Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Insecurity of Reinvention

Been a taxing week - one of those weeks where you question your work a tad too deeply. (We're in the land between paradox and non sequitur people!)

I'm currently assembling the hints system and it's about as mind-spangling as things get. It's nice to take a break for a couple of days to tidy my thoughts.

I've briefly allowed myself a tour of the recent reviews of M3 - just enough to perk me up a little, and not so much as to perpetuate a dependency on public adoration. :o)
And boy, I'm blown away. The scores keep going up and up, all across the board, raised on the shoulders of so many kind and encouraging comments.
As that comforting glow soaks into my soul, a panic eel spasms in my gut. All those high expectations! Can I really lead my team to an even greater victory? I've changed my approach to design and game narrative so much, and everything is once more uncertain. I mean, this game is, thus far, an unfiltered nozzle into my head, and that's a scary premise.

What do the greats do?
On the one hand, you have the MCF team who reinvent with breathtaking courage from game to game; on the other, you have the unfalteringly successful ERS team(s) who pump out 'cookie cutter' games with unnerving regularity.
The upshot is pretty straightforward: each new MCF game garners a host of negative reviews from those who dislike the new systems, techniques, and mechanics. The ERS games seem only to receive negative reviews concerning the lack of originality. ('More of the same' is a recurring review.)
And, in both cases, these games hurtle to the top of the charts and make heaps of money.
I'm quite sure my bosses would prefer that I adopted the ERS approach. But I simply can't do that. To deny myself the opportunities to improve and experiment and to push boundaries is to deny myself of everything that is necessary for my creative survival.

My new hints system is, to the best of my knowledge, radically different to all others in the iHOG genre.
I've replaced the insipid omniscient hints (Collect the bacon slicer from the mortuary) with a character.
So now the hints are imbued with personality, and we move a little closer to turning a 'penalty' into a 'reward'. Furthermore, we increase immersion every time we shun omniscience in favour of important, narrative-driven characters.
I've also broken the hints into smaller increments. When coupled with the interactive in-game map, this method overcomes all the issues we experienced with the previous system.

One unforeseen by-product of all this is that the hints have rather ballooned.
Now that the hint can 'see' where the player is, 'he' needs to respond appropriately in order to sustain believability:

PLAYER has not visited mortuary. PLAYER is not in town.
HINT PERSON: Let's head into town and have a look around.

PLAYER has not visited mortuary. PLAYER is not standing outside mortuary.
HINT PERSON: There's a mortuary on Gallows Corner. Let's have a looksee.

PLAYER has not visited mortuary. PLAYER is outside mortuary.
HINT PERSON: I don't like the look of this place at all. Let's go in!

PLAYER does not have bacon slicer. PLAYER is not in mortuary.
HINT PERSON: Hey Edwina! I'm sure I saw a bacon slicer in the mortuary.

PLAYER does not have bacon slicer. PLAYER is in mortuary.
HINT PERSON: Ooh look! A bacon slicer! We can use that to create an origami pig!

(N.B. The hints are organised into linear bundles of loops. At the final 'idiot' stage of a loop, I've chosen to lead the player not just to the current choke, but also to the next.)
It's a teeny bit painful to compose a full ms of hints, knowing that any one player might only require a small clawful of lines from that almighty document.

The other problem - and this was not unexpected - is wrestling parallel game-play into a linear hint system. I faced this in M3, but in M4 the player might have three or four tasks open at once, and our intelligent, self-aware hint must intuitively assuage the player's current concern, whilst shepherding her to the next point in a linear system.

And I think these are possibly the moments when we most question our judgement - those moments when we are entrenched in something that is difficult and untested.
In my head, it's a brilliant system and everyone loves it!
But we're fast approaching the time when nigh on a year's worth of ideas and decisions will crawl from my head and into the outside world with all its glorious reality.
Man, if it stayed in my head it would be the best game of all time - the best, very lonely game of all time.

Should end on a high. Let's pick a review...

Absolutely beautiful game. The story was so touching, and the music was gorgeous. I even loved the side story that opens up once you finish the main game. It takes a lot to impress me, or keep me wanting to play, and this one definitely grabbed me completely.
[Jamie Machia of New York.]

And finish up with an actroid. Utopia or dystopia? (Ah, let's face it: they're all gonna end up as sex toys.)

No comments: