The gameplay that wasn’t there AKA should gameplay make sense?

•October 5, 2014 • 2 Comments

If you take a look at the few reviews in Enola (the good ones, that are actually worth reading, not the stupid one that reads DIS FEMINIST SHIT GAEM SUX, DE GRAFIX SUX” that’s currently the most voted one), many mention something I had already thought of: the gameplay needs improvement.

The biggest question on my mind all the time was if the “adventure/hidden object” mechanic was the best, if it would have been better to use a different set of mechanics, or even no mechanics at all and make the game purely an exploration game (what some call a walking simulator). In the past, I’ve shared my thoughts on Dear Esther and why I didn’t like the game. Simply put, for an exploration game it required too little exploration and too much “hold W key.” I considered making Enola an exploration game but I knew I wouldn’t be able to make some compelling exploration. Besides, Enola has a big problem: the story is massive, so it would have been difficult to deliver it solely on exploration and hope people would find all the information to understand the story (don’t pay attention and you won’t understand many things).

At the end, my idea was to link gameplay to one of the characters, and turn many puzzles into “death traps” because one of the characters “is good at building things” and uses those things to kill you. The idea sounded good on paper, but after finishing the game I’m still not sure if that was the best choice.

But then remembered a game called “Catherine” and that made me wonder if the gameplay part of a story-driven game should be related to the story in some way or not.I haven’t played Catherine (I plan to, as soon as I can) but while the story is about a guy cheating on his girlfriend, the gameplay is about solving cube-based-pyramid-puzzles, and there’s no explicit or physical relationship between the two. Note that speaking about “gameplay as a metaphor” is completely unrelated to this because I’m not talking about gameplay “meaning” something (Silent Hill) but gameplay directly presenting the story (insert generic shooter here).

After all, there’s no logical reason why you have to limit your gameplay to the kind of story you’re delivering, or limit your story because the gameplay doesn’t allow for something more complex.

Even if most expect games being about punching, shooting, hacking or slashing, there’s no logical reason to make a game with a story that only gives the protagonist a reason to punch, shoot, hack or slash.

Right now I know what story I’d like to tell next, and now I need to figure out what kind of gameplay to use, even if it “has nothing to do” with the story. This is not about “what else can games be?” but about “storytelling.”

Or I could simply make a game about one of them soldiers “saving the world.”

The scary horror game "that wasn’t really that scary"

•September 28, 2014 • 2 Comments

Enola is a weird game, and I have to be the first one to say that. I began working on this game with the idea of making a “scary horror game” but the more I worked on it the more it became a nice but bittersweet love story between two girls. Logical convention says this was completely wrong because, instead of making the scariest horror game I could make, it was turning out to be “less and less scary.” However, it makes a little more sense when you consider (why) my biggest influences were Silent Hill and (to a slightly lesser degree) Fatal Frame.

Silent Hill is all about dealing with the protagonist’s past and learning stuff, and while it has combat it is not about “scary stuff after scary stuff.” Fatal Frame is a little different, because it’s also very story-driven but the gameplay makes it extremely scary. Silent Hill ends when you make the protagonist face whatever issues he/she has, but with bittersweet results. The game doesn’t usually offer a “good conclusion” to the story, but rather a “not so bad” ending (the ending in Silent Hill 3 comes to mind). Fatal Frame is always about redemption, in one way or another, because you always try to put and end to a curse and help the spirit of the one causing it.

But “the rebirth of horror games” was all about bad endings and non-stop “scary stuff after scary stuff.” For good or ill, many times a horror game is about how much it makes you shake or jump. I think I could have done the same, but the final product would not have been what it is now. At least to me I think the game ended up being better because, depending on what ending you get, you find there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

I mean, IMO there’s enough material in Enola to make a “scary stuff after scary stuff” when you consider one of the main elements is related to how scary and evil humans can be. Since Enola is a psychological horror game, everything you see is a reflection of someone’s mind, so I could have gone 100% Silent Hill and use monsters to represent everything in the game. Implied sexual themes in Enola could even give me a free pass to pull out my own Pyramid Head-like scene, or come up with my own set of “pervert monsters going after you with obvious intentions.”

That would have brought the game a lot of over-critical-critics, because gaming-people usually question almost-any kind of sexual content in games but are perfectly OK with murder, mutilation and providing a gazillion (male) enemies to shoot because… fun…

But we are not here to talk about THAT, of course… so back to the subject…

Anyway, over-critical-critics were not really my concerns, and the reason why I didn’t pull out my “Pyramid Head-like-pervert-monsters going after you with obvious intentions” was because it was not compatible with the game I was trying to make: dealing with your loved one’s past and traumatic experiences, and showing there might be light at the end of the tunnel (if you happen to get the good ending, of course).

Considering the plot, there’s no logical reason why there would be monsters (meaning weird-looking things) trying to kill you or ripping your head off. From a gameplay perspective, it would be good, but no matter how it was presented, you end up with weird monsters trying to kill you because… reasons…

On the other hand, while adding the “monsters going after you…” relentlessly might have made the game scarier because they would keep players on their toes, I’m still not sure it would have been good because, at the end of the day, it is not the player character’s story, and it’s not about scaring the player character, but the girlfriend’s story and her struggles and fears.

I speak about “monsters” on this post, I specifically mean weird-looking-creatures-or-humans that are unpleasant to look at (deformed humans, human/animal hybrids, ghosts, nightmarish or pseudo-Lovecraftian creatures, and so on). Also, this doesn’t mean the playable character is never attacked. In fact, she is attacked a few times (by a non-weird-non-deformed human being), and it’s somewhat violent, but it’s not graphic or gory (she is punched, pulled, kicked, but she doesn’t get her head chopped off).

So, the game became “less and less scary” because it became more focused on the story about two girls, and less on being a game about “show scary stuff and MOAR scary stuff.” Was that the best choice? I think it was.

Besides, I can always try to make a more traditional horror game dealing with more trivial subjects that can be used for shock value, like murder, mutilation or shooting a gazillion (male) enemies. After all, nobody will complain if I just come up with a “Hostel-like” or “Hellraiser-like” videogame and use torture porn for shock value (and I think people would actually like it a lot).

If you are curious what this scary-but-not-so-scary game is about, you can get Enola on Steam.

The trials and tribulations of making a game about rape

•September 10, 2014 • 5 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…

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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.

 
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