Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Vague and Confusing Process

I'm not really sure what to make of Process, a free indie game by TrainYard in which you're given 20 minutes to stop a train from an accident that will send it flying off the rails at high speed. It's basically a point and click adventure game rendered in a fully 3D, first-person perspective; you explore a few train cars solving puzzles and trying to find a way to escape from the train's inevitable fate. Process boasts some good atmosphere and an interesting premise, but the execution of its gameplay made it difficult for me to appreciate the game as a whole.

The thing that bothered me most is that everything is so intentionally vague. There's something to be said for games that leave themselves open to interpretation, but you really need to have some kind of concrete foundation upon which to base your conclusions, which Process makes no effort to establish. There are some really bizarre "cutscenes" that remain completely unexplained, and the ending offers no hints as to where you are or what's really going on. The ultimate effect was for me to sit back with no idea what I'd just played and no idea what to make of it.

The game's vague intentions even permeate the gameplay, with many of your actions not producing a clear effect on the environment, and with some of the puzzles not following a clear logical direction. There's one control panel, in particular, that's meant to fix an "unknown error" message that pops up when you try to engage the emergency brakes, but there's no indication anywhere that it has any connection to the brakes, it's not readily apparent how you're even supposed to interact with it, and it's not even clear what you ultimately have to do with it. You just kind of bumble around doing random things, not really understanding what it is you're actually doing.

I don't understand what Process was really all about. The game's development blog claims that "it's a game about predetermination of events and the subjectiveness of perception of the surrounding world," which sounds like kind of a pretentious way of saying they wanted to have weird, vague, unexplained things happen in order for different players to experience and interpret them differently. That's an interesting idea, but I'm willing to bet most people had very similar, confused reactions to the game as I did. If you're interested in trying it out, you can download it here