Design stream.

Michaël Samyn, June 5, 2012

The following is a stream of consciousness written down on my tablet as I am trying to solve a design problem I was having with Bientôt l’été. I do this regularly throughout the production process. Sometimes for concrete programming issues, sometimes for aesthetic questions, and sometimes for design problems. After the problem is solved, I erase these streams -they are usually written down in a wiki, often as part of my to do list.

I’m not sure if this will make a lot of sense to anyone who hasn’t played the game in its current form. So here’s a short description of the relevant activity.

Currently, in the game, the sea waves drop items on the beach. Most of these are quotes from Duras novels (called “Thoughts” in the game) and some are small objects (called “Things” in the game, some come straight from Vanitas, others are chess pieces, and there’s a flower, and I had plans for shells, pebbles, etc). You can collect each of these items by standing close to it and closing your eyes for a few seconds, during which time the item is shown large on screen and becomes clearer (considered to be “focusing”). Then the items are stored in an inventory that you can see any time you close your eyes: Things on the left, Thoughts on the right. You can collect 16 of each (the number of pieces needed by one player for chess) When you enter the café, the Things fall into a drawer on the left side of the table and the Thoughts appear as buttons. You can click a Thought button to speak the phrase and you can drag the Things onto the table.
Every time you exit the café an “Apparition” can be found somewhere outside. This is an object or environment feature that just stands there, in complete isolation. When you walk up to it, you can collect an item from it that you cannot find anywhere else. After you do, the Apparition disappears. There is only ever a single apparition per exterior play session.

Bientôt design issue

Good:
Interior
Beach
Characters
Waves
Sea drops items on beach
Gulls
Cyberspace
Closing eyes
Thoughts
Things

Neither here nor there:
Control of the avatar

Bad:
Collecting
Inventory

Collecting becomes about the activity, not about the item that is being collected. This item is the content of the game. The most important thing. What the game is about. The words of Duras. Love. Difficult love. Loneliness.

We need those words and objects in the café.
But players should not just fill their pockets. They should consider carefully which they want to bring.

Is sixteen too many?

The current interface invites to close the eyes to really see an object. As they are hard too see in the world. But when you do this, you are already collecting.

Do we require an extra action to effectively collect the focused item? Almost like a “like” button.

We could instead focus the closest item automatically when standing still. And then you simply blink to collect it. Bit like eating. But that’s ok. Visually translucent overlays might work great with the texts. But showing the objects in the middle of the screen, over the avatar will look weird. Unless maybe very faint?

Are Things and Thoughts collected differently?

Careful choosing only applies to the texts. The objects are fairly random and don’t even require focus.

Can we allow the character to go pick up an object independently when the player “lets go”? Though less directed as in The Path. More as part of idle behavior.
(though many players may want to do this on purpose)

Focused text would be shown larger.
Can we increase the size of the in-game object, surreal-wise?
You might be standing too close to it to see, though.

Unless we change the camera.
More independent from the character.
The camera could fly up and look down. Would make the text readable. But the object is too small.

Or we remove the Things and have only Thoughts.
But playing with Things in interior is fun.
Is that enough though? Given that the game would become clearer, more extreme and easier with only text.
Things allow for chess to happen. As if anyone will do that. Maybe that could be a separate game. Or an extra multiplayer mode. Chess pieces could already be set up.
Can’t we do this in optional DLC?

Think of Jeff Noon’s fog catchers: carefully plucking vague texts from the winds.

I have to remove the collecting activity. It is too easy to interpret it as a typical play activity, which will ruin the mood for people with gamer reflex.
Maybe it’s more like an accumulation of impressions. And it happens automatically. The words fill your head. Maybe they’re not even arranged neatly. Just a jumble of texts that are only sorted out at the café table.
As for the objects, maybe there is only ever one per session. Maybe only the Apparition objects. And there’s 16 Apparitions. These could be collected through “let go”. And you never lose them. Maybe they are chess pieces.
And you still need to go walk at the sea shore to let the wind fill your head with thoughts. Maybe these thoughts literally stick on the screen and even obscure your vision. Or at least the borders of the screen.
Get rid of the inventory. You only see your collection in the café.

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