May 1, 2021

7 Thousand, Million-Billions

By Jordan Dube

A short game about clicking boxes to fill other boxes, and battling the billion negative emotions that plague us everyday.

Play the game here: https://jordandubemedia.itch.io/7-thousand-million-billions

This game is mostly for myself. The ideas and dramatic tone changes seen in the game reflect the inner thoughts that go through my head. The ending, saying, “I believe in you,” is more on me telling myself that I can do it, because as I play my game, it is actually me talking to myself. 

The idea of 7 thousand, million-billions and squares and boxes relate to all the thoughts and things that I juggle within my mind. I think of each thought and piece of information as a square and in the game you’re physically sorting the boxes into their proper location. 

The question that this game was trying to answer was: “How interesting can we make a simple mechanic?” The act of clicking a single button is one of the simplest actions that a player could do, and is seen in multiple games, especially the clicker games. I wanted the game to be impactful and emotional. Should I even call it a game? The player is actively partaking in the digital interaction, but that doesn’t define a game as much as I wouldn’t call typing in a text editor a game. If I were to compare my game to another (more polished and complete game), I’d think of one of the segments in What Remains of Edith Finch. Many of the segments revolve around taking simple actions that end up in a shocking outcome (spoiler alert, it’s always death). One of the games I’m really reminded of is the swinging game, where you play a child swinging on a branch. The only action the player has to do is move their joystick. Being able to control the speed of the swing, seeing the world from the child’s perspective, and observing the legs swinging and your mother calling you inside gives impact to the game without requiring the player to perform complicated actions. So does clicking on a button and watching it move as a bodiless entity talks to you as effective as this scene? Well…not quite.

One design feature I learned is: The less elements there are, the more important each one becomes. In the game, there’s really only 7 kinds of elements appearing at once in the game:

  1. The button to click
  2. The boxes that come from the button
  3. The sound that comes from clicking the button
  4. The baskets that the boxes fall into
  5. The words written in the background
  6. The audio going along with the words
  7. The sounds of the ocean happening in the far background

I could introduce more kinds of elements, like different colors of boxes, a score counter, sounds for boxes landing or hitting each other, background music (which happens at the end), a fully-filled background, and many other things that are involved in a typical game. Having such a minimal amount of elements allows the player to focus on each one all at the same time. With a more complicated and filled scene, the player may be only focusing at a few elements, like the player, their immediate surroundings, the sounds they make, the enemies and their sounds, without noticing the lively background and other elements that are happening. “Overloading” (it doesn’t have to be overloading even with a scene with a lot of elements) a scene can give the player a sense of urgency, that things are happening. In 7thousand, everything that is happening is visible, eluding to a more relaxing tone as there are no elements that the player cannot focus on at once. I could have put less amount of elements in the scene as well, like not including the ocean sounds, but I thought it would make the game world feel less empty. Just like real life, the world can never be completely devoid of sound, except for the vacuum of space where we cannot exist by ourselves. 

The problem with this emptiness is that players interpret it differently. To me, since the context of the game is really important to me and my mental health, the game had a deep, positive impact on me. Watching a friend play the game, however, he chuckled the whole time. What? Is he laughing at me, at my game? This isn’t a funny game. It’s supposed to be dramatic, depressing, and uplifting (my three pillars I went by), not humorous! Looking back at the dialog I wrote with a new set of eyes, a lot of the text could be interpreted as dry snarkiness, which could give a humorous tone to some. Sarcasm is another word that comes to mind. The game congratulates the player for doing simple tasks, which could be seen as funny: why so much appreciation for doing nothing? Then, when the dialog suddenly flips to anger and self deception, sarcasm comes forth. The problem can with the choice in dialog. Like I said with the minimal elements: since there is so much focus for these elements, one slip and/or misunderstanding of emotion can easily corrupt the meaning of the game. Players also play the game differently. When I played my game, I was clicking the button while the dialog was happening, which resulted in the more impactful affect that I wanted. Watching my friend play the game, without mentioning anything, he waited until the dialog was finished before clicking the button. This ruined a key part where the dialog will be muted by the blocks that cover it up. I failed to keep in mind how the game wanted the player to play. Always starting the dialog when reaching a new scene gives the intention that the dialog should be listened to before playing. What would have encouraged the player to click the button while dialog was happening would to be having the dialog chime in while the player was already clicking, making the game less “formal” feeling.
While the impact didn’t hit home for some, what matters is that I felt it. The song at the end was a reference to how I work and study while listening to “lofi” music. On YouTube, there are compilations of quiet, fuzzy tunes that are to be peaceful and pleasant. What is nice on these channels is that everyone who comments is very kind and understanding to each other; wishing people a good day and that things to get better. With the ending to 7thousand I wanted to capture this same feeling with lofi happening and the dialog saying they believe in you. As said in my Night Fish analysis, I’m a big fan of having games that just allow the player to not play the game and calmly listen to the music. There’s no urgency with the game and there isn’t meant to be. Having the music happen at the end, the player may be expecting something else to happen, but it’s really a way of the game forcing the player to relax.