Greetings good townsfolk,
Time for another of my sporadic blog posts, in which I allow myself the luxury of waffling on for longer than your average tweet or instagram comment will allow. This is the first blog post of the year, because I’m terrible. I’ll begin in January with the clear highlight, ‘Talk & Play’.
Talk & Play is an event run by BerlinGameScene.com, and at they were kind enough to invite me to present Sentenced. It’s a general gaming event that is open to the public. They host a few games related talks, followed by some game-pitches from indie-developers such as myself, as well as various community and job-related announcements. After that, attendees are free to play various games for themselves on the show floor.
I had agreed to give a speed pitch, as well as have Sentenced playable. I was rather nervous before going on-stage, as it’s been a few years since I gave a presentation in front of a crowd. In addition, being so close to this project and pouring my heart and soul into it day after day lends me an extra feeling of vulnerability about exposing it to the big wide world.
Sentenced being a fairly high-concept game, means I also have to be careful explaining and presenting it, lest it come across as a callous or vulgar beheading simulator. I need to make sure to convey the deeper meaning of conscience in conflict with obedience to authority, and so it requires a somewhat more nuanced sell to avoid giving people the wrong impression.
In addition, working so closely on the game makes me hyper-sensitive to all its flaws and imperfections. Whenever people don’t notice bits of sketchy animation or unfinished art, I feel like I’ve gotten away with murder.
Anyway, once I got on stage and gave my pitch, all my nerves vanished as usual and I was fine. The resulting feelings of relief and satisfaction put me on a high for the rest of the evening. Afterwards, I set up the game, which proved to be a big success! All evening people were queuing to play, and there was even an interested crowd gathered to watch others play. As one attendee pointed out, it was almost like a real crowd gathered to watch a public execution, thus adding another dynamic to the pressure to perform on the player.
I was pleased to see that those who played the game did not seem to lean heavily to either carrying out the execution, or to refusing to comply. There seemed to be a fairly even split between the two, which showed me that the game is on-track in terms of emotional balance, with different people feeling different ways about what they were being asked to do.
I’d like to add that the feeling of watching other people enjoy something that I had made was indescribably wonderful. To see the game triggering complex emotional responses was tremendously validating and encouraging. I also had some fantastic conversations with those who had played it afterwards about social psychology and the politics of obedience, which demonstrates that the game is doing it’s job in making people think. Just remembering that evening as I write fills me with a warm glow!
In February I went on a little pilgrimage I’d been wanting to do for some time. During my historical research, one figure who stood out to me was that of Meister Franz Schmidt, executioner of Nuremberg 1578 to 1617. He wrote a professional diary, uncommon for a man of his status in that era, which has become a renowned primary source for historians of crime and punishment in the early modern period. Joel F Harrington’s book about him, ‘The Faithful Executioner’, was a huge influence on the setting and tone of the game.
Being in Germany, I wanted to take a trip to walk in the footsteps of the Meister himself. The train to Nuremberg from Berlin took about three and a half hours, and I can report that Nuremberg is an outstandingly beautiful medieval city, as you will see in my pictures below.
Unfortunately, it turned out that not only was Franz Schmidt’s house closed for the winter, but also the dungeon where he would torture confessions out of people (known delightfully as ‘The Hole’) was unexpectedly closed for renovations. Bad luck and poor planning on my part I suppose. Nonetheless, I got to stroll along the Pegnitz river and cross the famous Hangman’s Bridge, and for a little while imagine what it must have been like to live in those turbulent and lawless times.
Project-wise I’ve moved on from working on the execution scene to making the Beadle’s office, where players will be paid and assessed on their performance. The main bulk of assets are now done, and soon I’ll be out of the R&D phase on the game and into a new phase of propagating what I’ve already made into more execution scenarios.
Financially, I’m doing alright for now, but I suspect that I will not have enough money to hire professional voice actors for the game, which I consider an absolute requirement seeing how central to the experience the player’s sense of connection to in-game characters is. As such, I’m currently looking for funding from external sources such as the UK Games Fund, but if I’m not successful in this then I may have to consider extending the deadline for the game and going back to work to save up some more cash. We shall see.
Anyway, thanks for listening! Any questions, feel free to give me a shout, as usual I’ll be on Twitter & Instagram @samthesane
Keep it weird,