa Games Erie Forest Studio, MuHa Games.
This War of Mine. 2014. 11 Bit Studios Crunching Koala’s, 11 Bit Studios.
When the Past was Around. 2020. Mokijen Studios.