GDC: Manifesto Launch Party
GDC: Attracting Women into Game Development

GDC: Cloud

Cloud_2Cloud was the game that impressed me most in this year's Independent Games Festival, being beautiful, emotional, interesting, original and completely outside of what most people think a game can or should be.

According to Nongames, it won the Student Showcase category. If so, deserved congratulations to the team! (Haven't been able to verify from an independent source). The game is a marvellous piece of work - although it could use some tweaking to simplify its interface for a wider audience. The Revolution wand would be perfect for this game.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jenova Chen, the lead designer, at a Scratchware Auteur's roundtable hosted by the inestimable Patrick Dugan of King Lud IC. What a great event - my thanks to Patrick for inviting me. Wish I'd had the sense to take a photo!

You can get your own copy of Cloud here.

Please note: the controls are slightly complex. If you are not an experienced PC gamer you might do better to skip this one.

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I guess I'm part of the "wider audience" you are referring to. I couldn't make it do anything. Too hardcore for me, I guess. (And the muzak didn't exactly help my patience -I hope that's not where the supposed emotions are to be found in this game.)
I hate to be negative about games that are heralded as the New Hope for Game Design. But I certainly hope that this is not the final destination. I actually don't see much innovation here. And in terms of content, it is very meager. Clouds deserve better.

Michael - I'm surprised at you! If you weren't able to control it, you weren't able to play it. On what grounds can you then criticise the play of the game?

This is a student project that is leaps and bounds ahead of most student game projects in terms of its original vision, let down only by its control design.

I'm shocked that you of all people would take such a harsh line against it.

Sorry, Chris, I already regret it.

I'm shocked as well. I wish I could like it it. But I don't. I can't help it. It just doesn't work for me. It pushes all the wrong buttons.

But you know, I think I'm just unfair. What I truly dislike is gaming. I can't help that either. I think games are a waste of an incredible medium. So I shouldn't be reading -let alone commenting in- game blogs. Again: apologies.

But if despite of that, my opinion might still be useful to anyone or anything, my biggest problem with games is that they keep me from playing. I like playing. And what do games do? They put obstacles in your way that prevent you from playing. Bad controls are such obstacles. So are rules. And boss rounds. And just in general "making you do things".

As for Cloud, I'm also just very demanding about content. I want depth. I want meaning. I abhor pulp. I want the art to look me in the eyes and tell me who I am. And it's unfair to expect this from student work, I know.

So there you have it: I'm unfair. I apologise. Shut me up.

We have a huge problem as an industry in that we have not commited sufficient resources to accessibilty. I believe that new interface devices like the Revolution's wand could really help, but it does depend upon the developers to a great degree.

I think the culture of game obstacles is tied to the fiero-seeking; obviously to experience triumph over adversity, there must be adversity. Bosses in particular embody this in a most frightful fashion.

In the case of Cloud, though, the obstacles are unintentional. I wish you could have seen it being played, as I did, instead of having to try and wrestle with it directly. I imagine I would have found that frustrating too, as I have no gift for complex PC controls.

I was really touched by the game; it invites the player to play with clouds: gather them up, let them go, make it rain... The philosophy of its design is experiential, and not goal-oriented. I hope we see more new game designers coming at the medium from this angle.

Best wishes to you and Auriea!

I did see it being played in the video on the game's website. I'm afraid that to me, it looked very mechanical (which is confirmed by the downloadable PDF with instructions on how to "play" the game). It's all about press this button to achieve that effect and press another to achieve another.

The problem is not just ease of use. I think the way that the interaction feels is a largely underestimated part of game design. I think it is one of the important and unique expressieve elements in interactive media.
A game that needs to tell you what to do all the time, is plain wrong in my book. Here we are with our multimedia multisensorial interactive realtime 3D medium and we still have to use text and diagrams to help people use it!?

Anyway, my other gripe with Cloud is that it misses a huge opportunity to connect to the cultural meaning of clouds. That's where some real interactive storytelling could be happening. Not in the sappy cut scenes. Instead, the game allows you to pick up clouds and drop them on top of each other and make it rain. But what about the mythical proportions of such activity? What about the wind!? No. Instead you play some sort-a-trendy anime character (that isn't even animated).

But their clouds look pretty. And you're right: their hearts are in the right place. They do seem to attempt to do something more experiential and less goal-oriented (but why do they have levels then??).
I'm looking forward to version 2. But given that this project was funded by EA, I'm not holding my breath.

I've been thinking a bit more on this. Because it really troubles me. But I didn't want to hijack this thread, so I posted my thoughts on http://tale-of-tales.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=725 .

Well, although the control scheme could have been simpler (and I am all for simple gameplay), I think this is the kind of game which could attract new audiences to video games in spite of its difficulty. On a positive side, it could also help to popularize complex controls among non-gamers (in case they are attracted enough to the theme and mood of the game).

As for the cultural meaning of clouds and narrative discussion, I think it lets players build their own stories and dismiss the storyline proposed (if that's what they want). Finally, as Michael said, let's not forget that it is a 1 year students project. Under those circumstances, Clouds is quite remarkable.

I first played Cloud a few months ago, and, like Micheal, I couldn't figure it out. I just flew around and thought "what an elitist, shallowly interactive joke." BUT, when Kelly, the producer, actually showed me how to play it, well, my impression was very different. Talking with her later, she told me they plan to produce more content and take it to Xbox Live Arcade or maybe Manifesto.

After reading Micheal's comments about Cloud being an interactive storytelling medium (where different Cloud patterns might affect an AI simulation of the people below, so that you manufacture the "dreams" or myths of a virtual populace) make me think maybe the team should work on my CONTEXT in addition to more content. I'll mention this to Kelly when I get around to e-mailing her later this week.

Note that Cloud right now is an ALPHA version of what could potentially be a much broader and deep game.

FYI the student showcase is not a competition. 10 games are selected out of the hundred(s) of entries to show and they are all considered winners. Cloud is a nice toy but comparing it to many other student games is unfair, since Cloud was funded with somewhere around $10k, much more than many indie game budgets.

Thanks for the clarification! I thought it was the case that the Student Showcase did not have a 'winner' as such, which was why I expressed such uncertainty in this post.

I'm uncertain whether you mean 'toy' as a disparagement... I think we make too few toys in our industry. Nintendogs is a rare exception.

While it's undoubtedly unusual for a student project to recieve funding, it is rather difficult to say what the budget is for a typical indie game. After all, many such games are made out of the time spared by their makers for the project... should this count as nothing, or should we estimate what that time is worth based upon the market value of the time contributed?

I see many student games. What sets Cloud apart in my view is not its budget but its vision. Too many student games are merely reshuffled versions of existing concepts. Any and all student projects which try something new and different are deserving of praise in my eyes.

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