GDC Day 1: Abusing Your Players Just For Fun
Jonathan Soderstrom, aka Cactus, gave a presentation on how to abuse players “just for fun.” Cactus is well known in the independent game community for creating unusual games within YoYo Game’s “Game Maker” software. They often involve trippy visuals and 100% unique gameplay.
Why should you abuse your players you ask? Cactus supplies the reasons:
- Games are too easy.
- It’s more fun for the developer.
- You have more creative freedom.
- It helps you find new players.
He started the presentation comparing games to the movies of film-maker David Lynch. Movies include Eraserhead, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive. He showed a clip of movie Lost Highway, which basically culminated in a “What the fuck” moment… exactly that Cactus was trying to show. These films constantly had their viewers guessing what was going on, and most times left them with no idea. His only comparison in terms of games, which he said wasn’t even that close, were titles “Killer 7” and “Suda 51.”
After that, he got into “creating for fun” by comparing game development to punk rock music. He summarized this with a quote from John Holmstrom, “punk rock is rock and roll by people who didn't have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music.” When comparing this to Cactus’ design philosophy it’s a perfect fit. He uses Game Maker because he’s not a programmer, and makes games he himself enjoys, rather than his player base. He doesn’t have a huge skill-set per say, but has the desire to make something unique.
As examples, he used several game-play clips from his idol, Mark Essen. Essen’s style is described as really simplistic, hard, and strange. His first game, suitably titled “Punishment” was first on display. It’s goal is to constantly disorient the player by changing camera angles and controls, and severely punishing the player if they make a mistake. He showed a couple more clips of Essens other games, but then used them to highlight his next two points - “How to abuse graphics” and “How to create weird logics.”
His points for abusing graphics are simple:
Thinking outside the box and experimenting were the two keys to creating “weird logics.” They are the keys to easy design, fresh puzzles, and variation – the only problem the games are typically hard to judge difficulty on, and can be much too random.
All in all, Cactus’ was firm – Create games that you enjoy, rather than your players. Strive to make them unique, refreshing, and… downright confusing. You can find out more about Cactus at his website: http://www.cactus-soft.co.nr