It’s been a looooooong time since I posted, but that’s just because I’ve been very busy with a demo for the current project. Since it’s been a long time, I figured I’d post something really interesting this time.
Almost one year ago, we released “Enola” after 2.5 years of development, and this June we released a free update that adds more content to the game. The development of Enola was a somewhat difficult and problematic, mostly because it was about sexual abuse.
I’m going to answer the most obvious question before anything else: “Why did you decide to make a game about that specific subject?” No special reason, because the story simply evolved in that direction.
So, one year later, I think it is a good time to share what went right, what went wrong, and what we could have done differently.
What went right:
Being able to tell the story I wanted to tell:
Here’s the thing, when someone asks what the game is about, depending on the person I will say it’s a game about a girl looking for a missing girl and that’s it. However, the REAL answer is “it’s about a girl (Enola) dealing with the aftermath of her lover (Angelica) having been raped a few years in the past.” It’s not the kind of plot you find in a game, so I’d say that being able to tell the story I wanted to tell is a good thing by itself.
This doesn’t mean it’s some sort of “Rated M for Mature” or even “Rated AO” game. The game itself is not graphic, save for a couple of really crude parts, including one with a character tied up with razor wire. The assault itself is never shown, just narrated, so it’s not like you see someone sexually attacked (not even touched) on screen.
Making believable characters:
People would often tell me they liked the characters because they were believable and well written. When I write characters, I take the time to write the entire biography, even if the actual story only shows like 15% of the entire thing. That is useful because I get to know who those characters are, and how they’d act. I even wrote one for the “bad guy” even if we barely learn anything about him.
Nick, the composer, is a very talented guy. When almost everyone tells you how much they like the music, that says a lot.
Getting into Steam:
This may or may not sound like something to care about, but I’d say considering 90% (or maybe more) of the sales comes from Steam, I’d say it’s a pretty big deal. Actually, it was not easy to go through Greenlight because I suck as a marketer, and it took some time to get the game greenlit, although that didn’t delay our release date in any way.
Making a game that gained a small but nice following:
Truth be told, there are some people who hated the game. Truth be told, half of those gave very good and acceptable reasons (others seem to have expected a different kind of game). However, there are people that really love the game, mostly because of the story.
In-your-face violence really worked:
There are times when a big shadow dude will come to you and beat the crap out of you. These “close encounters” were designed to show a very “in-your-face” experience of your protagonist going through a violent situation (again, it’s not like you’re raped or anything, just badly beaten). Some people would comment that those situations were very effective because it was really daunting to see some (big) guy come and attack you. Also, the sound helped a lot, because you can hear the girl’s pain when she’s being hit.
What went wrong:
A crowded release date:
For various reasons, we were forced to release the game in September, when our plan was to release it at a different date. That caused quite a few problems, because we released the game too close to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (a game that gained A LOT of attention when it was released), and also a couple of other big games. That means a lot of people didn’t even notice Enola had been released.
Lack of marketing:
We are a group of devs from El Salvador, a country known for many things except its game development industry. We are still giving baby steps when it comes to game development and there are way too many things we still don’t know. That includes video game marketing. This means we don’t really have a lot of experience when it comes to promoting a game, building an audience, and other things, and it became pretty obvious when we’d read a lot of people say “I didn’t know that game existed” some months after it had been released.
Lack of art direction:
A few comments I’ve read are “I like the art direction/visual style” but I have to say that’s one of the most painful comments I usually read, because the game has no art direction at all. Yes, it has a visual style, and a very good idea of what it had to look like. However, we had zero pre-production so we were pretty much coming up with the look of things at we developed the game.
Nothing was finished on time:
Or rather “almost nothing.” One week before launch we were still finishing some stuff, adding voice overs, etc. On top of that, parts of the levels were not done, some voice recordings were not ready, and it had a lot of bugs. This was pretty much the reason why we released the small update I mentioned at the beginning. Some people told me “why even bother releasing that update?” but the answer was really simple: “so far we’ve released half the story we want to tell.”
Too many bugs:
Since we were rushing to finish things on time, we didn’t have the time to test and debug the game. The first weeks were all about patching the game, something we would have done if we’d finished everything on time…
What could have been different:
“First you do the safe game, then you do the art game”:
(Then sometimes you gotta do the payback game because your friend says you owe him)
Maybe the combination of an unknown group of developers and a very unconventional game was not very good. I’m pretty sure it would have been a lot easier for a more known developer to gain traction for a game like this, and possibly it would have been better to make a more conventional game before, so it wouldn’t have been such a risky move.
There are way too many subplots:
One of my biggest problems was trying to keep it simple, because there were way too many things that related to each other. Yes, the basic plot was about a girl dealing with her girlfriend being a sexual violence victim. However, the subplots are: Enola is an orphan who lost her family after accidentally setting her house on fire, Angelica lost her father when she was very little and became an orphan after she accidentally killed her mother, Angelica’s relationship with her mother, Angelica’s memories about her father, the relationship between Angelica’s mother and father, Enola’s so-so relationship with religion (that includes Angelica’s view on religion, dealing with good Christians, bad Christians, and ugly Christians), the entire story about the two girls meeting (and falling in love) in the orphanage, Enola’s life between 12 and 19 years of age, some subtle subplot about a prostitute named Mari… I think that’s it… so yeah, it would have been better to make it more focused.
The gameplay could have been different:
Enola is about exploration, finding clues and solving (weird) puzzles. That’s pretty much what we could do at the time since we didn’t have all the skills we have now. However, even with our limited knowledge, we could have done something different, with a more engaging gameplay.
The final “boss” sequence didn’t work well:
I had a pretty good idea for that end sequence: the Monster would tease you, trying to get a reaction and then you would go berserk, hitting him and all that, but at the end he’d say that no matter if you killed him, the damage was already done. That sounds good on paper, but the implementation was really bad.
First of all, Enola is not a “fighter,” so it made little sense that she’d grab a maul and hit the guy over and over. She’s not even strong enough to lift up the damn thing.
Second, it felt completely off because the game had no combat, so it made no sense that you’d suddenly grab a huge hammer and start hitting the guy.
Third, it just doesn’t “feel” right. The more I see that sequence, the more I think “this could have been better.”
This ending “sequence” could be different, while retaining the same basic concept: you can’t change the past.
Really taking the time to nail down the entire story beforehand:
It was really hard to figure out how to present the story, the entire time I was unsure if what was being presented was the right way to do it, and a lot of time I kept rethinking certain things to make it less brutal or harsh (mostly because I had no idea how people would react to the game). Since it had pretty much zero pre-production, we made some stuff and then scrap it because we would change how certain sequence was portrayed. Not the most efficient way of doing things.
Enola was a challenging game to make. Not because it was hard to program, but because of the story and things it needed to portray. Maybe it wasn’t the best option for a “first” game, and maybe it would have been better to gain a little more experience in game development before working on it. Besides, there’s a lot of things that could be improvemed. However, in general we’re very happy with the result and we’d love to work on a remake one day, as well as other games that expand the entire Enola universe. Will that ever happen? No idea. Right now we’re working on the next (more conventional) project, a cosmic horror themed 3d platformer titled “The Nightmare from Outspace.”
Enola is available on Steam (and other places).