If you've ever played Dyad, Proteus, or Panoramical, you've heard David Kanaga's work before. He's one of the smartest people in game design and his latest work, Oikospiel, is his most mind-scrambling creation yet.
Book I of the game was released late last week alongside a trailer that left me as intrigued as I was bewildered.
The late 90s computer generated visuals and Beast Wars vibe hooked me immediately, even if the game itself is more Bertolt Brecht than Transformers. I could try to summarize Kanaga's explanation of the game's premise, but somehow I think that would only confuse matters further. Of Oikospiel he writes,
"The Oikospielen Opera is developing an epic global-gaming festival called THE GEOSPIEL, scheduled for the year 2100. The opera's employees, organised by the Union of Animal Workers, are trying to integrate the game dev dogs of Koch Games into their group, but these loyal pups love their jobs and boss Donkey Koch too much! Will there be Unity and community, or will Multiplicity and individuality prevail? Money has awakened — Pluto has captured the spirit of Orpheus, and Eurydice is lead composer in this operatic RE-FORM of the Adventure Game genre."
Kanaga began working on the game in late 2014 and began by playing off the strange connections between how we use words now and what they originally meant. Opera is Italian for "work," spiel is German for "to play," and oikos is Greek for "household." As a result, Oikospiel is intended as an interactive meditation on the relationship between these concepts and how they affect us.
The game even has a novelization which describes itself at the beginning as "amongst many other things, a fairy tale about the lures and risks of energy potential and work in the household, and of the COST of HEAT."
On its Itch.io page the game promises, among other things, a rich orchestral soundtrack, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person controls, as as well as "Horse Power, Absolute Power." But if you want to know how much the game costs, Oikospiel first asks you to input the number of people in your household and its annual income. But don't worry, if the recommended price it spits out seems too high, you can always power the windmill in the lower left corner to earn yourself a discount.
In an interview with NYU's Game Center, Kanaga spoke of the way he thinks composing music and game design are connected. "'Game Feel' is a totally musical concept, it is the game trying to become a musical instrument (whether sonic or not)," he said. "Even any non-instrumental numerical aspects of games have a musical side to them as well, and I think tuning into the feel of raw number not as an instrumental 'end', but as a connective tissue, this is also musical and is applicable to all games."
On its surface at least, Oikospiel looks like its trying to push the boundaries of those parallels between music and games. Beyond that, well, who knows. You can hear Kanaga talk more about game design, music, and his latest project in a talk he gave at Fantastic Arcade last spring.