Tuesday 20 June 2023

Interment: Showcase and Responses

Since releasing our narrative puzzle game Interment to the public in April, I’ve had the pleasure of being able to watch several people play it through.

It’s the kind of game that’s really compelling to watch other people play, because the journeys players take are so varied each time. Each player notices different details and draws different connections between them to get to the answers.

For the same reason, Interment also lends itself to being played collectively, by two or more people around the same screen, as the different observations each individual makes can guide the group’s decisions.

I’ve watched people play the game individually and collectively. But one thing that is common across both playstyles is that people often opt to make handwritten notes while they are playing, to keep track of information presented to them by the game.

I love watching this happen. There’s a moment where people quickly realise there are deeper layers of significance or connection between these bits of information, and their instinct to write them down adds an extra embodied dimension to the role players adopt.

Some of my favourite games provoke the same reaction: the likes of Return of the Obra Dinn and Sam Barlow’s games Telling Lies and HerStory. One of the previous games I was involved in making, the theatrical detective mystery experience Interrobang?!, actively encouraged this. We even included an interactive evidence board as part of the experience.

For Interment, the most common notes people made were drawings of family trees, as players sought to understand how the characters buried in the Hawthorn family graveyard were linked to each other. Maps of the graveyard were also common, as people wanted to have the information from each gravestone to hand when looking through the graveyard’s archive documents. Little diagrams of connections between characters and/or documents, key dates, names and theories were the other details that would frequently show up in players’ notes.

It’s fair to say that I’ve enjoyed watching people make sense of the game’s world, slowly unravelling the threads that tie it together and re-assembling it in their own unique ways.

On 5th May, Interment was showcased as part of the Pervasive Media Studio’s monthly social event, First Friday. This gave me the opportunity to observe how a large audience of players reacted to the game.

For this event, with the fantastic support of the Studio team, we were able to set up six laptops with headphones for attendees to play the game, as well as a larger screen where we could demonstrate the game in front of an audience.

Of course, I also made sure each player had pens and paper to hand.

Credit for all event images: Shamphat Photography

The event was very well attended and the laptops were occupied throughout, with lots of people giving the game a try (there were perhaps 60-70 people in the Studio that evening). Many players gave the game 5-10 minutes of their time and then took the game’s details from our posters to finish it at home. One person did manage to complete the entire game during the event, which was very impressive in the limited time available.

There were a couple of attendees who got very engrossed in solving the puzzle and would’ve liked to spend more time on it, but were limited by the timing of the event. Even so, it was heartening to see that the little game we put together in 48 hours inspired such deep engagement.

The feedback people gave us was positive too. As an hour-long event that is primarily for networking with other people, attendees dipping in and out obviously wouldn’t have time to unravel all the intricacies of a narrative that’s typically experienced over 30 minutes. Yet players told us they appreciated the level of detail in the game and enjoyed the time they could commit to it. I was told by several people that they wanted to go back to the game at home so they could take the time to delve into the world properly.

As the game’s creators, we’re very aware of the limitations that the 48-hour development time imposed upon what we made. Even if we’d had all the time and resource in the world to perfect it, the game wouldn’t have been everyone’s cup of tea. Happily, these limitations didn’t seem to hold much sway in players’ opinions of the game.

All of the feedback we received during the event was told to us directly. However, I did get sent one generous piece of written feedback from a Studio member who played the game in their own time:

“I really enjoyed playing it, you did a great job creating an engaging narrative and I enjoyed the graphics and sound design. I got super focused in the first few minutes and went into detective mode scribbling away which I didn’t expect to do straight away, you’ve done a great job at hooking people in quickly and keeping them involved.”

If you’d like to try Interment for yourself, it’s free to download on Windows and Mac here and takes roughly 30 minutes to complete.

I’d love to hear your comments on the game if you do try it. And do feel free to send me any scribbled notes or esoteric diagrams you make while playing!

Read more about the making of Interment here.

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