Week 10: Steam Summer Festival, Environment Art, and Pivoting
We had several exciting events happen this last week. We started to work with Michelle Pineda (@pininkela on social media) on environment art for RavenHeart Hospital. On Friday, we submitted to the Steam Summer Festival. And to top things off, we decided to pivot the game based on feedback and our feelings about the direction of the game. But fear not, we think that you will understand and like the new direction.
Showcase the game
Apply to GameScape (Deadline: March 31st, 2020)
- We submitted for this towards the end of March. We expect to hear back during April
Demo at CCBC Tech and Gaming Expo (Event: April 25th, 2020)
- This event was cancelled, but we look forward to hearing about future events at CCBC!
- Steam Summer Festival (Demo Deadline: May 15th, 2020, Event: June 9th to June 15th)
- We submitted our application for RavenHeart Hospital and are working towards polishing up our demo build to submit for the festival. We are excited for this event as it can allow us to share our vision of the game with more players and gives us a chance to connect with more fans.
- More info here: https://partner.steamgames.com/doc/marketing/steamgamefestival
A rising concern with this goal is the COVID-19 outbreak and its consequences for large group gatherings and school closures. We are keeping a close eye on this developing situation and understand if some events end up postponing or canceling as a result.
Our second playtest is available now to newsletter subscribers! We have already gotten great feedback over the week, and I look forward to hearing more thoughts from players!
NEW GOAL: Support User Generated Content
We have recently had some players get interested in coming up with their own characters and narratives. Since we first made our own scripting language, we saw the potential to allow players to be able to craft new stories and we want to explore what it means to let players create and share these stories with eachother.
We did an initial art test for a surgery room scene because the room is one of the most critical rooms to our game, considering we have a fair amount of surgery simulation.
When Michelle came back with this, we were left with little to say: it works perfectly for our game. There is some more detail and clarity that we would like to bring out in this scene. But as the first stab at the surgery room, we couldn't be happier.
With this room and the cafeteria, Michelle brought in various reference material and outlines several sketch options for us to compare.
The overall framing of the third sketch spoke the most to us, and we want to explore seeing more into the patient's room from the hallway. From the other sketches and reference photos, there were various features that we want to pull into the scene. We like the fancier architecture from the fourth sketch, especially the wall railings. I also liked seeing additional props in the hallway, such as the patient's bed in sketch two or the couch in sketch one.
To keep with the tone of the game and character styles, we also have some considerations for making the scene more "futuristic". The joke with our game's futurism is that if we live in 2020 and there is a dystopian future in Cyberpunk 2077, our game takes place about a quarter to a third in between the two in a slightly Utopian future.
The cafeteria is a general eating and meeting area in our game. Doctors and nurses could be grabbing a quick meal. Patients' loved ones could be waiting here. We see it as a general use area.
We liked the verticality and multiple floors of the second sketch. To add to the roominess, we want to bring in the glass walls of the first and third sketch to give a sense of the outside space, maybe with trees and a view of Charm City.
As I said in the title and the intro, we are pivoting the game. Or rather, I like to think that we gained a sharper clarity into what kind of game we are making.
From the beginning of this project, we knew that we wanted to make a game where players play as a doctor, meet a diverse set of medical professionals and characters, make choices and save patients' lives. And that is still the game that we are making. The pivot is how we present that game to players.
From our playtests, we have presented a fairly linear story. You first meet some characters. An emergency happens, you go to save the day, you take a breather and meet some more characters, a twist in the first emergency appears, you save the day again, and wrap up with a heartwarming scene.
When we first talked about this game, we went back and forth about whether to present a more open exploration of events and characters in the game or go with a strictly linear game that would play like an episodic medical TV drama. We were not confident enough that the more "open" gameplay was the right decision for the game. We knew the "open" gameplay could be riskier in terms of implementation and cohesiveness. We struggled with figuring out the balance between how much players would be performing surgeries, versus learning the episode's plot versus meeting and exploring relationships with characters. So, for practical reasons, we decided to focus on making a game that closely resembled an episodic medical TV drama.
And then, we got playtest feedback. And we got more interest from players wanting to make their characters in the game. And we played through the game and felt that it was missing something to keep us playing.
We realized that continuing to make a linear game was not going to engage players or us the way that we wanted.
So we revisited the ideas of a more "open" game, and JT took some time to figure out the new structure for the game.
The core solution that JT came up with is to make characters and episodes be the same thing.
This new format has a few interesting consequences. But first, let's talk about what this premise even means. Episodes, as they were, were not driven by characters; a plot for the episode drove them. In the linear story of our game thus far, the episode's plot was that a train crash occurred, injuring a mother and her son. The player saves them from the crash, and even though the son had some complications, they pulled out in the end. This kind of single-episode plot is very typical of medical TV shows, one of our main inspirations, and we used it as a reference for how to write our episodes.
A problem with episodes like this for our game is that the plot for the episode takes over the player's ability to interact with specific characters that they want to. We believe that players attach to characters in games more so than the plot, and yet we were developing episodes that put characters in a literary backseat.
Another issue with a linear, episodic series of plots for us was that we felt that we needed some grand plot for a season of episodes. For example, maybe a pandemic outbreak occurs in the city. Throughout the episodes, the player learned more and more about the outbreak through various patient interactions (yes, we did have this plot as an idea right before the COVID-19 outbreak happened). But once again, this plot was agnostic of the interactable characters. It doesn't give all characters time to shine and hear their stories and nuances.
So, what does it mean to make characters and episodes be the same thing? It means that the only grand plots that we have to worry about are the individual character plots. As opposed to exploring a global pandemic, players are allowed to accompany specific characters with their specialties and personal journeys. Episodes become smaller, slice-of-life stories where the player joins a character for some scenario.
You can see an example of these new episodes by dissecting the linear episode example I present before. Instead of one episode, we could break up the episode into two parts: the initial train crash and the follow-up surgery. Instead of meeting a variety of characters, the player might meet one reoccurring character in the episode.
This new format allows players to pick and choose from the get-go which character narratives they want to follow. Players may wish to develop a single character, or they may want to learn about all characters. This format does not hinder the ability to tell more nuanced character stories since the character is the focus, not external plots agnostic of the character's existence.
So, what else has to change about the game and narrative writing to support this? Choices can now be more impactful and affect specific player-character relationships. Having choices like this was harder before because a focus on a character was taking away from the plot. Narrative wise, we are throwing out the idea of a linear timeline, or linear time at all. The timelines of greek myths inspire us because they allow for any characters to be interacting with any other characters at potentially conflicting times to highlight a specific character or moral story.
Playtest 2 Feedback
As with our first playtest, we looked forward to receiving a lot of great feedback and this playtest was no different. We want to know what people think and we want to continue to make this project better for players. If you are interested in trying out the game and giving us feedback, you can click here to join and play.
We have the first pass as character concepts for the character creator. We want to keep exploring this space and play around with ways to build up characters from parts. We are going to put a hold on more character creator work until we get more feedback on it.
Surgery Tools / Gunk Art
We plan to get some better art in the game for the various surgery tools and wound afflictions that appear on patients' bodies.
Steam Build Pipeline
With getting an app and demo app setup for our game on Steam, one of the next area to improve our build pipeline is to add support for deploying updates easily to Steam. I already have building for Windows, Mac, and Linux and publishing each build to various itch.io targets working (maybe a subject for a future devlog). I got the feel for the Steam build deployment process manually, so the next step would be to automate that process.
I hope you enjoyed this week's edition of our studio's status update. Each week, we try to bring new and interesting updates about how our studio and game are developing that we think people will like and learn from.
If you have any questions, comments, feedback for me, you can email me, Zappy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in playtesting builds of the game or future updates, you can click the button below! You will immediately be able to participate in our current playtest.
If you've been a part of our playtests and would like to chat with other players or us directly, join our Discord server below.