Sanpo Game Devlog (006) - Moving on from "Shuffled World"
The 6th devlog of my side-project game, "Sanpo" (previously titled "Shuffled World") - about walking with others through a dense, in-flux world
Hi everyone! Hope your summer has been going well. Angeline Era has been quite busy but in the past weeks I've taken some time to do some research and thinking about my side project, which I was previously writing about under the name "Shuffled World".
The name came from how the game world is made up of small levels that connect randomly. Each time you enter the world you might have to traverse it a different way. But, as I’ll describe, this game isn’t a roguelike nor a procedurally generated world. In any case, I finally came on a better - maybe placeholder, maybe not - name, for now - "Sanpo" (散歩).
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What's "Sanpo" mean?
Literally it means 'walk' in Japanese. But I don't think this captures much of its details. To me, it's more of loosely-oriented (or sometimes aimless) stroll through my neighborhood or some other area in which I sometimes leave it open to chance as to where I go or what I do. It's not about walking to the movies or the mall, or a show - it's more like "I'll spend the afternoon in this place (new or old) and just see what's there." It's particularly fun to do in Tokyo because in the process of sanpoing around your neighborhood or adjacent places, you start to build a mental map that connects up the really large city of Tokyo… and while Tokyo remains huge, it becomes navigable as you remember landmarks, the neighborhoods they're in, random things you saw, or places you took a break. Sometimes I might sanpo around my home, from my home to another neighborhood, or take a bus/train to another neighborhood and try to get back home, etc. Sometimes I just walk straight in a line from a new station to see where it goes. It's a constantly entertaining activity, you can set your own goals, or none at all. I generally like taking photos, at one point I liked looking for bakeries, it's also fun to look for green space.
I wonder if it's a coincidence that the original idea for this game came only about a year after moving to Tokyo…?
Making it through the game involves two main systems:
A puzzle-esque "map-making" aspect, where you plan out your route through the game's world
The exploration aspect - or actually executing your plan to walk through the Levels and reach a destination.
Each instance of exploration into Sanpo's world is both RNG and player-generated, but the levels are all drawn from designer-authored levels.
Back in May, I had just had a breakthrough with the level design in Angeline Era and was thinking of ways to apply it to other games. Thus , previously, the exploration of Sanpo was influenced by Angeline Era's level design and combat - while the map-making would actually be designing your own instances to explore. (I talked about this in the 5th devlog.)
Since then though, I've walked back the action gameplay. While it could work, it was clear that it wasn't a good fit for my thematic ideas. Moreover action works best (imo) in hand-authored levels with rhythm and pacing to them, vs. randomized gauntlets of rooms. That left me with the need to 'fill a hole' as to what the exploration would be. I decided that - maybe I should switch to the narrative aspects of Sanpo for a while, do some reading and research… as it turns out, it really helped!
The Game At The Moment
It's a 3rd-person, 3D perspective. The environments are planned to be built with the autocuber I made for Angeline Era (it's like a tilemap editor but for 3D).
You can run and jump, but I'd like to keep levels very small, and have a simple (but engaging, like Sephonie) platforming style that can make the most of tighter, denser spaces (imagine how Captain Toad contrasts with Mario 64). One of the easiest ways to embed meaning into 3D space is to add simple - but limited - platforming into the game.
The world of Sanpo exists in no fixed orientation. There is no 'world map'. You always set out from one of many Towns in Sanpo. This leads you to a random level, associated with the Door you chose (e.g. exiting via the Town's Forest Door takes you to a random Forest Level). Each level has multiple Doors/exits leading to other levels - but - the levels they lead to are randomly picked! (Although there are ways to influence which level you end up in.) As you go from level to level (the levels are very small), a grid-based minimap automatically fills out to denote your current journey - one grid cell corresponds to one level. If you decide to enter or return to Town, the world resets, although your inventory/general story progress remain.
While I'm drawing on plenty of games as influence, there's nothing really holistically like Sanpo out there! Here's what a level might look like…
In terms of smallness, the levels are like 20-60 seconds each, maybe less. You mainly are passing through, sometimes stopping to look in more detail. A dungeon room in Ocarina of Time is comparable in size, maybe a room in Maple Story. Instead of 'beating' a level, instead you are tasked with finding one of the multiple Doors leading out of the level - usually a simple task.
In the Bomberman Hero photo, we can see Doors denoted by the stars. There are two brown Doors, one blue, and one black. In Sanpo, the brown Door would lead to a random brown level, and so on. As simple examples, brown levels might be mountain-themed, the black, 'darkness'-themed, the blue, 'crystal cave'-themed, etc. Thus, although there is no 'canon' world map, we can still figure out over time that Mountain levels tend to be near Crystal Cave levels, etc.
Each Door has a cardinal direction associated with it. So if you leave a level through the northern Door, you'd move north in the minimap. Of course there are ways to shake this up I have planned, e.g., a level might have only one exit, but you get to choose the direction it leads. Or the Door might be 'colorless' and let you pick from a few choices.
In this above minimap's case, I started my exploration in Orange Town, but I started my “sanpo” by entering a Blue Door. I then went to a red level, and lastly to a blue level.
The goal of Sanpo is to reach certain destination Levels. How do you find these Levels if all the Doors lead to random places?
So, if you were to just choose Doors randomly you'd just end up with a long minimap and you'd never find a goal/destination - or, as I'm internally referring to it, a Meisho (lit. 'famous place', but note on it at the bottom of this post). What's a Meisho? It's a level that has higher narrative significance, either for the protagonists, or other characters in the game world. You could also think of it as a "treasure" if that helps - but in a way that a fond or strong memory of a place in one's hometown might be a 'treasure.'
But here's the catch! You can't simply choose a Meisho and warp there. To create a destination, you must use special items on Doors. These items are called "Kotodama" (literally "word spirits". Note on it at the bottom of the document.).
In the game they roughly represent people's thoughts, experiences, and personal sentiment tied to a particular Meisho. These are, functionally keys that allow you to guarantee that a Door will lead to a place associated with the Kotodama. They're like 'concepts', in that you can gain them from characters without literally taking them.
However, the Kotodama won't do anything unless their condition to use them has been fulfilled. The conditions are usually pretty simple:
You're X distance from your starting point
You've travelled through X levels of a certain color
You've already used X # ofKotodama on this current path
You’ve visited a particular Meisho already (e.g. you can’t access the Red Tower Meisho unless you’ve visited the Red Park Meisho on the same path)
You've used a specific Kotodama
You've fulfilled a more esoteric condition (perhaps you've chosen enough 'high' Doors on your journey so that you can enter a "Mountain Peak" level)
The idea here is that a person's Kotodama might be associated with a particular Meisho - but the process of visiting that Meisho also has a personal history associated with it, a particular way or route of travelling through the world before they reached the Meisho.
When playing Sanpo you will journey with other NPCs who let you use their Kotodama. If you fulfill the Kotodama's condition - the Door will then lead to the place associated with the Kotodama, rather than a random Level. For example, if a character used to live in a deep forest, then you might have a Kotodama associated with a deep forest cottage. To reach the cottage you'd have to travel through at least 5 forest levels, then use the Kotodama on a forest Door.
Often times, reaching a Meisho will net you a new Kotodama (or two) - usually found in the Meisho or permanently copied from the character you journeyed with.
There's a light, friction-y economy to exploring. Each Door you open costs one stamina. However, using stamina generates 1 MP. During exploration you also get to carry a spell deck, which you decide the loadout of (and are limited based on your max stamina). Spells let you do things like:
Switch the color of a Door
Increase the chance the next level will contain a particular color of Door
"Reroll" the current level you're in
"Jump" over one square in the minimap
Copy the current Level
Paste a copied Level
MP is also required to use a Kotodama. My plan is for the Kotodama conditions to get slightly weird. Never too esoteric, but designed to the extent where you have to think a little bit about which spells you're bringing with you. At the same time, there is the temptation to fill the game with optional, esoteric Kotodama - or other hidden conditions (more on that in the "Research" section.)
As you progress in the game you might level up to gain more stamina, which of course lets you explore longer. It also lets the conditions become more complicated - and thus, more narrative possibility.
To prototype these ideas I made a small physical board game with paper. It’s always amazing how much you figure out when trying to concretely create it! The idea is actually pretty fun and not too overly thinky. Having the design experience of Sephonie's ONYX puzzles was really helpful, too. The paper prototype has reached the point where paper is kind of hitting its limit and I have to go digital, though.
The challenge is not that the game requires you to perfectly execute on a particular deck. Rather, the spells can make it faster for you use a Kotodama. It's like 'fast-travel.' You can either walk through a bunch of Forest Levels hoping to see a Door to a Mountain Level - or you can cast a 'attract Mountain' spell to 'draw' a Forest Level that has a Mountain Level. You can be lazy and slightly leave it up to chance if you'll manage to fulfill the Kotodama condition… or plan ahead and do it more efficiently.
Design goals for exploration
My goal here is to repurpose the style of design used for Sephonie's ONYX Linking minigame. If you've played it, you'll know that it's not quite a puzzle game, not quite a strategy game… you're encouraged to play quickly and intuitively. It's sort of like a blend of the type of flow you get in action games, brought into new context, without the think-ahead-ness of Tetris or Puyo-Puyo. The point of ONYX Linking wasn't to create actual puzzles, but interesting types of mental-friction-landscapes that convey poetic ideas about the creatures you're linking with. In short, while it looked like a puzzle game, it in fact is a type of turn-based, lightly-tactical action-exploration-puzzle. Evidence to my point is that many players loved it while some would vocally complain it wasn’t a sokobon or Tetris-like.
Anyways, my goal with Sanpo's exploration is to further explore the level design philosophy of ONYX Linking. The 'vocabulary' of using spells, picking Doors, and planning your route around which Meisho you're aiming to reach - should feel ONYX-like in that it requires you to think a little, but the actual conditions to satisfy are not too tough. The real design focus here is that each route to a Meisho, which spells you use, what types of Levels you see, should feel just different enough to convey something about the character, the world, etc.
What do you do in the levels?
One of the things I value in games is ways in which it can express itself in poetic ways through the unique ways its world and mechanics are set up. For example, there's something really memorable about…
That first slope in Dark Souls' Firelink Shrine, leading to the sewer
The ways things in Paper Mario respond to hammer strikes
Finding a cow in a grotto in Ocarina of Time, or the pot room
Stumbling on a useless Hidden Street room in Maple Story
Some metacoin and item locations in Anodyne 2
The quietness and vastness of the empty spaces in Hydlide 2's final dungeon
These games all have text and dialogue, but it's these interesting, poetic gameplay nuggets that combine with the writing to create something more than the sum of its parts. Internally, with designing Angeline Era, Marina and I have been calling these ideas "setpoems" - mysterious, unique, narrative moments that aren't bombastic on the scale of fancy setpieces, but convey something memorable about a game's world in a way unique to it.
To that end, in Sanpo, I want the meaning to be created by combinations of these elements
The map-related, Spells/Kotodama/Meisho-discovery systems
The sanpo system (more on that in a bit)
The content of the levels, which include:
Movement and Looking
As a baseline I would probably be looking to implement some kind of simple but satisfying platforming. It would be a good fit for the Autocuber-based level shapes. I'm interested in a type of 3D platforming, maybe with the 'slowness' of Sephonie, that is more centered around horizontal/ground space economy, rather than how the design of Sephonie centers more around the wall/vertical. Further I'm interested in a kind of 'tactical' platforming that isn't as focused on flow - but reading the available ground.
One idea I'd like to prototype is the 'jump charge'. With this idea, your regular jump only goes 1 unit high. To charge up a higher jump, you have to pick a starting point in the level, then try to get as far away from that point as possible to charge energy. However, jumping while in 'charge mode' will decrease the charge energy. So it's like you're trying to 'combo' running on the ground. I think similar ideas are in SMB3's Tanuki hat, or flying in SM64's Wing Cap, SMW's cape - however, the focus with mine is that you can take it slow if you want rather than be forced into a fast-paced, acrobatic and dextrous mindset.
With this idea, you now have an interesting way to link platforms 3 units high to the ground. Things in platforming games that are usually insignificant - ground with height variations of 1-2 units - can now suddenly become a vehicle for interesting moods
Something I really like in older games (but also some modern ones) is the ways they just have a lot of weird one-offs. It might be a moment of unusually bizarre level design, or a strange configuration of enemies, a random item sitting around… to me these are the moments in which games transcend the basic pleasures of number-go-up, superhuman movement, roleplaying fantasy - and instead loop around into our own, real, kaleidoscopic world, full of random events and observations.
What "setpoems" mean is different for each game, and I'm hoping I can discover a way of communicating them for this game. Whether they exist more on the level of journeys to Meisho, or within the levels themselves is still up in the air.
I would really like if the levels in Sanpo feel confusing to some extent - with overlapping possibilities and arcs. E.g. a Forest Level might be relevant for different reasons depending on the Kotodama you're aiming to use. I like the idea that, rather than someone being forced to run to a Wiki to look something up - it's the characters you sanpo with and the information you get that lets you 'filter' the noise of a level into meaning that can be utilized to reach a Meisho.
Often for these kinds of ideas it's nice to have a simple type of interaction… like a gun, a sword, Angeline Era's Bump. Some immediate ideas are the the Metroid Prime's scanning ability feels like a dual information-gathering and button-poking ability
The Sanpo System
In real life, Sanpoing with someone - or walking around somewhere - is unique depending on the person and place. I'm assuming nearly everyone here has walked with people throughout their life: it's an interesting way of conversation as you can learn a lot about the person based on what they talk about or where they go. And it's (usually) free!
In Sanpo's story the protagonists have to walk around this "shuffled world" with other characters. Of course, the catch is that to progress the story you need to reach Meisho. While it's possible to somehow walk into a Meisho by accident, the conditions of 'naturally' discovering a Meisho are quite esoteric, and so it's probably impossible.
So it's important to sanpo with other characters, who will come with their own set of Kotodama and places they want to visit, or that you convince them to take you to. In the process of the players sanpoing with other characters, you gain both Kotodama as well as knowledge of Meisho. You start to build a strange mental map of what colors of Levels tend to be connected to others.
There are plenty of ways to change things up when sanpoing with a character. Certain NPCs or objects can appear. NPCs can arbitrarily open up new Doors (e.g. permanently turn a pine tree into a Door). Maybe someone is scared of the ocean and you can't open Ocean Doors!
For example, refer to this image below. Each circle represents a 'set' of levels. However, from a Desert Level, it would only connect to other Desert or Forest levels - and so on. If you were to play enough of Sanpo you could start to build an intuition (or even draw your own map) for what types of Levels connect to others. Perhaps you'd be surprised if you suddenly find a unexpected type of Door in one area type - is there a way to reach a special Island from Heaven? Maybe a surfer from Heaven knows about that…
Though it's still unknown what kind of ending(s) most makes sense, I like the idea of taking a page from the openness of CRPGs and keeping a 'run' through the game sort of short - a person might naturally stumble upon a particular Town earlier on, and be more into sanpoing with its residents.
Travel and Towns, Canonical Maps
Every Town in Sanpo, where you can reset your map and fill stamina - contains Doors to different Levels. For instance, there could be a town that's along a shoreline, and it contains three exits - leading to the Mountains, Forest and Shoreline. What does this do?
Well, if you gain a Kotodama associated with a particular Town - and you learn tricks or create a good Spell Deck that works well with the Kotodama - then it's possible to visit that Town very quickly. I think this is my solution for fast travel. Rather than compress the world's space through shortcuts or a menu option, instead you'll just be able to more quickly create a map to where you want to go. This is obviously a type of friction that someone would complain about in a negative Steam review or a 45/100 Switch review, but I think it will create a unique 'world sense.'
Further, now that Town feels like a place where you can quickly access the Mountains/Forest/Shoreline. There's also other options for narrative expression here. Perhaps at first you can only get a 'difficult' Kotodama that leads to a Town. The Kotodama requires you to have traveled through a bigger world, and spend more Mana to use. But if you explore enough around that Town, maybe there's a place you can find a Kotodama that also leads to that Town - but with a much simpler condition. Maybe it's the Kotodama of a long-term resident, who can always find their way back home.
The goal with the 'worldview' of Sanpo is for it to not be defined by a canonical world map, but instead exist as a network of knowledge and memory within a player's mind. I'm very inspired by the way that we form mental maps of our homes and neighborhoods and life rhythms - and the way that 'canonical' maps can't capture these experiences. However, because the game has these ‘safety rails’ in the form of Kotodama, the game shouldn’t become too esoteric as to require extensive note-taking.
The older I get, the less this type of mapping feels true to my life, whether the real world or the things I read and play. Although we all need 'canonical' maps, public transportation, etc, there's a certain aspect to life that feels a lot more fun when we aren't following celebrity recommendations, GOTY lists or heavily advertised media.
What I'd like to do is for the process of using these characters' Kotodama to feel subtly different like Sephonie's ONYX Links. For example, perhaps there are Forest Levels and Mountain Levels that tend to link to each other, but the majority of Forest Levels have ground-level exits to other Forest Levels. Every now and then, a Forest Level has an exit to a Mountain Level that's high up.
What if we give the player an altitude meter - that increases in value when you enter 'higher' Doors? Although this gimmick could likely only be used a few times before it feels flat, it still grants just enough texture to work well with a character's handful of Kotodama. Maybe there's a place they've agreed to take to you that's high up on a mountain, but without the altitude device in hand it's unlikely you'd stumble upon it by accident. Even if you don't remember the exact details of their story, after the game you might remember having to weirdly look around for the highest exit in rooms.
The same idea goes with 'following rivers', etc. What if a town has a particular type of cosmology where they feel they can sense certain kinds of 'density' of some spiritual energy? Perhaps it turns out the energy is linked to the heterogeneity of the "types" of Levels you've incorporated into your map.
The point is not to create difficult puzzles or challenges. But rather, on top of this simple mapping system and light platforming, there's just enough narrative and surprising ideas added into the mix that the game's 6-8 hour runtime feels engaging, enriching.
This is a bit more indulgent, but I'd love to somehow make this game's world full of small collections of written material, research archives and libraries. (For story reasons it's relevant… more on that soon). That is, I don't see walking with other NPCs as the only way to visit more Meisho and gather Kotodama, rather, I'd like it if there were some kind of puzzle-language to some of the books/articles in the Towns' libraries that could give you suggestions as to things to try in 'Free Mode', to discover places.
Free mode is sanpoing by yourself. Walking by myself is always a little weird… I feel like I need to have a 'goal' a lot more, whereas with someone else I'm happier to do whatever.
I don't know the ramifications here for Sanpo but I think the focus with this would be to discover Meisho in the 'natural' method, without needing Kotodama to spawn a goal Meisho. However, I want the conditions for this to happen to be slightly esoteric. Maybe you need to walk through 2 Forests, 2 Mountains, 2 Forests, and 2 Mountains in order to guarantee the next Level is the "Mountain Stream" Meisho. These should be things that are very unlikely to happen when just walking randomly, but I'd like them to be hidden according to a sort of logic that's not impossible to remember if you've read about it in a book somewhere. This is the kind of thing, that, again, if used too often can feel flat. But in the context of a single occurrence in a playthrough it could feel surprising, wild…
It's like how a local library probably has books about local history. If you spend time reading at that library, you might learn some really obscure nugget of information, something that lets you view part of that Town in a new light. That's what I'd like to go for with incorporating "Research" into "Free Mode".
The narrative setting is a bit of 'magical, near-future realism'. In the game's world, the 'central', megapolis-focused lifestyle of the past has given way to a more kaleidoscopic collection of relatively distant Towns, each filled with a peoples with some sort of common interest, calling, or worldview.
The strange thing of this world's fabric is that when the centralization of the past world gave away, so did the entire concept of 'canonical navigation'… stuff like taking trains or planes or cars along roads using Google Maps no longer works. Instead, people have to rely on their mental maps and personal knowledge and histories of places - and their friends' and community members' - to navigate the world. It's a funny thought experiment that would feel goofy to express in any medium other than a game.
Thus, it's not so much that these communities are all 'insular' - rather - people only know of as much of the world as is relevant. Some people can of course travel farther than others, if they have friends in other Towns, or if they prefer to spend more time learning about other places. The tradeoff, of course, is that there may be an aspect or layer to their hometown's culture that they are missing out on.
Due to the strange metaphysics of navigation and Kotodama, you can't just 'use a database' to find a path from one Town to the next - you have to carry lived experience or knowledge with you that can actually let you reach other places. Thus there's no real cheat code to seeing everything beyond just interacting with people and history and places.
Sanpo's world is one in which people can't navigate by traditional means. However, people are able to live in relative peace. With no ability to gain fame, no real incentive for power, how do people choose to live? What makes people want to explore vs. stay in one place? What kind of culture develops in these circumstances? If safety is more or less guaranteed, what kind of cosmologies form? What kind of regrets do people form? How do people view the ruins of a once-centralized, city-focused world? Our world is run by idiots who are scared of this kind of future and want to go to space, but the invention of self-meaning for a pleasant life is as old as humanity.
We're living in a time where we have all sorts of knowledge, resources at our fingertips, and joining almost any culture is just a small hop away. Layers of history and writing that would take lifetimes to consume are easy to access, however, in our world we still have the choice to never engage with any of that. I want Sanpo's world to speculate on if the 'centralized' way of living has been deleted.
To that end I'm imagining the protagonists might occupy some sort of in-between worldview - maybe they're from the past 'Central' culture of the world. Put another way, if the population of Tokyo were to go experience an exodus and move towards the periphery of Japan, what would that be like? I've often wondered what Japan (or any country) would be like if popular culture didn't have such a stranglehold on even the most remote towns. It's a common experience to be in a quiet grocery store in the middle of some mountains in Japan, a tiny TV blaring images of Tokyoite celebrities talking about how delicious a piece of salmon is… what if popular culture could just leave everyone else alone?
A lot of ideas about cultures and the pre-Sanpo 'shuffled world' mechanics had been floating around for years for me, but a recent period of reading, and the paper prototyping helped solidify a lot more.
For a few weeks this summer, with my partner, I was brainstorming a top-down 2D adventure game about Japanese Danchi (Mass Housing), inspired by Uki-Uki Carnival, you would be tasked with performing simple tasks for Danchi residents while inviting them to a summer matsuri. There would also be some sort of explorable internet with Yokai-esque characters, tied to Danchi history and culture, thoughts about social life in the once-rich-but-flawed history of Danchi, and speculation of their place in the future. Along the way there was an idea for a 'sanpo' mechanic where you could walk around with a character to get certain info out of mundane things like Trash Cans or Swings. This was simplified out of the Danchi game idea, but the topic of sanpo still stuck with me.
It made me interested to read more about Danchi and Yokai, which, as it turns out, have a lot of interesting anthropological meaning! This led to reading about Shinto and Buddhism, which, combined with a trip to Karuizawa, led me to a book about the Tokaido (Jilly Traganou's The Tokaido Road), a historical route in Japan that was used for various purposes over time, from pilgrimages to governmental-related tasks.
Karuizawa, an area in Japan, was at one point a stop of another historical route called the Nakasendo, which was interesting because nowadays it's a relaxing (and cool) resort town in the middle of dense mountains. I was curious about these routes and why so many artists depicted them, and who travelled them.
The book is full of all sorts of info, but my favorite takeaway was the way that travelling was reconceptualized by the general population over time. In old Japan, not just anyone could travel without permission. Elites, through their own pilgrimages and writing about Meisho (famous places - politically used in a way that created a sense of 'national consciousness' amongst ordinary people). Early on these descriptions of Meisho held a level of spiritual power, which makes sense if government regulations made it very hard to travel!
It's interesting to imagine what that might feel like - places that you can't ever visit, not due to a potential lack of motivation, but that are just socially barred off, forever. Eventually people were allowed to for 'religious pilgrimage' (although often this was just an excuse to travel), and the world of the Tokaido route became this kind of 'parallel world' that existed partially outside the rigid social constraints of everyday life, while simultaneously being commercialized through all sorts of travel guides, groups, the railroads, and eventually roads and the tourist-spot travel culture we know today. What were once the dangerous outskirts and crossroads of farming towns, eventually came to become government-owned public roads and trains. Depictions of the countryside shifted from a more spiritual tone to a more 'isn't-this-level-of-material/farm-production-so-great' tone.
The way that the Tokaido was represented in drawings could take on different priorities. A less 'accurate' print of the Tokaido might be to get a person excited to travel, or represent what it more mentally 'felt' like to walk along it (e.g. if Mt. Fuji were to appear multiple times on a single print of the route). An 'accurate' governmental map might be prioritizing the importance of certain trade hubs or railroad lines meant to move people with efficiency. While photography of these spots might create 'accuracy,' at the same time it might lose the way it actually feels to be in a space.
It's interesting how "Meisho" so strongly defined people's view of the world and spiritual goals. People would travel along the roads for fun or to find themselves, maybe like how people travel around nowadays. At the same time, that 'travel' was constrained by where the government chose to build rest stations, stable roads, and it was colored by people's preconceptions of what they would see. Even if Meisho today might feel overcommercialized, the imagery behind landmarks and tourism still create semi-illusory perceptions of other countries.
One of the book's arguments is that 'travel' has never been an 'individual affair', but:
Rather it operates as a manifold project negotiated by a complex set of conflicted or synergetic agents - nations, governments, commercial enterprises, artists and ideologues, popular and mass cultures - each of which associates space with selected meanings, anticipating specific practices. (Chapter 5)
This makes me think about how spaces in games don't really grant us freedom in a general sense. Instead, what the spaces are, what we do, our desires to be in them, are deeply linked to the economic and social circumstances we live in, the kind of values we hold.
Travel is inherent to games: you move around a space. I'd like to think about that idea - 'travel' - in all sorts of ways. In the most base mechanical way, with platforming and distinct levels. In a meta-mechanical way through how mapping works with Kotodama, Spells and Meisho. In a narrative way through how NPCs create new lens for viewing and exploring levels, how Towns' Libraries contain more information to utilize.
And since it's game, we don't have to stick to physical reality. Maybe some of the level sets cause you to step back in time? Forward in time? Into a more metaphysical realm defined by what character brought you there?
As this game is mostly plans, ideas, and some barebones physical and digital prototypes, it's very likely to change… but I think it's actually at a place where it's possible to execute on in a meaningful way! (Or at least I tell myself this.)
Well, until next time…!
(Notes On "Kotodama" and "Meisho")
As a refresher, Kotodama (lit. word spirit) are an item in Sanpo strongly associated with characters. If your map on a particular journey satisfies conditions (like being 5 Levels away from home,) you can use a Kotodama on a Door to lead you to the Meisho (lit. famous place) associated with the Kotodama.
In real life, Kotodama has a variety of meanings and even colloquial uses, even some that might be politically loaded, but I'm basing my usage on this excerpt from The Tokaido Road.
Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801) one of the major intellectuals of this movement attributed special significance to ancient words known as kotodama (‘word spirits’), which were believed to reside in people, things, or even words. Kotodama were viewed as ‘bridges between the ordinary world of human affairs and the supernatural realm of numinous phenomena’
I like the word 'kotodama' because it feels like it encapsulates the mysterious way in which someone's anecdote a place can completely change the kind of space it is. A mall is an ordinary mall, until a friend recounts a wild story there, or you experience something strange. Then, like a magic spell, the space is forever changed in your mind, even in a small way. A certain segment of the population sees no magic in the everyday, and decides that digging for valuable minerals and shilling MLMs is the only way to create it. But they don't realize that everyone already contains a type of magic in them.
'Kotodama' feels like it captures the sort of 'transaction' that happens with this: words from a friend can transform our worldview.
"Meisho," too, means a lot, and fell out of favor over time with various artist groups (in a way I sympathize with,) but my usage of it is inspired by the way it had (or has) this propagandistic-power. Any spot in the world can be beautiful to anyone, but it was only through repeated writing about places that these 'meisho' around Japan took on a higher power and started to concretely shape how people viewed their relation to Japan and the world. It was also through this that they tended to become nationalistic/commercially exploited, and maybe even Tacky, by the 19th/20th century. In that sense, for Sanpo, Meisho feels like a more fitting term than "Landmark" or "Destination" - I think it helps capture a sense of the nonphysical way in which certain spaces can take on significance for us, and the level of arbitrariness inherent in what is considered a Meisho.
There's also a bit of pushback against Google-Maps-led-tourism here, too… I like the idea of something that literally means "famous place" to mostly be "famous" to a few people in a more local sense.
There's all sorts of influences I'm referencing for this game. Here's a few:
The Site of Reversible Destiny (see my essay)
Non-games Media: Coji-coji, Aberration in the Heartland of the Real, Frieren, The Tokaido Road, Defining Shinto, Divination/Religious studies, Japanese Mythology/Yokai/Onmyoji, Boundary Theory in Yokai Studies, Discord Servers and the internet, my past short stories esp. Aloesian Mode
Games: Elephantasy Flipside, Glum Buster, Mu Cartographer, Quest 64, Sephonie's ONYX Linking, Angeline Era, Legend of Mana, Yume Nikki, Bomberman Hero, KH Chain of Memories
…And a lot more!