Toward the end of last year I began my first foray into game development, and I knew that I would create an adventure game. They were my first gaming love. I cut my teeth on the King’s Quest series and grew up with Sam & Max Hit the Road. Full Throttle brought me my first favourite female character, Maureen Corley. Grim Fandango took me to a new and exciting plane of existence while The Dig taught me to be afraid and in awe at the same time. The Quest for Glory and Monkey Island series made sure that I had a good sense of humour.
I went into this venture with all of those games in mind – and came up with something that was nothing like them.
Red Flag was initially about a Captain – mostly because I wanted to make a game about a naval ship (and I really like making up military uniforms).
She actually wasn’t supposed to be called anything other than ‘Captain’ – something I believe her first mate would have stuck to with a correctness that bordered on the endearing (or annoying, who can say).
Her story was supposed to mirror my own, and what better way to tell a story than through a sea voyage? Storms and islands, shipwrecks and mysterious waters! I could so easily see my story slip into this fantastical allegory.
I laboured over a storyline that had a scene for every big event in my life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written – and it was the first lesson I learned in making video games: Don’t be afraid to cut up, completely rewrite or let your idea go completely.
Sure, you shouldn’t rewrite or re-imagine your story over and over, but forcing elements into a story makes your labour less rewarding. (Also, it’s not very fun for the player.)
Many rewrites, concept art pieces and 3D models (also one animation) later, I was confronted by the fact that I could not move forward with the captain – or my game.
Despite how much I really loved the uniforms (I still really like them), the story and the thought of a sea voyage, I couldn’t come up with a story that wasn’t forced. I was in denial for about a month, and kept chipping away at a design document that will never see the light of day (well, that’s a bit dramatic; I could always use it later).
When I finally decided to let go of the Captain and her First Mate, I fell into a hole for about two months. What was I going to do? My first idea wasn’t going to work, even though I (and people dear to me) had put decent effort into it.
After a long discussion, I returned to look at my Captain model. I really, really liked the idea of a simple art style – and not because I’m lazy (I am also lazy, but that’s beside the point).
Styles that are very angular/chunky in colour appeal to me – and simple, well-executed designs are pleasing.
And so I started again, with the style in mind more than anything else. I had to start (again) somewhere, so I went with blocky and simple. I began to think about games that I loved while growing up, and how each setting was like unwrapping a gift (especially in games like Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle). Where could I take players, and would they (should they) thank me for taking them there?
(I feel like this was a better starting point for me than just immediately writing out a plot about the first thing that came to mind. Likely pretty obvious to anyone on the outside looking in, but my brain can be pretty stubborn and oblivious.)
Cut to me looking up artists for inspiration: Timothy Reynolds. If there is an art style that I love, it’s his. Simply elegant (and I’m sure complex in making), his portfolio filled my head with so many ideas. Imagine my delight when I discovered PolyWorld by quantum theory entertainment.
And this is where I learned my second lesson: There is nothing wrong with buying assets to make your game. Not only does it cut down your production time, it also supports others in the industry. You may want to put your personal touch on everything that goes into your game, and that’s completely fine. If you’re working on your game by yourself, that means a much, much longer production time – which means more chances to burn out and give up your project all together.
With PolyWorld, I could do anything; I could pick up (or make) most of my assets and have the same art style across all of them with minimal fuss. That left me with a lot more time for other things (and a lot less worry). I was able to make cursors and fiddle with GUI backgrounds.
I wanted to find a program that would do the work of Adobe Illustrator with less of the bells and whistles (remember: lazy) – and Inkscape was suggested to me. After learning my way around its tools, it became the easiest way for me to put out simple icons and sketch ideas.
Current To do list:
Flesh out the rest of my skeleton dialogue
Animate a few more NPCs
Complete other NPC designs
Create a score of scenes
Finish the six scenes I have so far
Insert sound into scenes
Add in another player character
Work on more puzzle designs