September 24, 2013 12:45 PM | John Polson
What would it be like if a sidescrolling pixel didn't behave the way you'd expect, and how can you create a game that promotes discovery of these unexpected behaviors? These are the types of questions Valdemar Schultz Andreasen's Master thesis Pixel Being, in its prototype form, seeks to answer. Spotted first on freeindiegam.es, I contacted the developer to find out a little more about his curious project and himself.
Valdemar just delivered his Master's Thesis in Digital Design at Aarhus University, Denmark, in the beginning of September. "My thesis explores and discusses how games video communicate, from a design-philosophical perspective. Mostly about how level design can yield situations in which new information is revealed about how the tools, mechanics and game objects affect the world they inhabit."
He said he likes it when games are not explicit, citing examples such as the World 1-2 Warp Zone in Super Mario Bros. or "practically all of Braid." He makes the example of a large chasm in a platformer, where, if the player does not know that the run-button can be used with the jump-button, the player will never get further in the game. "Games I like don't overload the player with explicit text like 'USE THE RUN BUTTON AND THE JUMP BUTTON TO MAKE A LONGER JUMP', instead it is just left there for the player to find out, like being let in on the secret, when it's realized.
"So, as my game shows, I've tried to do the same here."
I asked Valdemar about how he explicitly pointed out which buttons to use in Pixel Being. He points out that there's a difference between telling the player which buttons can be pushed and telling the player what a push does. "The keyboard is confusing. 40+ keys indeed makes it hard to discern which ones are usable.
"How I've tried to balance this out in my game, is by stating to the player which buttons are usable but not what they do. As such, I feel a sense of mystery when a new 'power' is granted. The player still has to figure out what and how this use affects the world around, and how progress can be made by applying them... As it is right now, there is this mysterious sensing going on for the player, one which I would like to further explore."
Valdemar impressed us last year as a level designer on the student game Trail of Regret (pictured below) at the Danish Academy for Digital Interactive Entertainment.
He is not sure about what to do with his new solo project, but he feels excited about it. "Right now I'm still in the aftermath of the thesis delivery, trying to figure out what to do next. It would amazing for me to get in a situation of creating a larger game from this prototype, I'm definitely inspired to do more, as I like the mechanic a lot... I'm very inspired by the mechanics, I feel they could create a lot of wonder and curiosity.
"If this game is going to be further developed, I've thought about trying to get all of the keyboard buttons a use, making a weird sort of visual instrument, as well as a fun intrinsic commentary on video games and their controllers. (In fact, I already have found a use for eight more buttons!)"
After we chatted, Valdemar added a PayPal widget to Pixel Being's site to accept donations and to gauge interest in the game's future.