Friday, August 19, 2016

Devlog Update: The Morphine Western Revenge (#3)


This is probably some of the best footage I've captured from the game, IMO


In a Nutshell

Development of The Morphine Western Revenge has slowed over the past month and a half, mostly due to personal morale. Early in a game's development, it's easy to be motivated by the possibility of what a game can be. As the game's development reaches its final stages, I now have a much clearer idea of what the final work is actually going to be like.

The game's probably fine, don't get me wrong. The story's paced well enough, and the action's fun, snappy, and a little brainy. It will be the most ambitious and polished complete game project I'll have ever worked on. However, any mystery surrounding the game, from my perspective, has almost been totally lost. I am no longer motivated to create out of a desire to discover my own work, as I have now discovered nearly all of it.

Finishing games is almost always boring, and I tend to somehow forget this.

(As usual, if you're confused about What's Going On Here, the first two devlogs for the game can be found here and here.)

Regarding the Game's General Structure

The Morphine Western Revenge will be split into five levels. Each serves a unique, deliberate purpose, but generally, the first three of them are educational in nature, while the last two test the player's abilities.

The first level is the explicit tutorial level, in which the player is directly taught those rules of the game than can only be explained through text. "Press these buttons to move! Press this button to kill people. Press this button to maintain your morphine addiction." I also take time in this level to provide some basic narrative motivation for the protagonist's behavior.

However, it is otherwise best to allow players to learn how to play the game on their own without being told what to do. The second level is designed to teach the player the remaining core rules of the game without text. Rather than tell the player that "melee attacks only insta-kill unaware enemies" or that "it's possible to hide from enemies and sneak past them when outnumbered," I instead attempt to place the player in highly-controlled scenarios where they discover these rules and strategies through trial and error.

The third level introduces all remaining interactive elements (namely, weapons and enemies) that haven't already been introduced, and, therefore, is the last level designed to teach the player anything. From here on out, the player should be applying their hard-earned knowledge of the game's rules to overcome its final challenges. Being the game's halfway point, I also introduce a minor plot twist - the protagonist's motivations are not all that they initially appeared to be. Scandalous!

I'll be returning to level four in a moment, but it's worth mentioning that level five will be little more than an epilogue. It will be a short level with a purely narrative purpose - not to challenge the player, but to provide closure to the game's story.

The first three levels were completed by the time I wrote the previous devlog, each one taking about two and a half weeks each to create. Level four, despite being no larger than any of the previous levels, has taken me six weeks to create. If the first three levels are educational in nature, and level five is about narrative, then level four is the game's raison d'être. Everything leading up to level four exists only to prepare the player for it.

The game's stealth mechanics could still use a little work, but it's almost perfect.

Actually building the level that the whole game has been leading up to has been emotionally underwhelming for reasons explained earlier. But it was also during this level where I finally met the limits of the sort of play that my game's own rules could support. The somewhat obvious reality is that the player can only fight so many other characters at one time. I needed to make the encounters in this penultimate level more challenging and larger in scale than anything that came before, but I was finding that it was difficult to make the game's encounters more difficult while keeping the game fair. While my morale slowed much of the game's development, level four has also taken so long to develop because it simply been one of the most difficult game levels I've ever had to design.

It's been a tough slog, but I've finally emerged from triumphant. I think the level works.

Regarding the Music

Another level, another track. Here ya go!

As I wrote in previously devlogs, I'm attempting to recycle motifs shared among each of the game's pieces in order to create a sense of cohesion through the music. The music track for level four, "Cowboy Corpses," exemplifies this by almost using and combining every theme and motif from the preceding three tracks without introducing anything new. My intention is that, by doing this, the fourth level's music helps communicate to the player that, yes, shit is getting real, and this is the end of the game.

Regarding What Happens Next

Aside from completing the fifth level, all that's left for me to do is to finish implementing the game's user interface (title screen, pause screen, and credits), debug the HTML5 version, and playtest the final game. The game will be released no later than October, at which point I'll immediately and joyfully return to finishing development of Monsterpunk. My intention is to release both games by the end of this year, and really do some soul searching about the creative direction I want to pursue with my work going forward.