Oiche Mhaith: A brief study of a brief game
Recently, one of the Art Interns at Open Emotion, Adam, showed me a game over on Newgrounds called Oiche Mhaith (meaning “Good Night” in Irish). Seeing that one of my indie heroes, The eponymous Terry Cavanagh, was involved on the title, I got more than a little excited and proceeded to play through the title in a single sitting (which is not too difficult, I might add). I came away with a strange feeling – The game had been disturbing, but not simply because of the content, dialogue or theme. The game had given me a strange feeling, because I did not know what to classify it as…
So what is Oiche Mhaith?
Is it a game?
To some extent, yes. You move your character around the world and you interact with certain objects in the environment. You are instructed to complete objectives (mundane as they may be ie. Dress your bed) and have an overarching goal, especially later on in the story. It even has a really strong puzzle section in the latter half of the game.
But it’s also not really a game…
There are no real game mechanics, there is no combat, there is a singular puzzle – All these things would lead me to believe that Oiche Mhaith is an animation in games clothing. When you factor in that the game is about 20 minutes in length, it’s clear that Oiche Mhaith is in some respects, the gaming equivalent of a short story.
Anyone reading this who has ever attempted to write a short story will realise immediately, the enormous challenge of conveying a large amount of information in an incredibly short time frame. By using intelligent sound design, completely literal dialogue and a twisted colour palette, I think Oiche Mhaith does something that many other in its medium – even games that are 50/60 hours in length – fail to… It delivers an immediate sense of the world. From the outset it’s clear to the player that this is not a happy, bright place even though the initial colour palette and simple styling’s would attempt to convince you otherwise.
If anything it feels like the world we see when playing the game, is the way that Eimear would see it.
Another interesting element of the title is the computer puzzle, found later in the game. This see’s Eimear trying to fix the world around her using a computer program. While the puzzle at first seems to be random and pointless, you’ll soon realise how the world around you is being altered by the code. It’s an interesting mechanic and serves as a good design choice to gradually teach the player about the puzzle they are trying to solve.
It would be unfair to talk about this title without mentioning the exemplary sound design. Not only is the music genuinely unnerving, but the sound effects are fantastic, with special attention to the Sound Effect that plays when you transition between rooms. This grating noise becomes a bullet point to everything you experience through your short time with Eimear and her family. It’s another title which showcases the power of Sound Design in short games – Much like The Company of Myself.
Oiche Mhaith is not revolutionary – It does not do anything particularly unique, nor is it amazingly written.
But, Oiche Mhaith is a glimpse at the possibilities of what we can achieve as designers, when we streamline our message and deliver it to the audience at face value instead of trying to be subversive with every little morsel of information.
I want to make it clear, this is not a review – Simply a breakdown based on my understanding of the game and the mechanics used to deliver the narrative/message to the player.
Have a play of it yourself and let me know your thoughts on the design in the comment box below – I would love to see other people’s thoughts on the design of the game…
The Dev in the Red Hat