Some people express themselves through writing, some through art or photography, and some through music. Consider a game about music where you play as a character who is deaf. In this game you would play a character who has taken a higher course in music, and has been asked along with two of her friends to put together a concert set for the school. The game takes place solely in a music room with a bunch of instruments from guitars and pianos to fiddles and cornets. The characters are yourself, Alicia and Euan. The game play would focus around each day Alicia would write some pieces of music, and it is your job to figure out which one to use as well as which instruments would fit the best, as well as who is the best person to play each instrument. To do this you can suggest a person to try an instrument for each of the three parts of a piece of music, and then you can look at the person playing to see how much they are enjoying the piece or instrument. To hear the part of the piece of music yourself you have your character ether put their head on the instrument or speaker or a solid object on the instrument to feel its vibrations (This would translate to sound through the speakers). So the challenge lies in not only your ability to form music in your head but to also read body language. Finally once you have chosen your music pieces a concert would be held and you can hear the full pieces all together so you can judge how you did yourself, It will give you a vague score and give you some hints how to improve for the next time. Lastly this game would mostly be based around the characterization of Alicia and Euan and how you and your friends interact while events are happening. For example Euan might start playing a random piece of music on the viola while he is waiting for you to choose what to do next, or Alicia might screw up her face after she plays a piece on guitar to explain she doesn't approve. A game without words or speech, a game where everything is explained to you through actions.
So this game idea was a game I came up with for a brief during a university module. The brief itself had nothing to do with music or deafness, but was instead to do with language barriers. The brief was about making a game with no speech or text at all.
I hear you saying that I have had a long time to think about this and i would never come up with this idea in a game jam in time. Actually this was the first thing that came to mind when I read the brief and I constructed the idea in less than an hour. So now I have blown my horn I'll explain how this idea formed so naturally.
First of all the "theme" for me was "no text or speech" so lets start from there.
So thinking about text and speech, how would one go about doing characterization and storytelling without using these elements. Well there is actually several mediums where this already happens, but i picked two which I thought would make an interesting pair, Music and Body Language. Music has been doing this for a very long time with my favorite example being Danse Macabre or Dance of Death from Camille Saint-Saëns, made from original poetry by Henri Cazalis (aka Jean Lahor). Danse Macabre is a story about how death (represented in the music by a fiddle) comes out to a graveyard every Halloween at midnight and plays a tune for the skeletons and ghosts to come dance. Its an interesting piece with a bunch of interpretations out there about what is actually happening in each "scene" of the music. Music like this great for getting the listener involved in making the story in there own way, but more on that later. Body language is not always thought of as a story telling medium but can be a great tool in giving emotion when there is no speech to give tone of voice. Its usually used mostly as a supplement to other mediums, but sometimes its used all on its own to explain a situation better than words ever could. My favorite example of this can be seen in UP. During the beginning of the movie there is a section with only music and video. This section is already very famous for being able to tell a heart wrenching life story in only a few minuets but for now lets just look at two specific parts of it. The second time we see Ellie and Carl cloud gazing, Carl points out a cloud that looks like a baby, then a rather exited Ellie nods and with frantic arm gestures suggests all the clouds look like babies. A few scenes later we see a upset Ellie sitting in the sun head back, eyes closed and shoulders slouched. Body language can be used to powerful effect and animation studios have been showing us this for years. So we have our story telling mediums, but how do we explain the absence of text and speech? Well a deaf protagonist would not be able to hear speech so it removes it from any world we put them in, and text is also fairly easy if we use a environment based mainly around another medium. From that point you just choose a situation where these elements are present, in my case a music classroom, and voila you have a story and some basic elements to base your game around. This reasoning could just as easily be put into a game about ballroom dancing and trying to impress ladies by offering to dance with them during certain kinds of dance (Tango, Waltz, Jig, etc.), but for me, I know more about instruments than dances.
Do i expect this to ever get made? No, but i do keep the idea handy in case parts of it can be used somewhere else.
So what about you guys, what train of thought brought you to your idea? I would love to see them.