Anodyne status update #1

So the last few months were a bit of  a weird spot for me in terms of games, struggling with getting a sponsorship, developing another idea. Inspiration Dave was released in early May, and then for a few weeks after I was dealing with some bugs and whatnot. But it’s been a good month where I haven’t had to really deal with it, that part of my life is over! Hooray. (Kind of).

I have been working on my next game, Anodyne, a 2D top-down (as in zelda) exploration game, where you travel through various areas in the mind of a kid. These areas range from more abstract areas to explore (a dark field filled with walking furniture), to more vanilla places, such as zelda-like dungeon crawls through temples and caves and like whatever.

Maybe play the demo first, linked to in the devlog i’m keeping over at TIGSource –

The “abstract” areas are fun to think of and implement. They involve some drawing on my part, which pushes what I’m capable of quite a bit (I’m a crappy artist but trying to get better). Then, I write a song or two for the area and draw some things and figure out what I want to have the player interact with, and how I can make this somewhat interesting. That’s fun (and hard) from a design standpoint. But the overall goal is to give the player a world to explore, take in, and somewhat internalize in trying to traverse it – to give them some basic set of interactions and observations that they  may remember and say “hey, that was a little weird, and strange”. Some of the areas are inspired by personal reasons, some are just more “dream-like” and thought of spontaneously –  unreal, fantasy-like, and so forth. I hope I can design well enough that, if desired, the player will be able to reason out the one unifying theme among all of the areas, in terms of what it is supposed to represent. I am intentionally avoiding words as much as possible, and trying to make the game a memorable experience that does not hinge on their ability to pick out the “unifying theme”. I’d rather have discovering that theme be a task for anyone who cares enough.

I am still debating the inclusion of an “area map” that shows all of the places and their relations to eachother. It would be cool, but perhaps take some of the mystery and surprise away. Not really sure yet.

The other areas are zelda-like dungeon crawls, but with more of an emphasis on exploiting what is in the environment, rather than finding some item X in a box and using it for some one-off reason, as a total item-as-a-key method which has maybe one or two one-off uses.

To digress on this “item as a key” thing, I mean items that are  used a handful of times in the games, as barriers that seem a little artificial. A good example are those ice cubes in Link’s Awakening, and the magic rod. Or, the mirror shield and the flamethrower blocking the cave leading to Turtle Rock. Pretty much completely pointless items, outside of the uses they have in those specific  cases.

In some sense, all items are just keys at a high abstraction, and so it comes down to designing obstacles that respect the player and require them to reason out a way to get past – creating a way to use these keys that is not just “o hai dumy just press a infront of the block’. By slowly teaching the player ways of interacting with the environment you design, then you can start to add on more complex layers, as the player will (hopefully) be able to better experiment with what you lay out.

That’s my current intention with the zelda-like dungeons, at least. I don’t think I’m doing it very well yet , and it’s turning out to be quite difficult.

The flow of the intro is very intentional, but awkward at times and needs some ironing out.

First of all, there has to be words in the beginning. There’s no way around it as far as I can tell. I need to have a way for the player to set the controls, and this has to happen before they do ANYTHING. The menu only requires you press a key to begin (I think it’s X right now but I plan to change that) , and then immediately in the intro you learn you can move, and you can reassign the controls if you want. There are other little details that bother me about this, but it’s probably good enough.

The player walks around a bit, and then has to interact with two objects to progress, hopefully pointing out “oh you can like, talk to shit and stuff”, basically. And reminds them they can set the controls. Maybe that’s awkward, i don’t know. There are issues with these two objects (they’re computer terminals and look like ass right now), as in that where you interact isn’t obvious enough but I plan to fix that.

Straight to the tutorial dungeon, which teaches that some objects have consequences (holes, cracked floors), and that interacting with the environment will be important (pushing a block – which I find kind of a lame mechanic and might change this and never use it the rest of the game, or recast it in a different light i don’t know yet). And then how to equip items, and fight. And a few other little mechanics associated with “dungeons”.

As a note, there is health in this game. It’s a very complex issue that I’m having a little trouble dealing with. I feel like it is becoming vestigial (much like score, or lives) feature of many games, and that idea comes back to haunt me every now and then. For me, though, the pros of health outweigh the cons. The biggest con is when a player dies too much to the point of frustration, a close second is losing progress via where death returns you to.

A way to combat that first big con is to design combat in a way where death “feels fair”, like you deserve it for when you do fail. This takes some work, but may be feasible. Losing progress can be combatted by carefully picking how obstacles in the dungeon reset themselves (if at all) with a death, and how much ground has to be covered to return, how many repetitive tasks need to be done.  I may have some sort of natural-looking checkpoints (different entrances that are unlocked, idk).

The pros, for me, include giving a sense of immersion and tension for most (hopefully) players who don’t die all of the time. You have to be careful and reason your way about the enemies and obstacles, not blindly rush in. And I want part of the challenge to be becoming able to overcome the challenges in the dungeon.

Kind of like health in metroid or whatever. It does something for these kinds of genres, I think. But not much for others. It really depends, and I think for me the pros slightly outweigh the cons. *shrug*

Partially this is also out of me having wanted to make zelda-like dungeons for, well, forever. So I’m playing with that and learning from the dungeon design.

Getting back on track, after the tutorial dungeon is a small blue overworld/temple area to explore. This is more of a tiny hub, and it leads to a beach area, and then a white/yellow dungeon place. The beach will act as a way to get to another place, and I may add more stuff to it, the dungeon is the (probably first) dungeon.

I may talk about the dungeon design in a later post, this one is running  a bit long.

So that’s status update #1!

– seagaia / sean / @seagaia2 /whatever