Dear Synergy

Every so often, you come across different things that works together in a wonderful unison. Synergy. For me, one of these moments have been happening over the last 6 months, as part of my game studies on ITU, as part of the course “Game Development”. Yesterday, the point of it all concluded with a great experience that – personally – assured me that I was right in feeling that specific synergy.

Having earlier thrown aside my mantle of being a “techie”, it was time to dedicate this course fully to being a game designer. I did, with my main starting to work with the story, the setting and the characters within. Naturally, this was not something I did entirely by myself, as the group had agreed on the basic premise, and I worked closely with our prime art-worker for developing and polishing on the characters and setting (and just like that, another wild piece of synergy appears – and was very effective). With all that settled, my branch of the synergy started: Level design. And this was truly brilliant. Having creative control over both the setting and story to form the style for the levels of a game proved to make it incredibly an fun and exiting experience. Now, I have yet to know how it all turned out in the end, as the final exam is still within the close time-frame of 1 to 2 weeks.

I could spend pages writing on specific details as to why that specific synergy of level design and story development was great in this case, but seeing as it would require me to spend even longer on explaining the game itself (you can, however, get a early glance at some very early stuff here and here), I will simply leave it up as a good point, and instead look at how I was assured.

Yesterday, I finally got around to “playing” a “game” I have had my eyes upon for a while: Dear Esther. The use of quotes here is very deliberately done on purpose, as I wasn’t as much playing as I was experiencing, nor did it feel much like a game, as it did a … actually, I don’t know. It was art, it was a movie, it was … a sort of semi-interactive storytelling. Either way, I enjoyed it a lot, and found it to be beautiful, in all the ways my senses could grasp the word. It knew what it wanted, and how to do it. Now, this is also one of the reasons I don’t want to call it a game – because it wasn’t. There was, in truth, zero actual gameplay. I went from A to B, and I could steer off the road that was paved for me, but always had to get back to. Light sandbox exploring, if you will.

But, the thing that really made me glad, and enjoy all the little bits of the game, was when it clicked how much it related to what I had just spend my past months. The synergy between how the story was told, how open-ended and loose it was, combined with the breath-taking graphics and level design of the island the “game” takes place on was… I might as well say it: Perfect. I won’t spoil anything, but rather urge you to enjoy the experience – it is cheaper than going to the cinema anyway, and should (hopefully) give you more than the average 2 hours of enjoyment, especially if you feel like going through it again, and trying to explore more throughout, spotting all the little subtle details, forebodings and ponder at how exactly to perceive it all.

I suppose it’s best explained by viewing the trailer of the game, as it was what caught me in the first place. It can be found here: Click!

Looking back to the game we did and to explain the whole reason why I was so glad about the realization, was when the narrative started rolling. I realized that we had done the same thing in our game, more or less. That is, add in spoken text (with written text on-screen), to help the player along and act as a passive guide throughout the game. Granted, the narrative here isn’t really guiding as much as simply telling, but fact is that the style is the exact same. Maybe this connection was why I was glad, maybe it was the fact that it worked really well for the immersion – or maybe I just found it great.

As a final comment, I naturally realize that the kind of synergy described here also works other ways. With the “Dear Esther” example, the other prime candidate that stands out is “Sound/Music”. I am also sure that the same can be said in general about game mechanics, and potential other aspects. However, as I haven’t worked with that synergy (and had the exact same successful feeling in the same way), the focus remains on this. If anything: game design is game design.

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