2020/03/01 Status Update
If last week's theme was establishing the company's foundation, this week's theme was building the foundation of our game project.
We are continuing to work towards applying for GameScape and getting a build that we are satisfied with handing out to interested playtesters. We've had some updates with searching for prospective artists to work with us. We spent a large portion of the week going over our intended audience, player profiles, themes, story, and characters. And somewhere in there, we squeezed in work on the core gameplay systems and mechanics.
Apply to GameScape (Deadline: March 31st, 2020)
GameScape is a portion of the Artscape summer festival that "showcases games and the creative people who make them." We know that for the game we are making, we want to show it to a broad audience to play it and give us feedback. Since we based around Baltimore, this event is perfect for us, in terms of travel-time and minimal setup. The March 31st deadline means that we have about six weeks to get a vertical slice of the game we want complete for submission.
In tandem with submitting to GameScape, we want to build out our pipeline for producing builds of the game and sharing them out to friends, family, and players that are interested in trying it out. As a part of that, we have a mailing list that you can sign up for to stay up to date with future playtest.
We have been refining the best ways for us to gather inspiration and spec out how various systems should work. As an example, we will sit around a TV and bring various influences that we've individually had and project them in front of us. We'll take notes about the systemic features we like and note weaknesses and cross-reference the implementations. I think this works for us because it is both a very collaborative, visually-engaging process as well as a physical one. Sometimes we'll be watching a let's-player interacting with some gameplay system, and someone will say, "Pause the video!" and then they'll stand up and point on the screen at the interaction that strikes them. We are refining our approach for breaking down systems and turning that into implementation notes for work that we've been doing.
I've built out an attribute-based system for UI elements in Unity that has already proven helpful for quickly iterating on dynamic UI behavior, such as character transitions, color fades, and cursor-following, with more code-reusability and less complexity in elements. With this system in place, I prototyped our core dialogue system, as well as the "tools" that appear in our core mid-game.
Even though we had worked on this last week, I have the baseline for converting written screenplay-like text as a script for running the game. We investigated at similar systems like Yarn and Yarn Spinner, branded as "dialogue engine behind Night in the Woods, A Short Hike, OK KO: Let's Play Heroes, and Frog Detective 2." I determined the amount of work we would have to do for integrating the system with our gameplay was equivalent to or more, considering support. Additionally, we thought about the comfort we'd have by defining the scripting language ourselves over learning a new system. With those considerations in mind, we opted to describe the scripting layer ourselves and build out a parser.
The parse has been straightforward to build and test. I have separated the code for the parse into a standalone class library project and solution outside the Unity-defined projects and solution. This separation allows for a faster iteration and unit-test time. Once I am happy with the state of the parser, I can build the library as a DLL directly into our game's Unity project. I highly recommend this approach for developing non-Unity related C# code.
We have reached out to a few artists with an art test that we've crafted to help us determine how achievable our art style is, how the response to the art is, and also to determine if the art style that we've been developing is the one we truly want. We hope to get results and more takeaways on this by next week.
Audience and Player Profiles
We believe it is essential to cater to our players and craft an experience that they will genuinely enjoy. To do this properly, we needed to specify whom we thought our audience was and who are the types of players that make up that audience. I cannot go too much into detail about the process here because it has been very organic and comes from us as a team pulling inspiration from various sources to settle upon the profiles we did.
We bemoaned the fact that we did not start this sooner, but we also don't think that being off by a week for defining this was too bad. Why did we feel so strongly about this? Well, it is because we gained much clarity immediately for the project we are making. With this newly acquired clarity, we were able to wield it like a razor blade to cut away ideas and features that we thought we needed but didn't serve any of our prospective players enough. Some of these ideas were as fresh as from last week and even ideas that we were ourselves excited to see. But the key takeaway we had was that we are not making a game primarily for ourselves, we are making a game for our players.
Themes / Story
We worked on this after we developed our audience and player profiles. These razors again helped to clarify the settings and themes that we think makes the most sense. We wrapped up our day of audience defining with talking about themes. As will come up in the character section, we killed off some initial ideas we have for settings, and honed in on a setting that we felt most broadly appealed to our audience.
We honed in a process for rapidly developing engaging characters. With making a game where we potentially need many one-off characters, it was important to figure out a system that enabled us to work through character ideas quickly and get into the stages of fleshing them out more.
We started with referencing various character archetypes in our genre. This involved using tvtropes.org and searching for our various inspirations and characters and seeing what kinds of traits made up those characters. This helped to identify larger trends of traits, as well as highlight traits we think work well. We moved on to the 12 Jungian Archetypes and broke down characters that we were inspired by into the primary, secondary, and sometimes even tertiary archetypes that we felt they made up. We noted that strong, central characters are usually a blend of a lot of different archetypes and some interesting character growth can come from them transitioning between archetypes.
Next we took the archetypes and sticky notes, and started to mix-and-match them to inform describing a character brief. A character brief took up about several lines of text and highlighted the kind of archetypes the character inhabited. We came up with about 12-14 character briefs in about 10-15 minutes with this process. We reviewed all the character briefs, identified ones that were similar enough to be the same character potentially, ones that were unique and strong on their own, and ones that were didn't think made the cut.
With the trimmed down set of character briefs, we worked through each one, one at a time, and starting writing what we call the "bones" of the character. These bones are defining traits, core values, and stand out features that we think a character would have. Sometimes during this process, we would identify a character that even though we liked them, they were not blending in with the themes, tone or setting that we had previously defined, so we threw them out.
Once finished defining the "bones" for the character, we started roughly fleshing out a character by asking "Why?" for most of the character's main features. Why do they care about this thing? Why did they choose to do this? Having someone asking the "Why?" and someone answering the question felt like a great organic way to build up a character and frequently we would fine that the answers to these Why's would tie into other aspects of the character or generate new aspects. Sometimes the Why's would be answers by a character's interaction with another character.
Overall, we came away with four characters that we feel like they make sense in our world and feel like real, unique individuals with relationships to each other.
With our setting and some initial characters in place, we want to draft up some dialogue and banter between characters. In particular, we want to test out how these characters feel when they interact in game.
Core Gameplay Loop Implementation
We have discussed the core gameplay we are aiming for, and while there is some implementation work done, we need to do the full thing. Most of next week on my part will be spent getting this system working and getting the various piece to interplay with eachother properly.
Perforce / Build Pipelining
Until we have a build to be pipelined, we are pushing off this work.
If you have any questions, comments, feedback for me, you can email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you like this post, you can see more in the Devlog section or check out last week's post
Once again, if you are interested in playtesting builds of the game or future updates, you can click the button below!