'Wilderness' Haunted Gaming 2c1J1cMenXs

This sort of moral panic is just the sort of reason I hate talking to you people. That's right - you people. I'm a [pejorative] rockstar, and here you are talking down to me as if my game is the cause of your little tykes and their problms. Maybe if you all were better parents and teachers of the little larvae, we wouldn't be having this conversation. For the last time - any problems your kids had with Wilderness are their fault, not mine.

But the head of PR over at Marginal - that's our company for those who just came here to get angry and lob accusations - told me I'd better come over here personally and take care of damage control, so that's what I'm going to do. I guess you can consider this a question and answer session, and I'm sure by the time we're done you'll all be leaving happier and healthier and we won't have to have this conversation again.

First off - Lizzie, you mind turning on the projecter? The one that was supposed to be one when I got here? - this is Wilderness.

Wilderness title.jpg

As you can see, the title screen, which is what you're looking at, isn't the warm and invite pastel barf of your Super Marios or your Pac Mans. We use a lot of colors to convey the feeling and splendor of nature; you know, the same splendor that your kids will be seeing in Wilderness instead of going outside to view themselves. And if they happen to be outdoorsy little snots right now, they won't be by the end.

Wilderness is designed around the Amiga and DOS, though we did build a mac compatible version after demand increased. Your goal is to survive in the Wilderness, simple enough. A lot of pundits accused us of trying to bandwagon off of the success of other public-edu games, similarly to how many publishers are bandwagoning off of Myst. Thing is, Wilderness is entirely it's own beast. We don't have an end goal, or really any goal - the idea is to survive for as long as possible - and eventually die.

Now, I can hear some of you murmuring back there, but I went into game design because I felt the world had become too soft. Too malleable. When I was a kid, discipline was something to expect, not expect the absence of. This is the 90's, people, and we're here with the edgiest, most realistic games imaginable - to help your little children and maybe even you, yourselves, wake up out of the comfortable stupor you've been building around yourself for the last half century.

Okay, first round of questions. You there, bolo-tie. Yes, I did used to work with ID, but I can't say we parted on the best of terms. They wanted to focus on their dungeon-crawling property. Something they're working out with Raven, I don't know the details. I - we at Marginal - wanted to focus on games with consequences. Actually, since we're talking all honest-like here, I hate the term 'video game.' What I want to create are 'consequence simulators.'

My experiences at ID did give me an appreciation with tight level design though, and when we move on to the demoing phase, I'm thinking all of you who've played games before will appreciate the smooth transitions Wilderness has to offer. [Laughter, directed at the audience] No, I'm not expecting you to play a full game here. Trust me, I want to get out of this room even more than you do.

That's actually a pretty good question to lead into the next segment and get you some of the answers you're looking for; we were plagued with a lot of production problems during the development of Wilderness, and I won't pretend otherwise.  A lot of the complaints you've got have been from the full-motion-video portions of the game, and I'll address those in due time. You wouldn't believe some of the [pejorative] we had to put up with. [Laughter]

On game start, you create your avatar - your in-game persona. We wanted it to be so that kids would first try to create themselves. There are a lot of occupations, a lot off backgrounds. But just between you and me? None of them matter, just like none of your backgrounds matter. In the end, we put them in to create a sense of 'attachment' between the players and their characters. Since we couldn't really customize the look of the player too much, we rely on this to build a sense of feeling that this isn't just some nameless [pejorative] - this is you.

You're greeted by our actors, all FMV. We've got about ten - is that right? - ten people the player can choose to bring with them, but they can only bring a total of four people. We were already developing on a strict deadline, so imagine if we had to re-film the same scene for every possible combination of people? It would've been impossible. You get some food, some clothes, and some tools for survival, and then are told to explore.

Now, one criticism we've got is that the land in Wilderness looks entirely the same. That's not the case -

I can assure, there are at least one or two areas that look very, very different.

But mostly, we opted to have the land look similar, to create a sense of loss and confusion. It's very rare to encounter anything, whether animals or other travellers. Naturally, just moving uses the in-game food statistic. Over time, we wanted to have our actors grow more emaciated, and more desperate looking. It was pretty rough convincing them to 'method-act' if you will. [Laughter, group joins in.] Still, I think you can see the results.

At first the mood of the group is optimistic. You've got no destination, no plan - but you have food, tools, friends. Then things start going sour. We've got in-game relationship counters between members of the group. Little things, like who ate the most food last rest period, who scored the big kill while hunting, what religion or ethnicity the character is... Don't look so shocked. These things make people fearful, hateful, envious. In our world, they make people kill. Pretending otherwise is the sort of compromise on quality we at Marginal would never take. You get only the most visceral, the most real, from Marginal Games. Remember that.

Because your group does. My favorite part of the game is how you'll start to see your little group fragment in the camping scenes. Two people on the right, three on the left. Suddenly, everyone is off by themselves, haggard and without food. You haven't seen an animal for days. You're hungry, starving. You've run out of food. You really don't like, say, the guy immediately to your right... Bolo-tie. So what do you do, right? Of course, we had a lot of historical inspiration for some of the actions the player can choose to take, so I don't want any criticism from any of you - speaking honestly again, you don't know what you're talking about.

... What? You're a [pejorative] [pejorative] history teacher? I don't give a [pejorative], because you don't know what it was really like. What it is really like. So if you'll kindly just shut up until the presentation is over? Yeah, that's better. [Nervous glances towards the clock, shuffling from the audience]

Right, right. Where was I..? Problems. We had a lot - and I do mean a lot - of problems with this game. Accidents on the set, for example. This one turned out to be a blessing in disguise, actually. Jed, one of our FMV crew, actually lost his arm in a filming accident; we got the footage and digitzed the lost arm as a possible accident/consequence scenario. Actually, that lost arm turns up all over the place... As an in-joke one of the pranksters in our imagery department placed it in random locations around the map, 'hidden' under other objects. The player will never see it, but they might recognize it subconsciously.

See - we had a lot of trouble making sound effects that fit, but our sound director got this amazing buzzing sound - I have no clue what it's supposed to be - that plays whenever you mouse over the arm, or a recently deceased group member. So, the players associate it with death. And when they hear it just randomly around the map, I wonder what they think of?

The compression artifacts where the blood splatters were make me laugh every time. We could never get rid of those.

Wilderness river.jpg

Geeze, lighten up - we got permission from Jed and the hospital to use the imagery, I've got no idea what you're so fed up about. Sure, most of the staff walked off shortly after - claimed they were on strike, claimed they'd been worked in abominable, sub-human conditions, treated like walking meat - but guess what? We didn't need them anymore. You take a look at the scared, frightened faces in Wilderness and you see the real world.

Yeah, [pejorative] you if you think we'll just take another lawsuit lying down. That's why I'm here and if you can't see how [pejorative] brilliant MY game is, then I'll [pejorative] rip out your [pejorative] face, we [pejorative] clear?! Geezus! You're practically as ill-formed and doughy as the little pukes you call your children!

What was the point? I'll tell you what the point was - we put the player in a position where they can't win. Where they have to be brutal - be REAL - to survive. [Hyperventilation; speaker seems agitated and out of breath, repeateadly scratches throat and neck]

I - look, any garbage you've been told about that is completely untrue. Nothing happens after you fail the game besides being told the details of your death and the actions of your party afterwards; there are no other levels, no other areas. There was a test version of Wilderness we released to a few friends... A little joke, I guess, a little ha-ha... With some of the cut FMV footage, but there is absolutely no [pejorative] way that it found it's way to your educational copies.

[Throat and cheeks are red, breathing heavy as several members stand]

They must be lying - what do you mean you've seen proof? Anyway, I'm telling that there's absolutely no proof - that it doesn't matter about the content in the brutal survival area, because we cut it from the children's copies and even if we didn't, they need to see it. They need to see it with their eyes open!

[Eyes darting as commotion increases]

No more questions. I have nothing more to say.

Written by Stormlilly

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