"I didn’t get my friend a birthday present, so I made him a game." — February 28, 2010
"birthday" — February 26, 2012
"Some games are designed for a large audience. Some for a small audience. Some for an audience of one. Some aren’t designed to be played at all. Gaming as an artistic medium is broad enough to accommodate all of these approaches. There is nothing wrong with the existence of a game designed for someone who is not you. That said, it’s also a valid approach to critique games from perspectives outside of the ideologies and expectations of a game’s target audience.
"Happy Birthday Hennell  and Happy Birthday Hennell 2012: Puzzle Edition are a pair of games presented as digital birthday gifts. (There are more games in this series, but they are beyond the scope of this site.) The first is a facile game of clicking on candles to blow them out. It starts with a single candle. Each level adds an extra flame until the player reaches Hennell’s then-current age of 23, concluding with a short birthday wish and a final gag of decorating the cake with trick candles that relight after a short time. For most players, that’s 276 discrete, monotonous clicks to unlock a message intended for someone else. The game has a low barrier to completion, but a long length relative to its content. I wonder if this was a deliberate design decision to subtly repel players without a personal interest in the game?
"The second game also involves blowing out candles on a cake, but this time it’s a puzzle: draw five straight lines to overlap all twenty-five flames, each subsequent line segment beginning where the previous one ends. It’s a nontrivial challenge with a failure state. With some perseverance anyone could win Happy Birthday Hennell , but I could easily see a player walking away before the ending of Happy Birthday Hennell 2012.
"The puzzle itself isn’t cognitively difficult — with five lines and twenty-five candles, the player will need to hit an average of five candles per line, but the 5x5 grid means that the player will need to hit exactly five candles per turn, meaning the solution would need to be a zig-zag shape hitting each row or column in turn — but has a high execution difficulty. The flames offer a smaller target to hit than their sprites imply. It’s difficult to make minor changes to a solution. The player must draw all five lines in a single go, without an option to keep intermediate steps if they make a mistake partway through. The game forces the player to sit through a cute animation of an unseen character blowing out the candles, padding out the time between attempts. Most line endpoints will rest on the solid background in places with distant visual landmarks, making it difficult to accurately recreate previous attempts.
"After solving this puzzle, the game presents the player with a deliberately broken space partitioning puzzle as a way to introduce a mean joke and the final birthday wishes. (That is, it looks mean to my eyes, but I don’t have the necessary context to understand if Hennell was meant to see it that way!)
"I find it fascinating that we have here a pair of games made by the same designer for the same player, but with such different design ethos. People, even game designers, change over time. Friendships change over time as people grow closer or apart, learn new things about each other. It’s exhilarating how games made within the context of a long friendship, as a form of communication referencing a specific moment in time, could theoretically embody those changes."
Note: The first game contains flashing lights.
[Play Online (2010 Edition)] [Play Online (2012 Edition)]