Orwell is a game developed by Osmotic Studio, which plays with the idea of social networking and the power of information. Much like the games I reviewed the blog post “Implied Knowledge”, Orwell is a game that heavily leverages the player’s understanding of social media and application norms. In today’s post I’ll be exploring Orwell and elements of the game that were very strong, as well as areas that could have been improved. If you haven’t played and would like to, I’d stop reading here… from here on out we’ll be entering some heavy spoiler territory.
The premise of Orwell is that you’re a recruit trying out a new type of surveillance software called Orwell. Your job is to use Orwell to investigate suspects of a terrorist bombings in a place called “The Nation.” Orwell allows you to snoop on these individuals, find data fragments, and add these to the suspect’s file. The key point of the game is that you can choose what elements you add to the file, and what to not include. There are times where pieces of information could be out of context and paint the individual in a false light. The main way Orwell allows the players to gather this information is either through web based searches (finding user profiles and social media), listening in to phone calls and chat logs, and in some cases you’re able to hack into their phones and computer files. Orwell is also an episodic game, releasing itself once a week over the course of five weeks.
While the writing is well done and overall presentation is superb, there are a few things mechanically that I felt made this game lacking. It was interesting to have data fragments be highlighted information, that the player drags and drop to collect, but in doing so the player can quickly adopt the habit of skimming through the information in search of the highlighted areas. Perhaps this was intentional because there’s a lot of reading material, but it made so much of what the player is doing feel unimportant… which was contradictory to the story’s message. I remember in the first episode I was really paranoid about what I was doing, because of all of the messages telling me how strongly I was impacting people’s lives, and yet in later episodes I felt very disconnected. To be fair I think the episode frequency also negatively impacted the experience. At first I thought it was a cool idea to have this be released weekly, but I quickly found myself falling out of the game’s rhythm. Orwell didn’t have a strong enough story to keep me invested for that long. In game time, the story plays out in a matter of days… It would have been more interesting for the game to be released daily, sort of like your character attending their first week at work. Mr. Robot had the me wait as well, but the game only ever had me waiting for 8 to 12 hours at most.
Another element that I felt was lacking from Orwell was a real sense of involvement. In other games like Mr. Robot, or even Her Story, I felt much more part of the experience. Orwell was much more of a voyeur experience. While Orwell offered more depth and variety of tools than it’s competitors, the fact that the players couldn’t truly participate in what was happening made the player really feel more removed from the experience. In many ways Orwell over compensated for this by engaging the player in different ways, i.e. the out of game e-mails. Yet overall I still was left wishing I could actually communicate with the people I was stalking or maybe even able to enter a “search” query into the database, sort of like Her Story.
I was pretty surprised to find the final chapter of Orwell to be the strongest for me. Orwell was able to bring back the pressure I felt in the first episode by introducing a new mechanic where the player is limited to the amount of data fragments they could collect. There’s literally a count down in the final episode, and it forces the player to really care about their choices and sift through the information… think critically… and choose which information was relevant. This really brought the game back for me, and made the player’s choices feel impactful.
Overall Orwell is still a superb experience and I think adds quite a bit to the recent trends of games using social media as part of a way to tell it’s story. Orwell will certainly be praised for it’s social commentary of “Big Brother” and the dangers of social media. For me this still feels very much like an experimental game and if you’re interested in that sort of thing, definitely check it out! Although I will say that I still yearn for a similar experience to the Mr. Robot app…
Hey guys! For this post I wanted to get into something a bit more analytical. I thought it might be interesting to dig into some side scrolling games and do a competative analysis of their visual strategies. What are their common elements? What ways do they facilitate the player’s understanding of themselves in the playspace? What strategies do they use to aid in the game’s narrative? For this analysis I took a look at the following games; Broforce, Fez, Inside, Little Big Planet, Never Alone, Oddworld, Oxenfree, Rayman Legends, Salt and Sanctuary, and Super Meat Boy. I know that Oxenfree might be a little outside the normal side scrolling spectrum, yet there are a couple of elements I wanted to include. You shouldn’t have to worry about spoilers below, I’ll be including imagery from these different titles but won’t be discussing game narrative.
How do I understand the gameworld?
Generally in all side scrolling games, there are the same rules for differentiating the foreground from the background. It’s all about large areas of contrast, where the background has implied atmospheric perspective, simulated with less value contrasts or lighter hues. Games like Super Meat Boy, Broforce, and Oddworld use
important for the foreground to not compete with the game character or interactable elements. Little Big Planet uses these same methods, but goes one step further to add a blurring depth of field effect to the background. By blurring the backdrop the foreground/background differentiation is more defined, it also helps add to the general theme of the game and the feeling of being a small character in a big world.
How do I understand where I am in the gameworld?
While looking through these games, I noticed some different strategies being used to help aid in the player’s comprehension of their character and placement within the game scene. First and foremost is the use of the camera. In many cases the camera remains fixed on the character as they jump and move through the environment. Games like Fez, Little Big Planet, and Salt and Sanctuary typically keep the character fixed at the center of the screen. In some other cases the camera is more fixed on the level and moves with the player when
Super Meat Boy makes use of a deep and dark red “smear” where you’ve bounced the avatar around, this gives the player a quick indication of where they’ve been. Doing so helps ground the player and also aids in quickly identifying where they are in the level. Super Meat boy runs off of the idea that players will attempt levels multiple times and so this mechanic facilitates a quick and easy visual que of the player’s history. As players attempt the same level, over and over, this gives sense of progression as layers of “blood” accumulate along the walls of the level.
What Visual strategies can I use to supplement the game’s narrative?
Inside makes clever use of perspective and drawing the user’s attention to important areas. In most cases our eyes are being drawn to something in the background that facilitates the game story. In other cases this same trick is used to grab the player’s attention to obstacles or something dangerous. In the reference, our eye is being drawn to a pack of dogs… that the player needs to understand is coming their way.
Thanks for reading! Hope this was an interesting segway from the typical posts. Looking ahead I may be looking into a post regarding a game I’m currently playing called “Orwell.” If you haven’t heard about it, I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot. Until next time!
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.