Franz Kafka Rolls In His Grave

December 4, 2009

Two new games today, and thoughts on one I’ve already posted.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve rapidly made two games based on stories by Franz Kafka: Before the Law and Give It Up!, both of which were written and designed over 48 hour stretches, with only the latter taking additional time thanks to my own ineptitude as a programmer. Don’t ask me why I’ve suddenly taking to adapting the works of the famously bleak visionary, but there’s just something about the world he puts together that practically begs to be rendered interactive.

No matter how confounding and nightmarish, his stories seem to exist according to a certain set of rules, and even though those rules are often stacked against the favor of his protagonists, one cannot help but recognize the logic within them. Perhaps it’s anathema, attempting to succeed where his characters always failed, but for me it’s almost a kind of philosophical thinking exercise. I hope to do more of these, and maybe cover some of the big stories.

Now, about Dimensions: This is a game that, as I mentioned earlier, played for a while at the Indie Arcade over at Silent Barn in Brooklyn. It’s a game I had originally conceived a year ago, around the stereoscopic 3D rules for the Kokoromi Collective‘s Gamma 3D. Unfortunately I wasn’t well versed enough in Flash at that point to put it together myself, so when the time for Gamma 4 started getting closer I decided to finally build it as a means of testing myself for rapid game creation. It was a great relief to finally see the rules and world I’d envisioned a year ago come to life in some fashion, and as such it’s a game I plan to return to over time.

What I was surprised by, however, as I made the game was how quickly it turned into something I hadn’t quite anticipated. See, originally I’d thought about this game in broad strokes, thinking it’d be cool to have a platformer in which your sprite interacted with different dimensions, passing through alien objects from a plane of existence foreign to their own. The red-and-blue design constraint felt perfect for this concept in terms of gameplay, theme and also aesthetics, allowing me to indulge in some nicely retro Virtual Boy-ish graphics.

Paired with the wrapping-level mechanics I’d already explored in Limbo, I figured this would be a nice, quick warm-up and a fun little ditty, but not much else. By the time I started outlining and building the game in earnest, though, this simple dimensional-platformer had turned into something more, and something I’ve long held an appreciation for as a player and designer: an escort-mission.

Without going into too much detail (for those of you who might actually play the game, hypothetically) I find it an interesting concept to employ this type of mechanic while crossing the dimensional divide. What does it mean to lead a character besides your own, to extend your agency to an entity which is not entirely “other”? Does leading your doppelganger across the wastelands of time and space count as an escort-mission in the same way as leading a complete stranger? It’s the sort of thing that shoots me off into a mood of revery– if shadows have minds of their own, as Peter Pan’s did whenever he left the temporal pause-state of Never NeverLand, then does every moment of your life become an escort mission, of a sort? Do we best protect ourselves by thinking in the third-person, instead of simply looking out for number one?

Perhaps it’s best not to self-interpret. I have no idea what anything I’ve done means, when you get right down to it. All I’m interested in at this point is making sure it’s interesting enough for others to be curious about what it means. And for the time being, that’s where I’m going to leave it. Until next time, pleasant dreamers, don’t let the bed bugs bite (unless you wind up turning into one yourself)…

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