FEIST is a charming platformer that focuses on simplicity and fun. The student-developed title currently sports five levels of “go from the left side of the screen to the right side,” with the unusual twists of a silhouetted art style and procedurally-generated content. The way the students put the game together, however, is the key to why this title feels like such a solid piece.
Cohesion is a property that makes all sorts of media, from games to books to movies, just feel better. When things fit together better, it’s easy to overlook. When they don’t, it sticks out like a sore thumb. There are lots of ways to approach cohesion in game development, and the creators of FEIST set out to create an immersive platforming experience by using Hemmingway’s iceberg approach, where most of the game is out of view, but supports what’s visible.
While the player sees only the silhouette of the world, the entire world exists in three dimensions within the computer. Only when objects turn is the player let in on the fact that this world is in fact three dimensional, and not simply Paper Mario overexposed. The game also keeps track of the health of the player’s avatar, which it communicates to the player covertly rather than with a condition monitor. Instead, the player learns how healthy he is based on the baldness of the avatar on the screen: more bald means more dead.
Asked if they were familiar with the IGF finalist Night Game when they decided to go with the silhouetted visual style, developer Adrian Stutz said that they had only learned of that title, and a few others using silhouettes later into their game development. Instead, as they were choosing an art style for the game, they viewed independent film clips, and were drawn to those using this simple but dramatic style. By not showing every detail, he said, it allows your imagination to fill in the gaps and makes the visuals more powerful.
The entire world of FEIST was created before the game itself was made. The avatar has a long, flowing tail simply to make moving around in the world, without any constraints of the game, fun to do and to watch. Once created, the developers looked to see what kind of game could they make within that world. Now that they have made a game within the world they created, they are working on intermediate goals like item collection and defeating enemies. A simple story to tell within their world and with their gameplay is also in progress.
The interactions between the enemies, objects, and characters, are not prescribed. Instead, they all have a starting position when you start the game, and are set loose to behave. The engine treats every object as being equal, so that not only can you throw enemies and objects, but enemies can throw you as well. This should make the game more replayable, which was one of the design goals. Despite the procedurally-generated content, FEIST didn’t have any seams that we could see in the demo at the GDC, so with a little bit of luck, this will be the gem of 2D platforming that Adam was hoping to have.
FEIST should be finished this summer, and its student developers spent some quality time at the GDC speaking to companies about getting it distributed. They hope to price the game in the $10-$20 range, and to make the game available both on the Mac and the PC.
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