• Roger Matthews

9/19/19 Update - Beginning project


This week, I started playing Firewatch and taking notes. Ultimately, while I appreciate the game so far, it is leading to think of how I am much more interested in more abstract and surreal experiences that don't tell a story quite as literally. This led me to re read a Gamasutra article on one of my favorite games (the original "walking simulator"), Dear Esther. I also watched a great GDC talk by Dear Esther's creative director Dan Pinchbeck on his intentional use of ambiguous storytelling in the game.

It was great to see him talk about how the game shifted from initially a realistic to impressionistic approach, and say "It’s irrelevant whether the story makes sense. What matters is whether the player is following the emotional path". Games like Red Dead Redemption already have quiet ambiguous moments, but his argument is you can extend them and really immerse the player in them. Finally, he made a great argument how the experiment was able to not just succeed artistically, but commercially, by luring players in with captivating visuals. Players see there was a lot of time and thought put into the environments, so they are less likely to to dismiss a game seemingly devoid of traditional story/gameplay.

In particular, Dan Pinchbeck seems like a good person to research further, since he comes from an academic background, and his early games like Dear Esther started as purely academic experiments. I'm starting to look at one of his lesser known early games, Korsakovia.


I started learning Unreal Engine this week. I can import assets and manipulate 3D objects, and for the coming week, want to start learning how Unreal handles coding/scripting - mainly need a first person controller and a way to do basic event scripting.

Asset wise, I decided to use only free assets.

I decided on a new idea that is more a mixture of realism and fantastical surrealist elements. Loosely speaking, I am thinking of an Alice in Wonderland inspired journey through the subway system in New York.

The game starts with a black screen with a title, where you hear a subway running with passengers, and then a loud crash and screaming occurs. After some silence, you wake up to an empty subway.

You walk through the empty subway to find an open door with a phone playing strange audio sounds on it. You pick it up, and hear a voice mail addressed to you. A voice tells you you're incredibly late for something important.

Over time, you find more phones with strange voicemails that lead you further through the subway system. Over time, things get more strange.

You start to discover odd things that don't make sense. Strange sounds come from creatures such as pigs, and walking into them causes strange behavior to happen.

I plan on reviewing Alice in Wonderland to better think about how I'd like to further structure this idea and decide on what the overall tone/theme will be. Will it be more fantastical and absurd, or darker? You could have be barely conscious from a subway accident, in a dream state, and the story is about processing a trauma, for example. Or it could be simply about the theme of contrasting reality with fantasy in a more playful and ambiguous way.

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