To be blunt, this game is an experimentation in a number of concepts that I consider to be important for the advancement of games as a medium. Rod Humble, Jonathan Blow, Jason Rohrer and many others have been working to develop video gaming as a medium that is itself valid as an art form, and as a means of communication. The indie community has recently been asking some pretty interesting questions about where games stand, what the industry looks to become in the future, and what sorts of pitfalls must be avoided. These concepts have been heavy motivators for me in my game development in general and in this game, "Reflections," specifically.
Reflections is a game seeking to communicate a non-linear, player-driven narrative. For the game, there were a few limitations that I wanted to adhere to. I felt that there should be no specific, required gameplay events. The game is designed to progress naturally just as much by doing nothing as it will if you discover all of the interactions in the level. The point is not to test the player or force them into specific decisions. The game itself, as well as the content, are both non-threatening and non-combative.
Another rule was that the gameplay had to be affected without explicit choices. I feel that it is important to focus on gameplay to create meaning, instead of plot. To me, this is the difference between "story," which is dictated, and narrative, which is a term that I think more aptly applies to emergent experience. Players have the ability to experience narrative in their own actions while playing a game, as they develop their own conceptions of their role within the world. This necessitates the acknowledgement of non-verbal communication. "Reflections" does not have any dialog options, yet there is still the possibility to interact with characters and alter the "story," or at least the outcomes of interaction. I felt it was important to keep the characters and settings neutral and archetypal, so that the player could more easily insert their own perspective without "cutscenes" or intense dialog sequences. Gameplay has a lot of inherent motivation within it and I feel that speaks much more strongly than the alternatives when dealing with interactive media. Because of this, it is also important for as many actions as possible within the game to be acknowledged. Immersion tends to be limited when the player can't "act," and that's one of my goals for the game; to give players a sense of agency.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have tried to focus on subtle emotional tones. I wanted the experience to be steeped with implicit meaning that the player gathers throughout the game. The passage of time, the ability to make small decisions that can't be undone, the ability to alter the course of one's life with seemingly trivial moments,, were all elements selected intentionally, both because of their universality and their broad range of interpretations from person to person.
The setting and tone of the game's narrative are both very simple and could be considered quaint, but I wanted to diverge heavily from the concepts usually explored in games. This game is about a noncompetitive dialog between player and game, between designer and audience. I hope that this is in some way successful, but as the designer, I cannot be the judge of it myself.