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Greg Rice

The White Birch: Voting Discussion Thread

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First of all, congratulations, Andy! I'm glad to see this idea make it to the prototype stage; it certainly has a lot of potential. Hearing your concept made me think quite a bit about how multiple paths and endings could be incorporated into such a design. I hope you don't mind my asking – I do not wish to tamper with your vision-in-progress – but I would be interested to know whether you are considering using items or other characters as potential solutions to the challenges raised by the design.

By items, I don't mean in the ubiquitous, generic sense of Sonic's rings or Mario's coins, but perhaps something like a variety of mysterious artefacts, encountered every so often, that could hint at your character's goals, and eventual endings, depending on which ones are collected or sought out.

As for characters, what about having opportunities to help other beings in some way as you explore, like the Mudokons in the Oddworld games, with each one saved being counted towards a particular path or ending? This would also allow for conflict, without necessarily involving direct combat, if the environment could be used in some way to thwart aggressors, as is often worked into adventure games.

It could even lead to the possibility of helper companions. The owl is there of course, but including others could tie into alternate paths and endings: for example, you might save a goat from drowning, who could then accompany you and use its extraordinary climbing skills to get to areas otherwise out of reach. It could then butt down a plank or rock to help you up or, if aiming for a somewhat otherworldly, surreal tone, perhaps grow its beard long enough for you to climb up; after all, goats are so badass that even the female ones have beards, so anything they do wouldn't surprise me. :)

With alternate paths being part of the design, you could then have situations where the player must choose whether to continue a path alone (because the companion either cannot travel that route, or does not want to), or try to seek out a way to keep the partnership together. Having a few potential companions to meet along the way, along with a handful of path branches, would allow for a very decent number of possible routes and endings; it could also touch on themes such as friendship, loyalty, independence, loneliness and abandonment, depending on the choices made during the journey.

Anyway, that's enough for now – you must already have had plenty of ideas, so it would be untoward of me to elaborate further without hearing more of your own thoughts first. The art is looking wonderfully atmospheric so far, and I am definitely looking forward to hearing further details on the mechanics!

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Hey all, thanks for your posts! I've been off the grid over family thanksgiving but I'll be trying to catch up with everything today.

-A

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I just heard word of another cool project in the works with similar inspirations to our pitch. It’s called Toren and it’s from Brazil, check it out:

Toren

I think although we share some common sources in having a tower and a girl character, gameplay wise and visually we’ll be pretty different. Although it obviously is influenced by Ico and the Last Guardian, it’s more of a Heavy Rain type experience in the gameplay than our puzzle platforming direction but it certainly sounds interesting. It also looks like their tree actually is a growing, dynamic part of the path rather than simply being the goal at the end of the game and the girl lives her whole life in a single day during the course of the climb up the tree.

I'm excited to see how their game comes together, and I'm excited to bring our idea to life as well! Thank you all for your support in this process. Now let's make this game!

-A

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Listening to the livestream right now. I'm sold. I choose to be on this development team. LOL

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First post on these forums, very excited and intrigued by this idea, I have been searching for a new game of this type so I'm glad to be able to see this one develop.

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I also really enjoyed his live pitch, really like what he said and sold it better to me than the original pitch video & design doc did.

Will follow this with interest (though that's true for all the prototypes).

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After hearing Andy give his Q&A with the fans, I'm pretty stoked for this prototype. His opinions of Limbo vs. Journey in terms of wanting to replay the game are spot on. I think the idea of having a pretty short game (Journey-sized) that's super-replayable is great.

P.S. I also really loved all of the little rewards the Metal Gear Solid games give you for completing them, but I don't think I've ever finished any of them more than twice. They're all rather long and, in some spots, quite difficult. Making something you can enjoy again and again without dedicating 60+ hours of your life to it is a good idea.

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Cool Fumito Ueda quotes!

heres Ueda about the camera system

"We have chosen this camera system so that players do not lose their sense of direction. There are imaginary lines in areas where cameras switch, which acted as guidelines for us, when finalizing details. We would like to emphasize that the feel for each character's existence comes not only from the camera, but also from a combination of their motion and their SE. It's really difficult to say how much time we spent on the camera scripting, as we made adjustments to it from day one, all the way up to the end."

in an interview asked what is the most important aspect of Ico,

"Specifically, I wanted to convey a sense of reality in the fictitious world."

is Ico about good vs evil

"I wanted to leave the decision as to whether what ICO did was right or wrong to the player." (I think this is funny because I am left with the same question at the end of Ico,SOTC,Half Life 1/2,2ep2, bioshock, journey, and I bet I'm forgetting others. Just left with the feeling if you just screwed up the world/made it better/reset it)

about lack of verbal communication

"If conversation were possible, the player would wish to control Yorda via conversation. I thought that retreating (taking one’s hand) would be meaningful since conversation was impossible."

this is a quote i take back to my own music and recording

"I am sure that I got some inspiration from somewhere whenever I got stuck, but I tried hard throughout the process of making ICO to ensure that the game would not resemble anything else available."

You know how important the St. Augustine quote 'People will venture out to the height of the mountain to seek for wonder. They will stand and stare at the width of the ocean to be filled with wonder. But they will pass one another in the street and feel nothing. Yet every individual is a miracle. How strange that nobody sees the wonder in one another.' is to Jenova Chen and making Journey.

I was reading an interview with Jenova Chen and he was talking about going over stuff with a child psychologist about making people do good things means no feedback from doing bad things. Attempts at good things result in more feedback (something I think that fits in with why two players could "hug" each other and get power that way and then spiral around eachother as they flew and danced around the air [the feeling of movement in that game is a beast in itself]). It was a very interesting interview (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-04-02-jenova-chen-journeyman)

Also as a fan of Ico, I hope you have seen this. I didn't see it until today when looking up some stuff to pretend that I am smart. This blew my mind though, mostly because it was what I thought.

Z-cxgHJlihw

more people need to copy Eric Chahi. kojima, ueda among others have also copied from Eric Chahi. or you could do what eric chahi did and draw total inspiration from yourself and no direct inspiration from any outside influence besides a rotoscoped coke can, and zapper. Another World is one of the most inspiring games I've ever played. It's unbelievably hard, breaks every single tradition, to this day is still against almost all tradition, but is the pinnacle of gaming, and made by one person. Theres some awesome videos that come with the game if you buy the anniversary version on disc, but theyre also on youtube with other interviews. all great.

Have you played Another World by Eric Chahi?

Sorry for the longwinded references and stuff. And sorry for "shouting" :( it definitely can be taken negatively without the reminder that I'm just a loser 21 year old. Just thought they said some really relevant things. I kinda feel like a bad person though now that you mentioned my complaining in the livestream q&a. but also mentioned the endgame bonus thingy so yayy. I also played Journey more than once in my first sitting, but that game had a special build and was so ridiculously short. Journey never had that moment where the bridge falls apart and you yell at your tv like a crazy person (I've never had that reaction from any other game where it literally made me move out of my seat in shock). The post credits scene on the beach was just icing on the cake.

In the awesome Q&A, about dying/combat/puzzles, I think the only way you can die in Ico is falling to death because the other way of getting a game over is if the shadows take Yorda into the hole. Not sure if theres any other way. In Journey theres no way to die, or at least I've never died and I tried to. I love the idea from before someone mentioned its about fight or flight. In Ico the things you did with the environment were more about moving forward, except for a few times where you are forced to run away. A mix of fight and flight without knowing what would come next sometimes was real cool. I love how Ico fixed the death by combat problem by having Yorda being the reason you get a game over in that situation.

It seems to me that the ways this game could be better than Ico is that the Owl in this story, is like Yorda. Except you don't hold her hand, it might even be more of a guide to you (or you help each other in ways that make up different puzzles of you doing a favor for the owl and it helping you in a sudden exciting moment, whatever its not my idea to decide these things, just suggestions).

This game could be better than Ico in a way that a situation with conflict can be resolved with the environment, (manipulating the environment, or the areas of conflict are a design tool to direct the player in a direction without drawing trees/branches everywhere or whatever you would use to fill space). Instead of 2 options, run away or fight, maybe fighting isn't even an option and you can run or interact with stuff around you, maybe even make interacting with the world something as easy as running around a kitchen and pulling all the drawers open, except theyre on springs so they all close slowly. Instead of cubbords and drawers, think gates that trigger different events in the world, with a player spamming around seeing tons of different things in the environment come to life, a combination of which results in the logical progression forward. So the language is still visual and logical.

What about the world inside the tower not being logical with size so you can play around as you wish. As if normal laws of space and reality dont exist in the tower.

This obviously isn't a demand or anything but if the game is all about replaying again and again and different interpretations, maybe after so many plays it turns into a slight morphing of the character (hats :D) The different prizes at the end could let someone choose to really change things up maybe making the game 1/4 the length (street fighter 2 turbo mode) with low gravity. I'm still not sure because this could completely wreck the whole balance of the game, suggesting such platform game wrecking mods to the world like low gravity.

Another suggestion to this is after a playthrough (or 5?!?) the game finally says hey now lets joke around, and then double fine laughs can happen....I think a serious tone might fit this game well, with knowing fans able to joke after soaking in the seriousness. I'm thinking about the possibility of dozens of prizes at the end of the game. So maybe after a few you unlock big head mode, or changing the enemies to something funny.

About the hats, maybe generic ones or maybe references to other double fine games. Or another good idea from tf2, misc items like the pocket medic. Maybe the girl has a plush doll she carries of Raz after a few playthroughs and then you can collect a few dolls.

I wrote so god damn much here I apologize, and 100% understand if you read none of that crap. Will just watch the rest, I took up so much real estate with this gargantuan post. Looking forward to this so much!

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Mentioned this in the Live Stream when the humour question came up, but thought I would post it here too. The upcoming point and click game Lilly Looking Through is a great example of the quiet, sweet physical humour you can integrate into a game like this.

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Like a lot of people here i really liked your pitch. I think i understand what kind of atmosphere you want to create and i really love that. I voted for your game and now i'm even more convinced.

It's so great that this prototype is gonna be made. I can't wait to play it. :)

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Wow. Take a deep breath there Jason... =)

Please don't feel bad - I was trying to make light of your previous comments, not make you feel bad and certainly don't apologize for showing this much support and enthusiasm. I'm flattered and grateful for all your support. I *really* appreciate the fact that you and everyone else take the time to post like this.

The short first pitches by necessity had to leave out almost as much detail and context as we put in. I'm glad the live streams got to shine a little more light into the corners.

The articles you linked are great. That interview with Ueda-san about the meaning of Ico's ending makes me smile when says it's just one interpretation. I think that's the right spirit...

Back at the beginning of Cave I watched a lot of those youtube play through videos for Another World and Heart of Darkness, so I'm a little familiar with Eric Chahi's work.

As you could probably tell from the Q&A I don't have all the answers just yet but we a good set of bones to start with and two weeks to start teasing some of the answers out. I like the fight or flight suggestion just as I liked Dan's use of the word 'threat' rather than enemy in our live stream. A little threat and unknown dread to help push the player along coupled with the pull of the goal at the top is the kind of feeling I want to aim for.

Special thanks to Jonathan for the Disneyland article - I'm digging through that now and it's pretty damn cool. In return I give you something for your ears and your imagination: inspirational music from Gavin Bryar's "the Sinking of the Titanic. If you like this you're in the right place:

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In return I give you something for your ears and your imagination: inspirational music from Gavin Bryar's "the Sinking of the Titanic. If you like this you're in the right place:

I'm a huge fan of Gavin Bryar's work! That's an awesome source of inspiration.... It's probably an overly-epic idea, but music that developed and rewarded like that through the climb would be amazing... powered by some powerful new hyper-localized music/sound-layering iMUSE-type engine (or maybe you already have those tools lying around there :).

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That's awesome! Preaching to the choir! Track 9 on this album "wood blocks" starts out with what i think is the perfect balance of sound FX and ambient music working in tandem. All i could find was this little sample: wood blocks

but I could see the same approach working - ambient sounds from the gameplay blending into the music and the two making a whole.

-A

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Hey, Andy! Congratulations! Haven't posted in your thread yet, but I've been watching your project with a keen eye, and I have to say that after seeing your pitch in the livestream, you have certainly garnered more interest from me.

I wasn't sure at first how well I liked the idea of the game being very short but being a somewhat different experience every time. I'm an RPG nerd at heart, and you know how long our type like to spend on games. (Just short of forever.)

However! I tried to think of games where I might have had a similar experience before, and I actually remembered a really enjoyable and really famous one. The comparison requires a tad bit of imagination, but I hope you'll see why I thought of it.

I actually remember having an extremely positive and highly addicting experience with just this sort of thing in the original Super Mario World on the SNES. HOWEVER. It was obviously not the entire game that was constructed this way. I'm thinking specifically of the level Chocolate Island #1, where you can play entirely through the level as you can the rest of the game, which leads you to Chocolate Island #2, which turns out to be a dead end on the map. It turns out that in order to advance, you have to replay Chocolate Island #1, but there are certain SECRET OBJECTIVES to fulfill that will not only open up an alternate path, but will change the layout of the path depending on the choices you make.

The level advances via a series of "rooms", and the next room is determined by whether or not you met a secret objective or by what specific secret objective you accomplished. For example, let's say you started in room #1 and completed zero secret objectives. You would then be taken to room 2A. Or let's say you completed the secret objective of accumulating X number of coins. You go to room 2B. Or let's say you defeat X number of enemies: room 2C. Or let's say you speed through the level really fast and make outstanding time: 2D. Or maybe you accomplish 2 or more secret objectives at once: 2E.

Then for each of THOSE rooms there is a default room they advance to plus their OWN set of secret objectives. Most importantly: once you advance to the next room, you can't go back. If you want to try again, you're going to have to replay. But it's okay. You didn't miss anything. You just set the course for one treasure rather than another. Your course of action is still rewarded.

I played that level over and over and over again. Not only because I wanted to conquer the level and reach the end, but because there were all these secret objectives that I didn't know about and wanted to discover. Were there parts of the level I had never seen? Is there a secret that unlocks yet ANOTHER alternate path? Are there any rare and useful treasures to be found by simply discovering a particular course of action that leads to it? What could I do on this playthrough that I've never tried yet?

It was such a cool idea, because it invoked curiosity in so many different ways. Not only curiosity about what you would receive once you finally reached the end, but curiosity as to what kinds of actions would "change your destiny" so to speak. It made you want to experiment with things. Just try out any crazy idea to see if it would change your course at all.

When I think about The White Birch in THOSE terms and remember how much fun I had with that idea in SMW way back then, I find it changes my tune. Something like that can certainly be addicting and very fun to experiment with. It also encourages those lovely game conversations (less common these days due to the internet) where two friends retell the story of things they tried and what they saw and marvel at each other's tales and immediately want to rush home and see what new marvels they can uncover.

A game that is, from start to finish, very small, but in the intervening time, hugely full of unique discoveries.

I wish you luck and can't wait to try your prototype!

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oh man that sounds perfect. I love the idea that two friends could talk about the game and one turns to the other and says "wait, that didn't happen to me, I got X instead..."

-A

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Congratulations! Good presentation.

I still don’t know do I like this game or not. I see You are going away from combat in it, that’s a good, encouraging news. But you mentioned in presentation that You can die, that’s a really bad thing to hear. Well not that bad in general, but bad if You “fall down”, in “press button .01s too soon or late” sense. I don’t think You can die in Journey. Well You can fall off in Ico, what isn’t the best thing about it. I generally dislike games where You can die too many times just because of controls. Dying because of non-timed matter of course is totally fine with me.

You could play out “the tower” thing in art and music too, by going from dark/cold colors to light/warm/soft and from low/slow music to higher pitch/faster/happier, as the girl get higher and higher.

Wish You a good luck.

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oh man that sounds perfect. I love the idea that two friends could talk about the game and one turns to the other and says "wait, that didn't happen to me, I got X instead..."

-A

Yeah! But it does one better! A lot of games the generate content procedurally want to generate these kinds of conversations as well. But with the idea of "secret objectives" that determine your path, two friends can also discuss strategies, which is not something you get with procedurally generated content.

"Last night I was playing and, after the third room, I came across a room that had this giant ____ in it!"

"What? I didn't see that! My room was full of _____. How did you get that?"

"I'm not sure, but I was trying to go for speed. I think speed might get you to it, but I think I also knocked down all the hornet's nests in that area, too, so it might have been that."

And that's really the best part is that nothing really tells you WHAT these secret objectives are, or whether you've accomplished any, or what they do. You just know that they're THERE. It drives your curiosity bonkers.

Not sure procedurally generated content can do that. ;-)

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I value Andy's courage in pitching a game like this in a game company like Double Fine, which more known as a creator of more or less comedic games. Of course, I do not know what kind of atmosphere there is in the company, but I could imagine that at least in some other gaming companies presenting a pitch for an idea that is very different from the style the company is known for could be met with opposition and maybe even some ridicule.

I really look forward to trying out the prototype.

And thank you for the Gavin Bryar tip. Sounds very nice. In some ways reminds me of Arvo Pärt.

Kristian

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Not sure procedurally generated content can do that. ;-)

Procedurally generated content can do a lot, question is more of, can programmer write/think of good enough generator and in other cases (not this probably) can hardware do generation process fast enough.

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I'm really interested in the idea of the game's story being open to interpretation. I'm curious, do you yourself have a definitive idea of what the game is actually about, or is it entirely up to the player to assign their own meaning?

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Kristian - kudos on the Arvo Part!

Chiral - Yes I do. But I'm not going to tell you.... =D

I already have an ending I've tried out on a couple of people and it got a pretty good reaction and it tied things up and left them open at the same time. I can't say anything more at this point even though it's a tease.

-A

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First I want to say congratulations and good luck during the upcoming two weeks, the description and your presentation made me really want to see this project come together, and was very happy to see it make it into the top 4.

Second, during the Q&A, hats were mentioned and you jokingly mentioned the possibility of antlers, which made me think, what if upon completion of the game, that actually happened. With how Journey has its scarf become more elaborate over each playthrough, maybe you could implement a system that after each game completion, your character slowly changes in appearance, to maybe be more animal like, antlers, tail, etc. Obviously not a system we would see in the prototype, but would be another visual aspect that gives the incentive to play more.

Either way, I'm greatly looking forward to seeing what you and your team come up with during this time.

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Chiral - Yes I do. But I'm not going to tell you.... =D

That's what I was hoping :D

I love analyzing stuff to try and work out what a creator was trying to say or what the driving impetus behind the project was. Games that offer even a modicum of critical analysis come along far too rarely so if The White Birch has a little more under the surface to dig into it will be a net win for that alone.

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Watching the pitch live for this, specifically, is what got me to donate. Good luck.

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A big hand everyone for Ben Burbank: he is, without a shadow of a doubt, the tallest programmer to ever work on the white birch!

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