Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prelude of the Chambered

Notch, the creator of esteemed indie hit, MineCraft, recently released a made from scratch in just 48 hours freeware 3D browser dungeon game called Prelude of the Chambered. And it's brilliant.

The game begins in a small jail cell; players have only one interaction (press space to use) and then start to explore and collect different items which have new interactions; as they continue to discover items, each new ability gives players access to larger areas with new items and more puzzles. The graphics are reminiscent of doom; the textures are extremely pixelated and the corridors are completely rectangular. And yet, despite the crudeness of the experience, the game evokes more primary joys of gaming than many modern games with years of work put into them. And I'm going to talk a little bit about why I think that's the case.

Games have the capacity to evoke certain experiences not found in other media and they do this through interaction. Whereas books and film directly communicate to the viewer through pictures, text, and sound, games communicate to players by letting them experience things and making choices firsthand. In theory, this can produce a much more engaging experience than being at the passive end of the literary stick. Part of what makes Prelude so good is that there is virtually no text in the entire experience. All of the journey, the characters, the explanation, comes as a result of firsthand player experience. We start in a jail cell - innately, we know we need to escape now. This isn't told to us in a cut-scene, rather, it is experienced by us. And there's no cut-scenes either. When something happens as a result of our direct participation, it becomes much more real to us and strengthens the experience so much more.

Prelude also contains a unique sense of empowerment through self-made goals. In the beginning, we are trapped in the jail cell - we have the goal to escape. Then we break open a wall using our only weapon: our fists. However, the next area is blocked by a boulder, too heavy for us to move. Instead, we descend into a dungeon behind us and find a power glove; we head back up and knock the boulder out of our way to continue on. The goals in Prelude are not forced upon us as a player - we are meant to discover them, create our own goals, and then find the means to reach those goals ourselves. When we finally find the item that can enable us to continue on, it empowers us in a way that many other games cannot. This sense of personal empowerment - the at first unsolvable problem becoming solvable through firsthand discovery - is something that Prelude does perfectly - it lets us create our own goals, and then empowers us with new abilities to find the means to reach those goals.

Finally, Prelude also creates meaning through gameplay--the narrative, the goals, and the emotion in the game come from our interaction with the world itself and how it reacts to us as a player. We start to feel and understand the world around us, not through exposition or backstory, but through gameplay. For instance, bats are perceived as friendlier due to their more harmless nature, while cacti men are dangerous due to their harmful projectiles which propel towards us. We understand who these characters are in relation to how they function in the world; a crack on the wall symbolizes a new path just waiting to be opened; a ladder represents a descent into a new territory; a golden enemy symbolizes a powerful foe with a great reward waiting to be gained upon its defeat. Meaning is created through interaction, which is something Prelude capitalizes on excellently.

The last boss encounter in Prelude is one in which we must face an enemy whom we cannot kill or attack - a golden ghost whom we must lure back through a bewildering maze into a magic urn, while dodging enemy attacks, and staying close enough to the ghost that it will continue to follow us. The experience this creates, while extremely low-fi at best, is one that evokes intense feelings of desperation, anxiety, and in the end, triumph.

is a simple game, which is also why it succeeds. It doesn't hinge on the outward form of its presentation, but rather presents an engaging set of mechanics that create an experience, rather than force one on the player. Prelude doesn't do more than it needs to and it sticks to what it does best - it returns to the primary roots of gaming and what makes it so fun in the first place: an immersive, empowering, and meaningful experience.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home