The trials and tribulations of making a game about rape

•September 10, 2014 • 4 Comments

I read all the time about designers/developers/people trying to figure out ways to make the gaming medium move forward. Keep in mind that, as some guy from a poor third world country, “moving the medium forward” is not one of my interests.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard many times how stories “write themselves.” To me, there are two different kinds of stories: stories that are so easy to write that figuring out when to stop is the actual challenge, and stories that are impossible to write no matter how hard I try. What’s interesting about that is that the story I was thinking about is not always the story I end up writing.

Enola first came to be as a mini-game for a ludum dare game jam. The game was only 5 minutes long, but it had a few very specific story elements. After watching people play it on Youtube, and reading some comments about it, I realized pretty much nobody understood what it was about, since it was called abstract, atmospheric, weird, and so on.

I think that minigame was somewhat inspired by a movie called “An American Crime.” Not particularly amazing, but good. There’s also the fact the movie was inspired by true events (but unlike other “inspired by true events” movies, this one is).

And since nobody asked what it was about, I never explained it. The premise for that mini-game was pretty simple: It’s a story about two girls who’ve been captured by an omnipresent evil being. One escapes but the other one is left behind, so she decides to go back, and you wonder if the evil being is real or a product of someone else’s imagination. That’s a pretty simple premise, and is the premise I wanted to use to expand that minigame into a “full” experience.

But that didn’t quite work.

The original premise didn’t work out as I expected. Maybe I am not talented enough to expand that simple premise into something larger, or maybe the concept itself just sucked big time. I tried different things, and those who played the game during development know the story would change from version to version (I was releasing the game “in chunks.” Not the best idea, but it somewhat worked anyway…). Basically after more than 6 months, the story was going nowhere because it just didn’t work, even if the characters were already fully developed.

Then one day I knew something had happened to one of the two girls in the game. I explored that further and further, until I realized “something terrible had happened to her.” That’s where both character biographies actually made sense (I have the biography for the 2 girls).

Anyway, I don’t really know when the “the non-player main character was raped” idea came up. I do know it took me a while to really decide if that was the path to go, not because I was worried about the event itself but because “rape” has become such a bad word in the gaming industry (whether or not I agree to that idea is a completely different subject).

The idea itself didn’t contradict any of the basic ideas I had set for the game: no paranormal elements; no zombies; human-relatable horror based on real world experiences; a flesh-and-blood antagonist with no influence of magic, demonic possession, ghosts, whatever. It is not hard to come up with something based on that, considering the kind of world we live in.

So, even if the story was taking shape, and the premise worked pretty well, that doesn’t change the fact that the R word turns on extra neurons on the brain when it comes to analyzing things. There are some themes in games that are just taken granted and accepted without much questioning, but this one is not one of them (because, you know, going on a killing spree and shooting people left and right is totally ok nowadays). There’s also the fact that you always run into people arguing that this or that was just added for shock value. However, after thinking a lot if that was what the story was supposed to be, I just knew it was the way to go, and that it was done for a (story-related) reason.

Enola will be out in a week (unless something terrible happens). I am not going to lie and say “so far reaction has been pretty good!!!” Reactions from most those who’ve played it are generally good, but some have complained about the plot (some with good reasons, some without). We’ll see how it goes when it reaches a wider audience. I am mostly hoping two things:

First, I hope those who play it actually take the time to play it before saying anything about it. I remember someone sent me a 5-paragraph email complaining about the plot and how it was used for “shock value,” after playing only for 10 minutes and looking at some screenshots I had. I am sorry but that’s like people hating how Hotline Miami “glorified violence” after watching a 10 minute gameplay (keeping in mind that those 10 minutes of gameplay are the equivalent of maybe a fourth of a mission, since Hotline Miami is extremely hard).

Second, I obviously expect people will like the game, even if some parts of it (well, more like half of it) is very disturbing (considering some things cannot be sugar-coated no matter how hard you try). The game is not graphic and doesn’t have explicit sexual content (because I didn’t think it was needed), but it is somewhat violent.

And third (yes, I do the counting trick all the time), I’m hoping it will sell because there are many ideas that could be used to expand the story into a sequel, prequel, and things like that.

At this point I am thinking my life would have been a lot easier if I’d just made a sidescroller platformer (not that I have anything against those, by the way).

I still cannot explain why the game is about rape, because I don’t really know. As I said, some writers say “stories write themselves” and maybe that’s the case here. It’s not the best answer, but the only one I can give. I’m just trying (and failing) to answer the question people ask me after playing this game.

EDIT: this morning I was mentally reviewing this post and I realized that I wrote a lot about how the plot this and that, but I didn’t actually explain how the rape plays a role in the plot of the game, making it sound like “oh yeah, and she was raped, well, let’s move on.” Blame it on the lack of sleep and long crunch nights (since I am still hunting down bugs and errors). So I am adding these two paragraphs…

In the original minigame the girl had escaped but she decided to go back because she wanted to save the other girl, setting her free from “the evil being,” but she ends up trapped again. The idea is that she wanted to “save” her from something, going back to the root of the evil.

In this new, “full” version the playable character does pretty much the same. At first my idea was to follow the same “An american crime” concept where you save the other person from some sort of serial killer, or evil man. I was also very inspired by Silent Hill and how it deals with the inner feelings of the protagonists, shaping the world, and for a time it worked but the more I worked on the story the less many things made sense. So, again, it all was leading to what I’ve already said, and at the end the girl wasn’t saving the other girl from some sort of serial killer evil man, but from herself and her past, and the whole idea is to see if she can actually do it or not.

And that’s pretty much the concept now. It is very different to what I was trying to do. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but to me it just makes sense, just like in other cases it makes sense to just grab a gun and kill a gazillion dudes, like in the latest Tomb Raider (by the way, I did like that Tomb Raider, even if I question the need to include a gazillion dudes to kill).

 

Remember you can keep up with the news on Facebook or Twitter, and also remember to buy the game on Steam next week!!!

So much to do, so little time… and Enola will release soon

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, our goal is to release Enola this September so we are working around the clock to do it. There are many things that we still need to work on but luckily most of the work is done.

At this point it’s funny that I sometime get these ideas about “it would have been cool if we had done this or that.” I don’t know if this is normal, or if it’s me being way too perfectionist, trying to fine tune the smallest detail and not being entirely happy with the result.

Either way, it kinda sucks, heh.

Now I just wanted to share this little thing…

dress

And a couple of screenshots…

tower17_area5trap3

tower15_area5trap2

The Silo is a total nightmare

•August 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I think I said this once, but in case I didn’t: I designed the factory level to be hard. Really hard. The factory has a section in the second half, a silo made of hallways and elevators, and it’s some sort of a maze.

The main problem I saw is that you don’t have a map in Enola, so it would be somewhat easy to get lost in that level (to be honest, Enola is a game where you need to keep your eyes open all the time so you know where you are, because there are no maps).

silo_map

screen2

When trying to figure out a way to make navigation easier (meaning you won’t get lost easily), I thought maybe we could implement some sort of “areas” to it. So, for example an area would have big machines, while the other one would have smaller machines, and a different lighting, and so on. The level will still be difficult, but at least it will make it easier for players to know where they are.

The image above shows the silo and the colored hallways. I added the different hallways to different color-coded display layers in Maya, so I’d know what belongs where. I then developed a different “look” to each area.

Below you can see a few screens of what the hallways are looking like at the moment:

screen1

screen3

screen4

The hallways are very empty at the moment, but we will add little things here and there so they look and feel cooler.

See you next week!

An updated build, finally

•July 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a long, LONG time, but we can finally release a new update. Before anything else, I need to mention this update does not feature any new level. Enola will be released at some point this September, so I think releasing the game in chunks is not a good idea.

screenshot2

This update took a lot more than expected for many reasons. We took Enola to Rezzed in March, and then PAX in April, and we had to spend quite some time preparing for those events. When we got back we had to figure out what to do with all the input we received and then made some changes to the game. Changes were mostly related to interaction, making things easier to understand and story delivery. Story delivery (or plot, for that matter) is specially important, since we’re trying to get it “right.”

During that time 3 other guys have been working on the endings and the last 3 levels. One if them was supposed to be ready, but I had the brilliant idea to change it and half of the work got scrapped. Maybe not the wisest idea, but it was for the best, since those changes will make that level work better for the story.

screenshot1

The biggest change is related to the island. The main problem with the island was that it was too open. This meant you could go pretty much anywhere, but the island is very big so it was easy to just wander around and not do anything meaningful in the game for quite some time. That was a big problem because Enola is a story driven game, not an open world exploration walk simulator. Exploration will play a role in Enola but only when players are looking for clues or items.

Now, the island is a little different. I am not going to explain all the changes because you’ll see them anyway, but basically we’re locking away some areas so they become accessible as you progress the game. The idea is pretty similar to the Zelda games, where you can only reach certain areas after you got certain items. The surface area has also been slightly reduced, so the island feels a little smaller. These changes should let you explore the place without wasting too much time.

screenshot3

Enola also walks and sprints a little faster now. This also helps since she can cross long distances a little faster. She can still run just for a limited period of time, though, since that’s used for other gameplay scenarios.

I began to implement the unlockable costumes system as well. This new version will include the basic costume and an extra costume. This extra costume will already be unlocked.

outfit

So, that’s basically it. The update should be available at some point this week. As you know, Enola’s been 33% off during these two and something years, but when this update hits the web the price will go back to $14.99. I will let you know the final release plans soon-ish. Just know we’re planning to do something cool, so keep your eyes open.

See you next week!

Crouching makes things a lot more dangerous

•July 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

You may or may not know Enola has been in development for 2 years, and you may or may not know it will be released in 2 or 3 months. This means I have to say I am either very brave or very stupid to add this so late in development.

Enola is now able to crouch.

enola_crouching

I’ve been talking with one of the guys here for some time about the possibilities of adding crouching. This was not an easy question, actually. The main problem with the issue is that levels (nor gameplay scenarios) have not been designed to take advantage of crouching, so it was one of those things that could end up being useless.

But then, we had this idea of adding more death traps to the game, including traps that require crouching. As a matter of fact we had been thinking about adding more traps anyway, since the world of Enola is pretty much a place designed to kill you, so you shouldn’t feel safe at any point.

pop2

Designing these traps can be tricky. Too many sudden deaths can make the game frustrating or cheap, as if it’s been programmed to randomly kill you to give you the fake impression of being hard.

One of the problems in Enola (when it comes to traps) is darkness, and that’s why I say designing them will be tricky, as we’ll need to provide enough input that there’s something ahead that can potentially kill you.

pop1

Prince of Persia does this very nicely. You are given enough information so you know something is coming, so it’s about trying to avoid the traps, not avoid being taken by surprise.

There is also the idea of using crouching when you face the enemies, but we have to see how it would work, so that’s just an idea at the moment. We are going to look into that as soon as we release the next update.

By the way, I am hoping the next update will be out in a couple of weeks or so. By then I will also announce the release date and a couple of surprises. In the meantime, you can either get the demo here, or preorder the full game here.

As always, you are free to visit my other blog, Catholicism Wow.

Don’t simply ‘ask’ for more female characters

•June 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

When I got into game development it was because I found it to be a very cool way to tell stories. However, I have always been interested in any form of storytelling. A few years ago I spent a long long time writing a (roughly 500 pages) book, a second and a third draft, based on a short story that I wrote based on a dream I had. The story was about a robot girl and how she would deal with being the only one in a world of humans, where some hated her and others liked her.

I also wrote a script for a short film, about a young girl who met a tormented ghost girl. That script went through nearly 30 different drafts, and then with a group of friends we made the film. It was actually cool to see the film made it to a few film festivals and we even got an award.

At some point I was working on a script about a princess who didn’t want to be a princess because she didn’t like the idea of “a woman in a men’s world.” One day she would escape with a sailor/adventurer she met (but never got emotionally involved with), because she wanted to see the world and find an island she had read about in books. The project was canned because that’s when I began to walk away from filmmaking.

At roughly the same time I wrote a story about a young woman and her struggle to deal with her divorce. That one was very surreal, because half of the story took place in a dream world.

After I finish Enola I have the basic treatment for the story of 2 different games. One of them is for a sequel to Enola, and it will be from a different girl’s perspective. The second game is about a girl who meets an older woman and helps her solve a problem. That’s all I can say about either project so far.

But before all of this, I wrote a story about a man who went to the desert because he wanted to solve the mystery of his best friend’s suicide. By the way, some people consider some of these stories to be good, others to be not so good (or very bad).

Some people like “stats” and whatever, so I will share some “stats” of these stories with you: The character count for the first one was 5 women and 5 men. The second one featured 3 females and 1 male. The one about the princess only had one girl, the princess, and roughly 8 men. The next one had 2 women and 1 man. Enola features 6 women and 2 men. The next 2 are kept under wraps so I won’t say. The one about the man featured one character: the man.

If you’ve paid enough attention, you will notice all of the stories, except for one, feature a woman as the main character. I did that because it made sense, and because the stories needed a woman, not a man, as the main character. Some of them feel emotionally or sexually attracted to someone else, and some of them don’t develop any kind of emotional bond to anybody because they don’t need it. Basically I find female characters more interesting. Also, none of them falls into the category of “she kicks ass” because they are not fighters, martial artists, warriors or anything like that.

IMO it’s all cool and all, but I have to be honest about something. I NEVER wrote a story with a female lead because I wanted to be inclusive, because people were talking about the need of more women in this or that, or because I wanted to help solve any problem with the current state of whatever. I wrote all the stories because I wanted. I’m making a game with a female lead because I want to, and I plan to do more games with female leads because I want to. Because I care too much about them to make them “just for the stats or so that the male is no longer the default.”

By the way, I could also mention the videogame characters I’ve cared about the most, but I want to finish this blog post sometime today…

capture

I say one does not simply “ask” or more female characters for two reasons:

Reason number one…

We have “enough is enough” response in our country that goes like “te voy a decir que sí para que te callés/para que ya no jodás.” I’m sure most of you don’t understand spanish, so I’ll explain it to you. It is something you say to imply “I’ll do it because I’m tired of your requests” but in a very rude way. I mention this because I think we’re lucky we don’t have people with the “I’m fed up” attitude, but I can’t help to wonder if we’ll see the day when we will get more female characters “because devs are fed up if the requests, so they make female leads so people asking for them will shut up.

On top of that, every time a woman makes it into a game, we get a million of critics dissecting them just to check if they are strong enough. I can already see what would happen, because I wouldn’t expect much from a female character that was added just for the sake of adding her.

Personally I don’t want to see that day.

I want to see more games with female characters, but I want those characters to mean something more than stats or ideological agendas (or whatever they are called). I certainly don’t want more females “so that the male is not the default character.” I’m not interested because that means that instead of the male dude running around killing dudes I’ll see the female running around killing dudes. Certainly, if I got “Princess of Persia” I would only care if the story was good (I was going to say “Assasin’s Creed but that was too obvious, as that’s the reason why I’m writing this), because “male-emulating-badassery” is the cheapest way of making a strong female lead.

So yeah, Anita’s idea about the princess that escapes by her own means and then levels up and fights whoever sent her to jail is not interesting to me because I could swap the woman for a man and the story would be pretty much the same. If she added the “this and that and what it means because she’s a woman” then I would find it interesting (and no, the simple “she no longer needs rescuing is not enough, at least not to me).

I want more female characters in games, because they are the ones I find more interesting. However, I want characters like Alyx, April Ryan, Heather Mason, Mio Amakura and such. I certainly don’t want empty-vessel female characters or “skin swaps.” I find them interesting not because “they can do the same things a man can do,” because “they really kick ass because they kill everything that moves” or because “this girl is tougher than Chuck Norris.” I want to see more women in games because, as I’ve said before, many times, they can bring a different perspective into something, and because they can be heroines in their own way.

Reason number two…

We have another saying in our country that… is way too rude, so I won’t write it here, but I will tell you what it implies: talk is useless without action.

Here’s a crazy and maybe stupid idea: maybe stop asking others to do something and just DIY? Maybe, instead of going into Twitter and ranting all day about some dev not making a female lead, you can put together a team and work on a simple game with a female protagonist. I say “simple game” because you don’t need to make the next Halo or Star Citizen to do something meaningful. Something with simple graphics and simple mechanics can do a lot. What if you’re not a developer? Well, if you are an artist or a writer, just gather a team as well.

If more of those teams “going indie” opted to make their games with a female protagonist AS LONG AS IT’S MEANINGFUL, it would also help.

Hell, if Anita Sarkeesian decided to put a team together and work on that game about the princess, I would definitely buy it if the game was good. At least IMO, that helps more than just posting videos about “how things with female characters ought to be” on Youtube.

People from countries with established videogame industries are lucky because they have something we don’t: you are A LOT of people and it’s very easy for you to get small teams of devs together. Here in El Salvador we are around 25 game developers in the whole country (I mean 25 people, not 25 teams of people). Now ask me how many have a game with a female protagonist as their first option: less than 10…

I say maybe it’s stupid because I don’t really know how difficult it would be for people working on those big companies to develop another game as a weekend/side project, so I don’t know if my crazy idea would be too much. Devs “going indie” would certainly find it easier.

But when I see “risks” being taken in many areas except protagonist gender, I can only ask how interested people really are.

Hell, I’m even willing to put up with the “generic female that kicks ass and kills zombies” if she has a good story to tell. I should clarify I don’t mean I want them to write a story so good it’s at least comparable to The Lord of the Flies. I just need something that’s engaging enough, like Fatal Frame or even Diablo.

And who knows. Maybe if female protagonists were not so rare, we wouldn’t have all those critics dissecting female protagonists over and over…

In my mind, action helps more than words. I’ve seen many gaming-industry-related people discussing talking about why we need more female characters for some time. However, for some reason I haven’t seen many games featuring female characters being announced. So here’s my final stupid question (and it’s sorta stupid because I don’t know how the industry works in your countries, because we don’t even have an industry here): Why are there so many industry-related-people talking about wanting more female leads in games, but yet so few people making games with a female lead? So maybe I could say “don’t ask for more female characters; make them.”

Ruka_piano1

Just some final thoughts…

Note: All this was written by a guy living in a country with zero game development industry; who may or may not be a decent writer; who is NOT a programmer but is able to make games because Unreal Kismet is extremely easy to use but didn’t know how to make a game until 3 years ago; who has zero first-hand experience in the videogames industry. If I managed to come up with a story with a female lead and put together a small team to make a game, I’m pretty sure those of you who are far better writers, who are real programmers and artists, can do a far better work.

When I got back from PAX this April (we were showing Enola there), I read an article, but what I remember the most was one of the comments. The guy had wrote “the devs’ mistake was to make a game with a female protagonist.” However, experience has showed me that for every guy complaining that the main character is a girl, there are hundreds who are happy that the main character is a girl.

It turns out “the risk” of making a female lead is not “as risky” as people think.

Why the new Tomb Raider trailer didn’t work for me

•June 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I am still halfway through the latest Tomb Raider, so I don’t know if there’s going to be a big reveal at the end that will turn everything upside down. Based on what I’ve seen so far, and the trailer they showed at E3, I feel something is off.

My main question is why Lara is shown in some therapy session, and we are told she attends those because she wants to recover from the experiences she had. However, I need to ask myself what experience is exactly the one they talk about (again, maybe the answer will come when I finish the game). What comes next is mostly based on what I know about the first game.

Based on the trailer, I would assume the “shocking experience” is being on the island and fighting for survival. So far so good, and I can actually see the point (The Lord of the Flies comes to mind). The problem comes when you take into consideration what you do in the game, which is pretty much what Lara does, since you are Lara in the game, so I have to ask again, what shocking experience are we talking about?

When Lara kills his first couple of dudes, we get this line about her being surprised “how easy it was” to kill them. However, as the game goes on, she becomes a very efficient killing machine. By the time I’m killing the 236th guy I think to myself “well, for someone who had problems killing, she doesn’t seem to care much anymore.”

From a purely storytelling point of view, if you’re a pacifist and you find yourself killing a person, or find yourself in the middle of two teams killing each other, it makes sense to throw in the “it was a shocking experience” thing (again, The Lord of the Flies). But how am I supposed to believe she found the experience “traumatic” if she not just killed a person either in self defense or by accident, but a gazillion?

And in case you say “well, it was a kill or be killed situation!!!” let me say that the “kill or be killed” excuse no longer works when it’s thrown at you 236 times…

Maybe there’s something in the game that makes me change my perspective (and if that’s the case, I will come back to this blog and write a second impression).

In the meantime, I will continue asking myself “what’s the traumatic experience?” considering that, near the end of the trailer, Lara walks in and headshots a dude with an arrow like it’s nothing, and then says “… they become what they are meant to be.”

So, you’re meant to be what, exactly? A relentless killing machine?

I really like Lara Croft and I like the Tomb Raider series. However, if you ask me if I want to play a game where I just look for treasures and get a lot of mythological mumbo-jumbo, or a game where you shoot dudes left and right while going into tombs every now and then, I pick the first one.

Oh, Lara also kills dudes in the previous Tomb Raiders, but the difference there is that we’re never tried to be sold the idea that she finds traumatic to headshot a gazillion dudes. In the previous games, she evidently doesn’t care. That’s far more believable than “oh, no! I killed this man in self defense… and then I killed 659 more because I wanted loot…”

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: