Freedom Through A Lens (FTAL) was a game created for the #ResistJam. This online game jam instructed us to develop a video game that would resist oppressive authoritarianism in all of it’s forms. FTAL was our game, and it was an attempt at showcasing press and journalism through gameplay, specifically depicting the role of a photojournalist and the difficulties that the role of photojournalism has in documenting events such as protests and larger scale public events.
I don’t have any particular part that I want to start at, so I’m just going to dive straight in!
I faced a difficult design task that needed to be addressed as early and best it could in the time I had available to me. If this game was going to represent the role of a photojournalist in as real a detail as possible, there were going to be a range of scenarios that I needed to consider in the design of the player’s interactions within the game world.
I delegated as much time to research as I could and what I found was that there were a variety of considerations that all journalists needed to take in order to work ethically in their roles (at least thats the gist of what I understood). Acknowledging that they respect the privacy and views of the individuals they’re depicting in their final deliverable be that: having the correct recollection of quotes from their source, questioning correctly throughout an interview with any individual, and more specific to this game, how people are photographed in photojournalism.
Furthermore, an important practice that photojournalists need to adhere to is “how” these members of the public are presented in their final photographs, in the research that I was able to conduct on this role in journalism, I found that photojournalism very rarely depicted identifying features of individuals or even groups of people, they were always careful to ensure the privacy of these individuals, and that the photos being taken tended to me more environmental and of a wider orientation (not specific to a group or individual), note that war photojournalism work in a slightly different way, as compared to what I was trying to depict in FTAL.
Here lied a big problem and for the sake of art, the artistic approach that I wanted for FTAL needed to have the characters heavily stylised, and identifiable.
FTAL is a 3D world filled with static objects, which is populated with a selection of 2D hand drawn character sprites from Zoe Lovatt our Graphic Designer working on this project. It was very important that these sprites were the main “attraction” within the game world, because if they weren’t, then what would be the elements drawing the player to explore this open space they’re navigating?
Cutting it blunt, the main interactions that the player has in the game world are conversations with these “key individuals” in a sea of silhouetted human figures. When a conversation is initiated you stop for a moment, and you learn a bit about the protest from the point of view of that specific character that you’re talking to (this was essential in having the final story segment “end game” fit in and make sense contextually).
All of this dialogue was written by myself, so it’s important that I clarify that there is no player choice going on here in the form of what the player says in a conversation, but I’m not saying that I designed this game to have zero player agency, but we’ll get back to that…
So this dialogue is all pre-authorised by me in a way (seeing as I wrote it), and that was an essential application in the development of this game, because while it would have been great to have player choice and dialogue tree’s in this game, the time available for this project just wouldn’t allow for such things, so I scoped narrative appropriately.
A big component of my writing manifest for this game was to ensure that “the player” (remembering that this is all pre-written dialogue) was always acting considerate towards the other individual and would always ask for the individuals consent before photographing them. This seemed to be an appropriate method of melding in some of those elements and considerations that journalists in the “real world” have to make when conversing with the public, and with the pre-written dialogue conversations this method of implementation seemed to be a suitable fit.
Now, lets jump back to that thing I said on player agency in FTAL, or lack there of… So after the player has completed a conversation with an individual in the game world and the individual has “allowed” the player to photograph them, the player enters the games photography mode, this activates a camera overlay that identifies to the player that they can now take a photo in the game.
So while in this photo mode, even though the player has received consent and the characters face is blurred (this is an effect of the camera overlay, that activates a blur effect over an individuals face, for context: a journalist’s consideration in order to protect someones identity) they have free movement and directional freedom of where they point their camera and what they take a photograph of.
For instance, if they choose to photograph the individual then that’s fine (it’s been accounted for by me, with the implementation of the blur effect) but there is still an element of complete player agency in this action, because its ultimately up to the player playing the game, as to who, what, or where they choose to photograph, and I (being the developer) have no control over the players action in that instance, but I have accounted for it in my design.
I designed the final sequence of the game to be a little different to what the rest of the game has you performing. After the player has talked to everyone they can, and they’ve taken the photos they needed, they then transition through to the “end game”.
The end game works in that you’ve now taken your photos and you’re back in your office where you are looking through the developed products, I designed this sequence with player agency in mind as there are clearly four photos that the player can choose from, but they’re only aloud to run three in their final write up, so there is an element of player choice happening here… Finally, this sequence ends with the photos that the player has selected to run with accompanying the final story on the event (story pre-written by me).
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look into how Nic Lyness handled the technical components of making this endgame sequence possible, here is a blog he wrote on how he built and tested the idea.
Those of you that know me personally would probably know that I am passionate for the art of lighting in video game environments, and it’s an area that I want to pursue throughout my career as a game developer.
However, for this project I prioritised on a different area of design, as I had identified that there was a need for a lot more consideration and understanding of the topics I was addressing throughout this game, and in particular the demographics, societies, social events, people (race, gender, age, etc), and as highlighted above the role of journalism throughout this game that I was portraying, and this needed a lot of design work to be ethically right and not offensive in any form. For a further read on ethical design in the creative industry, here is my blog on the topic.
Fortunantly, I was lucky enough to design some lighting systems (note: when I say design in this context, I mean theorising and building the idea for the implementation, not actually building the system that handled the effect/ code) for this game that where designed to “give people an in” and an understanding of what this game was going to be, if per say they were sitting down to this for the first time or without reading anything on the games download page. FTAL is photography game that showcases press and journalism through gameplay, and importantly the combination of those two elements, so the menu had to demonstrate that in some way.
I drew inspiration from ‘1979 Revolution: Black Friday’ which is a game that I had recently played through, and the main menu was one of the things that really stuck in my mind. I wanted to have a menu that replicated the same effect that this one did, and this was to have transitional changes throughout the menu and entry into the game that where masked by the visual effect of a camera flash.
Its important that I acknowldege Nic Lyness terrific work on the UI systems throughout FTAL, for this idea wouldn’t have been a possibility within the time frame permitted without his hard work. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look into how he handled the technical components of making this visual effect/ transition possible, here is a blog he wrote on how he built and tested his idea.
FTAL was a long project even if it was only run over 8 days, there was a lot of design work that needed to be nailed down early, and the UI development needed to be of a high standard and was a priority in getting this game idea to “work”. With a small three person team, I believe that we did a “hell of a good job!” on this project and I for one am very proud of the final product. If you would like to check out FTAL for yourself, or perhaps get into contact with any of the developers on this project, below are some ways of getting in touch with us!
Thanks for reading!
Zoe Lovatt – Online Portfolio