So I played Her Story this weekend. It’s a game where you have access to a local police department’s video recordings of someone being interrogated. The game is FMV, like back in the 90s, and there’s only one actor: the woman being interrogated. You use this ancient police computer with a mock CRT aesthetic to search the database for keywords from the videos’ transcripts and try to figure out what happened.
You might be saying to yourself, “Interfacing with an ancient computer to piece together the past? That sounds like Sethian!” Well, you’re not the only one.
If you’re interested in the game based on that description, I do recommend it highly. It’s very well executed, and it’s only $6 on Steam. It probably won’t last you much longer than the length of a movie, but if you live where I live, a movie ticket costs a hell of a lot more than six bucks. However, this discussion will be spoiler free, so there’s no need to stop here and play it right now. There’s not much I want to discuss here as far as the spoilers go anyway.
One of the major differences between Her Story and Sethian is accessibility. Sethian is bound to be harder than Her Story because you have to learn a language. Her Story can really just dump you right into the thick of it. There’s a few .txt files on the game’s “desktop” explaining how to play and that’s it. Conventional wisdom holds that the absolute worst way to explain a game to a new player is to just tell them everything they need to know in a wall of text right at the start, but it kind of works in this case, because the game is just so simple. There’s not much to say. You can just dive right in.
And that’s the great thing about it. If you’re American, you might not know what “nappies” or a “cat flap” are, but other than that, these videos are immediately accessible. Comparatively, this would be Sethian’s endgame. It would be hours before you would get to that point in my game. And I envy that.
Up to now, I thought that my game couldn’t move too slow. The more time a player has to learn the game, the better. But now I see the advantage of speed. The world isn’t really open to the player until they have a grasp of the language. I talked about my open world philosophy two months ago when I was doing the campaign, and it still means a lot to me.
I think I’ve also allowed myself to be misled by biased feedback. The people I talk to the most about my game are friends and family. But they supported me without really trying to understand how the game works, and how I intend to teach the game to players. Since I got funded, and even before that, over and over again I had the conversation, “Oh, it sounds really hard and I’m so bad at learning languages,” and every time I review everything that I already wrote about at length, and talk about the stuff I showed in the videos. I would say the beginning of the game, as I’ve presented it so far, even thought it might overwhelm the player with information, it asks the player to absorb very little of that to actually progress (that’s something I need to balance, too – nothing should feel like white noise at the time the player is told it).
Originally I thought I would structure the game so that the player starts with only the first twenty symbols, then unlocks twenty at a time as they progress until the dictionary is complete. This would mean the dictionary is updated four times in all – and I was actually considering adding a fifth, for grammar and general reference rather than vocabulary. Now I’m thinking I’ll halve it, roughly doubling the resources the player has access to at a time. So starting with 20 symbols, you get bumped up to 40+, and then you get bumped up again to 80+, which will be about everything. I still like the idea of some symbols just remaining unknown for the entire game, so that you can never translate all 100, but I’m not sure how far I’ll take that.
The other thing is, I like the idea of the player having to approach a subject before they can fully grasp it, but you can only do it so many times. But I think in three phases it can work: first time outlines main events, second time gives a complete picture, third time goes into detail. Guess we’ll see.