Hey Earthlings, long time no see! Sorry about that – you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d stopped working on the game, but the reality is that only the blog has endured neglect. As a matter of fact, I even took a couple of weeks off my day job last month to do nothing except stay with my family and work on the game non-stop, almost like a mini game design sabbatical, and I got more done in that time than I had managed in the month prior!
For one thing, the aquarium level has been finished, and a lot of progress has been made on the next major area – the nuclear power station! Here, a new mechanic is introduced of radiation sickness – touch any of the green glowing creatures or hazards and a ‘death bar’ will appear on the right of the screen and begin to fill up at a slow but steady rate; touch more and the bar will fill faster. You can cure your sickness if you can get to a medicine box in time, but I wonder if anything interesting might happen if you were to combine the radioactivity with your existing psychic powers? Is it possible that some useful new status effect occurs? Perhaps there might be occasions in which you actually want to become radioactive? (Welcome to the new age, to the new age!)
Other things have been worked on – I’ve asked a number of first-time players to have a go at the game’s opening levels, with the result that I’ve had to make a number of changes. I had initially planned to keep text-based tutorialising to a minimum, and my attempts to teach players mechanics via gameplay was working to a point, but there were some recurring, important things that many, many players just weren’t getting, and that’s not their fault – it was clear that the game wasn’t communicating clearly enough what they had to do, so, reluctantly, I’ve had to put in some things that spell things out in a less ambiguous way. Perhaps some players will feel beaten over the head with the obvious, and that’s regrettable, but a lot of my testers were getting stuck because they really didn’t get how a fundamental mechanic worked, or didn’t know where they were supposed to go or what they were trying to do. I’d like the game to be accessible to both seasoned gamers and those who have rarely touched a controller, so I’ve made it a bit friendlier to the uninitiated; if you get stuck, it should be because you understood all the gameplay elements but are temporarily stumped by a puzzle – not because there’s some important basic concept you didn’t grasp.
This is the danger of trying to do things in a non-standard way, design-wise – sometimes there are good reasons why games have these well-worn tropes. But I do still believe in the idea of unpicking as many game design clichés and habits as possible, which also means that I still struggle to describe my game – it’s sort of a puzzle platformer, a little bit Metroidvania except not really, and with some very gentle RPG flavours thrown in? Sort of? Isn’t that more interesting, though – to have a thing that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre box? I have always been fascinated with the idea of omitting fundamental things about a concept. What if you could make a platform game without platforms (see previous blog post)? What if you made a platform game with no coins, no jumping on heads, and no enemies? There are some creatures you must avoid, but they aren’t ‘enemies’; they don’t hate you, don’t attack you, and at present, there is not one single set-piece in the game where you can directly cause physical harm to any living thing. They are more ‘hazards’ than ‘enemies’. What if there were no collectables at all? Could you design an entire game, interestingly, using only one or two basic power-ups? I’m not saying that I will actually be able to design a game by following these principles to the letter – perhaps later I may well need to add a legit enemy character, or some collectable elements. But these are the things I think about; game design thought experiments, really. I think a good designer should always ask these kinds of questions – why does this trope exist? Am I doing it just because that’s what this genre always does? Do I need it? And sometimes you do, of course, and that’s fine, and sometimes you don’t, and that’s even better.
Other things that have been worked on include the Options menu, the city park, the pub, further tweaks to the sewer level, a brief connecting level between the aquarium and the power plant presented only in silhouette (still working on finalising the look of that, so no pics yet), the city Metro, and major tweaks to the overall storyline. Here, have a screenshot dump:
Enormous thanks and gratitude, as ever, to those of you who ask after the project and offer to test it and so on. It really means a lot; I don’t really have any serious expectation that anybody at all will be excited when this is finally done, so it’s always encouraging to hear that somebody besides me thinks it’s interesting! As ever, you can stay abreast of developments if you haunt my Twitter.
Lots of love,