Single player game about dysfunctional relationships
C# - Visual Studio
Companionship is a complicated game for me. Developed in late 2016 after a difficult break-up, it is both very personal and at the same time very removed. It is based around a central rope system which uses physics to create movement and collection challenges for the player. Companionship is successful in creating sympathy and understanding in the player. However, much of the game is still underdeveloped and not what I had hoped or envisioned it could be. Balancing my pain with that of the player experience proved to be more difficult than expected. I display the game because the lessons I learned from it are still valuable.
In an effort to separate my experience from myself and broadcast it to the player, Companionship's systems are ones of abstraction and metaphor. Characters are cubes and the environment is bare except for gameplay relevant objects. Abstraction allows for the player to self project and become invested in the game. A player can feel my emotions without having to be me. The rope is a mechanical representation of the relationship that ties Lil to Larg. As a physics object, the rope can be pulled, go taught, loop and drag depending on the circumstance. By chaining the player in this manner, player movement is constrained creating a challenge. The challenge is that of existing in the relationship. Intentional systems allowed me to create a game that is singular in its purpose - expressing my emotions during the break-up.
Intent does not always equal success. Companionship went through several iterations of level design and pacing before a final version was settled on. Because whereas systems create experience, levels - the moment to moment gameplay - define and shape it. When the two are misaligned the entire game is brought down. At first, Companionship had no real goal for each level other than to "feel restrained" by the rope. This turned out to be a failure because it lacked clear objectives and ways for the player to feel like they were making progress. In redesigning the levels, a new system was added to make Companionship more compelling - the collection of hearts placed in each level. An elegant solution, hearts create challenge as the player struggles against the rope in an attempt to collect them. Further, it allowed me to design levels that mechanically reflected the changes in relationship. By understanding the player experience, I was able to make Companionship as a game for people to play rather than wallowing in my own emotions.
Companionship surprised me the first time someone played it and understood what I was feeling. Companionship also surprised me the first time someone else played it and hated it, frustrated by the rope. I attempted to find a balance between myself - as the designer - and the player - as the consumer. And I am not sure if I succeed. Heartbreak is hard to convey and empathy harder still to develop. Companionship is a game I am proud of, even if it did not live up to my expectations, because it taught me my expectations were wrong. Systems create experience, levels define experience and players make that experience real.