I don’t always agree with my friend Max Krieger. We’ve been connected on Twitter for some time, maybe a couple of years now, but we initially had video games in common and probably not much else. There have been a couple of times I’ve chimed in on a conversation with him to present a differing personal view, but in many situations we just look at things in different ways which don’t affect one of us or the other in a real enough way to cause issues. I respected his passion about the world around him and considered us different, friendly people.
I start the discussion this way because the next thing I learned about Max was that he’s approachable. The few times I’ve ever discussed a topic of disagreement with him, he has always engaged in the discussion in a much more thoughtful manner than you might see elsewhere on Twitter. So when I heard his four-year indie project Train was available to check out, I happily took a look.
If you’ve followed the early episodes of my new podcast GameDev Breakdown, you’ve heard me cry foul when a journalist, blogger, or YouTuber takes a number of hours to graft their worldview on to a larger body of work as a means of serving up their own meaning on the back of someone else’s creation. I’ve taken similar issue when someone calls out for game developers to address someone else’s causes and concerns from a point of view likely to seem insincere if not outright insulting. I feel it’s important to approach game design with honesty. This is why I’ve repeatedly said “Everyone has a game in them” the way others have said the same thing about books. The only fair way to bring games into a dialogue is to bring that dialogue into games. This is why I have high praise for Max’s work.
Train uses a unique dialogue system to tell stories and cautionary tales that don’t take a backseat to platforming or other gameplay mechanics while staying notably different from games that fall into the playless “visual novel” category. During my first play session, I kept being reminded of the unique mechanics found in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Frogwares) series. Few games commit to exploring–not only dialogue–but actual thought, especially in a way controllable by the player. Using this system, Max tells a story of personal discovery through connection with others and their own stories. Given that it’s a unique and freely available game, trying it for yourself is as worthwhile as discussing it.
In addition to releasing the game, Max has started a thoughtful Gamasutra series about the game’s development, how it tied in with his educational experience, and the journey of discovery he went through himself as the game gradually approached the finish line.
Ultimately, I have to say I’m glad I connected with Max, and I’m even grateful for our differences. If we hadn’t crossed paths, or if we even thought all the same things about the world, I would have probably missed out on the cool work he’s doing.