While E3 dominated games industry headlines in recent weeks, an unexpected candidate for people's attentions in June has been Loved, a browser-based game by Australian artist and designer Alexander Ocias.
Developers of Flash-based browser games typically pride themselves on accessibility and user-friendliness. Loved takes a different route.
The free web-based platform game attempts via brusque, often contrary text and an ominous musical score to provide a stark, intimidating atmosphere. The resulting experience challenges assumptions people may hold about the respective weight of narrative and play mechanics.
In this interview, Ocias talks to Gamasutra on the creative process behind Loved, his view of the current state of interactive storytelling, and why players are ready for less force-fed exposition from developers.
How long did Loved take from conception to completion?
Alexander Ocias: About six months on and off, in my spare time. Loved went from being an exploration game, to a mining/building adventure, before arriving on the current form.
You're an artist by trade - did it require any specialized knowledge to put together the game or was it a function of Flash tools and libraries?
AO: I had a bit of self-taught programming knowledge going into this, so I wasn't starting entirely from scratch. I didn't use any pre-existing libraries, although towards the end of the project I was really wishing I had. It took a bit of research to figure out how to do certain little fiddly things, such as getting Flash to read my tile maps, or to generate the text questions; Most of it was just experimentation as I went along.
The game looks like an ideal candidate for a port from Flash to Apple's iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad platforms. Is that something you'd ever consider?
AO: Nope, not for this game, at this stage. I am definitely considering it for future games, though.
When you saw the initial response to the game, did part of you think of the App Store and mentally do the "sales math"?
AO: [laughs], for sure! The initial response altogether blew my mind - I was only hoping for a couple thousand views tops. Although, from my work on "Zogma", I know it's a very different audience. You contend with a 70-90% piracy rate straight off the bat, plus it's a lot tougher to get exposure on the app store. In the end, it might not have been that sweet a deal.
Is there a theme you're trying to convey with the game?
AO: Loved deals with dominance and power. To provide a full overriding answer would defy the point of the game.
What were your intentions in making the game? Was it practice? Something to put on the resume? Or...?
AO: I wanted to get people to wake up and think about the games they are playing. Much of the industry appears to be pushing in the opposite direction: essay-long tutorials, holding your hand from beginning to end and subtext screamed through pointless exposition. It is treating players like idiots and it's absolutely infuriating.
The game has come under considerable scrutiny and applause since its unveiling. Why do you think it's struck a chord with people?
AO: We're all sick of space marines and chainmail bikinis; we're starved of anything besides mindless violence and power-acquisition. Games like Loved are exploring a space that big-budget games are ignoring. People are demanding more depth and maturity, or are made very uncomfortable by it - either way, it drives a passion in them.
Loved definitely has a confrontational vibe to it. What was the motivation there?
AO: Well first up, it's just something that isn't done in games at the moment for some reason, and I wanted to make a push to change that.
Most of the time in games we sit a very voyeuristic position, where even if we've pushed a button to enact physical violence on someone, it's still "that character who you are playing" who is responsible. Worse yet, the end result of choice is mostly a statistical bonus or malus. In directly confronting the player, you now have the resource of emotions to utilize in the risk/reward mechanic. We just seem absurdly terrified of directly confronting the player, and as a consequence we're squandering a very valuable tool we have as artists in an interactive medium.
Secondarily, you realistically have five seconds to grab someone's attention on the internet. This is one damn good way to do it.
What games currently in development currently interest you? What designers out there do you think are doing good things?
AO: Last Guardian, Journey, Portal 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Team Ico are really pushing fantastic design in the most common sense, showing how to add a great deal of depth without being self-indulgent. Thatgamecompany are driving much-needed research and experimentation into what fundamentally builds our experience. Valve are expanding the audience of games, really showing how testing thoroughly and analysing feedback leads to perfection. Eidos Montreal are showing that adding a greater depth to games -through subtext, metaphor and social commentary - can pay off in a big way.
I would really love to have the chance to work with some of these guys one day.
One of the things Loved seems to underscore is games often get too caught up in explaining everything. Is the approach you took with Loved likely to be something you'll revisit when you put together your next game (assuming you will make one)?
AO: Definitely. Both from a gameplay and story point of view, it is both arrogant and lazy to force-feed the player. People want an experience, not an encyclopedia. However, I intend to try something quite different both thematically and mechanically for my next game.