The Day After Dev Report #3

Two steps forward… one spin around on the spot?

The last fortnight has been all over the place. Winter means sickness and although sickness means being at home, it doesn’t lend itself to good dev work. When I was well, I seemed to be making a lot of soup for social occasions. I’ve also had to help write a bunch of trivia questions which is tougher and more time-intensive than I thought it’d be.

I played and finished Gunpoint, which is a great game. Part of it was just playing for the enjoyment of it, but part of it was playing it to see his design choices. It’s a surprisingly simple game and gets the absolute most out of its graphics and mechanics. I’m on the lookout for good ways to skirt around the problem of requiring more and more art. I love art, but it’s costly in terms of time, money and stage-handling. Gunpoint uses its resources in a modular fashion, and does the trick of implying more than it has to show. FTL takes this to a much further degree: most of the unique content is just text.

Scene from Recettear
Scene from Recettear

I’m going for a graphic novel aesthetic in The Day After. This allows me to ignore animation and lighting almost entirely. I could shift the lever closer to “novel” than graphic like FTL does. Or do the usual trick for anime-style games like Recettear where you draw a basic pose and modify that slightly for different scenes or emotions. Ideally I’d like 3d models of my character (and supporting cast), and be able to pose them. I’m halfway decent at posing models. That would give me the greatest flexibility and value-for-money, but greatest upfront cost. Even more ideally I’d like to be able to frame characters in a scene like a graphic novel, with frames, overlays and the occasional colourful KAPOW!

In any case, play Gunpoint if you haven’t. It’s worth it.

I’ve been redesigning GUIs on scraps of paper. A lot of it will come down to how it looks altogether. If I get myself organized I can start doing some of that design in the GUI itself.

The Day After is a heavily story-based game, but procedurally generated. I’ve been doing research on story structure. There’s the old Joseph Campbell monomyth stuff, but I’ve also been looking at character arcs in TV shows. Ideally a game of The Day After will have four or five main characters all bouncing off each other. There’ll be a lot of scenes of everyone into the fray, but I want to do a bunch of scenes between two characters.

Image taken from without permission.
What’s in the box?

If you look at Game of Thrones, many scenes end up being a short interaction between two characters with a link outwards to the larger plot, but a lot of links between the two characters. For example, there’s a scene this season (no spoilers) that has Varys the scheming eunuch talking to Tyrion, the differently scheming dwarf. The focus of the scene is a thing in a box, but that’s just a catalyst to see the backstory of Varys, simultaneously explaining his character and Tyrion in the light of this revelation. Plot-wise, it’s fairly inconsequential, but it fills out their characters so beautifully.

I’m looking for these sorts of interactions between my own rogue’s gallery. Some are fairly obvious (recent news has given me endless character notes for The Hacker arguing with The Spy), whereas others leave me mystified (What does The Courier have to say to The Doctor?). The trick here is finding a scene to lock them together. Maybe it’s a scene where they are scouting together, one needs to go to the bathroom and you have a weird collision of raw survival (I need to watch your back) and before-the-calamity politeness (a guy can’t go into the women’s toilets!)

It’s a dumb scene plot-wise, but it allows you to have these sparring interactions of character choices, whilst reminding the player about the general danger. And that same scene could play out quite differently for different pairs of characters, or with roles reversed. I can write dialogue forever, so this doesn’t worry me. Getting it to come across on screen does, though. Do I have a wide palette of facial expressions? Do I have background plates of many different places around the city? What sound effects will I need? Do I have to care about music?

So yeah, I’ve been examining TV, movies, books and comics structurally; borrowing, stealing and being inspired.

The Short and Sweet

I’m currently working on:

  • Cleaning up the GUI code and making building-block components.
  • Sketching out GUIs and menu flow.
  • Sketching scenes and looking at the interactions in my characters.
  • Studying folks who have actually produced a game.
  • Stealthily trying to get feedback from friends about various things.

Recently completed tasks:

  • Nothing of note this fortnight 🙁