Archive for November, 2008
Our main criterium for deciding if a certain element (visual, audio, content, interaction, anything) can become part of the games we design is whether or not the element supports or adds to the narrative or theme that we want to express/evoke. This is why we often choose against interactive elements with outspoken challenge/reward aspects. Because the risk exists that the player loses themselves in this abstract layer of achieving goals and receiving rewards. And since our stories are seldom about winning or losing, such activity would only distract.
But when you’re making a game that takes several hours to finish, the temptation to throw in a bit of gameplay here and there is great. Because you just can’t expect a player to remain focussed for such a long time. We have no ambition to become the Tarkovsky of video games (i.e. great films that nobody sees because they make you fall asleep). And, as we have seen in most testers, the world of The Path is attractive enough to want to spend a considerable amount of time in it.
(Which is something, I might add, we hadn’t expected. We thought The Path would be more suitable for several short play session rather than a few long ones. Maybe it still is and the artficial situation of the tests is giving us a skewed picture.)
Anyway, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I find myself a lot less hostile towards game-like activities in interactive entertainment than I used to be. And I’m thinking that perhaps the purely expressive interactive experiences should be reserved for shorter titles. Maybe it’s just because I have logged some 40 hours looking at other people play the game, that I wouldn’t mind a bit of distraction. I don’t know. We’re too close to the project now to make any serious design decisions. And we can’t trust everything our testers say either. So I guess we’ll have to simply gamble a bit.
This is not about any major elements anyway. Just a few small things that will only change the experience slightly for some players. Things that, on the surface, only help the player understand the game. But of course we need to ask ourselves if this understanding doesn’t destroy the enjoyment. Because, after all, games are often as much about causing discomfort and then taking that away (the “Schopenhauer method” ) as they are about giving joy directly.
Today’s tester finished the game!
WE HAVE REACHED A MILESTONE!
We can now officially say that The Path will have 6! hours! of! gameplay!
It was beautiful to watch a player get all the way through. And have things feel wrapped up emotionally.
We had invited back tester #2. For various reasons but mainly because she had suggested a number of features that we did implement. Little things but we were wondering if they would make a difference for her, really. She could remember when certain things in the game were just placeholder objects so it was fun to get her impressions now that things are more finished off.
The freshness of seeing part of the game that no one up till now has been able to get to because of either show stopping bugs or time constraints was amazing. Still so much left to do but a feeling that everything will work out and we will get this game out to you… that’s best feeling in the world.
We always insist that fnishing a project is of primordial importance. Hence our motto “It’s better to make something than nothing.” But there’s something about an unfinsihed product that has its own allure. Probably potential. Finishing things means killing that potential. This is extra meaningful in a title like The Path where imagination is a vital skill any player needs to have and use. But if half of the game plays in your imagination, why should it be finished? Is the potential not enough?
I guess the experience itself counts for something. You can’t experience potential that isn’t executed, that isn’t finished. And the effect of experience is always surprising.
finally, FINALLY, finally!!!
a day with NO big nasty bugs!
NO crashes or memory issues! NO distracting character glitches!
NOTHING but smooth playing! I do believe we’ve solved all major issues. yep.
AT LAST we got to the heart of things and could talk with the player PURELY about what they were DOING in the game. She had played many games but had a casual attitude about it. Not a gamer per-se but a sympathizer. Because there were not other distractions we spoke with her mainly about those nagging questions of “what did that mean to you when you did x, y, or z?” and “in your opinion was it interesting to go there and do what you did and did what happened next make sense?” In other words, now, what we call the -Authoring Phase- has begun in earnest. Now we can test for content and not just for functionality. Her answers pointed to some glaring problems. So let’s polish up our narrative, fill in the gaps and start to make the game have better impact. Not only for the symapthizers to our weird game but for those who at first may not think its for them. With some work we can seduce some of those people into loving this little experience we’re making… At least, we have high hopes! We got lots of ideas watching todays tester play… now if one of you will slow down time and send us enough to work a few extra months…. hmmm, not going to happen, eh. Let’s see what we can do in the time that we have left! ONWARDS!
like i said: 5 steps forward, 3 steps back.
if i have to be honest about today, i’d say that we failed to give this man the game he came to see (to test.) There was a bizarre error which prevented him from getting to the “end” of the game. this is the first time its happened. It was like, without the completion, the entire experience was lost…. even though there is no requirement for players to “finish” the game, these endings are somewhat essential closure on the experience of playing. Was it this lack of closure, of beginning connecting to “end”, which left him feeling that the game had no narrative, or is the game only appealing to those with an over-active imagination? …okay, i’m just thinking out loud but there was quite a bit of that today. also a serious question about a feature which solved a problem for a certain type of player was discovered to make the game lose suspense for today’s type of player. it’s the aimless wanderers vs. the instinctive navigators.
on the plus++ side today: no crashing whatsoever (memory issue solved), and the new collision system seems to be working out okay. the graphical changes (which only i know what the world has been through) are looking superb. but, some questions in my mind about the “mood” certain characters convey.
no, i can’t make coherent sentences or expressions of thought anymore today. there is another test tomorrow. maybe we will iron out some of these quandries and paradoxes and decide which players we can make happy and which will be left wishing we were making something more (or less.)
At the joyous occasion of finalizing the forest (not really: we wish we didn’t need to finish anything… -old internet habits die hard), I’m working on the final collision objects for the trees today. It’s a hilariously convoluted process. This is what the “code” looks like for the tree collision objects in the main forest area:
We actually need two collision objects for every tree. One that the characters can see, so they can try to avoid them. And another for the system to try and keep characters from intersecting with the tree in case they didn’t succeed in avoiding it (physics simulation). The row of little blocks at the bottom of the screenshot contains the positions of all trees, one block for every tree. Multiply this by 16 to get the entire forest.
In a test version of the game, the collision objects look like this:
Mmm… Candy cane forest!
She is a professional games tester.
We were intimidated at first
Tried to glean how this is _supposed_ to go.
But turns out, of course, there is no one way this happens.
She was *incredibly* thorough.
To the extent that one could consider having a “high score” in The Path,
she is most definitely the record holder.
during her session Michael tracked down a major memory issue.
And now, the fix!
If we could we’d have her on call
for all our game testing emergencies.
I hardly sketched him at all because this tester was testing many new features we’d added (or taken away, or tweaked the hell out of) based on feedback of the other testers, and I had to pay close attention. I’m glad he was able to play at all given that Michael and I were chatting, analysing his every move, behind his back for the first 2 hours. Then we left him on his own but he experienced some new bugs that interrupted him on several occasions. Its 5 steps forward and 3 steps back along The Path. I do feel more confident than ever that we can finish the game but at the same time I have to wonder how *any* game gets finished at all. Is there a such thing as bug-free 3d software? He is a fellow artist/computer freak/game geek, so we were able to discuss The Path in the context of those realms between art and games and technology. Some great conversation over afternoon tea. His overall impression was positive and he gave us some interesting feedback on the pacing of the game (which we are concerned with.) It will be nice when we get to beta and can have people test the game all the way through without the bigger distractions of things going haywire. I think next week we will have most of this ironed out though. And perhaps we will have the “ending” scenes completely in place too and can finally test them! onward!