My twenty-fourth game is complete! Toppleblox is my twenty-second #onegameamonth game (only two left!), and the theme this month was “Raison D’être.” That’s… a bit of a tough sell, but I think I managed it (with a twist, at least). I actually have a lot to say about this game, but there are spoilers, so you’ll have to go “below the break” to read it.
Before we get to the spoilers, some assorted details about the game. First, this game should work on mobile devices! I say “should” because mobile devices are legion these days, and I’ve only tested it on one iPad. It worked on that iPad, though, so that’s something. It doesn’t work nearly as well as it does with a mouse, of course, but it’s still playable. I worked really hard on this game all month long, and I was really excited about it, so I wanted to get it working on mobile. I have a real sketchy history with mobile, so hopefully this game works better than usual.
Also, for those of you wondering, “raison d’être” means “reason for being” (or something like that). I’ll talk about how I incorporated that theme into the game, but that will involve the spoilers, so I’ll say this first: If you haven’t shared a replay yet, you haven’t really started playing the game. Go share a few replays and experience everything that involves, then come back and read further. In fact, try to beat the game before you read the spoilers below. Yes, the game has an ending, and you’ll know when you’ve reached it. If you’re not sure the game is over, it’s not over yet. Keep going. Okay, that’s everything. Spoilers below!
When McFunkypants (the man behind #onegameamonth) announces the theme each month, he records a little speech. This month, he spoke about indie game development (or “gamedev,” as he calls it) specifically as a “reason for being.” I decided to put my own twist on the theme by making the game about your “reason for playing,” though there are several layers of meaning you can take from this game. I’ll talk about this one first.
The idea is that your reason for playing (at the start, at least) is to have fun. You play the game to see what it has to offer, and you play it for as long as you enjoy it. In essence, you’re playing the game for yourself. After you share a replay, you discover this social media site. If you click on any of the “suggested” posts, you’ll likely see some really interesting replays from other people who are playing the same game. You may also notice that these people are absolutely killing it with the views and likes. These (admittedly fictional) people have obtained great popularity just by posting impressive #Toppleblox replays. Now, this is where the game gets very subtle. This game is very short on written instructions, and it relies on you, the player, to do what it wants of your own accord. Hopefully this is effective. The intent behind LookAtMe is for you to notice all these successful posts and want to obtain that level of success for yourself. There are a couple of text-only posts to subtly push you in the right direction, but it’s possible you may never even notice them. Maybe I was a bit too subtle there, but I hope you read them.
Once you start getting views and likes on your replays, you’ll hopefully start posting more replays as your audience grows. If you pay attention to your like rate (the percentage of views that result in likes), you’ll learn what the people like and start giving them more of it. And this is where the theme comes in: At the beginning, you were playing for your own enjoyment; now, you’re playing for the enjoyment of others. You’re playing to the audience. Your “reason for playing” has changed. Hopefully. Again, the game may be too subtle for its own good, relying on you to do what I want without ever actually instructing you to. If it worked, though, you should now be playing the game with the sole intent to maximize your views and likes, catering to the crowd and deleting any replay that falls too short of expectations. There’s an element, here, of me mourning my favorite YouTuber, whose fabulous Indie Impressions series died hard when he moved to Twitch. He still uploads most of his Twitch recordings to YouTube, but it’s not the same at all. He’s constantly distracted by the live chat, and it seems like he never pays attention to the game he’s playing anymore (which results in him being really bad at the game). Now that he’s got a live audience, that’s his reason for playing.
But that’s only one layer of meaning behind the game, and only one interpretation of the game’s theme. Because here’s the game’s secret: it’s actually about indie game development. That’s right! It’s about the very thing McFunkypants talked about in his theme announcement. You see, I already have two games about how much office life stinks. This is my game about how much indie gamedev stinks. You make a game, and then what? Nobody plays it just because you made it. This isn’t Field of Dreams. You have to get people’s attention somehow, and that is basically impossible in this environment. Many great articles have been written about how there are just too many games out there and success in the indie games industry is no longer feasible. Those articles are talking about financial success, and they weren’t written recently. Everything they said is true, and it’s just gotten worse. But I’m not even trying for financial success, and most small indies aren’t either. We all just want someone to play our (free!) games. But how? How do you get people’s attention when there are so many indie games out there? There are more than 10,000 games on #onegameamonth alone. That’s just one site, and not even a particularly well-known site!
This is why the social media site in Toppleblox is called “LookAtMe.” It’s not a commentary on the narcissism of social media or anything like that, it’s just a blunt description of the indie gamedev marketing process: going on social media and yelling “Look what I made!” at the top of your lungs. And that’s sad. It’s a terrible process that I hate taking part in, but I must nonetheless. So Toppleblox is a very autobiographical game in a lot of (subtle) ways. It’s a game about trying to obtain success at something that you can never really succeed at. Those “suggested” replays? They have millions of views. You never will. Here’s the big end-of-game spoiler: If you ever reach 10,000 views, LookAtMe sells out to Facebook and the site shuts down forever (a deliberate dig at the Oculus Rift). Yes, that’s a bleak ending. But it’s designed to ask the question (or make you ask the question): “What was the point?” If your “reason for playing” became about the audience, is there still any point in playing without an audience? Can you continue to enjoy the game now that nobody’s watching?
This is the personal narrative at work behind the game. As of this writing, I have 5 Twitter followers who aren’t friends or family. I have 3 “fan mails” on #onegameamonth. There’s one commenter on this site who I don’t know personally (hi, Lightning Spark!). I can measure my indie “success” entirely in one-digit numbers, and that’ll probably always be the case. And that’s fine. Toppleblox asks the question, “Are you okay ‘playing’ without an audience?” I say, “Yes… for now.” I’m hoping that reaching #1 on the high score list will get more people to play my games, but it might not. It almost certainly won’t make a noticeable difference. So be it – I can live with what I’ve got.
Because I am not a heartless monster, there is a way to revive the LookAtMe site after they sell out. Your replays are not lost forever. As a reward for reading this entire lengthy post, I will teach you the secret. Open your browser’s dev console (probably by hitting F12 or Ctrl+Shift+I), go to the “Console” tab, copy and paste the following code, and hit enter:
(This is a deliberate reference to the brilliant Save the Date.) Enjoy!