Bryson’s been pressuring me to post about Children at Play for a long time, and I kept telling him “I’m too busy working on the game!” But enough a’ that crap. I uploaded the video preview to YouTube and I’ll have a playable demo up here very soon.
I started work on Children at Play at the start of last winter and its eaten a lot of my time since then. I consider it a small step, but an important one, in the right direction. I’ll save any in depth discussion for when I’ve got the demo up. For now I’ll post some text I’ve put together for various submissions and whatnot.
The team would be my brother and I. He handles sound effects and any non-procedural music and I do everything else.
Children at Play is a physics based puzzle game with gravity as its core mechanic.
Players must fire a blue star through curved space and around obstacles, bending space-time and igniting supernovae to destroy a red star target and darken the sky that much.
A boy’s mother refuses to buy him marbles, but while pouting at home, his wish is granted by a sparrow. The bird only requires the boy to play a game.
Beautifully generated procedural artwork and spacey, harmonic music are the backdrop to an eerie story about hidden consequences and the nearness of all that governs the universe.
Does Children at Play do anything new?
The experience of Children at Play is most similar to that of puzzle and sandbox games, but it is unique in that it lends meaning to the puzzle/sandbox skeleton within the context of a world and story and its primary means of doing so is via direct analogy, which I consider fundamental yet uncommon in game designs.
(THIS PARAGRAPH OF SPOILERS HAS BEEN CENSORED)
Furthermore, while the qualification of any game as art is regularly challenged, even those that agree games are art would not expect one to discuss the puzzle or sandbox genres as such. This is unfortunate because it is these genres that lay at the heart of all video games. Every game with an objective boils down to some kind of a puzzle, regardless of how far removed from puzzledom a game may appear on the surface. I’ll cite Braid and its predecessor Oracle Billiards because they each take a genre that would never be considered akin to “puzzles” and create an experience that I would consider primarily puzzle-like by exploring the use of time within their genres.
The sandbox is of greater importance to me because its curiosity-motivated, exploratory experience is exactly what I wanted to achieve with Children at Play, however it is the least respected of all genres. Even the gaming community will write-off sandboxes as “not really games” because they don’t have a clear objective. I find this extremely problematic because it is only a step away from claims that games cannot be art. The game cannot be art because its experience is variable or, in other words, the objective is unclear in comparison to works of static art (in which the “player’s” objective is obvious: sit and enjoy). The freedom of a player, limited as it may be in some cases, is what defines a game regardless of the artificial moral judgments enforced by point systems or forcing players to retry levels the right way. In fact, the only reason I included a point system in Children at Play was because some players seemed very apathetic without having something to maximize (or minimize–I included both to encourage experimentation), but ideally a player would invent challenges spontaneously.
Hope that wets some appetites. More comin.
-Christopher J. Rock