Martin Buber and Existence as an Encounter

Martin Buber is the non-Rabbi on the right.

Slightly ill and hunting for game names I was for no good reason reminded of an essay I wrote in high school about the German philosopher Martin Buber. I remembered absolutely nothing about this save that there was some business about one’s existence being validated by the experience of one other involved in it. Or something like that.

Having had trawled enough Latin proverbs and Shakespearean waffle for pretentious titles, I decided to go on an extremely brief refresher course about this person with a slightly hilarious surname. Martin Buber primarily concerned himself with the Philosophy of Dialogue, when he was attempting to perpetuate adult Jewish education in Nazi-incumbent Germany. He wrote a thesis he called Ich und Du, which posited encounter as the basis for existence. You may already see where I’m going with this.

Looking at a thing and existing.
Looking at a thing and existing.

The Ich-Du relationship is a concept predicated on the mutual and holistic existence of two beings. Ich-Du is slightly difficult to convey in a language that isn’t German – Du implying a closeness or intimacy that most other languages don’t have a proper pronoun for. English translations waver between I-You and I-Thou, both not really making the cut as far as approximation is concerned. Regardless. When two entities encounter one another, the very act of the encounter functions as a validation of existence, or better still, is the actual gist of existence. We exist because we encounter. In relating to the other, we are made real, perceivable, actual.

Buber mentions some examples. Two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, and two strangers on a train. Each of these might make interesting games in and of themselves. The parallels between this thought of Ich-Du and the content I’ve been fumbling with in this project is distinct. Somehow this must form the core of the game – not the external stimuli, which are there primarily to give the gamer of the self a mechanical drive for acting. The person he or she is inadvertently (or advertently) portraying is to be validated by the one playing the other, and together, they are then existent.

Other words given for this relationship, more commonly, include encounter, meeting, dialogue, mutuality, and exchange. These are all easily justified and lazily thrown into the design, but I’d like to avoid that. As an artist you are rarely very accountable for the shit you pull, and haphazardly throwing in some idly-researched philosopher is not something I want to do – or at least be ostentatiously seen doing. So I’ll be throwing some more research in this direction, and se if more mechanical elements can be extrapolated from its hide. If not, I’ll go with the lazy implementation and by slightly ashamed of myself.

Art Pass 4

Second thoughts about the third.
Second thoughts about the third.

Here is a fourth pass. The leftmost you may recognize, it was an earlier design that I quite liked and am of a mind to keep. Cliche or norm dictates that he needs a smaller friend, of which the centre character is a decent approximation, I guess. The big one I like but is probably not suitable for the build I’m intending for the graduation, as this one simply begs to be third player capable of destroying everything.

They all have dirty fingers, I’m unsure whether that’s dirt or blood. Perhaps I’ll make it a thing. Maybe they should grow progressively dirtier. Unsure.

Prototype III: The Stage

Plaudite amici
Plaudite amici

The Stage is the newest prototype, a stage level largely dedicated to testing a four-camera setup, recycling the switch script from The Lights but committing the Waiting bool to a universal static script so the cameras can communicate with one another. It works.

A Stab at Concept Art

This is actually the second stab.
And this the first.

As some of the mechanics begin plummeting into place, I thought I might as well attempt some concept art to get some idea of where this game is going visually. It’s not that I don’t enjoy two phallic creatures dicking about in a void, but I would like to have some vapid visual oomph accompanying these base instincts in the final product. At first I started messing about with a few archetypes I wrote up as possible characters back in January – The Falstaff, the Monster, the Galatea, the Child, and the Drifter – and while I enjoyed the variety of them all, I was looking for something slightly more cohesive.

The second pass was loosely based on crash test dummies, ceremonial dress from ancient Oceania and latex fethisists. I like this pass. I will elaborate on this one during the third pass/stab. I am also slowly adjusting my sight to two playable characters, seeing as how the range of motion and expression necessary coupled with the ever-shrinking amount of time available, simply seems more prudent. The rest will be released as paid DLC.

Here are some more images, which served as inspiration:

Tomcat by Piotr Jablonsky.
Escape Plan concept art.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles concept art.
Woman wearing a fringed Chilkat blanket and a mask representing a deceased shaman relative.
Attack from Space, 1964.
The Man from Planet X, 1951.
Escape Plan concept art.
Escape Plan concept art.

Prototype II: The Lights

The final curtain.

New prototype is more or less up and running. This new iteration, called “The Lights”, is not especially useful as a playtesting tool, but functions more like a testbed for a few elements of functionality I anticipate will become relevant in newer prototypes quite soon.

Summarily, “The Lights” features our characters in a completely dark space, illuminated by a single spotlight. Moving out of the spotlight activates a new spotlight, and so forth. Moving a sufficient amount to the left activates a new camera perspective. The light bit is both meant to invoke some exploratory curiosity, but also serves to test the waters on Unity 5’s new Global Illumination technology. Which works well. The camera bit is an excuse to develop a secure strand of code that can easily accommodate more complex camera/editing setups. Rather than an if/then statement, the script functions as a list of states, checking which eventuality applies with a slight delay so as to avoid camera flicker.

First actual presentation, first functional Prototype

nlov_proto_1 2015-03-03 01-57-16-20
“No Lack Of Void”, Prototype I

After an intermission an update. Yesterday was the first official review by all dedicated teachers of the progress made thus far. Although the recent impassivity of this blog does not reflect it, I have made some considerable headway as far as the feasibility of Exit Pursued By A Bear. The first prototype is complete, and based on findings yielded by it I found myself able to draw up a more detailed production plan for the coming months. Lastly, the feedback received has been both encouraging and useful.

Firstly, the prototype. No Lack Of Void (Prototype I) features two playable blobs in a featureless void, save for one deceptively real tree. The blobs can move about with the left stick of a controller, while the right stick is mapped to the neck bone  of the character model, enabling the player to precisely control the head movements of his or her blob, effectively being able to puppeteer a performance. Other features of the prototype are teleporting zones just outside the camera’s bounds, resulting in any object leaving the stage left entering the stage right, and vice versa.

Surprisingly, the simple empowerment of having your character look up, down or to the sides was quickly picked up on by most test players and used to its full expressive advantage. Players emoted sadness, confusion, derision and many other expressions through the simple act of moving their necks. It was generally thought of as a fun feature, which allowed them to play in ways games generally don’t allow for, which, considering that is more or less this game’s mission statement, is quite encouraging. Therefore, this feature can be considered somewhat proven and worthy of further research.

The presentation itself was largely a fermentation of things already mentioned on this blog. The main question still stands and the sub-questions have not meaningfully changed or progressed. There has been a considerable précis as far as the actual research path is concerned, which I’ll outline below.

Research Trajectories.

Basically, considering the large amount of unknowns in this project, I thought it prudent to split up the bulk of the research into four separate but intertwined Research Trajectories.

  1. The MacGuffin Trajectory. This one deals primarily with the formulation and execution of gameplay scenarios that aid but do not directly mandate self- and inter-expression.
  2. The Expression Trajectory. This one researches what manner or range of expression can or should be used, the minimum amounts
  3. The Visual Trajectory. This one deals primarily with visual design of the characters, the world and the governing aesthetic.
  4. The Player/User Trajectory. This one deals with player experience, installation designs and further study of extraludic intraplayer relationship.

These trajectories are easy to spread over a working week and can accommodate each other. This and next week are proving grounds for this – evaluation to follow.

WIP: No Lack of Void.


Steady progress is being made on the first prototype. Owing to some consulted brains, two rudimentary blobs can now be controlled by two players, their heads can be manipulated using the right stick of a game pad, rendering some very actual puppetry inside the unity scene.

No Lack Of Void unity scene.

The scene furthermore features invisible barriers just outside camera view that teleport the players from one side to the other, resulting into them exiting left and reappearing right.


This is just some code to give some technological credibility to this thing.

Analysis: Gang Beasts

Blue person emoting victoriously, without reason.

In the course of testing games that might some relevance pertaining to my research, Gang Beasts came along. I suppose it could be classified as a brawler, a beat-’em-up or even a fighting game, but I believe that would be selling this odd little game short.

In Gang Beasts, you and up to seven or so other players play grumpy jelly people. The object is to beat each other up across various large, interactive spaces. You have controls for hitting, grabbing hold of things, lifting things up, and, here we go – emoting victoriously. This animation does nothing – but in various playthrough with various people, it is by far the most often-used function, whether used for humiliating grandstanding or limp irony.


Gang Beasts is ostensibly about beating each other up, but the playground-like design of the levels and the severe clumsiness of the character controllers make for a very playground-style of play, one where people spend as much as time fooling about on the swings as they do actually performing the prime directive of the game. This is abetted by the strange, physics-driven nature of the controllers: The characters often topple over, and their crouch animation makes their arms flap about in suggestive manners, which a lot of players I played with interpreted as either dancing or intimidating gestures. Couple this with the way each character can grab the other and pretty soon various quasi-romantic scenarios emerged. Not because this is a romantic game, but because the players made it romantic.

WIP: There’s No Lack Of Void.

I’ve been prodding at a crude prototype meant to encapsulate a few of my first ‘conclusions’ into testable form. It’s tentatively titled There’s no Lack of Void, after Estragon’s comment in Waiting for Godot. It’s an elementary Godotian setup: There’s a void, with a fake tree and rock in the middle, and two playable characters. Exiting the stage right means entering the stage left. They are essentially trapped in this void, and they can only react to their lot. This will probably be achieved by mapping the head bone rotation to the right analog stick, but I’m still figuring out that one. Also, I’d like there to be a way to actually escape the Void, but I haven’t found one yet.

Unity ‘infinite’ canvas setup.
Crude sketch of simple characters.
Slightly less crude sketch of environment, characters and manner in which they might express themselves.