Guide a shaman on an ancient rite to save the world. Passivity or action will determine your path. Unlock the ancient power of the runes or corrupt the beasts that plague the land.
How I went about making it:
I knew I had 3 weeks to make something that put the player in an ‘altered state,’ per my class requirement in my final semester at college. I spent the first days researching what kind of altered state prototype I wanted to make, and what kind of philosophy I wanted to explore. I started browsing obscure indie games on itch.io that had the adventure tag. I found a developer with an interesting breadth of games, who had entered Slow Game Jam 2017. From the ‘slow philosophy games’ I put together a few principles that would help steer development:
1. Alternative endings depending on player interaction.
2. Intriguing narrative-based mechanics.
3. Visually appealing gameplay and cinematic style.
With these goals in mind, I began to put together an art test scene. By mixing and matching free assets on the unity store I was able to create a jumbled-up but cohesive art direction for the prototype.
I began sketching out ideas for systems and how the narrative mechanics would be communicated to the player. I settled on a simple control scheme, with the addition of an idling-gameplay-mode which would serve to create this exploratory narrative experience.
I intended to make an experience where the player is free to drop in and out of the journey, only interacting when they are curious and want to shift the current course of events.
In hindsight, I realized I was trying to make an experience as passively engaging as a movie, but that also allowed for interaction. In doing so I discovered the first step to this ultimate engaging media design: dynamic difficulty.
Design Challenge and Test Results:
The prototype went through a few iterations. The biggest problem the game ran into was a mix between an empty or too large level, as well as players not feeling connected enough to the world. Every player asked for more features and things to interact with in the environment. In addition, for being a rushed prototype, the story wasn’t thought through enough to make a lasting impact on the player.
In earlier versions of the prototype, some of the optional and more difficult mechanics were hidden and not properly conveyed to the player. I fixed this by creating a more cinematic and text-based tutorial, but the problem needed a little bit more handholding than I was able to make in the limited amount of time I had.
This didn’t detract from the experience though. Most players reported that even though they didn’t know how to utilize all the mechanics and narrative elements, they still felt the game held their interest, and just wanted more explained to them.