Catherine, as Described by PGDI – Part I

In today’s post I will be describing the game Catherine through the framework of my model, the Player-Game Descriptive Index (PGDI). Earlier this month, I described the mechanics present in Catherine, based upon a playthrough I completed. To describe the game, I will be using the descriptions provided by my recent posts on PGDI. This will be the first of two parts, and it will be focused on describing the Social, Customization, and Progression components of Catherine. I will do so based upon my field notes and recorded gameplay. The scale I will be using for components is: none < weak < fair < medium < strong <total. A score of none means that the game does not exhibit the component in any way, while a score of total means that every aspect of the game exhibits the component. Few components will be none or total.

Social Components

It is less apparent from my playthrough that there are social components to Catherine. I am unable to play the multiplayer modes of Catherine as I have not gotten a golden trophy on any stage at normal difficulty, and I have not beaten the main game. That said, it is important to describe the multiplayer modes of the game before trying to situate Catherine’s social components. Catherine comes equipped with two additional modes from the Golden Theater mode that I have played: Babel and Colosseum. Babel is a series of randomly generated challenges for one or two local players. It is ranked, meaning that each player’s performance is compared to local play times as well as an online leaderboard. In Babel, the goal is for players to reach the top floor. If two players are playing, then both must reach the top. This creates a different set of concerns, when you realize that players cannot share the same space and that if either character falls the game is over. Stages for Babel are unlocked by achieving a number of gold trophies on normal difficulty stages.

The Colosseum mode is a competitive mode between two local players. In this mode, each player’s goal is to get to the top or cause the other player to fall. The game is played until a single player is successful twice, and that player wins. Colosseum mode is only unlocked once you have finished the Golden Theater mode.

Multiplayer

Because we are talking about multiplayer modes in general already, I think it would be best to address the multiplayer component first before moving on. The game comes equipped with one fully multiplayer mode, the Colosseum, and a mode that can be played multiplayer, Babel. Babel also contains an online and local leaderboard, which allows players to interact with each other tangentially. Additionally, during the Golden Theater mode of the game, the player’s answers to the uncomfortable questions in the confessional are compared to other players’ first time answer data. The level of interaction between players in Golden Theater is nearly nonexistent, and the leaderboards provide only a historical interaction between players. The Babel mode is partially multiplayer, but the game also prevents the player from playing it at first. The Colosseum mode is not even visible until the player has completed Golden Theater, so it is unable to contribute to a large portion of the game. The physical spaces and number of stages included in multiplayer modes are also dwarfed by the Golden Theater mode. As such, I would place Catherine‘s multiplayer component at weak. It certainly contributes to the game, but does not make up anywhere close to half the game.

Catherine – Multiplayer – Weak

Community

My captured gameplay did not allow me to interact with many community components, so I feel like I cannot accurately describe this component well, but I will do so based on the information I have. Catherine‘s built-in capability to interact with other players by discussing or sharing about the game falls in two places, the leaderboard of the Babel mode and the online comparison of confessional question answers. Both of these features allow the player to share information only historically, never in real time. From within the game, the only way to share about the game in the moment with other players is with a local co-player while playing a multiplayer mode. This is very limiting overall and allows for very little freedom of communication. As such, Catherine, while it has some community component, only has a weak one.

Catherine – Community – Weak

Competition, Cooperation

It may be tempting to look at the multiplayer component and say that because Catherine is weak in multiplayer that it must also be weak in competition and cooperation. This would make the competition and cooperation components rely too much on another component, though. Instead, we have to narrow the scope and ask, “In game spaces where the players can interact, how much of that interaction is competitive or cooperative?” By doing this, we discount the Golden Theater mode of Catherine, following that the online comparison of confessional questions provides no ability to interact with other players in any way other than on a community level. There is no way to “beat” players at it, and no way to “help” players with it. This stems from the fact that there is no actual goal. Looking at only the multiplayer modes we can see that they only involve climbing towers. They do not include any other mechanics than those that are used to scale the towers. That said, the mechanics that have bearing for the competition and cooperation components are, largely: the rule that characters cannot stand on the same block, the rule that each player can hold one item, and the design choice that the view of the game must show both players at the same time, without splitting the screen, regardless of how far apart they are. Additionally, the stated goals of the two modes play into these components.

The goal of the Babel mode is to reach the top and to do it faster than other players have previously. If both players are playing then both must reach the top and neither must fall off. Babel with two players has a separate leaderboard for comparing times with other teams online. The goal of Colosseum is to either reach the top or to force your opponent to fall. Babel provides one avenue to success, while Colosseum provides two. Colosseum also requests  that the players compete until someone has won twice, which adds a second layer of interaction. In both modes, it is true that either player can hinder the other by moving into an occupied space, thus pushing the other player off the block and possibly falling. Players may equally help or hinder each other by moving blocks to make passage possible or impossible. Normally, to climb the tower, a player may only hold one item, but in the multiplayer modes, each player may hold an item. Items are more prevalent in Colosseum. Players can use these items to help each other or hinder each other, but most of the items provide beneficial effects such as creating a block or turning all blocks into normal blocks.

Both modes are inherently trying to “beat” another player, be it the one in the chair next to you in Colosseum, or the team at the top of the leaderboard in Babel. The players also have fewer ways to help each other than hinder each other, given that every action they do can be equally used to help or hinder, except that most items are beneficial for both players (slightly helping) and moving onto another player’s space will always knock them off, which provides no ability to help using the action. Given these examinations, it becomes clear that Catherine exhibits at least some cooperation and some competition in its multiplayer interactions, and that Catherine is more competitive than cooperative. As such, Catherine has a medium cooperation component, but a strong competition component. The scores for the competition and cooperation components are tempered by the fact that Catherine, as a whole, has a weak multiplayer component. In reading this, we could say that Catherine does not have much in the way of multiplayer interaction, but when it does, it tends to be more competitive than cooperative; both options are present.

Catherine – Competition – Strong

Catherine – Cooperation – Medium

Overall, Catherine is fair in the social components.

Catherine – Social – Fair

Customization Components

The customization components deal with the reconfiguring of the game in some way, be it the world, the experience, the route, one’s identity or one’s actions. There are five customization components: building, experimentation, replay, uniqueness, and variety.

Building

The core mechanic of the gameplay for Catherine revolves around the moving of blocks to make a pathway upward. The building component deals with being able to reconfigure the world and its objects. There is a direct correlation between Catherine‘s gameplay and this component. However the ability to configure the world is temporary and fleeting. Nothing remains after a few seconds of gameplay because the blocks fall periodically throughout the stage. Further, if the player fails a stage, it is reset and any impact on the world the player might have had is now gone. Still, if only for a moment, the player has the ability to affect how the world looks before moving on. Given the amount of weight given to the block climbing stages (at least two-thirds of the gameplay time is spent doing this) and the fact that there are other modes which are solely this kind of play, Catherine would have a medium amount of building component. Knowing that the player’s ability to affect the world is only temporary, though, would move the game down to fair. The focus of moving the blocks is not to build, but to progress.

Catherine – Building – Fair

Experimentation

Experimentation is the configuration of actions. This can be as blatant as making entirely new actions, but it is more often related to creating new action combinations. It is important to note that here the focus is on the player finding the actions and action combinations they want to do, rather than focusing on getting good at all the actions. Experimentation is more about doing something in an enjoyable way in a game than it is about finding all the actions or being the best at the “right” actions (these notions are different mastery components). In the case of Catherine, the player is encouraged to find and try techniques that will help them scale the blocks faster. Although the focus is on getting better at scaling the tower, how the player gets to the top is up to them. The relatively simple gameplay does not give way to many actions, but this makes it easier to experiment with them. The ability to undo moves in easy difficulty also leads to more testing of new combinations of actions. At the end of the day, though, we are still moving up the blocks as fast as possible. Catherine has more parts of gameplay than just scaling blocks, though. The actions devised in the climbing blocks stages are not useful in the interludes at the bar, or on the landings between stages. In light of all this, Catherine‘s experimentation component is fair.

Catherine – Experimentation – Fair

Replay

The replay component focuses on customizing one’s route through the game, and Catherine has this in spades. Starting with the climbing block stages, there is no one way to climb the tower. The player can use many different techniques to scale the blocks in whatever route they choose. The direction is always suggested to be up, as that is the direction of progression, but the player could use moving down the blocks as part of a route to climb the tower and finish the stage. Moving over to a part of the game that I have yet to talk much about, the bar interludes, the player is given the freedom to do what they want in the bar. They can talk to others, they can play with the arcade game or the juke box, they can answer or not answer text messages on the phone, etc. There are many options for what to do in the bar, but the most impactful of actions are those that interact with Vincent’s tendency toward law or chaos, which affects the outcome and path of the game. The vast number of possible routes through the game make it very easy for a player to choose the one they want. Catherine is strong in the replay component.

Catherine – Replay – Strong

Uniqueness

Uniqueness is the ability to reconfigure the player’s identity and representation in the game. The focus is on standing out and being different from other players’ representations. Catherine doesn’t allow the player to change how they look physically in the game, and even the two-player modes always provide Katherine as the second player. The real uniqueness for Catherine is in the player’s ability to affect the personality and moral compass of the main character, Vincent. To do this, players answer very difficult questions or interact with Katherine and Catherine via text messages where the player will cycle through responses and build a message to send. After answering the questions or sending the message, the game evaluates the impact and shows on a meter how this changes Vincent’s moral standing. The game only provides a two-factor spectrum between law and chaos and, as has been reported to me during an observed playthrough, the questions provide only two answers. Sometimes neither answer will be desired or aligned with the player’s identity in the game. These limited options provide Catherine with a fair uniqueness component.

Catherine – Uniqueness – Fair

Variety

A game’s variety revolves around the player’s ability to customize their experience with the game. What this means is that the game has many different kinds of gameplay modes and that getting from one mode to another is easy Additionally, the more broken up and non-repetitive, the stronger the component. Essentially, it allows the player to reconfigure the gameplay of the game by choosing a different kind of gameplay at the time. Usually, this is done by providing different, separated modes of play. Catherine does well with this. First, as discussed here, the Golden Theater mode of the game is comprised of three different sections of the game, each with vastly different modes of play. The block climbing mode of play is the most repetitive, with only short breaks in between long stages that allow players to recharge. The interludes in the bar provide a very different kind of gameplay, though. In these sections of the game, the player is not necessarily required to do anything in any particular order, except that to continue the game, the player needs to perform some specific actions. The bar provides players with the option to talk to all the major characters there, use the jukebox, talk to people via text messages, drink, use the restroom or the ATM (which provide insight into the next parts of the game), or voluntarily play an arcade game that is similar to the block-climbing stages. On top of all that, the game also provides the aforementioned Babel and Colosseum modes for playing block-climbing stages with different conditions or goals. The only problem with Catherine and variety is that it can be difficult to quickly get out of a mode of play, particularly if playing the regular block-climbing stages. Catherine does not quite have a strong variety component, but it has at least a medium one.

Catherine – Variety – Medium

Overall, Catherine is medium in the customization components.

Catherine – Customization – Medium

Progression Components

Fortunately, the progression components for Catherine are fairly easy to determine. The progression components show how the players get through the game and how the game grows or changes over time. There are four progression components: ability, character, goals, and plot.

Ability

The ability component deals with the player needing new actions to continue on in the game. These actions must be found or given to the player and serve as keys for overcoming some kind of obstacle. They do not necessarily make the game easier, but can make the game more complicated as the player has to juggle more and more actions (provided the actions stick around). From my playthrough, I could find no instance where the game required me to use any other action other than the standard actions of moving blocks or moving myself. The game highlighted some different forms of these actions as the game went on, but the actions had always been there. The game was just letting me know about them. Further, the game tells me about various techniques that I could use to scale the blocks faster, but again, those actions had always been there. I didn’t have to find them externally in order to use them. With all of this, Catherine has none for ability. Acquiring new abilities is not required to complete the game.

Catherine – Ability – None

Character

While Catherine exhibits no ability component, it does exhibit a character component. The character component requires characters to grow and change internally in order to continue the game. This growth can be on a number of levels, but in Catherine‘s case, it is on an emotional level. As the player goes through the game, there are points at which Vincent must make decisions that affect his emotional identity. The game cannot continue until Vincent changes. Vincent’s emotional growth is important to the overall outcome of the game and it is the final factor that determines if the player “wins” or “loses” the game. This emotional growth is foregrounded by narrative feedback and made apparent through most parts of the game. Although Vincent only grows and changes on a single level, these changes are so present and permeable to the game that this is not a deterring factor. The lack of character progression required in the Babel and Colosseum gameplay modes prevent the component from being strong. Catherine exhibits a medium character component.

Catherine – Character – Medium

Goals

The goals component deals with whether or not the player progresses through the game by completing clearly stated goals or objectives. The nature of the block-climbing stages in Catherine, forever forcing the player upward, with the added announcement that the goal is to get to the top points to a strong goals component. However this is only one part of the game, albeit a large portion, shared with the alternate modes of Babel and Colosseum. The bar interludes provide very little, if any stated goals. In fact, the suggestion is more towards letting the player do what they want while in the bar. The bar scenes have no stated objectives and no required actions beyond leaving the bar. This juxtaposition between clear and unstated goals gives Catherine a medium goals component.

Catherine – Goals – Medium

Plot

The plot component has to do with a steady pacing of the game. The game advances at certain points and the progression of the game can be plotted or planned out. Most games have this kind of progression at least a little, but Catherine almost seems to live by it. First off, the game’s block-climbing stages, which comprise about two-thirds of gameplay overall, steadily force the player upward at a constant speed. This is a very extreme form of plot progression where the game progresses regardless of the actions of the player. The blocks below will continue to fall until the player has reached the top of the stage or falls off and must restart. The game also progresses temporally, with an opening statement that Vincent’s story is a week long, and that the game sets up a block-climbing section of the game for each day. The narrative is propelled along by events that happen sequentially, though the player has some control over what happens in those events. Although the game is presented as though it were a film, there is actually quite a lot for the player to actually do. Additionally, some parts of the game have little plotted sequence, such as the bar interludes, which can be navigated in a different sequence each time it is encountered. For these reasons, Catherine‘s plot component cannot be total, but it can be, and is, strong.

Catherine – Plot – Strong

Overall, Catherine is medium in the progression components, but I note that this may be less useful considering how polarized the category is for Catherine.

Catherine – Progression – Medium

That is it for this time. Next week I will be pulling out the components of the other three categories not discussed here: participation, mastery, and immersion.

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