To finish Michael Brough's Vesper.5, players will have to make a ritual of it. Players control a character who is looking for an exit somewhere to the right of the screen — its exact whereabouts are unknown; the path is unclear. Players can only take one step each day. The fastest route, if they happen to stumble across it, requires 100 steps. The fastest game of Vesper.5 takes 100 days to complete.
The game was created in a week by Brough as part of a game jam with the theme "ritual." Speaking with Polygon, he says his IGF-nominated game was created with the intention of being a "spiritual experience," not in the sense that the game is powerful and moving, but in a subtle, meditative way that requires players to set aside some time each day to engage with it and reflect.
"There's not very much to the game, and that's intentional," Brough says. "I could have put traps or enemies, but I wanted this to be more about what you bring to it, rather than having it all in the game itself.
"If you choose to set aside the time to reflect on things a bit, then that's meaningful. If you just open up the game, take a step and close it, that's probably kind of pointless."
Vesper.5 is a slow and, at its best, thoughtful experience. As players take their daily step, more of the world is revealed to them. Perhaps they'll see a small plant or a collection of crystals by the side of the path. They can choose to look at the objects along the way, but it will take them an extra day to get back on track.
As simple as the game is, Brough says it has sparked some people's imagination.
"Some people have said they almost felt a sense of loss — that this was part of their life, that was there everyday and now it's not."
"It's been quite surprising to see the different reactions people have had," he says. "One guy really hated it. He really hated the idea of having this forced on you every day.
"Other people say they found that it became meaningful to them. Rather than make their move they'll just sit a while and reflect, which is rather nice. And then when people have gotten to the end of it, some people have said they almost felt a sense of loss — that this was part of their life, that was there everyday and now it's not. I guess you kind of develop an emotional connection to it."
For Brough, it was an experiment in giving himself structure. As a developer who works from home, he says his days are often quite unstructured. He eats when he's hungry and sleeps when he's tired. There are no daily rituals of catching a bus at the same time every morning and working the same hours everyday.
"So maybe it came out of thinking about that," he says. "What having an everyday routine gives you."
Vesper.5 is a finalist for the Nuovo Award. The Independent Games Festival will take place during the 2013 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco from March 25 through 29.
Polygon will be speaking with the IGF's student showcase winners and Nuovo Award finalists almost daily for the month of March. Follow along with their stories in our StoryStream below.