Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sequence Breaker Dev. Journal # 6

The first mission of Sequence Breaker is nearly complete, and by complete I mean almost everything is in place and working, even if it all looks like a bunch of ugly circles and clunky rectangles at this stage in the game. As I prepare to start work on the game's second mission, I find myself faced with a rather peculiar challenge.

To recap: the point of the game is to present the player with a Metroidvania-style sequence and encourage them to break it by thinking deeply and creatively about the game and the level design. In a previous dev. journal, I said that this was akin to designing two games simultaneously: the game I want them to play (break the sequence) and the game that's in place to facilitate that (the sequence itself). And both games have to work, have to be playable and fun and well-designed. So, if I do my job right, there'll be a lot of content the player never has to see and is encouraged to skip over. Hold onto that, we're going to come back to it in just a moment.

Another goal in creating Sequence Breaker is to step up my presentation, and that includes using more of a narrative element than I have in my previous experiments in game design. For the first time, there are characters and dialogue, and at the center of the game is the mystery of what Mrs. Max did at the colony, and how those actions made her both a legendary hero and a widow.

The protagonist being silent, and her creator being endowed with an innate impatience of cut-scenes, the set up for the colony flashback mission that forms the bulk of the game is peppered through-out the dialogue: a passing mention of the colonies there, an oblique reference to what she's lost here.

So, instead of having a textbox solely and unrealistically for a character to bring up her past, my plan is to work these details into the natural flow of the more informative textboxes. For example, when Stanley Six, your assistant for the first mission, points out that your way is barred by a pile of rubble that can be removed with a nearby explosive, he apologizes for pointing out something so obvious to "the hero of the colonies". Otherwise, the player might feel like the backstory hints were being shoved down their throats, might start to resent it; fold it into something useful, and they don't feel like you're wasting their time.

And all this would be fine and dandy, if it wasn't for the fact that I'm designing two games-- one of which gives the player a linear sequence and, should they follow it, helps them along with mission assistants who'll pipe in information about, say, a pile of rubble that needs exploding, and the other, more non-linear sort of game, in which most of that first game's content (enemies, rooms, power-ups, and dialogue) is skipped over completely.

And therein lies the problem I'm grappling with at the moment: if skipping over content *is* the point of the game, how do I impart the necessary information and context without hedging the player in? And how do I make them curious about it without compelling them to play through the full-sequence in search of extra tidbits-- that is, without working against the desire to encourage players to think outside the box? It is, I think, going to be a delicate process, a balancing act that, at this moment, seems slightly daunting.

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