Living in the gutters: how Framed allows you to play god with what you DON’T see in comic books
The dead spaces between the panels of comic books are called gutters, and the gutters are where the story lives. Each panel is a still image, a snapshot of what’s going, but it’s the space between the panels where everything takes place, where characters move, and where the scene changes. Framed is a game that exists in the gutters, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Each scene is conveyed via a series of comic panels, with a definite beginning and an ending. You hit the play button, and the animation takes place as your character moves from panel to panel, trying to survive each situation. The twist is that you can change the order of the panels themselves, and this changes the scene, allowing the character to survive and fight to the next area.
“It’s about changing the context of the situation. You’re changing the state of the character. What happens in one panel will define what happens in the next panel,” Joshua Boggs of Loveshack Games, told me as I played. It takes a little while to get used to; you can make what seems to be a subtle change in the order of the panels, and what happens within that page is then changed drastically.
The basic story is that the character is literally framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and has to escape capture. So if you’re running from the police, they can pull out their guns and shoot you.
Move the panel that contains a shotgun earlier in the scene however, and now the character is armed. Adjust the flow of panels to establish that there is a table in the room, and now your character can hide behind it to gain cover. Each scene can play out a number of different, often surprising ways, depending on the order of the panels.
“It starts off as a chase, and then you’re trying to clear your name,” Boggs said. “A chase provides a good incentive to stay moving, and it provides a good context to give levels, but it won’t be a flat out chase the whole way. There will be other things we explore, there will be narrative focused levels. Not so much action based, but you can change the way two people interact with each other. We’re still experimenting with a lot of that stuff.”
They’re also working on a sort of scoring system for people who finish each scene in the fewest possible moves. Hitting the “play” icon in the first panel and seeing how things play out gives you a number of clues about what you need to do and how you need to help the character, but I was also told that all the clues needed to finish each scene exist in the initial panel images. Clever players can, simply by studying the initial state of each scene, figure out what needs to be done and hit play when they’ve figured it out, creating what amounts to a perfect run through the level.
“We like the whole stripped back, here’s the game, you know? I really admire Starseed Pilgrim, how stripped back that is. It’s just a matter of going forth and figuring out the game,” Boggs said.
There isn’t much of a UI to speak of, you understand how to interact with the game very quickly, and there is a surprising amount of information that’s given to the player in very subtle ways.
It’s neat to sit down, stare at the level for a few minutes, re-arrange the panels, and then watch with your heart in your throat to see if the character survives all the encounters. You feel very clever when things go according to plan, and then you wonder how you could have missed the obvious perils when something bad happens.
I only played a very small portion of the game, but I was always aware that it was my fault when something bad took placed; the game had provided me with all the necessary information needed to figure things out on my own.
They’re aiming the release for early next year, and it’s a natural fit for touch devices. Playing Framed is a little bit like playing God as you get to control the movement of time and help this man to survive what should be impossible situations. All it takes is the movement of one or two panels, and you change everything about how the scenes take place, and whether you get to continue to work to clear your name, are taken, or killed.
The line between life and death, it seems, exists in the gutters.