Game developer of many hats. MFA Thesis student. Part-time vocal synthesis guru.

Thesis Blog

Warning: not all blogging is directly related to thesis, although most of it is.

This Week's Goals (and some answers)

I managed to get fairly decent answers to the questions I posed myself yesterday, including where to start so that I can make some meaningful progress in the coming days. Next week is going to be a little hard with my day job, but I can still find time to do a little work.

I talked with my brother a good bit about his projects and mine, and we came to some useful conclusions about both. I do best when I begin from an existing framework that I understand, i.e., a game or series that I’ve played before that I can use as a general basis for what I want my product to feel like. Phayne, my brother, suggested Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, Little Dragon’s Cafe, and similar simulators as a general sensation for my game, and I’m rather in agreement with the idea; obviously, there’s no way I’d want to maintain the sheer volume of mechanics in a game like Harvest Moon, but the general feeling of mundane, micro-managed tasks occuring on a real-time clock, and simply “existing in a world”, is the type of simulation I want to convey. Long-term, I would love to create a gameplay loop which is endless like that, as well; however, for the purposes of my 7-month thesis timeline, I am striving for roughly “one week” of polished gameplay to act as a horizontal slice.

We also agreed that, given how I think on an aesthetic level, keeping the story grounded in reality but using an abstract setting would be the best balance of figurative and literal. An abstract, fantasy-styled setting adds visual appeal and loosens the context in which the story occurs; after all, I intend to tell a story that can be applied to many lifestyles, times, and places. Writing a grounded story, one that does not focus on wildly adventurous or magical elements, maintains the realness of the experience and prevents overly muddying my metaphors and intentions. Thus, the general idea has become that my character is trying to start a business or service in a fantasy world; their undertaking is largely personal, as I had intended, and it’s grounded in reality enough that there’s little chance of the “epic” interfering with the human side of the experience.

Really, the plot doesn’t have to be terribly specific or grand in nature; I can develop in details to flesh out the world as I go, but I intend for the daily life to be the bulk of the story, rather than the arcing narrative that surrounds it. Still, the main character needs a goal, as focusing on that goal will be a source of both stress and relief, and that’s why this much needed to be determined.

We talked about a few other things, including having multiple “stages” of the monster drawn into the scenes, to be changed between as the character’s health shifts. I also determined that there should still be no major combat element besides fighting the monster, which is not always a productive course of action; usually, it makes you feel worse to fight it simply because doing so doesn’t make you feel better (rather than strictly worsening the matter; there is a nuance to this). Any “combat” which occurs should not be overly aggressive in nature, but more akin to hunting. Most of the gameplay should be in mundane tasks: caring for yourself, caring for your cat, cleaning, eating, sleeping, and of course, tending to the tasks you need to complete in order to progress toward your goal, such as running errands, setting up fixtures, or whatever it may be. (I don’t want to be too stuck on farming for these, but gardening is rather therapeutic while also being frustrating, and I’m endeared to the aesthetic of the character trying to start up an apothecary.)

Of the two companion characters who exist, the one who also suffers from a mental illness should also have a monster of their own, to keep the metaphor consistent. Their monster should appear different, as their illness does not manifest exactly the same way as the main character’s does; no two people have the exact same experience with mental illness, even under the same diagnosis. For clarity, I should also record that the main character’s exact diagnosis is depression with co-morbid anxiety, which is the same as my own experience. I have not quite decided on the diagnosis of my secondary character with SMI, but I do want to make it different yet similar, while also not stepping outside of the “invisible” illnesses, or ones with which I am fairly intimately familiar.

It may be necessary to convey a good deal of the “action” in the game through text in order to conserve resources, at least in the initial stages of production. Thankfully, my prose is something I’m fairly confident in, so I’m rather okay with this possibility. This may impact the idea of keeping events “real time”, but I think that it’s alright for things to pause to let the player read; true real-time is hardly a necessity, just the sense that time is passing at a fairly steady rate and your actions take chunks of time, rather than being slotted to “x actions per day”.

So, with progress from yesterday stated, let’s talk about my plans.

Today, I’ll be meeting up with a friend (who may be interchangeably called Taylor and Steve on this blog) who I intend to bring on board as my main artist, so that we can begin working on concept art. Once I talk to them, though, I also intend to speak with another artist and friend, Mitchell, who has an absolutely fantastic sense for the sticky and slimy feeling I want for the main monster. Combining Taylor’s soft, elegant fantasy aesthetic with Mitchell’s sludgy monster visuals is likely to create exactly the aesthetic sense that I want, although we’ll also need to make some art direction choices in order to maintain abstractness (such as keeping a limited color palette, and I continually imagine somewhat sketchy visuals). While they’re working on concepts, I’ll begin sketching prototypes for the interface and what the gameplay might actually feel like. I’d like to have some kind of janky digital prototype by two weeks’ time from now. (This all works out nicely, as well, because the artists I’m recruiting also have their own experiences with depression and anxiety to bring to the table in their designs.)

If I remember anything else I needed to say, I’ll add it later, but for now, these are my notes to myself:

  • Meet with artists today and lay out aesthetic goals. Create full 7-month timeline for yourself and your artists. Determine backup plans if the timeline proves difficult to follow (such as hiring someone to work on sound design, additional art assistance, UI design).

  • This week, begin sketching prototypes on paper for interface and mechanics. Have artists working on concept art for characters and monsters.

  • Next week, create a digital prototype. Artists: concept art for environments and props.

Lou Carroll