"Storyseeker" é um minijogo muito interessante, desde logo porque coloca em evidência a principal relação existente entre os jogos e as narrativas. Uma narrativa é sempre um jogo, no sentido em que move as crenças do recetor para a busca de evidências que comprovem as suas teses sobre o mundo ficcional. Ao longo de um filme ou livro, passamos todo o tempo a lançar hipóteses sobre o que vai acontecer a seguir, de modo que a narrativa se dedica a gerir as nossas expectativas e tensão por encontrar as respostas. O jogo funciona num modo parecido, só que em vez de facilitar o acesso às respostas, coloca-nos obstáculos para aceder às mesmas.
Neste pequeno jogo, Miles Äijälä apresenta tudo isto num modo muito simples, tornando evidentes estas caracterizações de jogo e história. "Storyseeker" não é mais do que um grande mapa, no qual foram distribuídos elementos, peças de um puzzle maior, que é uma história. Deste modo, jogamos, ao tentar ir a todo mapa, e ao tentar juntar os elementos, formando o puzzle, e entretemo-nos com a história que vamos apreendendo à medida que vamos montando puzzle mentalmente. Sim, não difere daquilo que hoje conhecemos como walking simulators, mas o facto de o assumir em título, torna-o interessante, nomeadamente do ponto de vista do metajogo.
Falei com o Miles, que é um artista visual de videojogos, a arte visual de "Storyseeker" assim o demonstra, e questionei-o sobre os objetivos e conceitos por detrás da criação do jogo. Talvez não seja má ideia experienciarem primeiro o jogo, está online e é gratuito (Windows, Mac e Linux), e lerem a entrevista depois.
1 - How did you get to the idea?
R - Originally Storyseeker was supposed to be a quick two week experiment to create a minimalistically simple game. (The scale of it kinda got out of hand over the following 6 months…) The core of it stayed true to the original idea, though: a game where the only mechanic is walking around, and the only thing to do is exploration.
I’m a big fan of non-combat games, and as a dev, focusing on a single idea made the game quicker to make in that original 2 week plan. As I kept making more and more art assets, I started asking questions about the random things I drew and coming up with little stories of where they came from. That’s how it expanded—in order to have a cool footprint in the desert, I had to draw a giant statue who laid that footprint, and then the place where it came from, and so on and so on. Pretty soon I realised that this is what the game really is about, following the stories of where all these creatures and land formations come from or go to.
2 - How do you see the interrelation between games and stories?
R: I see games as an excellent storytelling medium. I mostly play narrative-driven games, but I think there’s stories pouring out of every type of game. Completing a level is a story of success, dying against impossible odds is a tragedy… Good games notice this and play up that story through their presentation and mechanics.
In terms of the narrative-driven games, as it’s been stated by many sources, their unique strenght is how players can experience stories themselves, instead of just reading about it or watching it happen. I think this quality makes them especially suited to tell stories of places and events, as opposed to the more classical narratives about characters that we’re used to in traditional media.
One of my favourite unique possibilities of storytelling in games is emergent narrative: stories that stem from what the player does. While the player has very little control over Storyseeker, I still wanted to emulate that in the sense that it’s on the player tell to themselves the history of the world. What is the connecting narrative between the little bits and bobs they witness? Most players end up with differing backstories, depending on what they’ve seen and in which order.
That kind of player creativity is interesting to me.
3 - The puzzle of stories is interesting, but had you think about any possible obstacles or objectives for the player, to push forward the gaming feeling?
R: For Storyseeker, I very much wanted non-gamified experience. What I hoped to see was how far a player’s curiosity would take them, with no external push. (I must say I’m quite pleased with the results; human curiosity is a force to behold.)
One of my early playtesters mentioned how Storyseeker didn’t feel like a game, and suggested adding collectibles of some sort. That’s when I realised I didn’t particularly want it to feel like a game. It’s more of a weird exploratory experience. The only reward system is very natural: by climbing a mountain, you get to see what’s on top, and by following a trail you get to see who left it.
While my notions for what’s interesting might differ drastically from what the majority of gamers find interesting, in a zero-budget indie game I felt free to follow my vision. (Although I did end up developing those symbol rocks for some sense of progression and an unlockable secret zone.)
In terms of obstacles, there are some stuff that could’ve been interesting that didn’t make it into the final game. Originally, the player wasn’t able to walk on water—instead, they’d have to find a boat to access the ocean. My poor attempt at coding it was a terrible mess, so it got scrapped.
I also would’ve liked to do more with natural barriers like mountain ranges restricting entry to certain places; but playtesting proved that with the flat art style it’s hard to tell where you can and can’t walk, and also backtracking long distances is the worst. So in the end, the world is very open, and the danger of not following roads isn’t finding some blocking wall but getting lost.
Luckily, getting wonderfully lost is exactly what Storyseeker is about.