I decided Neuro shouldn’t get all the fun in serious deep examinations of topics.
So let’s talk about Yume Nikki!
Yume Nikki is a famous indie game with completely original graphics that invented a style of gaming. There is no name for it as far as anyone knows, so any game based on this style is just called a “Yume Nikki Fangame”. The basic formula is this;
- there is an area linked to multiple maps
- the point of the game is to explore these maps
- the objective of the game is to collect “effects” on these maps
The maps regularly link to other maps, and there is varying ways to approach this Exploration RPG setting. That’s what I’ll call it, an exploration RPG. Because “Yume Nikki Fangame” implies there must be related themes to Yume Nikki, and most people just copy Yume Nikki from wholesale. Most people are dead wrong.
The reason fangames fail so brilliantly at this is because not a lot of them really…get Yume Nikki. That sounds pretentious, but honestly it’s really simple.
Yume Nikki is a sort of art form. When one says “Videogames are an Art”, they aren’t kidding. It’s art in a different way, like music is a different kind of art than drawing or animation. Gaming as an art is about level design, the model art, and the fun one gets playing it.
In Yume Nikki, there is no clear plot. Most fangame makers take this to mean you have to subtly note a plot in between expressions of imagination.
You see, if you really pay close attention to the game, the main theme is isolation. The maps are all lonely and disorienting. The mall. The sky garden. The Snow World. In between oddball maps like Graffiti world and Neon World there is a sense of being alone; even in those maps, you can lose your place very easily and get hopelessly lost. What’s more isolated than losing your place and wandering about with no idea how to explore and measure where you’re going?
This hits a climax with hell, which is not only a looping map but also a looping map where you’re hunted down and can’t properly navigate. It’s like a big fat pit of hate and frustration sticking to the game like a tumor. That’s what makes it so good. You just feel so fucking angry at that stupid map and I swear to god, that’s what it’s there for. There is no way something this goddamn sadistic isn’t intentional.
You are lonely because you can’t contact anyone, you don’t know where you are, everything seems grim and a bit menacing, you have no idea what direction you are headed in. There’s a overall impression of something dismal. You are lonely. You are alone. In every distorted world in this game, you are alone.
It’s not that the game is completely plotless and full of cool shit. It’s just giving you a theme (you are an isolated person) and leaving it up to you to figure out why. There isn’t anything particularly deep about it. It’s just a game with one question: “Why are you alone?”
So why the fuck are you copying it with your fangames?
No! Really! Stop! Why are you doing that? Why are you copying wrap-around maps with nary a landmark in sight? Why are you making it so that the NPCs won’t talk to you? Why are you copying the effect setup, the map styles, the way the game is set up right up to the bedroom and device for booting you into the game—
Why are you copying it?
This is generally why I am absolutely apeshit bonkers for The Looking Glass. The Looking Glass knows exactly what’s up, even if it’s unintentional. You can talk to fucking everything. I spent five minutes dicking around in a library because I was having so much fun just looking at books. It’s creepy when a character doesn’t talk to you now! Like shit, why isn’t the character saying anything? That’s not normal! You know it’s not normal because it doesn’t cling to Yume Nikki like a goddamn parasite with no creativity to call it’s own. It has stated a theme. I have been in an apartment full of chatty shadow people and now expect NPCs to talk, just like that.
Answered Prayers? No one says a word, and you’re in the middle of nowhere. There are barely any NPCs, and everything is gorgeous, so it’s more focused on just exploring and gameplay than theming. I don’t even care. Art!!!!
Ultra Violet? It plays exactly like Yume Nikki, but a simple colour scheme switch and a different way of approaching events and characters leave me a big goopy pile on the floor. The theming is vague to nonexistent, but the LEVEL DESIGN and the ATMOSPHERE and the ARTISTIC DIRECTION is just screaming “this is a game that knows what it’s doing”. Gaming!!!!
The Other Line is just an unapologetic thriller game. It doesn’t try too hard be scary. I don’t even think there were any chasers. But there is such a thick, incredible plot that seems to be telling you all the details, but not what it’s relevant to. It’s like it reverse-engineered Yume Nikki. Fucking incredible!
Hell Diary just went “fuck it”. I opened up the .exe and I swear I could hear it whisper to me “fuck it. I am a game. You’re going to be gaming now”. BAM. NEW EXPLORATION RPG. I LOVE IT.
I loved playing .flow and I loved playing Yume 2kki and some other games were ok I guess. But they just…Didn’t understand Yume Nikki and how it operates. It gave us details, but it seemed to forget there was supposed to be a theme.
Or in Yume 2kki’s case, “Yume Nikki is just such a good way to occupy yourself”. You bet your ass it is, you goddamn technical prodigy. But I’m not motivated to explore anything! I don’t really get what’s up with Sabitsuki, and I can’t bring myself to care! Okay Oreko at her halloween computer, in a jar, and also smile lives by a school and has a sister. Now what?
It focuses on characters instead of events, but if you give us a bunch of characters with no context, you are giving us jack shit. If you give us context with no characters, you are giving us a question mark. Simple writing!
Why make massive wrap-around maps in your game? There is making a map seem kind of big and there is torturing you player. If you’re only doing it to make it seem like Yume Nikki, or because it will force the player to spend more time there, then maybe you shouldn’t be designing maps.
What about atmosphere? Am I supposed to be scared by something with doofy irritating bong shit playing in the background? Why should I care about a character all by themselves if I got there easily and the room is boring with generic music I’ve already heard in most areas?
Why can’t the player talk with your NPCs? Is there a reason? Do the NPCs lack the ability to communicate? This isn’t desperately throwing every effect you have at Poniko for a single reaction here, this is why the shit can’t you talk to most NPCs for any other reason than “Yume Nikki did it”.
Yume Nikki is the first in a genre! You need to stop thinking “this is a fangame for Yume Nikki” if you want to make something halfway decent. You need to think “this is an Exploration RPG game”. Copying each other isn’t going to get you anywhere! Do you know why Final Fantasy is such a tired genre? Take a guess.
Normal fantasy RPGs, MMORPGs, shooters, text-based games, you name it; they created a type of game and will mimic each other mercilessly.
The point of the Exploration RPG should not be to do that. It should not be to make something like Yume Nikki. It should be to explore why you liked Yume Nikki, create a type of storytelling (YES THESE GAMES ACTUALLY TELL STORIES even if you don’t get it or don’t even NEED to get it), and just let your imagination run wild. Make a theme about insecurity. Jealousy. Guilt. Distrust. Selfishness. There are SO many negative emotions to play with.
Or you can go like the Looking Glass and just construct something that is firmly seated in reality and doesn’t suffer a damn bit for it. Just remember; these are games! Games are made to entertain people. Stop concentrating on what you’re adapting and focus on who you’re adapting it for. Don’t mimic Yume Nikki’s isolation themes without a good reason.
Make a game.