The trials & tribulations of game development

May 15, 2017

Game development is hard. Really hard. Especially challenging when you can’t think of a way to let your player win, let alone play.

I was stuck in a rut of brainstorming these past couple of weeks, originally developing a neat radio tuner emulator in Game Maker spawned from a midnight obsession on numbers stations and mysterious broadcasted noises. I’d enveloped myself with this image of a game of mystery involving said stations - the player would tune in to a certain frequency, which would trigger a certain event. I envisioned it somehow incorporating multiplayer, with either multiple people tuning into one frequency to make something special happen, or to provide the players the ability to communicate with each other. I kept thinking of the look of the radio, the turning of the knobs, the sounds it’d make and how I’d produce them in my audio editing programs, all in all forgetting the most important part: the game. How did the player play? What rules did my game have that the player follow? How did a player win said game? I was so captivated by this evolving aesthetic I’d developed that I lost sight of the core necessity of the game. Were I to continue development, I probably would’ve ended up with a nice looking radio in GameMaker, but nothing more. I was inspired and engaged, sure, but without a clear game in mind.

About a week ago I realized the trouble I’d gotten myself into and halted my wild brainstorming. I originally declared to go full throttle with an alternate reality game (ARG) involving my radio emulator, but that meant uncovering a mystery. I sincerely love a good mystery, but that would’ve also meant developing said mystery to uncover. And that’s hard to do. Really hard, given the short time I had to develop this game. I think the true goal I had in mind was somehow taking the effort of writing the mystery narrative away from my hands and putting it into the players, where they somehow create the narratives themselves, and parts of it are mysteries to others, and their interactions caused passings of information somehow, which all converged with this radio emulator I’d made. Somehow. I was inspired also by some of the Reddit team’s projects, where anonymous or forced interactions with limited communicative mediums across the community was the core of the project (The Button, Place). I knew it had to be simple for it to be effective.

A running idea I had was maybe all the players were spies for different countries, and they were trying to crack the codes of everyone else. But what was everyone else’s messages? What was the spies’ message? Maybe it could be something deep or meaningful, like a prompt given at the beginning of the game: “What, in your opinion, is the meaning of life?” something like that. What you put in is encoded into the “game encryption”, and other players would work to decode it. Maybe the questions asked were different for each player, so the possibly vague answers (maybe answers could be forced to be vague with a character limit) could lead to more mystery.

So many questions came up. How was I going to entice the players to engage and follow these narratives? Are they LARPing? What happens when they diverge, did the interactions become prisoner’s dilemmas? Is there a resource mechanic they’re fighting for? Why even tune into the radio at all? Damn. I couldn’t connect the dots. I still can’t. It’s frustrating. I’m still drawn to this whole concept, but I have course credit to earn, and a radio emulator just wouldn’t do.

That’s why I completely flipped my final project and began to build upon my last game, Attack on Mushrooms. Admittedly, Attack on Mushrooms sucked hard. But the engine I made for it was solid enough to work with and make something new from, and a new game concept I brainstormed somewhat recently came into development with it: a platformer that adapts as you play. Given a set path from start to finish, the player maneuvers using the platformer controls to the end, then has to travel back to the start - but the path taken initially by the player is partially blocked now. Now, the player is forced to take a new path, giving the game name Path.

It’s a work in progress still, the physics engine and move mechanics are all there, it’s just a matter of adding in the path obfuscation mechanic and assets. I’ve actually produced a neat musical tune that I’ll slip in as its soundtrack too. We’ll see how it goes. At least I’ll attempt to have a good level of it running for the class. But maybe my radio idea won’t be lost to the void forever, and some day I can figure out what to do with it.