April 24, 2014 5:15 PM | Staff
After his nomination at the Independent Games Festival in 2011, developer Peter Brinson was looking to continue onwards from his documentary game The Cat and the Coup and spark more even more discussion through the medium of video games. Rehearsals and Returns was the fruit of this particular loom: "A video game about conversations that will never take place."
Players approach well-known figures like Genghis Khan, Hillary Clinton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and are given a range of lines to say to each. The conversations you have are remembered, and other icons will then comment on the methods by which you carry yourself.
"Rehearsals and Returns came from my realization of what it really means to 'not be a kid anymore,'" explain Brinson.
"The game starts with a transition we all experience in childhood - the early recognition that there are people in the world we do not know. And the last part is based on my personal definition of adulthood, which is to realize that people that we know die and more will follow. Death is an impressively common device in video games, so let's keep exploring it as a mechanic and theme. "
With this game, Brinson aimed to break many video game ideals that we've come to see as standard -- elements such as championing the values of labor and productivity in our players.
"I want to make games in which effort and reward do not add up neatly," he notes. "Where neither the player's power nor the author's intent are the obvious focus. Without these essentials, what instead is laid bare? For some players, a worthy reflection; for others, an unworthy quiet."
Since it's a very text-heavy game -- and indeed, the conversations themselves are the main course, while the platforming is merely a mechanic to push the conversations along -- some players have asked the designer why he didn't simply make it a Twine or text-based game.
Brinson's answer: "I want to make games that are both visceral and ambient, while not being about defined outcomes, but about personal impressions."
"I admit that I expect a lot from my players," he adds. "I embrace what I call 'the art of subtraction.' When an artist omits formal elements that are traditional and otherwise expected (an example for games would be consequences), those pieces become exactly what's on our minds. Try serving a sugarless cake at a party. Guess what becomes the focus of conversation? Sugar. Why would he take that away?"
"Death is an impressively common device in videogames, so let's keep exploring it as a mechanic and theme."
You can also see this in Rehearsals and Returns, in the way that player statistics are collected together. As you play through the game, your choices are being saved and collated against all the choices that other players made -- but, says Brinson, this information is perhaps not used in the ways you might think.
"It doesn't collect data for the typical reason -- to sell it," he says. "And separately, Rehearsals and Returns might remind a player of those internet quizzes, such as 'Which Avenger are you?' -- but it's different than that, because those tests are very much about what the author thinks of you."
"Instead, Rehearsals and Returns is about our reflections on what we did or didn't say, at some point, with someone. That is not for me, the developer, to judge. It is just for you."
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]