My very first stop at Play NYC 2017 was Reflections at Sunset by Charles Hans Huang. The booth Mr. Huang was standing at had a bit of a meditative theme to it, something entirely appropriate for a game that's all about relaxing and meditation.
Reflections at Sunset is, essentially, an interactive Twine game that leads you down a path of thought and introspection by asking you questions and guiding you along through its writing. I am perhaps the worst person to attempt to play such a game—my mind is either running at full throttle, somewhere in the middle, or I'm unconscious. I have three gears 99% of the time, so trying out something like this was a challenge. I read relatively quickly as well, and that's a potentially lethal blow for a game that intends to make you slow down a bit and think. A trailer was playing on a screen above the game's demo machine to help add to the atmosphere.
I was, as always, pressed for time on the show floor at Play NYC 2017, and I wanted to give the game a fair shake, but I couldn't help but read as fast as I usually do. It's just automatic for me, and I'd get annoyed deliberately trying to slow down. Read, comprehend, move on. The beginning of the game went like this until I came to a question with an image asking what I saw; my initial thought ("the sun") was not an available option, and I had to think about which one was the closest before moving on. This was one of only two flaws with the game in my eyes (the other of which I'll touch on shortly).
I moved at a pace that was probably counter-intuitive to the game's design, right up until I encountered a question that I had to actually think about. Reflections at Sunset asks you questions about, well, you. I was stopped dead in my tracks a couple of times as I had to genuinely figure out which of the presented options best fit my thoughts & feelings.
As the game progressed, it asked me to fill in text prompts to write a virtual letter. At the conclusion of the game (which, again, I blazed through probably two or three times faster than intended), it suggested that I use it to write a letter to someone. I'm fortunate that no one I felt like reconnecting with came to mind; I have the people in my life who I want to be in my life. For me, Reflections at Sunset was more of a journey about myself, but I can easily see how it might inspire someone to reconnect with someone they've fallen out with.
The core strength of the game is its writing. It did a good job of making me stop and think a few times. I can't say it would be the same for everyone, but for me it surprised me just a bit.
In terms of its design, it is simply a dialogue tree with some prompts to fill in your own words occasionally. I've only gone through it once, and I imagine that different answers would give different results. It's made in Twine, too, and the game certainly shows it. There are plenty of games at Play NYC that weren't visually amazing but nonetheless compelling, and this was one of them.
The rough visuals is where my second complaint comes in. Twine is a simple engine to use, but for an experience like this, it feels like a waste. Part of the experience is responding to images, and I feel like the presentation could be made stronger either with some smoother coding or a different (but nonetheless easy-to-use) engine like GameMaker Studio. I am far from a graphics snob—it's the least important thing to me—but some part of me felt like the experience was lesser for looking like an Angelfire website. I think if this particular area of the game was fleshed out a bit, it would be all for the better.
Before parting with Mr. Huang and moving on to other games at Play NYC 2017, a question popped into my head that I just had to ask: did he consider the possibility of someone misappropriating the very personal answers the game might generate for nefarious ends? Indeed he had, and a good portion of his time was spent on securing the privacy of expo attendees playing his game as best as he could with the resources at hand. I think something like this game in the wrong hands could be used to do some harm, and thankfully Mr. Huang is only out to get people to slow down a bit and think about themselves.
Regardless of where the development may go, I'll be keeping an eye on this one, if only to try it at home one more time in an environment a little less hectic than a gaming convention filled with thousands of people. Reflections at Sunset is scheduled for a Fall 2017 release. You can learn more about the game at Mr. Huang's website and at Mudita Heart's Itch.io page.
What do you think of Reflections at Sunset? Do you think a game that provides a meditative experience can be interesting or do you demand a more active & engaging experience from your entertainment? How do you use video games to relax? Let us know in the comments below!