Games don’t always need to be big to have a large impact on players. In fact sometimes a simple and poignant experience can be much more impactful than the latest triple AAA blockbuster. At least, this seemed to be the case with many players who stumbled upon indie game Iron Sunset. Originally released for free on entertainment and artist community NewGrounds, it soon went on to receive attention from several major gaming news publications, for the thoughtful gameplay and emotional subject matter.
As a soldier in the midst of a war zone, players are presented with a choice by their commanding officer. Three possible traitors have been blindfolded, bound, and are now facing a one person firing squad. A time limit is set and the commander spouts encouragement or threats to do a soldier’s duty, and execute the person gamers believe to be the traitor. The only defense the prisoners have are their words, which they quickly shout when facing the barrel of a gun. Players must read the heartfelt appeals to their humanity, pleas for mercy, and other unusual statements, to ultimately decide who gets their bullet. The twist? All of the statements made by the various characters were written by players who came before.
After players decide on who they are executing and take their shot, they are then taken to a screen that notifies them that they are now suspected of being a traitor, and will face a similar fate. Players must beg for their character’s life using only the words they write. Some other player will inevitably ignore the groveling, and takes the character’s life. Participants who opted to enter their email address will then receive a message containing a letter, which details the specifics of the execution. This small, short experience offers players a wide range of contemplations, and even managers to offer a surprise or two for those who really experiment with the possibilities of the game. Interested in learning more about the origins and purpose of the game, we took the opportunity to talk with Iron Sunset’s designer Edu Verzinsky.
Jesse Tannous: What inspired the creation of Iron Sunset? What were you hoping to get players to contemplate?
Edu Verzinsky: The original idea was to see if people would kill a character only because they were told to do it. Then I had to think how to make the characters more important than the orders you were getting so the player would face a more complex decision. I thought that the best way to do it would be if the characters were other people playing the game. That’s basically what I wanted the player to contemplate, the fact that they not only killed a bunch of pixels but another player.
JT: You’ve created many other games as well, how would you define the majority of your work? What kind of games do you believe you design?
EV: So far my games have been quite different from each other, but I try to make them not just fun but also give them some kind of moral or surprise factor to try to blow the player’s mind, and let them think about it. I try to innovate in my games. However it is pretty difficult to do that, and end up with a game that the general player would enjoy or understand.
JT: Most of your games use anthropomorphic animals in place of human characters, is there a particular reason why?
EV: Humans are all kind of the same. Animals, however, give you a lot of information about their personality and nature just by the way they look. That way I also need to use a smaller number of pixels which is always good.
JT: Are you gathering any information about the statements players are submitting for Iron Sunset? From what you’ve seen so far, what do you make of them? Have there been some interesting trends?
EV: We have a database that we are thinking to release (just the statements not the emails) so everyone can appreciate the things that people come up with. It’s been really interesting to see how it has developed. At first there was a lot of stupid and nonsense phrases but then, once people knew what they were getting into, we started to see deeper and more clever statements. I would say that the most popular trends are involving the family and offering money.
JT: Do you have any idea of what kind of game you will make next? Has the attention that Iron Sunset garnered affected the way you may develop games in the future?
EV: Before Iron Sunset were successful I was already developing other games with social factor, which are a little bit bigger than this one. So I think the answer is no. I was already interested in using the social factor before Iron Sunset got all that attention, and in my next games you will probably see more of that.
Those who want to experience Iron Sunset for themselves can still do so for free at NewGrounds. Players interested in checking out some of Verzinsky’s other projects can find a complete list on his blog, and updates on his Twitter account.