Nidhogg and Creating your own Mythology
I had a chance to play a bunch of Nidhogg (Tournament Edition) this weekend. Thinking back on why the game is so compelling, I think it draws people in by being specific, yet vague, and allowing each person to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.
The name, for example. The game could have been called “Swordfight Tug of War,” but instead it gets the enigmatic name “Nidhogg.” What is Nidhogg? Is it the dragon seen during the intro?
Likewise, the animations show a dichotomy in the player characters – they fight with an elegant, one-handed fencing posture, but when the chance arises they abandon all poise and run full-tilt. Who are these people, obviously trained in a formalized style of fighting, yet desperate to reach their goal?
And that goal – running past a crowd of cheering spectators, only to be devoured by the Nidhogg. Why fight so hard only to sacrifice yourself? Why is this death permanent, but the many deaths incurred during gameplay don’t count?
Even the third room on each side was interesting – a giant fan, blowing clouds into the air. What purpose does this area serve?
By enticing your players to ask these sorts of world-defining questions, you create an environment as compelling as their imagination. One of the talks I went to at GDC on Game Writing emphasized that you should cut down your exposition as much as possible – identify what the player needs to know to play the game, and give them that. So ask yourself – what does the player really need to know in order to play?