Selected Writing and Whatnot

Hominem Ex Machina

Reunited with my inestimable partner Chris Hill for a second game jam (after the success of Pyramid Scheme), we set about creating our next experiment with a new process in mind: script-first design. Instead of starting with game mechanics and coating them with story, we decided to try creating the content first and then fashioned a mechanism to leverage it. It was scary not to have a mechanism built in Unity to fill – we put a lot of faith in a fairly new intermediate narrative engine called Ink – but thanks in large part to Chris’s whip-fast coding, the heaps and heaps of content (around 10,000 words in just a day and a half) slotted into the eventual interface with few problems.

The theme of Ludum Dare 39 was “running out of power,” so we concocted a story around that principle – an immortal android with a limited battery that wanders the universe until it is drained and then slumbers until recharged by circumstances either cosmic or cursory. By witnessing life over intervals of millions of years, watching individuals, societies, and civilizations come and go, the experience of playing this android is one of profound philosophical remove. Your avatar does progress though: you pick up experiences like you would pick up reagents in some other crafting game and combine them to learn about what it means to really live.

The experiences one crafts leads the android down certain paths of personality: cruelty, selflessness, compassion, pity, callousness, and more, until it reaches a transcendent experience in one of them and finishes its existential journey towards actualization – man from a machine.

There’s not much to ogle in this game jam experiment, but it has a thematically coherent game design and some very flavorful writing. Both of us have expressed an interest in taking the ideas further, and Chris’s tinkering with the system has already improved many of its flaws since.

You can get the game jam version of Hominem Ex Machina for Windows, macOS, or try it in your browser.