If you like computer games, and you have an iPad or Android device, I highly recommend The Silent Age. It’s a witty and striking game of puzzles, time-travel, and mystery.
You play a janitor who discovers not only the first signs of a disease that is on the verge of wiping out mankind, but also a pocket-sized time machine. As you escape from the police and search for an explanation, that device allows you to jump from your starting point in the 1970s to a ruined future world, forty years later.
As a result, you see every location in the game twice–how it looks in your present and how it looks in the future you are trying to prevent.
Many of the game’s puzzles require multiple jumps in time to solve. Perhaps a door is locked in the 1970s, but is torn from its hinges in the future: you jump in time, walk through, then jump back. Sometimes these puzzles are quite elaborate. One challenge, late in the game’s second episode, based around a hungry scientist and an apple core, is frustratingly subtle to figure out, but leads, once you finally work out the necessary steps, to a haunting, mind-expanding moment.
This certainly isn’t, however, a full-scale game like X-COM or GTA. You could potentially complete it in a single day, and at times (especially early in the second episode) the gameplay feels a little too obvious, the script too close to the surface. And yet, the artistry of its designers made me a real fan. You are constantly entering scenes that you have to pause and examine–the artistic vision is so present, so consistent, that this vision attains a reality of its own.
The Silent Age has a solidity and impact that many longer, supposedly more complex games lack.
The Silent Age now has a large fan base, and a lot of people have played the game. By most standards, this is a successful app.
And yet, it’s pretty clear from the official blog that House on Fire, the production company, has struggled considerably to make this game. Years have gone by while the team has been trying to complete the two episodes of this short game’s story. The first episode was released on the App store for free: the second, recently released, now costs $4.99. You could, at the end of episode one, choose to contribute money to enable them to make the sequel (I did, although at the smallest level of $2.99). Comments that the team made at the time suggested that this attempt at crowd-sourcing raised much less than they had hoped.
Now, I have no idea how much money the second episode will make for House on Fire. Perhaps it will be a lot: I hope so. But there does seem a growing awareness, among tech writers and designers, that making high-quality apps for the iPad and iPhone may not be the lucrative endeavour it first seemed. And these are the apps the most well-known tech writers praise and use themselves: here, for instance, is the creator of Unread explaining how little money he has made.
Since 2008, when the old economy shuddered and fell, we seem to have moved to a different economy, one far more dependent on de facto monopolies and returns to scale. If, for the past six years, you’ve been working for Google or Apple, or have administered a successful program at a major university, you’ve probably done very well. But anyone unable to tie themselves to such a massive enterprise has struggled. This isn’t only about being a drop-out aspiring novelist: aspiring biologists have encountered similar travails.
(Aren’t research biologists, the people who find cures for terrifying diseases, supposed to be in demand?)
House on Fire, a small game design company, seem to have done everything right–or, at least, enough things right. But will that actually be enough to pay their bills, to allow keep them making new games that build on the success of The Silent Age?
I hope so.