The stream of consciousness of theatrical game design (or how I set out to write one thing and just threw a dollop of something else on it)

Last week I decided to flip through LA Weekly in search of events that may interest my wife and I. Over the past two months, we have been heavily engrossed watching every season of Frasier,” which happens to be one of my favorite shows, and you’d struggle to oversee the underlying importance of culture that emanates in almost every episode. If it’s not the opera, it’s an art gallery, a wine tasting event, or a luxurious meal at a seemingly esteemed restaurant operating under chuckle-inducing names like “Le Couer De Singe” (Heart of the Monkey).

Being a theater buff, not out of robust knowledge of the craft or current active involvement in it, but rather due to my heavily invested passion in its offerings, I started skimming through the arts section, hoping to find something that would stand out in the apparent plethora of productions that take place simultaneously around LA. Funnies, dramas, dance performances, vaudevilles, puppetry; it’s intimidating at first glance, but once you’ve been ushered into a few theater houses, your filtration task should become easier — so I would hope.

As I turned one page after another, fingers getting stained from the cheap ink and paper, I came across a play entitled “The End of It” with an uninspired poster of two marriage rings lying one atop the other to form a pseudo-link. My first instinct was to turn the page and keep looking, but I didn’t. As if possessed, I calmly turned toward my PC and tapped away in my search bar for an inkling of what to expect from the performance.

Upon taking a closer look at its cast and crew, none of which I had had the pleasure of experiencing before, I quickly booked two tickets and closed the browser to prevent my eyes from mistakenly landing upon a spoiler that some writer or reviewer may have unknowingly deemed safe for reading.

Now, comfortably sandwiched between my browser and desktop was the Steam store that I had made a habit of keeping active. If I’m not looking to play something, I’m happily darting my eyes from one featured game to another. The game that happened to be occupying the central slide show at that moment was one I had not heard off and that had suddenly found itself on my page. Promising to be a 2.5D survival horror game with an art style reminiscent of the excellent Shadow Complex and an ambient sci-fi atmosphere that instantly grasped my attention, the decision to purchase it was a no-brainer. I took a risk with an unknown theatrical production, I figured the least a gamer like me can do is take a chance on an unknown game.

Two days ago, I added “Dark Matter” to my library.

Yesterday, moments before my wife and I stepped out to attend “The End of It,” I noticed a story published by Kotaku claiming that “Dark Matter” was incomplete and that gamers were furious. I thought maybe the developers missed out on some ideas, perhaps some levels were badly designed, or maybe some sound files were missing as I refused to believe that a developer would sell an unfinished product (revisiting this post to edit it in 2020, it’s fascinating how much the younger me was obliviously naive and how the industry has gotten worse). To sell people an incomplete game for $15 and run around attempting to explain to gamers that the Kickstarter campaign failed and that it was better for them to release something instead of cancelling the project altogether is unjustifiable.

It is important to note that I am just as frustrated with Steam that persists to maintain Dark Matter’s featured game spot, wrongfully setting up the game for further blackmail.

In the midst of my research (I was still going to the play, honest!) I came across a report that stated that the devs blamed the lack of funds to fully develop the game and that it was meant to be episodic in nature with only the first chapter currently available for play:

“We would like to stress that the game is exactly as described on Steam (including that it contains 14 levels),” InterWave said. “[I]t is simply not true that the game is unfinished, or unplayable. Some people have misquoted the developer as having admitted that the game is incomplete; we should reiterate that what was meant was that this is not the $30 full-priced game, but the episodic budget version (currently selling at $13,49 at 10% off).”

A quick look at Dark Matter’s profile on Steam, however, will provide you with adequate evidence to the contrary. Nowhere is it mentioned that the game is meant to be episodic or that the game is incomplete.

What this studio did, I believe, is lay off all their staff after the immense failure of their Kickstarter campaign, admit to themselves that they won’t be able to develop a game moving forward, and figured they’d scrounge for as much money as they can as an exit strategy.

I understand that some games don’t work, but were the developers, InterWaves Studios, that short-sighted in their resignation? If they were planning to scam gamers, why not pull off a better scam? Why didn’t they just say the game is in its alpha build and that we can expect content in the coming months? It would be sad to hear of the cancellation of a project, but gamers would not have harbored as much ill will for the studio. I, of course, do not condone the beguiling of fans and followers and abolish the need to deceive gamers, but the developers could backed out quietly while still holding on to some fabric of their dignity.

Written and directed by Paul Coates, ‘The End of It’ is a deceivingly brilliant performance that needs to be experienced for its heart-wrenching content and to pay homage to excellent acting, especially in regard to Kelly Coffield Park and David Youse, both of whom delivered unforgettable performances seeping with emotion and truth.

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