No, video games are not as they are in Wreck-It Ralph. After you turn your PlayStation off, the denizens of gamey-land don't clock out and meet after work. Doctor Robotnik and M. Bison do not attend group therapy together. Nathan Drake, Kratos and that dude with his back turned in Streets of Rage don't share a hot yoga class. Sadly. But even if the virtual world isn't having potlucks on their downtime, it is strange that games, so often sharing the same vessels, aren't commonly interacting with each other. Two Toronto developers have created a platform that sees games playing with each other as much as we play with them.
Alex "Droqen" Martin, who created the 2013 IGF finalist Starseed Pilgrim, and Damian Sommer, who created 2014 IGF finalist The Yawgh, often make games together, though they usually evolve into something far different than what they originally set out to do. One time, last year, a collaborative game split into two games sharing the same save file. When Christine Love expressed interest in joining, two became more, until eventually...
"We realized that we could invite anyone in to this. We decided to dub it the SHARECART1000," says Sommer, "and any game in it shares the save file with every other game in it, which has some really crazy weird consequences."
Though they share colour schemes and a penchant for glitch aesthetics, SHARECART`s current roster displays nine games that look and play very differently. Strange game superstar Michael Brough introduces his action-puzzle freakout Post-Future Vagabond, while Kyle Reimergartin created Fjords, one of the best games of last year. But if these odd activities grow dull as solitary ventures, you can play other games from the same set, changing things within the code like devils in the details.
Despite being made independently from each other, parameters in the SHARECART's save file were created so that variables from one game will alter those of the others'. In some cases, like The Isles, weapons and items will be unlocked prematurely. In Brough's already glitch-enthusiastic world, there are even more screeching hiccups and you'll start on any level but the first, Sommers remembering one time the screen coming up smeared with purple, like getting the car back from some careless, zany valet. Sommers own game, YouAreABountyHunter, is nearly impossible to survive in without giving the other SHARECART titles some love.
"In my game for instance," says Sommer, "you hunt down space pirates. You are going around shooting these guys, that's changing the save file. You do that for a bit, and it generates a name for you. You go into another game, like in The Isles, and your character will be named the same as in the bounty hunter game. But whenever you get hit in YouAreABountyHunter, it saves what health you have remaining, it's permanent. The game has a clause where if you start the game again after having zero health, it just puts you at one. You'll be forced to play through the game with one health if you die. Instead, you need to go play other games and aspects from them will get your health back up."
It's mind-warping to believe that something so technical can be pieced together so distantly, but Sommer had little influence in the games included in the SHARECART other than his own. Just by posting the simple guidelines, which to a non-developer may as well be a hieroglyphic tablet, Sommers has had synchronized games from outside parties flung towards the compilation. Martin wasn't even sure Fjords was still part of the project until opening the game himself.
"I'm totally happy with other people doing things," says Sommer. "I have enough on my plate right now. I really like the idea. Me and Alex have been talking about sequels to the SHARECART, where the save file is actually an image that gets put together like a puzzle, weird things like that.
"None of the games are even remotely similar, in how they play or in how they interact. I think that's really cool. Definitely not what I expected. When me and Alex sat down, were talking about this, we thought you could only make a few kinds of games with this. I'm being consistently proven wrong."