29 May 2014
May 2014 - Of Two Minds
pdjamjampoetryabstractflight3dunitypostmortemdigital

I knew I wouldn't have much time this month, so a well-timed jam sure would be a good option. And along comes the Public Domain Jam. Sounds like a winner. So this month's 1GAM project, and my PDJam entry, was Of Two Minds.

The idea of PDJam, in a nutshell, is that we have a glut of zombie and Cthulhu games because they're public domain and easy, but there's a world of public domain material that could also be used to add some much-needed variety to our gaming world. Entries into PDJam were expected to use a public domain source material, such as an older novel or folk tale, and create a game around it, while also incorporating that jam's bonus theme of "Paper."

For bonus points, this also allowed me to walk my way backwards through the 1GAM theme for May, "Money." Creating a game specifically for a Public Domain Jam makes a certain statement about money and games, I think, and since I had to set up an itch.io account to submit my game, that also means I spent some time this month setting up my account to accept payments. I'll likely switch this game over from free to "pay what you want" once the jam is over (don't want to risk anyone running into any issues while judging), which means the game will be up for sale as well, further fulfulling the "money" theme for this month.

Right, so - win/win/win, let's get on with it.

Update - I'm pleased to say that out of 61 entries in the Public Domain Jam, Of Two Minds placed #4 in the "Stayed true to source matieral" category and #8 in "Innovative use of source material." Those are the two areas I was really focusing on for the jam, and for my first ever rated jam, I'm pretty happy with that result.

Theme and Structure

Of Two Minds is a little challenging to explain. It's exactly the kind of thing that some might argue about whether it qualifies as a game. It's a game with little challenge and one set of objectives leading you from beginning to end. It's like Thatgamecompany's excellent Flower, except with significantly less polish and style (and sound, and proper artwork...). It's a symbolic journey taken by the player's anonymous avatar through the assembly of two poems with contrasting themes, and it's from that contrast that the title of the game is drawn.

On one hand, as the avatar enters and exits each new area, the player assembles a stanza of the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, which praises the poet's indomitable spirit in the face of adversity and his refusal to let fear or antagonists decide his course. The mood is optimistic and defiantly independent.

On the other, as the avatar travels through each area, the player collects pages which contain fragments of the poem Alone by Edgar Allan Poe. In contrast to Invictus, Alone laments the poet's isolation and inability to exist happily in the same ways as those around him, and how this isolation and independence led him down another path, for better and for worse.

Mechanics

The avatar is specifically designed to be a blank slate, neutral and featureless. I used makehuman to create a starting point that was as gender-neutral and unremarkable as possible, and made some modifications of my own as well. Unfortunately, the avatar still appears primarily masculine except when viewed from the side while turning, but hopefully that doesn't detract too much from the effect.

Each of the four stages is an abstract representation of a stanza of Invictus through which the player flies, collecting the pages that build Alone over time. The simple flight controls (fly forward/back, hover up/down, rotate) are the player's only interaction with the game.

The Verdict

I'm definitely happy with this one, all things considered. Despite only having maybe 20 hours available to work on it, I got this project to an acceptably finished state in time to submit it (even if that did mean it was submitted without sound and any other niceties I would otherwise have added), and I've gotten some positive responses and good feedback, so that's already a win in my book. As of this writing the judging for the jam is still ongoing, so I don't know how I'll fare but I'm not too concerned about that. This was a good project to get me out of my recent rut of making projects that weren't really proper standalone games, and it served as a good reminder that jam constraints have been good for me in the past and I should continue to seek them out.

Note: the following builds are available for testing purposes but I don't have the ability to test them. These are Unity builds so I don't anticipate any serious issues, but I can't vouch for correctness or performance of these builds.