Unreal Estate: A House In California

Look at butterfly. Eat butterfly. EAT ALL THE BUTTERFLY

I just played this to completion after reading about it on the list of finalists for the IGF Nuovo award for “unconventional game development”. A House In California is the story of a little boy who lives in a large house trying to get to sleep, which is about as effete an idea for a game as I’ve ever seen, and each chapter sees him being comforted by a different family member. Except our little boy already has one foot in sleep’s murky puddle, so the whole experience plays out very strangely indeed. Download it here, play it in your browser here, and read a walkthrough here.

It’s nice. Lovely, in fact. I enjoyed myself throughout. But I don’t know how eager I’d be to give it an award for unconventional game development. I mean, in the face of some of the other nominees (Dinner Date, Nidhogg or B.UT.T.O.N.) A House In California’s perfectly ordinary point’n’click mechanics stick out a bit, especially so since its surrealist setting manages to exacerbate the genre’s trademark opaque puzzles. An award for unconventional development should go to somebody who successfully marries innovative game design with a unique setting and tone, no?

This is me, flinging my two cents into the void. Look, you’ve come this far. Have a video.


  1. HexagonalBolts says:

    I only watched the video but boy is that ambient sound fantastic, that seems to be the main ingredient for the tone of the game.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      I would have wished that the birds would have created an actual melody. Didn’t the non-rhythmic tones annoy you?

      It may be artsy, but sorry, the game is not resonating with me at all. And since the mechanics are just the same old point-and-click puzzle ones from the 80s, that only were a device for the fun/resonating story, and not fun mechanics in itself, (hello going trough all possible combinations of words and clickable areas,) that means there’s nothing left for it to be fun to me. :/
      But I’m the type who expects games to be fun art, not solely artsy abstactions. Because then one would have to call them that, and not games.

      Put simply: I think this piece of art does not fulfill all the criteria for being a game.
      You can still like it as art though, if it resonates with you. :)

  2. Wilson says:

    I’m not convinced you need all three of the things you mention. If done well, a game with an innovative design, setting or tone would be worthy of a nomination I think. I really enjoyed this, and found it just the right length too (e.g. not too long). If anything, trying to have a unique setting, design and tone might be too much in one game. You don’t want to confuse the whole thing unnecessarily.

  3. amandachen says:

    Unconventional game development? To my mind, that doesn’t have anything to do with the actual content of a game. I’m confused now.

    • Daiv says:

      Unconventional game development consists of bouncing bowling balls off the keyboard from across the room to type and installing a sophisticated semaphore-based display instead of a monitor. The game’s source code is translated from punch-tape to C# by a Korean rice-husker who knows only php.

  4. Tom Camfield says:

    A total pain in the ass: I love little point and click adventures, but I was quickly lost by this one.

    1. New mechanics need a brief tutorial, nothing overbearing like Black & White (2001, terrible tutorial), but a simple explanation. Learning through discovery is all very well, but when you don’t know whether there’s a mechanic you haven’t discovered or a combination of verb+object you haven’t utilised it becomes quickly frustrating.

    2. Don’t make me catch f–king fireflies when I could turn on the hall light. If you’re going to frustrate me, at least make it seem like I’m doing something worthwhile.

    Probably return to it though – I assume there’s something here that’s worth the pain…

    Edit: @ Quinns: I should hastily say, more of this please! As I do like playing potential award winners and original concepts even if I don’t particularly like them. Thanks!

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Haha. I’ll see what I can do!

    • DrazharLn says:

      I disagree on both points; I worked out all the puzzles and the use of all the interaction options on my own, if the game told you how they worked it would remove the feeling of discovery, make the game a lot less fun and fail to meet the competition criterion to make us “feel lost at the beginning because [we]’ve never experienced such a language before, but then should feel delight when [we] manage to ‘understand’ it, and feel eager to build on it”.

      As for the fireflies, it’s a surreal, fantasy world. That realm between waking life and sleep. It’s not set in the real world.

      Edit: Not that I think you’re wrong. YMMV and so on.

  5. Zaboomafoozarg says:

    Judging by the lack of comments, I am guessing this is the most boring game of all time.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Or the most engrossing!

    • DrazharLn says:

      It’s weird how different articles get such enormously different numbers of comments left on them. It might be interesting to do some statistical analysis based on article tags, number of comments and time (what content did the readership find most comment worthy over time).

    • Acorino says:

      I played it for a few minutes, couldn’t progress, stopped playing. No, it didn’t engross me at all.

  6. Baggypants says:

    It was fun up until it wouldn’t let me cook the birds and then I just resorted to clicking every combination of thing until it finished.

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