One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my fifth review in this series called “50 games”.

Recently I made a game for a 17-in-1 PICO-8 cart, and when I was naming the game I quickly searched for existing games with the names I had in mind. One of the ones I found was “Black Gold” by Conor Mccann, made for The Mystic Western Game Jam in June 2017.

The game looked interesting, and I decided to play it as part of the “50 games” challenge. Please be warned that there will be spoilers.

The setting of the game is two men sitting on their truck, having a beer and talking under the warm Texas stars. As the player, you can (sometimes) choose what to say or reply - and that’s the whole gameplay. In the background there is an oil derrick slowly moving, and also different constellations in the sky for each playthrough.

The chat reveals that the main character’s dad just died, and that he had a stash of old, weird drugs. Depending on your path, you might see the effect of those drugs - or you might just drive home and sleep it off.

The game is very much trying to describe a feeling, a situation, a passage of time through its greyscale, slow-moving graphics and similar music. I think it succeeds at this, and it’s great to see games that do something different than what most people would expect a game to do.

It’s pretty short, and one of the main dialogue options is effectively silence, so you can easily play through all of the dialogue paths with a few sessions.

So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?

  • Games can be many things; don’t restrict yourself to traditional recipes
  • Mood can be a very effective mechanism in games (but it’s not easy to get it right)
  • Even a simple dialogue tree game can be beautiful, moody and make people think. That’s pretty awesome!