Preview: The Graveyard – Update

By John Walker on March 20th, 2008 at 8:10 pm.

Who dares to call Tale a bunch of goths, eh?

Tale of Tales, they behind the IGF finalist The Path, are releasing a new short, The Graveyard, tomorrow now. We’ve had an early play, and encourage you to take a look.

Tales call The Graveyard “an explorable painting”, rather than a game, which is just about the perfect description. Your character is an elderly woman, walking with a cane, stood inside the entrance of a graveyard. There are two things you can do: walk forward toward a bench in the distance, or turn around and leave. But it’s not so much about what you do, as pausing and experiencing the scene.

Chances of zombies emerging from the graves: 0

“We know that The Graveyard is not really a game. We could have easily added some form of gameplay. But The Graveyard wasn’t designed just for the players to have fun. While it doesn’t make a clear statement about anything, we hope that playing the game gives people the opportunity to contemplate the various topics that the experience touches upon. Not even to come to some kind of personal conclusion (though it’s ok if you do). Just to think about death, and life, for a moment. It’s good for the heart.”

The black and white design is just right, a perfect motif for a graveyard, the gleaming white bench in the distance making pleasing use of mise en scene. But don’t rush – in fact, you can’t rush. The lady can take a few steps before she needs to rely on her cane as her limp becomes more pronounced, her pace forcing you to slow your expectations. Disappointingly, deviating from the main path isn’t an option, the camera retreating as you disappear to one side. When purporting to be about exploring, there’s not a great deal of that on offer. But reach the bench, turn around, and she’ll sit down. What happens then is for you to see.

The montaging is very similar to that in The Path, and just as evocative.

It’s so much about atmosphere. From the realistic birds flitting about to the way the sounds of the street fade as you move further into the sanctuary, Tale of Tales again demonstrate a remarkable capacity for crafting ambience. The music, the particle effects, and perhaps most of all, the realistic clouds and their effects on the shadows of the graveyard, all envelope you in this single moment.

There will be a free trial version, and a full version available for a weeny $5. The odd thing is, Tale make no efforts to disguise the slim difference between the two, namely: death. However, having played both it proves surprisingly important.

(Aside of interest to about three people: This (clipped) screenshot really reminds me of a scene from the astonishingly beautifully shot television version of This American Life.)

This American Life

The Graveyard

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56 Comments »

  1. TnS says:

    It is already out.

  2. Optimaximal says:

    It’s fairly poignant that the old lady may pass away at any random time. Makes you think about life…

    I wonder if they’d consider releasing it over Steam via. Steamworks? It’s just the sort of thing that I’d make an impulse buy over Steam for – the price and, well, uniqueness of it is just brilliant.

  3. Q says:

    Very nice idea but executed a bit poorly :(
    Robotic/Dead-Eyes face
    Sliding breaks the illusion of walking
    Lack of detail on trees – only 2 quads

    There – I trashed it:(

  4. Sciere says:

    Is the dying really random? I can only trigger it while the song is playing, not when walking around. That would support the idea that her death is the result of nostalgia.

  5. John Walker says:

    I should add that this link you’ve found isn’t supposed to be public yet. But then, they could have disguised it a bit better : )

  6. Rook says:

    You missed the clipping through foliage and through lamp posts, and unrealistic wildlife behaviour.

    I can’t help but feeling that if you really like this, you’re probably just being a pretentious twat. But I kinda like it.

  7. Xagarath says:

    It does waver a little dangerously towards pretension, but that doesn’t change the fact, for me, that I appreciate what it’s trying to achieve.
    “Game” is indeed a misnomer.

  8. UncleLou says:

    It’s of such basic simplicity (in a good way) that calling it pretentious is rather pretentious in itself.

  9. Rook says:

    I don’t think the game itself is pretentious, although maybe charging $5 for random death feature is :).

    It’s when people get all (and they haven’t so far, but I’m sure someone will)…. gushy probably isn’t the right word… but the recent Jonathon Blow interview I think distills it quite nicely. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/?p=1331
    You do not need to come up with a lot of superlative about the fact that your backgrounds and forgrounds don’t clash.. “I was trying to classify my emotional response to this.” Give me a fucking break.

  10. John Walker says:

    I find it very depressing when people attempt to stifle discussion of emotional responses to anything. If a game’s design creates an emotional resonance with the player, that’s a flipping wonderful thing, and surely to be celebrated. If the designer had that intent, or if their creation captures this for them, then that too is a cause for celebration. No one else is obliged to care or agree, but I cannot fathom the reason for condemning it.

  11. UncleLou says:

    I can’t stand the word “pretentious” anyhow, or rather I can’t stand how it is used on the internet. It’s massively overused, wrongly used, and used as a catch-all phrase for everything people don’t understand, people think they don’t understand, people want to discredit without making the efort of explaining their point, and for everything that dares to stray slightly from the norm.

    No offence against Rook here, it’s just a personal pet peeve.

  12. Pace says:

    Aargh, not the ‘pretentious’ discussion again!!

    Anyway, I think John has a good point, and as I think he’s implying, one that is also valid for many things beyond gaming.

  13. Sexy Stag says:

    This is why I love Tales of Tales… They create things that are different, and I’m all for that. I looked at this once, but it’s not something I’d go back to.

  14. tom says:

    I sorta like it, but i like passage more. I really appreciate what ToT is doing, but i feel like their actual engagement with what i consider ‘games’ is fairly thin. Its more just a peice of interactive digital art-painting to me. Nothing really about games or gameplay in it particularly, theres no challenge or struggle, its so ambient it almost feels irrelevent.
    Saying that tho, films are passive yet intensely involving so maybe it operates on more of that sort of level (an arty dragons lair :)
    Oh and the slidy feet ruined it a bit for me even though i loved her gait.

  15. Rook says:

    -> John -> When you’re talking about something like backgrounds and forgrounds not mixing it seems very disingenuous.

    I mean really… “You got real world solid in front of you got impression and distance behind you, and the interplay between those two things… kind of… when I was watching you play I was trying to classify my emotional response to this. Which is something I don’t usually do in games”

    I think that’s way more of a response to how Jonathon Blow talks about his game than anything to do with his own impressions. And fine, maybe I’d be streaming tears if I had Blow to talk me through every aspect of his game. But I guarantee you that if he said that about sonic the hedgehog everyone would have though he was weird.

    And it really is a problem because then you verge into the territory of the Molyneaux effect where everyone is drunk on the idea of the game or don’t want to be seen as the people that didn’t “get it” and so rave about it in their reviews.

  16. Chaz says:

    Personally I can’t see the point, as I can have a much more poignant experience by visiting a real cemetery. What next a “game” about a walk in the countryside, or making a cup of tea.

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but when I fire up my PC for a bit of digital entertainment I want an experience I can’t easily obtain in the real world.

    And maybe I’m being overly pragmatic here, but asking $5 for a one level mod, because it’s art, now that really “is” pretentious!

  17. Wildbluesun says:

    You can’t buy In the Night Garden stuffed toys for £2.50.

    Merely because they’re In the Night Garden. A random stuffed toy of the same size and quality WOULD probably go for £2.50, or less; In the Night Garden toys are £5.

    (In the Night Garden, BTW, is a kids’ TV show. My friend likes it, and it was her birthday just the other day.)

  18. Scandalon says:

    It’s an interesting 3D scene. With a wierd song. That was apparently made on a Mac. (It’s using the Unity engine, I’d bet my pocket-lint on it!) I might show it to my wife.

    I won’t pay $5 for it though. Maybe $1. Maybe. (I’d pay $5 if it included a beta/early access to “The Path” though.)

  19. Emriss says:

    I thought it was beautiful. This sounds weird, but it made me feel like an old woman. Or what I imagine it would feel like: calm, thoughtful, a bit nostalgic, at peace.

    I agree with those who said it’s not a videogame. I consider this, and other works by Tale of Tales, to be more interactive art. ‘Storytelling without words’. I think that fits it nicely.

    EDIT: Something else that I don’t think the artists were trying to convey…atleast, not through what made me pick this up: When she dies…nothing else changes. Some birds land nearby, peck for a bit, and then fly off again just as they’d been doing when she was still alive. No matter what happens to you, or to people in general, the world itself keeps breathing.

  20. Sciere says:

    I thought they were still using the Quest3D engine, but you’re right.

  21. brog says:

    disappointed. games as art => fail.
    walked through a real graveyard a week or so ago, read the tombstones that were still readable. felt the sadness of stones with secret stories; the mother and daughter who died on the same day, next to the father who died forty years later; a girl whose year of death equals her year of birth. in several cases, more text is added to a stone at a later date: “also: christianname surname, his beloved wife, now reunited”. a quiet smile.

    “the graveyard” fails to elicit the same emotions, or any.
    fails also as a game. the only time something happens is while you’re not playing (damn cutscenes again). when you’re ‘playing’, all you do is hold a key. awesome. at least the marriage (awful) and passage (actually really quite good) tried to use game rules to express their idea.

  22. John Walker says:

    Tom: “Its more just a peice of interactive digital art-painting to me.”

    Yes, and to them, as it says at least twice in the post. That was somewhat the point.

    Chaz: I somewhat doubt you’ve died during any of your visits to graveyards.

    Asking for money for your efforts is “pretentious”? I’m really quite lost. These are two indie developers creating idea pieces, giving away their game but asking for a tiny £2.50 pretty much as a donation. It’s demoralising to see people think this a bad thing.

    As I wrote above, I was disappointed by The Graveyard’s lack of exploration – I wanted to be able to wander up the paths, look at the stones. But as a moment, as a brief experience, it presented something that enchanted me. It was a spoonful of something I’ve not tasted before.

  23. Catch.153 says:

    Nothing personal, be I can’t help feeling that we are a spoiled bunch to be complaining so much about a free program like this. It’s a good setting for the song/poem that lets us contemplate our mortality.

    How often does one put himself in the shoes of an old lady on death’s door? It causes the player to contemplate the fragile, infirmed life of the elderly. Isn’t that a success in itself?

    I hope that is the goal. After reading about The Path, I am worried that the studio is just trying to be macabre for its own sake. It seems like some people like American McGee are obsessed with grim themes of mortality and death because they like it. Maybe they find the macabre attractive in the same way people are fascinated by computers and other interests. That’s not a very healthy way to live. It’s wholesome to contemplate death to a point, but let us not forget about the beauty of life.

  24. Rook says:

    I think there’s such a wealth of stuff out there that is free, that pricing seems a bit strange. Especially when you’re packaging it in the traditional “here’s the demo, now buy the game” that we’re all familiar with.

  25. Rodin says:

    With all the cookie cutter games out there I’m glad there’s a team like ToT attempting to come up with games that offer something different. You can’t get much more different than designing a game that features you as an elderly woman hobbling though a cemetery. This is the complete antithesis of most games. I mean come on now. Where’s this lady’s gun? Isn’t she going to whack someone or something? Is she going to poison those lovely birds? I can hear a police siren in the distance. Is she hiding out from the law? She’s a serial killer, right?

    So, yes it is really different and I applaud ToT for that. But as a few other people have mentioned, the experience, at least for me, falls flat. I think being shown the world through the experiences of an elderly woman does take most people to a place they may not have experienced, but I’d much rather just walk in a cemetery myself. Well, at least this cemetery. There is quite a bit of beauty to the environment and atmosphere ToT has created, but I’d like it to be so much more lush and immersive. I also hope ToT begins giving players the ability to switch to first person view in the future. What better way to explorer a 3d artwork than seeing it in first person? I also lost a lot of interest when I realized that I wasn’t allowed to venture off the main path much. Let this granny explore every nook and cranny.

    I’d love to see what ToT could pull off with a larger team of artists and developers. I’m sure they would too. I think trying to design a game these days with such a small team is always going to make you fall short of creating a truly rich experience.

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  27. Dave Gates says:

    I find this all a little sad, i’ve only just played it and I think people attacking it. It isn’t pretentious, its trying something new. I’m a little tired of the way that every game released has to adhere to a set group of rules in order to be liked, otherwise its just labasted. The simple fact of the matter is if you don’t like it buy an Xbox and play Billy Big Balls Big Gun Explosion Time and watch the Scorpion King while you’re doing it. If on the otherhand you want to try something intersting and different then I really think you should give this a try.

  28. Dave Gates says:

    “i’ve only just played it and I think people attacking it” are a little childish. Sorry bit hungover.

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