Lifting the Curse
Nearly 11 years into Abstraction Games and we’ve finally committed a dedicated team into developing our very own, bespoke game project. We actually began working on this back in early July after a number of months planning and preparation, as well as personal time overcoming my own inner battle which was eventually eased by the resourceful, helpful and outright brilliant sound boarding provided by Tiberius, our Creative Director. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this battle must have been a form of impostor syndrome. That’s all behind us now but I’ll tell you what I believe is the reason behind this initial struggle.
Even as an 11 year old fooling around with computers, first with my dad’s ZX Spectrum, then with the Commodore 64 for which I had saved over a year’s worth of allowance, Christmas and birthday presents (all of which I had decreed should be in a monetary form), I've had a deep love for ‘Adventure Games’. Back in the day, the ‘Adventure Games’ moniker depicted games 100% free of arcade action, games that instead required lateral thinking or ‘easy contemplation’ as Ron Gilbert calls it even to this day. In these original games, there were obstacles to overcome with no immediate, obvious solution and you’d have to apply considerable creative thought to overcome each obstacle and all of this wrapped in a detailed storyline. You'd solve puzzles by thinking, thinking often performed while being away from the keyboard, either sitting back in your chair or even by walking and pondering. When the lightbulb moment happened you'd hastily go back to your keyboard and type in the commands leading to what you hoped would be the right solution. I loved these mind games, but they were not without their flaws.
The biggest problem was that you as a player were not really battling within the world of the game or with its inhabitants, basically (unknowingly) you were battling the designer/writer/programmer head-on (back then usually one and the same person). If the designer had designed a specific solution that didn’t feel intuitive to the player for whatever reason, the player would get stuck. This was one of the most frustrating gameplay experiences which I believe eventually led to the genre’s demise. Players simply got bored with not knowing what to do next. After Text Adventures came Point & Click Adventure games. Technology advanced and imagery, animation, and voice-overs were added and the genre reached a slightly bigger market as a result, but something got lost along the way. Whereas with Text Adventures you had to find out what action did the trick out of a potentially unlimited amount, since the games did not let you in on which verbs were available, to begin with, Point & Click Adventures provided the player with a set number of commands to choose from. As much as I also enjoyed those games to a certain extent, even back then I felt the genre was moving in the wrong direction. Why? Because moving from text to having pictures combined with otherwise limited possibilities is as bad or worse than going from a book to a movie. Imagination, mystique, and depth get lost in the process and therefore, for most people does the reason to even bother engaging.
So, I was 15 years old, playing P&C Adventures, with dreams of crafting my own adventure game. Highly driven by technological innovation, it had to be in 3D, although 3D technology wasn’t yet a thing. It also had to be a game that felt unlimited in terms of experimentation. I’m 45 years old now and so it took 30 years for me to conceptualise a game that retains all the good aspects of adventure gaming while removing the bad. This was very ambitious, maybe too ambitious, so insanely ambitious, that it took me 30 years! I tried many angles and always came to the same conclusion: the genre simply does not sell, I will never be able to convince anyone, including my own team to contribute and therefore my dream project will only ever remain a hobby.
Fast forward to the present time, we're two months in and the entire team is extremely happy with the core concepts and initial progress. When I first presented the idea of crafting this game and transforming a genre I explained to the team that for 30 years I had been cursed with the desire to create an adventure game and that now is the time to lift that curse. I recall shaking whilst I recounted my story and explained how important it was to me on a personal level. Needless to say, I didn't assume people would be easily convinced. I had been trying to convince folks around me for many years, parents, partners, bosses and my own colleagues and more often than not, folks would play devil’s advocate, in other words: stealing my dream.
This time I’ve cracked it. I've found an answer to the illusive bespoke solutions and bespoke problems that lead to people getting stuck. I found the answer in emergent technology and gameplay from other genres. There will *never* be a point where the player becomes ‘stuck’, there will always be a path through reasoning, there will always be options. Also, and more importantly, players will have the ability to create their own solutions and if plausible they will just work - as it would in the real world, or at least in the simulated world that you understand from playing the game. There’s no more figuring out what the designer intended, it’s about your intent and it will be your story to tell, not ours.
I don’t need to explain how important a dedicated and motivated team is to this project. A team that understands, appreciates and wholeheartedly shares the vision. I’ve been seeing the most amazing leaps in their craft over the last couple of months, they're completely onboard and I could not be happier. People get it, they’re busy creating amazing prototypes but it will take a good few months before we have our first presentable proof of concept. We’re raising the bar on a number of pillars in the gaming experience and there’s nothing out there on the market that comes even close to what we aspire to create. Let’s find out how far we can take this. Whatever happens, I have no reason to believe that my curse can’t be lifted! ;)
By Ralph Egas, CEO at Abstraction