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Bending genres and breaking rules in There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension

"What can you do if you don't control the characters? It's like looking at a painting and instead of giving us brushes, we are asked to play with the frame." says the developer of There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension.

This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension is a ridiculous experience that's not supposed to be a game, taking players to various genres where they are not supposed to be playing around. In breaking the rules, though, they'll find some pretty silly things to do.

Pascal Cammisotto, Director of the Excellence in Design-nominated work, spoke with Gamasutra about creating play in a game that's not supposed to be a game, repurposing various genres into a point & click style, and creating a sense of humor that worked well with translations.

Who are you, and what was your role in developing There is No Game: Wrong Dimension?

Hello. I'm Pascal Cammisotto, president of the French studio Draw Me A Pixel and author/director of this non-game. I was very involved in its creation since I did all the writing and the game design. I also lent my voice to several characters and composed some music tracks. So we can say that it is a quite personal work.

I've been a video game enthusiast since I was a child. I think I discovered this universe when I was 7/8 years old with the Colecovision console in the early 80s. As soon as I had access to a computer, I wanted to start tinkering with games. However, I was never gifted in programming (and unfortunately it is still the case), but the flame was there. I was very versatile and I also tried my hand at graphics and music. It is precisely because of my modest compositions that I got my first job in the industry at 19. I had the chance to compose the music for an Infogrames game: Knight's Chase (1995).

Then, I changed my mind and started a career as a game designer under Marc Albinet for about ten years.
After that, I co-founded in 2010, with former colleagues, an independent studio with which we released Shad'o on Steam, a dreamlike tower defense. But this entrepreneurial experience was painful and I took refuge in my bubble, alone, to continue to make personal projects.

How did you come up with the concept for There is No Game: Wrong Dimension?

The starting point of this non-game comes from a game jam organized by the site Newgrounds whose theme was "Deception". I then asked myself what could be the biggest lie in a game and ended up writing a title on the screen: There Is No Game. Then, I added the game's voice, Stanley Parable-style, so that I could guide the player through this weird universe at least a little bit. Then I created the puzzles in an iterative way, having fun breaking the usual video game codes.

The concept was born and the critical and media success of this little non-game jam convinced me that I had to make a bigger version.

What development tools were used to build your game?

The jam game was created with the Construct2 engine (as I said, I'm bad at programming. I needed a simple and accessible tool, and I love this one). For Wrong Dimension, I wanted an engine more adapted to porting. So I called on a former colleague and friend, Guillaume Vidal, to take care of all the technical parts of the project. This allowed me to concentrate on the writing and to let my imagination run free.

What drew you to this idea of a game that says it is not a game? This kind of "hidden play?"

As I said before, I started with a title, but it lacked a driving element for the player. I wanted to add a virtual presence that would support the fact that there is no game. A sort of nemesis for the user, except that this time it's the game itself. By doing that, we obviously open the door to the fourth wall. This is a theme that inspires me a lot!

What thoughts went into creating a game that doesn't want to be played? That players have to find within the experience?

I use a lot of reverse psychology in the dialogues. If you are told "Don't touch that icon," you will do it. This is an important way to educate the player about the rules of this world. They have to unlearn what they know in order to see things in a different light. That's when you realize that everything on the screen can become useful. You just have to catch the logic of the non-game. On the other hand, when I decided to put a GUI in one of the worlds, it was so that the player could use it at some point during a puzzle.

Besides, I love to divert these elements that are systematically present in games and that we don't even pay attention to any more. I even wonder if there isn't a bit of ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams & Zucker) in my way of thinking sometimes. Anyway, it allowed me to create a lot of surprising and funny situations for the users. And seeing their reactions when they play is even better!

People can find play in just about anything, if they're willing to mess around a bit.

How do you appeal to humanity's natural playfulness with your game? Why did you?

I think that playing this non-game must awaken, somewhere, the cheating instinct in all of us. Break the game to our advantage. To break the prohibitions. It's a feeling that, when it's supervised and part of the experience, is quite rewarding. Why do I ask players to do this? Because it's fun!

The game draws from many, many different genres, but plays in a point & click style. How did you repurpose so many different genres to this play style?

This was the initial constraint: to make a point & click no matter what is on the screen. It was out of the question to make a kind of compilation of mini-games that are all played in a traditional way according to their genre. No. Here, "Game" and "user" are ejected from their videogame dimension and are found in other games, except that they do not play.

I remind you of the title: "There Is No Game". So, if we remain coherent, we can't control the characters. They have their life and their freedom of thought. Besides, most of the NPCs don't even know that they are in a video game. We are still bound to our point & click cursor and we have to think "outside the box" to get out of there. And that's what's cool. What can you do if you don't control the characters? It's this change of point of view that I find interesting. It's like looking at a painting and instead of giving us brushes, we are asked to play with the frame. And of course while keeping the mechanics of the traditional point & click.

Why did you choose to have live narration of what's happening? What do you feel that added to the events and puzzles of the game? To the humor?

Game is the main character of the non-game. He is constantly there (maybe even a little too much), but I wanted him to be very present to create a connection with the player. It should feel like he's right there with you in front of the screen. So, I was able to use him for anything and everything. For example, I use him to make fun of what's going on, to put obstacles in the player's way, or simply to open up a dialogue with the NPCs you meet.
Without him, I think the experience wouldn't have the same flavor.

Humor isn't easy to capture. What challenges did you face in making a game for making the player laugh?

You ask me how to make humor? I don't know. I think there is a lot of naturalness in it. In any case, I didn't go to school for it. On the other hand, I have always loved humor. and in particular English humor. I avoided puns as much as possible because I knew that it would be complicated for the translations. I stayed with situational, absurd, and critical humor. I think it's fairly universal.

In any case, the feedback on the game, regardless of the country, goes in this direction. In fact, the hardest thing for me was not to make people laugh, but rather to move them. It's even more difficult because there is no character on-screen - just a voice. And that was a real challenge!

This game, an IGF 2021 honoree, is featured as part of the Independent Games Festival ceremony.  You can watch the ceremony starting at 4:30PM PT (7:30 ET) Wednesday, July 21 at GDC 2021.

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