Through the complete randomness of the internet, I have happened upon the blog of Mory at I am not....

You may have noticed we have been commenting back and forth on various subjects.

He has released his first video game Smilie. It is very important to understand where this game is coming from. Mory seems to be working in the same manner of the modernist painters. He is attempting to strip away all that is unnecessary from video games to get to their essence. This type of delving into video games has been in the back of my mind for some time and I was very excited that not only was someone else interested, but had actually made a game.

Here is my review and criticism, I would probably suggest to play the game before reading any further as I might spoil your opinion, which I think Mory would appreciate.

The first thing I will discuss is the design of the game. There is nothing extraneous in the experience. Title, credits, player character, non player character, ending. That is it. I don't think there is any way it could have been stripped down any further. Also, the experience is well designed in that it flows smoothly and without interruption. No loading or saving or anything of that sort of pull the player out of the experience.

The gameplay is as reduced as possible. One cursor and one smilie face. I think the choice of having the cursor as the playable character is really interesting as we rarely think of ourselves as the cursor on the screen, whereas in games such as Mario, it is exceptionally easy to realize that you are Mario.

And from what I experienced in the game, the gameplay was simply the interaction between the player's cursor and the smilie face. I could move the cursor in relation to the smilie. I could click the smilie. That was all.

How the game becomes interesting is in the fact that the smilie face reacts to the players input. I thought at first that the game was scripted as the first 2 run through resulted in the same reactions, but this was just coincidence. I have yet to figure out exactly how the interaction is determine.

And it is this apparent randomness, or the fact I can't quite tell what is going to happen which makes this game compelling. Once I don't know what the smilie face is going to do, it crosses the threshold into the space of being a living being. In the same way animators try to bring life to drawings, life was given to this character. And I don't simply mean life through motion, but life through reaction.

From the interaction that occurs in the game a small story will always develop. And from story comes a lot more interpretation which helps tie the game in with life. The strongest story I came across in this game is when I was actually killed by the smilie face. In most games you have more lives when you die and the game isn't over. That is not so in this game, when you die, that is it, just like real life. This type of truth really felt like a genuinely interesting comment on real life. It felt like there was a real message behind the game about life.

I think that is all of the glowing comments I can make about this game. Now for a few suggestions that could help enhance the experience.

I think that audio would be an important addition to the game. A lack of audio suggests things such as lifelessness or space. Since I don't believe these ideas were the intend of the game, I would suggest mininal audio which could be used to enhance the experience.

One of my friends who played the game felt that she lost interest because she didn't understand what was going on. Audio could play an important role in supplying more information to the player without confusing the visuals. Maybe a subtle audio cue when the mouse was clicked would have been helpful in communicating whether or not clicking the mouse is actually a function of the game.

Thankfully Mory has more games planned for the future and I am looking forward to playing them.

Kyler Kelly


Mory said...

Audio? Hm, maybe. But I'd have no idea where to even start for sound effects, and I don't feel background music is appropriate for something so simple. I intend my next game to be silent, but with the game after that I'll have to try my hand at sound effects just because of the nature of the thing.


Maybe this makes me a magician spoiling his tricks, but I'll tell you that Smilie is heavily scripted. If you play it through in exactly the same way, he'll do (almost) exactly the same things. Every single reaction had to be programmed in on its own. I don't know how the game could have worked otherwise because real artificial intelligence (in the sense that it's assumed already exists) has yet to be developed. I guess Smilie is something like those chatterbots, where you have a text conversation with a computer program and every topic of discussion has to have a few statements programmed in so they'll seem spontaneous. The goal in programming one of those is to pass the "Turing Test", which means that the player might think he's talking to a person, rather than a mechanical list of responses.

So when you say Smilie feels like a living thing, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. When I play through the game, I see clearly defined branching paths, where if I do this he'll react like this, and if I do that he'll react like that. That he strikes you as a character, and not as a big list of options, tells me that I've done something right.

On the other hand, some people (as you point out) don't understand the character, and just see a bizarre program. This shows me that I have an essential inability to communicate with people. Very few people seem to know what Smilie's doing all the time on the first time in. You may or may not have noticed that there is a "best" ending where you and Smilie end up as friends. I showed Smilie to a bunch of people who didn't get there no matter how many times they played, and I realized that Smilie had inherited my general unlikeability. (Needless to say, that splash of reality was unpleasant.) But then, after showing the game to my next door neighbor, his wife walked in. I showed the game to her, and she made friends with him on the very first play! So I dunno. Some people get it, some people don't, and I don't know how I could have made it differently.

I don't know if sound effects is really the answer, or if that would just make the game even more subjective to me and even harder to decipher. If the player clicks and it makes a little squishy sound, there's not only the confusion over what the click meant, but maybe also confusion over what the sound meant. What could help, I guess, is if the sound effects were made by someone other than myself. That way, they could see where I am not communicating well and try to compensate.

Kyler said...

I'm glad your preparing to consider in one of your later games.

In terms of communicating with people, I suspect it might have to do with the games animation. Some of the animation, such as the sleeping was really well done, but some of the other sections weren't as clear. My suggestion would be to read a book such as the Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams. The principals in this book apply to all types of animations and are fundamentally designed to improve how well the animation communicates with the audience.

Kyler said...

*correction. I'm glad your prepared to consider audio in your later games.

Mory said...

Would you like to do the graphics for my next game? I was planning on just pushing stick figures around the screen, but it couldn't hurt to have someone who can actually draw doing it. I promise, it's nothing complicated. What do you say?

Kyler said...

Sure. Just email me at when you need some help.