This is Post 1 discussing my project greenlight process. To add a little context, I’ve been working on locking down a perfect project for IGF 2016 submission. These posts will discuss a project and why I’ve red-lighted it. At the end, I’ll make a post about why I’ve greenlit Ventura.
Squire Power / Ludum Dare 32
I never really discussed my failed Ludum Dare 32 project for a number of reasons. The first is that I was upset about it! Ludum Dare only happens 4 times a year, and I’ve put a lot of value into it as a determinant of how well I’m doing as a Game Designer. It creates a beautiful level playing field, with integrated feedback and scoring systems that I can use to judge how good I am on a given day (or weekend). My hope is for every project to do better than the last.
For this Ludum Dare, I picked a project I could build quite easily with regards to programming. It used a lot of systems I’d actually just built in the Project BR prototype; so I wasn’t worried about technical scope. What I did wrong was art. For some reason I decided that my game needed a fully animated combatant and I spent about 1/3 of my entire time creating and integrating animations. Massive, massive fail… especially as that’s exactly what I did wrong for Global Game Jam!
So what is Squire Power?
Squire Power is an interesting hybrid between a tower defense, akin to Swords & Soldiers, and an inventory management game. You are the Squire for ‘The Immortal’, a 1000 year old warrior who protects the land from the forces of evil.
As you can see on the screen above, the centre stage is dedicated to a Battle Window. The Immortal will stand in the centre, as monsters slowly creep towards her from either side of the screen. If a monster moves into her range, The Immortal will attack it. Monsters die in one hit, but only if The Immortal is holding the correct Weapon.
This is where you come in. Monsters are of a certain affinity, determining which weapon will kill them if they enter The Immortal’s attack range. The numbered boxes surrounding the Battle Window are your Inventory Slots. Your job is to pick up certain items from inside the boxes and place them in the Red or Blue slots; which represent The Immortal’s left and right hands. If The Immortal has the right weapon for the nearest monster when it comes into range, she will slay it. If she has the wrong weapon, her attack will have no effect. If a monster reaches her hitbox, she will take damage.
At its very basic level, Squire Power is about judging which monsters will reach The Immortal first and then planning your inventory so you can switch weapons in time to react to the spawning enemies. For Ludum Dare I had this basic mechanic done and dusted; 3 weapon types, 3 monster types.
The second mechanic is the Anger/Intoxication meters. As an Immortal, your companion can’t actually die. When a monster hits her, she just gets angry. The premise of the game is that The Immortal is a horribly traumatized, violently angry, alcoholic. You’re not supposed to like this character at the beginning. She is heralded as this glorious hero but when you meet her, she’s abusive and cruel.
When her Anger meter reaches 100, the game is over… you’re fired. The main technique for reducing her rage is to supply her with Wine, whenever she requests it. During combat, The Immortal will occasionally yell at you to provide her with Wine. To give her Wine, you must remove a Weapon from one of her hands and place the Wine item in that slot before the timer runs out. If you fail, her Anger increases. If you succeed, it decreases. At its simplest level, providing Wine leaves The Immortal open to attack and gives the player with a hectic scramble to make sure they get that Wine in her hands before the timer is over.
You should be a good Squire and constantly give her Wine, right? Then The Immortal will always be happy and you won’t get fired. WRONG!
To counteract liberal alcohol abuse, The Immortal also has an Intoxication meter. When this reaches 100, she will be disabled for around 5 seconds in order to puke. Yes, she vomits mid-battle. Your job is to carefully decide when it is a good time to give her Wine and when it is a good time to take an Anger hit.
This mechanic I had done for Ludum Dare.
So why didn’t I finish?
This is a really important question. I had the mechanics, and I had the animations. Why didn’t I just submit the little content I had? I guess I have no excuse.
At the time I felt pretty bad. I realized I wasn’t ever going to make the 48 hour Compo submission (which is the reason I do Ludum Dare). I realized that the simple mechanics needed more to them to really be a decent game. I spent a lot of time building an augmentation system, where you could apply potions to weapons to grant them new capabilities… it failed. I just couldn’t get it to work.
Another reason I just dropped the game jam was because I needed to build a narrative for this project. Having an abusive, violent, alcoholic anti-hero requires some context… I don’t want to create some stereotypical shallow bullshit about a traumatised warrior. We have enough of that. I wanted each level to have a short amount of story and dialogue, developing your relationship with The Immortal and providing important backstory that helps you understand her plight. I want her to grow as a character and not just be a pathetic caricature of a serious issue (Alcoholism).
I didn’t have time for this. I didn’t have time to build the dialogue UI feature, I didn’t have time to make enough hand-crafted levels, I didn’t have time to build those additional gameplay features that would give the game some meat. If I didn’t ‘waste’ time on animation, I would have had this stuff in.
I didn’t want to release a demo for Ludum Dare, I wanted to release a whole game; much like I did for Silian Rail.
On Squire Power’s IGF Candidacy
I am still very much enthralled with the concept of Squire Power, so I kept it as a possible IGF project. With that additional time, I could develop those interesting inventory management mechanics (more than just dragging and dropping the right weapons like ‘Simon Says’). With that additional time, I could develop a nuanced story that respectfully deals with addiction and tells a fascinating gritty fantasy story.
So why the red light?
- Redlight Reason #1: I’m an awful writer
I’ve been trying to improve my writing, and I joined Storium in order to practice, but I’m just not ready for it. I don’t have the skill to take on these complex moral issues. The narrative is such an important part of the game concept, and why I find it interesting, so I can’t just sacrifice it.
- Redlight Reason #2: Requires a lot more prototyping to prove it’s not a gimmick
In my head, Squire Power’s potential mechanics are very interesting. Imagine having to repair items, craft potions, and build tools during battle that lead into more unique items… I think these would all work quite well. But it’s such a weird concept of a game that I would really need to spend a good 2-weeks to a month on just messing around with mechanics. I could create something amazing, I’m sure, but it’s still a big risk and I can’t take on a project that’s ‘cancellable’ at this stage in The Plan
- Redlight Reason #3: The game design isn’t turning me on.
I do really like the idea of Squire Power but mechanically it’s just not that interesting to me. I worry that much of the game will end up like a Puzzle to solve… with level designs at the harder difficulties relying on a single ‘best way to play’. That isn’t the type of game I want to make. I hate playing the ‘default’ way, I hate cookie cutter playstyles. There are probably a myriad of ways to solve this, but right now I need low hanging fruit and this ain’t it.
So that’s why Squire Power is not The Game for IGF. I’ll definitely keep it on the back burners for a future project, but for now… The Immortal is dead!
Next time I’ll talk about Project BR.