Writing a game is a new arena for me, but I'm trying to not treat it any differently than I would a comic. The objective is to write a fun story with plenty of twists and loops, which resolves each of the character's threads and brings an overall conclusion for our (anti)hero. The only difference in a game, as far as my approach is concerned, is that we'll actually be interacting with this story in a way i've never had the opportunity to try before, so the story needs to have its pieces hidden and interwoven in a way that'll hopefully be intuitive to progress through. THAT'S THE THEORY. To be honest, I'm just having fun.
Perhaps it's time to reveal a little about how the story will work. At the centre we have Looshkin, who we're controlling, who has a main aim. Something to achieve, and when he does, that's the end of the game. But to achieve it, he'll have to solve other people's problems along the way, to help him progress. He lives in a house (which is our setting) with a family, each member of which is having a little crisis. Their problems will overlap each other, one helping resolve the other, and to get through it all, you (the player) will really need to use your brainsmarts when it comes to using items. And most of the items in the game will be there to use and access from the start, so it's up to you how quickly you work out which of them will help you.
Oh and there may be a certain Bear. The poor thing.
So instead of writing the game out, i decided to draw it out. Starting with the basic floorplan (you can see in the centre of the photo), then each room we're going to need inside the house. Around that, a storyline for each of our characters, along with a game objective for each of them. On these i wrote walkthroughs to achieve their goals if you knew exactly what you were doing, along with pointers as to which room you'll need to be in. I've obviously blurred these a little in the photo, just to keep it secret. Of course, once you're playing the game it won't be this straightforward, as you'll be busy playing around and solving bits of each character's objective along the way.
Each character is then linked to their starting room (or a room crucial to their story), and each character has breaks in their story where their story impacts ANOTHER character's story (ie: you have to solve something else before you can progress).
I'm happy with how it's looking. It'll obviously get tweaked and shuffled a bit along the way. But now this is looking good, I'm going to concentrate on the incidental details, which we're going to fit in around the story. I want there to be different channels on the TV, random leaflets among the letters on the doorstep, various paintings on the walls and things in jars on the shelves, some of which may point you in the right direction, some of which are just silly diversions. I want the whole house to be explorable and enjoyable to spend time in, where you may complete the game but still have 50% left to discover.
Let's see how long my enthusiasm for that continues once i actually start the hard graft of drawing it all out.
One thing that we've been asked by several people is what platforms will Looshkin The Game be on. We originally announced that it would definitely be on iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch), but I can now give a little more information on this. Development work didn't start until early February, the main reason being that I've spent nearly 2 months testing out various cross-platform development systems, to enable us to bring the game to more than just iOS from launch. I tried Corona SDK, Marmalade, Moai SDK and then I just happened to come across one I hadn't heard of before, called Gideros. It's a fairly new arrival on the mobile development scene, in fact until a couple of weeks ago it was still in Beta. But once I'd taken a look at it I realised that it had some big benefits going for it.
When you pick a development system, most of the cross-platform options tend to be quite closed - if the system doesn't do something that you want, you're pretty much stuck. Marmalade is different in this regard but basically requires you to write everything from scratch - there is no nice higher level graphics library, for instance and that would have meant a much more intensive development cycle. Gideros, on the other hand, provides a concept of plugins - native code you can write for both iOS and Android, package up and link into your app. So, if there's something you can't do as standard, then you can break out and create your own plugins that do what you want. Coming from developing for iOS (using cocos2D), where I had access to everything Apple provide if needed, the Gideros plugin facility gives me a good middle ground. Gideros also gets the basics 100% right with a solid, joined-up foundation, which is something I can't say for some of the other options.
Gideros uses Lua, a pretty common standard in game development. It's an easy to use but very powerful scripting language, which is rapid to develop with and the speed that Gideros achieves is incredible. Gideros also has a very neat way of testing on devices using their own player app - in fact I'm no longer using a simulator at all, I'm writing and testing directly onto the devices seamlessly. Gideros is pretty new and so it does have some facilities missing, but the developers are making quick strides towards filling those gaps. And finally, their responsiveness is impressive. I'm pretty picky about graphics (I'm an artist as well, so not surprising really) and Jamie's the same. I noticed a few problems with the graphics engine in Gideros and within a day I'd been provided with a build that resolved them - now that's the kind of customer service that's the final piece of the puzzle in making me feel comfortable with the platform. So I purchased a license and that's what we're using for the game.
Now we've decided on a development system I can officially say that we'll be launching on both iOS and Android. Other platforms will depend on the support that Gideros adds and when that happens. They are definitely going down the route of allowing builds for Windows and OSX so, if that support arrives before we finish development, we'll launch on those as well. If it doesn't, we'll be able to add them when they do.
And the best thing about all this is that I only have to code once. The first test build I sent to Jamie the other day I had running on my iPad, iPhone and on an Android tablet I purchased for testing, all from one set of code. That's just brilliant.
In short: Definitely iOS and Android. Windows and OSX - if not at launch, then hopefully not long afterwards.
I think we both realise we have quite a long road ahead of us building this game, there's a lot of work to do, and a lot of figuring out to get right (although Gareth seems to be ticking boxes left right and centre so far). But up until now it has just been chatter, seeing something move in our environment was a real jump into the next phase.
The room above shows you how we're seeing this game. The look. Obviously everything will be prone to change and evolve over the months, but I think we're both happy with how its starting. Move Looshkin around, involve him with his surroundings, watch the chaos unfold. As I'm drawing the backgrounds and characters directly, the look of the game is exactly how I'm seeing it (a benefit perhaps to us working without company involvement here, we're not restrained by anyone else's opinions but our own. Which can be a bad and a good thing, but here I think it gives us the real freedom to run away and go nutso with it).
There's a lot for me to learn (how to carve rooms up so they can be coded in, separated out, etc), but just seeing that room this morning, something tangible, on my phone, reminds me how exciting this all is.
More updates soon.
So what's all this about then? I guess I should start by saying how this came about. A couple of months ago I was thinking around the possibilities of doing some kind of point-and-click adventure for the iPad/iPhone. The more I thought about it the more I wanted to do it. I grew up playing all the classic adventure games, such as Monkey Island, and the iPad especially has led to a bit of a renaissance in them, with both the older titles being ported and newer titles popping up (things like the excellent Machinarium for instance).
The thing is, I knew that a project like that would be too much for one person to do on their own and I'd been kinda hankering after working on a meaty project with somebody else. Adventures are all about the story and one person's name kept coming to me - Jamie's.
Anyway on a whim in late August I shot across an email to Jamie, completely without a plan or anything, just a kind of 'huh huh this would be cool huh'. I got a two sentence reply about an hour later:
"I LOVE THIS IDEA. what can we do about doing it?"
Jamie Smart, August 2011
Over the next week it all snowballed, going from an airy-fairy idea to finding ourselves basically agreeing to do whatever it was we were going to end up doing. It was all a bit of a blur. Right from the start Jamie tabled the idea of doing something with Looshkin and you know, it just felt right. There's already a great family around the character, he's incredibly crazy and everybody loves cats. What more could you possibly want. Jamie's really fond of Looshkin, and rightly so, and for him to want to go ahead with a character he's so close to... well... I think that speaks volumes about how much he wants to do this and scares the bejeezus out of me because of the responsibility to do it right!
So we've spent the last two months working through ideas. Jamie's been working on the story and I've been sitting around biting my fingernails and rocking in the corner thinking how out of my depth I am, how many problems there will be to solve and how doing this will push me way outside my comfort zone - all stuff I thrive on to be honest. Most of that is because we don't want to do a standard point-and-click adventure, we want to bring our own twist to it. I wouldn't be so bold to say that our ideas will be something the like of which has never been done before (you know how difficult that is to do, right?), but I think it will be a heck of a lot of fun to develop and play.
Due to our work loads we won't break ground properly on the development until some time in January and we're realistically looking at around a year or so of work to get this right (and we all know how fluffy deadlines can be). As we couldn't start 'for reals' straight away that's given us a lot of time to really get a solid plan in place, which we're well on the way to completing.
So, what can you expect from me on this blog? With my role as the geeky coder-type of the outfit I'll be going over some of the more technical stuff as we get developing and sharing some of the design decisions we're making along the way. I'll also be moaning about how hard it is to get Jamie to draw things at the right dimensions and how his requests for ever more ridiculous 'things that happen' drive me over the edge ;) To start with we won't be exposing too much information (we don't want to give it all away too quickly!) but that will ramp us as we move along and we have more to share.
Not only is it pretty hot damn exciting to be thinking about all we can do with Looshkin (controlling him and making him do things presents a disturbing wealth of possibilities), this development blog serves as an excellent excuse to start making some Looshkin comics, and show all the Looshkin work-in-progress stuff as we barrel-roll our way towards some sort of final product.
Here's to making something flipping mental we can all enjoy/be traumatised by.