This week I’ve spent some time working on a crucial part of the game: Flashbacks!
The flashbacks hold some very important story moments, and they have a minigame element associated with them.
There are a total of 7 flashbacks in the game, and you can get all of them in one playthrough, but you can also avoid most of them, depending on what you value the most: the truth or your sanity.
While some flashbacks will reveal a whole picture of a moment, others are part of a bigger moment, and will uncover only one piece of the puzzle.
I have also recorded a video to show what the whole thing looks like in the game. If you want to avoid possible spoilers and go in knowing as little as possible, consider not watching. Remember this is still a work in progress, and some things will change and be more polished in the final version, like the text boxes, sound effects and the color of the puzzle pieces.
On this post, I will write about something very important that we have been working on for a long time: the map of New Wenders!
We’re not Bethesda, so we didn’t start the game with a map, on the contrary, the idea for the map came in very late, when the story was already finished. More precisely, when we updated the game to widescreen aspect ration.
If you played the preview version on itch, you probably noticed the map is just a placeholder and serves to nothing but aesthetics. But we wanted to make it interactive and something the player can use as a reference for story events.
We ended up removing the “chapter select” screen that is on the preview version. This screen was supposed to appear every time a chapter ended, as a transition to a new location.
But since we now had a map, it made more sense to show the transition through it.
Nothing fancy, the pin just moves from the current location to the new. This will also show up when loading a game, so the player will be able to see all important events from the current playthrough.
The pin show where the player is now. A red dot indicates a location already visited in the current save; A blue dot indicates a location visited in a previous save; A yellow dot indicates a location still unknown.
The player can also access the smaller version of the map at anytime. When he passes the mouse over the points marking the locations, he will see some information like how many passages has he visited and what events happened in each location.
The evens will written in bold if it happened during the current save, and grayed out if it happened in a previous save. If the player never seen experienced the event, it will show as ??????. In a similar way, the visited passages for the location appear in bold, while the known passages from all playthroughs appear grayed out.
This will make it easier (and more interesting) for players trying to see 100% of the passages or events =)
This post is more focused on the map itself, later on I will talk more about New Wenders. What kind of city is it? What kind of people inhabit it? What do they feed on?
At first I decided to add keyboard control to make testing easier and faster (also tendinitis), but then I realized it might actually be a better way to play rather than using the mouse.
For the regular gameplay, you can advance pages with the left and right arrow, and make choices with numbers 1 to 5.
The white font on the third choice means this option was already selected on a previous play-through, since the game has many different paths, I thought it would be nice for the player to visualize which options are new to him.
The SPACE key has a different function depending on the context. In most places it will act as a mouse click (advancing a dialog cutscene, maximizing/minimizing an image), but it is also used in the minigames. By the way, if you played the demo version, you will notice that the minigames are now linked to the relevant attributes, so they will be harder or easier depending on the value of your attribute.
And of course you can access the Map (M), File (F) and Options (O).
Besides that, I’ve also started working on polishing some aspects like adding fade in/out and adding some animation to tape-covered text.
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.