ON BEING SOME GUY
A postmortem for You are some guy.
On New Years 2023, I finished a little game about my characters.
You are some guy. is a browser-based narrative walkaround game made with bipsi for bitsy game jam #68. You play as the titular "some guy" and experience a vague day in his life. If you haven't already, you can play it here on my site or on itch.io.
By a stroke of luck, I came across bitsy a few days before the bitsy game jam #68 started. I don't remember how I even found it. Rummaging around people's websites, probably? I'm no stranger to electric zine maker or other little tools made by people who want to see more, smaller, and usually weirder things all the time. I wouldn't be, considering I have zines up on this site itself. But, making a game? A little interactable world? To me, that's always sounded like the most daunting thing imaginable.
The discussion of what constitutes a game is too big for one dinky little blog post, obviously and of course. But, to me, what's more important is the question of why is a game. What does being a game do for the narrative, theme, presentation? Why choose the limitations you need for a game?
Bitsy does say it is an "editor for little games or worlds". It does not zero in on saying that it is a game engine, for games. But, to me, I think it's very clear that it is a game engine, and that the things people make with it are games. Also, it's easier to stick to that for this post.
In a fit of madness, I played quite a few other bitsy and bitsy-like games to get a feel of what this was, what the limitations wrought, and what I felt did and didn't work.
My main takeaways:
- Too much text hurt my hands.
- 16x16 rooms are almost too big.
- Embracing the looping is fun.
So, going down the list...
I feel like writing a lot of text goes entirely against the spirit of the engine. But, more than anything, it hurt me if there was a lot of text. Bitsy text boxes do not fit in a lot of words. They fit in enough, but writing too much splits it into multiple boxes. This means to read it, I click to interact, click again to load all the text, and then click one last time to progress. Each extra box's worth of text makes me click twice to load it all and then continue.
Unsurprisingly, all that motion can hurt. I tore through a number of bitsy games after discovering what they were about, and then I promptly did nothing for the rest of the day so my wrists would recover.
It also felt strangely dissonant to read through a lot of text in a game engine defined by its limitations. Bitsy wants you to make a lot of little things that add up to be more than the sum of its parts. In general, if I'm being bombarded with text I feel it's because the writer doesn't trust the player to get it, or they don't trust themselves to convey it.This isn't always true, of course, and it could be said I am just too impatient if I'm getting all the text to show up instead of waiting for it to scroll. Ultimately, this just informed how I tried to pace my dialogue.
Now, room size. Navigation in bitsy and the tools inspired by it sees it so you move one tile per keypress, and if you hold you keep going until you hit a wall. Basic stuff.
That said, you're likely not always going in a straight line. It'd be kinda boring that way, right? So then there's turning required in that space, which means you have to do a new keypress. You also cannot press and hold to travel diagonally. Bitsy will only hold the second input. So, if there is a big room that you have to traverse diagonally, or even if you just need to stop holding to go around something, the keypresses will add up in just close enough succession that doing a lot of it can hurt.
I personally feel like if spacebar could be used to continue dialogue, this wouldn't really be a problem when combined with the above. As it stands, you can click/tap the screen, press a directional key, or press enter. All of these rely on your fingers and don't let your thumbs in on the action to take some pressure off (well, assuming you're a touch typist like me).
Yeah, my wrists really fucking hurt after checking out a lot of other people's games, and yeah, I was grouchy about it. But to be completely real: this is maybe all just a me problem! And it's not like these turned me away from the engine or medium itself. If anything, this was just me exploring what I found to be the "point" of it all.
The engine's limitations are inherently charming. I was delighted by them, from the 8x8 sprites to the slower movement and dialogue progression. And, maybe strangely enough, I thought the fact it looped by default was one of its best features. No booting you out to a menu, no force-closing making you reboot the whole thing? I love that.
The looping gave me a strong idea from the very beginning: I want the player to eternally experience just one little day of a much bigger life.
To be clear, I am not someone who creates many little things. I have a few characters with a few stories, meanings, ideas, that I just play with endlessly. Deciding what the player explores was more about "what would be best experienced in this format?" than what I was even writing about in the first place.
That said, creating a standalone work is intimidating to me. Enough so that I have refrained from it most of my life. My zines were my first attempt to throw something down to be experienced. But, with all my own feelings on "why make a game", I needed it to be something that I could justify to myself being a game. It didn't matter to me if other people thought it cleared or not - I needed to be able to accept that I made a game that deserved to be a game.
My guy is a weird character of mine. Weird enough that I decided a zine that covers his premise was interesting and funny enough to exist.
(And yes, he is meant to be referred to mainly as (particle) guy and not proper noun "Guy". This doesn't matter.)
He's an easy character to make star of the show because he's easy to write and strange enough for other people to enjoy even without prior knowledge. I'm refraining from writing about him here because that's what character pages on my site will be for, but in short, he's a daredevil made so by the supernatural circumstances regarding his continued living. Death is not permanent for him - at least, not for now. So, he can do what he wants and show up a little later perfectly fine, as if nothing has happened.
Despite that, I still tried to incorporate the jam's theme (hibernation) in. Bears are the easy first thought hearing that word - although apparently what they enter may actually be torpor, and not hibernation. (A link to where you can read about this.) The fact that this distinction exists is incredible to me. There's so many quirks in the world of science! A lot like the whole Pluto-dwarf planet debate, although I assume the bear-torpor one is a lot less arguable.
In any case; sleep, hibernation, and torpor all hold a lot of weight conceptually. And, you know, so does death, which gets to be called a kind of long, unending sleep. Guy is tied to explorations on death's effect on the psyche. Dying to him is comparable to sleeping. While he has no reason to avoid dying, this means he does still die. And he has people who love him who deal with that.
Yeolum, Bahnjak, and Guy are, well, a throuple. I know well that polyamorous relationships take on a variety of forms, but these three characters are all involved with the other two people in the trio. It was vital to me to showcase how their dynamics work. By nature of my development philosophies and the small scope of the game, players don't get to see anything of Yeolum-Bahnjak's interactions. That sucks a little, but it was unavoidable.
I think I'm happy to say I expressed the circumstances that undermines the interactions. There was content cut that would have pointed the general direction of guy's bloody accident into something more notably violent, but I couldn't conceptualize a story in time for it. So, as it stands, the day picks up after Guy wakes up from some terrible incident to his shaken-up partners. But it's not like this is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. It's one thing if your loved one gets into a car accident today, but another thing if they get into one three days in a row, right?
It's still scary, though.
Actually setting up the story ended up the most troubling part of development.
That is actually why I ended up using bipsi instead of bitsy. I liked that it kept a lot of what bitsy does, but the way it was structured meant I had more freedom in stringing together some absolute horseshit. A sprite did not have to always be a wall, I could replace what touching something did, and so on. Also, it has a plug-in system versus bitsy's hack set-up. I just appreciated that a lot.
But making it so the variables all work? Setting up the touch events themselves? Good fucking god, man. I spent the last ~3 days of the jam just trying to get that stuff solved.
I had a lot of kinks to work out. Since the last time I've even thought about if statements was a couple years ago, I was stuck trying to rebuild my knowledge in a very short amount of time. I never went past a beginner level in my knowledge, so I was desperately scrambling through bipsi's scripting document (which is very nice and helpful) and asking my friends (who are all very nice and helpful) what the alternatives to an absolutely monstrous if-else-if wall was.
There's not much to takeaway from this other than "programming is easier if you have programming experience/knowledge", but it's fair to point out that I wouldn't have had the struggle if I'd, I dunno, done something simpler? Planned ahead better? Tried to keep up on my knowledge in general? Or something else to that extent.
Ultimately, I think I'm happy saying that I'm glad I made this. I'm not sure what strangers feel playing it. I'm not sure what I wanted them to get from it. A look at the world in my head, sure, but I think it is clear that this was a project made by me, for me, because of me. Even sharing this with my friends was a scary, weirdly intimate act. But, I did it. It's out there.
That said, thank you so much to Squid and my amazing friends in Quarantine (which has been the group's now-unfortunate name since long before 2019) for playtesting and giving feedback and reassuring me that this was worthwhile. I sincerely would not have had the balls to even post this game onto itch without these people in my life.
I have admittedly not recovered from the sleep I lost making You are some guy. at the time of writing. I worry about how this blog post reads almost as much as I did about if the game could be enjoyable, intriguing, or just plain funny to anyone. I think I'll get to that, now. If I really need to, I can edit this post later.
Most of all, I just needed to convey that something as small as this game can hold worlds more importance and meaning than it may seem. I hope that, for someone, somewhere, it may be a precedent of more interesting things to come. Maybe even if that person is just me.
Thanks for reading. Have a good one.