Gamedev diary: 29 Aug 2021

Random thoughts/notes from over the last couple of months:

  • Hex maps are pretty cool. I like the idea of incorporating something like this, though unless there’s a strong strategy component to this game, it probably sends the wrong message. Just a map at all, though, would be nice. It’ll give the player the sense of having an overview.
  • In two minds about keeping the noir vibe. This may come down to the eventual story, but 80’s synth rock is pretty cool too. Plus, there are so many objects associated with the 80’s genre that would make cool HOPA scenes.
  • I’ve pretty much fallen out of love with the story I’ve been writing. It’s too complicated and twisty, when something shorter, sweeter and simple might be more fun. Need to make space to have a focused think on what to do here.
  • After a couple months of playing Gemini Station, I’m reconsidering making this a web game. I do love how open and accessible the web can be. Plus then I wouldn’t have to worry about platform fees and licensing and all that other stuff that makes it so much harder to just create and connect with an audience. The trouble is the convenience and the lack of control over platform access. There are some games I just wouldn’t play on the web. There are challenges with web responsiveness and browser discrepancies. Dammit. That would have been cool. Still tossing up the factors here.
  • Life tasks are piling up, as is my other writing work.

Gamedev diary: June’s Journey (iOS)

I first heard of June’s Journey (wooga) when looking for articles about HOPA asset creation. It is a very pretty game with a nice little mystery, a comment that I reserve the right to withdraw later if it turns out to be not so nice. I’m only just starting chapter 2, and not sure yet whether I’ll see the game through.

The need to constantly replay scenes is a bit tedious, though I do enjoy how the scenes get harder with each star level. It’s the need to labour over them so often in order to progress the story that wears me down. For more dedicated players, this long-term engagement strategy may be quite satisfying, along with the “build an estate” and “visit your friends’ estates” elements. I doubt I’d want elements like that for Project H, as I’d rather it have a storyline with a beginning, middle and end.

The rush mechanic is kind of crap. It does nothing for my immersion in the game or story, as it is applied indiscriminately for the sake of scoring points that then determine how quickly you progress through that scene. It induces stress for not much payoff, however, it could be forgiven if the intent is to encourage repetition and memory. It may be a useful memory and response time training device.

For storytelling, though, I’d rather that mechanic be used in the same way it’s used in Adam Wolfe, where the intent is to drive urgency and tension. Great emotional engagement there.

Gamedev diary: Murder in the Alps / Danse Macabre

Murder in the Alps (iOS, Nordcurrent UAB)

Beautifully rendered game with nice flow and an interesting mystery. The text-to-HOP ratio was too texty for my liking; I would hope to favour the object hunting.

Did not like the energy refill mechanic, though it would have been bearable if not for the fact that every action (including finding objects) required energy while buying energy refills was expensive. Hopefully lucrative for the studio, but not fun for me as a player. I’d prefer a single retail purchase option alongside the refill option.

I got maybe half an hour or less out of this game before the refill pricing structure grossed me out. I don’t think I’d want to take this approach for my game.

Danse Macabre: Lover’s Pledge (iOS, BigFish)

More an adventure puzzle game (like Monkey Island) than what I’d look for in a HOPA. The hidden object mini games weren’t that fun. The app started malfunctioning early in the game.

Hard to tell whether it would have been interesting to continue, as the combination of guesswork, tedium and errors turned me off continuing.

I did like that this game offered what effectively was a free demo with the option to unlock the full game. This seems like an accessible sales approach.

Gamedev diary: I don’t like the story I’m writing

For Project H, that is.

It’s so corny that I can’t even bring myself to finish writing the last act. I mean, HOPA games aren’t exactly meant to be realistic. They can’t all be like Adam Wolfe and that’s not what I’m aiming for.

But gosh… is this just the standard suffering that comes with writing a first draft, or is the story really crap? I can’t tell.

Perhaps I need to just finish the damned thing so I can get a second opinion.

The challenges in front of me are kind of psyching me out. I think I need to start super small. Maybe a three-scene—or just a one-scene—game to use as a proof of concept. That doesn’t seem too silly an idea.

Gamedev diary: Research is expensive

I thought development would be the most expensive part of game design, but if I’m doing it all myself, and really only in my leisure time at the moment, it’s not really a big deal. The big budget-eater in front of me at the moment is research. Research is expensive. In both time and in money.

Technology

I’ve gone back and forth on the technology choice, and thankfully that’s not had a huge price tag on it. There’s just a lot to look into. Right now for Project H, the leading candidates are:

Game mechanics

I’ve spent a fair (but not unreasonable) amount on HOPA games across Steam and Big Fish Games, plus tried a couple of freebies on itch.io. There are some things that I don’t like personally, but could see how they’d work in some of the scenes. Puzzle mini-games, for example, are not my favourite feature. I pick a HOPA to play a HOPA, not to do mini-game puzzles I would look for in a different genre of gaming. BUT, some well-done minis that aren’t so complicated as to break the flow may help with immersion and driving the narrative through interactivity.

I do like the different types of HOPA challenges, though. Here’s what I’m currently considering using:

  • Vanilla list — I mean, that’s the basics, really
  • Silhouette list
  • Find X number of Y items
  • Events that trigger upon finding certain items/numbers of items/completion of list

Story and character development

My biggest research frustration right now is the development of the story. I love the urban fantasy setting and mythology, but I’m in two minds about the story and character development. I’d actually love for this to be light on both. Keep it shallow with just enough narrative to drive the player through the game activities. This is meant to be a kind of flow game for people who just want to zone out and find items in cluttered scenes.

But I’m somewhere in the middle at the moment. There’s too much story for it to just flow. But not enough depth to satisfy the story-hungry reader. I’m well stuck on the penultimate act of the script, and it’ll probably stay that way for now while I explore more technology and game mechanics. And, you know, work on my novel WIP. But that’s fine. Step by step, we’ll get there.