Kintsugi Pottery: Let the Game Design Itself

Light spoiler warning for The Year After

It felt unfair and broken. It was an important point in the game but players didn’t know they were making a major decision.

How would I fix this problem? I considered adding text to make it explicit. I considered adding a scene showing the future. I considered adding the sound of a bell after the player made their choice. Then I stepped back and stopped considering. 

Where did the game naturally want to go? A solution was already there, quietly staring back at me: leave it as is. Life doesn’t telegraph to us the weight or consequence of every choice. Why should the game? 

(Image created by Pelin Kahraman from Noun Project)

I needed to embrace how trivial the decision felt, then broadside the player with the consequences of their decision. Accuse and guilt them for a decision they didn’t really make. Do it when their emotions were raw. Use movement mechanics, sound, space, environment to make them feel uncomfortable. Push them to irritation or resentment. Then release and say: “It’s okay. It’s nobody’s fault.” 

By following where the game lead me the confrontation sequence near the end designed itself.

The game formed a new meta-layer that could only exist within the medium of interactive storytelling. I also unearthed an emotional arc that was always there, bubbling under the surface. The feelings the broken mechanics generated were the same feelings the characters went through: grief, anger, frustration, resentment, release and finally peace. It was all sitting there waiting to be harnessed. 

So it was all put in the game. But I still had doubts. Would this work? Does it even make sense? Am I overthinking it?

Then I saw this player comment and I was happy: 
(heavy spoiler warning)

oh my gosh this is so cute and SAAAADDDD when I got to the end and the mom confronted the watcher and being all upset when she said "you didnt really choose him did you" imma be honest i didnt i had no idea i was choosing something until after i had already sent the dad out lol but this was a great game loved it ... AWESOME GAME probably wouldn't play again though because its too sad :(

We can embrace the beauty in what is broken and let our games design themselves.


Read more: Say it with Objects

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Thank you for saying this. I was curious about this and I also felt like it was a really beautiful way to address the abruptness of the choice.