A couple of weeks ago I bought Cibele by Nina Freeman and played through the game over the course of a few days. My reason for doing so was twofold: 1) The game looked neat and I wanted to play it; but more importantly, 2) It’s one of the only games similar to what I’m trying to make with my own game.
In the game you play as Nina, as you take control of her desktop computer and play through a voice-acted story experience where you fall in love with a boy in an MMO game.
You can peek through her personal files on her computer: opening and closing folders, looking through her email, checking out her Instagram. This provides some cool background information on Nina, as well as information that’s key to the story in the game.
Once you’re done looking through her desktop you can begin playing the MMO game. While doing so, Nina and Izzi begin voice-chatting and eventually fall in love.
Here’s a few things I learned from playing this game in regards to my own game:
- Keep the written passages in the game short: I wanted to read through everything in Cibele to get the complete experience, but reading through some of the longer passages felt tedious at times.
- Allow the player to jump between the desktop and the game at any time: Once you start playing the MMO game in Cibele, you can’t go back to the desktop without starting over again, which is annoying.
- Allow for more player action and choice; and make the player’s choices have consequences: The player doesn’t have much control over their actions and there are no choices to be made. This becomes even more apparent when you begin “playing” the MMO, which in turn results to just clicking on the screen while you listen to the voice acting.
Last week I watched a Ted talk of Will Wright talking about Spore from 2007, a year before the game was eventually released. I’ve never played Spore, but I remember my game dev professor mentioning a reading in our book discussing how Spore was a failure. I never found that reading, but after watching this Ted talk I came across a blog from Soren Johnson, a developer who worked on the game during Spore’s final 15 months of development.
He notes four main points within the blog:
- Don’t be afraid to challenge the initial vision
- Gameplay must support the theme
- The only prototype which matters is the game
- Team cohesion beats team quality
Johnson mentions how Spore was about two big ideas, powers of 10 and procedural content. Powers of 10 is a film in which the world zooms in by powers of 10 to the molecular level, and then zooms out to the entire universe. This was something that inspired Will Wright in making a game that would go from a single celled organism, to a creature, to a tribe, to a civilization, and finally to a space empire. The other idea was procedural generation, which is something that was relatively new for the time, but is now being fully explored with games such as No Man’s Sky. Johnson argues that only one of these ideas was any good, which was procedural generation, and this was the idea that should have been fully explored instead.
The problem with the powers of 10 idea, was that the developers were essentially trying to make 5 different games, which resulted in a shallow experience for each. He argues that it’s hard enough to make one game good, so making five games at one time is a bad idea. Each of the five game’s mechanics had to be considered in relation to one another, so it put the team in a constant state of compromise to make the games fit together.
This is definitely something to take note of, as my own games essentially consists of 2 separate games. The first one takes place on the desktop, where you can check your email, update your KickStarter, play games on Steam, and order pizza if you wish. The main part of the desktop section however is in creating your KickStarter game, where you open GameMaker and begin creating the levels and coding. The second game is in playing the game that you’ve just created, which is essentially an RPG. This section of the game is where the majority of the actual gameplay will take place.
So there’s the desktop game and the RPG game, essentially two separate games with two separate ideas. The one idea is being a game developer and creating your own game, while the other idea is a parody of an RPG game. The tricky part in designing the game developer part of the game is in deciding how much leeway I give to the player in designing their game. If I give too little then it will feel as if the player isn’t doing anything meaningful; if I give too much then the game, as I’ve designed it, will not be playable. There’s a balance between these two ideas, one that I’ll have to be weary of going forward.
This conflict of two separate games is where Cibele falls short. When we play games, we expect to have the ability to have meaningful control over our actions. With the MMO portion of Cibele, we are essentially clicking a screen as we listen to voice acting. This itself is fine, but when we go in with the expectations of playing an MMO game, we expect the ability to have meaningful control over our players. Nina’s game is a compromise between letting the player “play”, while also structuring a linear story for the player to experience. This is something that I need to pay attention to within my own game.