saga, crushed postmortem

a new framework

Saga, Crushed developed from three primary constraints. As a Global Game Jam 2014 entry, it needed to incorporate the theme "we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." For Candyjam, it needed to include candies in the game and, if possible, use the words 'candy', 'scroll', 'memory', 'saga', and 'apple'. And since I was organizing the local jam site, the game needed to be small.

The result was my first Perlenspiel game, and overall it's something that I'd consider using again. The game drew heavily on the myth of Sisyphus and some work I'd done on a free meditation app. Mechanically, the game is simple: Press the spacebar n times, then press up once before starting again at n+1. Playing successfully playing requires focused attention on counting the number of spacebar presses.

Aesthetically, I wanted players to feel as if they were pushing the boulder up the mountain while thoughts came unbidden. To achieve this, the music is sparse and in a minor key; the lower notes from pressing the spacebar were meant to reflect footsteps. The grid pulses slowly at a 1:2 ratio, mimicking the breathing rate of many meditators. And after a brief introduction on the main pattern, Saga generated haiku-like verses meant to evoke fortune cookies and trigger people's tendency to find meaning in noise. The graphics, too, were chosen to be open to interpretation should players not read the exerpt.

Of the few playtests I observed, the most successful element was the music. One player found hitting the space bar in various rhythms with the background to be a fun toy and didn't progress beyond the tutorial—and didn't care. I'd also leave the game running while working on the next version as simple but interesting background music.

The game likely suffered from its environment: Players would come, bang some keys, and then move on without reading or attempting to understand the game. One player mentioned that it reminded him of Starseed Pilgrim; when asked, he said he hadn't played Starseed, though, and had only heard about it online. I could not have asked for a better critique.

Most players would fail to progress either after randomly hitting keys and not seeing much feedback or after the introduction completed. These players didn't catch onto the pattern, and so either more explicit instructions or extending the existing introduction may have helped.

Though I had planned for the game to be small, I still had to cut features that likely hurt players' understanding of the game. The most notable of these is the terrain. Originally, I had planned to use Perlin or Simplex noise to generate the mountain terrain with the idea that it would scroll with each step the player took. Ideally, this would feel closer to moving up the mountain. As I lacked time to implement this, Saga instead picks a random background color upon starting a trek.

Saga, Crushed is at best a niche game and at worst a pretentious one. It seems from this and Rouge that I could spend some more development effort at introducing players to the game…though at the same time, that lessens a sense of exploration. For a simple game like Saga, Crushed, though, that would likely have been a worthwhile tradeoff.