Finally, and after a lot of dithering, I have taken part in a game jam – namely, the 38th edition of Ludum Dare.
It’s take some insistence on the part of a certain designer friend and the lovely offer of collaboration from Dustin and Florencia, the amazing guys from Tea Powered Games. Working with them for these few intense hours, even from a distance, has been thrilling and very rewarding.
So let me introduce Nightwards, Heartwards, a short and wordy game about exploring the inner self and connecting with other personalities.
The topic of this Ludum Dare was “A Small World“. Of course that’s a very ambiguous theme, so we approached it keeping our options very open.
Being pretty much a party of all-around storytellers, we rapidly decided we wanted to go for a narrative-heavy game. We did more or less drop our initial ideas for an explicitly female lead and strong characterisation in favour of a more minimalistic/poetic approach, something that I like to think of as “Fallen London meets Twitter bot”.
We agreed we wanted it to be an exploration game pretty early on, and just as soon we decided that no, you won’t have a map, so you have to feel and remember your way around. These landscapes are not, after all, material – they are soulscapes, emotional states defined by the player’s proximity to Mind or Heart and Day or Night, a sort of cardinal coordinates of the inner universe. You guessed it, I have been riffing on Jungian stuff again.
When writing games I tend to err on the side of detail and carefully fleshed out motivations for my characters. With this game I have had an grand time letting my hair down and writing nebulously. A great deal of inspiration has come from Flo’s minimalistic and evocative art, which reminds me of the CYOA-style books I’d read as a kid. In the same vein, Nightwards, Heartwards is an unclear story, touched, I’d like to think, with the mystery of things only half-understood by a wide-eyed child reading a bizarre story.
The player is left free to roam a weird and allegorical wasteland, populated by four characters that hold significance to them. We have been deliberately vague, in an effort to leave to the player’s imagination who they are and what their relationship with the protagonist is. They are, like the player, wandering souls who crave connection but who would only stray so far from their comfort zone when following you Nightwards or Daywards, or along the Heartwards to Mindwards axis. And don’t we all?
It is up to the protagonist to seek them out and link them, just as it is up to the player to make their own assumptions and conclusions about meanings and implications. Just as the character is ultimately seeking a mental state in which to settle in order to find their own peace, players are welcome to settle on their own, freely chosen interpretation.