12/365 – Meditation Games #12 – Herding Project Sheep

Developer: Daniel Ilett

Launcher Quote: “I’m a compulsive project juggler – I constantly start new projects before finishing the old ones, so it’s hard to keep it all in my head at the same time. Never is that more evident than at the start of the year when I have the energy to come up with lots of new ideas.”

Even the simplest presentations of games can be relatable on a very basic level, especially when they send a message through their mechanics and their visualization that hits close to home. Such as it is with today’s entry from Daniel Ilett, which elicited from me feelings of my very very brief foray into Stardew Valley with its bright sprites and rustic setting, with the seemingly simple yet still somewhat challenging goal of herding a bunch of unruly sheep into the pen.

Like Daniel, I’m an obsessive project juggler. At my current count, for both personal and work projects I’m probably sitting at around 12 or so individual projects of various sizes and scopes. If it weren’t for my productivity system, a blend of the Getting Things Done (GTD) and Agile ways of getting shit done, I’d probably be a mess. It’s amazing how much you can do with a system that works for you and which you can stick to, which is always the challenge of organizing anything into a way of doing things.

Still, it’s not like it’s a smooth ride all the time. You can always have something that threatens to upset the producitivity balance, much like what was kind of my experience at times trying to run the sheep into the pen, only to have a couple decide they weren’t having it and threatening to pop out of there again. This, I think, was super important to the message that the developer was trying to send. Even in complex games like Final Fantasy XV, the same task of herding sheep into the pen meant that once they were in the pen the game’s mechanics prevented them from leaving again, which is nice for making the game less frustrating but perhaps not as realistic (hell, that particular mission’s whole pretense was that they were rogue sheep that wanted to get out). Here, I had to keep a constant eye on the pen as the sheep I’d corralled into it wandered around, occasionally guiding an intrepid sheepy runner back inside.

In the rush to make games a little more palatable and not quite as frustrating, it seems that today’s games lack this kind of balancing act. I’m not saying they need to be ultra-realistic to the point of frustrating the player, but a little bit of a challenge that makes people work for it a little, lest they upset the things necessary to keep them progressing isn’t out of the question. I certainly felt a lot more satisfied completing this game knowing that the sheep had to be managed both in the pen and out of it, and perhaps that’s better for the game’s message, too. Even if a project (or multiple projects) might threaten to tip over and really screw with your mental and physical well-being, the satisfaction of a project done and put into the bin is far greater for the challenges you overcome getting there. Who knew sheep, a fence, and a determined-looking sprite of a worker could present such a worthwhile message?

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