Monday, June 27, 2011

Indie Cred: PROUN

Title: PROUN
Developer:  Joost van Dongen
Release: June 2011
Price: $0-∞ (pay what you want, here)

 Okay, so in the spirit of fairness, I won’t go to lengths talking about this game. How is that fair, you ask? Well, because pretty much everyone of any consequence has talked about it, lauded it, and purchased it. The one thing I was really impressed by though were the words from the developer himself.

Here are a few tidbits (the following text and pictures are all from Joost van Dongen's Dev blog, and do NOT belong to me!):

On the pure design of his game [my emphasis added]:

-       The core concept guiding Proun's design is simplicity. The more things that need explaining to the user, the worse the design. So I basically went by the well-known design philosophy easy to learn, hard to master.

-       I wanted this to be a pure racing experience that is focussed on having fun by improving your racing skills. The core is really simple: press left and right to evade obstacles to go as fast as possible.

-       A nice benefit of going with a core that is easy to learn, is that Proun is not just suitable for hardcore twitch gamers, but also for people who hardly game at all.

-       A good reward structure is really important for any game and though Proun is intended to be a small downloadable experience, I still felt I needed some interesting unlockables: higher speeds and an extra track.

-       Proun really shines when played in Ghost mode. Racing directly against your own previous times exaggerates the competition with yourself and makes it fun to keep trying to get a better time. That is why I made it possible to race against not just the ghosts of your best time, but against the ghosts of all your previous times.

-       In the very first version of Proun, there was a definite best time for each track: keep accelerating throughout the entire track and don't hit anything to score a perfect time. This sucks. Once you have achieved this once, there is nothing left to do. You cannot do any better. So I introduced several mechanics to shake this up and make sure it is always possible to improve your skills.

§        The simplest solution to this is having difficulty settings.

§        Much more interesting than just increasing the speed, though, is the slowdown that I added when you rotate around the cable. The less you rotate, the faster you go. This means you can improve your time by steering closer past obstacles (which is also more risky), and that you can look for the ideal route through a track.

-       This core mechanic is already a lot of fun, but it does not really contain that much choice. You always know what you have to do, you just need to do it at the right time. To add an extra layer, I have added chargeable boosts.

-       Deciding when to use the boost is a fun mini-game, since crashing into obstacles costs more time than the boost won. On the lowest two difficulties there are plenty of places to use the boost, but once you get to Supersonic speed, it takes some courage to use a boost at all. But if you have the skill to not crash, you go blazingly fast. Boosts are a small touch, but they really add a lot to the gameplay and tension.

-       In total, Proun's gameplay is very much a less-is-more affair. If you enjoy trying to get the best possible time, Proun will really shine and keep you going for a long time, especially if a modding community comes into being and starts releasing cool levels (which I can only hope, of course, though the first modder tracks have already been made). If you are not this hardcore, I think Proun will still be fun for a couple of hours, due to the different speeds, the award structure, the splitscreen multiplayer, and of course the pretty imagery to look at while racing. (so humble!)

On the art style:

-       I first wanted to go for Mondriaan's Victory Boogie Woogie, but Mondriaan's work is so incredibly straight, that I didn't see how to get that to work with the curves of Proun…So instead I went for my new love: Kandinsky. The expressionist abstract works of Kandinsky are my favourite paintings in general and I wanted something similar for Proun.

-       While looking through a book about Kandinsky, trying to think of a way to do 3D graphics in that style, my eye fell on Kandinsky's later geometric abstract works. These are beautiful as well, and here I immediately knew how to implement this! I had already been doing lighting of 3D scenes for many years at that point (I started playing around with 3D Studio MAX when I was 13!), so I immediately started experimenting with shapes, colours, and above all: lighting.
After some distractions and a short break…

-       Around this time I read an article in a newspaper about an exhibition at the Van Abbe Museum that featured a number of El Lissitzky's works called Proun. I had been looking for a proper name for CableRacer for ages and somehow this fictive word that El Lissitzky had made up perfectly fit my game. El Lissitzky made dozens of works called Proun and calling my game like that as well felt like a nice homage to the abstract pioneers of the early 20th century.

-       At this point I thought the game was almost finished, and I had the luck of finding someone who was willing to help out with the music and sound of Proun. I had initially planned to do everything myself, but I couldn't get my songs to sound as good as I wanted, and I hated making sound effects. So it was a small miracle to me when Matthijs (from Control Magazine) introduced me to Arno Landsbergen. Arno had made an album called Dirty Rock. That album not only sounds great, but also reminded me of early David Bowie, who happens to be one of my heroes! So I rejoiced when Arno got on board! Arno improved and produced my compositions, and created all the sound effects for Proun.

Joost, the effort and thought you put into this game definitely shows through. Congrats! And to you, dear readers, take PROUN for a spin here. (to read the complete chronicles of the game, and more of his thoughts on development and design, go here)

And a glimpse of the final product:

For those of you looking for more esoteric findings (as we all like to do, once in awhile, doing our best to swim upstream of the masses), here are a few games to consider:

Luftrauser by Vlambeer - the most badass flight simulator to fit inside a 486x366 screen.

Adonis by Enokitake - get the high score by grabbing coins AND destroying blocks. All of my presuppositions are being challenged!

Running with Rifles (prealpha) by Modulaatio Games, Inc. - Finally, somebody who really loves cannon fodder actually tried their hand at remaking cannon fodder. Also, inadvertent social commentary about the brutality and anonymity of war.