Hohokum: The Game I’ve Always Wanted to Play

Hohokum recently came out on the PS4 and Vita, I first discovered this game at a EGX/Playstation’s YouTube Channel. (Can’t quite remember which came first.) What I do remember is sitting down to the play the demo (the Carnival Level) and getting absorbed in it. The headphones supplied at the booth did a very good job of blocking out the sound of the show floor and the soundtrack put an instant smile on my face and made me feel at ease. I then started playing, well exploring. I found great joy in just weaving in and around the 2D colourful world in front of me discovering hidden interactions and creating my own little goals within the sumptuous landscape.

Soon my partner tapped me on the shoulder, apparently I had been sitting there for nearly 40 minutes, our friends off exploring other games while he went to play several other demos. For me I felt as if I had only just sat down, time had lost meaning while I was playing. After thanking the Sony rep at the booth for the chance to play and apologising for being there so long I left to explore the rest of the show floor, but determined to buy the game as soon as it came out.

To be honest I was going to be buying the game upon it’s release anyway as the trailer with it’s soundtrack (also used in this trailer might I add) already had me captivated.

Now several months later I have been playing the game on PS4/Vita on and off since it’s release, I have a fair collection of snakes and discovered a fair few levels. Yet every time I see a tweet, a tumblr post or video of this game, each time they seem to depict environments I have yet to discover. I’m currently in that wonderful stage of play through that feels as though the enjoyable experience will never end. (A rare feeling I have found with a lot of games, as most of the time it seems all too obvious that you are drawing towards the final act. The Zelda games (mostly) and most recently Tearaway are ones that spring to mind that have invoked this endless exploration feeling before.)

Yet I digress, playing this game also made me realise that it has been a game that I have always wanted to play, without fully realising it. The imagination on display is inspiring, the music beautiful, the fluid movements hypnotic, the relaxation it provides reminds me of time gone by when I was a child.

You see when I was younger I was often found daydreaming, often found making up worlds inspired by images, places, artworks. I was the kid with the over active imagination, making it great for my younger sister and our friends as I led make believe games within detailed worlds for us to enjoy, but a pain for my teachers. (I liked learning when I was younger, what I didn’t like was school.)

To provide context I suppose some examples would be best:

Dr.-Seuss-Oh-the-Thinks

Dr. Seuss – Oh the Thinks You Can Think

I loved this book as a child, the wordplay of Dr. Seuss is well known to be enjoyable for children, my little brother was endlessly fascinated by “The Fox in Socks” when he was young. For me it was an old copy of “The Thinks you Can Think”, not only for it’s words but for it’s imagery. I have strong memories of it being read to me by my Mum when visiting my Grandparents when I was very young, and I would lose myself in the image on each page. Imagining the world that each page provided a window into, thinking up personalities and stories for all the different characters. I would fall asleep dreaming of the worlds and see myself walk around them, interacting with them and building on the scope of each one in my dreams. It is a strong memory for me, as it is linked to a time where I felt very safe, loved, and happy. A time where I was relaxed and without a care in the world.

There was also the picture books my sister owned:

whereswallytrainstation

“Where’s Wally?” – At the Railway Station, Martin Handford

Her “Where’s Wally?” collection grew quite a bit during our childhood, but there were a few books that seemed to remain firm favourites. We would look at them for hours playing the hidden object game in each of busy fun filled images provided. (They also remind me of Mike Jupp’s Puzzles.) Yet again I have strong memories of ‘reading’ these before bed, or on lazy weekend afternoons, and imagining the image coming to life and watching all the events unfold. There were times when I wanted nothing more but to jump into the image and take part in all the calamity or simply explore the world presented to me.

These two I think sum up some of the influences I had when I was young and demonstrate the kind of imagination I had. It used to keep me occupied even when I didn’t have a book in my hand. In (one of) my childhood homes there was this patterned wallpaper on the wall (left by the previous house owner) it looked like a criss-cross of pillars and squares, all interconnected in un-repeating ways. My sister and me had bunk beds back then with lights fitted at just the right height for each of us by our Grandfather. My sister would turn her bottom bunk into a den, I would turn the light onto the wall paper and imagine a world within it, tracing walkways through the geometric land with my eyes until I fell asleep.

I would often do this also on long train journeys, looking at the tracks through the window through half focused eyes so the silver of the tracks glistened and appeared to move along with the train. I would daydream that the track could tell me all the places it led, that it could talk about all the different types of people it carried on the trains. (It sounds a little odd these days, but when you are young and the batteries have given out on your cassette player and it’s just a bit too bumpy to draw and the view seems to be repeating my imagination would wonder.)

Either way I started to realise that a lot of these elements would come to mind when playing Hohokum, the feeling of serenity when playing, the ability to reach into the world and affect it, explore it and change it, the odd bizarre way each world was constructed and presented. All of it suddenly seemed to remind me of a times that my imagination ran wild, while providing me with a gameplay experience that constantly caused delight, surprise and curiosity.

HOHOKUM_screenshot

Hohokum on the PS4

I soon realised that it was a game that I have been wanting to play for a very long time and I didn’t realise it. A game that I would have loved to have made if I had kept my imagination as fertile as it had been when I was young. (Instead I found my skills to lie in production, not art or code or design – but not through lack of trying each first!)

It is a game that I am over the moon exists, grateful to Sony for seeing it’s potential and full of admiration for the many creative minds (and organisers) behind it’s creation. It’s something that shows that the emotional spectrum of games is broadening and is lucrative place to explore, that the simple act of basic interactivity can lead to exploring art and imagination in ways that potentially resonate more with the end user.

It’s odd though when people have asked ‘what are you playing right now?’, at work and among friends, as I have been unable to fully describe this game to them. At least in a way that makes it seem as enticing as I believe it is. I guess it’s because I don’t think I can do it justice in words, that only emotions and pictures can convey the joy that I have been getting from playing this over the past couple of weeks.

It is now on my list of all time favourite experiences had while playing a game, more serene than Journey and more relaxing than Flower and at times as emotionally impactful as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. (More on that last game in another post.)

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Pondering Proteus

I have just spent the last hour playing through the wonderful Proteus by Ed Key and David Kanaga. I discovered the game at last years GameCity7 and it is something very hard to describe. It is a beautiful experience and I have found great enjoyment wondering around the pixelated landscape when I need to focus or unwind. I truly wish more games came with a mode to just walk through their environments, Flower being the first one that springs to mind. 🙂

Anyway to get a brief idea of what Proteus is like here is a short video of the event from Game City:

WILD PROTEUS GameCity 7 Live Event 2012 from Matt Taylor on Vimeo.

It is one of those games, digital play things, virtual experiences, that does not translate well into still image or the spoken word and really needs to be played. It’s officially released later on this month and I highly recommend getting it, or if you like the look of it the Beta is still available.

This game also got me thinking about the games that appeal to me these days, as I fear the selection is few and far between. Is it because I am getting old? Don’t have the disposable income these days? Or are the games made and released commercially just don’t seem to fit with what I want to play?

A mixture of all of the above I think, but finance is a huge factor, there’s no point getting excited about something if I can’t afford it right? Anyway I am glad that there is an alternative to the commercial route, as it’s great for the times when you want to play something a bit different. 🙂

P.S. Not saying that all commercial games are bad, I have also racked up many hours in Kingdom Hearts 3DS recently. It’s just the release schedules don’t seem as full of excitement to me as they once did during my ‘golden age’ of gaming. So I am very grateful to developers small and large for taking a chance on a game that a publisher may have said no to, and I would have said yes to. 🙂

 

The Pleasure of Gaming

The Games Studies lecture last week was basically an overview of things we covered in level one of this module last semester, this time however we are obviously taking things to the next level. (Bad pun I know but it is late…!) Anyway it was a good lecture and it was good to go over a few things and it was also nice to see the discussion crop up about whether ‘The Sims 2’ is actually a game or not? As it depends on your definition of a game…as the class was rather divided on this, most saying it was a simulation of sorts. Then of course what defines a simulation and how is that different from a game? I think anything can be argued to be a game as the very nature of gaming in general is that you make it up through play and rules and goals emerge from that to make it engaging and have purpose. Each child plays with a doll or toy car and creates games from those objects, not always within the definition that adults would use, but to the child it is still a game. At least those are my thoughts on the matter.

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