Hello. Hello! This is Melos Han-Tani, here to give you barely any new information on our next game, abbreviated “S”. Previously we called it O:3DJ but the title was kind of long.
Set in the near future, you play as a trio of biologists, each of Taiwanese descent, from Japan, Taiwan and the USA. Shipwrecked on an island, all they can do is continue their planned work of biological analysis by using their experimental neural implants. As they explore the island’s caves, events will set them on paths of deep reflection towards themselves, their homes, and each other! Maybe they’ll get off the island, too…
As a refresher, S contains roughly 3 aspects to it.
- The 3D Platforming. As you can see above, you’ll be exploring a giant cave system! The cave is actually 3D platforming levels, but it feels like a big cave world thing. Our style of 3D platforming has never been done before… which is kind of strange actually because of how simple the core gimmick Marina came up with is. I’ve decided to call my platforming engine the “Very Enhanced Climbing Engine”. There’s not many close comparisons, but the engine and level design focuses on getting a ‘physical sense’ for the environment through how you traverse it. In that sense, some vague influences include Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Even the Ocean, and Dark Souls. I would put its difficulty a few notches above Even the Ocean, but it’s not really hard for the sake of being hard.
- The Puzzle Grid. I haven’t shown pictures of this publicly yet. That’s because we basically are finishing all of the level design before implementing the art side. It’s like a battle system, but it’s not about killing anything. It’s also not like a JRPG in the sense that it’s super strategic – it’s a bit more casual, but it’s also unique enough that there’s level design for the ‘battles’. It’s also not a puzzle, it’s just more convenient to call it “Puzzle Grid”. Like usual, there’s nothing like it that exists somehow!! So it’s totally new and difficult to describe succinctly. I’ll probably talk about this whenever we do a trailer and store page launch, which will be much closer to release than Anodyne 2 was when we dropped a trailer. For now you’ll have to put up with my vague descriptions.
- The Literature. That’s just a fancy name for the story script. The script is about 60% as big as Anodyne 2, but unlike Anodyne 2, most of it is not missable (i.e. NPCs). So actually there are a sizeable number of cutscenes this time around! I’m only half-looking-forward to implementing them… (making cutscenes is time consuming… but satisfying) We’re taking a FF9-esque approach to the staging for cutscenes: there are no character portraits, but characters will emote, and there will be dialogue boxes with arrows pointing to the models.
We’ve taken a different approach to past games: I’m trying to use more of a ‘keep the hype alive’ approach. So I’m avoiding any big announcements until we’re pretty sure it’s a few months to release.
That being said, it’s meant we can focus on design and writing first, which imo carry the game. Most of 2019 was prototyping the Puzzle Grid system and me making various iterations of story outlines, and discussing these decisions with Marina. We simplified the Puzzle Grid system a LOT in January/February (it used to have RPG-esque moves, haha, I would go to Matsuya (A japanese fast food place) and brainstorm ideas too much..), as well as simplifying the overall design of the game to be more manageable for us.
I finished the script through March to May while Marina worked on character models and art style (while we both took occasional breaks dealt with the state of the world), then Marina helped edit it over a few months, then Marina finished that in July.
May through August I finished the majority of the 3D level design. All throughout I was also working on graphics/shader tech for Marina.
Marina started working on 3D level art in July (as well as polishing the level design there), and has been doing that since.
Since August I’ve been doing Puzzle Grid Level Design/Programming, and I’ve finished the majority of that, so I’m slowly transitioning into working on Music and Cutscenes. Meanwhile, Marina is making preparations to finish up character 3D model work, as well as work on character animations, so I can then get started on making some finalized cutscenes, before she then returns to the mountain of art to make for the rest of the game! Expect a teaser trailer some time after I finish some cutscenes.
I would say the majority of the difficult design and writing work is behind us, now the major hurdles are the remaining level art, UI art, Puzzle Grid art, scripting the cutscenes and making a lot of music, and of course all the code tying that together. While none of this is easy, it’s a lot simpler than design (at least on my side of things). It’s just a matter of putting in the time each week.
I’m not really sure when we’ll be done (my guesses put us at around March or April next year for a release), but we’re at the point where I feel pretty confident that we *will* be done in a timely manner.
Other than that, well, I feel like we could have gone a bit faster with the prototyping… I really veered down a dead end with some of the excessive RPG elements of the Puzzle Grid system. But in another way, the simplifications we made to the Puzzle Grid allowed us to get to the current iteration of the Puzzle Grid, so that’s good!
But I did move to Japan, and this year the world is in a pandemic, so maybe I should give myself a break… (actually, I have been doing this, I only work 4 days a week now (I take Wednesday off), and a 5th if I feel like it). Marina and I finally switched to voice meetings, which are a lot faster than our usual method of talking in chat for hours.
We’ve been discussing what our next move might be after finishing S, and it’ll probably be something with far less weight on unique levels/art/music. It’s possible we might also just do some more experimental solo work for a while (I feel like writing fiction to get better and also doing looser, All Our Asias-esque games, maybe with all the tech I’ve built for S/Anodyne 2). I feel like that would be good – the time we took off from intense/close collaboration after Even the Ocean (a little over a year) really helped out with making Anodyne 2.
That’s not to say S *isn’t* experimental (in all three of the elements we’re breaking new thematic or mechanical ground we’ve been unable to find elsewhere), but it very much does have a lot of elements of ‘pop’ to it, that I’m a little fatigued on. It’s fun to put a lot of thought behind game design and clear communication, but it does demand sort of a rigorous process of brainstorming/drafting/creating ideas… you can’t just slop stuff together.
On the other side, it’s also a lot of fun to just… not give a shit about any of that, and there’s a lot of ideas I’d like to explore as short games or standalone writing (maybe “sound novels?”) without the level of commitment that our 1-1.5 year games usually demand.
Until then… stay tuned and stay safe! Maybe play Even the Ocean on consoles? It just came out! Or Anodyne 2 on PC?