Hunger: the Videogame?
Hunger is a game prototype created by Dusty Peterson and Ryan Hoffman in the span of about 16 hours. The idea of this project is to try and communicate the idea of hunger through gameplay, and do so without text or gauges. It’s not a political statement about starvation or world hunger, we just wanted to recreate that feeling that everyone gets a few times a day.
While the subject itself is very simple, it actually turns out to be pretty difficult pull off. Video games are great for sound and visuals, but we can’t really give people a physical sensation. We decided to work around this by attempting to recreate symptoms of hunger through an avatar which the player feels empathy towards.
Download Hunger Here (Windows only)
The original challenge we gave ourselves was to implement the idea of hunger with GAMEPLAY ONLY! Meaning we would implement the bare minimum of visuals and sound, and put most of our effort into the player’s interactions with the game. This turned out to be a little too restrictive, but we did manage to make some progress here.
In hunger you play as some kind of animal, it kind of resembles a goat and a caterpillar so I will refer to it as the goaterpillar from here on. The goaterpillar can walk around, it can run, and it can eat. Eating increases the goaterpillar’s fullness, but waiting around will make it hungry, and running will make it hungry even faster. Hunger indirectly affects how quickly the goaterpillar can run. Running speed is based on stamina, where moving decreases stamina and not moving recharges it. How quickly stamina recharges is based on how hungry the goaterpillar is, and hunger also affects the maximum amount of stamina the goaterpillar can have.
So to sum our gameplay up: physical performance can be pretty heavily influenced by how hungry you are.
Does this work to convey the feeling of hunger? Kind of. I think with some more balancing we could get the above system to feel pretty good, but physical performance is only one part of hunger. The gameplay doesn’t currently do much to communicate the mental or emotional drain of hunger.
An idea that I wish we had time to implement was the idea of adrenaline, or excitement. When you are hungry, the sight of food is exciting, and it can cause a rise in energy. In gameplay terms if the goaterpillar was hungry and it saw food, it would get a burst of energy and move faster towards the food. This would be the same kind of feedback that we already have, but might suggest an emotional reaction. It might also just be confusing, its hard to know without actually play testing.
The visuals of this prototype are simple on purpose, but our implementation was kind of interesting. Instead of drawing a single texture to the screen for our avatar, Dusty decided to create polygon art (similar to pixel art) where he would draw a character entirely with colored rectangle polygons. This turned out to be a pretty neat style and allows for some great flexibility in animations. We have since discussed taking this style further for a future project.
The background is procedurally generated, it consists of tiled blocks of mildly varying colors and will loop when you reach the edge of the world. The main focus on the background was color saturation, which was tied directly to how hungry the goaterpillar is. This was our attempt to simulate the fact that hunger takes hold of your attention. You start only thinking about food, noticing food, and everything else fades to background noise. The desaturated background suddenly makes food really easy to notice. In addition to the background color, food starts to glow when the goaterpillar is hungry, which really exaggerates the effect.
There are three sound effects in the game, all of them recorded by me with a cheap computer mic. The sound effects are both funny and really help sell that the goaterpillar is eating something. We wanted eating to be satisfying, which can help reinforce the periods of hunger by giving the player more desire to eat. I think that chomping and chewing noises make eating a lot more satisfying than if the game were silent.
A sound effect that we really wanted but were unable to get to is stomach churning. When you get hungry your stomach can growl, and I think just hearing this noise really triggers the hunger association in any of us.
Another thing our game lacks is music. While technically music has nothing to do with feeling hungry, music is very good at evoking emotion. The game could play melodic happy music when full, then fade to sad and longing music when hungry. While the player is hungry and they see food the game could suddenly jump to an excited tune, and then of course back to happy music when they feel full.
We didn’t get a lot of time to spend with this prototype, but it was a great experience. While I don’t think we nailed the feeling of hunger, we definitely started to approach it, and given more time I think we could have players across the world running to their refrigerators.