Understanding the Art of Hue

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As we know, color is subjective and our connection to a certain color varies by person to person and culture to culture. Pick any specific one and ask different people from all walks of life what that color means to them, each individual will have a different response each time. A set of colors can define positive, neutral and negative moods on a personal level as discussed in one of my previous essay about Pehesse’s Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire. There’s no statistic to define an emotion or mindset. The use of color expresses the state of mind more effectively. It all depends on the person’s life box package. In the case of Hue by Fiddlesticks Games, the protagonist is placed in a new position where he is rethinking his perception of what each color represents based on how his mother encourages him to rethink the world he thought he knew.

The story of Hue center focus on the titular character’s search for his mother (voiced by Anna Acton) who has mysteriously disappeared after an experiment has gone awry, throwing the world into a colorless scene. She is no longer visible as she cannot live in the monotone world. It is up to Hue to find each color to fill the ring she and the mysterious Dr. Grey made. Throughout Hue’s journey, the player sees his character development reshape from myopic minded to being able to see beyond his expectations. Upon accessing the game’s premise along with the character design, how the art direction is utilized and how the gameplay ties into the natural flow of the story, it is no wonder how Hue is another solid indie title that takes the art of games another step further in quality and heartfelt emotion.

Story Introduction

Upon starting a new game, the player sees Hue standing alone in a gray scaled setting. The background is different shades of the color with black blotches and the ground and above him is different variations of black. With a watercolor aesthetic and bright dots of lights varying in size, it appears almost dreamlike. Even though the setting displays a sense of lifelessness without color, there is also a sensation of surrealism. In addition, the way Hue himself is depicted adds to that sensation. His entire body outline is highlighted in white lines rather than his usual silhouetted design the player sees him drawn and animated as throughout the game indicating that this is a vision he is having. Moving forward, he comes across and envelope with a letter written by his mother.

“Dearest Hue,

Oh, I’ve had the most dreadful luck. I feel terrible that you’ve been left alone all this time. The traitorous Dr. Grey tried to steal the Annular Spectrum – a ring I developed to allow perception and alteration of colour. Some call them impossible colours. Hah! Impossible for Dr. Grey maybe. Anyway, something went wrong. I turned a strange shade and became invisible. The ring… it fractured, scattering coloured shards far and wide. I stayed home for many weeks, watching, waiting. Existing on this coloured plane, I couldn’t speak to you, nor interact with anything in the mono-world. So I left. I left for the University where I hid away the coloured tools I had created. I pray you have found what is left of the ring”.

After reading the letter, Hue comes across two mysterious characters. One of them is a woman sitting at a typewriter on one platform, who appears to be his mother. The other figure is one draped in robes and is seen traveling with a walking stick. The scene transitions into Hue’s bedroom where he is seen waking up from his dream. From there, the art approach differentiates itself from the dream sequence by depicting Hue with a solid color black and white lines highlighting his eyes. His neck tie, collar, hair style and outer lines are transparent as with the other characters. Once Hue climbs out of bed, the player sees the world he lives in and what his mother hopes he understands.

The outdoor setting is represented with shades of gray. However, in contrast to the use of gray to reflect a dreamlike quality as seen in Hue’s dream, the use of the color is painted as dreary and gloomy. This is to demonstrate the state of mind and perception Hue and the other characters are sharing. Stepping outside his house, clouds are above and some raindrops fall. A crow is right next to Hue’s house pecking at the ground, looking up when the protagonist is at the doorstep and takes flight when he passes his way. Hue runs towards the docks where he interacts with a man in a raincoat and hat, carrying a lantern. He tells him that the fisherman saw ‘something unusual’ close by the lighthouse and then talks about Hue’s mother and says he’s ‘sure she’ll be back’ though he ‘[hasn’t] seen her [himself]’. The man then comments on the weather and the poor condition the lighthouse is in. When Hue reaches the end of the dock, he finds a sky-blue piece of the ring. He picks it up and upon its inclusion, the pale gray sky turns into that same shade of blue, causing the rain to stop.

When Hue goes back the way he came, he finds another letter by his mother. The first one in the game’s reality. This one reads:

“Since the beginning, we have pointed to the sky and declared it blue. It is this shared vision, this unquestioned understanding that connects us. But are you really seeing blue the same way I see it? Perhaps blue is nothing more than a shade of grey to you. Perhaps everyone in this world sees nothing but shades of grey”. Don’t you see Hue? This… this is why we’re here”.

Upon reevaluating the information given to the player so far, they understand why Hue is a meaningful name. At this point, not much is known except that Hue’s mother’s experiment was intended to display alteration of color and perceptions of them. However, when the pieces of the ring were scattered, she faded into obscurity because she is unable to be seen in the myopic mono-world. The palette of the mono-world does not let one see beyond their usual perceptions, but rather rely on their own comprehensions and bias. Hue’s mother on the other hand is represented as an individual who sees beyond those expectations and therefore, encourages Hue to step out of his comfort level. The ring she created symbolizes that will to think of the world around them as not what it there, but what could be.

Hue’s name reflects her belief that there is more to life than the conventional expectations their society settles on and her hopes for her son to reach his full potential. The moment Hue finds the first piece of the ring and finds the letter is a step in his character development. His dream serves as a premonition that this ring is part of his legacy and discovering that first piece reshaped the way he sees the world he would normally wake up to. Once he embraces this new perception of the color, it opens his mind and vision. The further in his quest Hue delves into and the more of the missing pieces he finds, the more expansive his point of view becomes. This as a result influences the perception of the other characters such as the man in the raincoat and a miner trapped underground. As seen in the gameplay, this new skill also becomes beneficial for his survival when facing peril for when he enters the caves soon afterwards. Much like Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest, where the game’s protagonist further develops their skill set as part of character growth, the gameplay of Hue paints an image of a young boy who’s coming-of-age story stems from the skills he builds throughout his journey. In addition, Hue’s mother is similar to the playable character’s grandfather in ConcernedApe’s (Eric Barone) Stardew Valley  in that both these character encourage their loved ones to look beyond the monotonous way of life. They both leave them a letter. The protagonists read them when the redundancy of their shortsighted environments have left them wanting more than what is handed down to them. Moreover, because of their will to reject the common way of thinking, they both serve as the stimulation for the playable character to reconnect with their origins in hopes they become more than what they could be.

With all that’s been revealed this early on the story, Hue starts his explorations below the earth’s surface where each new discovery he makes guides his navigation. After rescuing the miner and traveling further into the caverns, Hue stumbles upon, yet another letter which perhaps describes the entire theme of the game. His mother describes how upon entering a cave, our expectations lead us to believe there is a waterfall inside and sure enough, there will be. However, if one enters the cave without expecting to find one, she asks “don’t you think instead, the cave will be full of surprises?”. She invites her son to set those expectations aside in order “[t]o pull [her] back from the brink of unreality” and concludes by saying that she “need[s] [him] to see the world not for what it is… but what it can be”. Thus both the beauties and dangers of the cave open up to Hue in ways he never imagined before and therefore, the player is welcomed to do the same based in what the gameplay and narrative have to offer.

How the Gameplay Harmonizes with the Story

With its unique gameplay mechanics, puzzle design and approach player reaction’s timing, each of these components tie into the theme of the story and the message Hue’s mother tries to get across. Upon discovering the blue shard of the ring, clearing the skies and helping the miner in the cave, Hue’s mind and perception gradually open up to other possibilities he had never been exposed to before.

With the color sky blue as his first color to guide him through his explorations below, anything that looks like an impossible obstacle to pass has a solution. If he looks in all the right places, he is bound to it. For example, when Hue is standing on a small bridge made up of bricks. Above him are a couple of boulders being held by a similar platform. The only object available for Hue to use to land safely is a wooden crate. When Hue uses the ring, one false move, he could either be crushed or stabbed to death. To make the scenario even more complex, there are more spikes above the crate. Hue works around the situation by simply dragging the crate to the safest position there is, climb and stand on top of it and select the matching color. This causes the boulders to fall on a platform and the crate hitting the spikes, breaking Hue’s fall. This gives him a chance to jump from the crate to the next platform safely.

After Hue walks through the next door, he then finds more platforms, all of which are blocked by sky blue colored brick columns. Hue uses the ring once again and alters his perception to find his way through in order to make it across.

Throughout the rest of the gameplay, Hue finds new ways he can use obstacles to his best advantage. Upon letting boulders fall, for instance, Hue can retreat to a safe spot as he blends the matching color. Once the boulders have fallen and/or rolled, he can use them as a means to get from one place to the next. There are times where the player will have to act fast and timing will play an important role for Hue to survive. Hue will have to run away from a ceaselessly rolling boulder while dodging other obstacles along the way. Moreover, when Hue finds another color, these types of challenges enable the players’ abilities to act quicker, which ultimately contributes to his growth as a character. With the more dangers lurking in the cave, there are moments where the player can make Hue jump in midair and temporarily decrease his motions. This offers the player a limited amount of reaction time to decide which color Hue is supposed to land on and what plane to find it. An example of such would be after he finds the next missing piece of the ring, which is a shade of purple. There is the first puzzle where Hue has to jump on a crate based on the correct matching color shade. Because sky blue and purple can’t exist on the same plane together, the player jumps Hue in midair and quickly assesses where he should land. If Hue jumps on a sky blue crate, the player uses the ring to briefly go into the monotone plane to locate where the purple crate is. By selecting purple while he is still idle on the sky blue one will immediately cause him to fall to his death and thus respawn. Upon measuring where Hue will land, the player would then have to make a jump from the sky blue crate, click to go into the monotone plane and as Hue is slowly falling, quickly make the selection.

The perils become significantly critical as Hue discovers another missing color deeper inside the caverns. When orange is added to the set, it takes each familiar peril up another level of difficulty, encouraging quicker reaction time. In these scenarios, one of which Hue is seen running from another landslide of boulders while avoiding spike pits and acting as quickly as possible when standing on color coated unstable blocks that begin to crumble.

With every new color added to the wheel and new perils Hue faces, the way the gameplay harmonizes with the narrative is that with each new means of solving puzzles the player learns, the more they are seeing from Hue’s point of view what his mother means when she says to suspend his expectations and see the world for what is could be. At a first glance, all Hue sees is a cave wearing the same monotone shades as his hometown had at the start. With each shard he finds, he is able to see all that remains hidden, even in the most remote places. As with life itself, sometimes with the rapid pace we move each passing day, we rarely take the time to slow down and curiously explore our environment to seek hidden places we never noticed before. The world Hue is exposed to at first does little to welcome such opportunities, leaving no room to reach a full potential. The letters Hue’s mother leaves for him to find are his wake up call to release his curiosity. As a result, Hue is able to help his community and finds all the solutions to even the most seemingly impossible puzzle by keeping an open mind and heart to what could be there. In the end, it gives him what he needs to find his mother and learn more about why she holds these values so dearly.

Art Direction and Character Design

Perhaps the best way to describe the art direction of Hue is like describing a light in the dark: within a world dressed in shades of black, white and grays, the addition of each color shine through. From the title screen to the climax, the transitions between color to color within each selection during gameplay blend within every scene. In addition, the characters are animated with a cinematic quality.

To begin, the title screen reflects the story in a single image and its boarder. The illustration depicts a timid Hue with a piece of the wheel in his left hand. His facial expression reads that he fears the unknown, yet despite his apprehensions, he retains a clear mind as he ventures through his quest. Prior to knowing anything about the character, the player learns about who Hue is and his situation from examining how he’s represented on this screen: a shy, clean-cut boy who despite his trepidation, he is ready and willing to solve this puzzle and mysteries and find what, or really who he is looking for. Behind Hue are a woman in a lab coat and carrying a beaker, whom the player discovers is his mother. From the looks of the title card image, the player knows she plays a prominent role in the game’s narrative. Another significant character depicted in the image is the mysterious man in robes Hue meets in his dream and throughout his quest. Below is a book open to a page with symbols that the player sees in the menu screen option, but they serve a meaningful purpose in the colorblind mode. In addition, there are other figures that the player will see throughout their playthrough such as a skeleton, a seahorse, a wolf-like figure and carcass of a deer. Behind the cast of characters on either side are torches, which Hue sees lit during his travels. Like in the game, the flames are animated with fleeting diamond shapes. In contrast to how they look in-game, which are a single shade of white, the flames in the opening screen vary with shades of gray and whites.

The characters are all depicted in grayscale colors in front of background with shades of black. They are also in front of illustrated puffs of smoke with light grays overlapping dark ones. Framing the entire image is a scaly looking boarder and the game’s title in the center above, both of which change into all the colors Hue finds during his search. As these colors transition from one to another, there is a light of the evolutions reflecting on Hue, the edge of the book, the beaker and his mother. It appears that the shard Hue is carrying, where he is holding it and the direction he is seen looking at it is the main light source that is creating the color changes. From that subtle representation, the information the player gathers are that there is a power behind the shard. Also, because Hue and his mother are the only characters highlighted along with the beaker and the book, this is very telling due to the nature of their relationship and backstory. Hue’s mother already knows the power each color possesses while her son is experiencing it for the first time.

This leads to character design and how it suits the narrative, the gameplay and the universe the characters inhabit. In the opening screen, the characters are depicted in a rubber hose fashion like that of the 1920’s. Within the game, however, they share more similarities to the animation works of German animator Lotte Reiniger, known for the 1926 film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Like The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the aesthetics of Hue consists of color backgrounds behind layers shaping the scene. In contrast, the silent era film’s layers depicting the setting are all solid blacks whereas the layers in Hue contain whites for clouds and water and grays for windows. Another difference in style is aside from the characters of Hue being depicted more simplistically is also the features given to the characters such as eyes and lining. In The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the characters resemble shadows of side profiles, facing either left or right with any type of features. Nonetheless, much like in Reiniger’s work, the characters in Hue all genuinely blend in the world the players immerse themselves in.

One other detail about the art and animation of Hue is how the protagonist interact with his surroundings. Aside from the gameplay mechanics where Hue relies on the ring to venture through each level, it’s when the player controls him to walk towards objects, water fountains and even a bird. When the player walks Hue into a jug, the jug tips over (albeit without it falling over and shattering). If Hue walks through a stream of water pouring from a cliff above him, the animation will depict the water is running and falling on him as he goes under. If Hue is heading in the direction where a bird sits, the bird will immediately take flight as he approaches. While this might seem trivial, it’s an interesting detail to indicate considering this type of interaction between character and surroundings are often absent from games. It makes it more so that the playable character is not only moving within his world, but authentically rooted in it.

Hue as a Whole

Hue is yet another rare gem and prime example that demonstrates the potential and emotion games are equally capable of imprinting. With its powerful storytelling, unique gameplay, art direction, character design and animation, the player is invited into a world where they are encouraged to think outside their comfort level. As the player progresses throughout the game, they see Hue’s growth from a myopic boy who has yet to be pushed out of the only perception he ever knew to a farsighted coming-of-age character who sees beyond the surface. Perhaps Hue in some ways reflects the player and their take away from the experience: we all glance at a scene with biased perceptions of what we think we see. Once we take a step back and explore those little details, we discover many hidden gems we didn’t realize were there the entire time. Upon discovering it, we come to an epiphany that reshapes our character and leads to our further self-discovery.

December Analysis delayed until after Christmas

Hi everyone,

Hope you all are having a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. Due to work right now, the next analysis about Hue will be delayed until after Christmas. However, during this time, I will be experimenting with analysis in video format as an addition to the site and a means to deliver more content. I should have the first video ready by next week.

 

Danielle

What Stardew Valley Teaches Us About Heritage

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Often times it seems that the rapid pace of modern life makes you feel that there is no time for slowing down, let alone does it offers a chance for you to reflect on the things that matter most. You get caught up in a daily routine where you can only focus on simply getting by, rather than try to accomplish something greater. Sometimes itʼs easier to settle for less than strive for what could be.

Stardew Valley, the debut game of Eric Barone, better known by his alias ConcernedApe is much more than a farming simulator RPG game influenced by the 1996 Super Nintendo classic, Harvest Moon. Itʼs the kind of gaming experience that reminds its players of their relationship with their origins. Seeking to hone his programming skills and go above and beyond where Harvest Moon fell short of its full potential, Barone devoted four years to the making of the project. During the years of development, Barone touched bases with players who expressed interest in Stardew Valley to obtain feedback. Publisher Chucklefish Games approached Barone when the game was half-way through completion, which gave him more time to devote his attention to complete the project.

Aside from Harvest Moon, Barone also cited Animal Crossing (2001), Minecraft (2011), Rune Factory (2006) and Terraria (2011) as influences behind Stardew Valleyʼs additional gameplay features, such as combats, side quests and crafts, which all together further enrich the player experience and deeper connection with their character and the theme of the game.

From deciphering who the playable character is, to making a living in Pelican Town, the relating to the NPCs and to its open ended ending, Stardew Valley delves into more than just life management, but also a story about playersʼ reconnecting to their roots.

Who Is Your Character

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Upon starting a new game, the player customizes the character they play as. The can name the character, decide on gender, skin, hair, eye color, and fashion. The even get to name the farm their character will be attending to and what their characterʼs favorite thing is as well as if the character is a dog or cat person. On the right hand side of the screen, are five different versions of the farm. The one at top of the menu is known as the ʻStandard Farmʼ, which is described as “[a] simple plot of land, with a large amount of open space to design your farm”. The second one is dubbed as the ʻRiverland Farmʼ in which itʼs “spread across several islands and scenic riverbanks. Fish are more common here than usual”. The third is the ʻForest Farmʼ in which “[t]he woods limit your farming space. However, the bounty of the forest is nearly at your doorstep…”. The fourth farm is the ʻHill-top Farmʼ which its major setback is that the “[r]ocky terrain and a winding river make it difficult to design your farm”, but on the upside, there is “a mineral deposit” which offers “mining opportunities”. The fifth and final farm on the list is the ʻWilderness Farmʼ in which “[t]hereʼs plenty of good land here, but beware… at night the monsters come out”.

Depending on the playerʼs decisions of who their character is, what they like and which version of the farm they want to attend to, the results say something about the playerʼs life box package. Their past experience that shape who they are today influence who their character is in their play through of Stardew Valley. While there are players who might consciously decide to make their character completely different than their actual selves, the common choices are based in the playerʼs gender, interests, pets, appearance and dream home. By making these decisions, it makes the gameplay more personal and the character more relatable, especially with the story we are given afterwards.

Once the player completes the depiction of their character, the selection screen transitions into a cutscene where the game will have some context of who their characters is.

Introduction

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We then see an elderly man lying down peacefully on his deathbed with an envelope in hand. As he lays dying, he gives the protagonist the envelope. In this scene, his final words are a reminder that when the time comes, s/he will read the letter inside:

“…and for my very special grandson/granddaughter: I want you to have this sealed envelope. Now, listen close…There will come a day when you feel crushed by the burden of modern life…
…and your bright spirit will fade before a growing emptiness. When that happens, my dear, youʼll be ready for this gift. Now, let Grandpa rest…”

As with our real life grandparents, who hope that the younger generation will return to their origins, the grandfather of Stardew Valley serves as an example of the youthʼs relationship with their elders. The elderly canʼt push the youth away from the rapidly changing world they live in that enchants them into the out-with-the-old-in-with- the-new attitude, so the best that can be done is let the youth discover that on their own. Once they have this epiphany, it gives the youth a chance to embark on their journey of why their grandparents valued the things they valued by seeing what survives them for themselves.

Joja vs. Traditions

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In the following scene when “XX Years later” have gone by, the player sees for themselves the meaning behind the protagonistʼs grandfatherʼs last words. The peaceful and colorful setting of Grandpaʼs room with its warm color scheme of bright blues, purples and yellows transition into the cold, steel shades of gray of the Joja Corporation. This scene depicts two cubicles in threes. One on set on the left and the other row on the right are filled with people working non-stop as a corporate leader on either side watches from behind a window. In the center, the wall has the Joja logo and slogan, which reads “Join us. Thrive.” Below are two lights. The green on the left is lit up with the word ʻworkʼ next to it and lit up. The red light is turned off, which has the word ʻrestʼ next to it also dimmed.

The next scene depicts the aisle where the playable character is working. The camera slowly shifts from left to right towards his/her desk reveals the mundane and grim conditions of the work place. Above the workersʼ heads reads “Smile. Youʼre with Joja” and “Lifeʼs better with Joja”. It gets so monotonous that itʼs reflected in the playable characterʼs gestures. S/he begins to lose focus at the front of an old computer and finally reaches for the envelope given by his/her late grandfather. The letter inside is an inheritance to the old family farm, which explains what Grandpa realized mattered most in his life:

 “Dear [playable characterʼs name],

If youʼre reading this, you must be in dire need of a change.

The same thing happened to me, long ago. Iʼd lost sight of what mattered most in life… real connections with other people and nature. So I dropped everything and moved to the place I truly belong.
Iʼve enclosed the deed to that place… my pride and joy: [name of farm]. Itʼs located in Stardew Valley, on the southern coast. Itʼs the perfect place to start your new life.
This was my most precious gift of all, and now itʼs yours. I know youʼll honor the family name, my dear”.

Grandpa concludes his letter wishing the playable character the best and giving him/her his love. He also adds a P.S. to greet his old friend Lewis is he is still alive. From there, the playable character leaves the company to venture to Stardew Valley to begin his/her new life on the farm.

Thereʼs a certain irony about the words that Joja boasts and the quality of life represented to the player in contrast to the humble sincerity reflected in Grandpaʼs letter. Joja believes in taking part in the settings of a preexisting corporate brand name and simply ʻthriveʼ and sets a tone that people should be simply content. As long as they are caught up in this endless cycle of working in front of a computer all day everyday for the company and they are being paid extraordinarily well, thatʼs all that counts. No time for anything or anybody else, just this brand name that represents itself as a wonderful happy place. Grandpaʼs words foils the promise these slogans offer by reminding the playable character that he too, had been down that path where the modern world would serve as a distraction and a temporary high over relationships with others and the beauties nature has to offer.

Moving to Stardew Valley and maintaining the family farm are that balance of work life, mixed with forming relationships and taking the time to bask in natureʼs wonders are what create a healthy lifestyle whereas life working for Joja is seen depriving the workers of such lavishness. With that being said there is an immense difference between being content verse true happiness, which Grandpa hopes for his grandson/granddaughter. Hence why, without second guessing, the playable character accepts this inheritance in a heartbeat.

Your Characterʼs Arrival In Pelican Town, Meeting Mayor Lewis and a History in Jeopardy

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Upon arriving to Stardew Valley, the playable character is greeted by the townʼs carpenter, Robin. In this introductory scene, the playable character gets a brief overview of his/her role in the story, both plot and gameplay. Upon meeting Robin, she leads him/her to his/her farm, which has an excessive amount of plants and trees growing everywhere. The playable character is shocked by this to which Robin reassures is not as bad as it may look. She then shows the playable character his/her new home, Grandpaʼs cottage. Lewis, who is the Mayor of Pelican Town walks out the door and greets the newcomer. He tells him/her that “everyoneʼs been asking about [him/her]” and that “[i]tʼs not every day that someone new moves in. Itʼs quite a big deal!”. Lewis then comments about the playable character moving into his/her grandfatherʼs cottage and describes it as ʻrusticʼ. Robin joking remarks “[r]ustic? Thatʼs one way to put it… ʻCrustyʼ might be a little more apt, though” much to Lewisʼ disgust. He tells the playable character to ignore Robin and that “[s]heʼs just trying to make you dissatisfied so that you buy one of her house upgrades”. Robin pouts at his words. Lewis concludes this introduction by encouraging the playable character to rest after his/her travels from the city to the valley and that tomorrow, s/he “ought to explore the town a bit and introduce [him/herself]” and by doing so, “[t]he townspeople would appreciate that”. Thus begins a new chapter in the playable characterʼs life.

In this introduction of the farm, players see that time has taken its toll on the piece of land surrounding the cottage. Between the time since Grandpa had passed on to the day the playable character decides to leave the job at the Joja Corporation, the farm and the cottage had little, if any, maintenance. As being part of a family heritage, the reaction players get from their character is not surprising. S/he is rightfully appalled at seeing the plot of land in such imperfect conditions. In addition, Lewisʼ modesty when describing the cottage as being ʻrusticʼ demonstrates a bit of his nostalgia of seeing it at itʼs prime, though he knows it has seen better days. Itʼs even reflected when he gets defensive towards Robinʼs response and back talks about her upgrades. With all that is being shown in this scene, the playable character sees what his/her grandfather left behind and has plenty of work to do to nourish it and maintain it. However, as the game goes on, s/he learns more from Lewis about why he gets sentimental about the seeing parts of the town falling into dilapidation. This becomes more apparent when the playable character meets him at the Community Center and comes across building in ruins nearby his/her farm.

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When Lewis is standing in front of the Community Center, he appears lost in thought, possibly reminiscing. The playable character slowly walks up to him. Lewis doesnʼt expect someone to be behind him, hence why he seems surprised to see the playable in this area. Nonetheless, he is pleased to have someone he can open up to about why this matters to him. When he and the playable character take a moment to look at the building together, he sadly expresses how seeing the Community Center in such poor conditions makes him feel and what Joja plans to do with it:

“It used to be the pride and joy of the town… always bustling with activity. Now… just look at it. Itʼs shameful. These days, the young folk would rather sit in front of the TV than engage with the community. But listen to me, I sound like an old fool. Joja Corporation has been hounding me to sell them the land so they can turn it into a warehouse… Pelican Town could use money, but thereʼs something stopping me from selling it… guess old timers like me get attached to relics of the past… Ah well. If anyone else buys a Joja Co. Membership Iʼm just gonna go ahead and sell it”.

Based on the context clues and the appearance of the interior of the Community Center, it used to be a gathering place for the townspeople. This would be the place where they would meet up on a Sunday afternoon or any time just to socialize and have a great time together. While part of it is Lewisʼ nostalgia that prevents him from letting the place go, there is also value to preserving the center that the playable character can either dismiss or take to heart. Because Joja is flourishing and overtaking Stardew Valley while Pelican Town is struggling to remain relevant, the playable can either purchase a Joja membership or work hard to restore the building to its former glory. This goes to show that Grandpa valued hard work and community to prosper rather than take the easy way out and dismiss the past that made Pelican Town what it is today.

Lewisʼ sentiments are relatable because as life changes, the symbols of the townʼs history slowly diminishes in favor of the new and modern. Seeing the playable character disenchanted working at the corporation and reaching out for Grandpaʼs letter is an example of how much being so caught up in the purely modernized world can detach one from their roots. Aside from the playable characterʼs reaction to the condition of his/her inherited piece of land, his/her response to the damaged building nearby is “[w]hatever this once was, itʼs now in ruins”. One could interpret that as the playable character sympathizing and wondering what the building once was.

Like life itself, we tend to hear stories about places our parents, grandparents and great grandparents have been to and used to go to in their youth. While we may not share that same sense of nostalgia, we imagine what those places were like during their glory days and if it meant the world to them, it will mean something to us as well, albeit differently. We may have a different kind of attachment to that place, but the meaning behind it encourages us to connect and reconnect its past and how it shaped the present. While change is necessary for keeping up with the times, itʼs when itʼs used to bury traditions and heritage as if they never had any influence on the present that stifle these relationships, hence the playable characterʼs role in game to represent that culture in the modern times.

Meeting the Other Characters and Bonding with Them (Life Box Package)

The characterʼs first day on the farm takes place during the Springtime. The day starts with the sun shining through the windows and with the non-diegetic musical score entitled Spring (itʼs a Big World Outside). The color palette and the tone of both the setting and the music set the feeling of a fresh new start the the playable characterʼs life and is ready to openly embrace it. S/he slips out of bed and has the opportunity to get to know everyone, who they are, what they like, what they dislike, how they go about their day and how they relate to their environment. It is up to the player to take the time to listen and understand their nature, especially towards who they decide the playable character marries and wants to form a meaningful relationship with.

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The way the playable character interacts with the NPCs is another example of the life box package. Like how our past experiences shape the way we are, the NPCs of Stardew Valley display their reactions to what the playable character offers them. For example, the character Shane, (one of the available bachelors as of the 1.1 update) is usually in a bad mood. As the playable character gets to know him, s/he learns he works at Joja Mart, a job he strongly hates and when heʼs done for the day, he spends his time alone at the Stardrop Saloon. He is off work on weekends and is around his aunt Marnieʼs ranch. The playable characterʼs ten hearts represents how well s/he is bonding with the character. If the playable character forms a relationship with him, heʼll start to warm up to him/her.

If the player receives two hearts, s/he can venture towards the Cindersap Forest to meet alone Shane at the dock between 8:00 PM to midnight. This is the first time he opens up about his personal struggles with depression to the playable character as he shares a beer with him/her. He asks him/her if s/he has ever felt him/herself spiraling down into an “abyss” he admits to him/her that he “just feel[s] like no matter how hard [he] tr[ies]… [heʼs] not strong enough to climb out of that hole”. The heart stats rise if the player frequently interacts with the NPCs so if the player decides to continue nurturing the relationship with Shane and with each empty heart filling up, a cutscene will be triggered by venturing wherever he goes at a specific day and time. For example, upon earning four hearts, there will be a cutscene taking place at the ranch revealing more of Shaneʼs personal issues and how it affects those close to him, most notably his little niece, Jas. By earning six hearts and traveling towards the Cindersap Forest on a rainy day between 9:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M., the playable character will find Shane laying by the cliffside, where he will further reveal his lack of self worth and believes it would be best if he took a leap off that ledge. After the playable character responds to what he says, s/he will take him to the hospital, where he is treated by one of the other bachelor NPCs, Harvey, who suggests heʼs seek counseling in Zuzu City. Shane will stop by the playable characterʼs doorstep the next morning to tell him/her that he has considered to seek help and apologizes for being burdensome. The more hearts earned before the tenth and the playable character visits Shane each time, the cutscenes reveal the progress he is making and how much better he is doing. After earning the full ten hearts, Shane invites the playable to go with him to Zuzu City to see a sports team play at their home stadium. When the crowd is cheering, Shane is so caught up in the moment, he kisses the playable character. At first he is embarrassed by it, but the playable character will kiss him back and thus the relationship is mutual and open for a possible marriage.

Each scenario with the bachelor and bachelorettes is unique and they all have their backstories and personal issues that the player has to be willing to lend an ear to if s/he hopes to have a meaningful relationship with. Shane is one example of a character the player has available to him/her and by choosing to develop that relationship, they are getting to know the life box package of that character. Understanding why each of the bachelors/bachelorettes think and feel the way they do gives them a reason to give their respects to the playable character in return. The same goes with the other NPCs who are not marriage options, but the playable character can bond with them by being open and willing to learn about the town and what living there is like for them. That too, will raise and fill in the heart stats. Even so, while the playable character juxtaposes his/ her time to maintain the farm, s/he will also be given opportunities to accept and go on quest the townspeople have to offer. Not only is the playable character rewarded for volunteering, but they grow closer to the people around them. As a result, the playable character will also see a cutscene after receiving another stat if s/he stops by to check on the NPC s/he is interacting with and befriending. S/he will discover their personal struggles and why they behave and react to things the way they do.

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After obtaining three hearts from interactions with Kent, the playable character can stop by at his and Jodiʼs place. While Jodi is making popcorn, the sounds of popping stir tragic memories of the war and the friends he lost during combat. The six hearts event for Caroline gives the playable character a chance to eavesdrop on an argument she has with her daughter, Abigail, who is one of the bachelorettes. Earning six hearts for George and coming over to his place after garnering it will prompt the elderly man to warm up even more to the playable character. In the scene, George needs help reaching for one of the books on the shelf, but is unable to because he is paralyzed. The playable character will help him. He then expresses his gratitude and tells him/her he is immobile because of an accident that took place while he was working in the coal mines 30 years ago. He then expresses his appreciation for the playable characterʼs kindness and tell him/her that at an old age “you start to forget that anyone cares about you”.

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As with the case of our own lives, moving into a new place introduces new people and at first glance, we tend to see a blank slate. By choosing to reach out to them and earning their respect, they eventually start to open up and we learn more about why they behave and think the way they do and why they value the things they value. As a result, the lives we touch and influence become a part of our legacy. Our involvement and how much we contribute is what people will remember about us, either for better or for worse. In the scenario Stardew Valley depicts, the playerʼs character is either active in the community and willing to listen to what his/her peers have to say, what they like and donʼt and how their personal struggles shaped them or easily dismiss those things and never help enrich anyoneʼs life. This leads to Grandpaʼs judgment and if he feels the playable character honored the family heritage or not.

Open Ended Ending and Grandpaʼs Judgement

Three years after the playable characterʼs arrival to Pelican Town, the spirit of his/ her late grandfather will appear to him/her for evaluation. The playable character discovers this when coming across his shrine nearby the farm. There, s/he finds a note from Grandpa that says “[w]ait for my return at the dawn of the 3rd year”. When the time comes, 1st of Spring, Year 3, Grandpaʼs ghost will appear to the playable character. His criteria will be based on how many candles are lit when the third year begins, which is measured by the amount of points and milestones the player reached in the years prior. The lowest score, which is between 0-3 with only one candle lit will result in Grandpaʼs regrets turning the farm over to the player. The highest score, 12 points or more where all four candles are lit, he will express how proud he is of his grandson/daughter.

Again, all this depends on what the player had their character do during the first couple of years. As players level, s/he should garner 30 levels in Skills or 50 in which the playable character scores a level 10 per skill. Achievements also play a role in Grandpaʼs evaluation. The playable characterʼs contributions to the town, such as completing the collection for the local museum, full shipment of every item and catching every fish. The friendships made, which include marriage and a house upgrade. The playable character must also have formed friendships with at least 5 or ten villagers, reaching the stat of at least 8 hearts. Even so, 4 hearts at most with his/her pet is also required. In addition to these requirements, both the Skull and the Rusty key need to be obtained and the Community Center needs to be restored to its former glory.

Upon reviewing Grandpaʼs expectations for the playable character, this is more than just scoring points for scoring points, but this also who he is supposed to be as a character. By knowing what Grandpa hopes his grandson/daughter does upon inheriting the farm and why, the game becomes less about the typical completionist mentality and more about relating to the character as we would with those who came before us. The story opens up with Grandpaʼs final wishes. Before the player is told this story, they put the playable character together, who is in some ways a self representation. It serves as a reminder that our family members like our grandparents can only teach as much as they can during the remainder of their lifetime. When their time is almost up, they can only hope that the youth they tried to connect with will honor the legacy in someway. Grandpaʼs words when he evaluates your dedication reflect those sentiments and possibly the fear of having not done enough or the right things to honor those wishes.

It should also be noted that because the game is open ended, the player is given more time to redeem their character if they fail to meet Grandpaʼs expectations. This could be interpreted as the playable character receiving a wake up call or a reminder that s/he have strayed away from his/her roots, but can still return if s/he chooses to do so. Although realistically, people have a short amount of time to turn things around and the game lets the player continue indefinitely, itʼs the tone of voice Grandpa sets for the player. In the scenario where Grandpa is completely satisfied does not imply that the player does not continue improving. As with life itself, even if you reach a goal or what you define as success, you never stop further developing what you are building. With every new experience life has to offer, you never stop growing from them. Therefore, even if the player is still at a less than satisfactory conclusion, there is still a chance to reevaluate what could be better. It could be interpreted that in the scenario where Grandpa is displeased, the playable character is reflecting on his/her strengths and weaknesses.

However players comprehend Grandpaʼs role in his afterlife is subjective, but within the diegesis, the depiction of his relationship with the playable character shows his high expectation for him/her to reach his/her full potential. This can seen as an epitome for how the player themselves ponder over how they pay their respects to their own heritage and if their grandparents would be proud of who they become.

What the Player Gets Out of the Experience

Stardew Valley stands out as being more than a farming simulator RPG. It serves as a reflection of the player and their ties to their own heritage and legacy. Eric Baroneʼs goal was to succeed where Harvest Moon had fallen short and has most certainly done so by giving the gameʼs basic premise more personal significance. With the player customizing the playable character, the concept of their character inheriting his/her late grandfatherʼs farm and how they draw those literary connections to their own lives and grandparents and how much their character contributes to the town and relates to its people, the game goes above and beyond being a life management simulator and reflects how we identify with our past and the present. The game also serves as a reminder that the present is shaped by our history and and those whose lives we relate to and without our connections to them, our meaning is lost. Itʼs those contributions and involvement that further develop character. The new can be welcomed without sacrificing roots. The community we participate in and the way we influence it also become a part of that legacy.

In the end, Stardew Valley has displayed what our rapidly changing society leaves behind by being more invested in the glamour of modernism without taking a moment to bask in the beauty of what life offers and understanding our origins. In a world where the out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new mentality overshadows what made our story, it never hurts to take a step outside the monotonous comfort zone and take the time to explore what shaped us into who we are today and who we want to become.

 

How Gameplay, Game Mechanics and First Person Perspective Shape Character Development in Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire

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We all had our ambitions. We all have high expectations from others. We pursue our aspirations on the side while fulfilling our other priorities, such as education. The question we ponder: how can I work toward both my education and my dreams at the same time? Is it possible?

Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire by French artist and animator Pehesse, takes that concept of balancing everyday life while attempting to achieve the dream and puts it into the form of a visual novel and beat ʻem up hybrid game. The story is about a young woman named Red, who desires to become a professional masked fighter. There is just one problem; Her grades from the previous semester have been lacking. She has the remainder of the year left to improve before graduating college. However, Redʼs parents and her friends donʼt know she is the masked fighter, Honey Rose. She keeps that part of her life secret as she takes care of her studies and maintains her relationship with the other characters.

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Itʼs a difficult task as with real-life and thereʼs no perfect answer to what Red should and shouldnʼt do. In an interview with editor at IndieGames.com and freelancer at Gamasutra, Joel Couture, Pehesse describes the gameplay:

“The game is driven the the choices the players make, which in turn directly affect the numbers hidden behind the screen. Stats will govern which events happen, how Red will perform during those events and during battles…However, contrary to most life-management sims which display said numbers and prompt you to base your decisions on your knowledge of both your current status and the exact thresholds you aim to achieve, here I purposefully let the player wonder about the specific numbers and ask them to navigate through “gut feeling”, an unquantifiable uncertainty of ʻDid I do enough?ʼ, which is the uncertainty Red gets to live with every day”.

Like life itself, we strive to make the best decisions based on what we think is right, be it by our own bias or the suggestions of others we may not fully agree with, but take into consideration without sacrificing our true selves. In the end, it is the person making those choices who has to sit with the results. Once again, we revisit the life-box where our early life experiences shape who we are and the motives behind the choices we make. We all have this metaphorical box, meaning we all have a bias and we have the decision to either let that bias close our minds to any kind of advice or accept some of it. All together, the game play, mechanics, first person perspective and interactions with the other characters are what shapes Red as a character.

When starting a new game and after selecting a level of difficulty, the player sees from the first person perspective, someone is heading towards a light at the end of the door. They then see a profile image of Red in her mask as the titular character in a comic book/graphic novel styled panel. She is seen taking a deep breath and clearing her mind. In the next panel, she tightens her fist. Once she feels confident, the next panel shows her looking up and facing the door. At that point, thereʼs no turning back. There is a transition from comic/graphic novel-esque panels to a side-scroller, leading the player to the ring. The pace in Honey Roseʼs playable walking animation shows sheʼs a bit tense even so with the flashing of cameras in her face, yet maintains her focus throughout the fight.

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During the fight with her opponent, Queen Bee, the gameplay transitions into beat ʻem up elements. In the ring, there are two health bars for both characters, with no score or stats attached to them. The focus here is solely on what Honey is trying to accomplish at that very moment. Upon claiming victory, the fight is covered in a news report. Redʼs parents are revealed to be watching the report on their living room television. From there, the gameplay transitions into a visual novel, where the player learns about Red, what her parents are expecting of her and what her goals are.
From what the player gathers early on, they understand why Pehesse purposely left out stats numbers and why it was more important for players to make the decisions based on what they think is right.
Upon examining what is going on in the fight scenes, our main concern is what weʼre doing in the moment. From what we know about Red, receiving a perfect score is not her main concern in the story. Her concerns are that she wants to be the best fighter in ring she can aspire to become while being able to graduate college as her parents hope. Realistically, when we come face to face with, say, a performance, public speaking or any type of event where we are in front of the public and trying to put our best foot forward, we donʼt think about a score over our heads telling us whether or not weʼre doing it right or wrong. Whatever happens will take shape on its own based on the effort we put into it.

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As with the visual novel aspects, the layout consists of an overhead on the upper side of the screen depicting how Red is feeling in terms of her energy and her activities, the month and date and two bars indicating her reputation and how suspicious others are becoming of her. Redʼs energy levels are color coated to indicate how invigorated she is feeling along with a silhouetted animation of her as Honey in the circle. For example, when the energy is in teal, it represents when Honey is at her most refreshed. The animation displays an image of here with a book in one hand and a barbel in the other. The lowest is in red where Honey is shown hyperventilating and slouched over. In the center of the overhead, there are the indicators with Honeyʼs face depicting how she is doing in her training (left) and her classes (right). For her training, ʻStrengthʼ, ʻDefenseʼ and ʻAgilityʼ are the areas she has to work on and for her classes, ʻBiologyʼ, ʻLinguisticsʼ and ʻMathematicsʼ are her priorities. Depending on how well or rather how much time Red has devoted to that aspect, the player will see that reflected in her facial expression, also color coded. For example, if she hasnʼt put much time and effort into her studies in math, or improving her agility, players will see a concerned-filled look on her face where she is nervously looking to the side and the circle is marked in red. If she’s spent some time working to improve those areas, sheʼll have a calmer expression, where she is at ease and the circle will be a golden yellow. When she has dedicated enough her time to her area of study and/or her fighting techniques, Honey will be seen gleefully shifting her head from left to right in excitement and the circle will be in blue.

The reason color coding and animation succeeds in Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire over stats or numbers is because when we evaluate our situation and the things we hope to carry out, numbers arenʼt exactly the first thing that come to mind. Color tends to convey more emotion, whereas numbers are too technical and create a more robotic feeling than the use of color and character expression. Because of its subjective nature, color blends best with the type of mood a character is in, what they are feeling and what troubles them. In his 2011 book, The Art of Pixar: The Complete Color Scripts and Select Art from 25 Years of Animation, animation historian and editor and publisher of Cartoon Brew, Amid Amidi starts off his introduction with what painter and teacher Josef Ablers would say regarding the color red. “[I]f you asked a group of people to imagine the color red, every person in that group would have a different hue of red in mind” (Amidi p. 10). One simple color is subjective to the minds of different beholders as he continues:

“Color is elusive. Take that same color, red. A heart is red, but so is a stop sign. It is a color equally capable of arousing pleasure as it is of warning of danger ahead. Across different cultures and religions, red symbolizes feelings and concepts as varied as happiness, bravery, luck, sin, and mourning. There are also psychological effects─seeing red can alternately make us irritable and elicit happiness─and physiological effects─studies have shown that the color red simulates brain-wave activity, increases heart rate, and causes blood pressure to rise.”

With that being said, ranking from reds to yellows to blues, this color palette reflects what it feels like to be low on strength or have an excess of it and to have less or more experience in a particular subject or skill. The color red can make one feel urgency to focus on where they are failing. Yellow signals that, while it may not the best that it could be, itʼs not as stress inducing as if it were in the red zones. It gives off a sense of comfort, yet at the same time, reminds the viewer there is still room to further develop. Blue denotes that progress has been made. Because it is a cool color, it suggests calmness, security and composure. The meter on the upper right hand side of the screen for ʻReputationʼ (light green) and ʻSuspicionʼ (orangey red) are also color coded to convey a positive and a negative.

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In real life, we never measure our passions or what we are trying to pursue by a number, and when we relate to our emotional and physical levels, our responses resonate more with a color than a statistic. This leads us to how seeing everything through Redʼs perspective tells us more about our main character and why players relate to her on a personal level.
Outside the beat ʻem up elements, as a visual novel, the player is seeing the environment Red lives in from the third person perspective. On the lower left hand side of the screen, there is a box with text and the characterʼs name as to who is speaking at top on the upper right hand side. There are also cutscenes that show what Red sees in her dreams at the start of a new day. There are even playable fight scene dreams where Honey is face to face with her opponent where the backdrops animatedly morph into all the places Red frequently visits.

Each day will start with an animation of the sunrising and shining into Redʼs room with the date. In some instances, there will be a comic/graphic novel styled thought balloon indicating what Red is dreaming about. Some of her dreams consists of her parents expectations, her friends inviting her to join them, an unmasked Queen Beeʼs heated expression of anger for failing, results on her tests and conceiving defeat during a fight. While Red doesnʼt always dream during these transition, this is important to note, because dream interpretations are what goes into a life box package. Itʼs what adds to a characterʼs credibility and what makes their hopes and desires even more relatable. When Red is dreaming about something related to school, or fear of failing to achieve her dream, the player is getting to know her more as a character. They understand how significant her issues are and why she cares about them. Without any depiction of what she dreams about, it would almost seem like our protagonist is just programmed to do what the gameplay and story tells us about her and we would get no sense that she actually cares about the outcomes.

One important principle in story telling is show, donʼt tell. By incorporating these cutscenes, players see that the character they are playing as has ambitions and desires they want to identify with as with any other main character in any other form of media.

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Aside from Redʼs dreams, the player learns more about her character as they progress through each day. From waking up in her position to ending the night trying to decide what to do, the player gets to know how Red thinks and feels via interaction with other characters and her environment.
Upon starting a new day, Red will speak to the player while making a decision about how she will spent her day. She will ask what they think she should do first. It sounds like fourth-wall breaking and self aware that this is a game, but it could also be interpreted that the player is Redʼs conscience, guiding her in making the best choices possible. On the lower right hand side of the screen, there are a list of options to choose from as to how Red will go about her day. Highlighting each option will prompt Redʼs dialogue on the left to comment on whether and/or why this choice might be ideal either for her own benefit or what others from school or the gym are expecting of her.

For example, choosing to look through emails and/or the schedule, Red might comment that it would be a good idea to do so in order to “plan ahead” and that email “is a good source of info! _ and distractions”. The calendar shows she circles when tests will take place while fighting related events are underlined. The “Write in Diary” option serves as a save point mechanic that will prompt Red to say “[l]etʼs take the time to review everything, nice and slow” which not only saves the game, but within the gameʼs diegesis gives her an opportunity to reflect on her journey so far. By selecting the “Check Self” option, Red will pick out a new outfit and might comment with something like “[w]ould this one bring too much attention? Or not enough?”, which might suggest she is incredibly self conscious about how others will or will not perceive her.

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Basic interactions aside, the ʻhidden cacheʼ, where Red conceals her Honey Rose persona costume prompts her to debate to herself if she should take the suit with her or leave it. “Everything okay in there?”, Red ponders and second guesses that “[i]t sure is. Though, just maybe I should…”, which gives the player an option to take or leave the suit in its place. Because Honey Rose is her secret identity that she is trying to cautiously keep out of sight, her dialogue reads as someone who is carefully thinking this through as to whether or not carrying it around would raise suspicion.

When highlighting the option to head down to the University, the main reason Red cares to go is “if the gangʼs there, maybe it wonʼt be so bad”, which indicates that Red does have friends she cares about and would like to catch up with. Outside of her room, the player gets to know more about Red and how she honestly feels about being in school vs. going to the ring to practice. Clearly, the player knows she is not too fond of the idea of attending classes and only does so because of her parentsʼ concern for her well being. Nonetheless, if the player chooses to attend classes, Red will admit that her graduation is equally important as her aspirations. She may be tempted to try to sneak out to avoid sitting through another lecture, but the player choice to stay will prompt her to express her dissatisfaction, yet realization that this is also something she has to devote her time to. Even so, Red will ask the player if she could take a nap during the lecture. Upon selecting the “[s]tay focused!” option, sheʼll respond with disapproval, but accepts the option with a reluctant dialogue like “[f]ine, fine! Itʼs your head! Uh…actually, it would probably have been mine”. Again, the player knows Redʼs temptations, and while it may seem like a simple fourth wall, itʼs also the player serving as the main characterʼs conscience, knowing every choice will have a consequence attached to it.

With cutscenes depicting dreams and reading how Red reciprocates the world around her, players are able to connect with her as more than just the main character they play as who just has a goal in mind, but with a meaningful purpose behind it. Imagery and learning a character’s innermost thoughts are what separates a round character from a flat one. This leads to the relationship with the other characters.

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When relating to the NPCs in the story, it serves as an opportunity for Red to get to know everyone better and even learn something about herself in the process. For example, after defeating Queen Bee, if Red takes a stroll downtown, sheʼd eventually run into her without her mask. Red will recognize her, and while Queen Bee will deny it a few times, she will finally let her emotions of shame and failure go and admit to Red how she has been faring since their fight. Like in the dream, Queen Bee is clearly distraught and angered by the humiliation she faces. After getting to know how she is holding up, having a few other encounters and based on what the player decides Red should say to her, she will admit she might have more in common with Queen Bee than she initially thought:

“Though I shouldnʼt judge her too harshly. In the end, we may not be so different. Really, what would I do if I were in her shoes? Especially if Mom and Dad knew about me? Thatʼs one scary thought”.

Here, Red realizes that she and Queen Bee are both after the same ambition. She too, hopes to aspire to being a professional fighter. Red questions what if she was in the position Queen Bee was in, which appears to be the case. She thinks about what conceiving defeat feels like as seen in one of her dreams. If her parents found out about her secret as Honey Rose, what would they think about their own daughter? How would their perception of her change?

In addition, in some scenarios when Red returns home for the night, either or both parents will check up on how she is doing in her studies and what she has been up to. Their conversations depend on Redʼs progress in school and their suspicions about what she is up to. Interestingly, in one conversation with her mother, albeit, intended to be light hearted, Red jokes with her mother “[w]hat if our whole lives up to now have been a lie? What if Iʼm actually not who I pretend to be?”. In another conversation with her father, Red comments how she isnʼt trying to be anything other than herself. In another conversation with him, where heʼll comment about how early sheʼs come home. Red will say in response “[y]eah. Canʼt stay out forever, you know?” With that being said, her father tells her “Iʼm not blaming you, your mother and I like to see you around from time to time”. This prompts Red to say “especially when Iʼm in my room with one of your books, studying hard, right?”. In this scenario, neither of Redʼs parents suspect anything, but she knows that sheʼs keeping them out of that other part of her life only because of how they want her to succeed. While Red talks to her parents as cryptically as possible and makes some light of the situation, itʼs obvious that eventually they will find out one way or another or that she would have to tell them the truth.

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Apart from her parents potentially expecting anything, there are also the people from the University who notice any changes in Redʼs habits and behavior. In one instance, if she decides to skip classes even after improving her grades, sheʼll possibly run into one of her professors downtown. It could even be a Saturday when it seems the safest to sneak into the gym and Red could still run into Mr. Nader, who make a sarcastically suspicious remark about where sheʼs heading. To avoid any further suspicion, Red turns around to attend classes. Redʼs friends will make observations and even comment on them to Red. If they notice something is out of character or sees a certain change in her habits, they will react to it. Sometimes it depends on the personality and biases of the characters. For example, Alice is carefree and up for anything. Curtis is also a fan of the matches and enjoys seeing them in action. Karine is studious and amiable. Leslie is the most outspoken and critical.

No matter who Red talks to or how these characters respond based on player choice, the opinions, judgments and values share one thing in common: the life box package. Every character is written with personal biased based on what is important to them while the player makes the decisions based on what they think is right. Similar to our everyday lives, we make our choices based on what we hope is best without knowing how it will actually eventuate as well as their own biases or contrary to them. Those around us know very little about what we do and therefore, will make an internal movie in their minds. Whatever choices you make or what you say, people make judgements based on their own experiences and biases. When Red interacts with her friends and, knowing their personalities, their dialogue is based on what they think is right and what matters to them. Even when Red is training for her upcoming matches as Honey Rose, her coach will remark that heʼs “glad [she] is taking [her] training seriously” and even asks to make sure sheʼs at the gym for that reason.

When relating to the other characters, players get a glimpse into who they are and as a result, Red begins to question some of her choices and self discovery. It adds to the life box package of our choices and how we identify with others and in return how others identify with us.

Honey Rose: Underdog Fighter Extraordinaire goes beyond playersʼ normal expectations from a visual novel, beat ʻem up or life management simulator. It reflects our ambitions and how we balance what we want to pursue along with what needs to be done. Most of those choices are based around the life box package, trying to do what we think is right without any knowledge of what happens next. The story and gameplay mimic life by creating that sense of ambiguity. Through the first person perspective, interaction with the setting and relating to the other characters, Redʼs character development takes its shape. She is relatable by expressing her innermost thoughts, worries, aspirations, likes, dislikes and interactions. Even more, without the use of stats and numbers, she is easy to identify with by color coding the representations of how things are going for her.

Pehesse not only created a story about life management, but better yet, a narrative and gameplay reminding its players that the most important thing about being in a characterʼs position is not solely about whether the character succeeds or fails, but that they put their best foot forward. As former Pixar employee, Emma Coats tweeted as part of The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar with #storybasics, audiences “admire a character for trying more than for their successes”.

Perhaps itʼs time players appreciate the playable character for more than just a guaranteed success if they follow a specific order of gameplay and let that appreciation stem from both successes and failures and watch them grow from that.

The Successes and Failures of Roberta Williams’ Phantasmagoria

 

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What defines true horror? How does that definition vary from person to person or culture to culture? When does the horror genre blur the lines between genuine scares vs. cheap shock value tactics?

Although I generally discuss indie titles, Iʼve selected Roberta Williamsʼ Phantasmagoria (1995) not only for the Halloween occasion, but also because of its influence in gaming history. As someone who looks up to Williams as a role model, I wanted to discuss her most controversial, yet challenging project and describe its successes and failures. At the time of its release, it was notoriously known for its graphic violence and sexual content, which resulted in it being banned by parent and religious groups. By todayʼs standards, much of the content lacks the same affect it had over 20 years ago.

When evaluating such details and how well the game holds up by todayʼs standards, there are some elements that worked for the story as well as elements that didnʼt quite suit the intended horror. From how the story and characters are written and represented, to the cinematography, to where there is a genuine sense of true horror verses shock value, contemporary game designers interested in horror and/or FMV can benefit from studying what served Phantasmagoria well and where it fell short.

 

Story, Characters and Creating a Strong Sense of Place

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First and foremost, story and characters are what draw spectators in. A good plot with interesting and relatable characters is what encourages players to identify with them, especially the protagonist. The basic premise of Phantasmagoria takes place at an estate that was once inhabited by a famous late-1800ʼs magician named Zoltan Carnovasch (Robert Miano), better known as simply as Carno. A couple, photographer Don Gordon (David Homb) and his wife, mystery novelist Adrienne Delaney (Victoria Morsell), who is the gameʼs protagonist, buy the property. When Adrienne interacts with the locals, they are surprised she and her husband moved into the ominous mansion. Adrienne denies the existence of ghosts, though her reactions to the strange occurrences early on in the game seem to suggest otherwise, not to mention the fact she deems the place is unsettling.

Story wise, haunted houses have always been a common setting in the horror genre. Some might say that concept lacks originality because of that, but others will pinpoint that it all depends on how writers utilizes these familiar settings and tropes. In her 2012 article, Four ways to make better horror games, Leigh Alexander describes a “strong sense of place” as being essential to the experience:

 

“The cool thing about horror is that tropes can actually be used well; even though the “creepy hospital” has been done countless times across media for as long as anyone can remember, it still works, because when players sees certain “creepy hospital” visual cues, they understand immediately theyʼre in a dangerous place.

Hotels, prisons, schools and mansions frequently appear in scary media too, because of the fact they carry long legacies inside their walls. Know why each of these environments work and being able to use culturally-universal “scary places” to strong effect is important, but the games that have unnerved me the most are ones that use place to subvert expectations. For example, if the player is led to believe early on in a game that her home, bedroom or other regularly-visited place is safe, itʼs more terrifying later when something about it changes”.

That being said, Phantasmagoria displays those traits well enough that the player feels that ominous feeling lingering. The couple moves into what is supposed to be ʻhomeʼ, yet clues hidden throughout the game reveal something is amiss.

With a combination of music by Mark Seibert and Jay User, along with additional music by Neal Grandstaf and the atmosphere of the estate, such as changes in color scheme, aesthetic choices, decor, furniture and peculiar looking objects and devices add to that essence of horror. Despite the midi quality of the sound and the CGI rendered backgrounds, Sierra used the tools of the period to the best of their advantage. In regards to the writing, Williams drew inspirations from the works of Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe. Even so, the pacing leading up to the climax of Phantasmagoria is effective in the sense that suspense build up is best presented in the gameʼs 7th chapter. Rather than constantly killing one random character after another throughout the entire game just to make it a horror story, the rising tension in the final chapter pays off. Although Adrienne is somewhat underdeveloped as a character, there are a few positive traits that make her somewhat relatable to a degree. She is fairly quick thinking as seen in the final moments of the game when she is fighting for her life. Killing Don out of self-defense is the only way she is able to unleash the demon that possesses him. Her reaction as a result, such as her fear, trauma and sadness are strongly highlighted in this scene despite the limited amount of expression and mannerisms she is given throughout the story.

 

Where Story and Character Falls Short

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What doesnʼt work in terms of story and character are the apparent plot holes and most of the acting. Based on what the player gathers about Adrienne early on, it seems rather odd that for a renowned writer, she is seen as less open minded to the possibilities that the Carnovach estate is in fact haunted. This point was mockingly brought up by PushingUpRoses in her review, PHANTASMAGORIA AKA The Story of DRAIN CLEANER. Aside from being “stiff, boring, poorly acted…for a writer, she is incredibly short sighted. Despite the mansion becoming increasingly scary with more instances of haunting and Donʼs obvious change in character, she insists that she doesnʼt believe in ghosts”. When referring to the scene where the antique shop keeper, Lou Ann (Stella Stevens) asks Adrienne “Do you believe in ghosts?”, which Adrienne takes an unusually long time to respond with a sharp “Of course not” to, PushingUpRoses snarks at as she pinpoints:

“Yeah, okay. So I suppose you just ignored this weird apparition in the nursery, the blatant warnings on your laptop and the weird visions of Carnoʼs murders. Dude, Carno even comes to you in a seance in the form of flemmy green boogers to try to warn you! That is some serious shit! No to mention the fact that Don has started acting like a complete dick…By the way, the warnings Adrienne comes across during the game are being left by the ghosts of Carnoʼs previous wives, all murdered by him in really gruesome ways. I guess they want to help Adrienne so she can start planning her escape and getting the hell out of there, but Adrienne doesnʼt believe in ghosts.”

The problem with the way Adrienne is scripted is that if a writer is truly a critical thinker and has a sense something is out of place, they should react on their first instinct and take the warnings into consideration. The minute Adrienne sees proof that the locals are right about Carnoʼs mansion and the sudden change in her husbandʼs behavior, she should have realized right then and there the house is haunted. Keeping her in denial functions more like an excuse to stall for more filler sequences that are completely irrelevant. When Adrienne learns about Carno, his wives and what happened to her husband the second she accidentally released the demon, wouldnʼt the writing make more sense if she had been mindful and spent the entire game aware, trying to figure out if there was a way to save Don from a fate similar to that of Carnoʼs rather than have players wait to the very end of the game for her to put her bias aside? Even so, after she is raped by Don, she is clearly afraid of him. However, the next day in that same chapter, she acts as if nothing had happened. She continues to interact with the clairvoyant hobo, Harriet Hockaday (V. Joy Lee), who warns her about the evil lurking, to which Adrienne continues to deny.

When evaluating the plot, settings and characters, the concept overall is solid and fitting on paper. The archetypes, music and location blend quite well. The writing that went into the character of Adrienne shows potential in that she is a writer and she takes time to explore. Unfortunately, the character falls short due to lack of in-depth qualities beyond what is presented to the player and that she fails to kept an open mind to the obvious changes going on in the house and her husband. Itʼs towards the end Adrienne begins to show more emotion and expression when the situation gets far more serious beyond reverse.

 

Controversy as Plot Device or Shock Value?

 

Character development (or lack thereof) aside, the gameʼs controversial rape scene where Don viciously molests Adrienne in the bathroom appears to serve no place in the story whatsoever. As also brought up by PushingUpRoses, Carno is never said to have attempted rape on any of his wives anywhere in the story. It was apparently “shoehorned in” just to get a reaction from audiences. Roberta Williams justified the scene in a 1999 interview with Andy Bellatti, who asks why it was “essential for furthering the plot and character development”. According to Williams, she felt it was “very essential to to plot” and “knew it would be controversial” that it could have been omitted from the story:

 

“I kept it in because it was the pivotal point in the plot where Adrienne suddenly realizes that something is terribly wrong with Don. Up to that point, she knows that Don isnʼt “feeling well” – but she attributes that to the bump on his head or to stress from moving or with his work. We know that heʼs possessed by some sort of demon, but she doesnʼt. This is the way I wanted to let Adrienne know that something is very wrong with Don, and that heʼs capable of hurting her. I wanted her to start being afraid of him and to abruptly kick her out of her comfortable world and into a world of horror…And…it was a sort of counterpoint to the lovemaking at the beginning of the game where Don is “normal” and we see that he loves her and is really a gentle person.”

 

The intended purpose and effect this scene is supposed to have is lost on most players as even without historical context about the game, when examining the plot holes, there could have been other ways to express this bizarre transition in Donʼs personality. Adrienne receives early warning signs in the form of supernatural imagery and flashbacks numerous times and as early as Chapter 2, but she takes a hint as late in the story as Chapter 4.

 

Cinematography

 

In terms of cinematography, there are some instances that are effectively executed and some that seem inconsistent. One example where the cinematography is considerably well utilized is during the first minute of the introduction. Don is seen carrying his equipment outside on a cliff. The fade ins and fade outs where he sets up demonstrate passing of time for how long it takes for him to set his camera up. The player also sees what Don is shooting at from his perspective looking through the camera lens. One is a shot of a church, the next is of a brick house and finally, our main point of interest: the Carnovasch estate.

From there, the cinematography begins to fall flat. When Don points his camera to the peculiar looking mansion, he takes three shots of it. It would have probably been

interesting to see his face and what his expression would have read upon laying eyes on such a curious looking place. Although the intention is obvious that taking more than one shot of the estate indicates his fascination with it, it would have been more effective had the player seen the characterʼs interest and wonder so the player identifies better with Don in that situation.

The introduction starts off with that appeal to see whatʼs inside with a close up of the door inviting the player in. However, what is being presented in the fly through sequence does not reflect how the houseʼs interior actually looks, let alone what specific objects Adrienne will see that represent Carnoʼs life and career. It just displays random gruesome imagery and bizarre figures. Upon the doors opening, the player flies through a tunnel filled with dangling arms, swords, chains with hooks and rib cages. There is a light at the end of the tunnel leading to more randomly unpredictable imagery. Knives stabbing at a barrel simultaneously, a snake with a human head wearing a turban, a poster-like object with a sinister face, a rusty old cage and floating curtains build up to Adrienne strapped to a chair beneath a guillotine and struggling to break free. She is then seen waking up from what is clearly a nightmare she is having, but then the player sees this sudden, if not rather redundant sequence where her face is locked up by some sort of torture device. Once again, she wakes up from the nightmare. This time the player knows she is fully awake.

Why is this introduction ineffective? Taking into account what it shows the players in contrast to what they gradually learn about Carno, it exaggerates and barely connects with what the antagonistic character does to harm his wives. The only part of this sequence that reflects any of Carnoʼs sins directly is when Adrienne is strapped in the chair and screaming since this device is shown later on in the gameʼs final chapters. Without the nightmare-within-a-nightmare, that image alone would certainly serve a foreshadowing. In fact, that entire intro would have been put into better use had it subtly focused primarily on what the player will see without it being a spoiler than tossing in irrelevant and somewhat misleading images of whatʼs to come.

The sex scene afterwards does not tie in potently as intended. Don comforts Adrienne with very little exchange in dialogue and stating his promise that heʼll “always be there to protect [her]”. It would have perhaps been a solid scene had there had been room to flesh out these characters when displaying the emotions of fear, love and consolation, but the limited dialogue and the quick transition into the sex scene stifles that opportunity. Again, it was out of the interest of shock value and less on the narrative. Had there been more focus on giving Adrienne and Don some time to fully express their emotions than on the sexual aspect, this bedroom scene could have been much more convincing. As with any other medium, games should have as much freedom as film and books to portray sex as it is a part of the human condition. The way this was handled in Phantasmagoria contributes to the much of the issues that have always been attached to games, where adult subject matters are rarely taken seriously.

Other scenes where the gameʼs cinematography is put into its best use are its panning shot of the mansionʼs lobby, a zoom in of Adrienne at the window in Chapter 1 and pointing the camera at where the playerʼs attention should be attentive of are amongst the gameʼs forte. Other scenes where the cinematography is lacking include mainly of Adrienne remaining stiff as other characters appear more active in a given scene. For example, when interacting with characters like Lou Ann, Mike the technician (Carl Niemic), Harriet and her foolish son, Cyrus (Steven W. Bailey), they are seen continuously animated when Adrienne is not interacting with them. However, next to them, Adrienne is standing still in a sort of army stance when there is no player input. She does have an occasional movement in this state where she flicks her hair, but it is very out of place with the setting as if she is not invested in the moment.

The conversation Adrienne has with Malcolm Wyrmshadow (Douglas Seale) in Chapter 6 is perhaps the strongest use of cinematography in the entire game. Of all the acting, the late Seale, with his role as an elderly man deeply affected by the trauma he experienced as a child living with Carno by having to have witnessed the possessed magicianʼs final moments, delivers a more genuine performance that players can sympathize with. The quiet setting in his dimly lit living room where Malcolm emerges from the shadows gives off that sense of the characterʼs reclusive nature. Once Malcolm informs Adrienne that the evil that possessed Carno is back an itʼs too late to redeem Don, the silence transitions to a sorrowful and mysterious music score. When he mentions the book to Adrienne, her face goes from concerned to thinking about what she had done upon entering the hidden chapel. The player sees a flashback fade in and out as Adrienne reflects on her mistake. Within flashbacks of Carno, Marie and Gastonʼs demises, musical score matches up with the narrative and goes silent in the present timeline when Malcolm is about to reveal important information about what he saw take place a century ago. Aside from when he concludes and tells Adrienne what she must do to retain the demon, when the player sees Malcolm speak, those are the only times during his backstory sequence the score is silent.

The cinematic technique used here is known as the 180-degree rule, which focuses on the space between one character to another within the scene they are in. The axis, which is an invisible line, puts these characters in place as the camera sits in the middle. On one side, we see Malcolm speak. On the other side, we see Adrienne listen and respond. The way this was utilized created, not only that sense of conversation, but more of a personal story being told from an elderly man who experienced trauma at such a young age to a young woman who is preparing herself for the inevitable. The use of the 180-degree rule along with the setting and color palette as well as the tone of the conversation offer players that unsettling calmness before the worst that is yet to come.
While the cinematography has its weak moments due to some of the imagery being out of place, some of the acting and interaction and a seemingly rushed script, there are some moments where the player is given the intended reaction the game was supposed to trigger. Had the unnecessary elements that contribute little or nothing to the story been removed or reworked, it would have perhaps better developed the story, the characters and its horror elements.

 

True Horror vs. Shock Value

 

This finally leads up to where Phantasmagoria either adds a genuine sense of horror vs. shock value. There are moments in the gameʼs plot that sound chilling on paper. Simply being told about it than actually seeing a visual representation of it can cause one to respond to it with dread, depending on the personʼs definition of fear. While defining fear and shock value are subjective by culture and individual, the use of cinematography in Phantasmagoria coupled with how well the actors display an emotion could tap into such a response. Gore is a fine line between fear and sickness and not always necessary to evoke a reaction.

 

The most prominent scenes in Phantasmagoria, which sparked all the controversy back in the 1990ʼs were the death scenes depicting the grisly demises of Carnoʼs wives. Each of these sequences appear as visions of the past Adrienne relives. Later in the game, she enters the rooms where each of the murders took place and watches them reoccur before her very eyes. Adrienne is in shock, no doubt. Although these scenes garnered the reaction Sierra was actively calling out for, by todayʼs standards or re-watching them a dozen other times, they come off as being nothing more than flat out repulsive. The flashbacks occur when Adrienne least expects it, but what falls flat about them is how quickly paced they are. With or without bloodshed, had the death scenes been gradually building up tension before the kill, Sierra would have possibly established an emotional connection with these characters players could sympathize with. Abruptly rushing in and less tension building certainly does indicate that there is more interest in the shock than the actual horror.

Perhaps the strongest death scenes in the game are the demises of Carno, Marie and Gaston in the flashbacks and when Adrienne is forced to kill Don in Chapter 7. Although not the most naturally enacted, the pacing of Malcolmʼs flashback along with his narration build up the suspense that encourage players to identify with what he sees and what was so appalling about it. Unlike the deaths of Carnoʼs other victims where they tend to feel rushed, Marieʼs decapitation at the guillotine, Gastonʼs brutal beating and Carno dying a slow death after being stabbed flow well at the pace that Malcolm speaks.

The sequence of events leading towards Donʼs own demise result from the tension the player garners as a playable Adrienne making her desperate attempts to escape from his clutches and meeting the same fate as that of Marieʼs. After inevitably failing, Adrienne is seen strapped to the chair by Don. The player is given enough time to react and distract him. Once Don loses his train of thought, the player clicks the lever, prompting them to see Adrienne pull it and the blade hits and seals Donʼs fate. This scene is considerably well executed (so to speak) because both the gameplay and the cinematic elements give the player enough room to assimilate their surroundings before the confrontation with the demon. The last chapter opens with Adrienne, tearfully reminiscing on her memories with Don when they were happily married as seen in the photo she looks at in her room. In the meantime, Don is seen engaging in far more erratic behavior by putting on clown make up and dressing up like Carno as if preparing for a performance of some kind. Before going face to face with Don, Adrienne picks up some necessary items, essential for her defense. During that time, the music is more ominous than in any other part of the game. She slowly walks into the darkroom to find a collage of photos of herself on the wall with her head separate from each of them, representing decapitation. Don threatens and attacks her. Based on player choice, Adrienne could make an escape and stall for more time. Regardless, all the doors are supernaturally shut and Don manages to capture her. This is when Adrienne comes to terms with the fact that itʼs either she kills him or he kills her. When Adrienne finally does it, it takes the burden off the players shoulders that Don is no longer the protagonistʼs concern, but we know it comes with a price. We are given that sense of vulnerability that there are no other alternatives if we expect Adrienne to survive the situation sheʼs in.

 

If viewers are going to see characters getting slaughtered or die in other such revolting ways without being simply shocking, solid pacing and tension building are the best writing and cinematic techniques that can best juxtapose both emotions.

 

Verdict

 

Phantasmagoria is truly a product of its time as its history and writing shows. Yet, while the game was obviously created with the goal in mind to be an eye-opener and shock the public as it did upon its release, itʼs not without its fortes either. While the story has obvious plot holes, underdeveloped characters (most notably Adrienne), scenes that fail to serve any meaningful purpose to the story and rushed ʻhorrorʼ scenes, the concept overall shows some potential. Considering the limitations of the time Phantasmagoria was made, the feeling of exploring the house provides the player with that aura of being in a place that is supposed to feel like home, but something is completely wrong. The cinematography is put into effective use when pinpointing where the player should focus their attention on. Even so, towards the ending, the gameplay and cinematography blend in such a compelling manner that anxiety gets the best of the player. Although Phantasmagoria lacks high-quality storytelling and character development, inspecting both the gameʼs strengths and weaknesses is beneficial to game designers who seek to improve the horror genre, and/or especially the art of FMV.

Update Schedule (as of Nov. 25th)

Salutations everyone,
With the holiday season coming up and the year coming to an end, I thought Iʼd post a schedule of when Iʼll be posting and what games Iʼll be analyzing next. As of now, here is a list of the forthcoming essays:

 

November 29th: ConcernedApe Stardew Valley (2016)

December 13th: Fiddlesticks Games Hue (2016)

December 23rd: Yacht Club Games Shovel Knight (2014)

January 13th: Heart Machine Hyper Light Drifter (2016)

January 27th: Loveshack FRAMED (2014)

February 14th: Schulenburg Software Where is my Heart (2014)

Please note this list is not finalized and therefore will possibly be updated.

Cinematography and Exploration in The Witness

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Imagine being alone on an island where youʼre left to your own devices. All you have to rely on are your observations based on the subtle clues that little piece of land had to offer. Throughout the journey, the puzzles you solve lead to a meaningful revelation. Each time you completed one set of puzzles, it brought you closer to a sense of purpose for being there.
The classic 1993 adventure game, Myst by Cyan Worlds welcomed its players into such an experience no other medium could invite them into. It was an unexpected success amongst critics, who greatly praised the gameʼs interactive element that allowed its players to explore the world the Miller brothers created as if they were a part of it. After its success, Cyan Worlds went on to continue the Myst story through its sequels and spin-offs throughout the late-1990ʼs and mid-2000ʼs. During the decades that granted the develops their recognition, similar titles such as GTE Entertainmentʼs Timelapse (1996), Knut Mullerʼs RHEM series (2003-present) and the now defunct company, Cyberflixʼs Titanic: Adventure out of Time (1996) have used a similar formula to that of the Myst series with their exploration and puzzles. The problem these games all had in common was that their puzzles required specific exploration in order to solve them. Indie game developer, Jonathan Blow, who is known for his 2009 debut platform game, Braid sought to, as A.V. Club writer Matt Gerardi phrased it, “rethink and modernize classic adventure games”.

So, what does reworking the formula mean to Blow? There are two things that differentiate The Witness from any other type of game. 1. As Blow himself described its

gameplay, “[w]e can do some very interesting things if we put down language as a crutch for communication…Thatʼs the experiment of this game: just donʼt use language at all. I wanted to see what kinds of knowledge and experience we could build up without it”. Rather than have the player read or hear in-game instructions, they are expected to rely on the subtle clues based in the environmental context they are presented in. 2. As pinpointed by writer former Kotaku writer, Tina Amini, unlike other adventure games, where “youʼd have to locate an inventory item—like a key—in order to open a bonus door with hidden secrets, in Blowʼs game the key is everything youʼve learned about his puzzles in your time spent with the game. The key is in your head”, she explains.
That being said, similar to how Braid added new insights to the traditional Super Mario Bros.-esque platformer, The Witness is another step further in the case of Myst influenced titles. There are no other characters to interact with. The only character in this game is the player. As the player explores the multi-layered island and what its inhabitants left behind, they become the witness of both the world Blow had created and their own understanding of nature, technology and their relationship with mankind. The character development builds up from what the player gains from the experience. It is the combination of cinematography and exploration that the meaning of The Witness gradually takes shape. When reevaluating what happens in the first 10-15 minutes of the game, the context clues about the inhabitants, the story behind whatʼs left of the island, and how the player reflects on their journey at the theater when viewing one of the film clips and how it ties into the theme of the game.

Arriving at the Island

Upon starting a new game, you first find yourself facing a glowing panel at the end of a circular hallway. Judging by the layout, it looks very modernized, almost like something out of a science fiction film. Turning around into the darkness leads to nowhere. There is nothing there and nowhere else to go. Your only option is to walk straight into the light and towards that panel. Looking at the panel, you see a horizontal line. You click it and starting from the left, you redraw that same line and then the door opens. However, you are not greeted by another futuristic tunnel. Instead, you find yourself inside a natural cave. The man-made object is another panel with a similar design on it, but a different variation. Clicking it and emulating the pattern opens the door to a flight of stairs carved from the cave, leading to an exit. Walking up those steps leads to a yard surrounded by a stone wall, rose bushes, trees with blossoms, patio and indoor furniture and elaborate versions of the panel patterns.

 

Cinematography Techniques

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Throughout those first few minutes of gameplay, the only type of sounds that can be heard are ambient noises. Throughout the entire game, those ambient noises remain consistent. Whatever setting you are in, be it inside the modern looking tunnel, the natural cave or stepping out into the outdoors for the first time, the diegetic sound is what it would sound like if you could visit that place in real life. It is about being present in the moment. From a cinematic standpoint, this technique shares some similarities to the 1982 experimental film, Koyaanisqatsi (also known as Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance). It should also be noted that camera movement and cinematography of Koyaanisqatsi was a major influence for the long screenshots, which was an idea of one of the gameʼs art team members, Luis Antonio. Although in contrast, the filmʼs soundtrack is non-diegetic, like how the gameplay of The Witness is structured in a way that the player is in the moment they are exploring, Koyaanisqatsi draws its viewers into each segment in a way they are deeply invested in that scene. In addition to any other similarities both forms of media have in common, itʼs the theme of man, nature and technology. In The Witness, the player sees a juxtaposition of the manmade slowly being overrun and reclaimed by nature. The first 10-15 minutes of gameplay subtly reveal this through the bits and pieces of items and structures remaining on the island. In Koyaanisqatsi, there are pieces of footage depicting nature being overtaken by manmade structures and modern technology. The viewer watches these changes shift from the gentle sunrise and clouds moving over the canyons to the rush in the modern world and back to the tranquility of the natural world. The film moves at a pace in which the viewer becomes self-aware.

 

The Witness has its moments where the player will be in a place where they will see the technological ambitions of mankind. Then discover or rediscover how nature is trying to reclaim its place and will always be connected to humanity. Neither form of media relies on text or dialogue. Itʼs the spectatorʼs observation and exploration that draws to those conclusions and understandings.

Mise en Scène

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Moving beyond the patio area at the start of The Witness, the player will continue to discover more about the island, who the inhabitants might have been and what they left behind. The cinematic term, mise en scène or placing on stage describes the layout design of a setting of a film or stage performance. Prominent scenes from the production are the first thing spectators recall when the film/play come to mind. Specific aspects such as props and setting arrangements define the film or theater performance. When applying mise en scène to video games much in the same way, specific scenes will cross the playerʼs mind. The Windows 95 influenced computer setting in Sam Barlowʼs Her Story and the 1930ʼs film noir and silhouetted animations of Loveshackʼs Framed are examples of mise en scène in gaming.

In The Witness, the setting of the island, the puzzles and artifacts make up the gameʼs mise en scène. Once the player solves the puzzle that unlocks the force field guarded gate, they walk towards the lake at the center of the island to see a glimpse of its assorted areas. The more the player explores, the more they encounter diverse aspects of island that bare no resemblance to the previous area they visited, yet they intertwine without ever seeming out of place. One moment youʼd find yourself in a village. The next moment youʼd be venturing into a desert-like location. In addition to such diversity in location, you will also come across statues of people who appear frozen in time. There is a statue of a man nursing a bird. Another statue next to a church depicts a man praying while crying with his face turned to the sky. Hidden behind a frame of rocks by the beach, there is a statue of a man kneeling down in front of an empty glass case with a goblet sitting at top. Another statue is sculpted in the likeness of a musician and his guitar plugged into an amplifier. There is even a statue of a woman sitting at her chair and admiring a diamond ring most likely given to her as a present by a significant other. Each statue appears to represent everyday people and how they related with the world around them.

 

Who were they and how were they witnesses?

Going back to the life box package, that concept can be applied to the statues. Based on what it appears they are doing, they player can garner a basic sense of what kind of life these people may have lead and/or what they had to contribute to being the witnesses to nature, technology and themselves. The man by the church witnessed the world through spirituality. The man with the guitar devoted his life to music and witnessed through such form of self expression. Perhaps the man arranging the glass shelves was a curator of some kind and was a witness by pursuing his contributions. In any case, whatever the people immortalized in stone are seen doing, the life they lead prior to that moment shaped their relationship with nature and how they are remembered. One specific image can tell the player who and how somebody lived without a written description.

Each Puzzle has a purpose

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This leads to where the puzzles play a role in the player being the witness. Aside from observing the actions on each statue, in order to solve the puzzles, the player has to observe their surroundings and look for similar patterns. True to their respective

environments and locations on the islands, (i.e. the Desert, Treehouse, Monastery, etc.), the solutions to each one are based around where the player is at the moment. While it might not seem obvious at a first glance, the area the puzzles are placed in require careful inspection. For example, a set of them, ranking from basic to advanced, each placed in front of a tree with an apple on one of the branches. Again, with no written instructions, the player probes their surroundings and the pattern depicted on the panel. The puzzles resembles the tree branches and by locating where the apple is, the player emulates that pattern. If the apple is missing, the player has to rely on what they already know about the puzzle and how it advances panel per panel.

Roots: Manʼs ties to nature

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Upon solving that particular set, a gate opens, leading to a diagram, depicting the human body and parts of it, such as the heart, the lungs, the veins and the muscles. There are tree roots growing around the bulletin board they are posted on. They lock the board in its place as if they are merging with the depicted images on the parchments. It appears that this is a symbolic representation of the seemingly simplistic representation of the statues, to the basic rules of the puzzles, yet the amount of thought it takes to solve each one. On the surface, human beings and their relationship to nature and their understanding of the world starts off simple. The further we reflect on why we believe what we believe and relate to nature and our contributions to society the way we do, the more our thought process and belief system starts to take shape. Itʼs the life box package filling up. Drawings of the inner workings of the human body and natureʼs roots blending in function as a rendition of such complexity within the simplistic similar the depicted actions the statues are emulating and what the player has to look out for in order to solve the puzzle. Our early and endlessly growing perception of the world build up as well as our knowledge as the life box package takes shape.

 

Understanding exploration and the player journey as a whole

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This leads to the theater below the windmill and that the player reflects on. Although, The Witness is non-linear and therefore this can be accessed at anytime if the hidden solutions are found fairly early on, it seems most fitting if encountered towards the final stages of the game. Throughout the gameplay, audio recorders can be found, tucked away in some of subtle recesses. Each of which contain a narrator reciting quotes from well-known scientists, philosophers and writers. The purpose of their placement is to offer diverse perspectives of each individual and their own personal experiences. As the player visits each location on the island and accumulates further knowledge of it, they encounter more of these hidden tracks. The increasing knowledge of both the island and the playerʼs self awareness as a whole can be best reflected in one of the films hidden in the underground theater. The clip is from the 1983 Soviet/Italian film, Nostalghia, which was directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The selected clip used in The Witness is taken from the part where the character, Andrei Gorchakov, (played by Soviet/Russian actor Oleg Yankovsky) is seen taking a small lit candle across an empty mineral pool. The goal is to carry the candle to the other side without the flame going out. If the flame goes out, he has to start over. Although tempted, he resists the urge to take the easy way out by relighting the candle while he is half way through. Instead, he restarts and tries again until he succeeds. The reason Andrei is doing this is because of a promise he made to a peculiar man, named Domenico, (played by Swedish actor Erland Josephson). Domenico tells Andrei that by completing this seemingly fruitless task, heʼd save the world. The eccentric man attempted to pursue this goal, but was kept from doing so upon the villagersʼ intervention. Hence why he turns to Andrei to fulfill this task.

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Extra Credits host, Daniel Floyd offers an analysis on this clip and how it equates with The Witness in the Season 12 episode, Understanding The Witness – Mechanical Transference and You. In the video, he describes series co-creator, James Portnowʼs experience playing the game and coming across the hidden clip. Upon seeing the clip, Portnow garnered “a whole new perspective on the game”. Similar to that drive that keeps Yankovskyʼs character going until he is successful, the player playing The Witness share a similar motive to keep playing until their attempts to solve each puzzle is deemed affective. Throughout exploration, the island is a beautiful sight, but why are you exploring it and more so, whatʼs the purpose behind all these puzzles youʼre solving? The game has no specific narrative and the player is not rewarded upon completing any set. The end result of finishing each set per area is a laser emerging out of a yellow box and shining towards the mountain top. In addition, the puzzles are often stress inducing. So, what is it in the player that pushes them to keep going? The reason: similar to the scene from Nostalghia where the “promise …gain[s] a new sort of importance for [the main character]”, it serves as a parallel for those playing The Witness. As Floyd pinpoints, “[s]olving these puzzles is, to any outside observer, a completely meaningless task” and that this pursuit is “totally arbitrary with no reason behind it beyond simply doing the task itself”. Yet, for the player, “it takes on an immense personal importance. It becomes an obsession. A need”. For those deeply immersed in this interactive experience, the journey throughout is a pure necessity to complete. The seemingly frivolous pursuit is given a meaning to continue. Floyd adds:

 

“It becomes personal and meaningful, and yet it is still as arbitrary as trying to cross an empty pool with a lit candle before the candle goes out. But then, and hereʼs the genius of the design, then comes the last scene of that clip. Because, as the clip plays, and as the camera pans back, and back, you canʼt help but notice that the back wall of the cathedral is designed like one of Jonathan Blowʼs puzzles. And, you canʼt help but solve it. Even after heʼs just pointed out the futility and the meaninglessness of these puzzles. Even after heʼs shown you how arbitrary what youʼre doing is, he presents you with another puzzle and says to you, ʻI know you canʼt resist the obsessionʼ”.

He then goes on to describing his comprehension of the gameʼs “narrative”, if one could call it as such, which involves heavy spoilers:

“[I]n the final film clip, after the game is all done, you see through the eyes of what we can only presume is Jonathan Blow as he gets up and wanders around his studio, seeing puzzles in all things, from the signs on the restrooms, to the spoons. When he at last stumbles out of his studio and out into his garden, you canʼt help but see parts of The Witness in everything there…More than the lasers, or the people encased in stone, or even the island itself, this is a game about obsession and the obsession of development. Itʼs about trying to convey a mental state and getting you to understand the feeling that comes when something that may seem meaningless becomes a compulsion. But itʼs also about the genuine satisfaction this arbitrary compulsion may bring”.

 

With all thatʼs being said, the snippet from Nostalghia and the last clip shown upon completion serve as moments where the player reflects on their own reasoning for why they decide to continue playing no matter how many mistakes will be made per puzzle or how long it will take until the correct solution is stumbled upon. At first, it feels odd to latch onto this cycle of venturing from one set of puzzles to the next with no other character to converse with and thus itʼs up to the player to use environmental clues as context clues. Even though there is no reward for exploring hour after hour, the journey and the personal benefit that came from the experience is the reward. The philosophers, writers and scientists each had their own way of trying to make sense and find meaning in life, nature and human achievement, thus being the witnesses of their own understandings, the player is doing just that through solving the puzzles by using whatʼs place in front of them.

It starts off easy. The further in, the challenges increase. The temptation to consult an online strategy guide in order to find the solution crosses the playersʼ mind. Several failures are made before a success can be attained. In the end, the true reward for being able to fulfill such tasks is the knowledge and newfound insight the player assembles. At the very end of the game, itʼs hinted that the island itself might have been a dream, in which collectively blended the many ideas and philosophies encountered throughout the game.

 

Becoming the witness: What the player takes away from the experience

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The experience The Witness offers lends a new voice to the adventure game genre by relying on imagery as a language and the playerʼs observation and analytical skills for puzzle solving. With as much variety in its explorable places and basic gameplay, it leaves room for the player to rely on their own critical thinking based on where they are at the moment. Although there are no other characters other than the player, itʼs the observations and knowledge that are the character development. From the first few minutes of gameplay, to the context clues of what made this island, to the theater below the windmill, it is by examining the use of cinematography and how that creates the ideal atmosphere for the player to reflect, not only on what this island stood for, by all or nature, technology and their own belief system as an individual. The main and most important goal of The Witness isnʼt its ending, but rather what the player takes away from the experience.

How indie titles defy the Smurfette Principle and gender stereotypes

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In 1991, feminist poet and essayist, Katha Pollitt coined and introduced the term known as the Smurfette Principle in her New York Times article, Hers; The Smurfette Principle. In the essay, Pollitt describes how popular childrenʼs entertainment defined the roles of boys and girls. To put it in basic terms “[b]oys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys”. Coming into the 1990ʼs, the gender stereotypes of the 1980ʼs (and earlier decades) were still being brought into childrenʼs programming, though gradually shifting by the late ʻ90s. In the ʻ80s, it was seldom, if not almost impossible to come across a television show where women take on more prominent roles just as much as men.

As the name implies, the term is based off of the character, Smurfette from the ongoing 1958 Belgium comic and 1981 animated series, The Smurfs, created by Pierre Culliford, best known by his pen-name, Peyo. Before two other female Smurfs were added to the franchise, Smurfette was the lone female character among an entire village of male characters and to her label, she is simply known as being the ʻgirlʼ whereas all the other Smurfs are named for their personality traits. Because the animation and toy industry were strongly affiliated in the ʻ80s, when it came to what was trending in childrenʼs entertainment, according to Maria Teresa Hart in her article, She- Ra and the Fight Against the Token Girl “[t]he all-important and lucrative toy aisles displayed an even more limited view of female characters than TV did”. This was all coming from a time when female characters were limited to being stereotypically “feminine or beautiful” and would serve as “sidekicks” and/or love interests for the male characters. It was rare “for an episode of a Smurfette-model show to pass the Bechdel test”, whereas “every episode a She-Ra-type show does”. It was also difficult to categorize which aisle She-Ra was be best suited for. The media marginalized its television characters and toys by what they believed boys and girls would want based on their gender, engraving stereotypes in the minds of their viewers and consumers.

Characters in animation were confined to “femininity” and women characters in video games were also being degraded to over-sexualization. Similar to the cartoons of the ʻ80s, these characters were also serving as the sidekicks and/or love interests for the male protagonist. The only difference was instead of using beauty as a strength, they would rely on displaying a hyper-titillating physical appearance to define what it means to be a strong women. However, in recent years, the animation, comics and toy industry have slowly taken steps into changing the status quo. It appears sexualized female video game characters are also seeing a bit of a decline in favor multi-dimensional ones. In his blog post on Gamasutra, Study: Sexualized female characters in games down over last decade, Bryant Francis writes,

“[i]tʼs a study that needs to be read with some caveats, but a report from researchers at Indiana University indicates that the number of sexualized female characters in games has decreased over the last 10 years…Ph.D candidate Teresa Lynch and her colleagues Niki Fritz, Jessica E. Tompkins and Irene I. van Driel…were interested in gathering data on the games industryʼs sexualization of female characters in video games to see if there were any changes in response to criticism of these depictions”.

The study involved “analyzing 571 games released between 1983 and 2014” in which Lynch concludes that “thereʼs been a significant decrease in the number of games that depict women in this fashion in the last few years”. Francis describes where the study is flawed, indicating that “it doesnʼt seem to cover the recent rise of mobile games that frequently feature women in sexualized costumes” and the subjectivity in “which characters are sexualized may differ depending on context or varying standards”.

Although the study has flaws, there have been some emerging changes in recent years of how female characters in games are being created with expanded traits, personalities and qualities. AAA games have been making an effort to feature female characters with more depth than what was presented in the past, such as Clementine from Telltaleʼs The Walking Dead and Faith Connors from Electronic Artsʼ Mirrorʼs Edge. Even iconic Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series, a character who has long been recognized for her sexualized image, is being more humanized than in her previous incarnations. In addition, it should also be noted even before these characters were introduced, Sierraʼs co-founder, Roberta Williams created a female protagonist named Laura Bow from The Colonel’s Bequest and The Dagger of Amon Ra, (which YouTuber, PushingUpRoses cleverly discussed in her video, The Forgotten Female Protagonist: Laura Bow?). In the midst of her naive nature and lack of experience with society outside of the South, this character is known to be reliant on her critical thinking skills and clever mystery solving.

Whether the gender stereotype displays female characters as too far into an extreme, being too stereotypically delicate (conforming) or being too stereotypically sexual (in an blatantly provocative manner) are not only degrading, but also stifling.

With an abundance of stories to be told, why should female roles be confined by one view in any media format and especially in games? Listed below are many examples of female leads in independently developed games (indie games) and descriptions regarding what it is about these characters and their diverse personalities that make them memorable. Aside from their traits, what is it about them that makes them fleshed out as characters than archetypes.

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Aurora from Child of Light (2014) by Ubisoft Montreal- Itʼs rare to describe a princess character as a strong female, but in the case of Aurora, this description fits. The story of Child of Light centers in on its protagonistʼs growth from a carefree child to an adult taking on her role as a leader. Accompanying her is a roster of whimsical characters, each of distinctive personalities. The story takes place in the year 1895 in Austria. Auroraʼs mother, the wife of the Duke passes away. After the Duke remarries, his daughterʼs body turns cold and appears to have died on the night before Easter Sunday. While Auroraʼs body lays dead, she awakens in a fantastical land where she embarks on a quest to, not only return to her physical form, but discovers what she must do to to return the sun and the moon after the Queen of the Night had stolen them. These circumstances spark Auroraʼs journey from childhood to adulthood. Throughout her quest she develops from a carefree, playful child to a sensible young woman.

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Merryn from Song of the Deep (2016) by Insomniac Games- Best known for the Ratchet and Clank and Spyro series, Insomniac offers innermost emotion in their latest release for Playstation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. The companyʼs chief creative officer Brian Hastingsʼ goal was to create a female protagonist with traits that can be held with such high regard. According to Hastings in an article by Joel Couture, Insomniac gets personal with undersea game Song of the Deep, the idea originated from his daughter and her fondness of the female leads in the media. He based Merryn on his daughter. Hastings “saw it as an opportunity to get away from some of the norms we see with female heroes in media” and describes the times his daughter talks to him about her favorite female protagonists, it “made [him] think about how every popular female character [he] could think of, across every form of media, was pretty”. While there is nothing wrong with pretty, Couture indicates “[i]t was more that is was something that had been done often, showing lack of other types of heroine that sent an unintentional messages”. The typical appearance by body type and facial features the mainstream media defines as beautiful, plus women and girls in media displaying strength by having a sexual appearance, are the representations Hastings pulls away from: “I wanted the hero of this game, Merryn, to be something different. I wanted her to show that you didnʼt need to be either sexy or badass to be a hero”. The end result is that the character demonstrates to his daughter and other girls that there are other characteristics to rate highly of such as “intelligence, creativity, kindness and resilience.”

 

Elodie from Long Live the Queen (2012) by Hanako Games- Taking on a darker turn than their previous titles, Hanako Games tells the story of Princess Elodie. Preparing to assume the role as Queen after her late mother, Elodie must survive 40 weeks before her coronation taking place on her fifteenth birthday. Based on the choices the player makes, she will either be killed by those within the castle who are willing to take advantage of the situation or live through until her birthday. If successful, Elodie grows from the timid, grieving princess to a strong-willed queen who can either use her power to oppress her people or be a benevolent leader in the end depending on how the player guides her moral perception. If shaped to become a caring leader, Elodie displays positive and admirable qualities by the knowledge and activities that contribute to her growth that not very many female protagonists are see doing, such as accounting, wielding swords, public relations, etc. Like Child of Light, where we see the rare scenario of a princess becoming a queen as part of character development, Long Live the Queen also defies the ʻprincessʼ role by allowing its protagonist to grow into the next phase in her life.

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Cassie from Perception (2016-2017) by The Deep End Games- Conceived by industry pros behind AAA titles like BioShock, Dead Space and Rock Band, Bill and Amanda Gardner puts players in the position of a young blind woman named Cassie. Told from the first-person perspective, the gameʼs main character relies on her senses and clever thinking skills as she navigates through a vacant, aging manor, which is the source of her nightmares. Cassie investigates the house to expel those dreams and in the process, uncovers its hidden mysteries. Throughout her explorations, the various sides of her personality start to show, from her sharp-witted tongue, to her vulnerabilities and sensitivities, to her critical thinking skills. Cassie sets a superb example of a strong female lead who resourcefully goes beyond her disability and displays both her fears and her courage.

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Kathy Kathy Rain: A Detective is Born (2016) by Clifftop Games- Taking place in the Fall of 1995, aspiring journalist Kathy Rain investigates the bizarre circumstances behind her grandfatherʼs death. During her search, she also has some reconciling to make with her own family history as well. Kathy is a brutally honest, sharp-tongued, critical thinker. She brings out that side of her character when someone is displaying incompetence or suspicious behavior and often makes sarcastic remarks as she searches. There is another side to her personality that comes up when she talks with those closest to her and when a part of her past is coming back to haunt her. When Kathy talks to her grandmother, she sets aside her snide humor and cynicism as they converse after the funeral. Upon discussing family matters and history, Kathy is shown to be an agnostic while her grandmother is a believer, but is able to speak respectfully to her. Kathy playfully jokes with her best friend, Eileen, a devout Christian, but their differences in character or beliefs never clash. When confronted with her past mistakes, Kathy is seen going through her personal struggles, which comes off as genuine. The qualities as seen with Kathy show various layers to her character, all of which define, not only a strong female character, but a well rounded character players can identify with.

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Alex from Oxenfree (2016) by Night School Studio- While spending a night over on a mysterious island with her stepbrother, Jonas, 17 year-old Alex uses her trusty radio to track strange occurrences caused by supernatural forces. After the loss of her brother, Michael and the subsequent divorce of her parents, Alex becomes a defiant teenager, coping with these changes in her life. Nonetheless, Alex is very resourceful when it comes to tracking. Most of her personality relies on the playerʼs input, in which they can bring out the sanguine side of her character or the cynical side of it. In any case, the situation she and her friends are put into serve as an opportunity to confront that part of her past. Whatever choices the player makes will alter the gameʼs outcome and how Alex finds closure in the end. Oxenfree is one of those rare instances that takes the time to flesh out its protagonist and invite the player to understand her state of mind and motives. Like Perception, Oxenfree was also conceived by AAA veterans, whom are known for their work at Disney and Telltale Games.

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Thora from Jotun (2015) by Thunder Lotus Games- Upon her mortifying demise, Norse viking, Thora is obligated by the Gods to defeat each of the Jotun. Faithful to the mythology, it is the only way for her to earn her place in Valhalla and redeem her failure. With a combination cultural input and a protagonist who strengthens her capabilities, Thora is simple in concept yet complex in backstory. The gameplay focuses less on scoring and more on the challenges she endures, keeping the character development at the forefront.

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Scout from Flame in the Flood (2016) by The Molasses Flood- Also created by AAA experts who contributed to popular series like Halo, BioShock and Guitar Hero, Molasses Flood pushes players into the place of post-societal survivor, Scout as she and her faithful dog, Aesop travel together. Scout is accustomed to the new world disorder and quickly adapts to her surroundings. She is a skilled navigator and with savvy quick thinking, she is capable of using a handful of supplies to her advantage. According to the gameʼs lead designer and companyʼs president, Forrest Dowling in a Gamasutra exclusive interview with Phill Cameron, How The Flame in the Flood builds tension through motion, “[t]here are a lot of variables that we can tune throughout the river gen as we wanted to create a lot of different experiences as you travel down it…The way the flow is generated and the speeds it moves in the ways it affects the raft had been difficult. We want it to feel like something you donʼt have a lot of control over, but you need to be able to feel like youʼre able to exert some control”. With the game mechanics being set up in such away that the player is forced to react critically and actively than they probably normally would, this gives them the sense of what a believable character in such a situation would grapple with and the intense challenges attached to it.

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Rosa from the Blackwell Series (2006-2014) by Wadjet Eye Games- Introduced later that same year company founders Dave and Janet released their debut, The Shivah, Rosangela ʻRosaʼ Blackwell is a free-lance book reviewer living in solitude. Upon learning about the death of her aunt Lauren, her last surviving family member, she also discovers her family history. As the game progresses, Rosa meets the ghost of a man named Joey Mallone, who died in the 1920ʼs. He reveals to her that all the women in the Blackwell bloodline, specifically her grandmother and aunt, were mediums. Therefore, she too inherits this ability to see and communicate with the spirits of those who are deceased. Some of them are oblivious of or fail to accept their untimely demises and it is her job to guide them into the afterlife. At first Rosa is reluctant and somewhat uncompromising. As the first game and the rest of the series advances, she not only accepts her role as a medium, but grows as a level-headed critical thinker.

There is a need for reevaluating early depictions of female characters in media as old societal stereotypes have become outdated. The toy and animation industry of the ʻ80s branded their characters as simply being beautiful until recent years. Video games in the past decades used a similar marketing strategy where sexiness was the defining characteristic instead of showing women with other strengths and beauty. These images had negative effects on young women and girls, according to many studies. In recent history, however there are emerging examples of characters created with diverse traits. Indie game developers are openly contributing to this cultural shift in a similar fashion to the gender-redefining input of the animation industry. Although the damaging stereotypes still exist in all forms of media to this day, the gaming industry is slowly helping to change social perspectives of women.

Game Dev Community Summer Potluck

Women in Games Boston

Come one, come all! If you’re a community member of the Boston area’s many game dev-related meetups, you are invited to spend an afternoon enjoying the summer sun on the green next to the American Twine building! Our summer potluck features food and good company, so bring yourselves and your families over for some fun times. Bring games, good cheer, and a delicious dish to share with our awesome community!

When:August 28th, 2016 (The day after Boston GameLoop!)

Where: Rogers Street Park, 222 Third Street, Cambridge MA 02142 (short walk from Kendall Square T station; parking options available)

Time:12pm – 5pm

Here’s the Eventbrite link to get more info and RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/game-dev-community-summer-potluck-tickets-26925608219

We hope to see you there!

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