(Cross-posted from my blog, Random Musings. Try this and other experiments in "Distractions", for iOS devices.)
"Hydraulic fracturing is the fracturing of rock by a pressurized liquid." [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing]
During November I found myself watching horrifying and bleak videos about a destructive oil extraction process called "fracking" which is threatening communities around the country, contaminating water supplies and soil.
We as a society/species are living and breathing and dependent on resources, but how far are we willing to go to gather one resource rather than investing in safer/more renewable resource production?
From the Caramel City Dispatch.
I thought about fracking a bit. What bothers me is not really knowing how bad the environmental effects might be, how much fracking actually contaminates the environment. It seems to be approved with little fanfare or questions, and then a midwest town suddenly discovers that its drinking water is flammable.
I wanted to make a game about how collecting resources can be dangerous. Over a couple months of pondering, I came to the conclusion that my game would be about a "city" that continually shrinks. To keep the city alive, the player would have to quickly tap on several types of resources spawning around the screen. The player could resort to "fracking" a resource to make it worth more, but this would also spoil an area of the screen permanently, such that any resources spawning in that area were now worthless.
We don't really know how many resources we need to survive in the real world without destroying our future, we can only guess. But a game is controllable. Setting specific worth of resources, generation times, etc, is how I present my vision, my views. So I decided there should be exactly enough resources to keep the city alive indefinitely.
But testing the prototype, I discovered that with enough resources, a good player would never lose. I needed scarcity of resources; the balance needed to be set against the player-character's survival. By giving the player less than they could live on, I forced fracking to delay the inevitable death of the city.
Additionally, I made contaminated areas slowly shrink, based on my coworker Ian's negative response to their permanence. They were a pointless chokehold to him, which is what I wanted players to realize through lots of play. I worried that by lessening their effects, I was misrepresenting how deadly they might be in the real world. Instead, the game became more compelling. When contamination is permanent, you are being told fracking is evil, rather than learning it. And once you've been told something, there is little value in hearing it again. When it is not so clear, you learn it through experience.
As I've grown as a designer, I've become ever more interested in designing games with "replay value". Not in the unpleasant commercial sense, but rather that I don't like a game "telling" me what it's about. Many of the games I play only once, it feels like I've been given a statement, an answer, by the system[s] of the game. I learn quickly that X is bad and Y is good. Maybe the story or art or music leaves me with questions, but I took all from the mechanics. I'd rather the mechanic also leave me with questions.
By taking player feedback and adjusting only a few numbers this way or that, I was able to make "Fracking" ask questions, instead of stating things explicitly. I find myself replaying it, trying to learn the relative values of fracking, and the alternate, less destructive harvesting mechanic.
I messed with the numerical values of fracking, trying to remove my bias. Fracking now plays an important role in my game. It is dangerous and often helps kill the city, but played cautiously enough it prolongs the city's survival more than without. Making and playing this game has made me consider the concept of fracking in a more pragmatic light. The original game concept that fracking is "evil" has been altered. It is instead a dark gray area.
Fracking is a dangerous avenue that we are pursuing, but it's not evil. It is only reflective of humanity's ubiquity, our presence encroaching onto every surface and, as with fracking, into every crevice. We grow, we consume, else we die. My little game neglects to represent our growth, instead representing only the shrinking space and resources we have to operate an ever expanding machinery of food and waste and shelter.
I'm still opposed to fracking, primarily because it's not a solution to our bigger problem of oil-dependency. But survival is tough when we don't have the resources to sustain how long and increasingly we've been suckling at mother nature's teat.
-Check out the trailer for Distractions
-Randy O'Connor just helped release Candy Escape Goat Saga! Which he loves!
-He is also an indie currently working on Escape Goat 2 and an iPhone game and a boardgame. He worked on Waking Mars, Spider, Dead End HD, Distractions.