Monster Garden On Steam Greenlight and itch.io

Monster Garden, my exploration game about monster love, is on Steam Greenlight!

You can play the demo on itch.io, here, or watch the trailer below:

Befriend strange monsters as you explore the surreal magic of the monster garden and discover its secrets!

 

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Games Need More Monster Love

This is the first in a series of posts about games that inspired Monster Garden.

Monster love has to do with the role of monsters and how they’re treated in games, but it’s also about more than just monsters. It’s about how we deal with the unknown in general, which monsters often represent.

Monsters are usually either a threat that must be eliminated to protect the familiar human world (ex. most RPGs) or else wild creatures that must be captured and controlled (ex. Pokemon). Even if they have cool designs or powerful abilities, monsters aren’t often treated with much respect or, well, love.

You may not have heard of The Spirit Engine 2, but it’s an indie cult classic from 2007 with incredible characters and writing. It also has a lot of original monster designs – no dragons, for example, which at this point are so common that it’s tough for them to evoke any sense of mystery or monster love.

But what’s really nice about SE2’s monsters is that, while powerful and beyond the realm of human knowledge, they’re also kinda just there, doing their thing in the background and not a big deal.

Take, for example, the cloud children. Your party watches and admires them from afar in one scene as a character explains their migration patterns. This frank acceptance of the creatures and appreciation of their beauty is key to understanding monster love.

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Denver explains the “cloud children” as the party admires them from the airship.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn, on the other hand, is technically a standard platformer where you advance through each level eliminating enemies in your way, and yet the game manages to evoke so much monster love. I think a big part of this is the atmosphere of safety and warmth, which I wrote about in more detail here.

You don’t kill enemies in this game, you unravel them into a roll of yarn that can be thrown or simply set down. Considering that the environment itself is constantly coming apart and being woven back together, getting rid of enemies in this way hardly feels violent at all.

And just look at the Waddle Dees – stumbling along, endearingly unaware and basically harmless. It’s like they’re just hanging around, inviting you to play if you happen to feel like it.

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A Waddle Dee gets sucked up by Kirby in UFO form!

You may be starting to notice some common themes about monster love, but get ready for a surprise, because monster love doesn’t apply only to monsters!

That’s right, the human characters of Romancing SaGa 3 filled me with monster love, thanks to the delightful lightbulb system (which I wrote about in a longer post here).

The game is low on dialogue, with some characters scarcely uttering more than a single sentence, so it feels all the more special when a character gets an idea in the middle of battle (represented by a light bulb over their head) and shouts out the name of a new move. It ends up feeling like a special part of the character’s personality has just been revealed, even if the moves themselves are generic and available to all characters.

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LIGHTBULB SO EXCITING WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN!!!

The characters’ simplicity combined with these bursts of inspiration gives them a surprising sense of autonomy, as if they have their own ideas and goals beyond the player’s understanding or control.

Now, maybe it sounds like I’m dressing up what is essentially a randomized skill triggering system – but I can’t deny that it triggers monster love.

There was also a moment in Gladius when a simple idle animation sparked monster love for me. Characters tend to twist around dramatically when idle, which I imagine was meant to look like scanning the area for danger. However, they end up looking oddly unaware and vulnerable, glancing to the sides even as an enemy charges straight at them.

This was especially amusing with the Samnites, one of the largest and most powerful units in the game. Once, I was on the verge of losing a battle, but as a last ditch effort I had my hulking Samnite use an ability called “Befoul Area,” which hurts enemies and makes them run away by farting. She proceeded to glance around innocently as per her idle animation and release a cloud of bright green poot gas that sent enemies running in all directions and effectively enabled me to win the battle.

Monster love in this case has to do with the combination of power and lack of self-awareness; the character behaves with the same vulnerability whether being rushed by an enemy or turning the tide of battle with a poot.

More Monster Love!

Treating bizarre creatures with casual frankness, playing around in a safe, warm world, following mysterious rules, and having an endearing lack of self-awareness… All of these reflect different aspects of monster love, but at its core it’s about treating the unknown with curiosity and respect instead of the desire to destroy it in the name of protecting what’s familiar.

My friend and fellow game designer Raghav Bashyal wrote this eloquent explanation of monster love (the following is an excerpt from his tumblr post):

“Liking and loving the unknown is an act of loving yourself. Of accepting that part of you which has doubt, which has fear, anger, sadness, jealousy.

See, monsters and demons exist as representations and manifestations of those feelings, from giant beasts who express our anxiety about our small place in the universe, to tiny and cute critters who, like us, get angry or sad about small things, to the frightening mirror images of us who represent the hatred or evil inside us.

Monster love, then, is an act of self-love in that you can have empathy and care for these creatures; for a small beast who is misguided, a big one who is proud but lonely, a creature who is hurting, who is angry, who is afraid or lost, a ghost who is bearing a deep grudge.”

I think there’s a lot of area to be explore here, and I hope more games will try treating monsters with the love and respect they deserve. In fact, I just so happen to be working on such a game, appropriately titled Monster Garden. It’s a short, simple adventure through strange worlds to find monster friends to join you in your monster garden – and create a lot of monster love in the process.

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Exploring the world of the second “seedling” in Monster Garden.

As a final note, here are a few more brief examples from some of my favorite games.

Harvest Moon 64: For me, the poorly translated dialogue of Harvest Moon, combined with the game’s cheerful tone, was very monster lovable. There’s something to be said about the way “unnatural” writing can make you feel like you’re in an new world, adding excitement and mystery and laying the groundwork for monster love.

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I love the “Gourmet man” from Harvest Moon 64!

・Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song: The bizarre uncanny valley-ness of the character models, which have huge “chibi” heads but are rendered in smooth realism, struck a chord of monster love, especially combined with their overly elaborate attacks and cute post-battle poses.

・Goddess Reborn: As I wrote in another post, the majority of the game involves ham-fistedly steamrolling through a world of mystery and intrigue, which may not sound very monster loving at first. But, the main character’s frank acceptance of the strange things she encounters combined with the novelty of the world and character design filled my heart with monster love.

And, one word: Morbazan. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’ve played the game, you know what I mean.

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Morbazan!

If you’re interested in this monster love thing, too, I’d love to hear your thoughts – feel free to contact me on Twitter at @williamzwood or in the comments. Monster Garden is currently on Steam Greenlight, with a demo and pre-ordering on itch.io.

Posted in Action, American, Characters, Console, Game Design, General, Japanese, N64, PC/Mac, Platformer, Playstation, RPG, RPG Maker, Series, SNES, Translation, Western | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Liveblogging LABOURGAMES this weekend

I know I haven’t been posting much, but I’m excited to announce that I’ll be liveblogging an “unconference” about play, games and work that’s happening in Berlin this Saturday called LABOURGAMES.

I also have some ideas for game design blog posts that I think I’ll do in a series called “games that inspired Monster Garden,” starting next year. So there should be some more activity here in the near future. 🙂

Thanks to everyone who has been checking out the blog in the meantime over the past few months despite the lack of activity! (I can see that you exist thanks to Google Analytics, mwahaha.)

Posted in European, Festival, Game Design, General, Physical, Western | 1 Comment

Play Festivals Chapter

The book with my chapter on festivals of games and play finally came out! It was super interesting to do all the interviews, try to figure out what was going on with the festivals, and write about it.

The book is called “Examining the Evolution of Gaming and Its Impact on Social, Cultural, and Political Perspectives,” and my chapter is “Games Beyond the Screen: Festivals of Play.” You can read my chapter here on academia.edu if you’re interested. Sorry for the dry methodology section I had to include! 😄

So, now I’m finally all out of excuses for the lack of posts, besides working on Monster Garden in preparation for IndieCade Europe in November. But I’m planning to do some posts along the way about games that inspired Monster GardenーHarvest Moon 64, Ecco the Dolphin, Breath of Fire IV and Wiz ‘n’ Liz, to be exact. Hoping to get those up (and the game finished) by the end of the year!

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“Play & Energy of the Unknown”

I recently had the chance to write about “energy and play” for The Gradient, an online magazine about alternative perspectives on energy. The process of writing it was a great opportunity to figure out my thoughts on a lot of things, including Awa Odori, a festival dance I got to learn in Japan that I always felt was a really valuable experience but wasn’t sure exactly how.

There’s also a section on creating a video game at a game jam, so it covers a lot of territory but is somewhat game-related. You can find it here if you would like to check it out.

 

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The Monster Garden is Coming

My good old-fashioned posts were delayed once again by another article I was working on for an online magazine about energy and play, which will come out later this month.

But I’ve also fallen head-over-heels for RPG Maker MV lately, which was released for Macs last year. I’ve been using it to make a game called Monster Garden, and the hours just keep flying right by as I animate monsters walking around.

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It’s basically just the RPG I always wanted to play, with lots of monster friends and alien locales. Maybe a battle system or two, but I’m still working on the details…

I’ll be posting more pics & GIFs at @_monstergarden if you’re interested. 😀

I’m applying to work on it this summer at a game accelerator in Stugan. It looks like a great opportunity, and they take applicants from all over the world. 😀 (You have to pay for travel expenses but food and living while you’re there is covered. :D)

And a Harvest Moon 64 post will be here eventually, too. Some day… some day!!!

Posted in American, Characters, Game Design, General, RPG, RPG Maker, Western | 2 Comments

Book Chapter on Game Festivals!

Alright, time for the big reveal after months and months of silence.

For the past year I’ve been interviewing people involved in game and play festivals (Indiecade, Come Out & Play, Playpublik, w00t, Playful Arts Festival, etc.) and writing about them. The festivals usually involve indie video games, but also all kinds of other physical / street games, which I think is really exciting. And they all appeared seemingly out of the blue in the past ten years, so I was wondering what the heck was going on.

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Me and others playing a game in Krakow, Poland at Playpublik in 2014.

I started out thinking it could be an article for Gamasutra, like my other one about characters and worldbuilding in Japanese game design, but through a series of unlikely events it turned into a chapter for a book called Examining the Evolution of Gaming and Its Impact on Social, Cultural, and Political Perspectives.

My chapter recently got final approval for publication, so you can check it out in print some time next year! (No details on the exact date yet…)

And NOW I can finally get back to some other writing…like this blog for example! I’ve been wanting to write about Harvest Moon 64, Ecco the Dolphin, and Wiz ‘n’ Liz for awhile, so I’ll get on those ASAP in the coming months.

Sorry again for the silence lately, but I hope the chapter makes up for it. And now I look forward to some shorter and more focused blog writing. 🙂

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