What’s your game?
Adrian Phillips: You and the Garden is a first-person game of exploration and intimacy, in which the player explores a low-poly garden space while encountering a dynamic AI presence. We’re interested in exploring an alternative to traditional representations of the human-computer relationship, which are often either positioned as sexy robots or killer robots.
There are these tropes that constantly get recycled when there are so many other elements to be explored, both from a design perspective and a character development perspective. As the player explores the garden, they will learn to use an in-game console to interact more fully with the space and its objects. Play is structured through episodic visits to the garden, where each play session is an episode.
Ben Spalding: There are a couple of new concepts that we’re introducing to players in You and the Garden, and we’re leveraging our work in AI to teach the player how to use the different tools we’re providing. The goal of the game’s AI is to get to know you, and it uses a variety of player modeling and planning techniques to achieve that goal.
It’s also designed to show you the different spaces and console commands available to you, so that you never feel lost or alone while you familiarise yourself with the game. That’s where the intimacy comes from – it’s the close bond that emerges from inhabiting the same space and feeling like there’s someone there for you.
What has the Dare experience been like?
Spalding: Early! Working from California, an ‘afternoon meeting’ quickly turns into something like 7am! More seriously, it’s been a great experience so far; you really get to feel like you’re part of a network of student developers. It makes you excited for what games are going to look like five years from now.
Phillips: As two independent developers, publishing has always been one of the most daunting aspects of the game development process. Dare has propelled us miles forward in preparing to sell our game as a product.
What have you learned from Dare?
Phillips: There have been some great information sessions that Dare has provided for us. I can’t help but feel that the biggest learning experience is going to be the ProtoPlay festival itself. Preparing and participating in a festival at the scale of ProtoPlay is going to show us so much. Overall, Dare has helped us close the gap between a game experiment and an actual game.
Spalding: When making games, one never stops learning.
Are you looking forward to ProtoPlay?
Phillips: Absolutely, it’s going to be an exciting, terrifying whirlwind of an experience, and we can’t wait for it. Being able to share and talk about our game with people is always the most exciting part of games.
That is when it really comes to life, watching someone who has never picked up your game before discover the things about it you have been toiling over but have perhaps become slightly jaded about. After showing a game, it’s always so invigorating you just want to jump right in the ring and do it all again.
Spalding: ProtoPlay is also going to be the first time that all of the teams are in the same place. It’s going to be so cool to see everyone together and trade experiences from the Dare process.
What are your ambitions after Dare?
Spalding: After ProtoPlay, we’ll both go back to UC Santa Cruz for the final year of our MFA program. We’ll be working on our thesis projects as Digital Arts New Media students to jump-start our careers for each of our respective paths within games.
Phillips: As for You and the Garden, we plan on continuing development after ProtoPlay and determining our specific method of release for sometime in early 2016. We’ll be submitting to other festivals and competitions in the meantime, for which I think Dare has really given us a leg up.
Dare ProtoPlay and Indie Fest is on 13th-16th August in Dundee’s Caird Hall and City Square, with all 16 Dare student games on show, indie games, talks, workshops and more. http://www.dareprotoplay.com
- Ben Spalding, co-designer, lead programmer, computational matchmaker – University of California, Santa Cruz
- Adrian Phillips, co-designer, lead artist, polymancer – University of California, Santa Cruz