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Patreon Post (August 2016) – The Ring of Void: Embers

For August’s Patreon game, I wanted to do an interactive fiction game. Reasons were twofold: I know how to write, so it would at least be presentable; I wanted to try Inkle. Inkle was used for some great games, most notably 80 Days. It can be used both as a standalone tool or be integrated into existing games or engines (for example, with its official Unity plug-in). I used the web version, which also lets you share your stories with other people easily, without needing to host the files anywhere in particular. Probably the most common comparison has been with Twine. Twine feels like it’s more manageable for stories with a lot of branching, while Inkle’s strength seems to be adding different variations of a similar path.

For the game’s story, I wanted to use my novella, The Ring of Void, but rather than just port an existing story, I had another one in mind. The “Embers” story was initially meant to be in a PC98-styled adventure game I had planned but never been able to do. The premise was simple: you go to investigate a haunting, and you have the choice to find out as much as you want about it. There was no good or bad way of going about it, since you play a character who banishes spirits for a living, so whether he hears yet another sordid tale doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Or it does, if the player decides so.

Inkle

Because Inkle generates a map on its own, unless you neatly structure your paragraphs, you end up with my nightmare above. My story is structured in the following way:

Inkle Map

As you can see, the idea is that you can just go through the meat, but there’s optional content that does affect the outcome and does affect how you perceive the story. How Inkle does this is by letting you mark every paragraph you want with a “marker”. Then, you can make any dialog option or any other paragraph a conditional of said marker. So, you can say “Only display this if player reached this marker.” You can also remove markers the player has reached or add counters. This works well if your player has something in his inventory that he loses, or if you want them to have a certain number of things. I used the latter function in one section to show that the player has exhausted all questions. Each question asked adds a +1 to the question counter, and when it’s at max, you won’t say “I have more questions” > “That is all”. Markers also help to avoid you repeating the same questions over and over and being stuck in a loop.

In general, Inkle was easy to use and get into. I think it’s more powerful if you try to make a story with it in mind, rather than having an already planned story and trying to adapt it to Inkle. Having a pre-existing story will still work, but Inkle won’t really shine.

You can play “The Ring of Void: Embers” on the following link: https://writer.inklestudios.com/stories/zfdn

Please let me know of any issues or comments you may have on Twitter.

This also concludes my two-month Patreon project. Since I now have a full-time job, I will be focusing on that. Thank you all who contributed or spread the word on it.

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Patreon Post (July 2016) – Fish Em Up

While being between jobs, I had to do the adult thing and find a source of income. To supplement freelance work I’ve been doing, I setup a Patreon. Luckily for me, it seems the Patreon was necessary for only July and August. The premise of the Patreon was simple: I did a rough estimate of how much a day of work would cost and depending on how the Patreon did, I’d set aside that many days to play with game prototype ideas. I would then put together an article detailing the thought process and how the entire project went.

With July’s Patreon, I basically had around 4 days at my disposal to play with a project. The theme patrons voted for was “shoot em up where you can combine weapons”. Higher tier patrons added in some limitations, giving the entire game an aquatic theme. The idea of combining power-ups to get a new weapon is mostly inspired by Inside a Star-filled Sky, where the three power-ups you pick up would combine into one weapon for the next stage. I wanted to go a bit in a different route. Essentially, a ship would have 3 weapon slots and what the ship shot depended on the combination of everything equipped. To avoid the system conflicting with itself, I broke the three slots into three separate types: pattern, projectile, special.

Patterns dictated the pattern of the projectiles shot, and included standard shmup types like forward, back + forward, sides + forward, and so on. Projectile type determined damage, size and rate of fire of each individual projectile. Special was for special qualities, like chain shots, damage over time, homing, and so on. This meant that instead of having linear progression, each power-up had its advantages and drawbacks, so in turn each combination had its own. This was to avoid one of my least-liked shmup aspects – linear power progression. In most shmups, even if there were different types of weapons, you could keep upgrading them to create devastating weapons. However, if you died, you’d be back at square one, so dying late in a level would make it obscenely difficult. With this method, you could end up with a weapon you don’t like, but rarely with a weapon that’s too weak.

With the weapon aspect of the game defined, there was also the matter of the “ship” (or in this case, the pink whale). It’s nice to be able to manipulate aspects like health and speed, so I decided to use options for that (the little assistant ships that fly with you in other shmups). They would come in three varieties: health boost, speed boost and shooter. Health would let you survive an additional hit and, while not implemented, would probably function on an internal cooldown rather than being one-time. Speed boost is self-explanatory, while shooter would shoot the simplest type of projectiles, but would still increase your overall damage input. The player would be able to mix and match any combination of these three options to supplement their playstyle.

The prototype is pretty bare-bones, as I spent a lot of time trying to learn GameMaker (I’m not really proficient with it). The graphics used the ZX Spectrum palette to save time. You can find a prototype and more information on it by reading the associated Patreon post.

The prototype’s main goal was to see if this concept could be fun, and I feel there’s something there, but it would definitely need more time dedicated to it first. Maybe one day.

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