March 4, 2014 7:30 PM | Lena LeRay
Oscar, a game currently seeking funding via Kickstarter, is a project led by AAA veteran Josh Long with the goal of creating a compelling experience for adult gamers by letting them tag along on a young girl's journey through a land of imagination that can't quite keep the problems of reality at bay.
Playing pretend is often overlooked by adults. We often don't have time for that sort of thing. Many of us make exceptions now and again, getting lost in a book, movie, or play, or for some of us in games, before getting back to the serious business of everyday life. But children lose themselves in imagination all the time, pretending things both realistic and silly. Imagination and reality constantly intertwine for children.
At its core, Oscar is a 2D platformer, but things like the music, sounds, and graphics can change at the drop of a hat to reflect the changing emotional state of the main character. While traveling through her fantasy world, pieces of the real world will start to intrude, giving the player hints about the nature of the real-life events the girl is dealing with. It sounds like a simple but potentially powerful storytelling technique. How much of it is the girl trying to escape her problems and how much is just a child's normal whimsical transformation of the imaginative play space?
Josh Long has experience leading groups of developers and doesn't anticipate that 3-person Team Sharkeye will have trouble finishing Oscar. The reason they've turned to Kickstarter, which was not part of the original plan, is that they want to be able to do things like hiring artists to give the game more polish. Oscar began as a passion project, and it seems that passion is still a driving force behind the game's creation.
"It's a game that uses interactive media's objective stance to raise awareness of real-world issues like single parenthood and bullying; we never tell the player what's going on or how they should feel about it and this is key to dealing with sensitive material," says Long. "Only as a young girl's fantasy world slowly gives way to reality does a player empathize with what the game is making them feel and recognize. As their own emotions gradually grant identification of what's happening, we witness a child facing something we all go through: trying to handle problems we can't quite articulate.
"I'm not expecting Oscar to be perfect, but I do know that realized it will provide a very different experience [than most of today's games do]. I look to someone like Jenova Chen and his path through FlOw, fl0wer and Journey; It takes time to cultivate new ideas, and we live in an industry today where spending a bunch of money to make an 'interesting' game that doesn't sell will just mean your studio closes right after. I've been doing this for a long time and I understand that it will be a process; there is no success or failure here, only getting closer to the goal."