Otherworld – experimenting with form

I’ve been doing a lot more game writing in lockdown (who knew that the collapse of the prime industry you worked in and zero travelling would open up so much time eh?), but what I’m currently finding exciting is trying things that don’t quite sit within the term ‘tabletop’.

I’m currently working on six short solo games as part of anthology called Otherworld – a heavily Twilight Zone-inspired series that features alternate realities, threatening doppelgängers, isolated astronauts and suchlike. A big element of Otherworld is me challenging myself to write six games with six distinct forms. Between me recently starting to write LARPS, and the restrictions that ‘lockdown’ (I’m based in the London, there’s zero clarity on what phase of the non-existent plan we’re really in…) imposes, it makes sense to be trying out different forms of games…

It’s interesting what’s coming back into play that I’ve not explored in a while. Back in 2017/2018, I made an audio game, The Last Thing Left (‘made’ in the sense of conceiving, writing, directing – the programming and sound design was the brilliant work of Alex Heeton and Keiran Lucas respectively). Otherworld is my first time playing with that again – One. Fixed. Point., a game about a scientist who’s become stuck in the space between realities, is essentially a single audio file to listen to whilst on a walk.

The challenge is, of course, to make that feel like an experience the listener is actively adding to – that it still feels specific to them, and isn’t just a matter of them listening to something and not taking on any kind of role or character themselves. Unlike The Last Thing Left, I’m not anticipating One. Fixed. Point. having any kind of controls for the player to use or to log choices with – it really is a single audio file which is of course, therefore, unchangeable.

However, that constraint’s proving really interesting – it’s defining the world-building for the game. The form of One. Fixed. Point. came first, and everything about the game (the world, the story, the other characters, how the sounds on the audio file are reaching the player) has been shaped in response to that. It’s not a world or story I would’ve ended up telling if I hadn’t placed this constraint on myself.

I’m still figuring out some of the rest of Otherworld – one journalling game’s written, and I know I want to create a Twine game and a solo LARP, but there’s still a fair few question marks left. But I’m especially excited for One. Fixed. Point., and how it tries to bring a sense of interactivity, agency and creation into a game that just uses a sole audio file.

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