Summer break has come to an end and it’s back to school for both myself and my kids!
This time of year always comes with a change in routine and that always gets me anxious about whether there will be time to do things. But there always is, so I’m going to try not to worry.
Onto the update!
Current total of Backgrounds that are “basically finished” 68 of an estimated 100. Originally the plan was to have around 56 or so, the same as Book 1, but that estimate was clearly way off, most likely due to the fact that there are two playable characters, and each must have a reasonably sized chunk of forest to explore.
You might notice a couple things in some of the screenshots as well – creatures! Actual things! This last few months a friend of mine from Twitter and Discord volunteered his talent with some creatures designs. His name? Karl Dupéré-Richer. He’s also the sole artist on Amazing Fix, a hidden object game.
Here’s a few of his designs for Betrayed Alliance:
These lovely monstrosities will feature as battle opponents, environmental barriers, and perhaps even helpers on your quest. Karl is an extremely talented guy and a great follow on Twitter, as you can see from these images and I’m indebted to him for his cooperation.
Things come alive when you start integrating new characters, but even more so when animations get put in and the characters can actually do things, besides getting the “You can’t do that.” response from the text parser.
Also, have I not mentioned that I put together a proper game image for Betrayed Alliance Book 2?
I haven’t talked about it much, if at all. I’ve written a little bit of music for the game, and I scored most of Book 1, with the addition of free-to-use music to supplement what I had. While I have some talent for music, I’m not feeling at peace with what I’m producing for Book 2. If the Kickstarter I have planned for November goes well, I will be hiring someone to compose for the game using the MT-32, something I know nothing about.
At this time, there’s not much more to share, but it’s on the horizon.
The game is still mostly a pile of artwork assets, scattered story notes, and puzzle scribbles, but with each new background, animation, and implementation of code, it is moving closer from project phase to game. There’s still a TON to do before it makes that shift, but the feel of it has already shifted.
Here are the past development updates if you want to see more:
Action elements in the adventure genre tend to be the exception not the rule in modern adventure games, but the early Sierra titles, especially the hybrid Adventure/RPG series Quest for Glory and the space adventure series Space Quest used them frequently.
Also, I like them!
There’s no hiding that my Adventure saga Betrayed Alliance is heavily influenced by Quest for Glory (particularly the EGA ones) series and as such I’d always planned on having a battle system.
Today I want to look at the combat system in Quest for Glory 1 and determine what it did well and what, if anything, can be improved on.
Difficulty feels challenging, but not insurmountable
Except for the Fighter class, battling was a somewhat optional gameplay element
HUD is unobtrusive and easy to read
Combat is simple
Enemy attacks have almost no telegraphing making blocking/dodging nearly useless
Can be hard to tell why attacks aren’t landing.
From the responses I think we see that the combat was generally liked, but that they just ended up spamming the attack button as dodging/blocking was not really responsive or intuitive. The stats upgraded fast enough that the “attack-all-the-time” strategy worked and while there were perhaps better examples of combat, this one was good enough for the game it was in.
Since Quest for Glory is a stats based game, this design may be intended. The game doesn’t require any real twitch-type skill, but rather the stats do the heavy lifting, which at least one of my responders remarked as a positive quality as they don’t generally like arcade-style combat. That said, having stats for “dodge” and “parry” make it seem like these skills were designed for use, but from the responses I got most people end up ignoring them.
Takeaway for Betrayed Alliance
Combat in Betrayed Alliance Book 2 will emphasize a strategic block / attack rhythm where the player must read the opponent’s intentions visually. While there will be a few stats that can be upgraded, the game will not reward a reckless “attack at all costs” strategy. As mentioned by some commenters, better signposting of attacks as well as more frames of animation could be helpful.
“But I don’t like combat”
That said, for the many people who dislike arcade style aspects in adventure games, I am including a way to overcome enemies without always entering the combat arena. I want to give the player the freedom to dispose of their enemy obstacles in different ways.
This is not a concession by any means, but an intended gameplay element. There are two playable characters in book 2 and they have different gameplay styles. In Quest for Glory terms, one is the fighter class and the other is more like the thief. I’m building the game-world to allow the player to influence which of the two will be more likely to encounter the various enemies of the game (and how to dispatch them).
Combat in Betrayed Alliance Book 1
It’s a mess! Visually and game-design-wise. Just a mess.
The rhythm of battle in Book 1 is not bad. Enemies telegraph attacks (but also fake-outs) with enough time to respond. There is a cool down period on both blocking and attacking which forces the player to be more strategic. Successful blocking not only rewards the player with not getting hit, but also gives a chance at a counterattack which doesn’t affect the attack cooldown (and is always a guaranteed hit).
In this way the design of combat in Book 1 is pretty good and has a bit more to it that Quest for Glory 1’s combat, but there are a ton of problems with it too:
The HUD is atrocious and confusing
It’s quite hard for the player to heal after battle, discouraging it completely
There’s *almost* no reason to battle in the game at all
The ability to target 3 different areas was underdeveloped and clunky
From a design point-of-view combat in Book 1 is competent in an of itself, but as a mechanic in the overall game itself, it’s completely underdeveloped and useless. This is mainly due to the strange development of the game where the first 1/3 of the game was released as “Book 1,” a division that was not originally intended. The area in which combat was to feature more prominently is not available in Book 1 as it is the sole environment for Book 2. But due to this separation, combat in Book 1 rightly feels unimportant, because it is!
Combat in Book 2
The Combat system is being updated for Book 2, as combat will feature more prominantly. Both the aesthetic and mechanics of combat will change.
The targeting system is being scrapped as it’s too clunky and unintuitive.
The emphasis on blocking will still be operative as it was in Book 1, along with a cooldown counter for both attacking and blocking to avoid spamming either attacking or blocking.
With only two major actions (attacking and blocking) buttons could be freed up for different actions. I’m currently looking at using one for a short-term block that will also render the opponent more vulnerable, similar to the “perfect guard” in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Just as in that game, this parry offers a reward at the cost of taking a risk: miss the parry and get hit unguarded, but if you parry it just right right, you get an open window for attack (and probably a 100% hit rate and likely a higher critical hit multiplier).
I’m also interested in having both a sword swing and a sword stab, each having greater applicability in different circumstances. We’ll have to see how these develop as I test things out.
What do you think can be done to make combat more enjoyable/challenging/fun?
It’s been 2 months since the last update in April. That one featured some “bad news” after I had Pneumonia and was also diagnosed with high blood pressure.
June, however features more good news than bad! First and foremost, I’m down 22 lbs from 212 to 190 lbs! While I haven’t checked my blood pressure, this can only be good news on that front. My personal goal is to get down to the 170’s, so I’ve still got some work cut out for me, but what a wonderful head start.
But you didn’t come here for my personal health update, so onto the Betrayed Alliance update stuff.
Development has slowed for a couple reasons: First, to allow time to exercise more. Second, for a reason I’ll talk about below. That said, things are getting done.
61 Screens (basically finished) out of probably 100 (way more than I anticipated at the beginning!)
Plot line is coming along very well and I’ve gotten all major plot points and character turning moments mapped out. Now it’s a matter of weaving them together with puzzle elements.
A word on plot
I’ve found this project harder to plot than previous stories I’ve written and I think it has to do with the gameplay mechanic I started the project with (having 2 switchable characters). It took me a while, but I realized this wasn’t just the story of the General you played as in book 1, but rather had two main characters and I needed to flesh out Leah in this game. She cannot just be a side character here, she needs to have a character arc as much as any main character. This sent me back to the plotting board numerous times to make sure both characters had motivations, backstories, ghosts, that not only did them justice, but also played into each other as well as the other characters they’d be spending a lot of time with.
I have to say that I’m excited with how the story has developed and hope that I can translate it to the game the best I can.
I’ve kicked around the idea a bit with some friends and talked about it casually on stream, but I’ve never fully announced my intention to kickstart.
Now is the time.
No! Not the time to kickstart, but to begin planning for it. This is the second reason development has slowed a bit. Planning a Kickstarter is a project in and of itself, but it’s one that excites me because I’m hoping it will allow me to do things I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
First, I’d like to put together a physical box set of the game with printed user manuals. I’d like the manual to be old school for sure, but also much more. I’d like it to be part game manual, part art book with concept art, and part story book featuring a short story similar to how the King’s Quest manuals often had fairytale-like stories in them. Kickstarter will give me the overhead for the materials and printing of these boxes and books.
Lately I’ve been working on concept artwork for use in the manual (as well as the Kickstarter page itself). Some of these are physically colored with Copic markers, others were outlined with Ink on paper and colored digitally with photoshop. I would like to draw and color 2 large images (one vertical and one horizontal) for the box cover, and whatever other uses you could use such art pieces for.
I’ve also been writing script ideas for the Kickstarter video. I’ve got two scripts, but I’m not sure I’m quite sold on either of them.
As to when I would kickstart, I’m thinking either November or February, mainly because I don’t know how long things like this take to get up and ready.
It’s summer! Does that mean more time or less?
I’ve got big plans on doing arts and crafts with my kids this summer. Also learning to read and write better with my six and eight year olds. I’m not currently sure what kind of daily schedule I can put together for work on the game, but when the kids go to bed, I get to work, so I’m sure I’ll put at least an hour a day in.
I’m hopeful for the return of streaming background artwork asset creation, too.
What are your thoughts on the project so far? Are there things you’d like to see? Do you have reactions to the idea of me kickstarting this project? Most importantly, what cool stuff would you like to see as Kickstarter rewards?
I heaped myself a bunch of praise when I looked at the Overworld Structure for BA: Book 1. As much as I enjoy patting my own back, today I’ll be moving my hand to my forehead as we look at some puzzle choices.
The Squirrel Puzzle
This puzzle has three steps:
1. Activate the puzzle by giving the squirrel the acorn
2. Say “copy cat” to the squirrel and it will position itself to mirror your actions
3. Make the correct sequence of steps.
As a puzzle, it’s fine. Not earth-shatteringly good, not rip-out-your-hair-bad. The signposting to say “copy cat” is clear once you’ve heard the dialog from the soldiers watching the Whispering Caverns. The signposting for the correct sequence of steps is carved into the puzzle structure itself, which is also told to the player if they happen to “look at” the puzzle board itself.
What’s wrong with it?
The design feels arbitrary. Simply put, why is it there, other than just another obstacle for the player? And what reason is there for a squirrel?
It breaks the immersion when it’s just some random puzzle.
What’s worse is that it was designed with a story purpose, but very little made it into the game.
The puzzle leads to a hidden grove, meant to be a “special place” for the main villain (Gyre) and his wife, who had died before the events of the game. The spirit of the wife “haunts” the place playing music, which has led to the spread of the legend of the “Muse of the Mountain.”
The puzzle needing two participants was originally set up for Gyre and his wife to gain access to their secluded sanctuary. With her passing, Gyre had trained an animal to replicate the pattern so he could still gain access. I never devised a way to get this information into the game, sadly. About all that made it into the game were the rumors about the “Muse of the Mountain” which you find in an optional library book.
Why do the tiles make sounds?
From its inception it was designed to be a music-puzzle, where the player (along with the squirrel) would repeat the four chords of a song that could be heard playing if one listened near the entrance.
The woman/spirit the player finds is seen to play music and sings all of her dialog. The lore is that people can hear her singing, but Gyre cannot due to his heart being clouded with thoughts of revenge.
So what happened? I hadn’t considered the limitations of sound in SCI, particularly the ability to only play back one sound at a time. The idea was each block played a tone, but when the player and squirrel would step on two different blocks, it would play two sounds making a small chord. That didn’t work at all because it couldn’t!
A concession was made to add arrows onto the puzzle board itself and remove any correspondence to the notes and the solution. The puzzle became more of a dexterity challenge than a music puzzle in the end.
I have regrets…
While the puzzle is generally fine in a vacuum, I do regret how I poorly I translated the puzzle from design to execution. I feel it lost almost all of its story meaning, and most of its original puzzle design as well.
It wasn’t until about the last month or two before release I had (for other reasons) decided to use “SCI Audio” which would open a parallel program that plays music separately from the game program. This program did allow for multiple tones at once, but at that point, the puzzle was already in place and the release was coming too soon to go back and change things.
Yes, I have regrets, but this puzzle still has some things going for it.
It adheres to the “find the lock before the key” rule, while also allowing you to play around a bit with it (if you give the Squirrel the acorn).
While the notes no longer matter, it is generally fun to play with them.
The player will typically go through a series of trial and error efforts like “pressing down all the tiles” before leaving the puzzle or solving it. It’s generally good if the puzzle’s not so easy the player gets it straight away.
Who cares what I think?
It’s your opinion that matters, not mine. I just made the puzzle, you got to play it. So what are your impressions?
We started the year off right with a post on death and dying (in Sierra games), and worked on a lot of animations for that aspect of the game. Probably about half of the 30 unique deaths possible now have either animations or cute frames like you see below to accompany the player’s death.
We’re also looking into making some “inside” pics and buildings. We had a great Twitter thread explode with people posting their personal favorite “inside” shots. Check them out! Creating and furnishing these areas will be a big focus in the next couple of months as puzzle elements start coming together for the first major plot point of the game.
Semi-consistent art streams are in the works each Friday evening on my YouTube channel, depending on family demands. The following two images were completed almost from scratch over the course of 3 nights of Streaming. It’s a great time to come out for a few minutes or even hours and chat about Adventure games (or anything really)! While my usual schedule has me working on backgrounds once a week on Wednesday, adding a second day is a nice jumpstart for planning and getting things done.
*Due to circumstances, Friday streams are being rescheduled. A new time will be forthcoming.
So there you have it: “Betrayed Alliance 2: The Betrayening” is the runaway choice. Other great names included in the comments: “Electric Boogaloo,” “The Second Book,” “An Alliance Betrayed,” “Cruise Control,” and “The Rebinding.” It is clear I have been outsmartassed by my followers!
During this time I’ve also painted an oil painting inspired by Betrayed Alliance 2. While not strictly a game asset, a large oil painting depicting the two main characters can be seen observing a stained glass window. Could this image have anything to do with the plot?
Slowly we inch towards a completed game. Due to some “Bad News” I’m not sure about completion dates and I’m no longer projecting one. See below for details.
Last update I said the following systems list would be good until March:
Monday – Write/Design BA2 STORY
Tuesday – Write/Design BA2 PUZZLES
Wednesday – Work on Artwork for BA2 – BACKGROUNDS
Thursday – Work on Artwork for BA2 – ANIMATIONS
Friday – Draw artwork (Physical)
Saturday – Work on YT/Website
Sunday – Rest
I think I’m going to keep it the same for April and May. By May, I think it is imperative that I have the story (and it’s details) 100% as I am reaching the point where artwork assets are necessarily tied to story and puzzle beats. So next update will be a large milestone. Hopefully I am able to see that through.
And Now the Bad News:
At the end of March, I got pneumonia, which knocked me off my work schedule. Antibiotics, a steroid, and a week later, I’m feeling much better, but, while at the doctor, they noticed my blood pressure was high.
Having high blood pressure and being the father of 3 kids is not a situation I take trivially. I decided I’d need to make some lifestyle changes. While many of them are diet-related (eliminating soda and fast food, subbing my nightly chocolates for DARK chocolate, and eating more fruits and vegetables), one lifestyle change will be effecting my productivity.
I’m not fat, I’m pudgy! Being overweight and having high blood pressure are not the kind of siblings I want in my life, so one (if not both) need to go. Cardio is calling my name.
Since I work on Betrayed Alliance in my free time (and have a full time job with 3 small kids), slotting in a semi-daily 30-60 min routine into my daily life is going to take a toll on other activities.
Whoa! Whoa! Wait! I’m not waving the towel or throwing in the white flag. I’m just saying my “slow-motion” development of Betrayed Alliance just got a little bit more slow-mo-er.
This is a passion project, and you can’t stop love!
I’m biased. I made the game I’m looking at today. But that bias cuts both ways. No one sees the flaw in their art like the artist. Of course, the flaws the artist sees are usually not the flaws others find, but that’s where you can help. I’ll give you my perspective, then you can supplement it with yours!
All that aside, I’m going to talk about one thing I believe works well in the game, and that is the Structure of the Overworld and how it plays out for players seeking their goals. We’re not talking artistic direction here, but rather game design.
The Main Objective
After the first self-contained room of the game, you are plopped into the overworld and from there are tasked to “find the princess” (A very original video game goal, I know!). The wizard tells you the Princess is being held captive in the castle, but the way there is barred by excessive combat, and the game spells it out for you just in case you didn’t get the message in combat. There must be a better way in.
So where to go? Well, if you ask any person in the game about the princess, they will all universally tell you they heard a rumor she was taken to a cave in the north east. So this becomes your first goal.
Exploration Along the Way
And it’s here that I think the game gets two things right in its design:
The route to get to the cave will take you across the entirety of the overworld, and along the way you will run into many puzzles, some of which you can solve and some which you cannot. And because of that:
It allows a lot of freedom to explore. This is something I loved about Quest for Glory 1. You are dropped in a town with very limited direction and you get to just go out there and find things. I wanted to replicate this feeling, but with more of a concrete goal.
One of the rules of puzzle design is “don’t put the key before the lock.” If the player solves the puzzle before even seeing it, that’s not a good sign. So in the normal course of things, you’ll want to come upon a problem, then discover a way through or around it.
For instance, in Betrayed Alliance, you will come upon a cave elevated above the ground. Climbing to it is the first intuition, but it doesn’t work. Players will tuck this place away in their minds and come back later if they finds something that might work.
Another example along the way is a tile puzzle with a squirrel. This time, however, the solution was provided before the puzzle (assuming the player investigated the area before arriving here). Players will find an acorn and then they will run across this hungry squirrel. The next step is evident. Players give the acorn to the squirrel and the squirrel activates the puzzle. But there’s a snag – the puzzle still isn’t solved, just activated. So after tinkering with the tiles for a moment or two, players will leave with another mental note. Again, they’ve found a lock, but don’t yet have the key.
“But won’t this become cumbersome or frustrating to players?” I hear you asking.
Yes it will be! If every time a player comes upon a puzzle or obstacle with no way to solve or bypass it the “exploration” part of the game will lose its luster because the “interaction” part isn’t working well.
To avoid that feeling, I wanted to make sure there were things players could do and succeed in along the way. For instance, there is a shovel players are able to find on their way to the cave, and there are a couple places where they are able to use it to successfully fill in their teleport map (which will make backtracking to the puzzle locations later all the easier). Additionally, players can discover four of the five missing library books along the way to the cave, play up to three mini-games, best soldiers in combat, and talk to different characters discovering new things about the world and the plot. In this way the player isn’t frustrated with the locked areas because not everything is a locked area.
When players arrive at the location of the cave, they’ve already traversed (or at least could have) the entirety of the overworld and found four areas they can’t access, but now can be on the look out for ways to progress.
All the while through to the first area the player has found plenty to things to occupy their time and fill their hunger for success. The feeling of not progressing at one of these areas is mitigated by the fact that there are still more areas to find.
That frustrating feeling of “not knowing what to do” is usually triggered not by a puzzle itself, but when the player feels they’ve “been everywhere” and “tried everything.” That’s when things get truly frustrating!
Size Does Matter
One final thing that works in this game’s favor is that the Overworld map is not cripplingly huge. I think if it were doubled in size, having the player traverse the entirety of that distance would become disorienting and the multitude of blocked areas would be hard to keep in mind all at once. Having the southern area blocked by soldiers was mainly due to the fact that those assets hadn’t been created yet, but even if they had been, having them blocked for the first part of the game would still have been a good idea.
After the cave, the game becomes far more linear as it’s now a matter of visiting the “off-limits” areas from before and discovering their secrets and solving their puzzles. I think that’s where the game falls into some “less-than-good-design” traps (It’s hard to just say “bad design” when I’m talking about my own game!), but analysis of that will have to wait for another time.
That’s my analysis of the overworld structure in Betrayed Alliance and how it plays into the puzzle structure in a positive way. The first part of the game is very open and free, and the first quest takes you across the whole overworld, presenting many of the games puzzles before you find the solutions.
I’m not saying it was perfect of course, and perhaps you have some other thoughts or considerations to share!
Adventure games were quite popular at the beginning of the video gaming revolution and the reason to me is clear: Adventure games offered a kind of gaming experience other genres couldn’t come near: the Experience of Exploration. Graphical Adventure games let you walk, run, and fly through strange and big worlds in a way no other genre could. I define the “Experience of Exploration” as the feeling one gets when they feel they can “get lost” in a world. Great books and movies do something similar, but video games offer a level of interaction that make this experience all the more rewarding.
Other genres of games couldn’t replicate anything like this experience. You had Mario-style platformers, but they focused more on arcade-style mechanics than the experience of exploring a new world. Metroid was about exploration, but it was a fairly lonely experience, and the landscapes, while cool, were rarely anything more than platforming or fighting backdrops. Fun, for sure! But the exploration aspect was not quite what the Adventure game genre could offer. Final Fantasy and other RPG’s did a better job at achieving the experience, but interactivity with the world was far more limited and stats grinding the and focus on random combat did hinder the experience for many people.
Adventure games were the only place to go to get that Experience of Exploration, at your own pace, on your own terms (or the best a type-parser or mouse could get you). But something changed, and it’s still changing. And I think it’s the real assassin of the Adventure game genre.
The Real Killer – Hardware:
As the years went by, games were getting bigger, better, and more advanced. Adventure games did evolve with the hardware, but their main gimmick, the thing that kept most people coming, was that Experience of Exploration. And while Adventure games could get bigger, better, and more advanced just like everything else – their gameplay loop never fundamentally changed. Nor could it change without becoming something fundamentally different.
“So what?” You might say. Adventure games were getting “better” with the upgrades of hardware. They could have better music, bigger worlds, more detailed backgrounds and sprites. “How’s that a bad thing for Adventure games?”
The problem wasn’t that Adventure games were getting “better,” it’s that the other genres were getting better at the same time, and the hardware upgrades allowed them to also start planting their flags in Adventure games’ sacred spot – the Experience of Exploration.
While it is true that platformers didn’t mechanically change that much (bigger jumps, longer jumps, 3D jumps! etc.) the change in hardware allowed them to expand into territory that once only Adventure games roamed – the Experience of Exploration. A platformer like Mario 64 could now be both a joy to explore while also having a gameplay loop that was more “fun” than your typical Adventure game. An Action/Adventure games like Zelda: the Ocarina of Time now offered a great world to explore and interact with, but also featured, again, mechanics that are typically more “fun” than standard Adventure game inventory puzzles. Horror games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill also boasted creepily fun adventuring through zombie/demon infested locales with a added benefit of “fun” combat/resource management.
“To a certain extent, adventure games’ key elements have been absorbed by the other game genres. Action games, shooters, and RPG’s have all adopted many of the characteristics of adventures.”
And all of this happened at the beginning of the 3D consoles’ history. The Playstation debuted in the United States in 1995. Three years later Adventure game Grim Fandango could win Gamespot’s “Game of the Year” and have universal critical acclaim, but still underperform financially. Now that 3D consoles are into their 5th generation, the opportunity to make non-Adventure games that capitalize on the Experience of Exploration has only widened.
Adventure Games in the Modern World:
Where does that leave Adventure games? They used to have the market cornered on a really lucrative experience – that of really getting lost in a world. While Adventure games haven’t been evicted from this design space, they now share it with any genre that wants it, thanks to the greater flexibility hardware progress has made possible.
Adventure game fans are a comparatively tiny, niche community now. Passionate for sure, but the heyday of Adventure Games as a truly mainstream contender is gone, and I think it’s because what it did best was an artifact of hardware limitations. Now almost any genre of game can offer the Experience of Exploration AND a gameplay loop that appeals more broadly to the general population.
Note: I’m not saying that the gameplay loop of Adventure games is “bad” or “not fun,” only that its appeal is more limited in the general population. Many people love the Adventure game gameplay loop!
Is there anything left that makes Adventure games unique? Yes!
a “go-at-your-own pace” gameplay speed (usually). Most adventure games let you explore and interact with things without pressuring you to get things done before you are good and ready. There are usually little to no arcade-style dexterity challenges. Some people enjoy that leisure.
Inventory and environmental puzzle-solving. This is the main gameplay loop for almost all adventure games. In my experience, these types of puzzles are what separate the proverbial sheep from the goats (the people who like Adventure games and those who do not.)
Narrative storytelling as a focus. This is one feather Adventure games still have in their hat that many other genres don’t. Open world games tend to be more about creating your own stories within a wider narrative, and platformers like Mario still don’t need deep storytelling. Even the Zelda games with all their deep lore spanning 35 years of games, still don’t make narrative story-telling front and center (except perhaps Skyward Sword). Adventure games still live and thrive on their storytelling.
Adventure Games – Dead or Alive?
Some people would say that Adventure games are indeed alive and well. I think those people are correct! I chalk that mainly up to the internet’s ability to connect people to their tribes. Adventure game enthusiasts are all around us on the internet and they are an amazingly positive community. But it’s a small community, and Adventure games don’t in my opinion (as a stupid blowhard on the internet) have much power to regain their status as big sellers in the videogames market.
Did you guess “hardware” was my killer at the outset (or did you think I was blaming Grim Fandango because of the picture)? Am I wrong? Tell me what you think!
It’s a bold statement given the great frustration that dying can cause in the old Sierra games, but let me lay out why they were great and how to make them even better.
My thesis on Adventure Games is that the Experience of Exploration is the highest goal the developer should aim for instilling in the player. A large part of that is an interesting world, but not just interesting – Interactive. If something “sticks out” in the art, the player better be able to interact with it, and hopefully in clever and interesting ways.
What’s that got to do with dying?
Deaths add interactivity, even if “negative.” If the world is too static, it’s boring. If there’s a man-eating plant, it’d be a shame if it didn’t eat you when you get too close. Even though a hazard like this isn’t “positive” in the sense that it helps you progress, it adds another element of immersion, and one that adds a little apprehension and tension.
Bonus points awarded if you can use a death-hazard for positive uses too. Space Quest 3 does just this with these little alien pods that suck you up and eat you if you wander to close. But, if you’re clever, you can lure your enemy into the same trap, adding even another layer to the interactivity resulting in the elusive feeling you’re looking to instill in the player: delight. That feeling when your Experience of Exploration meets with your cleverness.
Hints: Death sequences also yield a great opportunity to distribute a hint. If a death is the result of some “less-than-perfect” line of play from the player, it could mean that the player could use a bit of assistance. Hence the death text is often humorous (to soothe the player’s negative feelings toward dying) and insightful. Sometimes the hint is veiled and sometimes it is more direct, depending on the situation.
Speaking of bad feelings.
The Bad side of Sierra Deaths
Loss of Progress – This is usually the worst part of dying in Sierra games and has led to the mantra, “save early, save often,” which seems a bit of cop-out on the side of the designers. The ability to save anytime is really a fantastic feature that I’ve always enjoyed, but it puts a lot of responsibility on the player, and when many players were young when they played these games, the idea of saving the game each room wasn’t second nature. I wonder how many people quit these games after losing progress…
The Fix: For Betrayed Alliance 2 I’ve implemented a simple solution to this problem. Each screen autosaves the game. If you die and haven’t saved lately, you can just start the room over fresh all while allowing the player to make use of the “save anytime” feature.
Unfair or unforeseeable Death: Frustration can also come from lazy or incompetent (or just plain sadistic) design. King’s Quest 4 had a dark cave. No problem! You have a torch – but the problem is the torch doesn’t illuminate much, least of all a surprise chasm that claims your life through no fault of your own. Deaths of this nature must be avoided if you wish to keep the trust of your player.
The Fix: Be careful how you design deaths – make them fair and avoidable.
Random Chance of Death: Unlike real life, death should be predictable, not based on random number generators. Walking in front of a knife being thrown in Quest for Glory 1? That death’s on me! Running into a randomly generated shark in the water in King’s Quest 4, that’s just frustrating.
The Fix: Avoid randomness is death events. If randomness is necessary, make sure the player has some way to manipulate the variables. Perhaps King’s Quest 4 could’ve featured an item that warded off sharks?
It Just Feels Bad to Die: Dying sucks not only because you may have lost progress, but because it means you failed. Where’s the fun in that? This feeling is often subverted with a fun animation, funny dialog, and hopefully a well-placed hint for the player to understand where the mistake came into play. All of these things were present in the classic Sierra games, but a friend of mine developed an idea which I think transforms death’s “feeling bad” experience to something positive.
The Fix: His idea was to tally the amount of deaths and their unique causes in a list.
WHAT!? A list of failures for the player to be disappointed by? That’s your fix?
Yes! But what it really does is turn deaths into a collectible! If you tell the player how many unique deaths there are, don’t you think they’ll shoot to find them all? I’m even thinking of adding some “hidden” deaths for the more intrepid players!
Dying is mechanic that early Sierra games were known for. Some franchises used them with greater success than others. The designer’s goal is to maximize the feeling of playing in a living (albeit dangerous) world, while at the same time minimizing the frustration that can come from the mechanic. If the dangers can be used for immersion and creative puzzle-solving, that’s even better.
Sierra’s death design could have benefitted from a “nicer” approach to game-saving. An non-intrusive autosave is my solution. I’m also eager to see if the “death as collectible” idea is as popular with others as it is with me.
I know what you’re thinking: How’s the 2022 date holding up for this game’s completion?
My internal answer: Dude! Is January in 2021! How’m I supposed to know?
My public answer: Things are going great! We’re right on schedule! And thank you for asking by the way 🙂
Last update was 3 months ago when the project turned 1 years old, and the word “project” is still far more applicable than “game.” That being said, I am happy with how things are moving. I know the way I’m going about the game is a bit unorthodox in that I’m spending a lot of the time on the artwork and animations now, instead of rigging up the game with simple graphics and getting the puzzle structure set up.
Speaking of Puzzles, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking on the subject. Maybe I’m the odd man out when it comes to adventure game puzzles, but I find that they oftentimes get me feeling frustrated and disenchanted with the game. It seems that I prefer the exploration and running into quirky creatures and characters more than solving puzzles.
I have to imagine these musings are shaping my conception of Betrayed Alliance 2. I’m not saying I’m axing puzzles or anything of the sort, but I think that’s maybe why I’m spending most of my work-time on the artwork side of things – I’m currently more enamored with the idea of creating these places to explore.
Ok. So what’s been accomplished these last few months?
10 more backgrounds finished – bringing the in-game total to 45, which is approaching Betrayed Alliance Book 1’s total of 56. I’m imagining I’ll have somewhere around 80 or so this time around, making a bigger and more beautiful game.
All the major character Sprites have been completed (although due to a data corruption, I did lose 1 character that I will have to re-animate)
I’ve rigged up a couple of rooms with some light “puzzle” elements. Since the forest is going to be so big (and there’s no fast travel map this time around), I’m coming up with some ways the player can use to connect areas for easier traversal.
I’ve put together a feature that will count the various deaths of the player, which will make “death scenes” akin to a collectible – Hopefully that will soften the blow of dying!
Speaking of dying, I’m happy to say BA:2 will have an autosave feature which will save the game each screen (using only one save slot) to negate one of the bigger headaches of some Sierra experiences.
I think that’s about it.
January is great because it’s always a new beginning. Some people wonder how I can stay motivated for over a year on the same project. Part of the secret is probably some mental tweak I have that makes me obsess over things. The other is that I don’t set goals (and when I do, they usually fail), but rather I set in place systems. Here is my January systems chart, which will probably also be good all the way into March.
Monday – Write/Design BA2 STORY
Tuesday – Write/Design BA2 PUZZLES
Wednesday – Work on Artwork for BA2 – BACKGROUNDS
Thursday – Work on Artwork for BA2 – ANIMATIONS
Friday – Draw artwork (Physical)
Saturday – Work on YT/Website
Sunday – Rest
Each day I look at the systems list and I do some work on that particular aspect of the game. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 2 hours, whether I want to or not, I do something, and do that for long enough and things get done! I’m waiting for the day when the project “feels” more like a “game” than a project.
Short update – Artwork is getting done faster than in the past and of better quality than Book 1.
This year’s accomplishments:
Screens of art that are “basically done” are at about 35
Major Plot points are in place, but not the details
Betrayed Alliance Book 1 – patched and polished
Longer update, well here we go:
Sept 3 2019 I publicly announced continued work on Betrayed Alliance. I don’t anticipate it will take as much time as book 1 to complete. I announced Book 1 way back on April 7 2007 and it was released Dec 24, 2013…a six-and-a-half-year development! Of course, that wasn’t consistent, intentional work. Months and sometimes years went by with no work to show for the time – work was very intermittent. It was when my first son was born, I got the sense that free time was something I would be kissing goodbye, so I wanted to finish what I started. I looked at the project and determined that it was near 1/3 complete, so I set out a 6-month timetable and set to work. And I got it done, albeit a bit buggy! With that I washed my hands of the project with no intention to come back.
I have to say Betrayed Alliance Book 2 (the next 1/3 of the game) is developing in a steadier and more fluid way than Book 1. Part of it is probably maturity and a more developed idea of what I’m doing. When I first started on Book 1, it was very loose. The story-line wasn’t deeply thought through. Stolen princess. Knight to the rescue was all the story I needed.
Betrayed Alliance Book 1 had about 56 backgrounds, in 6 years. Book 2 already has about 35, so the workflow is going better.
So what was the catalyst that made me restart? There were a couple of highly motivating factors. First, every so often I would get some feedback from people playing Book 1 and that would light a fire under me to finish the story. Second, I saw another SCI-like game gaining some attention and it looked gorgeous! I mean, I thought my artwork was pretty good, but this game just rocketed past in terms of quality. I’m talking about the Crimson Diamond by Julia Minamata. It looked like there was a lot of energy and excitement about an SCI game, and that made me think that people may actually want more of this kind of game (as long as the quality is there). By the way, you should check out her free demo on Steam:
There’s nothing to motivate like a little inspiration (and a dash of envy!), so I’ve redoubled my efforts to make my artwork better, and I think it’s paying off. The time I spend drawing the rooms is definitely more than I used to, but I think it shows quite a bit. That being said, Julia’s Crimson Diamond is still in a class of its own in my opinion.
But I think it was both of those factors that made me want to get back to work: feedback from Book 1 and inspiration from Julia.
So, I’d like book 2 to be complete by 2022, and I think with the production schedule I’m keeping that it is possible, even if a bit ambitious. As a solo-dev, there’s a lot of different work to do, and I’m planning on making some big changes, which will require me to learn new ways of doing things that would’ve been simple and easy in the past, but the trade-off will be important.
In addition to production, this past year I’ve been trying to get “out there” a bit more on social media. What’s the point of making a game if no one knows you’ve made it? Some of it was easy because I already followed a lot of the people in the adventure gaming world, but despite my general dislike of social media, I’ve endeavored to expand my social media footprint. And it’s been really great, to be honest! I’ve started following people and watching their streams, and I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it. And that’s really great, because I found it to be more about making friends and having fun than what I was dreading it might become, marketing – which I just am not fond of. I was also worried that spending time on Twitter would slow down my productivity as well, but I think it actually increased it because it’s fun to share artwork or animations and get feedback, which just makes me want to get more done.
An aspect of this has also been Youtube. I endeavored to put out at least one video a week as well. Part of this was me wanting to record my own game for play-testing purposes, which actually worked really well for me (although I’m sure it’s not that great a watch for others), and the other part was that I wanted to play through the other fan games that had never gotten any exposure and probably nobody knew even existed. There really weren’t that many however, and many of them aren’t even full games, but I wanted to play through these games as well as the classics to get some inspiration for what I was working on as well. The problem now is that I’ve played the small library of fan-made SCI games, and my YouTube consistency has begun to wane.
The last big effort that I accomplished in this last year was updating and polishing Book 1. If I was going to make Book 2, people were naturally going to want to play Book 1 first, and I knew that the experience needed to be the best possible. So I did my best to fix all the bugs I could find, and polish the game and user experience. I ended up with a 10-page document of fixes/additions. Here’s a truncated list:
I drew a new Title Screen (Thank God!)
I added a difficulty setting
Updated the Menubar to show more info
Drew new animations for death scenes and death icons
Fixed a couple insidious save bugs
Added addition side-character for more backstory
Added more dialog possibilities / hints
Added a couple sidequests
Added a few artwork touch-ups
A way to cheat at Sailboat Extreme (a highly requested feature!)
Many bugs squashed and misspelling quashed
So that’s about it! It’s been a year full of work and lots of motivation. There was a month or so when the state of the world (pandemic) challenged my efforts (“why are you working on something like this at all? What does it matter?”) But I got over that with the mindset that quitting wouldn’t suddenly bring any additional meaning to my work, and would probably end up in personal dissatisfaction. I know motivation for projects wax and wane, but I’ve learned the systems necessary to keep at it. Sometimes motivation is earned by hard work, not by happenstance.