GDC 2009

GDC 2009: Mind = Blown: Experimental Gameplay

Emily Balistrieri | 3 Apr 2009 15:10
GDC 2009 - RSS 2.0

Next up was probably one of the most exciting, head exploding games of the whole 2.5 hours, especially if you're an RTS fan. Chris Hazard unveiled the fruit of his team's past decade, Achron, a strategy game where time is just as navigable as any other terrain. Using chrono-energy (which recharges in the present) players can jump forward or backward to, for instance, build units with resources that are still being collected and then fight with them at a major battle long past.

An example: in one match, Player 1 had a mining camp that was attacked by Player 2, but Player 1 went back in time to stop him. Player 2 zoomed ahead to the future to discover nuclear bombs and was able to drop a nuke, but then Player 1 went back again to quickly erase the fact that his troops were at the mine, and even that the mine was there at all, so Player 2 ended up nuking his own troops, a mishap from which he never recovered. Who doesn't want to play a crazy game like that? Favorite quote of the presentation: "This unit needs to go back in time to maintain causality." Sold!

Tyler Glail followed with his environmental puzzle game, Closure. "Dark levels" appear in many games. The darkness conceals information from the player, and is generally just used as a gimmick to add some frustration to an otherwise normal area. Tyler's game takes the gimmick and turns it into a mechanic: the only part of the levels that exist are the parts where the light shines -- or at least the only part your avatar will collide with. It's lots of running around with keys and orbs of light, but the art style is sort of sketchy and engaging, and the soundtrack scales up and gets more interesting as you add more light to the scene. Plus, it seems very satisfying to jump through what would be a wall, if you could see it.

Where Is My Heart? Hopefully packed comfortably behind your sternum, but in Bernhard Schulenburg's game, you take a posse of three stackable monsters through a fractured world where hearts unlock boxes that eventually clear the way to a happy tree. It's a little hard to explain, to be honest, as space is discontinued in what Bernhard describes as a "comic panel effect;" sometimes just a normal little hop will land you all the way across the screen. The demo level would be fairly straightforward if it were just laid out end to end, but the splitting and rearranging causes it to be quite puzzling.

ROM Check Fail is puzzling in it's own right, but creator Farbs is experimenting with variation, not space. In his game instead of simply fighting a lot of stuff, you fight a lot of stuff as seven different characters randomly selected for mini-levels that come hurtling at you in a blast of retro mash-up graphics and sound. Shmups that take place in a top-down racing game, the first level of Super Mario Bros. as a Space Invaders turret, and other equally jarring oppositions abound. He recommends that designers think about how anticipating change can play a big role in setting the pace of your game.

Derek Yu finished off the massive presentation with a cruise through a handful of Roguelikes, a genre of games based on the hardcoreness of the randomly-generated dungeon exploration title, Rogue (1980), where death had "extreme consequences," i.e. no 1-Ups, no continues. The experimental part of all this came in with his game Spelunky, which combines an Indiana Jones-ish platformer (grabbing treasure, saving ladies) with the severity and emotional engagement of a Roguelike. The cute graphics make it more accessible than the traditional ASCII art of most in the genre, and the fast, familiar play style means things really move along, compared to the turn-based adventures. "We usually think death is a bad thing because for most living human beings, it is," but death can be fun, too, and the random generation reduces the annoyance you get in repeating the same level over and over.

The session ended and we were off to find some dinner to digest with all the amazing concepts explored that afternoon. If you were looking for a way to get excited about the future of videogames, this was definitely the panel to attend.

Comments on