Meditative Games

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by Dylan McCall, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. Dylan McCall

    Dylan McCall New Member

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    First off... Hello! I've been lurking without an account for a while, and this is definitely a great community here. Tons of successful, smart people... I'm sure I can learn a lot from you guys.

    So I have the very early stuff here for a 3d strategy game that plays a bit like the board game Go in terms of its deceptive simplicity and its slow pace.

    Early into my toying with it, I have noticed that the game could definitely be considered a bit boring; it is a turn-based strategy game and thus it has a slow paced feel. No real exciting / big effects; the most "exciting" thing that happens here is (hopefully) the occasional hole being blasted through a platform, which is more a strategy thing than an eye candy thing. Doing something like that requires planning and a bit of thinking beforehand by the player, so considering it's practically the only fancy sparkly effect happening, it's not much. The game will look nice in the end (it does in my head, anyway, as they do!) but I digress: I'm really more thinking about movement stuff at the moment.
    The whole game works a lot like a board game. It is pulled very far back to the point that every object in the game can be safely represented by a cube until I get some decent artwork. (Though, since it is entirely physics-based, it couldn't be a real board game). It's all just markers and one single command. Much like Go, but with multiple boards, no grid and a big focus on equilibrium.

    Eye candy definitely doesn't hold up excitement here (I'm probably the only person in the world who can be preoccupied for 5 minutes observing a specular map), and since the game is turn based there isn't really a speed thing either. I've noticed with lots of puzzle games, even, that much of the excitement / fun is achieved by fast moving objects, darting obstacles and flashy particle effects to keep the player's attention. A curious trick, but it works!
    In my game's case, this seems quite impossible. (Woah, I'm drifting away here...)

    Okay, to my point!
    A while ago I was playing about with Nintendo's Electroplankton, and I found it fascinating. I was especially grabbed by the section with leaves and water (#2), and the orangey one with little eggs that grow and eventually pop. They were both slow-paced, but in the end always generated startling music through magical means.

    My game has always been abstract, meditative and 'spaced out' ("that guy must be on drugs" sort of thing) in terms of its underlying design. It's all about balance; and I claim that it is all a metaphor for human civilization, life, God and the universe.
    Anyhow, I was recently inspired by Electroplankton's 'feel' and now I am thinking of going all the way with that sort of meditative, ambient experience in my creation. The complete boredom ("No, you have to use your noggin`, that's the point!") sort of thing probably doesn't have a huge audience - and it's worth noting that thinking games like Chess and Go are popular because they are very old and perfectly executed traditions, which mine certainly is neither of. Ambient music, however, does have an audience... so how about ambient games?

    To start off, I am looking at procedural sound like in Electroplankton to keep people from getting totally sick of music repeating itself, to keep me from paying for piles of ambient music, and most importantly to integrate the music into the unified wholeness of the game.
    Not totally procedural, but tiny bits of sound that are all generated based on the situations of certain things in the game. These would be on events like collisions (as in the #2 scene in Electroplankton), and there would be some sort of ambient background sound occurring when things aren't bouncing around (during that whole 'thinking' part) generated by each individual object (of course using different kinds of sounds, and a script / equation of some sort to get them all on queue).
    The fact that the whole scene is free-moving makes this possible :)


    Anyway, that's one bit of thought, but I need that sort of feeling throughout and I bet the idea of meditative game design is not uncommon -- it's just that I haven't appreciated it until now.

    What games have you seen that have a molasses slow pace yet stay interesting, immersive and amusing?


    With a turn based game, I'd say my worst enemy is the pause between 5 second action sequences. (I'm exaggerating the "thinking time" here, as each turn really only has one move but that one move can often cost or gain a lot, so there is no telling how long a move can take with more complex situations against actual intelligent humans or hopefully smart AI).
    This thinking break can't get away with much movement outside of the UI, and I'm kind of trying to do away with the UI anyway... The player pretty much only has 2 buttons to play with bouncing in and out of the screen for the whole time, which isn't much interaction after 50 repetitions of it.
    Interesting cameras and dynamic skies spring to mind to make it interesting, as well as the integrated music, but there is still that depressing, distracting stillness where what was a smoothly moving, flowing world has ceased to move. "Still" doesn't even happen, because it isn't still; it's just paused. Artificially stopped with no logical explanation. "Still" has a more positive connotation where you can feel a peace, with the birds tweeting in the background... with a pause, though, the player will just be hearing the hum of his monitor and the fact that he is indoors, sitting in a chair in front of a computer. Hard to forget that bit, but it's nice when the depressing "where the heck am I?!" part is forgotten.
    ...And then there's the poor player who's waiting on the other end!

    Have you seen anything or thought of anything that tries to solve this issue? Music helps a fraction of it, but it seems not enough because since the objects are unmoving... the music is also pretty still unless I opt for longer samples to generate the ambient sound. For the full thing, there must be movement in some way at all times or else the flow of it all is disturbed.


    Erm... Ponderings?
    Links, stuff like "Flow"... would also be cool.



    Thanks in advance!
     
    #1 Dylan McCall, Jan 12, 2007
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2007
  2. zoombapup

    Moderator Original Member

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    I always really liked the music and background feeling of Homeworld, that game really felt "gloopy" which was an interesting departure for a space rts game.

    Try having a look at defcon too.. That has some of the ambient feeling you are talking about.

    I think, a large part of what you want, is indicated by the environment and as you say the music. So why keep the environment static? Make some incidental animation that has NOTHING to do with the game.

    Making the game more abstract might also work. I.e. for the game peices, go for some kind of stylised geometric primitives. Have those primitivies slowly ambiently morph shape every now and then while the turn is paused (but keep it all animating).

    An interesting post, I'd be important to see what the game works like to really offer any suggestions.
     
  3. David De Candia

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    I really liked this post.

    I'm thinking that you should try a test release minus music and minus filler animation. Keep it Zen; keep it Spartan and see if the game stands on its own feet.

    If you need a tester, I'm interested.
     
  4. sound app

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    I wouldn't say Fairies is slow, it can be very tense at moments, but it certainly deals with a very strong, peaceful and immersive feeling, beautiful graphics and smoothing soundtrack/sfx. The gameplay also add to the overall feel. You should check it out as I believe it's a good example of a captivating yet un-aggressive game which tries (and succeed imho) to propose a package that's appealing and tantalising.
     
  5. trompkins

    trompkins New Member

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    UnReal World springs to mind. I used to waste hours on this little bleeder.

    As for the 'ambient gaming' thing, I'd say Knytt deserves at least an honorable mention. It may be a platformer, a genre which isn't usually associated with anything remotely zen-like, but this is just a brilliantly atmospheric sightseeing stroll of sorts. Plus it transports me to days long gone, when I used to draw a huge-ass maps inspired by Shadow of the Beast and the like... Oh, and the audio is also most excellent, both the ambience and the jingles. The only downside is that one can beat it in about half an hour... Oh well. I did that five times already, I think.

    Oh, right, I forgot about Total Chaos. Remake of one of my favourite games ever. Quite epic, too.
     
  6. Christian

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    You know, i think that you are trying to save the game with nice visuals, i think it would be better to simply make a better turn based game since i see that the challenge at the begining is non-existent, so i think that you must somehow increase tension a little, make the player be worried/challenged about something from the beginning, then you can mix the visuals and music on top of it. Civilization is a very slow game :)
     
  7. jefferytitan

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    I haven't played Electroplankton, however I got a definite mental picture based on ocean themes which may be a good metaphor for what you want.

    I envisioned the game starting as turbulent seas. At the beginning NOTHING is still. The turbulence (and music with that quality) indicates the work you have ahead of you. And then I started seeing that turbulence as possibilities for your next action, the game semi-randomly trying moves you could make and rewinding back to the current game state. And the music would represent how balanced those possible actions are. So you could actually learn to play the game simply by watching. A visual and musical way of seeing "These moves lead to balance and these do not". However it would require the game having a good knowledge of it's own state; knowing what balance IS and what partial moves might tell you something interesting about what balance is. Meaningful animation rather than a bird chirping every 10 seconds so you don't forget about it. ;)
     
  8. David De Candia

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    All the Infocom text adventures
     

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