Tale-of-Tales (ToT) is a company that often releases things that might be called games only if your definition is broad enough. In most cases they’re more about using the digital world to explore ideas or concepts – making them more like vaguely interactive stories, explorations of themes, or art (another word with many meanings).
The first game of theirs I played was The Path. This was a set of ‘stories’ using Red Riding Hood and the Wolf as a theme for each one. It had game like elements: collecting, exploration, ‘puzzles’ and the like. If you ignore the ‘is it a game’ thing, then there were still many debates, arguments and discussions around what it all meant, whether it meant anything, whether it was pretentious – really all the discussions you get around both real art, and pretentious things that want to be art. Or maybe are – depending on your definition.
Anyway the point of this is that I’ve been looking over things that ToT have released since and one of my first was The Graveyard. I’m not sure any definition of game can be stretched to include this – unless you include anything where you control an object on screen as a game. If that’s the case, I hope you enjoy the latest release of Word; I’m told it’s a blast!
I should also warn that after this paragraph there are “spoilers”. I put that in quotes because the website pretty much tells you what you get, and the “bonus” for buying the full “game” rather than the trial. Ok, that’s enough quotes for now.
You control (in the loosest sense of the word) an old woman who is visiting a graveyard surrounding a church. She stands at the front gate, the path in front leading straight to the church, past graves, to where there is a bench. She sits on the bench and reminisces (with an overlaid shot of her in profile, and a song about her life playing over the scene). Then she gets up and leaves.
In the full game there’s a chance of her dying of natural causes.
Your control is limited to moving her forwards, backwards or turning her left or right. She’s an old woman, and walks very slowly with the help of a cane. If you don’t let her rest occasionally she begins to limp badly – moving even more slowly. There’s really only the path from gate to bench to walk. There are paths leading between graves off to either side, but the camera just pulls back, rather than following you, and the graves obscure your vision of her, so you can get lost very easily.
Rather than being a game, per-se, they’ve tried to make a small, tight, emotional experience. In fact the website describes it as an “explorable painting” or “an experiment with realtime poetry, with storytelling without words”.
I was reading a blog entry (which I can’t seem to find again for the life of me!) that discussed the various ideas that they started with, and how it was going to be much more like a game. For example you’d have to find her husband’s grave, which was going to be in a different place each time you ran the game. Over time they kept paring the game down to what they felt was the essence of the emotional part of it.
Did they succeed? Obviously, this is going to be a very, very personal. I think the answer is: only partially.
There was some emotion during the song, but for me, the most emotion came when she died – and even that wasn’t really a lot. I really think they cut it back too far and we lost the chance to really connect with the woman. I’ve been thinking about what they might have done differently.
I believe they were on the right track with the idea of letting the woman wander around the whole cemetery. I think keeping the slow pace and need for frequent rest stops is a good one. Cutting the game aspect of finding the woman’s husband’s grave was a good move – she’d obviously know which one it was.
In the song are mentioned all the people in her life who have died, and hints that one day she’ll come to the cemetery and stay. I think they could have worked more with that. What we really need is more time to connect with her, and find out her life. Letting her wander around the graveyard and commenting on each grave she stops at would, I think, help this.
Some, obviously, would be before her time, or she didn’t know. Others would be friends or relatives who had passed on, and that would be a perfect time for something to let us know who this person was, how she connected to them, and what their passing meant to her.
The largest part of this would be, I suspect, if she stood in front of her husband’s grave. In fact I’d suggest that the text/song/memories should be a little different each time. Perhaps that could be extended to all her closest friends or relatives, but it should happen for her husband. This means that any new play through might give more story, more background. And, of course, given frail human memory, some of the memories might not quite match up.
The game would obviously ‘end’ when either she dies, or she reaches the street again (by any exit).
There could still be a bench or two where, perhaps, more general musing on her life might take place, but that might be overkill.
By the end of even a short play through, you’d have seen the world partially through her eyes and have connected much more with her – in a very personal sense.
I do like what they’ve done, and what they set out to do. The end result just feels too cut back for me to really feel emotional about.