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thoughts | Sunil's Blog
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Sunil's Blog

I make games! Mostly weird ones.

Category: thoughts

Inner Vision conversation, stats

I recently responded to an e-mail. It was someone asking about Inner Vision, asking for some data and my motivations behind it. So, I thought I’d just share our conversation (I’m also too lazy to actually write a blog post about this, heh):

Message 1:

Hello Sunil,My name is [].

I am currently working on my PhD in Clinical Psychology and my research focus is in suicide prevention. Someone forwarded me your game Inner Vision some time ago and I’ve wanted to talk with you about it since.I think that the game was a fascinating experience. I wondered immediately if you had a background in psychology or were familiar with suicide prevention research, since the game is so evocative of what the science represents.

Also, I would love to know if you have any data about the game (e.g. how many people were “saved”, how many times the game has been played, how many people have seen the game, etc.). That my be wishful thinking, but I would love to see some data on the game.

If you wouldn’t mind talking about the game a little more in depth I’d love to talk to you about it. What motivated you to make this game? Why this presentation? Why suicide as your subject matter? I have a ton of questions.

But overall, I did enjoy the experience. I’ve forwarded it on to many of my colleagues.

As a final thought. I felt the music for the game was outstanding. I don’t know if you had an outside composer or if you did it yourself, but kudos. It was the perfect complement.


Message 2:

Hello [],

Thank you for taking the time to play my game, I really appreciate it. Now to answer some of your questions:

I actually have no background in psychology. I’m currently a junior undergraduate student going for a computer science bachelor’s degree. Some of the characters and conversations found in the game are based on real life situations I found myself in while having intimate conversations with friends. I wanted to share my experiences and feelings on suicide, so I decided to go to my favorite artistic medium: video games.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really implement any data tracking into the game. The only data I received were from the e-mails/messages I got from people who were really moved by the game. Here are some things that I’ve collected:

– People had the most difficulty with the last character, Oscar, who was homeless and suffered from drug addiction.
– People felt very sympathetic towards the first character, Miranda, who was struggling with her bisexuality (Interesting note: This character was 100% based on a real friend of mine)
– People universally hated Yama, the skeleton that heckles the player throughout the game.
– Everyone that I’ve gotten messages from stated that they beat the game and thought it was relatively easy/simple

I made the game at a very interesting point in my life. I was severely suffering from depression without really knowing the cause, and I needed an outlet to share some of my dark/morbid thoughts that had been circulating in my mind. Then the idea of making a video game out of my feelings came to my mind. I started to ask questions: Can I make a game that touches on serious/dark subject matter while still retaining a positive message? Do I even have the skills to do this? At the time I was very new to game development. I heard of a few success stories online, and just thought, hell, why can’t I make something too. So, I stared developing Inner Vision mostly to express the strong emotions I’ve held, and to prove to myself that I can make a game that derives from the norms and tropes of mainstream video games.

After spending a few months on it, spending all the spare time between going to classes, I finished the game. I posted it to Reddit hoping that some people might think it was neat/touching. Lo and behold, it kind of exploded. It got ranked number 1 on Reddit, video game outlets started writing articles about my game (Kotaku, RockPaperShotgun, etc.), and I started to receive e-mails. Since then, I’ve been working on another project that hopefully will delve into more topics that video games don’t really explore.

I hope this helped, and again thanks for liking my game. I would be happy to discuss the actual design of the game further if you’re interested.

Oh, and the music was not created by me. It was created by a very talented Cellist known as ‘Takenobu’.
The song is called ‘Exposition’ on Takenobu’s album called ‘Introduction’


Learning from other media

With the recent debate of what the definition of a “game” is, I thought I would write this post up. Video games are not movies. VIdeo games are not books. Video games are video games. But at the same time, I find it valuable to learn from other media to empower the medium that you are woking on.

Many game developers, including myself, get angry when studios, especially triple-A, try to develop video games with this hollywood-esque movie format (i.e. quick time events, lengthy cutscenes). Instead of playing a game and experiencing a story through the gameplay, we are subjected to play a game, watch a video for about 10-15 minutes, than go back to playing. This pattern pretty much goes throughout the entirety of the game. This is a very common format in video games these days, and I feel as if we’ve hit a wall in this regard. We need to learn and experiment with new ways to represent the stories and experiences in video games.

Video games are going through an identity crisis. We don’t know what we are, consequently sucking up all parts of different types of media into one cesspool. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if used wisely. There have been amazing games that have incorporated music videos, and animations quite nicely (go take a look at POP).

It’s organic in a way. We look at the past to try and improve the present. This viewpoint can be directly linked to video games. Game developers are looking at past media, and trying to improve upon it. If we can learn about what makes movies good, and what makes books good, maybe then we can learn what makes games good. For the game I’m currently developing, I’m looking at a certain movie opening (For the curious, the opening scene to the movie Enter the Void) that I’m trying to incorporate into my game. The difference is that instead of just copying the opening, making it into a video, and stick in as the intro of the game as a cut-scene, I’m trying to “gamify” it. In other words, make it video game-like, somehow. This is where the challenge comes, but a welcomed one.

Lots of developers. including myself, bash games for having too many elements from other media, especially movies. After some thought, I disagree. Instead of completely removing aspects of video games that aren’t games, let’s try to gamify other media!

Let’s take the movie Lion King. It’s a great children’s movie with some important themes that are good for children to be taught at a young age. If one was to go about and make a video game about Lion King (SNES!), and Instead of just using cut-scenes and cinematics, we should be looking at the important themes present in the movie, and try to make those themes into a game, somehow.

This all may seem a bit idealistic, but I do believe that we can learn from other media in a positive way. The problem is that it’s simply hard because of how new video games truly are. The reason I make games is because it’s the only medium where everything feels new, where there’s plenty of untapped potential. So with that pioneer spirit, let’s make some cool games in weird ways!

Take the Plunge

Tackling controversial topics is a scary thing. Whether it’s the fear of being disingenuous  or the fear of failure, it is universal. When it comes to video games, this fear is especially prevalent. We’re scared of what people will think, and we’re scared of how people will react and play the game. This is the problem.

Art is a powerful tool. It can touch you in ways like no other. It will directly hit you in the heart, in ways that feel good and even in ways that feel uncomfortable. Video games have this power, especially so since we have that unique dimension of interaction from the player.

So why don’t we use this awesome tool that we have to the fullest? I may be taking an artistic stance here, but our job as game developers should be making the players of our games feel something they haven’t really felt, or thought about, before. You should be able to take away a new way of thinking, or a new feeling you haven’t felt before. Something unique and special that you can call your own.

With that said, don’t let fear bog you down. Go head first, and make a game about something you don’t really understand. That’s okay. The important thing is you learning from that experience and growing as a game developer. You’ll learn from your missteps and make a better game in the future. Promise. So be naive and make games.

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