Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: February 2012


Today, with all it’s outmoded discussion of leap year proposals (cue an articulate rant from a friend of mine*), seems like a good day to mention Catherine. When I mention videogames on this site, I generally prefer to highlight the games that push the medium forward (okay, or sometimes hark back two decades). Catherine is certainly unique and a purely descriptive explanation — it is a story-driven tower-climbing action puzzle game — is largely useless. Really it is an exploration of fidelity. This is a bizarre game of parts that build up to a greater whole because of how each layer informs the others, moreso because, against a backdrop of games that rarely handle romantic or sexual relationships with any semblence of finesse, Catherine actually manages to be rather thought-provoking.

Protagonist Vincent is a pretty ineffectual chap in a long term relationship with a girl named Katherine, who is beginning to press him about their future and settling down. Vincent is seemingly content enough whiling away his life in a local bar that he would rather maintain the status quo than make any serious decisions about commitment. In the week we spend with Vincent, a chance encounter with a vivacious young blonde (conveniently named Catharine) leads to infidelity, leaving him wracked by powerful guilt-ridden nightmares.

Much of essential plot is conveyed through high-quality anime cut-scenes that instantly reveal the game’s Japanese heritage. Meanwhile the gameplay is split between narrative segments in a bar, where Vincent can converse with his friends, the other patrons and — by text message — with the two girls now in his life, and tower-climbing segments in Vincent’s nightmares.

The conversations you have in the bar — often including questions of morality and faithfulness — affect the story outcome, while some patrons are reflected in the “sheep” characters Vincent meets in his nightmares. These nightmare levels form the heart of the gameplay, scaling a tower of boxes by moving them around to create traversable paths and avoiding traps, while the bottom continually falls away beneath Vincent’s feet. It’s a simple concept but with surprising complexity and challenge at speed. The really interesting thing is that this very mechanic underscores the heart of the game’s narrative: the paralysis of indecision isn’t an option — to live, you have to keep moving forwards, and sure you might get hurt or make a mistake that sets you back, but you have to commit one way or another.

* I suspect that, beyond tradition, waiting for the man to propose was considered partly a way to test his commitment rather than simply “waiting until he was ready”. By extension the modern proposer perhaps ought to be the more commitment-phobic of the couple, irrespective of gender. Just a suggestion.

Another Fine Adventure

Happy commercialised love day, readers! Should you be acceding to social pressure and purchasing a token of affection for your significant other, I certainly hope it is one of these stunning heart-shaped cakes. By comparison anything else can only be considered failure.

Speaking of spending money on things you love, since its inception the crowd-sourced funding site Kickstarter has scaled up from small arts projects to a feature-length independent sci-fi film I helped fund called 95ers: Echoes, which has now released a trailer.

Last week the exponential growth continued when game developing legend Tim Schafer launched a Kickstarter project to fund a small, old-school point-and-click adventure game. Having co-designed the early classics of the genre, Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, this swiftly captured fans’ imaginations and (more importantly) wallets, hitting the $400,000 target in around eight hours. A day later $1 million had been pledged. With 28 days to go, it looks on track at least to break $2 million.

While some hail this as a paradigm shift for the gaming industry, it really isn’t much more than it was for the music industry where veterans have used alternative internet funding in what artists like Amanda Palmer see as a return to the older patronage system. Pay-what-you-like sales, for example, allow major returns for those with established careers over which they have built up a fanbase, all typically within the label/studio system. It is certainly not available to everyone. But for accomplished auteurs, crowd-sourced funding represents a way to maintain creative control and integrity once you have garnered sufficient trust from fans.

Quintupling the funding goal brings its own risks. No longer is this a tiny $400K pet project; we’re already looking at a game with a budget two thirds the size of Schafer’s Grim Fandango, the best adventure game ever made (this is not opinion: it was a beautifully stylised hilarious noir romp through the Mexican Land of the Dead by way of Casablanca — even conceptually how can one top that?). The stakes have been raised by a not insubstantial measure. But they have my money, I’m invested and I really want them to succeed.

"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2023 Priyan Meewella

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