You may have seen this image before (hell it’s 2 posts down) as a part of my thoughts on the MolyJam 2012. After creating the header image I realized it was better suited for a post that was about the game itself and how I went from a vague tweet to a strangely twisted game concept, and finally, a “finished” thing all in a weekend, with only 2 guys with one computer working on it.
I spent a decent amount of the first night just trying to flesh out ideas in my head. I already knew the tweet that I wanted to use as my basis: “Game in which you create the end cinematic. Then you work your way from the start of the game to make a perfect connection into that ending.” and so I just ran with it. I started thinking about how people hate video game endings, and I figured it would be twisted to make the player see something unpleasant and then have to make sure that he recreates it perfectly.
By the end of the first night the project what we had only existed as words spoken out loud about what the project would eventually become. I spoke with a lot of people, continued to elaborate on the idea, and sort of forced it on my friend who would be doing the programming, Manny, in a “It’s cool if we do this, right” sort of way. This could be construed by many as a waste of time, but I find the hardest part of getting a game into production is actually coming up with what you want it to be.
The next morning, before doing a whole lot of the actual planning, I created a few images to illustrate the kind of look I wanted to work with:
That was (obviously) just a few minutes of time, but doing that give my friend something so he could work on getting the text and transitions working while I worked on figuring out the structure of the game in my sketchbook.
Despite talking about the game quite a bit the night previously, we still had a lot of ideas to run through, figure out what was doable and discard the rest. We knew we were going to make an adventure game where the goal was to set up the uncomfortable ending of a girl being killed by a stalker, her boyfriend finding her dead and being falsely accused, the boy being convicted of murder and then ultimately killing himself in prison.
But like all projects we started with too many ideas swimming around, even with the confines of working in a 2 man group being very steadfast. I wanted the game to be too open ended for what we would realistically have time to do. It would be a world with events that would be triggered if the right item was used at the right time with the right person, and perhaps the player could end up failing early on and not even know he had, much like many of those old adventure titles.
There were some great ideas that just couldn’t realistically be done in the time allotted and had to be given up on very early on in the process. One idea was to have 2 characters with question marks for faces, and you couldn’t tell if you were the boyfriend or the stalker and had to try to figure out who you were based on npc reactions to you (including the other question mark faced man) in order to take the right steps to make the ending come about. This would have lead to a much different game experience each time. There was also the idea to have 1 of 3 random endings play at the beginning and then the player would have to perhaps use items in different order, or at different times, or not at all based on the ending that you were trying to make.
The more we talked it out, though, the more Manny and I figured out that we needed to get even simpler, as that was the only way things would actually get done. Even still, it wasn’t easy getting down to the most basics of what we could get done.
I started with the story tree with the intent on creating multiple paths and actions that could lead you away from the main goal toward an ET like pit of sorts to essentially waste your time and make you want to get back to the deed of recreating your horrible future. But as time moved on I started getting twisted around in a web of my own logic and things managed to get confusing because I was getting wrapped in a web of dialog and options that were missing the point.
With things getting too complicated for their own good, drawing the narrative tree in my sketchbook made the mistakes more visible and we were able to identify the issues we were having. Manny figured out that we were trying to pack way too many objectives into unrestrained free form paths. He came up with the idea to reduce the experience down to a “room” per area (which worked well using GameMaker’s rooms functionality) and have each room have a single objective. This helped figure out what we would need to actually get the game “done”.
Getting the game’s structure mapped out on paper with the goals for each room set was the accomplishment for all of our time at The New School on Saturday. I figured we were on target to be finished by Sunday night, but that was a great over estimation. Manny and I parted ways at 7-ish. He went home to get the game structure translated from some cell phone pics of my sketchbook into GameMaker. I, however, went on to the Harpy Diem Babycastles show curated by Anna Anthropy with my wife that night. And that ended Saturday, with way more work ahead of us than we really expected.
Sunday came and I suddenly realized just how far we were from completion and I started to freak out. In all of our talks about an ending cinematic I completely glazed over the fact that I would indeed have to create something, and any type of animation takes a shitload of time. Meanwhile Manny was at work for a few hours on Sunday and so I started to work on the cinematic. There was also the fact that we needed some writing to go along with the story we had created, and right now it was very bare bones.
I made the mistake of getting up hours later than I should have, around 10 AM that Sunday, with the intent to create a cool looking animated comic look for our cinematic. I booted up Sketchbook Pro and had at it for well over an hour before I realized I needed to get a lot more lo-fi with my ambitions and opened Photoshop to create some quick, yet still labor intensive, animations. This was going a lot faster, though still taking time, and I thought I had forever to work, until Manny told me he’d be at the New School very soon, around 3:30 PM. This was a lot earlier than I had anticipated, and for a second I got hopeful that we could finish on time.
I ran over there with my head held high and expectations a lot less grim than before. But as I got there and continued working on art, I realized that we only had one friggin’ computer, a bunch of animation, graphics and writing to work on and my heart suddenly sunk tremendously. There was no way that we would finish on time. Not with everything that we had to do.
We still decided to go for it and took turns on my wife’s laptop trying to push steadily to the end. At that point it was mostly me just trying to get animation and graphics work done as well as writing the story bits and implementing them. If we had had a couple of more hours, even, we would have been “done” that night, but unfortunately the ending came, and our laptop and game were voluntarily relegated to the corner for me to keep working.
The best lessons I took away from the jam were manage time well, plan on really giving the weekend as much time as you can, and make sure to have as much hardware as people who need it.