Introducing HOHOKUM: A Frontrunner in the Zen Genre
By Malik Forté on August 16, 2014
We live in a day and age where life calls for alternative means of stress relief, outside of the traditional methods like meditation and good ole medicinal herbage. Popular go-to relaxation remedies in the video game space are intriguing, because they often seem to counter the entire purpose of unwinding. You ever hear someone say “I like to take my frustrations out by shooting and massacring people on Grand Theft Auto?” Many take to their homes, spark up their consoles, and throw on their headsets to yell at countless “un-parented tweens”, or run over NPC pedestrians as a means of repose. But what about the folks who are looking to obtain a heightened state of video game calm not achieved by virtual acts of violence?
Lucky for us, there’s a genre that’s been carving itself ever so slowly right under our noses– a genre that focuses on the tranquility of a player as opposed to one’s compellence. A genre where instead of dragging you to the edge of your seat in enthrallment, the objective is to melt you into the seams of your sofa, without forcing you to think or react to anything as your typical gaming experience would demand. This genre is what I call the “zen genre”, and there’s a new title on the horizon that is on the forefront of pushing this class of game forward, by the name of Hohokum.
“People need empty spaces to help clear their mind, think of it as the opposite end of a puzzle,” said Richard Hogg as he explained the concept behind his brainchild. As contradicting as it may sound, Hogg and the team at Honeyslug went extreme lengths to produce the most non-extreme tone with Hohokum, and the game’s art style is a huge part of how they were able to make this possible. Hogg claims that the team spent a good amount of time studying moods, and what colors often correspond with them in today’s society. Perhaps you can accredit such efforts to the game’s luminous eye-catching visuals. Hohokum is sensationally pastel, using a series of complementary bright colors to accentuate the game’s atmospheric charm and exuberance.
“I hope that people find it refreshing and dig that it’s not difficult,” stated Hogg when speaking about Hohokum‘s gameplay. The character (or object) that you play as, called the long mover, is not only a device for exploration, but for expression as well. Hogg envisions the game as an organically assembled interactive blank canvas, where players can move freely and choose how they progress through Hohokum‘s world based off of their current state of mind. He then went on to point out that there are very loose objectives and interactions within the game which will warrant a sense of accomplishment, but no sense of pressure or failure while engaging with the game’s environment.
The visuals and gameplay are definitely unique and well worth touting, but the real MVP in what makes this game significant is how Hohokum delivers on an aural front. While Richard Hogg and company were deep in the process of making the game, there were a series of tunes playing around their studio that set the mood while they brought the game’s other verticals to life. Upon realizing that most of these tunes were courtesy of the esteemed artist of Ghostly International, this eventually led to the label’s involvement in the game’s soundtrack– a soundtrack that is arguably one of the flyest collection of compositions in a game to date.
Among Ghostly International’s featured musicians in the game is Shigeto, a composer known for delivering an electronic, 8 bit sounding vibe in his work. He’s been a gamer since the good ole days of Pitfall and pegged titles such as Mega Man, and Shinobi as influences when it comes to his abstract electronic sound. Being that his passion for video games had to overcome the obstacle of his mother not allowing him to play them as a kid, I think it’s safe to say that he’s more than ecstatic about actually being artistically involved in the creation of one.
“I like how playful it is,” Shigeto replied when asked what about Hohokum stood out to him, “I like that it’s not a video game based on shooting people.” Knowing the premise of the game, Shigeto was able to experiment with his contribution to the game’s soundtrack. He wanted make music that could also be analogous to the ambience of crickets at night, and conducted most of his jam sessions at night time for further inspiration.
Not many video games include proper collaborations between the musicians scoring the game and the developers, and a good amount of games just roll licensed music or backtracking music over the top of the gameplay and deem it a sufficient integration. Shigeto and the rest of the Ghostly teams’ music is actually a part of the game, and adds a deeper level of interaction that simulates the players senses in a calm and soothing manner. First-person shooters, sports games, massive multiplayer online games– damnit, sometimes people just want to chill.
Hohokum is incomprehensible to the point where pretty much all you can do is relax, as the game almost provokes that you don’t attempt to understand it, but instead, experience it. There really aren’t a proper assemblage of words that can accurately describe how it feels to play Hohokum, which is available in the PlayStation Store for $14.99. One thing’s for certain though: this game is one of the most anomalously beautiful gaming experiences that have arrived in some time and I encourage anyone that’s having a rough day and looking to relax to let Hohokum sooth you while bringing your spirits back to the promise land.