The Little Mermaid: a Modern Retelling

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This game was reviewed by Jay Is Games!

The Context

This is a game I made in 3 days as part of TOJam 2012: the Sevening (i.e. the Toronto game coding jam). I had always wanted to participate in a game jam, but somehow I never got involved in them before. Ludum Dare never really appealed to me (I generally don't sign up for mailing lists and stuff, so I could never figure out when the comps were being held. Plus working by myself on a game is already how I make games, so I didn't really feel that it would be a new experience for me). And although there were several such jams is Europe, I was living in a small city that didn't have any such jams itself, and I'm not really part of the gaming "scene" so I never knew when the other cities were having jams until I read about them later on. So to be in Toronto at the right time and to happen to be reading through web pages promoting the jam at that time was a happy coincidence.

Overall, it was an interesting experience. I tried to partner up with other people for the jam, but I don't really know too many people in the Toronto area any more, and I'm always a little awkward at meet-ups. (Plus, my overwhelming ambivalence and lack of enthusiasm for anything doesn't really go over well with people who don't know me.) So, in the end, I ended up entering the jam solo instead of as part of a team. Fortunately, the Toronto Game jam have artist and sound people who participate in the jam but not as part of any particular team. And I was able to find two great artists John Bilokrely and Derian McCrea who were able to help me make some awesome background art for the game (the crummy character art is all me, so don't blame them for that stuff looking bad). I think that entering the jam solo may have meant that I didn't really experience the jam to its fullest. Given my extensive programming contest experience, I just went into full "contest" mode with a laser-like focus on the end goal while carefully pacing my coding and my resting. So while I did finish the game that I had planned to make for the jam, I ended up missing the crazy late nights and socializing that are supposed to be part of the game jam experience. As a bonus though, I did win a Playstation Vita in a raffle, which is always good.


So over the years, I've looked over various Ludum Dare entries, and it seemed like the most successful ones were smaller games that focused on a single mechanic or scenario but that have personality (I think something like the Love Letter is a good example of this). So that was my aim for the game jam (real live game jams like TOJam actually tends to have bigger teams with more artists than the LD and are designed to be played in person instead of over the Internet, so the best games for a real game jam tend to be more experimental with better graphics--more like Indiecade type games than the retro-inspired games that come out of LD). I played around with different concepts before deciding to go with a side-scrolling adventure game based on the Little Mermaid. In the end, the scenario was still too big for an ideal game jam game, but I was able to get it done in time.

I had originally thought of the idea two years ago when I was thinking of entering a game into the IFComp based on my little IF game engine. I was thinking about IF conversation systems, and I thought it would be amusing if the protagonist was so shy that whenever he spoke with other people, he never had any conversation options. There would be all sorts of important conversations that the player could enter into, but the player would always be frustrated because they could never interact in the conversations in any way--thereby simulating the frustration of being a shy person. The protagonist might think of saying different things, but they could never actually say anything. From there I realized that the situation was similar to the situation from the Little Mermaid, who gave up her voice to be able to walk on land.

About the Game

The game is an html4/DHTML game that retells the Little Mermaid story from a modern perspective. It's about some schlub who falls for a woman and tries to cross over to her world but is too shy to make it work (it is based on the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale obviously. If it were based on the Disney version, he would get the girl). I guess you could argue that the game parodies the Little Mermaid story, but I tried to play it straight. There might be some satire potential in portraying the Little Mermaid through the perspective of shyness and the modern dating game, I tried my best to authentically capture the mood and emotions of the scenario.

Design Notes

This game allowed me to experiment with a few new things. It was

To be honest, I have no idea if the game actually works. I'm familiar with the story that I'm trying to tell, so it obviously makes sense to me. I'm not sure if someone who doesn't know the story could actually understand the plot and what's going on. Were the attempts at emotion successful? I really don't know. I guess I should find someone to playtest the game to find out.

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