A definitive quality of most games is that they present to the player some freedom in which to make interesting decisions. Narrative choices, however, seem to have a limited range of effects in modern videogames. Many choices appear unsubstantial; creating a façade of freedom that always leads to the same outcome. Other games scatter choices across the story in order to trigger one in a handful of alternate endings; Chrono Trigger for example. Finally, games like Mass Effect do their best to morph the story world and character reactions to the seemingly endless barrage of dialogue-based choices the player must endure. However, what happens when a narrative game becomes not about what the choices result in, but about the process of making the choices itself? In Every Day the Same Dream, a brief 10-minute flash game by Paolo Pedercini, the player’s journey through making the different choices in the game’s small world is essentially the entirety of the gameplay experience.
The starting screen of the game, and the top of the game tree.
Play begins with the unremarkable character awakening from bed into a black, white and grey world. In the first screen he is presented with two immediate choices. He can turn the alarm off or not, and he can get dressed or not. Either way he then proceeds to the next screen where he can turn off the TV or not, and a few screens later he has the option to walk left or right. This goes on for another handful of screens. The player must select their way down the game’s decision tree until eventually it resets and starts the player over in the bedroom again. A woman in the elevator of your building hints that you have X amount of steps to take on your way to becoming a new man, and the player eventually puts together that this means exploring the various different possibility trees the game has to offer.
The woman “subtly” hinting at the paths left to explore.
Today at the NYU Game Center was the second day of Marc Leblanc’s “Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics” Game Design Workshop. One exercise, was to take a videogame (from a fairly randomly selected list) and distill it into a paper prototype that captured it’s essence and core mechanics as well as possible. I, along with Nicole Leffel, Lance Vikaros, Tim Szetala, and Haitham Ennasr chose to work with Farmville. We never quite got it to that perfect state, but it still managed to capture the soul of the game fairly well in the short period we worked on it, and I think it’s worth sharing just for that.
Welcome to Paper Farmville!
Generally, this is how it worked: In the middle of the table are 5 types of crops laid out, costing incrementally form 2-6$. They also each came with a different colored square of index card you took upon purchasing one. Each player sat around the table with a 6-sided die in front of them set to 1 at the start. The number on the die representing how many dollars they have. On a player’s turn, which rotated around the circle, they could advance their die by 1, or spend the number shown on their die to harvest crops. They also had to advance one other player’s die by 1. So say I’m going first, I advance my die from 1 to 2 (since no crops can be purchased for 1) and advance my neighbor’s die to 2. So now its my neighbor’s turn, his or her die is already at 2, so instead of incrementing it yet again, they choose to buy grapes for 2: resetting their die to 1 and taking a blue square representing some grapes.
It was important for the players to be able to see all the glamorous colors of plants they could buy if they saved up long enough.