Last week I met head developer of Amazu Media on twitter, an independent studio currently developing Shrug Islands. This confirmed both the existence of innovative ideas in video game creation and the value of twitter to help finding interesting and dedicated people for me. The game will be centered on musical puzzle solving. They already issued a mini game earlier, Shrug Song, for which you can look at this playthrough on youtube:
The first time I’ve mentioned an indie game on this blog, was over a year ago, when the very attractive puzzle-solving Auditorium came out. Back then I was on fire so to speak, even more so, after having watched a documentary on indie games, where titles like Fez and Minecraft were discussed.
It became clear immediately that current technology and the free access to game engines like Unity or Unreal Engine 3 or even Nvidias PhysX library for lowest-budget productions opened immense possibilities for both the development and the enjoyment of games. The great developing studios and publishers of course create fantastic graphics and often push forward the frontiers of what is achievable, but they’re severly limited in their expression by marketing agencies, who treat the general audience like sheep, categorizing them in different form, color and esthetic preferenes. In other words, they tend to produce what already worked out well.
Independent developers by definition do not have this constraint. What’s important about this, is the fact that independent games not only offer game mechanics, that deviate from established paths, but that these novel ways actually cause amazing responses in the gaming community. Here, the gamer in person has the real possibility to add his/her individuality to a game, thus creating a unique experience, even for others to enjoy on youtube.
I might have dropped already one or two times my idea of a hierarchy of arts, where computer games lead all others from film, to 3D visual arts like architecture or sculpture, on to 2 dimensional things like music and painting all the way down to pure abstraction in language or geometry. This is of course not a grading of quality, it’s the complexity of the final product that counts for me. A video game offers potentially every experience, that the other arts produce, plus the possibility to inspire actions and reactions in the audience – because the game can develop with the player.
That’s the reason why I find myself thoroughly disappointed, when most games treat you like pawns in a chess game, like accountants or postmen. Of course this is not a bad thing as such, but given most scenarios, where you’re a hero, or some special person or a great evil mind or a ferocious fighting machine – this simply does not add up to a coherent experience. Moreover, all these games let you progress, by the time you invest in them and nothing else. Especially online RPG’s go this way: someone who spent 3 years of his life in the game will be a great master and might actually have the impression to have achieved something, but once the game falls out of general esteem, the time is just lost.
The reason might be, that the aforementioned marketing specialist tell the distributing companies, that the main audience is somewhere in it’s adolescence, corresponding interests and capacities; but does this have to be this way?
Then a game like minecraft comes up, and people begin to construct – in what might be the uggliest game of all with the least amount of actual rules behind it; they build starships, cathedrals, places from fantasy novels or arithmetic processing units. Every one of those activities, albeit done in a virtual world, developed skills from which you benefit in any reality you chose: patience, achieving a goal, geometric imagination, understanding some complex design model and so on.
Now this is the general trait of independent games. I’m not talking about a cell phone shooter or some mini game that lets you create music by shaking your smart-appAratus like crazy.
Think of games like Vessel, where you progress in a 2D arcade style by making use of different fluids, which behave differently according to physical qualities like density, viscosity, temperature. As you solve puzzles, also the atmospheric music grows in complexity, which you can follow automatically building up a certain intuition for musical composition. Fez, which reinterpreted the old story of 2D people discovering the 3rd dimension in an intuitive way. This, while being cute, is actually a skill that you need for mathematical modelling and the use of high-dimensional abstractions. The Novelist, where you live through problems with the creative process, by solving social problems communicating with your family. Both are traditionally an aspect completely left out both of didactive descriptions and teaching methods, again, as if living constantly performing creative tasks were a self-evident and easy thing to do.
Today I want to present Shrug Island by Amazu Media. It is a 2D game, in which you have to solve puzzles to progress. The story tells you about a people who communicate with an universal entity, by means of music. Their world and very existence depends on this central being and relations have to be maintained constantly. The aim is, to let the player learn the musical language of the Shrugs, first by repetition of visual and acoustic sequences, then by association of music to visual patterns and lastly by variating rhythm and melody to achieve certain goals in the game. To my knowledge, this is a unique concept and could make full use of all the little gadgets, that we all have constantly around us: cameras, microphones, touchscreens, recognition of movement and orientation and so on.
All this will be presented in a very cute, watercolor-like creature and level design which is also a pleasure to look at, already at this early stage. Let me show you some concept art:
The project currently runs a Kickstarter campaign and I sincerely hope they will succeed. You can also find more information about the concept and the artist there. I for my part would love to see, or hear rather, this concept in action.