“Wait dad, how do you throw the sword?”
“You press up.” <dad throws sword, misses.>
“You press up?” <Throws sword, kills dad.> “Like that?”
“Yeah like that.”
I would characterize this series of events I witnessed between a little kid and his dad as demonstrative of the first-play experience Nidhogg offers: fierce competition from the first moment, along with surprise and hilarity in its learning process. It’s retro design presents itself as simple in its mechanics, so simple that one feels not intimidated to jump right in and battle it out from the get-go. It tends to be that modern games present themselves as complicated to where one’s first play tends to focus more on mastery of the mechanics than beating up the other. Nidhogg averts this by stylizing the game in such a recognizable way that one feels not the need to get comfortable before obliterating their recently formed nemesis. Upon first playing I assumed that the only mechanics were jump and stab, and Nidhogg is designed in such a way that playing with this limited knowledge does not feel limiting; rather one assumes that these basic moves are all that there are, and feels not disappointed in its perceived simplicity because Nidhogg’s aesthetic provides this initial impression. This simplicity, however, is deceitful: as I played I progressively discovered more mechanics by using them accidentally, and only came to terms with the complexity of the fighting mechanic a good amount of time into my play experience.
The mechanics themselves are actually relatively simple, though definitely more complicated than is suggested by the appearance of the game, but each of the mechanics counter the other perfectly, and timing is key. This allows for a play experience in which overly complicated controls do not interfere with one’s ability to feel competent in controlling their character on the first play through. This is much different than a MOBA or an FPS where a considerable amount of time is spent learning the mechanics and the elements of the game before one feels in control of their situation, and consequently before outplays and mind games between players are made possible and relevant. The mind games are at the heart of Nidhogg from the first moments, and are made possible by the approachable move base and recognizable feel.
I was impressed at how well Shelter 2 owns its style, and graphics. In my short playing experience I found that it was exactly what it was meant to be. Its “unforgiving rawness” of the graphics provided an atmosphere that evoked exactly that of the experience of being a lynx. In the way that paintings tend to not be rendered dated due to their technological limitations, this game seems timeless: a remake of this game would not be benefitted by more advanced graphical technology for the way that its aesthetic fits with the theme is already perfect. In designing games of which I plan to develop one of my principles has been to design games that combine graphics and mechanics in such a way that is not limited by technology as are the expectations of a perfectly realistic walking simulator or first person shooter. Shelter 2 is a stunning example of this.
Mechanic Based vs. Poetic Based
I had never seen before seen this distinction acknowledged as I did in one of the video interviews. I have tended to be dogmatic in my understanding of how the poetic elements play into the play experience, and was made aware of this during one of the video interviews. When the developer discussed the distinction, I considered how my play experiences different between games with similar mechanics depending on their poetic choices. I still hesitate to accredit much difference if one is playing for strictly achiever purposes, but it tends to be that games based in their poetics tend to not target that mindset anyways (Shelter 2 is an excellent example of this). This opens an interesting discussion on the nature of the achiever mindset both in games and in the real world and how it can blind one to the poetics of things, as it has me.
I watched all of the video interviews at the space, and found a common theme among several of the developers: encouragement to get started right away making games. Many acknowledged how intimidating the idea may seem for the inexperienced, and shared personal stories of the overcoming of the barriers to game developing. They all urged that one begin developing immediately, and not let the perhaps overwhelming variety of gaming-making platforms, or the prospect of having to learn to code intimidate them. Instead, one should get on Game Maker, or any of the other free platforms for game design and creation, and simply start developing. One of the developers stated simply that the only difference between one aspiring to become a developer, and one being a developer, is to get onto one of the free game making websites and start making games.
Indie developers with this encouragement are helping combat the insular nature of the medium, and guide it towards one closer to that which Anna Anthropy envisions. As Anthony outlines, the history of video game development has primarily come from a particular demographic of those with technical skills of game creation. For much time it was a medium that only those who had a coding background could participate, and this limited it to the particular demographic of white male coders interested in Dungeons and Dragons and Sci-Fi. The demographic of coders continued to maintain this similar demographic, and limited the diversity of the both the medium itself, as well as the ways we think about it. Now, there many game making tools where one can immediately begin making games independent of their coding experience. Due to these platforms, the barrier to the medium has largely dissolved, however the psychological barriers that resulted from the originally difficulty of entering the medium have persisted, and continue to make the possibility of developing seem over the horizon for many. In their encouragement of participating in game design, these indie developers are combating the psychological after effects of a former barrier.
In designing games that explore the possibilities of the medium, these indie developers are challenging the limited ideas of fun that have shaped the mainstream play experience. With a more diverse population of game designers, more types of play experiences valued and the medium will expand in its basis for evaluating games.