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Vocal: Conflicting Instructions And Player Control

From Vocal's poster (a pox on portrait images)

The National Film and Television School recently held a showcase of games being developed by students on its game design and development MA. One which stuck out for me was Vocal [temporary site] by Paul Dillon.

Vocal is a game about conflict and control. You play as a voice inside a man named Adam Hamilton’s head as he goes through astronaut training on an abandoned and repurposed oil rig in preparation for a journey to Mars. As Adam begins to lose control – both to the player and to other voices – you’re trying to work out what’s happening to him.

To that end, rather than control Adam directly you’ll try to guide him. In terms of the movement system Dillon showed me, that currently means marking out the direction you want Adam to go on the ground using glowing footsteps. He might then follow these or, if you lose control to another voice, he might head in another direction to follow those alternate instructions.

The idea as he explains it to me is about exploring whether the player is always the best person to be in control of the character – is the player the enemy? The premise could end up sounding gimmicky and tactless but Dillon tells me that he’s been speaking with an expert – Professor Eileen Joyce – about the concepts which relate to mental illness as part of his research and has also secured some funding by the Wellcome Trust for the project. We spoke in more detail about how the game unfolds but I’m trying to be careful about spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

“I would like it to be frustrating,” says Dillon. “The core thing to get across is you’re frustrated but you want to get back in control. It could be very interesting playing around with the idea of losing control of the game. It could be frustrating – stupid, like – but I still want to attempt it. It was always an experimental game idea.” He adds that a lot of people have responded that it’s an interesting concept but once it’s further through development he’s hoping that it will also be deemed a good game.

At the moment Dillon and his small team are working on a demo which will introduce the character and the world as well as the core mechanics – how you would play as this non-omnipotent voice in someone’s head. “The demo will take place on a training centre,” says Dillon. “A lot of astronauts do neutral buoyancy training where they go underwater and it’s as close as they can replicate space walks so this game [demo] will take place during this exercise.”

With the demo completed (a finished version is currently projected for May or June) Dillon will look at funding options for the completed game.

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Philippa Warr


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