A short detour into the land of the dead

I’m working on another game!

…Okay, so I know I just announced working on another large-ish project a little while ago, and since then I haven’t made any updates for it – so it might seem a bit weird to announce another game right now.

But there are reasons! First of all, I’ve been meaning to write more about Familiar, but I just haven’t quite been able to figure out how. In the earlier stages I don’t have as much that I feel comfortable showing, and I can’t seem to touch the subject of Familiar‘s design or narrative without beginning a full-length novel about it. As the game’s visuals slowly climb out of programmer-art territory I’ll be able to show more, and hopefully I’ll be able to formulate my thoughts on what makes the game interesting before then as well!

Secondly, I kinda need a small break from Familiar. It has been slower progress than I had hoped (what else is new), and the amounts of writing/scripting for a narrative game kind of wear down on one. Of course, any big project will have times that you just have to power through, but I also don’t want to burn myself out if I can help it. I had originally planned to always have one small, small project on the side to keep some variety in my gamedev – I just shelved that idea and had been focusing on Familiar until now.

So, what’s this new game? Well, er, it’s a 2D game where you…walk around and talk to ghosts. So, no, it’s not really fresh new territory for me. It has been pointed out to me how ghosts tend to be a heavily recurring theme in my games, and the fact that it looks and controls similarly to previous games is not lost on me. (I will say that this was not originally going to have any ghosts in it at all and would feature a totally different setting, but there’s a longer story behind that…)

But it’s much more of a puzzle-y, exploration focused game than anything else. The dialogue will be very sparse in this case, and you aren’t going to be doing nearly as much talking with ghosts as you will moving them around. As you can see in the above GIF, the player can pick up and drop any of the spirits in the game, and it’s that basic function that the game will revolve around. While some of the spirits you encounter will be there to feed little crumbs of information on the story, or give you vague hints, many of them will have crucial abilities you’ll need to progress.

The two major ones that I can talk about are checkpoints and waypoints.

In this case we can see a giant eye that the player can activate to set a check-point, which will determine where the player respawns when they run into a hazard (as I do several times in this case). These aren’t by any means a new thing for games – the only noteworthy point is that they adhere to all of the same rules as the other spirits you’ll run across. They can have dialogue, although in this case they don’t, and they can be picked up and moved around. This means that if you’re able to pick them up, you’ll be able to freely decide your respawn point!

And here’s a demonstration of waypoints – these come in pairs, and let you warp between the two spirits by interacting with them. In this case, I’m just using them to solve a simple puzzle by grabbing other spirits from an otherwise unreachable area to block the path of some enemies – but they’re really far more important to the game than just puzzle solving.

As I mentioned, a big part of the game is going to be exploration – wandering around, learning about the game’s areas, gathering clues from spirits, and figuring out where you are and what’s really going on. All of that means navigating over a large area, and a lot of potential walking. Unless, of course, you have a network of waypoints that can teleport you to the farther corners of the game’s world!

What I want to do with this game, and part of why I’ve gone out of my way to implement these two objects first, is because I want to make an exploration game where the player is given more control over how exactly they explore. Rather than carefully design the map with puzzles that have just one solution, carefully setting checkpoints where I think they’ll be needed, giving the player handy short-cuts and fast-travel options…all of that will be on the player.

The player will have to decide if they want to leave a checkpoint at a difficult area if they need to traverse it again and want a spawnpoint nearby, or if they want to carry that checkpoint with them to use for wherever they’re going next. They’ll have to decide what would be the most useful locations to leave their waypoints, based on their understanding of the game’s layout and where they think they’ll have to go. And while these are probably the most fundamental abilities, there are many others that will be used in the game.

I’ve been enjoying the diversion working on this game, and progress has been pretty smooth so far – by now I’ve only been working on it for about a week. Although it’s actually a totally separate code-base from literally anything else I’ve shown in this blog, as it’s an HTML5 game written entirely in Javascript, it has benefited from a project I worked on a while ago (and may or may not return to and write about here?).

It may not be the most visually or conceptually groundbreaking thing for me, but I think it has some promise, and I’m really looking forward to sharing my progress. I might be jinxing things, but it looks geared to become the shortest dev-cycle I’ve had thus far (excluding game jams), which is pretty neat in itself!

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