Tuesday 28 January 2014

Just One Trip - A journey into the dark world of addiction

Last weekend myself and the folks from Guerilla Tea found ourselves at the Dundee site of Scottish Game Jam which itself is an arm of the Global Game Jam. The 48 hour game jam takes place at the same local time everywhere from New Zealand to Hawaii, but I'll cover the event itself in more detail another day.

What follows is an account of our game, Just One Trip and the dark journey it leads you on through the heart of addiction.

Note: This blog is still to be revisited with added pictures but I wanted to get something out asap.

The Inspiration

As with all game jams, or at least all good ones - it all starts with a theme, every game at every site had to be based somewhat around the theme provided at the start which was:
We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.
From this somewhat vague theme we spent a large chunk of time brainstorming and coming up with some concepts around the ideas of perception eventually centring  around the concepts of addiction and a journey and we settled on what became Just One Trip - a journey through addiction focusing on how an addiction can affect your perception of reality.

The Premise

The game at its core puts you in the shoes of a mild addict struggling through life, at each hurdle the player is presented with a choice: the player can conquer the challenge and rise further above their addiction or drink their problems away, sinking deeper into their addiction. The choice the player takes will affect their reality, the path of someone clean of their addiction becomes easier over time however the challenges they face are increasingly harder to handle. Meanwhile the addict may find that the challenges they face aren't so insurmountable but simply navigating through life may be fraught with difficulty and as they succumb to their addiction they may note the highs aren't quite as great any more, nor indeed is life itself as easy to appreciate whilst they shuffle and stagger through it.

The Game

So that's the basic idea but that's a helluva lot of metaphor and not much game play so lets take a closer look. The game is broken up into three chunks the puzzles, the paths and the main room. 

Puzzles represent life's challenges and consist of 3 different types:
  • Movement Puzzle
    A basic puzzle involving jumping from block to block without falling.
  • Brick Breaking Puzzle
    A button mash event where you knock all the bricks out of a wall whilst they slower regenerate
  • Pendulum Puzzle
    A series of swinging pendulums that you must pass without being knocked off
Paths represent the players path through life and can also take various forms such as being packed with furniture or the floor moving beneath you.

Finally, the room provides some information on game performance, it will change over time as will the quotes from your wife.

These pieces are fit together procedurally to create an ever changing game that has no ending, reflecting the lifelong battle people suffering from addictions face and the individual puzzles and paths are also procedurally built allowing the path and puzzle to be dynamically varied in difficulty to a massive extent allowing for most of the rich metaphor above.

The final key game play characteristic is in fact the deterioration in ability of the player, as the player becomes more addicted they will begin to slow down, the camera will be prevented from looking up and you start sliding to the side as you look around, this combines to produce a very uneasy feeling. Particularly, the inability to look up feels very uncomfortable which was considered an interesting trait by everyone involved - it's not something you consider but the inability to hold your characters head high translates very well.

The outcome of all this is that the player finds themselves very uncomfortable whilst addicted but due to that deterioration will really struggle to complete the puzzles without taking the easy route which provides more and more to the metaphor being built.

The Conclusion

We set out to create a fairly ambitious game in just 48 hours including an entirely procedural, infinite, full 3D environment that closely followed a design that would identify the struggles of someone suffering an addiction. In all honesty, I'd probably call it pretty inconceivable to pull that off and almost certainly thought it at several times throughout the weekend whilst suffering from chronic fatigue but y'know what, we pulled it off and in my opinion very nicely - every element of the game is true to the design we envisioned and in a lot of cases better. I unfortunately lack the pre-requisite medical knowledge to know whether this could be remotely be considered a useful tool for teaching people about addiction or even if our realisation of addiction is in any way accurate but it would be nice to think it is and if nothing else it was really pleasing to have pulled it off.

Want to play?

See all the details including credits, source and playable builds at the Global Game Jam website:

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