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DF Game Club: Stranded

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DOUBLE FINE GAME CLUB: Stranded (starting 13th of September)

The Double Fine Game Club is a community run weekly event where interested gamers play through and come together to discuss what they do and don't like about a particular game (sort of like a book club, but for games). We usually aim to play one or two hours a week, and we normally have somebody streaming the current game so that those who don't have the game or don't feel like playing it again can still feel involved.

Discussion takes place here in the forums and on the Double Fine Game Club home page. Game Club is a very informal weekly chat, and everyone is welcome!

Previous game: Sam & Max: Reality 2.0

Next Game: Stacking

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» » » CLICK HERE TO JOIN « « «

GAME CLUB SESSIONS

- 13th September, 09:00PM UTC (click for your time zone): 1st game session and general discussion (log)

SPECIAL GUESTS

- Peter Moorhead (@gazornonplat)

ABOUT THE GAME

You wake from cryostasis to find your ship lying crippled on an uncharted planet; shards of platinum-iridium alloy puncture the shimmering alien sand, the wind passes quietly over dead hydrocolliders. It isn't known how long the ruined vessel has sat here, or even what caused the crash, but one thing is clear: Time is rapidly running out.

WHERE TO GET ONLINE

- Stranded Website (Linux, Mac, Windows, Soundtrack, DRM free)

- Humble Store (Linux, Mac, Windows, DRM free, Steam key)

- Steam (Linux, Mac, Windows)

- GamersGate (Linux, Mac, Windows, Steam key)

- Get Games (Windows, Steam key)

- GameFly Digital (Mac, Windows, Steam key)

GAME CLUB INFO

- Double Fine Game Club home page (with webchat, stream and session countdown timer)

- Game Club IRC: #DFAdventure on irc.foonetic.net (use the link above if you're not sure)

- @DFGameClub on Twitter (keep track of announcements)

- Game Club planning thread

- Game Club F.A.Q.

Edited by Cheeseness
Fixed URLs after forum upgrade

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I just got word that developer Peter Moorhead is planning to join us for this session :D

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We've just gotten word from Peter saying that he won't be able to join us in chat today due to technical hurdles. We'll try to relay some questions via Twitter though.

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The chat log from today's session is up! Thanks to everybody who joined.

Next week, we'll be making a start on Stacking, starting with a live voice interview with Double Fine's Lee Petty! Exciting!

In the meantime though, what did people think of Stranded?

Here are some of my thoughts:

Story: 10 (Really well executed and paced short story)

Usability: 6 (The game does a good job of subtly guiding the player, but a lack of interaction highlights for the cursor and inconsistencies with the map make the game feel more cumbersome than it otherwise would)

Gameplay: 8 (There's not a lot of direct gameplay here. I'm torn between wanting more interactivity and appreciating the way that clicking on stuff without results helps give a sense of futility that maybe enhances the game)

Assets: 9 (The music is great and really pushes the game's atmosphere. The backgrounds are beautiful, and the animations are nice)

Impact: 10 (This is one of the best sci-fi short stories I've seen in game format)

Overall: 43

Completed: Yes

I really am torn on whether more interactivity would enhance or detract from the game. Perhaps some "examine" animations (without any meaningful gameplay outcomes) could have helped ground the protagonist in the world a little better.

Edit: Upped the gameplay score a little

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I'll try to do a rating too, since I played the game myself earlier this week and it's still relatively fresh in memory:

Story: 10 - Excellent job of telling a story with hardly any words.

Usability: 7 - I agree that interaction points could have been better marked. Some of that is on me, since I didn't realize that there was an in-game map and kept looking for exits where there were none.

Gameplay: 10 - The gameplay is bare-bones but I don't think anything could have been added without detracting from the experience.

Assets: 8 - This game lives mostly through the ambience of the music and the game's beautiful pixelated backgrounds. The music is ace and mostly the art too, but I feel like a bit higher resolution to the pixel art could have added some immersiveness.

Impact: 8 - A unique experience with minor faults.

Overall: 43

Completed: Yes

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I quite liked Stranded. I love how, after the second or third playthrough, you can piece clues together and figure out why things happened as they did. There's that "eureka" moment of realization that's just really exciting.

For example, after knowing how the game ends, that the planet has the ability to change humans (at the very least) into rock people. Assuming that the rock people are indeed sentient and have some sense of human consciousness, this gives me a clue of why the rock folks did what they did. Perhaps the rock person who sat (or, according to Cheese, breakdanced) in front of the final room at the very beginning of the game was trying to protect you from turning into one of them - who, when the spaceship explodes a couple of days later, then moves because that's the only way to keep our protagonist "alive", and therefore potentially saving them from fates even worse death.

The whole process of speculating and looking back at what you've experienced, trying to get to the point where "everything makes sense" is just really exciting to me. It's like solving a math problem. and I love math!

I also really liked the pacing and the timing of the music. It seems to directly or indirectly reflects the protagonist's state of mind. I especially loved the little moment where after you've activated your last room, the exciting almost inspiration music suddenly stops, leaving you wondering "ok, so what now?". Or the very last sequence of the game where drums kicks in and the music swells, giving you this false hope of salvation that's destroyed only moments later.

I'd love to hear everyone's opinion on why so many people criticized Stranded for not being a "game". What has shaped the audience's expectation of what can or cannot be considered a "game"? And how?

Does it have anything to do with the sense of being rewarded for your actions? In mainstream AAA games, there is a very clear sense of justification and reward for most things you do. There is a clear goal that you're trying to achieve, and along the way the games do give you a sense of progress, that whatever you're doing is "working". Games that aren't largely considered "games", off the top of my head: Stranded, Gone Home and Depression Quest, there seems to be a very minimal sense of achievement. Is this what a lot of people were upset about? Personally, automatic achievements in narrative-driven games have always bothered me a lot. Icons popping up unnecessarily whenever you've gotten to a certain point really doesn't make a lot of sense to me - not to mention how easily they break my immersion too.

I don't know. I'm rambling. What do you guys think?

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who, when the spaceship explodes a couple of days later, then moves because that's the only way to keep our protagonist "alive", and therefore potentially saving them from fates even worse death.

I got the impression that the behaviour of the rock people in the game suggests that their existence is worse than death.

Mostly the ones that move guide you toward the rooms/shrines that you have to activate though, so it does feel like maybe they're intentionally leading you towards the game's ending.

I also really liked the pacing and the timing of the music. It seems to directly or indirectly reflects the protagonist's state of mind. I especially loved the little moment where after you've activated your last room, the exciting almost inspiration music suddenly stops, leaving you wondering "ok, so what now?". Or the very last sequence of the game where drums kicks in and the music swells, giving you this false hope of salvation that's destroyed only moments later.

I totally dig this. The music is a big, big part of the game's atmosphere to me.

I'd love to hear everyone's opinion on why so many people criticized Stranded for not being a "game". What has shaped the audience's expectation of what can or cannot be considered a "game"? And how?

I think it's mostly people who don't feel that they like the game (whether that be because it's not rewarding enough, not interactive enough or not long enough) coupled with some sense of entitlement that leads them to believe that anything that doesn't conform to their expectations isn't worthy of being called a game. Like I said in chat, I don't really think it carries much water. The content doesn't define the medium. The medium defines the medium.

I'm really interested in how creators view and interpret this kind of feedback though, especially when it can be so overwhelmingly prominent as it seems to be in Stranded's Steam Community discussion hub.

Peter's thrown a couple of comments up on Twitter in response to questions from today's session:

Regarding the protagonist's gender:

Intentionally ambiguous. We thought it was cool that a lot of playtesters projected their own gender onto the astronaut.

Regarding inspiration:

Most notably; Shadow of the Colossus, Studio Ghibli's Castle In The Sky, The Dig and Proteus.

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Thanks for playing guys, and sorry I couldn't be there for the livestream. I just read through the chat log now, and really loved hearing everyone's thoughts.

The stuff about the music influencing the mood of each session is interesting, and more closely linked to the "game-iness" than you might think. Basically we knew that one of the challenges of trapping the player this way was having the same environment convey a whole bunch of different moods and atmospheres, and that basically spawned both the day/night system, and the dynamic soundtrack. Really, we were hoping that the music changing with the player's actions would be enough positive reinforcement to drive most players, although clearly this didn't really turn out to be true. I guess we sort of forgot that a lot of people might be playing with sound off, or just not paying very close attention to the music.

I think it's really cool that you guys enjoyed it though, and honestly, although a lot of the feedback on Steam has been negative, I'd rather have 10% of players be really excited about the game than have 90% of players think it was okay but forgettable.

One thing that's fair to say though is that the game is a bit of a muddle, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it's my first commercial project. There was a desire both for the game to be pleasant to play (at times) and for it to convey story and character through mechanics (e.g. the awkward movement, not knowing which objects are interactive/not, etc.) but I think these two things ended up clashing, particularly because we made it a point & click adventure, which has traditionally been such a clearly defined genre.

Another weird little thing is the minimap resetting: Because we always wanted the player to feel as though they were exploring a space of indeterminate size, to increase the loneliness and stress of being on the planet, we thought this might be a subtle way of giving that impression. In really early versions of the game I tried to do this by looping sections of the world indefinitely until the player walked back to the ship again, but this proved too confusing for playtesters.

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I think it's really cool that you guys enjoyed it though, and honestly, although a lot of the feedback on Steam has been negative, I'd rather have 10% of players be really excited about the game than have 90% of players think it was okay but forgettable.

This is a good attitude to have :D

Do you feel that there's things that you could do/have done which might reduce the potential for negative experience? Weeding out all but that 10% can be tricky, and that comes back to the accessibility of the medium that I think Flesk had mentioned during the chat.

There was a desire both for the game to be pleasant to play (at times) and for it to convey story and character through mechanics (e.g. the awkward movement, not knowing which objects are interactive/not, etc.) but I think these two things ended up clashing, particularly because we made it a point & click adventure, which has traditionally been such a clearly defined genre.

Edit: Finishing a sentence here:

I'm not sure that that clash is so significant in the finished game. I can see how they could have been opposing forces during development though.

Another weird little thing is the minimap resetting: Because we always wanted the player to feel as though they were exploring a space of indeterminate size, to increase the loneliness and stress of being on the planet, we thought this might be a subtle way of giving that impression. In really early versions of the game I tried to do this by looping sections of the world indefinitely until the player walked back to the ship again, but this proved too confusing for playtesters.

It feels like the only way to get that in a way that wouldn't be confusing to a problematic extent would have been to have additional areas become accessible as time went on (but I'm not sure that the game needed that).

I did encounter what I think may have been a bug where the relative position between the north and south map locations would shift depending upon which room you were in.

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Do you feel that there's things that you could do/have done which might reduce the potential for negative experience?

Yeah, I think it would've been easy to telegraph the puzzles more heavily, to make it clear which things could be interacted with, or just to move the whole thing to an engine like AGS and have it behave much more like a traditional point and click. I think this would have led to it being a much less interesting experience though, even if it became more accessible on a play by play basis.

We also didn't have a "busy" cursor originally, which made the game weirdly hard to play. It wasn't until Proteus's Ed Key pointed out how odd it was without one that we kinda went "duh" and immediately added it.

I'm not sure that that clash

I think we could've handled it better certainly, or that at least it clashed because of a few early design decisions. Indiestatik's Adam Paris did a really good piece on some of the slightly disonnant elements of the game (and I definitely agree with some of his criticisms): http://indiestatik.com/2014/04/01/stranded-impressions/

I did encounter what I think may have been a bug where the relative position between the north and south map locations would shift depending upon which room you were in.

I wouldn't be surprised if that were true. The minimap was one of the most complicated things to implement, and (again, because of my relative inexperience) wasn't well planned for in early code, and didn't play nice with some of the game's other systems.

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We also didn't have a "busy" cursor originally, which made the game weirdly hard to play. It wasn't until Proteus's Ed Key pointed out how odd it was without one that we kinda went "duh" and immediately added it.

Yeah, the "busy" cursor feels really important, especially since you can't interrupt a movement.

I was thinking more from a presentation/expectation management/marketing point of view though, in terms of giving players the right mindset going in or helping them avoid the game if it's not their sort of thing.

I think we could've handled it better certainly, or that at least it clashed because of a few early design decisions. Indiestatik's Adam Paris did a really good piece on some of the slightly disonnant elements of the game (and I definitely agree with some of his criticisms): http://indiestatik.com/2014/04/01/stranded-impressions/

A nice article. I think I agree that the sense of isolation doesn't hammer home as much as it perhaps could, but it didn't get in the way of me appreciating the game :D

There's something nice and surreal about a slow, peaceful environment juxtapositioned against the looming stress of being stranded. It's not until you lose your tanks that it becomes anything like an emergency, and I feel like the music does a good job of giving you a little taste of hopelessness before grabbing for the strand of possibility that the final night offers.

I've recently been writing about another game that throws you into an alien environment with no indications as to what you're meant to do or how to survive called Another World. That's a lot more "gamey" and focuses on platforming and combat, but I've felt that it does a decent job of carrying a sense of isolation through blue tones and a minimalist use of music cues, and repeated sense of loss as you come into contact with/lose a companion you pick up along the way.

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