Graveyard Simulator Boon Hill Is A Profound Experience

It may not look like it at first glance, but Boon Hill [official site] is a profound experience.

It’s a game that asks little of you: to wander around a cemetery and read the epitaphs scrolled across each grave’s headstone. Some contain heartfelt elegies, others solemn and matter-of-fact assertions. Beyond this, the game has no goal. Yet I found myself considering the finality of death and the futility of life as I covered the graveyard from corner to corner. Yes, I realise how pretentious that may sound, but it’s true.

Let me repost the Kickstarter trailer Graham posted when he first discovered Boon Hill last year, because it does a good job of explaining how creator Matthew Ritter arrived at the decision to make a “graveyard simulator”, something which no doubt seems a bit odd:

In there, Ritter asks the pertinent question “Why make such a game?” to which he says: “Because I feel there’s something to be experienced by exploring a graveyard, just for the sake of exploring a graveyard.” Doing so in reality can be a grievous exercise and is one which translates to Boon Hill’s virtual interpretation. Perhaps strangely, it’s sad but quite lovely at the same time.

As I wandered its sprawling grounds I read dozens of micro insights into the imaginary lives of imaginary people presented via imaginary inscriptions. “Just getting started and it was over,” read the particularly poignant headstand of Corra Flynn – who was born in 1910 and who died eight years later. A children’s doll lay next to her lair. Next to Vergil’s stone, who was only identified by his first name and year of death, stood a shopkeeper who knew the deceased as a customer – perhaps an indication that he passed without a family to visit. Often, there are long breaks in the piano melody that chimes along in the background. The sobering silence adds to the grimace of the subject matter – it’s really powerful stuff, even given the playful sprite aesthetic the game displays. Some areas of the cemetery are empty, barren almost, yet to be filled, but act as a reminder that we all die in the end.

“I wish life had a win condition,” laments another visitor. Life doesn’t. Boon Hill doesn’t. But it won’t be the last time I wander its grounds.

Boon Hill is out now and can be purchased here.

47 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    It’s like somebody looked at an Infinity Engine graveyard and said “This should be a game!”

    Also, is this officially the Second Graveyard Simulator, after The Graveyard?

  2. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    I guess this doesn’t have the density of stupid jokes you used to get in adventure games with graveyards in?

  3. Rhodokasaurus says:

    How are you gleaning profoundness from this? Are you a teenager? Have you never seen an actual graveyard or attended a funeral? I’m not just being snide, I’m tired of game writers falling all over low-fi games with the depth of a paint chip that are only profound because the all-games-all-the-time writer hasn’t had many authentic life experiences.

    It’s 2015, can we stop falling all over ourselves for the video game equivalent of haikus? Fuck.

    • Geebs says:

      Protip: most people on the Internet are 10-20 years younger than you expect.

      I feel kind of the same way though. If somebody wrote something as utterly tone deaf as “just getting started and it was over” on my child’s tombstone, I’d be apoplectic.

      • kwyjibo says:

        There’s no money in games-writing, so they’re all kids. When they grow up, they move into PR.

        That said, I enjoyed the low-fi profundity which is Passage. Not interested in this thing, because Tale of Tales already did it, and with more artistry.

      • Muzman says:

        The irony is that people are rarely more corny than when grieving. Like deeply, embarrassingly so. If you want a laugh, go to a few memorials, or those walls of missing people after some disaster.
        Nothing but cornball nonsense and trite sentiments, tasteless artwork, terrible photography, bad graphic design. Poets are few and far between and the good ones have been quoted endlessly.
        And if it’s a bit up scale it actually gets worse before it gets better. The chintz and kitch will just about kill you as well.

        So we’re in an interesting bind to demand better art (in the broad sense) from games about this stuff. That is idealistic rather than naturalistic, since the audience doesn’t actually care from the outset and it’s clearly not real.

        It would be an interesting experiment to recreate an actual graveyard or some such from real memorials and so forth. I suspect it would face similar charges of being unbeleivable, vapid, trite etc. Until people found out it was real.

        None of which makes the game good or well done, of course (I don’t know). But it’s tricky.

    • TimAllen says:

      Here lies
      Rhodokasaurus
      19??-2015
      A wise man with many life experiences
      Died of a heart attack while raging at a video
      games journalist for being less worldly than he

      • Rhodokasaurus says:

        Honestly it’s been the culmination of recent articles quite insistent that I play something because everyone says it’s so super special, then I try it and it’s trite drudgery that would probably be very impressive if I was still in middle school. I’m lashing out against the zeitgeist because it’s making me feel embarrassed and lonely, like I just realized I’ve been playing in the McDonalds ball pit and I really shouldn’t be here.

        Also, is it just me or does RPS feel really different all of a sudden?

        • slerbal says:

          Sadly yes (and so have I). RPS no longer chimes with my taste in games, but that is to be expected as I get older but the core RPS crew are replenished and renewed. The original core founders whom I most identified with taste wise, have either moved on (Kieron, Jim) or have stepped back (John, Alec). Not a criticism, per se, just an observation.

          • Rhodokasaurus says:

            I think you have probably nailed it. I’m sure Joe Donnelly is a nice guy just doing his job, but dinosaurs like me aren’t the audience. Reading the group discussions where nobody has a coherent opinion is just depressing. Damn.

          • d70cw says:

            Fuck you RPS.
            Fuck you with a big fucking stick.

          • hungrycookpot says:

            I find the “Social Justice in Everything” mentality to be really tiring, and it’s not something I want in my gaming journalism, or gaming industry at all. It’s something else that generally pushes me away from the site. I keep checking in every few weeks because I do still like the games that they report, and generally don’t find them anywhere else. Boon Hill is not something I’m all that interested in, but its the type of game that other sites just don’t always pick up.

        • ironman Tetsuo says:

          How ironically profound…

        • DevilishEggs says:

          I do sort of feel like this type of post — “This game about driving through a parking lot made me think about how we’re all stuck in our own little boxes” — is being overused. Not necessarily on RPS, but on PC gaming sites in general. Perhaps it’s nearing the end of its usefulness for the medium.

          Given how demanding and time-consuming games are to execute as projects, a lot of those that are more experimental and off-the-wall tend to be rather small and trifling.

        • LionsPhil says:

          I agree with the shallowness of a lot of the “whoa, deep man” stuff, but not that this is particularly a change; RPS feels like it’s been prone to it for a long time.

        • Sui42 says:

          I think you guys (/gals) are being a little harsh. The proliferation of small, creative, one-person game projects in recent years has been nothing but a positive sign in a medium which is consistently sub-par. How many £40 AAA games have given you that poignant feeling that you get from finishing a good novel – that feeling that is at once exhilaration and enlightenment? For me: none. I mean, Half-Life is amazing, but as far as ART goes, it’s not very intellectually stimulating. The Witcher 3 has probably come closest, but it’s a story full of occasionally actually-pretty-good-writing-for-games spread out of 100 hours of button mashing (I would much rather have Witcher 3 that takes 5 hours and cost £20).

          Comparatively, I have had so many wonderful, short, sweet, poignant etc etc experiences on sites like itch.io, all for free. One-person arty devs like Lilith with Crypt Worlds & her other short dreamscapes have left more of an impression on me than something like MGS5, which I owed dozens of hours into, later kind of regretting it.

          That said I’m not actually going to pay $5 for this graveyard game. LOLOL

          • Rizlar says:

            Yep, this.

            Also just because something has been said before or better doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saying again. Particularly meditating on death, it’s not the sort of thing you just do once then never return to for the rest of your life.

        • Kitsunin says:

          RPS has always been prone to praise experiences which are odd and overly “artistic”, and likely don’t appeal to most (or even many!) people because what it does, it does well. Having not been in a graveyard for a while, I can appreciate a game which creates a similar feeling. No doubt, it’s a tough task without feeling trite.

          And regarding Undertale, I can respect that you didn’t enjoy it (although your harshness seems awfully trite) but for those who did it’s a downright magical experience with scant few things which even attempt to be similar. In the past month it’s seen 5 articles, enough to, I suppose be impossible to flat-out not notice, but hardly what I’d consider difficult to ignore if you really don’t care. If you want annoying, MGS V saw 21 articles (almost one each day!) in a single month. What if I think it is a trite game? I mean, that’s so much shit to scroll past! The game doesn’t even need the publicity at all! But because it’s got a huge budget it’s perfectly fine for it to be stuffed down our throats.

        • cpt_freakout says:

          Hey, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed and lonely – your kind of negativity is what can keep gaming’s current adolescent flourishing sane. In taking itself seriously it’s discovering meaningfulness beyond ‘this is fun’, and all too often many of us still act as if games were self-contained, which is to say comparable only to other games in a (constantly shifting) canon. I think the case here is quite clear: even when there’s death all over games there’s like one or two that really dwell on it as something other (or beyond) the mechanical. Here comes a new little game that wants to do something different, and by virtue of it being so, many want it to be significant, and so give crap like this a pass. That people like you say ‘no’ brings context to the discussion, and out of the all too easy gutter of self-congratulation often involved in doing something different to the norm.

          It’s not solely about the website – RPS is different, yes, but so probably are we – in the sense that it’s about a context in which games can be taken seriously, and the positive/negative consequences that process has. In the end, for me at least, judgements like yours are a key to such a process actually leading to more interesting things.

      • Premium User Badge

        alison says:

        Visiting a graveyard isn’t worldly. Graveyards are everywhere, in the richest countries and the poorest countries, from the smallest villages to the largest cities. You don’t need to have had a friend die to have spent just a few minutes walking past tombstones of people long forgotten and contemplating life. People who experience this for the first time playing a game full of pixelated tombstones for fictional people have either lived insanely sheltered lives, or they are just spouting hyperbole. I hope it’s the latter, although i read RPS to avoid the latter, so this is a loser article all round, really.

        Here is something that would make a virtual graveyard profound – make it a memorial to real people. Real people who died in war, names we all ignored because they were just making up death tolls on a newscast we watched and forgot about the next day. Names of people who have mysteriously disappeared, or were erased in genocides, or lost their lives via hate crimes. Or what about a memorial for all the John Does found dead in the streets that no one ever noticed even when they were alive? Games as memorial have great potential for profundity, but this one, despite its promise to give you “real depression”, does not.

    • xenophobe says:

      I’m even more amazed the creator had the gall to do a Kickstarter for this. There is absolutely nothing about this game that required $10,000 to make.

      I am a bit surprised at the way RPS has been suckered into heaping praise on this too; yes, there are younger writers on the site now, but that’s no excuse for the complete lack of critical thought in this review.

      • Premium User Badge

        alison says:

        Although i find this article full of hyperbole, and the game itself seems like a rather large ball of wank, i don’t resent the developers netting 10k for its development. That might be a few months of salary for a single full-time professional developer. Even if this was all built with stock graphics in RPG Maker or something, there was clearly still a bunch of time put into whatever content and interactive/scripted mechanics are there. I really appreciate that some hobbiest developers put out indie graphic adventures and interactive fiction for free, but i can’t fault people for trying to scrape together a little cash on the side for their time.

        • xenophobe says:

          It’s the Kickstarter element that annoys me the most. I’d have no problem at all with this if it was made in someone’s spare time as a little meditation on life and death and then shared with the world for free (or a donation or whatever). That would actually be pretty cool.

          The fact the guy asked for $10k for something anybody could put together in a week or two on RPG Maker is what really rustles me. Kickstarter? Piss-taker, more like.

          He got it though, so fair play to him I guess :S

    • DojiStar says:

      I’m also old and fogey so perhaps I naturally agree with Rhodokasaurus. Rather than play a unnecessary retro pixelated game, how about going to a _real graveyard outside near you_? Maybe you could even research local history a bit and know who some of the people are. If you live some old-timey place, like, say the UK with the RPS staff, there are really old graveyards with interesting architecture and famous people in them. The graphics outside are also very high resolution (there are bugfixes if it looks blurry to you) — plus additional senses (do NOT lick anything, however, especially if someone is watching). You might even clean up a grave or bring some flowers for a random person as an act of humanity.

      • spacedyemeerkat says:

        I enjoyed reading your post, DojiStar; it made me feel a little emotional, especially the part about leaving flowers on the grave of a stranger.

  4. Gap Gen says:

    Shameless self-promotion, but: link to samgeen.itch.io (it’s not very expansive, but I did it in a few hours for Ludum Dare, so eh)

    Anyway, I guess Graveyard Sim is a genre, huh.

  5. BluePencil says:

    “poignant headstand”

  6. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Not as profound as Graveyard Graveyard Revolution.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Or indeed that Homestar Runner minigame where you can watch Bubs dance on “your grave”.

  7. Jakkar says:

    I can only suggest someone goes out and reads the real ones, if they have the urge. Graveyards are neglected, often beautiful spaces, with too little money and often no space left to keep them relevant to modern investment and care.

    Read the poetry and try to figure out the stories of actual, real history, real lives ended.

    It is a potentially profound experience the game designer speculates about but doesn’t seem to have truly experienced…

    Epitaphs without real care behind the writing, without the motivation of commemorating a real departure… There’s something empty, even tasteless about that.

  8. Sarfrin says:

    You realise talking about how much more mature you are than other people makes you seem desperately immature, don’t you?

    • Rhodokasaurus says:

      Are you referring to me?

    • Geebs says:

      I’m increasingly convinced that human ageing is due to a combination of irritation at overhearing young people getting over-excited at the same meagre insights we already rejected as trite, and horror at suddenly realising that we did that 20 years ago.

      I guess if you wanted to be ironic, you could have pointed out how a game about graveyards has brought all of the old farts out for a nostalgia session.

  9. SixTwoCee says:

    “I wish life had a win condition,” laments another visitor. Life doesn’t. Boon Hill doesn’t. But it won’t be the last time I wander its grounds.

    So profound I can almost imagine the Hot Topic long t-shirt that inspired it.

    • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

      Perhaps all the developer did was pay a visit to snorgtees dot com.

  10. anHorse says:

    Probably just me but this game comes across as kinda obnoxious and offensive at the same time.

    It’s trying to be sad and profound but there’s no real relationship between the inscriptions within it and the actual ones you see in real world graveyards or crems.

    It feels like no real research has gone into it which leads to this out of touch feeling that annoys me on some level.

    • anHorse says:

      Actually having looked at the official site I’m now properly annoyed

      “A graveyard simulator, with all the adventure of exploring a real graveyard without looking like a creeper.
      The specifics of what you can expect from Boon Hill:
      Fancy, advanced 16-bit graphics! The kind of graphics you drooled over twenty years ago.
      Over two thousand individual graves and epitaphs! It’s the whole point of the game, after all.
      Several NPCs to interact with! At least more than two.
      Virtual graveyard! Real depression! Feelings of depression are not guaranteed, but reading epitaphs is not known as a heartwarming pastime.
      Real-time mourning! You’ll be able to leave flowers, and look sad. All in real time!”

      Profound my fucking arse

      • Sui42 says:

        I must admit that sounds pretty wank

        Press E to pay respects

      • Shadow says:

        I suppose the question is whether the developers skipped visiting a real graveyard for fear of “looking like creepers”.

        On another note, the description on the fact sheet is more sensible. The features list is just… irritating. Maybe it’s not exactly offensive, but it’s decidedly off. It gives the impression it’s not a “quiet, simple, and somber” project, but rather a lame joke game.

  11. OmNomNom says:

    What a bunch of old farts

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      I like how people are simultaneously accusing RPS of being too young to write good and too old to write good.

  12. MattMk1 says:

    “Yet I found myself considering the finality of death and the futility of life as I covered the graveyard from corner to corner. Yes, I realise how pretentious that may sound, but it’s true.”

    Today is the 3rd anniversary of the death of one of my (close, but not immediate) family members. My parents (who are in the same age bracket) will stop by the grave to pay their respects. I won’t be able to, because I’m working today, teaching 18-19 year old college kids animal physiology. We’re doing dissections.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, thank God for games like this and their insights into life and death.

  13. kahki says:

    I’ve been meaning to read The Spoon River Anthology for some time now, so the trailer namedropping it has piqued my interest somewhat. Anyone in the comments actually tried this game out yet?

  14. porcelain_gods says:

    Reminds me of the Simpsons episode and the “Yard Work Simulator”

  15. bmfof says:

    I’m willing to bet this is a grand joke of sorts, fishing for the odd media response that pans it a deep and thoughtful game. Seems to me like RPS are the suckers.

    Then again, truth is often stranger than fiction.

  16. Buggery says:

    Hmm yes deep and meaningful. Tell me my friend, have you read Nietzsche?