A bit more than a week ago I had the pleasure of participating on IGDA’s first Global Game Jam and had a very good experience. The event kicked off with this brilliant keynote by Kyle Gabler and so we were off into our 48-hour design and development adventure.
It took us quite a while to finalize our concept and game idea, but when it happened, it was one of those magical moments where you just know everyone is on board. And when everyone is on board, I always find myself engulfed by this feeling that nothing can go wrong.
This time, though, there was plenty of room for a bunch of things to go wrong. We were working with Flash and did not have a Flash programmer, for example, and our two artists (me included) did not really have much experience with Photoshop (or Illustrator, for that matter).
However, everything started working out slowly. Concept art looked promising, early music finds were good, and general vibe was definitely good. We were making relatively good time and coming up with something we all liked.
And then it happened. We realized it, completely out of nowhere. We were making an art game.
Now that I look back, I think it started with us discussing the whole concept of harmony. We wanted to take Kyle’s advice and make something that felt right. Then we started gravitating toward the concept of making an experience, rather than a game. Before we knew it, we were talking about subtext and layers of meaning.
It made me wonder at times exactly when we had crossed the line, and how exactly it had happened. And it made me wonder because from time to time I removed myself from the whole process and thought that we could still say that we were making a balloon game with no ulterior meaning or harmonious pretentions. Just a balloon game that happened to look pretty. I realized that if we didn’t call it an “art game”, then it would probably never come off as that.
At the end, I do think our game is best regarded as an art game. Because it feels simple in a good way – it feels complete in its simplicity. I would maybe tighten the controls a bit to give it a better feel, but I doubt that I would modify it in any other way. In my eyes, it does feel like a sort of other-worldly experience, some kind of voyage into the unknown. It also has some elements that invite the player to ask himself interesting questions.
Still, it makes me think. It makes me think about the qualities that make an art game worthy of that label. Because I am completely sure that Balloon Man will not be regarded unanimously all as an art game, whereas Passage will never be doubted as one.
So, for now, I will just be wary of the “art game” label. And just as I would doubt a designer’s statement about his game being an art game, I encourage you to doubt mine that Balloon Man is an art game as well.
If you like it, or if you do not, please feel free to vote for it.