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Incline Strangeland - new adventure game from Wormwood Studios

Sòren

Arcane
Joined
Aug 18, 2009
Messages
1,695
(6) A flaw in my methodology of consuming associated non-game media compulsively but not researching other games revealed itself, namely that my ignorance of games like Silent Hill 2 meant that I was unaware how familiar the terrain we were treading was. Oh well. One thing I did expect was that players would want a twist, which the game does not deliver. I enjoy twists as an audience member, but I find them a little less engaging as a writer, and the whole point of Strangeland is that the player needs to be ahead of the character, not behind him, so I don't think a twist could've worked even if I had wanted to include one. Still, when you read "I was disappointed by the lack of a twist" for the 100th time, if nothing else I feel bad for disappointing players and not signaling more clearly that no twist was coming. (Ironically, though, those very signals seem to be what makes someone feel there must be a twist coming -- it all seems like an act of misdirection.)

it's not about twists, really. it's about the presentation of the game and how PC and NPCs behave, that japanese productions like SH2 and many others cultivated almost to perfection, making dream like scenarios seem "real". u would have been well advised to study them before attempting a game of this kind. u could still add ur own western and personal perspective, building upon the concept.

anyone who is familiar with those games probably notices that u made a lot of "beginner mistakes" in Strangeland.
 

ghostdog

Arcane
Patron
Joined
Dec 31, 2007
Messages
10,817
The game has very little to do with Silent Hill 2 apart from the abstract "looking for my dead wife/love/whatever". It shares much more similarities with Sanitarium, which I believe MRY is aware of.

I think the problem with Strangeland is that, as a player, your involvement with the main character is mostly philosophical, since the game never really tries to involve you in the events of his actual past life and the story that was behind what led to this. I'm sure this was intentional, but it I still felt a bit detached as I played.
 

MRY

Wormwood Studios
Developer
Joined
Aug 15, 2012
Messages
5,646
Location
California
u would have been well advised to study them before attempting a game of this kind.
No doubt that is true if I wanted to maximize certain returns on my investment. But probably not true for the balance of factors in my life. I wouldn't in a thousand years aspire to becoming an expert in making a game like SH2 or other Japanese horror games, since to me, that isn't what I was setting out to make, and I don't have the time or patience to study games, and even if I had the time and patience, I don't really believe that the best use of my little skill and limited time is to try to make something that would reflect a deep knowledge of contemporary gaming conventions. My goal has always been to add something from outside what is trending and successful in gaming, by combining a very dated view of the genres I work in (i.e., one frozen in time since I basically stopped playing games in the early 2000s) with my non-gaming interests. (A long time ago I wrote an article about this general point.) The truth is that, at least from a narrative/design perspective, any similarity to games like SH2 (or Dark Seed or IHNMAIMS, which I really ought to have played) is really coincidental -- I didn't even play those games.

As ghostdog points out, I did play Sanitarium when it came out, and I enjoyed it, but even there I think the similarity is largely coincidental (a result of Vic wanting to set the game in carnival, or Abe sound like the protagonist) or subconscious. There were parts of Sanitarium I thought were pretty clever, but overall it wasn't an adventure that made a big impression on me the way Loom, QFG, Kyrandia, KQ5, MI2, Grim Fandango, Dragonsphere, or even Hugo 2: Whodunit? did.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that my method is the right one, or that SL is some kind of masterpiece, or even that it's original (as the annotations are meant to show, any originality lies in the selection and arrangement of elements, not in the elements themselves). And I'm not trying to argue with criticism or reject advice (both of which are generously given, and which I try to graciously receive). It's just that at some point candor requires me to say when I'm not interested in something, and this falls in that category.

I'm sure this was intentional, but it I still felt a bit detached as I played.
Very much intentional. I was completely uninterested in the incidents of this character's life, and more focused on how to embody certain feelings of self-doubt, despair, love, longing, etc. I mean, you can infer plenty from the character based on the things you find in his mind, which is to say, you can infer things about the authors. But you're absolutely right -- unlike Sanitarium, there is no defined protagonist on the outside of the imaginary space, where we can say, "He is X years old, has such-and-such job, is named so-and-so."

The game certainly would've been different had I gone that route, no doubt better for many, perhaps worse for some. But, again, I had no interest in such a project, so no such game ever would've existed -- perhaps Vic, James, and some other writer could make it, but not me. :)
 

Sòren

Arcane
Joined
Aug 18, 2009
Messages
1,695
No doubt that is true if I wanted to maximize certain returns on my investment. But probably not true for the balance of factors in my life. I wouldn't in a thousand years aspire to becoming an expert in making a game like SH2 or other Japanese horror games, since to me, that isn't what I was setting out to make, and I don't have the time or patience to study games, and even if I had the time and patience, I don't really believe that the best use of my little skill and limited time is to try to make something that would reflect a deep knowledge of contemporary gaming conventions. My goal has always been to add something from outside what is trending and successful in gaming, by combining a very dated view of the genres I work in (i.e., one frozen in time since I basically stopped playing games in the early 2000s) with my non-gaming interests. (A long time ago I wrote an article about this general point.) The truth is that, at least from a narrative/design perspective, any similarity to games like SH2 (or Dark Seed or IHNMAIMS, which I really ought to have played) is really coincidental -- I didn't even play those games.

As ghostdog points out, I did play Sanitarium when it came out, and I enjoyed it, but even there I think the similarity is largely coincidental (a result of Vic wanting to set the game in carnival, or Abe sound like the protagonist) or subconscious. There were parts of Sanitarium I thought were pretty clever, but overall it wasn't an adventure that made a big impression on me the way Loom, QFG, Kyrandia, KQ5, MI2, Grim Fandango, Dragonsphere, or even Hugo 2: Whodunit? did.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that my method is the right one, or that SL is some kind of masterpiece, or even that it's original (as the annotations are meant to show, any originality lies in the selection and arrangement of elements, not in the elements themselves). And I'm not trying to argue with criticism or reject advice (both of which are generously given, and which I try to graciously receive). It's just that at some point candor requires me to say when I'm not interested in something, and this falls in that category.

my point being, if u are attempting to create a game of certain genre - and SL certainly is a game that can be easily categorized, similar to Sanitarium, Fran Bow, this one guy that keeps making games like the Cat Lady - it would be a wise to learn to from masters of the craft. if u do not want to invest the time necessary to learn from those, why even bother? why step into territory u know so little about?

Primordia, with the world and certain presentation as it is, is a fine product and the attention it got as an indie game is some kind of proof of this. do something u are good at instead, if u do not wish to develop into other directions. it's a waste of energy.

but whatever, it's something i noticed about ur game and i thought it was interesting that u admit as much. i appreciate ur outputs.
 

MRY

Wormwood Studios
Developer
Joined
Aug 15, 2012
Messages
5,646
Location
California
my point being, if u are attempting to create a game of certain genre - and SL certainly is a game that can be easily categorized, similar to Sanitarium, Fran Bow, this one guy that keeps making games like the Cat Lady - it would be a wise to learn to from masters of the craft.
But this is exactly what it seems I can't convince you: for all Strangeland may seem to you like an "attempt to create a game" like SH2, it wasn't. Nor do I consider it an attempt to make a game like Sanitarium, Fran Bow, or Cat Lady, except to the extent it is an attempt to make a point-and-click adventure (which those also are) that involves psychological themes (which those also did). The label "psychological horror" was something that was put on the game post hoc for marketing reasons. I didn't wake up one day saying, "I want to make a psychological horror game." I woke up wanting to make Strangeland, specifically.

"If you made your game more like SH2, more people would like it," may certainly be true, but if all I want is money I'd just put in the extra hours at my day job.

if u do not want to invest the time necessary to learn from those, why even bother? why step into territory u know so little about?
Strangely enough, never in my life did I say, "When I grow up, I want to be him." I know that mindset is really valuable for some people but it never was mine, even though there are a few teachers over the years who made a huge difference for me. Nor have I ever said, "Let me think about what kind of game people would really like" or "Let me think about what kind of game would sell well." That's an important way to think if you're supporting yourself by game design, but I'm not. It's a way of engaging my mind and imagination, and a way of connecting with people.

It seems to me, "I make games because I enjoy making them, and I enjoy making them because I'm making what interests me" should be an adequate explanation. That I've made hundreds of thousands of dollars doing so is certainly an added pleasure, but I stopped making games for money (which I only ever did in work-for-hire situations) when I went to work professionally in the private sector in my day job.

do something u are good at instead, if u do not wish to develop into other directions. it's a waste of energy.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This is a strange argument to make in the midst of a debate on a message board, no? Shouldn't the context be enough that we can both agree that at least some of life should be just doing things that seem satisfying, or at least fleetingly interesting, rather than vying for prizes? Of course, prizes are great too -- I spend most of my life chasing them, and sometimes getting them -- but it's not the be-all-end-all of existence.

Regardless, I don't think crafting a tale that means a lot to me, and is played and enjoyed by thousands of people, is a waste of energy. I'd get more bang for my buck if it were played by millions of people, sure. But if the price of doing that was trying to mimic other games, it wouldn't be worth it for me.

Again, since it seems like I've irritated you, I'm not saying that my approach yields the best games, that it's more sophisticated, or anything like that. Your advice is good advice. But my approach is my approach, and it has done well enough for me -- as you note, Primordia was pretty successful (250k sales, 97% positive on Steam, etc.), I used to be able to get freelance work whenever I wanted it at Bioware, inXile, etc. It would be hard to convince me to abandon it. :)
 

Sòren

Arcane
Joined
Aug 18, 2009
Messages
1,695
i do not know why u believe i am talking about monetary gain or "prizes". it has little to do with those, they often are a nice side effect of the proper engagement tho.

but whatever. i do not care that much. do as u wish.
 

baud

Arcane
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Dec 11, 2016
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Septentrion
RPG Wokedex Strap Yourselves In Pathfinder: Kingmaker
 

HoboForEternity

sunset tequila
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Messages
8,312
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Disco Elysium
Finally started this after putting it away to finish up my longer games. After 80 hours of elex and 70 hours of nioh, finally am in the mood for shorter, trippier experience which strangeland totally hits.

Art, music, atmosphere and dialogs are brilliant so far.
 

jac8awol

Savant
Joined
Feb 2, 2018
Messages
385
I'll give you some unasked-for insight into my point of view, which may or may not be shared by others. I haven't bought the game (....yet?). The subject matter doesn't pull me in. After seeing the trailer, the part that resonates with me is "You know how this ends." And yes, I think I do, because I played games like Sanitarium, Silent Hill, The Void and even Grim Fandango which all deal with death/coma/mental illness, and I've seen Monkeybone (coma/carnival). The subject matter has been done to death, and I am 99% sure it will be a story about a guy who has a breakdown, is in a coma, or has just died.

I've seen it before, no matter how pretty the packaging, and I don't think I want to invest time in something where the exploration is that introspective. I've explored grief on a personal level, as have we all. Primordia had a novel world that was really unknown to anyone and I'm sure that's what drew people in. Anyway, looking forward to Fallen Gods.
 

MRY

Wormwood Studios
Developer
Joined
Aug 15, 2012
Messages
5,646
Location
California
Appreciate the insight.

That is not how it ends, but the ending is highly predictable all the same. Under no circumstances should you play it if you're looking for a twist. To the extent the game has novelty, that novelty is certainly not from the game's core theme (a man coping with despair and grief -- I suppose this might be what you mean by "a breakdown" or "mental illness," I took those to be a schizoid episode in which he actually believes these things to be real, which is not the case here), or from its setting (a seedy, dark carnival -- are there any other carnivals?), nor from the pairing of the two.

To the extent there is novelty, in terms of the theme, it is the union of mythological, literary, religious, and psychological elements, the specificity and consistency of the imagery (e.g., how the cicada or Feejee mermaid are used), and perhaps the intensity of certain themes. For some players, I think the voices in the game will speak with disturbing familiarity. For some players, the arc of grief will feel very real. But for many players, it will just be a not-very-scary horror game retreading familiar terrain.

On a line-by-line level, I think the writing is the best I've ever done to my own taste, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the narrative as a whole is. And the writing is not going to be for everyone. Stylistically, some people might enjoy the wordplay, punning (I mean, where else will you get "idle offer," "idol of her," and "idyll afar" punned?), and Very Serious soliloquizing like: "There's... a shadow the dead leave behind. / Words that echo in your ears, / phantoms that linger behind your eyes, / and a weight of pain, / heaped up on your back. / Even your voice has that stoop to it, stranger. / A man can carry the dead, / but their place is on the pyre. / Do you understand? / Once you have a flame, / it will draw spirits from the dead, / as though they were moths." But lots of people won't.

Structurally, some tiny percentage of the population may think it's clever to weave the multiple meanings of "imago" (entomological term for the last stage of insect growth, psychotherapeutic term for the idealized person of another, Latin for "phantom," "echo," "reflection," etc.) and "onkos" (mask, burden, tumor) throughout multiple characters and encounters, or to connect the torment of Loki in the Lokasenna with the serpent on the Tree of Knowledge and a chemical IV drip, or to connect the troll mirror from The Snow Queen, the shattered-mirror motif of horror, Lacan's mirror stage, carnival mirrors, 1 Corinthians 13:12, and the mirror-mark test -- but many players won't notice, won't care, or will be irritated by the navel-gazing pomposity.

But the game was made for me, not for others. It was me applying all that I've learned to try to understand certain hard questions, by rendering it into a game. The specificity, consistency, and intensity of the images and themes is because the mind you're exploring is pretty much my own, under the hypothetical scenario that I had just watched with my grandparents' death. There's no reason why this should speak to others, but it does seem to, so I'm glad. The game contains a lot from Ecclesiastes, but it turns out that pouring all my trivia and intellectual interests and hobbies into the game was not chasing after the wind. All that vanity has produced a generally pretty positive reaction, notwithstanding the game being too "heteronormative" to get an entirely positive review from Vice or whatever. :)

And even if the writing is all in all tedious and arid for you, I think Vic's art is striking and juicy, so you should play it for that alone. Honestly, the teratoma, black dog close-up, and final reflection alone are worth the low price of admission. The voice acting is quite good, too. And the overall soundscape that Vic created is really impressive.

Primordia had a novel world that was really unknown to anyone and I'm sure that's what drew people in.

Who knows? To me, Primordia is a familiar pastiche. It has some unique lore, but that is mostly in the details (as with Strangeland), not the general contours. I think a lot of people were drawn in precisely by that familiarity: the familiar wasteland, the familiar road warrior, the familiar hero journey, the familiar AI overmind/hivemind adversary, etc. I think what left a lasting impression though were the unique specifics we brought to the setting -- Vic's use of organic forms in an inorganic environment, the humanness of the robots, etc.

With both games, to the extent I wasn't just selfishly writing what I enjoyed writing and reconstructing my interests and passions into a game design, I wanted to make a narrative about the triumph of human spirit and classical wisdom, hope and faith, decency and dignity. I actually think these themes, which should be the most trite of all, are quite rare in game narratives, which are often brutal, ugly, iconoclastic, radical, etc. Many people celebrate those qualities, and that's fine, but mine is not a muse of gasoline and bullets.
 
Last edited:

Atrachasis

Augur
Joined
Apr 11, 2007
Messages
164
Location
The Local Group
in which he actually believes these things to be real, which is not the case here

Yes, I think that's probably what makes it so hard for me and a few others to connect to its surreal world. The moment you render such a scenario in bits and bytes, in pixels and in WAVs, you are attributing to it a certain... solidity, an objective reality, that it's just not supposed to have. There aren't supposed to be any cameras inside a person's head. For me, psychological horror, especially if its more existential than jump-scary, would work better with more subtle cues. But that's a matter of taste.

Darkozric said:
Then why didn't you keep it for yourself and you selling it?

Well, what is an artist who is in the habit of creating and subsequently sharing art supposed to do? Sibelius's 4th symphony is also an extremely personal statement, full of bleakness and desolation. Tchaikovsky's 6th an intensely personal statement that befuddled the audience at its premiere. Mahler made the ghosts haunting him audible in many of his symphonies. I mean, as a critic, you would of course have been right to wonder what the fact that Alma was shagging Walter Gropius was doing in a concert hall. Yep, accessibility is not the primary objective here. But they wrote and published and performed these works because that was quite literally their job. I mean, what else was MRY going to do with this subject matter, make a lawsuit out of it?

Whether they succeed as works of art is another matter, of course. On the whole, the world got more interesting due to having these works out there, even though they'll always remain more divise. So, although this fails to draw me in, much as Sibelius's 4th turns some un-monocled listeners off, I'm glad that some devs and their publishers have the liberty of bringing intensely personal works to the market without optimizing them to maximize the target demographic.
 

Darkozric

Learned
Edgy
Joined
Jun 3, 2018
Messages
420
Well, what is an artist who is in the habit of creating and subsequently sharing art supposed to do? Sibelius's 4th symphony is also an extremely personal statement, full of bleakness and desolation. Tchaikovsky's 6th an intensely personal statement that befuddled the audience at its premiere. Mahler made the ghosts haunting him audible in many of his symphonies. I mean, as a critic, you would of course have been right to wonder what the fact that Alma was shagging Walter Gropius was doing in a concert hall. Yep, accessibility is not the primary objective here. But they wrote and published and performed these works because that was quite literally their job. I mean, what else was MRY going to do with this subject matter, make a lawsuit out of it?

Whether they succeed as works of art is another matter, of course. On the whole, the world got more interesting due to having these works out there, even though they'll always remain more divise. So, although this fails to draw me in, much as Sibelius's 4th turns some un-monocled listeners off, I'm glad that some devs and their publishers have the liberty of bringing intensely personal works to the market without optimizing them to maximize the target demographic.

Tchaikovsky and MRY? Seriously? What Tchaikovsky has to do with this pretentious so called writer. You want to tell me that the world is more interesting now that we have strangeland? Stop immediately the drugs you're taking, they breaking you.
 

Darkozric

Learned
Edgy
Joined
Jun 3, 2018
Messages
420
What a profoundly stupid thing to say.

Listen, if I were you Chris, I won't be talking about stupid things. You've said some pretty stupid/naive things yourself at times on your twitter account, and I mean no disrespect.
 

HoboForEternity

sunset tequila
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Disco Elysium
Art for the sake of personal accomplishments is very subjective, but by any margin beats something made to be product. I might not like strangeland when i finish it, but i will recognize the passion and sweat put into it, that itself is a value to me.

"Why don't the artist keep it to themselves if they plan to make it just for them"

Is utterly dumb shit and the exact reason why the planet is saturated by products, focus tested and market researched instead of fruits of passion.

Artist put their art out there to offer people perspective, to know people enjoy your work outside of monetary reward, spreading their ideas, or maybe to be challenged. Like i get people who criticize an art for its intrinsic value, but telling someone to keep it for themselves because you don't like it is one of the dumbest shit ever said in this forum and there are millions of dumb shit here.
 

Dualnames

Wormwood Studios
Developer
Joined
May 30, 2019
Messages
42
Location
Greece
Then why didn't you keep it for yourself and you selling it?

Personally, we found Strangeland to be so bad, so I told Mark, hey, if we release it, that person from the Codex that loves Dave Gilbert, will play it!
And so, we pressured Dave into publishing it. Words of wisdom follow.

E41Hp9hWYAAbGwN
 

Darkozric

Learned
Edgy
Joined
Jun 3, 2018
Messages
420
Personally, we found Strangeland to be so bad, so I told Mark, hey, if we release it, that person from the Codex that loves Dave Gilbert, will play it!
And so, we pressured Dave into publishing it. Words of wisdom follow.

How thoughtful of you, thanks but let me give you some advice cause I see you are a Greek person of wisdom. If you want to have a future in the indie scene fire this pretentious writer. :troll:
 

Darkozric

Learned
Edgy
Joined
Jun 3, 2018
Messages
420
Hey MRY, I still wish you good luck with the sales, after all without success there is 0 content worth of trolling :D
Anyway, I'll let you in peace for now to discuss about your allegory simulator cause the fanfags here will eat me alive.
 
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