New Project Underway: In Memory of Giulio Camillo

Fact: it’s impossible for me to come up with game ideas that are simple and easy to explain. Initially, the idea forming the basis of the new game that I’ve started working on (I’m making headway on  prototyping it up) came from my research on Giulio Camillo. A very little known figure, Camillo was actually one of the most famous men in the sixteenth century. His life’s work, which he never completed, was a Theatre which one would explore, and leave with knowledge parellel to those such as Cicero. My research resulted in this essay, which I recently uploaded to my portfolio site.

The idea was a simple combination of recreating the Theatre itself, and an analogy Camillo used to explain his Theatre:

“If we were in a great wood and wished to see the whole of it well, staying in it, we would be unable to satisfy our wish, since we would be able to see only a small part of the view about us, the trees around blocking for us the view of things far off. But, if near to that wood there was an incline, which led around to the top of a high hill, ascending from the wood by the incline, we would begin to see the shape of much of it; then, having risen to the top of the hill, we would he able to recognise the whole.”

I had the idea for a while to possibly recreate the Theatre for a game, but after thinking about it more when posting the essay on my site, I had the idea of embedding the Theatre into the side of a hill in the forest. To get to the top of the hill, you must move through the Theatre.

As you will know if you’ve read the paper, the Theatre essentially consists of a 7×7 grid: the seven Planets along the X, and seven mythological references along the Y (such as The Banquet, The Cavern, Prometheus, etc). Most people, going by his descriptions in L’Idea del Theatro arrange it in the classical Vitruvian format, as in the image above, which I believe was drawn by Frances Yates. At this point it’s still a variable, but I think that’s the basic layout I’ll use. It emphasizes the theatrical aspect, will be interesting to move around in, and naturally has ascension built in. The center of this smaller circle set on the circumference of a large circular hill creates a nice overall spatial relation.

The point is, the 7×7 grid creates 49 nodes. Initially, my idea was that you would simply go up and look at each node. The game would only end if you ascended the hill after looking at each individual node, or alternatively if you ascended without looking at all of them you’d get different endings. The invisibility of that system is nice, but it quickly devolves into a gotta-catch-em all scenario, and more importantly, I would have to make each node compelling enough that players would get something out of simply looking at them. The latter condition does not work for two reasons:
First, I decided early on that I’m going to need to simply present Camillo’s theatre based on my understanding of it, rather than using it as a symbol to express all of the ideas held within. I can’t literally recreate the Theatre in all its glory. I ultimately have very little understanding of all the ideas at play, and I’d have to be Camillo himself to truly convey the interior ideas.
Second, my goal is to keep it visually simple. To make the nodes compelling enough on their own, they’d have to be as richly decorated and word-laden as Viglius describes.
Furthermore, this does almost nothing towards player interaction-exploration within the space. I think this game needs to focus on interacting with and exploring Camillo’s ideas, in a way that only games can, i.e., literally.

The idea I’m currently running with is that each of the seven symbols are physical objects that you can pick up. Each node point is an altar, on which you can place the symbol-object.
Since each symbol aligns with only one row, you can only put the objects in the assigned row. You can put The Sandals of Mercury on any one of the seven planetary altars in it’s row, but you can’t put it on Prometheus’ row.
Where the objects are placed affect various things in the environment. This is where it gets shakey: I’m not sure yet what will be affected. That might be something I’ll have to experiment with as I progress. I think keeping it simple would be best. Maybe just different external areas would open, or simply colors and ambient aspects would change. When you pick up objects, what it is will be displayed on the screen, and when you place it on an altar, that combination will be displayed (i.e., the word “Prometheus” will appear when you pick up the Prometheus object, and if you place it at Mars, “Mars, Prometheus” will appear. Perhaps the words accompanied by ambient changes will be enough. Thus it’s up to the player to contemplate the pairings, rather than me trying to explain something I don’t understand.

Somewhere along the line, a portal at the top of the Theatre will open, allowing you to finally ascend the hill and be “enlightened”. What this enlightenment entails will be, I suspect, the biggest and most difficult question as I make the game. Right now the only idea I have is to rip off the ending of Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, but I don’t think I’d be happy with that.

So far, prototyping has come along pretty quickly. I’m working on a more robust pick-up mechanic, which is surprisingly far along. Unlike Katabasis, I’m trying to really dig into the mechanics of the experience rather than building a bunch of models and dumping them into Unity. I’m going to force myself to work on different areas fairly often, rather than focusing on single pieces at a time. I’ve only been working on it for one night, but so far it seems to be working.

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