I’m at my parents’ place for a few weeks over the summer. One of my little brothers is here as well, at least for a while, and he’s addicted to Stardew Valley. He should be finishing up coursework for university, but instead he’s in the corner of the room hitting pumpkins with his axe (Not that way. In the game. You know what I mean.).
I understand. Slicing and shaping the raw materials of a game world, whether it’s into a sexy new farm, a mine, a civilization or just a min-maxed meathead with a sword, gives my brain the sort of chemical satisfaction that the rest of my body only gets from dunking caramel digestives into tea and then into my mouth. Part of that satisfaction comes from knowing in advance the results I can attain if I lock together the right pieces. Plant the right crop in the right season in Stardew Valley, throw around enough fertilizer and water, and some pixelated green leaves should soon be pushing out of the ground.
I suppose those are the basics of any game really. Player inputs an instruction. Game processes the instruction. Game outputs a result. Most games add some level of complexity and randomness, making the output unpredictable to varying degrees. Others just have the randomness. Not many, though, hide the processes going on between input and output as much as Eat Create Sleep’s god-game Crest does.
Still in early access – and bearing some of the hallmarks you might expect of a game that’s in active development – Crest is unusual in two ways. The first is that players only communicate with their worshipers by issuing commandments. These are limited by the selection of words that can be used to make them (apparently being a god doesn’t make me any more articulate than, say, the GOP’s current chief source of embarrassment). The second is how your congregation reacts to those decrees.
I produce my commandments and then… I hope. I hope that my people understand that I wanted them to eat the grain and kill the lions. I hope they realize that I only told my happy disciples to kill my unhappy ones because I want everyone in my society to be happy. I hope they see how clever that was. I love my children. I want them to understand that. All too often, though, they don’t. They misinterpret my commandments or they ignore them. Sometimes they even lose faith in me – in ME.
That’s not how this is supposed to work. I’m the meaning to their existence, the rum in their punch, the presents beneath their Christmas tree. I’m their frigging daddy. I’m the one who should be losing faith in them, when they stumble home from the island disco at 3am, can’t find their door-key and fall asleep in their own vomit on our doorstep.
Medammit! Why the hell won’t my little ingrates listen to me? I don’t know. Being a god involves less omniscience than most holy handbooks would have you believe, and Crest never fully explains the thinking behind any of my follower’s action. Partly, if I’m honest, I think that’s because its developers haven’t fully worked out how to convey that yet. But an even bigger chunk of it must be intentional.
Crest is all about communication and miscommunication, interpretation and misinterpretation, right from its restricted divine vocabulary to the mechanic that allows followers to just alter commandments. It’s a game that’s trying to use its mechanics to discuss how religion works and about the human role in interpreting religious texts. It’s one of those rare games that fits its themes to its mechanics, rather than letting one wallop alarmingly against the other like a drunken rhino trying to mate with a table.
The output-input dynamic doesn’t scratch the same itch as in Stardew Valley. Not yet at least. The world itself still feels literally underdeveloped too. Both those issues could be addressed by the time the game is fully released (December 2016 at their current projections). Right now, Crest is a very original mechanic and theme searching for a game. It feels like they’re getting close to one though. If that’s enough for you, you can find Crest on Steam.
Declan Taggart is actually a god, but he hides it well. If you’d like to ask him how he manages to find time to write while organizing the chaos of existence, you should remember that it’s wrong to question your god. He welcomes flattery, however, on Twitter @NonsenseThunder.