Twitter Facebook Google+ Tumblr Vimeo Pinterest

Hanukkah Special — Day Five | Plurimediality

While yesterday’s Interactivity territory with its game mechanics, rule dynamics, and player interactions has the “just-right amount of challenge” at its motivational core, Plurimediality is associated with “compelling aesthetics.”

Which, in a game, comprises not only graphics, sound, music, writing, voice acting, and the game’s look-and-feel in general, but also usability in its many forms including player controls. That’s because aesthetics and usability are two sides of the same coin, united by function. Accordingly, Plurimediality integrates design thinking from the perspective of functional aesthetics (informed by the Ludology dimension) and the perspective of aesthetic experience (informed by the Cinematology dimension). One can’t be great without the other, and every element in turn must connect with the theme.

To recap our prospective Hanukkah game’s concept so far, we’re considering a game with intergenerational cooperative gameplay for Jewish and non-Jewish children and Jewish parents/relatives with a core experience in the ludological dimension, the general theme of “hope,” and a strong focus on the motifs “anticipation,” “ambition,” and “trust” in the Interactivity design territory.

So what’s the aesthetic experience of our Hanukkah game going to be? To answer this question, tentatively, we will look at the game’s style and sound.

Style

Following the Ludotronics paradigm, we need to take three major style decisions into account: genre style (literary and cinematic genres as entertainment categories like fantasy, science fiction, western, mystery, horror, survival, romance, hard-boiled, military, cyberpunk, and many others); period style (art styles; architectural styles; musical styles; typographic styles; and similar), and presentation style (artistic renderings, often simulating other media forms and media types, among them life-like realism, comic, anime, wood-block printing, papercutting, graffiti, stop-motion, or rotoscoping).

As the genre style should reflect important elements of the gameplay and be tailored to the target audience, “mystery” jumps right out. In the context of exploration as a central aspect of the game on the one hand, and children as the game’s major target audience on the other, “mystery” seems to be the best pick—barring further insights we might gain in the three days to come. Other genres would either add aspects that are foreign to our general concept at the moment (like science fiction or western) or wouldn’t be well-suited for children (like horror or military).

Now, the “mystery” genre denotes the classical detective story or movie which revolves around a “mystery,” conventionally a crime, that has to be solved by logical deduction, and the traditional protagonist is often, but not always, a private investigator. Some forms of mystery might involve supernatural, gothic, thriller, or hard-boiled elements. But at its core, it’s about exploring and solving a mystery, which fits our concept very well.

What, then, could be the period style? The mystery genre has a number of strong, visual traditions from a number of different historical periods, beginning with the Victorian Age’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries right up to modern police procedurals like CS:I. As we haven’t yet decided on when and where our game is situated, we have to postpone this decision until the eighth day of Hanukkah.

Third and last, presentation style. What can we say about it from the perspective of our target audience and our theme and motifs?

Let’s approach this by way of elimination.

As our target audience mainly consists of children, and we also plan to include some darker situations and experiences, we might not want to go with life-like realism. Then, we shouldn’t venture too far from Jewish traditions, so wood-block printing or anime is out. Next, the game has a ludological core, not a cinematological core, so we might not want to distract from that with fiercely innovative artwork, e.g., graffiti or papercutting. From our brief list above, that leaves comic, stop-motion, and rotoscoping. At this point, we don’t have all the information we need about our game to make a final decision. We don’t even have a game type yet! (Or “genre,” as it is usually, and quite misleadingly, called.) But as a preliminary decision, we should go with comics style. Not only is it very flexible and versatile—it is a presentation style and art language which has been strongly influenced by Jewish artists and writers from the early twentieth century on up to this day, and the game could even pay homage to some of these artists and writers in various ways.

Besides being tentative, these are of course not more than “principal” decisions—there are different mystery styles, as mentioned, and there are as many different styles in comic art as in any other art form. But we won’t and can’t go further here because that is the task for a concept artist.

Now let’s consult and apply our sample set of motifs to our “comic-style mystery” and see how far we can get. Here’s the set, as a refresher: aspiration, anticipation, expectation, ambition, optimism, enthusiasm, belief, faith, trust, confidence, desire, longing, passion, pursuit, fortune, aim, goal, objective, destination, utopia, chimera, fantasy, pessimism, suspicion, doubt, disappointment, hopelessness, despair, indifference, surrender, apathy.

Again, most of the heavy lifting in this department will be done by a concept artist. But can we think of something by way of its general direction? Children are at the center of our target audiences; we have a mystery mood and environment; and we have comic art as presentation style. What if we took color as the game’s primary aesthetic element, with a muted color range as a baseline and two prominent, functional colors on top?

The basic color range could be anything, from a muted color array down to duotone or sepia, and it could be different for different levels. Against this background, the two functional colors could a) represent the “positive” and the “negative” motifs from our list, respectively; b) provide player guidance; and c) emotionally intensify key actions and key events (a topic we will cover tomorrow, on the sixth day of Hanukkah, in the Narrativity design territory).

We should be careful here, though, not to fall into the traditional lightness/darkness trap that Hanukkah as a “Festival of Lights” always already suggests. The traditional opposition between light vs. darkness as a stand in for good vs. evil and, in extension, white vs. black, lends itself to being exploited, we all know how, up to and including some deeply unsettling intra-Jewish vectors that especially black Jews often have to face.

Therefore, both light and darkness should have positive and negative connotations in the game, and the two stand-in colors for the positive and negative motifs should differ from expectation and provide insights outside the familiar framing of light vs. dark. Again, a tough job for the concept artist!

Finally, there’s the principal style for the gameplay interface—should it be transparent (purely affective feedback through audiovisual and kinesthetic means), overlay (superimposed feedback data), skeuomorphic (feedback data from objects that are part of the gameplay environment, also sometimes called diegetic), or mixed?

At this point in time, for the very personal, exploration-driven, experience-focused coop game that we have in mind, a transparent interface would probably work best, maybe with some skeuomorphic elements thrown in, like a compass, a watch, an electronic gadget, or any other practical item. Such a skeuomorphic element might also provide the players, especially children, with a personal, trusted “anchor” that they can hold on to in the game world when the going gets rough.

Sound

In the sound department, we have music, foley, and speech. Let’s keep it brief—if you want to know more about these categories and their functions, you can check out the Ludotronics paradigm’s sections on sound.

Will our game about Hanukkah need music? Yes. And from the three basic categories art music, popular music, and traditional music, it will definitely need traditional music, including ceremonial music, connected to Hanukkah traditions.

Will our game about Hanukkah need foley? Certainly, for all kinds of purposes from conveying mood to information and feedback. Also, foley will provide all kinds of sounds that are connected to Hanukkah, not only ceremonial sounds but everyday sounds from frying food to playing the dreidel game.

Will our game about Hanukkah need speech for dramatic dialogue? That’s a tough question at this point. We will certainly need ceremonial “speech” for, e.g., the blessing ceremony, recitations, prayers, and so on, from different Jewish traditions and periods. But all these are not dramatic dialogue in that sense—for all practical purposes, all this falls into the “traditional music” category.

Then, in case we want to have dramatic dialogue in the game, do we really need speech for that? Actually, we don’t. We can put dialogue in writing, as many games did and still do, maybe accompanied by foley effects—think Ōkami or Zelda: Breath of the Wild (except for its cutscenes). That would also correspond to our envisaged presentation style, comic art. (As a practical consideration, speech would also cause additional problems when the game covers Hanukkah traditions from different places and periods.)

To sum it up, our game’s genre and presentation style will be mystery and comic art, respectively, with its period style yet undecided, and it will probably have a transparent gameplay interface with some skeuomorphic elements. The theme’s positive and negative motifs will be stage-managed by two colors that also serve as the primary means for player guidance, against a general muted color range or color ranges. In the sound department, the game will feature traditional music and foley, but not speech, with dramatic dialogue rendered as text.

See you tomorrow. Happy Hanukkah!

→ Day Six

permalink