Since I started talking more openly about my plans for Keyhole, the inevitable question I’ve had to deal with—and one that’s becoming more and more common just inside my own head—is what genre of game it is that I’m making.
It isn’t an easy one to answer. I don’t generally enjoy working on or playing games that fit nicely into any one category. The easiest answer is that it’s a puzzle game, but that genre is so broad that the word doesn’t really say anything about the gameplay, story, look or feel that we can anticipate before playing a game.
Antichamber, Fez, Portal, Monument Valley, World of Goo, Monkey Island, Limbo, Myst, The Floor is Jelly—these could all be considered puzzle games to some extent, but they’re all very different games. Nevertheless, it seems my generation is just as content with puzzles as my grandparents were, even if they’ve evolved from jigsaw puzzles and crosswords to a more interactive, more abstract kind of puzzle.
Defining what it isn’t
It’s much easier to get a few genres and gameplay mechanics that don’t apply to Keyhole. It’s not a platformer, a hack-and-slash, a shoot-em-up, or a driving game, some of the most popular titles these days. It’s not a third-person game, and you’re not really aware of the role you play in it, at least not for now. It’s not an RPG, not in the conventional sense. And it’s not really a strategy game, although in a way, that’s probably the genre some would say fits it the most.
“Looks like a god game to me.”
Sure, yes, but it’s not really. I mean if you were playing a god, you’d have very little god-like control. You’re more of a time-traveler who can pick up some items and place them near people who will discover and use them. If anything, you’re about as influential as a leprechaun.
“It’s a game where you…”
So that’s where I’m stuck for now. And that’s where I’ll likely stay. Keyhole isn’t a game I can stuff into a category. It’s a game I define by explaining what you do in the game, how you manipulate the world, what your goals are, and how you grow with the inhabitants of the world as you find what’s needed to help solve their problems.
So clearly, I haven’t been able to describe Keyhole in a word, a phrase, or even a single sentence. But I’ve found games that are difficult to describe are often the most enjoyable. If someone said “Here’s a game where you burn things” or “In this game you run around as a goat,” both titles would seem fairly simplistic and mundane. Yet Little Inferno and Goat Simulator took something small and made it larger than the description would imply, one with a mysterious setting and creepy unseen characters, the other with enough humor and things to discover that a large online community formed around it.
But of course Keyhole isn’t much like either of these games. Which is good, because I really don’t want to compete with them. They’ve defined their own corners of the game market quite perfectly, and there’s so much more to explore out there.
What I’ve got so far
So Keyhole is a game where you control the movement of time by manipulating the rotation of a planet, and help civilizations rise as you figure out what it will take to free the couple trapped in the mountains on the horizon. That’s as succinctly as I’m able to put it, but I’m willing to run with it while the game takes form over the next year or two. Or three? God I hope it doesn’t take that long.
But if I keep thinking about it, talking about it, and describing it to others, I’m sure I’ll have a much more concise description someday soon.