400 Years is a cross-boundary game published by Armor Game. Players play as a Colossus. Roused up for some reasons, the Colossus gets into his journey to stop a calamity. In the game, players can press SPACE to let the time fly. However, for some reason, there are only 400 years left for him.
Although the game is called 400 years, its gameplay is relatively short (approximately 10-20 minutes). However, this game is surprisingly able to tell an impressive story within such a short time. This report is to analyze several of the brilliant parts of the game design.
Mechanism and Storytelling
The mechanism, waiting for time flying, fits in the world very well. At the very beginning, it is just a way of solving the puzzle as many game does. However, as the story goes, the mechanism gradually becomes part of the story itself. For example, in the middle stage of the game the Colossus will pass through a primitive tribe where villagers are starving. He will be guided to leave some seeds there and then continue his journey. Later he will have chance to go back to the village again, finding out that the civilization overcomes starving with the grain produced by the seeds. There, players will probably be impressed by the significance of the flying time. These makes the game more realistic, even though the visual design of it is somewhat cartoonish.
Though the only thing the Colossus can do is walking around and waiting for the time pass, puzzles in the game are still amusing. Instruction are given as hint in narrative. After the first time players learn to “wait”, they may naturally start “waiting” every time when they get stuck, for this is the only thing they can do. Meanwhile, the filter effect when time flies gives a clear feedback, reminding players to notice the change of the environment which might be useful for solving the puzzle.
400 Years tells an affecting story of a Colossus in a vague way. Player knows little about what they are doing, where they are going and why 400 years is counting down at the beginning. This might make them be curious about the story. The more the Colossus experience the more hints players get, not only visually but also sensuously. The following introduction is what I thought the story is but not what I get directly from the narrative. There are seldom lines in the game. Instead, it uses elaborate EXPERIENCE to tell the story.
The Colossus is awaken by an unknown force. He feels like he has to stop a calamity. Here players learn the concept and the mechanism of the world, and will be curious about what is going to happen. A flow is created immediately when the game begins.
The Colossus comes over several obstacles – actually most of the time he just “waits” for a resolution – and keep going. On the way, he meets a primitive tribe where villagers are starving. He keeps going, and gets stuck in front of a cliff. He waits and finds some seeds in the fall, which reminds him of the starving tribe. The Colossus goes back and plant the seeds in the tribes, though the villagers doesn’t understand his behavior and are afraid of him. Several years passes by, the tribe overcomes starving and is able to bloom. They build a bridge, which ultimately allows the Colossus to go ahead. These feedback gives strong sense of achievement to players – they do something good, and gain returns. In this stage players will focus on more and more difficult puzzles, which create several small wave in the interest curve.
Later, the Colossus encounters a moment when he has to wait for the longest time in his life (almost 100 years). Players might doubt whether they are going on the track since such a long waiting is abnormal. There might be a small falling of interest curve caused by the waiting. Typically, keeping players to wait continuously is not a good idea, but the designer of the game makes sense for it. After the Colossus exits the cave with the growing stalactites, he surprisingly finds out that the civilization of the tribe has developed greatly – they now invent ship to across the sea. This gives a surprise to players – since they have waited for such a long time in the cave, the world outside could definitely change a lot. This gives a huge rise of interest curve, where players might be amazed of the realness of the game.
Leaving the village, the Colossus reach the foot of a slope, where trees there seem apparently different from previous ones. There are no more puzzle ahead. Background Music changes to a 2-note dull rhythm. Everything returns to peace but somewhat ambiguous. “Are we reaching the destination? What exactly are we supposed to do?” In the previous stages players might be too focus on solving the puzzle and the amazing visual elements, but now the sudden returning quiet leads them to rethink about the questions from the very beginning.
At last, the Colossus reaches a crater. He climbs down and, when he reach the core of the volcano, he realizes his mission. Everything makes sense in all of a sudden: The volcano is going to erupt after 400 years. The Colossus comes across a long journey to stop the disaster. The last scene of the game is a plane flying across the sky in 2013, which is the year when the game published. It gives a connection between the game and the reality suddenly. When playing the game, players might assume themselves as the Colossus, but at the end of the game, when they saw the plane and the year, they might abruptly realize that they themselves are the offspring of the tribe which was saved by the sacrifice of the Colossus. This might impress players a lot.
Using an art style of pixel, the game seems simple, clear and full of imagination. Although the story is somewhat serious and sad, the artists use a cartoonish style and bright color to dilute the sorrow. What’s more, contents in frame are concise and of high degree of identification to present time flying (e.g. Water freezes and defreeze, plants grows and dies, architecture changes, etc.).
Music and Sound Design
In most part of the game, the background music is a peaceful, Zen-style rhythm. It conveys the mind of the Colossus – though his mission is going to scarify himself, he is not afraid of it. He’s calm and mild and tender. It may enhance the feeling of appreciation of the players after the game clearance. Also, the twist of the music when reaching the end of the game strengthen the dramatic.
This report analyze the game 400 Year from different aspects, including its well designed in matching the mechanism with the story, suitable indirect control and interest curve, and perfectly matched art as well as music. All above show that 400 Year is delicate and worth playing. Its unique way of storytelling is worth to be learnt from.