January 27, 2014

IMGD thesis project Paralect nominated by IGF

Paralect nominated for excellence in narrative award

Paralect, the thesis project of Interactive Media & Games Division alum Loan Verneau, has been nominated for the Independent Games Festival’s Excellence in Narrative Award. Held during the annual Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, the Independent Game Festival (IGF) is one of the largest and longest running gaming awards festivals. This year saw Paralect beat out 656 entrants from all over the world, with an additional 350 entries in the student category. Traditionally, a nod from the IGF is not only a matter of prestige, but a way to future commercial success. Games like Portal (adapted from IGF winner Narbacular Drop), Minecraft and Crayon Physics were all honored at IGF as a major part of their success stories.

Paralect is a 2D platformer that uses traditional gameplay mechanics to tell the story of a cultural uprooting, often inverting and confusing those mechanics to inspire a sense of discomfort in the player. The game also features a “spatial” narrative system that allows players to explore the monologues of characters in the game and use these explorations to discover details about them. As the game progresses and players learn more about the cultures of the characters they encounter, levels shift and change to challenge the player’s understanding of the layout, a kind of metaphor for cultural understanding as a whole.

Culture shock is something Parelect’s lead designer Loan Verneau knows all about. He describes the game as “based on my own personal story of cultural unrooting and the paradigm shifts I had to go through as I moved from one country to another in my youth. This has been described as the 'global nomad' phenomena by some, people with no national origins due to them living in other cultures. I wanted to talk about how that experience changed my way I look at differences”. Working in an interactive format also had advantages for the game’s unique storytelling according to lead writer Avimaan Syam, who said that the IMGD department “helped us find ways to deliver narrative in a unique way by fusing gameplay and narrative choice. By challenging ourselves we could challenge our audience by bringing in new narrative paradigms like iambic pentameter or coded wording.”.

Although the team is thrilled with their IGF nomination, Verneau notes enterting the game in the festical was that “purely as a way to show the game to people. As a relatively personal game, I never thought of the game as a product. I thought of it as an experiment that could interest people looking for something different, for a unique story that could touch them.”

IMGD Chair Tracy Fullerton says that “Paralect's nomination by the IGF is a fantastic example of our alumni not just being content to create, but to lead. One of the hallmarks of an SCA education is a focus on integrating great gameplay with meaningful storytelling, and Paralect is a perfect example of innovation in this area.”. The IMGD was not the only department to see a nod from the IGF. Other SCA related IGF nominated projects include The Stanley Parable from Critical Studies Alum Davey Wredren and Perfect Woman from part-time faculty Peter Lu. While the IGF award winners won’t be named until GDC in March, the nomination of Paralect is another sure sign that the progressive, boundary pushing work of the IMGD and the SCA is right on track. As Verneau is happy to state “More than 90% of my team were USC students, from the School of Music, Roski, Viterbi, SCA and so on. Being at USC gives you humongous amount of resources and unlimited feedback from specialists in every domain you can think of. All you need to do is reach for them”.