I hate menus. They’re tough to make and nobody appreciates them. When I play other people’s games the menus often ring uninspired and rushed. I can’t blame them, though–mine do too. Recently I downloaded a bunch of physics-based puzzle games and was struck by the monotony of the wall-o-levels that’s standard to puzzle games. I decided this was a good area to differentiate Precarious Potions form the rest of them. I believe the gameplay is thoughtful and unique–but if I hand players a formulaic first 10 seconds, they will judge the game before they’re even playing it.
So I scrapped both the title screen and level selection screen and combined them into an intro that is both a cinematic, a world map, and a level. Rather than clicking through a spreadsheet of level buttons the player finds him or herself on a journey into the unknown. The beautiful thing is that technically it’s the same thing, only arranged and presented differently–and I get a sense of mystery and wonder for free.
This week I started illustrating. It’s been a while since I did anything quite like this, so the learning curve is quite steep. I am relieved to report that I am quite pleased with the results. I started the process by sketching and thumbnailing. My expertise are not in character design or storyboarding, but I do know quite a few illustrators and am familiar with the process. I consulted several online tutorials and references and managed to take my sketches away from embarrassingly vague to something more substantial.
Sketch to Vector Draft (click to enlarge)
I am also attempting to create a plot which says much through very little. I want the character to be someone with whom the player identifies and whose plight stirs emotions. I also want to say this in as few frames as possible. I am inspired by Omnom from Cut the Rope, here. I am asking questions like, “What makes plot engaging?” “Why do we identify with certain characters?” and “What subtle actions create huge response?” I am learning this is much harder than it looks.
Draft of one of the story panels
I am also beginning to think about how I am going to land this project. It’s easy to make a development cycle last forever, so I am trying to beat feature creep to the punch by having a mental image of what the game will be when it is done. I think most of the inflation will occur within the menus via illustration sequences, external links and credits, and the ending sequence. All of these are important. A game without a proper execution of these elements looks bare–even if the actual gameplay is good. Fortunately I love this process. I’m really looking forward to making this game sparkle.
March was an exciting month–and it’s looking like April will be, as well. Last month was dominated by work on Precarious Potions and two smaller games which I will write about soon. Josh and I have made major progress on the levels for PP, and we’re excited about some of the game elements we are playing with at the moment. I try to be critical of my own work, but I can’t help but feel like we have something truly unique and fun on our hands. I can see that the careful attention we paid to creating game elements that made sense to the gameplay and not just whatever struck our fancy is paying off.
Josh came by for 11 hours on Easter Sunday and we powered through many of the levels. Only about 5 remain. After we finish, we’ll be going back and cutting those that don’t make sense or are not fun, rearranging others, and polishing what is left. I will also be adding in several menu-related elements, such as some story illustrations, credits, and a logo intro.
All of this needs to be accomplished in April. I cannot say much about it yet, but we have a fuzzy deadline within this month. We need to be ready to roll once the train begins moving. If all goes well this will be a really big deal. It’s thrilling and absolutely draining to be in such a heightened state of nervous excitement all the time. Most days I have to remember to take it one action at a time: now I am creating an asset–now I am looking at app stores–now I am resting. If I don’t do this I don’t do anything, and I still finish the day exhausted.
I am learning some important lessons. Earlier this year I learned to work even when no one cared or responded to me. The inky silence of the Internet can be deafening. Now I am receiving incredible feedback from places I never thought possible. While I am relieved, I am also under enormous pressure. In this surprisingly chaotic place I am learning about trusting God with my anxiety, showing up to work every day, and being genuine in all circumstances. I will ride the wave, but I will ride it in the trough–not the crest.