Imagine a video game in which your character can only take one step per day. Do you want to move again, right now? Too bad. You have to wait until tomorrow.
Michael Brough not only imagined that game, but he created it in about a week and named it VESPER.5, which is up for the Nuovo award at the Independent Games Festival 2013.
In order to experience VESPER.5, you'll need some patience, because you'll need at least 100 days to finish it. But exercises in patience, routine and ritual are kind of the point of this unique game.
What is your background in making games?
I've made games as long as I can remember. Board game variations, BASIC text adventures, mods. I studied math and computer science, which both apply to game design and development.
What development tools did you use?
visual studio, xcode, c++.
How long have you been working on the game?
I made it in about a week back in August.
Sometimes when making games, there's a lot of symmetry between making and playing them. With puzzles especially, the process of creating them is a lot like solving them, only harder. But for this, it's nuts, I could spend just a few days putting it together and declare that it would take however long I wanted to play it - it's completely asymmetric. I could just as easily have made it take 10 or 1000 days with the same amount of effort on my part. And I couldn't test it the way it was intended to be played, so I released it not knowing what it would actually be like to play.
How did you come up with the concept?
Ian Snyder came up with the theme "ritual" for the jam, and the idea from the game fell very naturally out of that, so I feel like a significant part of the responsibility is his. I interpreted it as the act of playing the game is a ritual, and this seemed like the simplest way to give players a reason to visit it repeatedly and possibly ritualize it.
You've written that VESPER.5 may become a ritual, or become a routine. How do you define the difference between a ritual and a routine?
I was thinking of a ritual as being a repeated action that carries some meaning beyond its literal material effect, maybe a cultural or spiritual aspect. I meant it positively, but maybe it's not the best word to use because you can take it as a negative thing too - [Proteus developer] Ed Key quoted to me the Tao Te Ching -- "ritual is the husk of true faith" -- referring to rituals as traditions that linger after they're no longer meaningful. Maybe "rite" is the right word? But I was mostly trying to get across a feeling, to set a tone, rather than saying something precise, so I don't want to quibble over definitions.
What are your thoughts on the conversation around the game and its unique concept? Some say "waste of time." Some say "worthwhile."
I think you get out of it what you put in. Video games come in two parts - the software that runs on the computer and the software that runs on your brain. There's not a huge amount going on on the computer side here, it just sets up a certain structure; most of what's going on is on the human side. If you choose to develop an emotional connection to the game, it will mean something to you; if you don't, then it's a waste of time.
It's interesting when people make the comparison with some games that limit your daily actions as a monetization strategy. I didn't even think about this until someone else mentioned it, but there's a clear structural similarity. I think because the intent behind the restriction here is artistic rather than commercial, the effect ends up being quite different.
What's next for VESPER.5 and what other game ideas do you have stirring around?
I'm not quite sure yet, I'm thinking about it. Now that I have some sense of what it's like to play, have run it at it's intended pace, and gotten feedback from other people, I think I can do some minor things slightly better. But not much better - it feels quite complete already. I'm considering a graphical upgrade as well. I'm not sure if that would be the right move or not. Oh also, a couple of people reported a crash on Mac that I really need to get around to fixing.
As for other ideas, I have plenty but I find it's best not to talk much about them before I actually make them -- the more I talk the less likely they are to actually get done. I'm still working intermittently on Helix, a simple action game that got an honorable mention for the IGF Design category. My last game, Corrypt was quite well received, and that's got me enthusiastic about making more puzzles - nothing solid yet though. Also, another two-player iPad game, akin to O and Glitch Tank. Lots of stuff.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
I haven't played many of them, I should go through and check them out. Spaceteam, Super Hexagon, and Starseed Pilgrim are all incredible - the latter two have been big inspirations to me.
What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?
Artistically, it's thriving. The barriers to entry are getting lower all the time, and it's great that you can make something worthwhile without years of practice. Twine has exploded in the last year, with a diverse range of personal stories being told interactively. If anyone wants to have an impact on the future of videogames, make tools like that -- make something as easy to use as Twine for a different style of game, with low graphical requirements, that can run in a browser, that anybody can use.
The barriers to financial success remain fairly high though. Even though anyone can put up something for sale, or take their chances with the App Store or Greenlight if they have $100 to burn, to actually get to the point of selling more than a handful of copies requires some unknown combination of time, money and luck. When I see someone like Jeff Minter, who's a role model of mine, who's been doing this for decades and makes great things and has a massive reputation among people I follow but is now just struggling to get by, it's really worrying.