There Came An Echo (On Glorified Tech Demos)

Aggrochat’s Game of the Month was There Came An Echo, and it’s worth listening to the podcast about it if you’re interested in it at all.

header

The title of this post probably gives away what I think of the game, but it’s something I want to delve into a bit more deeply. I am a great big fan of games that are, essentially, proof-of-concept demonstrations. They’re some of the best things to come out of the indie space, proving out various concepts that might otherwise never see the light of day. There Came An Echo is one of those games with a fascinating technical premise– your voice as the primary input– put into an actual, functional game.

I love these sorts of things because they’re lightweight and spark the imagination. I left There Came An Echo thinking excitedly about all of the possibilities. As I mentioned in the podcast, I think the game itself is a solid B, but the potential and the kinds of things it hints at are worth an A.

It puts me in mind of the multiplayer features of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, specifically the spies vs mercs gameplay mode. Voicechat was built into the game, but it was audible not just to your teammates, but to anyone close enough to you location in-game to hear you. It put a twist on the usual types of voice communication, because if you wanted to be really stealthy, you had to go silent and keep both your enemies and your teammates in the dark.

SpiesVsMercs

It’s a little detail, a point of friction, but it makes things feel immersive. A number of people I know hate the word “immersion” as relates to video games; it’s a word that’s thrown around a lot, usually part of the “this breaks my immersion” phrase, and it’s often extremely ill-defined. I think of immersion as a sort of friction– a difficulty that the game presents that makes the experience feel more authentic. It manifests in various ways, but when properly done, it provides the sense that the game will act in the ways you expect, particularly when the game is simulating something, which most games are. If you have trouble controlling the game, or if the interface is needlessly obtuse, you’ll be pulled out of the experience; similarly, if things are too easy and you feel like you’re breezing through things that should be difficult or that the game tells you are difficult with ease, that will also pull you out of the experience.

The concept of communicating what needs to be done to a team is a really interesting one, and in a lot of cases there’s an existing friction inherent in getting that message out– either through the complexities of voicechat and ensuring your background noise isn’t affecting things or typing in a text box on the fly. As that technology becomes more and more ubiquitous, such as when it’s integrated into every Xbox Live and PSN game such that your existing communications hardware (that comes with the console!) is a part of every game, you can start to come up with interesting implementations.

PS4-vs-Xbox-One-3

The sort of friction you get from more immersive experiences allows you to make encounters less complex and more varied. If I had a game where my team had to navigate a dark space with flashlights and could only hear each other while within range, that would create a scenario in which even a simple enemy encounter would be very intense and very exciting, when it might be boring or run-of-the-mill in a well-lit space with omnipresent communications.

I’m really interested in the idea of nonstandard features making experiences more interesting. A lot of games, particularly MMOs, have to continually ratchet up the complexity and lower the margin of error in order to provide challenging experiences, because they have relatively few axes on which to create challenges. If they could introduce more interesting, more varied encounters through environmental effects or other limitations, there’s a lot of potential for interesting gameplay without creating what feels like an impossible complexity wall, both easing the burden on scripting as well as allowing players to come up with more varied solutions than the single path many high-end encounters demand you follow.

eLEH28y

There Came An Echo is a really interesting demonstration of a different way to look at controlling a game. I think the next step is a game where you’re giving voice commands to AI-controlled teammates while playing a direct role in the game yourself (as opposed to the eye-in-the-sky role), but that’s the sort of thing that needs a lot of support and potentially a triple-A budget to pull off appropriately. It’s why proof-of-concept tech demos like There Came An Echo are so important and so interesting, because they’re the things that pave the way for the bigger, slower-moving games who are necessarily more risk averse, but are always looking for a strong new concept.



Source: Digital Initiative
There Came An Echo (On Glorified Tech Demos)

Leave a Reply