A few weeks ago our summer 2011 game The Snowfield was chosen as a Student Showcase Finalist at the Independent Games Festival. I was Product Owner on the project, I want to share some of responses we've gotten so far.
Cold, Comfort, Harm: The Snowfield - Rock, Paper, Shotgun
In the Bleak of Winter: The Snowfield - The Nocturnal Rambler
This Week's Best PC Games - PC Gamer
And Then the Whimper: The Snowfield - SPACE-BIFF!
The Snowfield is a Haunting and Mysterious PC Game - GameThunks
There's a lot of good praise here, and a lot of valid criticism. Two things stand out for me.
The goals of the project was to create an open and emergent system, the theory being that this would encourage players to tell their own stories. In the end we weren't able to implement a lot of the depth and complexity we'd planned for, but we did try make the few simple mechanics and behaviors we had as evocative as possible. The going assumption in commercial game development is usually that narrative evokes emotion, but we wanted emotion to evoke narrative, to motivate players to dramatize their experience in the retelling. This quote from the SPACE-BIFF! blog does exactly that:
At one point I brought a soldier the letter he had been muttering about (or was it just any old letter, written by some other sweetheart to some other brave boy?). He stood there for a few seconds with the paper pressed to his face while I trembled and hoped to return to the warmth of the fire. He took so long that I turned away and began to head up to the bombed-out house where a few fellow soldiers had congregated. My conscience caught up to my numbness and I turned back to retrieve him. But he was gone, disappeared into the bitter grey.
I was also heartened by the write-up at The Nocturnal Rambler, for mentioning that The Snowfield reminded him the devastating final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Aside from real historical research, the two main inspirations on The Snowfield were the British sitcom Blackadder and Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, both wickedly damning portraits of an especially damnable war. They are the two pieces of popular media that made me aware of WWI as a great human tragedy, and we tried to imbue some of their uncompromising sensibility into the game.
The Snowfield was an overly ambitious project, but that's typical of a lot of experimental games. Even though we accomplished a fraction of what we envisioned, it's nice to see the release version having impact on people. You're always so close to a project you're involved in that it's hard to know whether it works for an audience at all. Though I feel there's still a lot of untapped narrative potential in the project, the feeling evoked is apparently so strong for some it hardly matters. Also context, the fact that The Snowfield is being read against commercial war games, seems to lend it additional impact. It had never occurred to me, as one blogger mentioned, how few games (if any) deal with the aftermath of battle.