I had lots of things in mind for this project, all the initial prototypes involved a 3rd person character controller. I've been playing an unhealthy amount of the 'Life is Strange' games lately and wanted to explore something similar. I wrote up backgrounds for 5 characters. I wrote an intro and gave my player life and 3d interactivity after, and realized I hated the game when the intro was over. Here comes another VN...


Main goals - realized:

- Character development

    This is really the first narrative I've come up with where I actually like all my characters. I'm so used to antagonists, having someone to be afraid of for some reason (even if it is the protagonist themselves). A problem with this approach is that it's just plain lazy story telling. The problems of your game's world can all be explained by this bad guy, it's his fault. I originally had Dylan and Terrence getting more insulting towards each other as the story progressed (there's some glimpses of it leftover), but it didn't feel like it was really who they were. Like I was creating conflict and drama among all these friends who didn't care much for conflict and drama, instead of allowing the characters to tell whatever story there was to tell here.

    While I made sure to include character flaws in everyone (many of my own), I wanted them all to be liked by anyone who plays. I wanted them to feel human, to remind us of someone we once knew. Not good or evil. It's an unnecessary element to include when we're just talking about existence. The bad guy doesn't get invited to Jackie's goodbye party, there is no reason for him to be there.

    So my characters came to the realization of a lot of things, by themselves or with anothers help. They all have pasts, presents, and futures and that's what matters to them, the same way that's what matters to anyone. They all have their own inner monologue and its different than the person on either side of them.     The psychedelic nature of the story allowed for some harsh cuts and turns in the dialogue that may have otherwise raised eyebrows, almost feeling like a cop out but a perfectly valid excuse for questioning our existence or talking about subjects that progress the story nowhere, yet allow us to understand each a character a little more. We've all had a conversation in our lives about what animal we'd want to be. So have these guys.

- Achieve atmosphere before worrying about visuals

    A mistake I make all too often when game jamming is making it look real pretty on the first day. The downfall of this is literally every other aspect of the project, because I just let my visuals do everything I could do with a story, music, SFX, player involvement, anything really.

    My original scene for the campfire was five cubes around an orange sphere. I told myself "Yeah, if I can feel something while looking at this, I'm doing everything right." I was kinda right for once. I set up camera shots and dialog boxes for all the characters in 3d space. (World space UI ended up benefitting the project so very much when visuals were added.) With five characters, I didn't want them all to be speaking from either the top or bottom thirds of the screen, especially when the focal point of the shot was always the center. So my story wasn't necessarily being told in the scene, but the UI world space dialog boxes allowed the dialog to be part of the scene, instead of merely overlaying it. With nothing to look at at the edges, why should I make the player look at the top and bottom?

    So I wrote my intro, wrote a music track, cobbled together a handful of environmental sfx... and when it came together, I liked it! I didn't care that it was cubes. My characters bickered back and forth and reminded themselves of things they knew about each other. I could hear them in my head. I could see them in the cubes. Atmosphere acquired.

- Tug on some heartstrings somewhere and make an impact

    Yeah, this is always an underlying goal. I'm not making games hoping to turn it into a job (because the thought of creating art for a living is terrifying to me, honestly). I'm making games because I like to and I want to relate some of my own worldly experiences to others, however uncultured I might be. If one person messages me personally to tell me how much they enjoyed my game, that it meant a lot, that it reminded them of themselves or their past, that they'd like to explore creating similar projects... Then I'm quite happy with the result and happy to hear from them. Also, I got one of these messages already, so high five!


Main goals - fallen by the wayside:

- Meaningful choices

    Are our choices ever really meaningful? Some of my biggest gripes with 'choices matter' games are that a considerable amount of the time, the choices really don't f***ing matter. You veer onto track B for awhile and back on the main line. This is something I struggle with in my own endeavors, as well. It's hard making choices matter. Creating actually divergent paths is like creating different games in your game. And if you got two games in your game, maybe they should be different games? If your story is up to player decision, then you're not telling the story at all.     So I have some choices in the game and they effect your experience. Do they alter it? Not really, other than a few visual tricks and variable-based dialog branches. Do they change your endings? Not really. You make the ending when you get there. I didn't want to make 8 different endings just because I had enough variables to do it.

    I could have recalled the variables a lot more than I did. At the end of crunchtime, some of my focus was on making those choices a little more present in later dialog. Some of these lines ended up feeling more organic than the 'on-rails' discussions. I've gotten better at determining what decisions I should leave up to the player, but I need to be more aware of how I'm going to make any of these decisions really matter. What do players want out of their in-game choices?

- Interactive world and environment

    I wanted to walk around and look at the pile of wood. I wanted to hear what Shannon had to say about when they brought the porto-potty there. I wanted to see the difference between Dylan's car and Cora's car from any angle of my choosing. I thought I wanted all this. After some grueling hours in the beginning, I had Cube Shannon traveling through the environment, touching stuff, narrating what she saw, opening doors, it was awful. It was so not fun at all. I didn't need to tell you about the porto-potty if you were already looking right at it.

    Getting into the meat of the story, I realized there wasn't much place in it for exploration. I had no need for it. I could tell the player everything they should see there, let them hear it. If they were hearing it's presence and already told about it, why do you need to walk up and click on it? When my intro ended and there I was to wander freely and interact, all I really wanted was to sit back down and converse more.


To continue or to stop before I butcher it?

    Always a regular question to ask myself when a jam ends and I'm actually happy with my submission... But I can make it better. Right? I can? I don't know. I doubt it a lot. I worry with each line of dialogue that I'm losing the point, any magic I had captured dissipates with every slight addition. It's not going to be the same and it's not going to be better... which means it will be worse? Can it be better? How? What I am missing here and what didn't I explore that I should have? Does the game need more personal material, aimless conversation, specific conversation? Why should they talk anymore? Should I continue where I left off or fill in blanks to make it take longer to get there? Both seem wrong. I shouldn't be so destructive towards the idea of continuing this story, but I can hardly help myself.

    If you made it this far, wow, thanks. Please feel free to leave your thoughts, suggestions, and requests in the comments. And thanks for your time and participation with Hankworx!

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