At first glance, Shiny looks like a video game version of the hit Disney movie WALL-E. It features a robot named Kramer who is living in a post-apocalyptic world. His planet is destined to crash into the sun and all the humans have to run for safety, leaving him and all the other robots behind to die. Kramer’s goal is to bring power to a leftover ship so he can escape the world with his fellow robots. Daniel Monastero, co-founder of developer Garage 227, acknowledged this similarity at PAX East and said that XBLA Fans was not the first to point out the relation. He went on to tell us how he wanted to make a non-violent game about sacrifice and helping others for the greater good. It was still all sounding a bit WALL-E to me at this point, but after chatting him up for a bit longer, I got the true story behind the game, and it is an impressive one.
Bringing a classic album to life
Video games, just like music, are an art form, so it comes as no surprise that music could influence a developer when setting out to create a game. In many cases, the soundtrack to a game is almost another character in the way that it tells the story and sets the tone. Music and video games go hand-in-hand. In the case of Shiny, Daniel Monastero was inspired by an album written by a rock legend — John Lennon. The album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, is one that Lennon wrote in 1970 after his breakup with The Beatles.
I regret to say that prior to PAX East I had never listened to the album before. While putting this story together, I remedied that, listening to it in its entirety and reading about Lennon’s own influence for each song. It’s an incredible record, filled with grief and personal revelations from Lennon about his life and feelings. If you’ve never listened to it before, you should. After listening to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and talking to Monastero, I can now so clearly see its influences in Shiny that any thought of the game being a WALL-E rip-off is completely off the table.
Mama left me
Lennon’s album starts out with a song called, Mother. Sadly, Lennon’s mother died when he was only 17 years old, and his father abandoned his family when John was a baby. This sets the scene for Shiny. You’re a robot whose “parents” (the humans) have abandoned you and let you all alone. In Mother, Lennon says at one point “Father, you left me, but I never left you/I needed you, but you didn’t need me.” This is exactly the story of Shiny. This poor robot never abandoned his human family, but when he needed them to save him during from the apocalypse, they left him to die.
The remaining tracks on side one are as follows: Hold On, I Found Out, Working Class Hero and Isolation. Each of these can be seen in Shiny‘s storyline. Hold On features Lennon encouraging Yono and himself to just hold on because the next day could always be better, and this day could be your last. I Found Out is Lennon expressing that there is no higher god that can save him, and that the only person he can rely on is himself. It appears as though this is the case for Kramer as well. Kramer is, in a sense, our “Working Class Hero.” Before the apocalypse, he was built to do manual labor. He was just a working class robot who is now trying to be the hero and save all those who were left behind.
Finally, Isolation describes how he is feeling being left all alone. It even has the lyrics, “I don’t expect you to understand after you’ve caused so much pain/But then again, you’re not to blame/You’re just a human, a victim of the insane.” This is obviously, another fitting line for Kramer, as he is a robot speaking to the humans who could never understand his pain. Monastero told me that this song and the feeling of isolation were the inspiration for the first level of Shiny. Future levels were also designed to correspond to the emotions that Kramer is feeling as he progresses closer and closer to escaping this dangerous world. A bit Inside Out, right? Maybe Monastero is secretly a huge Disney fan on top of loving John Lennon.
Listening to this album, talking to Monastero and playing the demo, brings everything together and makes Shiny that much more interesting. I only played the beginning of the game, but now I want to follow Kramer’s journey and see just how closely it compares to Lennon’s album.
Classic side-scrolling fun
But what about the gameplay? The Shiny demo was just as much fun to play as the story was to learn. Shiny is an action-platformer in which your main goal is to harvest and conserve energy to power up the spaceship, all while saving as many robots as you can along the way. Saving a robots will give you a temporary power-up. When you die, any robots you have saved will remain so. The idea behind this is again a deep, well-thought-out one of sacrificing yourself to save another person or robot.
The final version of Shiny will include 20 levels with about six hours of gameplay. An official release date and price have yet to be finalized, but Garage 227 is targeting a 2016 window and a price point of around $10.
Just like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz are said to pair up well together, I am predicting that Shiny will be a much more enjoyable experience if you listen to John Lennon’s album before or while playing. This is a case of art inspiring art, and from what I have seen so far, it is a solid tribute to the album achieved through the power of play.