Feign, a Flash game developed by Ian Snyder, sends the player on a first-person journey through a 3D maze where positive and negative space are reduced to stark, solid shapes. Every hall, floor, wall, doorway, and ceiling becomes a becomes a minimalist arrangement of contrasting fields, a stripped-down snapshot of abstracted graphic elements. Distance is only perceived by making assumptions about a few converging lines, and not by recognizable objects or atmospheric effects common in other FPS games. There is an old adage: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, and Feign simplifies its world to an extraordinary degree:
Feign was awarded an Honorable Mention in the IGF 2011‘s Nuovo category, which highlights “abstract, short-form, and unconventional game development”. Snyder spoke with me recently about creating the game’s unique environment:
Uncommon Assembly: Can you tell me a little bit about your history? How long have you been making games, and how did you begin creating games?
Ian Snyder: I’ve been making games officially since my freshman year of high school in 2005. My mom was a graphic designer, and she had just bought the Macromedia MX 2004 package with Flash included. I had only recently discovered the internet, and with it flash cartoons. Needless to say, when she mentioned having access to Flash, I was ecstatic. I spent hours with school friends dreaming up characters for our would-be flash animation dynasty. When I actually got into the program, however, I realized I couldn’t animate at all. Instead, I began piddling around with actionscript and soon discovered I was able to make a character move onscreen when a player touched the keys.
I forgot every intention to animate in that moment. When you set up that very first game environment – that lonely, programmer-art box set to wander aimlessly through an empty waste – there’s nothing like it!
So Feign is a Flash game. Can you tell me anything more about the development environment?
Flash is a language – a mother tongue. There are certain things it is well equipped to express, and certain things it is not. This is really the case with anything: Gamemaker, Unity, C++, what have you. As I’ve grown more adept with it over the years, I’ve begun to brush up against its limitations. As I become less limited by my understanding of it, I come to understand how much I am limited by it. I feel that to make a truly great game, you must break the format you’re working with. The best haikus feel more expansive than should logically be able to fit in a haiku. The best flash games don’t feel like Flash games (Machinarium, The Dream Machine, to name a few). Part of the art in making Flash games for me is breaking the development environment to convey my vision for a game.
What tools were used to create the 3D and 2D assets for this game?
The map was written in actionscript entirely. It’s essentially just a tile-based map like you’d see in early Mario or Zelda games. However, instead of placing tiny 2D square sprites it places cubes. The cubes themselves were Papervision constructs, although I have to write a custom class to suit my needs for them.
In the game, the player walks around structures, through rooms and hallways… a fairly typical 3D interior, but the environment is presented to the player in a somewhat unusual way. In your own words, can you explain how the player is seeing this environment?
The player brings a lot of preconceptions about games to whatever game they are playing, and Feign attempts to exploit these. The game first appears to be nothing more than a 2D menu, not unusual for Flash games. But when the player assumes it’s 2D, Feign has already begun toying with their perception. A little exploration reveals the third dimension, and further exploration reveals that what was assumed to be a fairly straightforward 3D space is actually much more complex. It’s not as though the player is errant to believe these things though, I tried throughout the game to slowly deconstruct the player’s understanding of the game. For that to work, the player needs to believe things that aren’t true.
Feign takes the act of seeing a thing and demonstrates how it can be influenced by things you have already seen. Perception is influenced by memory.
The idea of breaking down the environment into these ambiguous positive and negative shapes is fascinating. What was the inspiration to make a game that is presented in this way, and how was the look of the game conceived?
Perhaps because I grew up playing N64 games and early 3D PC games, I’ve always had a love for flat, untextured 3D surfaces. Early prototypes of the game were experiments in spacial navigation through a black expanse with levels made up of white cubes. There was no shading, no lighting, there were no textures, only color. In that stage, I had the idea to create black boxes as invisible (or, more accurately, perfectly camouflaged) walls. The rest of the game evolved from that point.
Early version of Feign, without background texture and bodies.
From a technical standpoint, what steps did you take to have it rendered in this style?
The environment is defined in a set of 2D arrays like a traditional tile-based game. Each room has one or more portals to other rooms within it. When the player steps onto one of these portals, they are instantly transported to the new room. Because the space around the portals in each room is identical, the transition feels seamless and continuous.
As for the visuals, the flat tones were easy to achieve, simply a matter of not adding any lighting or surface textures. The texture over the game itself is a result of running a single image through a glitch generator (AS3 BitmapData) several times and then collaging the resultant images into a one texture.
Anything more you’d like to share about the prototyping or development process? Any happy accidents along the way?
The whole game was a bit of a happy accident, I think. My original vision for the game was much different than the result, but oddly the result expresses more closely what I wanted to achieve.
Thanks greatly for talking with me about Feign, Ian.
Thanks for your interest in the game.