The Dreaming Lake - Design Blog 5
Wowzers. Our alpha build was a real milestone.
In other games I have worked on, the alpha build, which is theoretically meant to be the "feature-complete" build, has usually been missing a feature. I am proud to say that we are in fact, feature complete. And with
no game-breaking bugs! Seriously, I am astonished by the state of the game right now. With that out of the way, lets get into the design.
The 0.4 alpha build was pretty solid for what it was. Just two days after that build was released, however, Justin finished up the system for randomized memories. This was a game-changer, since it meant that the player's experience would always be a little bit different each time they load the game. The alpha build was already out-of-date, and it felt weird to distribute it to players for testing. I decided to make another build before the next major build, originally planning to distribute it only to individual playtesters. We figured there was no point in holding it back, so we went ahead and released it on our itch page too.
The focus mechanic finally feels the way I wanted it to feel. It actually feels like the player is straining their eyes to bring a picture into focus. Hunter's shader's and Justin's work on the focus mechanic really came together to make the experience of finding a memory feel special. Not every memory is the same. Some of them are harder to focus on than others, and we can use this to vary up the challenge and give the player a sense of what to expect from a memory. So if a memory object takes more effort to focus, that lets the player know the memory is going to be more significant, presenting a bigger reward. If we know that a certain memory is less interesting than others or doesn't have an animation, we do not want to feel like we're letting down the player.
Here you can see a video of how the focus mechanic came together. Note that this was before any sort of audio implementation:
Tutorial: To skillgate or not to skillgate?
The short answer is yes, we should have a tutorial that skillgates the player. But we're not quite doing that. If you're unfamiliar, skillgating is about preventing the player from progressing until after they've demonstrated that they know how to use a certain mechanic. It just doesn't feel like there's time to plan a more robust tutorial without disrupting things, so we're doing the best we can. Instead of locking the player off from exploring the map, our current solution was to make sure there is a memory not far from the player's spawn position, and that they can hear it when they load the game.
The space in between
I've come to realize that it is inevitable for players to end up wandering for extended periods, from time to time. There is bound to be some downtime between finding memories, and the player may even feel a bit bored if it goes on a while. But I have to wonder, is this really a bad thing? Does the player really need to see something interesting every second of the game? My intuition tells me that those pauses, the quiet space in between, are important. It gives the player a moment to think and feel about what they've seen. Don't get me wrong, we are doing our best to make sure the map is dense with interesting content, because frankly it needs more.
Audio & Music
That said, I am not a fan of letting the player wander for too long with literally nothing happening. Which leads me to the sound of the game. I have finally been getting into music and audio design, which is something I intended to get started a while ago. We finally have a main theme, of sorts! I'm still not completely satisfied with it, in fact I've already been thinking of ways to change it up, but I think it captures the vibe of the game pretty nicely. I added a calming sound effect to unfocused memory objects, so players know when one is nearby. It honestly sounds pretty zen to me, I once spent like ten minutes just listening to it on a loop.
It's become clear that we will need to make some compromises with animation. Not every memory is going to be animated, some of them will simply be frozen in static poses. I made a point to our animator that we need to place emphasis on the significant moment of a memory, more so than the action. In the video below, you can see how it freezes on that final, striking pose. I think this might be my favorite animation so far.
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