I’ve been doing a pretty good job working on this despite the semester taking its usual toll. I have a good reason: there are some kinda cool ideas I have in my head for potential grants and things like that, which involve game making, and I kind of want to get to those! But I know myself too well: I’d feel bad if I dropped this to move on to other stuff. Plus, I’ve worked so long and made so much progress- I want to finish this, even if I have to at some point slash scope severely or whatever (I’m not at that point yet).
Last Friday I was working on chapter 6 (I have 15 chapters). I got the basics worked in, and I had this overwhelming sense of… boredom. Like, in, my game. “This really isn’t fun at all,” I remember thinking. That night I became 90% certain I was going to find some graceful way to wrap this up and drop it. Fortunately, I recovered from this funk.
Why did I feel this way?
- My game is not an action game- it is RPG based, and therefore the mechanics require so much more gestalt than action mechanics. I’ve found in my Purdue research that players seem to respond to certain game design decisions in a very positive way, even in incomplete games (most student work). One such decision is player movement mechanics. Give the player a car and let them drive it- let them jump super high, maybe allow them to wall run, whatever it is: the player will have quick, instant fun. You get none of that in an RPG detective story game like mine. The fun has to come from the ingredients coming together just so, like a fine meal. If an action game is like a Reese’s bar, then a strategy/RPG/adventure game is like getting a 5-course meal prepared for you: you may not like every bit of it, it may not be what you immediately desire, but the experience itself is incredibly rewarding. So that’s the hope, anyway.
- Like all turn-based or other RPG mechanics, the core gameplay loop can be very trivial. I’m playing Xenoblade Chronicles 3 right now. It is awesome. But the core combat against the common critters is of course very trivial and easy. Just let auto-attack do its thing or go through the motions with arts. Ho-hum. If you are at least at or above the level of standard critters, you’ll truck em’, no problem. Yawn. In Nevada, a core interrogation loop is basically just pressing “Question” (aka “attack”) over and over again until you win. Boring.
So what brought me back from the abyss? These factors:
- Special gameplay. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has chain attacks which are special and governed by their own set of very dense rules. They absolutely crank the drama of a fight when you have to use them (almost always against bosses). In other RPGs, doing some sort of elemental matching (think Persona) feels good. In other words: “what can I do to make it not just pressing an attack button each turn?” For me, I have a mechanic that was long dormant, initially prototyped but not used: “Just One More Thing.” If you ever watched the classic detective show Columbo (and you should, it is one of the greatest American TV shows ever made, especially in the 1970s run), you know how Columbo will leave, only to suddenly turn around and ask one more question. This has the effect of rattling the witness. This then causes him to either get more information or create panic (which has downstream effects in his favor).
- Just One More Thing in Chapter 6: I realized that I needed to make Chapter 6 the “Just One More Thing” (JOMT) training chapter. So I rigged up some special stuff that pops up (like a tutorial) to explain the mechanic. I give you a super obvious piece of evidence that you are required to pick up to progress through the mission*. And just now I finished up with the true negative consequences to the player if you fail a “JOMT.” You use health *and* you cannot use the JOMT again for the entire battle.
All of this wonderful scripting: the tutorial, the specialized evidence tagged for JOMT use, rigging up the negative consequences, all that- it was really fun to develop. Does it help the game be more fun? Possibly. But more importantly: it made the game more fun for me to develop. And since this is a private, solo project: that’s huge.
So now I’m back in that awesome zone where I can’t wait to open up the project again and work. That is a awesome feeling and doesn’t come as often as one would like. But right now I have it! And that is good, because I would really love to get this puppy out the door at some point.
Until next time, detectives!
*Actually, I have an issue I need to clean up eventually with my evidence collection: I currently allow you to be done evidence collecting whenever, even if you didn’t pick up everything. This means you can hurt yourself later by not having stuff that is required to win the game. So yeah, gonna have to fix that soonish.