Previously on RDD:
It’s that time of the month again! (No, not that time… my wife’s just fine.) It’s time for another Developer’s Diary!
In this edition, my laptop burns brighter than the hot Okinawan sun, Crazy Vince slashes prices, locations, and characters, and we learn how point-and-click becomes better without so much click.
Let’s get the boring part out of the way: the production update.
School’s out for summer: Progress update
I wish that the Japanese summer vacation lasted more than four weeks, but it’ll have to do. In the last two weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of work done! Hopefully the next two will be as productive.
The one problem that I’ve run into this month is a hardware issue. I do all the work on the game on my three year old Sony Vaio laptop. Quite a relic by today’s standards. But it does its job. I’m frequently downloading via bittorrent, watching a video, surfing the internet, chatting online, and working on my game all at once. I like multitasking. But this month, the internal fan suddenly stopped working. Now, when the thing gets too hot, it just shuts down without warning, which, granted, is better than letting the internals melt down and die, but is still a threat to anything you’re working on.
Unfortunately, the fan is irreplaceable by anyone except Sony thanks to the proprietary parts and I’m both long past warranty and in a different country than I bought it in, making repair both difficult and expensive. Not to mention the several weeks that I’d be without my baby! I’m going to see about finding the pieces somewhere online and doing the transplant myself, but in the meantime, I keep the Vaio running with a glue stick propping the bottom up off the ground to promote air flow underneath, several extra heat-sinks added in, and a large external USB fan blowing air from the air conditioned room directly into the laptop’s vent. I can now use it all day without an overheat as long as I don’t run too many programs at once.
So, without the power of multitasking (multi-procrastinating?), it’s forced me to focus a lot more on the game. Since I don’t dare run a video while working on the game, and at most, run Photoshop along side the editor, I’ve been kicking some ass. Plus, I’ve been training myself to be much more vigilant with backups to my external hard drive, so that’s an extra benefit.
As far as overall progress goes, all the major gameplay systems have finally been implemented, and the first section of the game is now complete (minus sounds and music and a few extra animations). I’m not on to the fun part of room-by-room implementation of the game. No more confusing and complicated dialog system programming or triple inventory implementation!
Character art is moving smoothly, background art is gearing up again after losing a couple weeks to Nauris’ move, and music and sound effects are finally starting production. Everything is going well, but it’s going slowly. The game is looking and playing great, however, so I think it will be worth the wait!
The devil is in the details: Creating a cohesive world
When I write a story for a game, I create a whole universe around it beyond what the story is going to show. Anna had a huge story beyond the tiny minimalist plot that the game sported. Hints of it are dropped in the game’s manual. I have the plots for two sequels to make that into a trilogy, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to making them. But even beyond the plots of the games, there’s a detailed universe in my head in which the game takes place.
For Resonance, creating a universe is a little easier, since it takes place in ours.
Resonance takes place in a not-so-distant future. I would place it around the year 2015ish. The game is not exactly science fiction — it’s very much based on the real world — but the main conceit of the story surrounds a new scientific discovery, so in that aspect I suppose we’re moving towards hard science fiction. The rest of the game is all based in the real world.
Being based in the real world, however, makes the attention to detail in the game world even more important. I can make up the details in a universe such as Anna, but Resonance needs to be familiar. Lot’s of rules come along with that.
The most difficult details to nail down are the people. Everyone needs to have a life outside of the plot of the game. And from those lives grows a personality. Since we play games and read stories to escape the real world, these personalities and characters need to be a little extraordinary to keep things interesting, but have to be grounded enough in the real world for the game to feel cohesive and real. For this, I’m taking some hints from Twin Peaks, which I recently watched for the first time. Twin Peaks is loaded with bizarre and unique character traits, but somehow still works (though it often goes just a little too far). I’m definitely aiming for the tamer side of Twin Peaks, but making each character into a character and not just a cardboard cutout is a struggle that I think will be worth undertaking.
One way to help the story as well as the world and characters feel more cohesive and real is to be cheap. Seriously. Having a small budget, I think, forces me to make the story better. In the early stages of shaping the plot, I looked over each location and character that I had planned and asked “Is this necessary.” Sometimes, I would find that the part of the plot fulfilled by that location or character, could either be cut because it hurt the focus of the game, or it could be handled by a different location or character. This, in turn, helps me limit the number of “extras” — those little side characters that pop in, give one item or piece of information to the character, and pop out, never to be seen again. And by giving the part of those extras to another character, it strengthens the role of another character. Making the game seem more cohesive. The same goes for locations. Why have the characters meet at this diner, when they could meet at that park that they passed by earlier? The park becomes a stronger location, and the excess work of implementing a diner (oy vey!) gets cut. Having more things for each character and location to do provides more details into their backgrounds.
This isn’t to say that the game is going to feel like corners are being cut. I truly believe that this strengthens both the narrative and the overall game and adds to the experience, rather than detracts. Working well within limitations, adding by subtracting, go figure.
Adding in all these details about locations and characters is important to me because I believe that a story is told not only through the events that take place, but through the characters, locations, and interactions contained therein.
Interesting Interfaces: TWELVE INVENTORIES!?!
Resonance is set in a not-so-distant future when a particle physicist’s mysterious and spectacular death starts a race to find his hidden vault and claim his terrifying new discovery. The player will take control of four complete strangers whose lives become entangled in the aftermath of the physicist’s demise. They’ll have to learn to trust each other quickly though, because in less than 72 hours, an event will take place that will change the world forever.
Did you see it? The bit about “four complete strangers?”
That’s right, there will be four playable characters in Resonance, and at most points you’ll be able to freely switch between them, finding ways for them to work together to complete the monumental task placed before them.
Now, I’m sure you’re all thinking back to the last Developer’s Diary and remembering the part about there being three inventories: a long-term memory inventory, a short-term memory inventory, and a standard inventory. And now you’re multiplying… four characters… three inventories each… TWELVE INVENTORIES!?!
Yeah, yeah I know. That sounds like a nightmare to the player. “Keeping track of all those!? Preposterous!”
First off, let me address the hypothetical concern you’re feeling regarding keeping track of so many inventories.
The long term memories of each character will be largely identical, containing one “item” for each major event in the plot, and allowing you to review the story so far. The only differences in the LTM will be when one character isn’t present at a certain important plot point, or the few before-the-events-of-the-game memories that each character will have, providing some background on the character. So really, you don’t need to worry about the LTM. It’s there to help you, not hinder you.
The short term memory consists of only three slots, in which you can store any memory you’d like. See that chair over there? Think it might be important to tell someone about it? Store it in the STM for use in conversation later on. You don’t really need to keep track of what’s going on in your STM, since mostly you’ll see someone, realize that you need to talk to them about a certain item, then if you don’t already have it in your STM, you’ll go and get it and come back. It’s a short term memory, hence it’s really only used for short term storage. You won’t have any trouble keeping track of what’s in there.
So, really, you just have the standard inventory to worry about as it slowly fills with the odds and ends that your characters pick up for use in the game. And hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, every inventory application will be logical and clear given a little bit of thought on the player’s part.
Now, for that other hypothetical concern of yours. “Getting around all those inventories must be a pain in the butt, right?”
Wrong! It actually feels really intuitive and fast! I built the inventory system from the ground up with the idea of a clickless interface. Navigating between all three inventories requires zero clicking.
I often feel that, more than any other genre, adventure games usually have clunky, difficult to use, and slow interfaces. I often feel like the most frustrating puzzle in the game is the GUI. I don’t want that kind of separation between the player and the game world. That’s why I’ve tried to make the GUI easy to use and also fit in visually with the game.
I’m not going to reveal any details about the interface, but I’ll just offer that I’ve filled both the inventory and the long term memories with 50 items, way more than you should ever have in the game) and have easily been able to locate and use any item in less than two seconds. I don’t think that most games with only one inventory can say that.
If you’ve played one of my other games, you’ll know that I put a lot of attention into the interfaces, preferring to make them minimal and intuitive. This one isn’t going to be as minimal, since there’s a lot more stuff to do. But intuitive is the interface’s middle name. Mine is Vernon, in case anyone was wondering.
See you next time!
Next time on RDD: