This was originally posted on tumblr on 30th August, 2014.
1 – The theme
The part of “Connecting Worlds” that interested me the most was not necessarily “Worlds”, but “Connecting”. It suggests liminality, something that exists between worlds but is not a part of either.* So my game, then, would be about being between, about being in a constant state of connecting – connecting being a present tense verb, so the title in a way suggests that sustained liminality. From there it wasn’t a difficult leap to “airport”; travel is one of the most obvious and popular forms of the liminal that we can all recognise.
“Connected” also suggests a relationship, not just the actual connection itself but what that connection represents to each part. Naturally I went for a very literal definition of “relationship” and decided to make the game about communication between partners. Texting was the best way of displaying information about the relationship to the player in an interactive way, and continuing with the idea of liminalities, the phone can be seen as something facilitating the relationship between the player and Sam without being in the relationship. I mean, obviously. That would be weird otherwise.
2 – Sam and Robin
One of the most interesting comments on the Ludum Dare page for Connecting came fromvctr_seleucos** who wrote:
“One last thing, it took me a long to realize the player is a boy, at first i think i was the gf xD Well, Sam is a weird name. Other avatars (more realistic) or names should fix it.”
The thing is, the player isn’t necessarily a boy, and Sam isn’t necessarily a girl. The same goes with Robin – both*** the named characters in the game are so called because Sam and Robin are gender-neutral names. As a result, the player is supposedly able to fill in these gaps if they choose to. It plays into the concept of not tying the player to any particular canon – something I brought up in my last journal entry.
I’m not saying vctr_seleucos is wrong for thinking Sam is a girl and the player is a boy. That’s their decision to make and forms one aspect of their personal relationship with the game, with the scenario that they helped form as much as they participated in it.
3 – Player as co-author
I think this is a good place from which to extrapolate the wider ways in which I wanted to play with the relationship between the player and the game. In a journal entry on LD I wrote:
“What this is an experiment (?) in is presenting the player with a situation without giving them prior information on it. The game is essentially asking the player to roll with the punches, to take in new information, use it to adjust their view of the scenario and make a response accordingly. You are essentially blagging your way through this dialogue tree.”
In doing this, I wanted to expand the possible paths that the story could take. By not providing a fixed context for the story, it let the player pick up any threads they wished without forcing them into a tell the truth/lie about everything binary. One unintended side effect of this is that people were happy to replay the game, to pick different options and create different stories as opposed to having the same story told again differently.
4 – Problems and improvements
There are a couple of things that I would have liked to have changed that I feel were within the scope of the jam.
The first is something that a couple of commenters have picked up on, which is that some of the endings feel incomplete. They’re meant to be ambiguous as part of the process by which the player fills in contextual information, but nevertheless there are a few paths where the conversation seems to just end. This is particularly true of the endings where Sam breaks up with you; the conversation ramps up the tension towards your reveal of your indiscretion, but after that there are only two or three bits of dialogue before the game just ends. On the one hand, it felt realistic as I was writing it – why prolong a conversation doomed to end badly? On the other hand, it serves the player no good because the for the player that conversation is the entirety of their experience within the relationship.
The second is more technical. When the player selects a response there’s a short pause of a couple of seconds before another message from Sam is received. Initially, I wanted the dialogue option that wasn’t picked to disappear so that there was a visual telegraph indicating which option had been picked. Alas, no matter what I tried, Game Maker offered no solution for me to destroy an object from within the event programming of another. There is, supposedly, a GML-based solution floating around various old support forums, but it never worked for me no matter how hard I tried.
5 – Future scope
A post Ludum Dare version of Connecting would work out those problems I mentioned above, as well as extending the whole scope of the game. Originally, the player was going to have parallel conversations with three people: Sam, Robin and another friend. The scenario would have been roughly the same, except because the player could talk to Robin there’s an opportunity for the player to establish what happened the previous night which would then act as extra context for the conversation with Sam – essentially determining whether you lie or not. Depending on where the conversation with each character went, the other conversations would make subtle shifts in tone or subject. Something else that Mallot1 suggested was having parts of the game take place on the plane, essentially adding another conversation. This would have the added benefit of allowing for better pacing in terms of the revelation (if you choose to have one) and the aftermath (should it follow).
nothke suggested adding in a countdown to correspond with the time until your flight leaves. This was also briefly part of the original scope, and would have helped provide a sense of time progression as well as story progression to the game. You also had the option to ignore message for half an hour or so, which would have consequences on the way the story went, and I’d like to have all of that in a polished, expanded release.
6 – Closing thoughts
This is going to seem very arrogant, but I really like my little game. It turned out better than I imagined, thanks in huge part to Sandy Gardner’s amazing artwork – thank you again! I’m overwhelmed by the response that the game has gotten – hell, the idea that people played it multiple times to see how many different paths they could take is arguably the biggest compliment I could have received. I’m immensely glad that I decided to do Ludum Dare**** and the positive, energetic atmosphere around the whole community has both inspired me to do more game development in the future*****, as well as acting as a welcome buffer against the awful month that the wider games community has had.
* I’ve written about liminality in literature before, which you can read here if you really want. But only if you really want to.
** vctr_seleucos made the platformer “Becky’s Adventure in Mirrorland” for LD30 which is, for my money, one of the more immediately enjoyable games I’ve played so far!
*** Okay I guess Grey is a named character as well, but that serves the purpose of one optional joke. For what it’s worth, I think Grey is a really cool, interesting name and Sam’s totally being an asshole.
**** I only found out there was another jam with about 2 hours to go before it started!
***** Yeah, this was my first game ever.