In doing this, Eric makes effective use of familiar gameplay mechanics, but gives them an anchor inside this moody world that bears down upon the central character. Mario was created as a way for younger audiences to be drawn into the heroics of a jolly character, enjoying his exaggerated attributes and quirks just as a character in a cartoon. Some say that the magic mushroom Mario consumes and grows in size is representative of drug use – an empty adult metaphor hidden inside an innocent platformer – but it’s merely a player reading, rather than developer intention. Spate’s Detective Bluth overcomes the hazards and challenges of his environment through imbibe – that is, consuming absinthe. Doing this allows him to jump higher and run faster, but there’s a counteraction to this benefit in the form of hallucinations.
The act of drinking alcohol across games has always been treated lightly. Rarely is it used as a hinging mechanic in a game. More so it’s usually the case that bottles of spirits lay around the environment, can be swigged, and then the player experiences temporary blurred vision. In a few games, the drunk character will throw up their guts as they sober up in a more dramatic fashion. The consumption of absinthe in Spate is a central mechanic, and every time the bottle is swigged at by the nothing-to-lose Bluth, the world around him is changed visually and physically.
Drink It Away
So what is Bluth’s backstory? What drove this prestigious man to this mysterious island, and why is it that he is so anguished? Much is left to reveal about the story behind Spate (understandable, considering it’s one of the elements to explore as you play), but the short of it is that he’s still coping with the overwhelming distress of the death of his daughter. So emotionally torn up he is that his mind often descends closer to madness, which isn’t helped by his new-found pleasure in alcohol. Still upholding his role as detective during this turmoil, he is hired to investigate the mysteries of an island where many people have disappeared, but that’s not so easy when his mind is so preoccupied.
A burden that troubles him even more than his daughter’s untimely death is the regret of how they spent their last moments together. Again, absinthe acts as a self-prescribed placebo, a way to apparently deal with the pain by washing away reality and causing a distracting fictional version to emerge before his bleary eyes.
Being that Eric has experience in the film industry, having worked at the Jim Henson Creature Shop, Sony Pictures Animation, and is currently at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Spate inherently employs a number of techniques to capture its seemingly pensive atmosphere. Juxtaposed to the more frantic platforming sections are moments when the player simply runs through the world for a short time. Eric says of this:
“I compare these parts to long shots in movies. The average shot in a film is 3 seconds. As viewers, when we see a shot go past a minute without cutting, it has an emotional effect on us (think “Children of Men”). It sucks us in. It makes us alert. It makes us think without being forced to think. And it turns out that we’re happy to!”
These drawn-out visuals and the sound of the pelting rain and gusting wind, combined with Mike Raznick‘s musical score, is said to induce contemplation in the player as they reflect over the journey of the protagonist and everything that they’ve been through with them until that point.
You can truly get a sense of this within the new trailer for Spate below. Before that, though, consider giving Spate a thumbs-up on Greenlight, and expect to see the game arriving across Windows, Mac and Linux during the third quarter of 2013.