Archive for the 'Development' Category

The virtue of patience

December 5th, 2008 by Michael

We’ve noticed something interesting while testing The Path. If you play the game slowly and patiently, it becomes a fluent and rewarding experience. But if you’re very goal oriented and don’t take the time to take it all in, playing can become frustrating and pointless. We will probably need to introduce our future customers to this concept of slowness in the marketing.

At the risk of sounding sexist, but generally speaking, from what we have observed, women seem to have it easier than men in this respect. They seem to be naturally inclined to observe more and actively interpret what they see. That doesn’t mean that men can’t enjoy The Path. They just need to slow down and take their time. Then playing The Path will be over before you know it -perhaps too soon. While if you hurry, it can seem to take forever -in a bad way.

It’s funny how this coincides with the structural concept of the game: the straight and short path to grandmother’s house versus the myriad possibilities for discovery when you get lost in the forest. Sometimes I get a bit weary of how much The Path is a comment on (the way people play) computer games.

I wonder if this can be applied to bugfixing too… ;)

Gameplay, narrative, distraction and pleasure

November 29th, 2008 by Michael

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.

An unproductive thought

November 26th, 2008 by Michael

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.

Advice to self: stay away from the internets!

November 11th, 2008 by Michael

I hate how distracting discussions like this can get. One of the reasons why we make our work is that we can’t communicate the things that interest us in words. Words are so tiring. And always wrong.

Back to work! :)

I’m not a game designer

November 10th, 2008 by Michael

I was adding a new feature to the game in response to some of the test results: guides to finding things in the game world, presented in the form of unlockable functionality. We would even remove some guiding systems from the beginning of the game and unlock them as the players makes progress. Rationally I know it makes perfect sense to do this, and it will almost certainly improve the experience for almost all players. It prevents frustration and it allows for communicating play instructions bit by bit. But implementing the feature made me feel so dirty. Withholding information from the player, even if it is for their own good, is not something that comes naturally to us as designers.

Though it does to us as storytellers. So maybe that’s a way to approach the problem…

The Path —— Status Report November 2008

November 2nd, 2008 by Michael

Where did October go? It flew by! Looking back, though, I feel like we have made the transition from a game under construction to a game that is nearly finished.

The overall structure was cleaned up and the last remaining design issues were resolved, completing the gameplay aspects of The Path. We tend to design a game in broad strokes and some of the details are only filled in at the last moment. Which was now. It feels good.

Halfway through the month we put together a super-tight schedule for asset creation of all the remaining things. It’s amazing how quickly you can fill up a month with things that all seem relatively simple by themselves. But it helped us feel more certain about our ability to achieve our production deadline. As long as we stick to the schedule, we’ll be fine.

We also finished the remaining Red Girls this month and published pictures of them. That was an important milestone. There’s still some work to do on the other characters in the game but at least the avatars are finished. And they look lovely! We’re very proud of them. Auriea, Laura and Hans did an excellent job! Thanks to the pictures -and the girls’ Livejournals- they already seem to have started a life of their own in the imaginations of the public.

Towards the end of the month, we invited people to come and test the game. We would sit them in front of a computer and observe how they play, slowly giving more guidance as they get deeper into the game. The results of the tests had significant impact on the priorities of our to do list. Especially on the “process” side of things, the schedule got rearranged quite a bit. We wanted to fix problems that came up in one test and then see if our solution worked in the next test. So responding to the test results suddenly became my priority.

As a result some of the things I had planned to do in October, remain unfinished as they were moved to next month. The tests made us realize that our game was indeed nearing completion, as the testers really did look they were playing a game, and not just testing some interactive processes, like Auriea and I tend to do all the time. A lot of very interesting things came up during the tests. Some serious bugs. But also issues relating to gameplay, interface and communication within the game. I believe that our response to these issues will greatly increase the enjoyment of many players. So we should all be very grateful to the testers!

We had scheduled three months of what we call “authoring”, to fine-tune the game after all assets and systems are created. But it looks like we won’t have such a clearly defined period. On the one hand, there simply is no time. But on the other, it feels a lot more efficient to coordinate this authoring effort with observing and talking to people who test the game. Rather than simply following our own artistic instincts. At this point, we may be too close to the game and unable to tell the important things apart from the less important ones. Seeing how other people play with our game really helps to put these things in perspective.

We have also discovered some annoying technical problems. Installing software on Vista is apparently not the same as on XP. For some reason, a newly installed game is able to access saved data that I thought was uninstalled. We will need to look into this. And then there’s some serious issues with the game either taking a long time or plain crashing on exit. Luckily the game engine‘s main programmer is helping us to resolve the issue.

We want to have The Path done by the end of the year. So that there is sufficient time for the creation of marketing graphics, a trailer, perhaps a demo, for communicating with publishers and distributors and organizing a launch event. It’s going to be tough. We’re probably in what is called a crunch period now. And while we do make tangible progress and it’s really nice to see the game flower, I think this period is too long. We’ve been crunching for two, perhaps three months now and there’s another two months to go. We’re going to need a serious vacation after this!

Just looking

October 23rd, 2008 by Michael

Thanks to Drama Princess, the characters (or “Actors” as we call them) in The Path are aware of their environment. This allows them to look at objects in their vicinity. The picture is made of several super-imposed screenshots taken from a tool external to the game, where we visualize the Actor’s activity with lines and blocks, so we know what’s going on in their heads.

The Making of Scarlet

October 17th, 2008 by Auriea

Scarlet-polaroid2

I feel responsible for her. Someone has to. She is always looking after the others. First born but last made. I think some of my weariness rubbed off on her. She was made in such a lazy way. Forced to grow up before she was ready.

This is not to say that I don’t find her perfect. I sketched her after being inspired by the films of Ingmar Bergman, the mannerisms and characters of his actresses, especially the lovely Liv Ullmann. It is hard to say if what I felt I learned by watching his movies has been injected vertex by vertex into Scarlet…. but I believe a little bit remains.

6_Stern Red-concept sunshineplaysamajorpartinthedaytime darkly superhyperworkinprogress-scarlet

She is a serious young lady. More images of her are shown in the gallery and on flickr. She’s looking a bit frightening in the wallpaper, but i think it’s just her way of dealing with a frightening world. Let us all wish her well.

Good week

October 12th, 2008 by Michael

After a slight bit of panic and thanks to canceling a feature I had planned to work on, this week turned out pretty well. I was able to correct a few major show-stopping bugs and tweak some smaller nagging issues. I have also reconciled myself with the fact that we will not be able to do everything we want, that that’s not the point. The point is to make as good a game as we can within the given constraints. Gotta keep reminding myself of that.

The game not quite ready for the preview that Eurogamer Benelux want to get next week. But at least things seem under control now. At least for the part of the game that I have been working on lately. Next week I will be working on the other part. Hopefully the optimism remains…

Correcting virtual mistakes

October 10th, 2008 by Michael

In regular software development, a large part of the work consists of dealing with mistakes that a user can make. In a game like The Path with a lot of semi-autonomous elements, a similar thing seems to occur. Only we’re dealing with the mistakes that our artificial creatures are making, not the user. A large part of the work that I’m doing these days is correcting the mistakes that our virtual characters and other generative systems are making. Or at least trying to build systems that prevent them from making those mistakes. Of course, unlike the mistakes that human users make, anything that the characters in The Path do is entirely a result of our own doing.