Process

Hey-o! It’s Friday.

process: the writing

I wanted to talk today about how One-Eyed Monsters gets designed. Currently all of the first chapter of One-Eyed Monsters is designed, in that way where many fine-brush elements will probably change before release. It seems unwise to start planning for the next chapter while the first could still change as needs dictate. It’s got a complete framework. The scaffolding is in place. While Francesco designs the engine and Loren works on backgrounds, I’m mostly in my notebook.

notebook

I am fixated with red notebooks. They have to be red, they can’t be spiral-bound, and it sucks when they’re wide-rule but sometimes that’s all they have at CVS. I write in them pretty regularly; at times in my life I write in them almost hypergraphically, and if I’ve left the current notebook at home I’ll scribble on the back of a receipt until my train comes. Lately I’ve made a point to note in the margins when I’m writing about a project; during some of the final designs for One-Eyed Monsters I had to go back through months of old notebooks and just skim, but now there’s a little bubble in the margins, a little (oem)—> to guide me. In the same notebooks are plans for the next game, movies, music, poems, and everyday journaling.

process: the drawing

One-Eyed Monsters is divided into a series of scenes, generally based around a single locale. The nice thing about working with small characters is being able to fit an entire location on just a few screens. A 9×12 sheet of Bristol paper has the same aspect ratio as a computer monitor (1.33:1), so I’ve taken one and cut it into proportional quadrants.

bristol

 When I’ve roughed out enough information about a scene in notebooks, I take a big Strathmore sketchpad and trace a Bristol piece on it a few times, and then draw a mock-up of the background. Then I can actually look at the scene.

sketchpad

process: the design

Then I throw a thick blanket on the floor of my bedroom, leave a few notebooks open on the floor along with the sketchpad, lie on my stomach, and mostly talk to myself for a while. I make faint pencil drawings on where a character is at a given step, try things out. I try to go through the whole sequence step by step, filling in any grey patches where my ideas were never fully designed, solving problems I didn’t notice when everything was just words, and usually substituting in a few better ideas. I usually make a list of step-by-step notes on the page somewhere if there’s room. I usually go over it again and again, making sure it has good flow and rhythm, keeping in mind a lot more refinement will likely happy when the backgrounds are finally pixellated and I can have the characters walk around in them.

process: sharing

The next step, which is mostly where I am now, is showing the backgrounds to Loren so he can get to sketching them, and getting him a roughed-out (and fugly) pixel outline that he can feel free to change aesthetics demand.

bgpix

I make notes about any new and tricky coding this will entail to give to Francesco once the engine is complete. The best idea but also the most time-consuming is to make Francesco a video breaking down every step of the scene, which I give to him on password-protected Vimeo.

Sharing is one of the harder parts for me, partly because I’m used to doing everything myself, partly because it’s really hard to articulate what’s going through my head (I’m used to saying “it’ll make sense when I show it to you!”), and partly because it’s incredibly difficult for me to admit that there’s something I don’t know how to do myself. Sharing is also difficult because none of the people I’m working with live in my time zone.

It’s early yet, so who knows what will change come release time, but that’s the methodology so far!

odds ‘n’ ends

I recently came across Edmund McMillen‘s manifesto, Indie Game Design Do-s And Don’t-s, a little miracle in apostrophe placement as well as universally sound advice. #5, Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew, was worth thinking about. His emphasis on prototyping seemed less relevant to an adventure game, since prototyping is so often about testing mechanics and adventure games mostly follow a mold. But then, that, is it not?, is why adventure games got, well, shitty. I don’t want One-Eyed Monsters to look or feel like adventure games usually do, and any time one does something different there needs to be prototyping.

And since this is my first game I wondered if it wasn’t, indeed, more than I can chew (you may have gathered from my writing that I can chew a lot; I have a big mouth). It is a rather involved story, and is currently projected at being 7 chapters long. Adventure designers do love promising sequels they’ll possibly never deliver (the endings of Anna, Nelly Cootalot, and Aquaria all spring to mind). I don’t want to be another game designer who’s multi-installment project fizzles after two episodes because it was too much to take on. But I rationalize: since each chapter of the game is only about 5 or 6 sequences, I think that will keep each individual installment down to a manageable meal. And fuck it, my job here is storytelling; I’ve been prototyping that all my life.

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