the website of owen byron roberts

I finally got around to publishing my new game Endlessness in the Apple Store a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to reflect on it a bit, but the semester started and I have been busy getting read for classes. I’m really excited to be teaching a new Game Design course this semester at BMCC, it’s a special topics class, which means it’s not a regular class but one that I made up from scratch, which seems to be uncommon at BMCC. Anyway, I’m reading the first set of student blogs reacting to the first reading and prompt, and it’s leading me to reflect on my own work, so I’m doing this at the same time.

One of the interesting aspects of games is the way they treat death. Even if you don’t play games you are probably familiar with the way characters can usually have “infinite” life in game, although dying impacts your progress differently in different games, though recent trends seem to be that it doesn’t really matter at all how much you die. I found this useful article that covers how this effects narrative in game play, basically that it creates a narrative dissonance that most games don’t bother to explain. Of course, there’s a lot of disagreement about whether storytelling is even the point of games, but it’s something I’m interested in.

Death is actually the primary mechanic of my game god is a ghost which Endlessness is based on. Essentially, I had a lot of assets that I felt like I could do more with, so I built another game for a different platform, in a different styles, using 90% of the same 3d models, audio, animation and text. The main new part I added was background music and changing the basic dynamic from a first person exploration game to a endless runner mobile game/casual game.

In god is a ghost you have to die to advance the game and the story. There are basically four stages, three procedurally generated exploration levels that grow in size and complexity, both in terms of space and in terms of the narrative/textual/audio components, and then a final scene, which is basically a choice between two narrative experiences that are pre-programmed and not really interactive, the player is really just running around an animation. So unlike many games, you actually have to die to win this game. That was basically the idea I was exploring, death in games vs. death in life and mythology around death, ritual, rebirth, systems of meaning that center around death.

Endlessness is more about boredom and the idea of something being “endless”. I played with the idea of having the player never die, but it’s impractical for a few reasons. In the end, the player can die but it doesn’t really have any effect on the dynamics of the game, because there is no progression. Endlessness is a sort of Sisyphean system, it doens’t get harder, there isn’t really a goal, and there’s no real progression in the game, it’s just game mechanics existing for their own sake. I thought this would be an interesting experiment in the casual game space, instead of creating an addicting, frustrating game like Flappy Bird, which conditions the user to start a new game after each frustrating death, this game is intended to be boring and easy but hopefully weird enough to be a pleasant experience.