One question that we get a lot is: “where did the name Default Dan come from?”. Well, believe it or not there actually is a pretty good explanation. This peculiar name has a lot to do with the core philosophy from which the game was born, so that’s a good place to start.
In the beginning… there was jam.
The 2012 Georgia Fall Game Jam to be specific. If you’re not familiar with game jams, they are events where a bunch of programmers, designers, and artists form into small teams and are given the task of building a game in 48 hours that adheres to a given theme. The theme this year was “Eye of the Beholder”, which at its core represents the idea that perception is subjective. Following this line of thought, it made sense to develop a game focused on perception, or more specifically, a game that utilizes perception. Thus, the idea was born – a game that tells you one thing with visual cues, and does the opposite through mechanics. A game where perception itself is the enemy, where havoc is wrought in the mind of the player through the inversion of anticipated behaviors.
Still, this does not explain the name Default Dan. Well, I’m getting to that part soon.
The importance of familiarity
In order to flip a game upside down, the player must already expect things to work a certain way. When you purchase the latest first person shooter, you already know how to play – that is, you already have expectations for how the game will work because it resembles something you have played in various forms for years.
It is essential that Default Dan exudes “platformer-ness” in order to create expectations of how the game mechanics should work . The game largely resembles Mario because Mario is THE platformer game – it is perhaps the only game that is ubiquitous enough to sum up an entire genre. Therefore, if we want to instill a feeling of familiarity within the platforming genre, it makes sense to utilize gaming tropes created by the Super Mario games. We intentionally lure the player into a Mario mindset before the game even starts in order to establish a false sense of familiarity. We do this so that we can create anticipation in the player, which we use to create surprise when things are flipped upside down.
And the point is…
This is why it’s called Default Dan. Everything about Dan is designed to look familiar – to feel familiar. The name sums that idea up, rather bluntly. Default Dan is the most obvious of platforming heroes, he represents the common denominator of the platforming genre. Dan runs, Dan jumps, and Dan is instantly familiar. He resides in that corner of your brain that has been shaped by video games your entire life, and uses your brain’s default responses as psychological traps.