In this post I would like to turn my attention to a game developer named Connor Sherlock, who has made three games that I’d like to write about. Each game struck me differently.
Created in 2-3 days for the #IndiE3Jam, Sanctuary is difficult to play. The mood is heightened by some interesting music, and I must say, the lomographic visuals are very striking. However, it’s an odd game. And like I said, it is difficult to play. Rather than talk about the gameplay, I will instead focus on the mechanics.
Sanctuary is a first-person explorer, and begins suddenly with you in the midst of a natural scene, surrounded by trees and flowers, with a cloudy sky above you. But there’s a very odd quality to this game: the visual field of your character is low-sitting (as if you were a small animal) and skewed at the periphery. So what this entails is a clear field of vision toward whatever you are looking, straight ahead. However, above and below this field – as well as to each side – is blurry. If this was intentional, I found this feature to be very distracting.
Conceptually I am open to experimentation on the topic of visual obstruction. I think this may provide some truly fascinating scenarios and mechanics. Naturally, for an obstruction to be deemed necessary, there has to be an explanation for its existence, for it is normative to be able to see what you are looking at. I can see without any aid. My eyes work properly. This is normative. If I cannot see, I must get corrective lenses or contacts. This is not normative. In the same way, there must be some reason for obstructing the vision of the player. Don’t get me wrong: I am all for it! I just think it is unthoughtful and in poor form to implement something like this without a reason.
On to other things: I rather enjoyed the atmosphere of this world, and after playing through three of Sherlock’s games, I think this is one of his strongest attributes across the board. Sanctuary is surreal. It is conceptually staggering, and I like that. I like that a lot.
One peculiar feature of the game is the low-sitting nature of your perspective. What is this about? Are you playing as a small dog, or as a rabbit? How about a cockroach? The perspective feels extremely awkward and really unlike anything I’ve ever played before (not in a good way).
But perhaps this and the visual obstructions are the result of the same lagging graphical issues, with the game being in his words, poorly optimized.
The second game to be discussed is CONDOR, and what a different game this is. CONDOR is dystopian and futurist, and feels like an homage to the world of Blade Runner. Everything is neon and pastel. Building are grafted into the world with minimalist aesthetic. It’s beautiful. The world here is huge (read: HUGE) and you truly feel its immensity throughout the entire game.
But I have some criticisms.
In the first place, the world feels empty. Granted, this may be the intent of Sherlock. Certainly the game’s objectives and its mechanics treat the world more like a desolate mountain to traverse. But with such a magnificent display, why not entertain there being more? Why not emulate life and interaction, even if these things only serve as foils to your attempts at jetpacking up to the highest point of the skyline. It just seems so wasteful; to construct something so beautiful, but to leave it so barren.
My second criticism turns to the subject of atmosphere. While there is this minimalist architecture all around you, beautiful and brazen, it is merely monolithic. It serves no purpose but to engage the sport mechanic at work here. The music is likewise very disappointing. There is exceptional possibility here. But alas, only a simple, droning soundtrack serves as a backdrop to this beautiful urban cityscape. As a composer, I cannot help but imagine some of the ideas that could emphasize the qualities of CONDOR.
But let’s end on a good note. I think that CONDOR is beautiful, and I think it is interesting. And for these reasons, I will keep the game on my hard drive. I will play it again, years from now, perhaps, and it will be exciting.
Short for The Rapture is Here and You Will Be Forcibly Removed from Your Home, TRIHAYWBFRFYH is a game that will stay with me forever.
Upon launching the game, you are immediately standing in a flowing meadow. A lush synth soundtrack begins to set the mood. And as it does, there is a nagging sense that this place is terrible and it is beautiful; it is weary and hopeless, an entire world in front of you but not a soul in sight; it is loneliness.
TRIHAYWBFRFYH does a fine job of a couple of things. In the first place, the game leaves you with a real, original, and lasting impression – something so few games are capable of, and even fewer could accomplish in such a short period of time. I have not – and foreseeably will not – forget this game. This impression is bolstered by its striking visuals and its lush scenes. There is blood red fields of grass, then moving into golden hues, and blanched orange. There are trees, cabins, and fog littering this world of impending doom. One distracting feature of TRIHAYWBFRFYH is the way in which, sometimes, the draw distance of the graphics just appears out of nowhere. Who knows the reason, but I thought it worth mentioning, given that it took me out of the experience at times.
It is also worth mentioning how impressive the soundtrack was. Not only did it aid the immersion of player into the story and world created, but it heightened everything significantly. Warm synth lines, freckled with the occasional tom hit, and warble-y leads that demonstrate other-wordly essences: all of these elements perfectly emphasize the narrative trajectory of the game.
The final thing Sherlock did so well is to craft a world and experience that left the player feeling complete and utter loneliness. How did he do this, you might ask? Well, through a careful literary penetration of a selection of the works of H. P. Lovecraft. In TRIHAYWBFRFYH, Sherlock is less interested in exploring the horror of the author’s pedigree, but rather the loneliness of the author’s works. In his own words: “Feeling lonely in first person games was very cathartic to me growing up, so I’m trying to recreate the feeling as acutely as I can.”
And recreate them he did. I can empathize with the catharsis of feeling loneliness in first person games, especially when those games are comprised either of worlds absent of others (think Myst) or chalk-full of baddies or friends to mindlessly shoot (think Halo or perhaps any FPS on Steam).
Using Lovecraft to guide and nurture the mood, Sherlock established dialogue points (as we’ll call them) throughout the game, where passages of Lovecraft’s stories are narrated by various voices (some very good, by the way, Sherlock). Each passage hits at the feeling of loneliness perfectly. Each passage moves the narrative forward in a very abstract way. The effect is unmistakable, and this is most certainly TRIHAYWBFRFYH‘s greatest strength.
I will leave you with this passage from Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space:
When they looked back toward the valley and the distant Gardner place at the bottom they saw a fearsome sight. At the farm was shining with the hideous unknown blend of color; trees, buildings, and even such grass and herbage as had not been wholly changed to lethal grey brittleness. The boughs were all straining skyward, tipped with tongues of foul flame, and lambent tricklings of the same monstrous fire were creeping about the ridgepoles of the house, barn and sheds. It was a scene from a vision of Fuseli, and over all the rest reigned that riot of luminous amorphousness, that alien and undimensioned rainbow of cryptic poison from the well—seething, feeling, lapping, reaching, scintillating, straining, and malignly bubbling in its cosmic and unrecognizable chromaticism.
Then without warning the hideous thing shot vertically up toward the sky like a rocket or meteor, leaving behind no trail and disappearing through a round and curiously regular hole in the clouds before any man could gasp or cry out.
I recommend buying the soundtrack for a mere four dollars.