Oscar: tackling the common problems we all face growing up

By Dave Cook, Monday, 17 March 2014 14:40 GMT

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“The challenge is moving forward and surviving,” adds Long. “The puzzle the player solves as the mechanics shift from 2D platformer, to 2.5D anti-stealth, to controlling the environment around Oscar while she moves of her own will, is what’s really ailing Oscar’s life. That’s the question we place on the player’s mind, slowly but surely to answer.”

Oscar’s announcement trailer begs several questions. There are odd instances in most scenes, such as a strange light-bearing creature shuffling through a school hallway, and the image of a young girl – possibly Oscar herself – climbing a vast construction site while a crowd of pedestrians look on from the streets below. There’s a mystery here that invites players to ponder the subtext, and that’s certainly an alluring hook. I asked Long for his thoughts on the best way to create a deep child protagonist and to reflect on some key examples seen in recent games.

“Part of making this game is believing in something that’s maybe a bit out there for most people, if not in terms of narrative, at least in terms of what a game could provide for people. I want to learn to trust my own judgment and know that I’m not just blindly walking another ‘successful’ road to dissatisfaction.”

“I think as our capacity to explore different kinds of games effectively is slowly growing, there’s no reason we can’t explore all sorts of interesting character archetypes, much like film, TV and novels do,” he says. “I think the average, muscular male protagonist was simply the easiest starting point. Coincidentally, as a developer I hardly have the time to play games but this past Christmas [The Last of Us and The Walking Dead] were the two titles I elected to play.

“I greatly enjoyed both, and certainly as both games touch on fundamental aspects of growing up it was pleasantly relatable. Strictly speaking from an art perspective I think we’re all intrigued at transposing adult qualities and experiences onto a young character. It creates sympathy and empathy, because we can take angles that have already been explored in games but apply them once again to a new type of character whose qualities we can all relate to – being younger – yielding great results so far. Don’t you think?”

Child characters need not be shallow window dressing for town hub scenes, or the spooky kids you see in games like F.E.A.R. or Silent Hill, although they are far from examples of poor characterisations. The idea that all kids are simple, innocent and incapable of tackling adult issues is waning, and it’s interesting to see recent games tackle the idea of growing and accepting responsibility where there was very little before.
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“Personally I had a lot of tough experiences growing up,” recalls Long. “Not in that they were more outright difficult than anyone’s – I’m alive and a video game developer with enough resources to take a risk, I keep it in perspective – more that they went largely accounted for. I was the A student on several sports teams, in programming competitions, spelling bees, performing in music festivals. I hung out with the loners as much as I did the popular kids. I did what everyone told me, believing that it would make me successful and happy. I look back and remember that on paper, my life should have been near perfect.

“Of course it wasn’t the case, but no one around me would ever hear a word of complaint about me being unhappy, especially those I trusted most. Everyone felt my life was so good that I couldn’t possibly have issues, and part of it was my fault for eventually just learning to keep up that image, really because I didn’t think there was another way out. I hid it pretty darn well and I think most people in my hometown still don’t know how the rest of my life played out. They probably assume I’m still that same guy.

“Anyways, I paid a pretty heavy price in my day-to-day life for having lived 20 years or so in such a dysfunctional manner, so I relate very closely to people whose problems are just a little bit too atypical or complicated to be heard. Part of making this game is believing in something that’s maybe a bit out there for most people, if not in terms of narrative, at least in terms of what a game could provide for people. I want to learn to trust my own judgment and know that I’m not just blindly walking another ‘successful’ road to dissatisfaction.

“It’s a huge personal risk more than anything, but one I feel I’ve already succeeded in surviving; If it’s about the journey, this one’s been life-changing so far.”

Oscar is in development now for PC. Stay tuned for more updates as they come over at the Kickstarter page.

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