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The Legend of Hamlet

#Narrative #RPG #Analysis

How can we begin to think about the relationship between a player and a non-player character beyond patronization or instrumentalization?

The Legend of Hamlet explores this question through the journey of a squire—the player’s character—and a knight, the player’s starting companion. They embark on a quest to serve the world, the squire dedicated to following the Knight’s mentorship. The duo travels through a progression of landscapes and towns, seeking the next great deed. However, they quickly discover that the road is not so easy.

In this world where magical flowers and vast chasms dictate the path, the squire is given the opportunity to find help. The player is encouraged to converse with these new characters to learn of their motivations and unique abilities throughout the journey. The Legend of Hamlet redefines companionship through dialogue and the combined agency of the characters.

The Legend of Hamlet was created alongside John Churay, Sam Sobel, Hamlet Fernandez, and Daniel Lee. I served as the primary visual developer, concept artist, and game analysis writer.

Unity

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Illustrator

Critical game analysis

Early Development

Conceptual Inspiration

Three games served as points of reference for navigating character primacy; Passage (2007), Thomas was Alone (2012), and Super Metroid (1994). The Legend of Hamlet opposes the restrictive portrayal of companionship in Passage. At the beginning of Passage, the player may choose to connect with a partner, who follows the avatar until she invariably dies. The player finds that this partner limits traversability and interaction and prevents the avatar from earning points. This characterization of the partner as a physical boundary to a more gratifying ludic experience presents solitude as the favored route. The Legend of Hamlet instead rewards players for partnering with non-player characters both affectively and mechanically, hence counteracting the inhibitory relationship underlined in Passage.

Thomas Was Alone experiments with codependency between numerous characters controlled by the player. The game is set within a series of abstract terrains, in which colored quadrilaterals use their forms to progress each other through each space. Like Passage, Thomas Was Alone involves how physicality informs relationships between characters; however, this game leans towards mutualism rather than parasitism. The Legend of Hamlet adopts the mechanical genre of a puzzle-platformer and emulates how different methods of traversing through space facilitate mutual dependency.

Unlike Passage and Thomas Was Alone, Super Metroid manifests companionship through power-ups. This form of companionship does not ask players to sacrifice their agency; the player exclusively gains control from interactions with weaponry. Commensalism, as exhibited in Super Metroid, lacks the human authorial presence of embodied companions. The Legend of Hamlet attempts to balance the benefits of power-ups with the affective qualities attached to characters.

Narrative Arch

The game begins with the Squire asking their King to become a knight. In response, the King sends out the Squire and their mentor, the Knight, to do “great deeds worthy of knighthood.” The young Squire interprets this message to mean some great feat of valor, and they set off to find a worthy foe to face. The Knight quietly accompanies them, trying to set an example of what the King really meant: helping those in need. The Squire can choose to ignore the Knight’s advice and travel alone, looking for a foe to face to earn their knighthood. This tension will eventually lead to the Knight abandoning them, as the Knight will prioritize helping the companions that the player leaves behind.

Throughout the game, the Knight guides the Squire away from conceptions of chivalry as deeds of arms and towards the people-centered vision of chivalry. To the Squire, companionship is exactly what they need: by helping others achieve their goals, the Squire achieves their own goals.

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In Passage, treasure chests award points, but the female companion inhibits entry to parts of the map

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Companionship in Thomas Was Alone combines structural codependence and verbal communication with the player

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In Super Metroid, Samus encounters power-ups instead of character companions

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The game alternates between platforming and town scenes. Towns facilitate relationships between the PC and NPCs.

Aesthetic

Characters

The Legend of Hamlet showcases two-dimensional pixel characters traversing a three-dimensional space. Heavily inspired by Paper Mario (2001) and Octopath Traveler (2018), this aesthetic nods to the familiar style of retro games while maintaining the mechanical elements of a three-dimensional platformer, lending the player a nostalgic, yet novel visual experience.

Environment

The digital card game Duelyst (2016) inspired the concepts behind our environment. We aimed to simulate the trope of a knight journeying through a magical forest; hence, the characters adopt the medieval theme, and our environment incorporates fantastic elements.

Through our concept art, we attempted to exaggerate the emotional closeness to the characters with the physical vastness of the terrain. We employed contrasting palettes in the environment to highlight interactable objects—such as the flowers used for platforming—and emphasize the more pleasant color scheme of the characters. This juxtaposition imbues the characters with a warm, approachable appearance.

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From top to bottom: Hamlet the Artist, The Squire, and Sir John the Knight (art by Hamlet Fernandez)

Beginning of the Squire's journey

Both iterations of the platforming flowers design utilize contrasting color palettes

Lessons

The Legend of Hamlet attempts to engage in a larger conversation about the development of our relationship with computation and where we belong in a technological system. Apart from incorporating increasingly difficult levels and new characters, our game aims to create an experience in which the player’s and AI’s roles reverse. For instance, the AI will determine how to solve a puzzle and would request the player’s assistance. These additions will allow the AI to evolve into a conversational agent. By lending the AI a higher degree of agency and expressive potential, the player’s relationship with the NPCs will transform from companionship to a form closer to friendship. The roles of the two parties become blurred, with either helping the other best participate in a shared experience. This transformation begs the question of whether humans can regard an AI as they would another human.

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Cover Design