January has been quite productive around here, I started the month by implementing my saving system, which would also come in handy because now that I have all the chapters in the game I wanted to do some testing with an entire playthrough.
This is not the final UI, but is probably close to the final version. There will be 3 different slots for now, but given the amount of different paths I’m considering adding more, as well as a way to edit the name of the saved data.
Another big thing I’ve been working on is the Flashbacks. If you played the Blackout demo you probably encountered a flashback, they are basically a scene where the character recollects a piece of memory connected to what caused him to blackout.
In the demo this flashbacks were basically represented by a scrollable text on a different background, but I wanted to do something more special because they are core to the story. So what I ended up coming up with is something that makes it look more like a comic book, and also more interactable.
Here’s a piece of one flashback, but please keep in mind that the assets are all placeholders and things are not properly animated yet.
The dialog moves along as the player clicks, and there are also sound effects and ambiance, which really makes a ton of difference in some of the scenes.
Let me know what you think, and if you have any suggestions!
it has been a while since the last post, mostly because I’ve been busy with Blackout’s development, had to spend a lot of time with marketing stuff, like creating this landing page, which implied in me having to update and translate the whole site, (something I was meaning to do for almost 2 years now).
Anyway, development has been moving well, as of now I have 9 out of the 10 chapters playable, which means soon I’ll be able to have a test build in which a whole playthrough will be possible. But after I finish this there is still A LOT to be done, need to start testing the systems, balance attribute changes, make sure every path/choice is reachable, add remaining SFX and then finally polish and confetti.
I just wanted to share the chapter workflow, since I mentioned previously that the choices can change the order of the chapters (reference names have been omitted).
July was a bit of a short month for me in terms of gamedev. I took a 9 day vacation since my brother was visiting me, it was very hot and we went to some nice places around Greece. Also spending 9 days away from my computer did wonders for my tendinitis =)
So in the end I managed to dedicate only about 10 hours to Blackout (half the time I usually work on it in a month). I’ve been trying to increase this time but my life has been a bit chaotic, and also sometimes is very hard to find the strength to work extra hours when you already have a 8h/day programming job. And what did I do with these 10 hours? I almost finished the text revision! In fact, as of writing this, I already did, so I decided (right now as I write this) to change the focus of the post and talk about the revision instead of the CYOA framework I’m using, like I promised on the previous post. I want to do a detailed post about the framework, that’s gonna take some time, and the text revision is fresh on my mind since I finished this weekend.
It took me almost 50 hours to go through the whole text (around 65k words), making changes in almost every single one of the 600+ passages and also writing a bunch of new ones. I also “translated” the text to twine, as I mentioned in the previous post, separating every chapter as a single twine story, in order to be easier to visualize it.
The so called “chapters” is another point I’d like to talk about. After handwriting the first draft of the story, years ago, I first put it into google docs, and as it still felt convoluted (with things like big numbers “Go to passage 534” or similar passages with weird numeration “Go to passage 41.2”), I decided to divide the story in Chapters. Well it seemed very easy and straightforward to do that, since the story spreads across several different locations I could simply make every location a different chapter: Alley, Taxi, Hospital…
But what about the names of the chapters? I had kept the location itself as the name at first, but as we approached the preview version release, I tried to come up with better names. It proved to be a very hard task, first because what the character does in each chapter can vary a lot. If you played the preview (The Alley), you probably know you can have an encounter with cops (which can go many different ways); you can find some weird stuff in the alley; you can also see none of that and just leave.
The second thing is I can’t do numbered chapters either, because the order of the chapter changes depending on your choices, so it would be kind of weird if one person’s chapter 2 was the hospital, and other’s was the taxi.
So when we released the preview version, this is what the “chapter select” screen looked like.
The idea of this chapter select screen was more to entice the player on what was to come, I was not 100% clear on what the functionality of it for the full game would be. But it raised another problem with the chapter names: spoilers. We got some feedback of people saying they would rather not know the name of the places the character would go beforehand. I was aware that might happen, that’s why I did not put all the chapter names in the preview, some of them are extremely spoilery.
So, how to solve this? I’ve come to realize that most of the times in game development, we’re the ones who create the problems, specially when it’s something related to the design of the game.
What is the problem? Chapters.
Who said we need to have chapters? Well, I did.
And what if we just… get rid of them? But… Ahm… Actually, that might work!
As simple as that. I created the chapters to organize the text, but the game itself does not benefit from it. The game is designed to be played in a single sitting, it does not need long break points. Also, we have a map inside the game, that will take care of conveying the transition of the character through the locations (and also show the stats for how many passages the player visited in that determined location)
Of course the decision might not be as easy in every game, but I’ve come to this realization recently while working on another game with a friend (still in early design state), most of the problems we tended to dwell on were arbitrary rules that were either created by ourselves or by other games of the genre, once we learned to break our own rules the design work started to flow and the game became much more interesting.
That’s it for today! I’ll be taking 2 weeks of vacations this month to go to Brazil, so next month’s post will probably be mostly about the blackout framework.
Between E32018 and the World Cup, June has been a month full of distractions, specially since I make my makes on my free time.
Despite that, I still managed to get a good amount done, and a very important part of Blackout, even though it might not be the most exciting: text revision. It has been a long time since I wrote it, and some of the later chapters have never undergone a true revision.
In order to make this task easier I decided to change the tool I was using to keep the text, which wasn’t really a IF tool, it was just google docs, which is better than what I used when I originally wrote the story: two small notebooks.
So I decided to move the story from google docs to Twine, even though I’m not using twine for the game implementation itself (I’m using my own framework, which I’ll go into more detail on next month’s post) making it easier to have a good overview of the flow of each chapter, easier to find a passage and also easier to test.
This is a chapter from Blackout, you can see how chaotic and non-linear it looks, even though in this specific chapter most paths end time leading to the same exit (wide boxes are the end point, and each of them leads to a different chapter). Even though a direct path through the chapter might be short, there are several different ways of approaching every situation.
This chapter has almost 8k words, if you’re the type that is interested in numbers, this is the average for most chapters, some are bigger and some are smaller. If you played through the preview that is up on itch.io, you saw that the writing style is very simple and direct, I want the player to move fast through the story, and do this several times over, so it can’t be some Tolkienesque thing where I describe every small rock on the way.
On other news, I also took some time on a weekend to participate in the Godot Community Jam. I tried Godot for the first time earlier this year in another game jam and liked it a lot, so I wanted to get more practice, and I thought game jams are probably the best way to achieve that right now, given the small amount of free time I have.
I ended up making a very simple game, in roughly 8 hours. The theme of the jam was Temperature. You can check all entries here.
That’s it for June, I decided to start making this monthly report because one of my goals for 2018 was posting in the blog more often. For the next post I’ll try to go a bit into the framework I’ve built (and am still building) for Blackout.