Friday, August 29, 2008

Game Design Challenge: Satire

Woo Hoo! My submission was chosen as one of three "Best Entries" in the most recent GCG Game Design Challenge! I'm freakin' pumped! You can read all the winning entries here.

The topic was satire; develop
a game concept that satirized both one theme of your choice and video games in general. That sort of topic is RIGHT up my alley, as I basically live my life saturated in satire and camp. I love it. What's the point of life if you can't laugh at yourself, right?

Here are some of the judge's observations:
This was a difficult challenge, and the submissions reflected it. It seems that not many readers are worked up about particular themes and topics to such the extent that they want to rip into them in a satirical way. Most submissions focused more on pointing out typical flaws in video games than any other theme. For example, more submissions played on Final Fantasy than on the upcoming U.S. presidential election -- and politics is among the most common themes in works of satire that there is. It was a very difficult challenge, indeed.

Unlike other challenges in this series, there was a lot of room here to express personal opinions, but very few people really took advantage of that.

This brings up a good point: the aspiring game designers who are readers of this site might be at a stage in their learning and career paths where their focus is on acquiring and internalizing foundational game design skills (such as game mechanics and prototyping). A focus of this nature often precludes the ability to focus on the kinds of skills that will be developed later, like one's artistic voice. But eventually, all game designers should be asking themselves, "What is it that I have to say through my games?"
(Emphasis Added)

The answer doesn't have to involve satire or politics or morals or education -- but it does have to be something. For now, think on it, and give it time.

Here is what they wrote about my entry:
I have a feeling David G. Saunders was sitting around one day and thought to himself, "You know what this world needs to do? It needs to start picking on hippies again." His game idea, Eternal Happiness, teases video game players by not giving them an army of undead, but an army of Grateful Dead followers. Check out his list of names for game levels, too.

Haha, that's great. For the record I have nothing against hippies, and actually some of my best friends are in a freaking awesome hippie-tastic reggae band. Growing up in California and Hawai'i has certainly instilled more than a little hippie-ness in me, and really, I like to think of myself as a "corporate hippie."

The idea actually sprouted from a conversation on the couch with Tracie about how zombies are always evil. WHY are they evil? Why can't they be reanimated and actually be quite friendly; who are we to assume they are always evil? Then I started to think about ways in which you could possibly raise zombies, and the necronomicon - the book of the dead - was right up there on the list. Well, I've known some Dead Heads in my day, put two and two together (it equals four, BTW) and here we are. Genius!

Anyway, here was my entry:

Warning: The following piece of satire may be offensive to some people.

Today's title is called Eternal Happiness. The back of the box reads something like this:

In this pulse-pounding game of survival horror, you are Pantagrulian, an ancient and wizened necromancer of pure evil. At the bidding of your dark master, the dark god Darkrath, god of darkness, you have finally purged the great secrets of the fabled Book of the Dead: the hippienomicon. Now you can finally fulfill your lifelong desire to raise an invincible army of undead and thrust the world into eternal darkness.

There's just one hitch: The reanimated undead army you just raised isn't very evil. In fact, they want nothing more than peace, love, happiness, and to shower you with kindness!

With this newly amassed army of love zombies, the enemies of light have grown nigh-unstoppable. You and your companions must traverse the world in search of the seven lost pages of the hippienomicon before happiness spreads across the land forever!

Like all interactive media masterpieces, Eternal Happiness starts out with an un-skippable 130 minute cut scene. During this time the player learns that after summoning the horde of hippie undead, Pantagrulian somehow missed the fact that the hippienomicon is not the book of the dead, but rather, the book of the Grateful Dead. In this survival horror game the player must avoid the love-filled hugs, kisses, and goodwill of love zombies and other creatures of the light, all while trying to save the world from, yup, you guessed it, eternal happiness.

Our anti-hero is joined by his faithful companion, Sackboy, an evil-loving, comic relief sidekick who has the misfortune of being born in the shape of what can only be described as a part of the male genitalia (hence his name). Luckily, Sackboy has many helpful powers, such as the ability to stretch his body into various useful shapes (a ship's sail, for example). He just can't take a punch very well.

Along the way, the player will encounter light-loving enemies that include an androgynous 14 year-old boy with uncommonly stylish hair who is on a quest of monster collecting and self-discovery (so that the game automatically sells a gazillion copies in Japan), a gruff veteran bad-ass who is obscenely buff (so that the game automatically sells a gazillion copies in the U.S.), and of course the player's arch nemesis: a mustachioed paladin.

Eventually the player will encounter the female lead, a scantily clad woman by the lengthy name of Morrigan Ivy Tifa Samus Chun-Li Taki MsPacman Laura Croft, who just happens to have a burdensomely large chest -- so burdensome, in fact, that this buxom beauty has difficulty moving, not to mention chronic back problems (her 14-inch waist doesn't help).

The companions travel all across the world, and level titles include names such as Obligatory Snow Level, Inside a Random Spaceship, Tower of One Billion Floors, President Evil, Mushrooms and Pipes -- The Long Strange Trip, and Emancipation City.

In the end, the player is given a choice: banish the forces of light in celebration and reign over the dark lands forever, or embrace the light and plunge the universe into Eternal Happiness. Ultimately, both choices give the same ending, because if there's anything we've learned it's that disparate good vs. evil choices in video games make little to no difference anyway.


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