I’ve been talking a lot about Why Am I Dead recently, mainly because I’m pretty sure 90% of my readership is now coming from people who played the game. Of course, I’ve been doing other stuff this whole time, but before I move on to other things I want to comment on some of the most common comments/questions regarding WAID that I’ve gotten.
1. Are there alternate endings?
Yes and no. When I was originally making the game I wanted to have at least two different endings. However, I cut a lot of stuff out, so the original release only had one. But after I saw this question repeatedly, I frantically whipped up an alternate ending somewhat similar to what I had been planning before. So, yes, there are currently two endings to the game.
2. The end leaves so much unanswered! Who’s the (spoiler)? And what’s the (spoiler)’s (spoiler) all about?
This was partially because I rushed the ending. But some things were intentionally left up to the player to figure out based on hints scattered through the game. I’m not a fan of keeping people guessing for its own sake — generally everything that’s brought up has a canonical answer to it, and not some cheap “Ooh we’ll never know!”
3. Why doesn’t the ghost influence people more, especially at the end?
I had always imagined that the ghost merely pushed people in more subtle ways, rather than completely possess them. In hindsight, I didn’t communicate this to the player well enough.
4. Why don’t you remember why you’re dead?
You have just been turned from a living, breathing grown man into a floating piece of cytoplasm. You don’t have a brain anymore. Memory loss, to me, seems kind of inevitable.
5. The game was/is glitchy as hell!
Yeah, it was/is. Sorry about that. I think I got most of the major bugs by this point. However, some portals may be using older versions of my game.
6. It should have been longer, or there should be a longer version of this concept!
Good news! I very much plan to make a sequel that will be a longer version of this concept.
I think I’m far away enough, now, and have gotten most of the changes to the game done, that I can talk just a bit about Why Am I Dead in a post-mortem kind of way.
To condense it all down to one sentence, I think my main takeaway from Why Am I Dead is that changing a game’s scope and time-line in mid-development can have some negative drawbacks in the long-term.
What do I mean by that? Well, let me start by saying this: Why Am I Dead was an idea that I came up with in order to motivate myself to get my feet wet in Actionscript 3. To repeat myself, and just to be really clear: this was a game that I meant to make as practice. I took a couple days to think up the idea, I figured I’d code an engine very quickly that demonstrated the idea, I’d put it online and then move on to my first ‘real’ Flash game.
Obviously it didn’t turn out that way. The game’s timeline went from one week to roughly three months. During that span I repeatedly made off-the-cuff decisions to spend more time on this thing or that thing, and then to try and actually market my game, and so on. Of course, had I not made those decisions, the game would be virtually unplayable in its final state; but it also created the sense in my mind that I was taking far too long with the game. I had not mentally prepared myself to be working on the project for that long, and so I started to feel serious burn-out, and as if my game would never be finished…even though over all I still didn’t end up taking that long developing it.
I know, I know. Burn out, on a three-month long project? What kind of sissy am I? But, again, because I started out thinking the game would take a week or, at worst, two weeks, it was hard to convince myself to keep going and see the project through to the end.
Here’s one particular manifestation of why this was a bad thing. Since I had intended mainly to make a game engine that demonstrated a neat idea I had, I considered things “finished” when I, well, completed the game engine. But then there were numerous times, usually due to scripted events for the story, that I had to add some functionality that I hadn’t anticipated. Since in my mind I was ‘done’, rather than take the time to implement it in a general/safe way, I threw on some duct-tape. With my limited play-testing, there was no way this wasn’t going to blow up in my face.
The result of this half-hearted approach was very apparent when it hit the major flash portals. I had raised the bar for the game in all aspects except for polish and QA, and so the release was quite rough, and unfortunately not the best display of my programming chops.
This wasn’t really a case of being unrealistic in regards to how long it would take to finish my game. This was a case of changing what game I wanted to make, halfway through making it. So, for my next project, I will have a particular goal for my game in regards to its functionality and overall polish, and I will do the best I can to stick to that goal.
Of course, overall, I’m ecstatic regarding the reception of Why Am I Dead, even though there’s plenty of room for progress. I never ever ever ever ever expected a Flash game that was this text-heavy to get so much attention, and I definitely did not anticipate people to interact with the story as much as they did.
So, what’s next? The idea of a sequel is extremely tempting, especially given how many people commented that the game mechanic would work better as a longer and deeper experience (which is exactly what I’d love to make!). So, while it’s still a bit too soon to say for sure, a “Why Am I Dead 2” is very plausible.
So, GDC China just ended. I had a great time, met some great people, and listened to some fantastic talks.
But that’s enough of that (at least, for now). Because, you see, the first morning of the conference was the day MochiAds accepted my game Why Am I Dead. It was also the day I was allowed to put my game on the bigger flash portals. I just sort of did this without any real expectations for anything, except for maybe a transient increase in ad impressions. Mentally, I had already finished the game and made it public. This was just a little footnote.
I was so, so, so stupidly wrong.
With such a promising mechanic, I hope WAID ends up being more of a proof of concept for a bigger project… As a standalone game, Why Am I Dead? has flaws, but it’s still plenty fun enough to justify sinking 30 minutes to an hour into it…
Clearly at the moment, the developer has a greater amount of skill at constructing an effective mystery than depicting it in Flash. However, it is an ambitious, atmospheric work reminiscent of Hotel Dusk or Colonel’s Bequest, and it has quite the killer ending. This marks Peltast Games as a designer to watch out for in the future.
I don’t know how all of the above looks to people who are not me. After all, a lot of the praise is qualified with good criticism, and there are Daily winners on Newgrounds every, well, every day. So, perhaps none of this shocks or awes you, the audience.
As for myself, however, well. I. It’s just. Ahem. Forgive me as I pretend that I’m on Tumblr for a moment.
There’s a lot more to say on the game as a whole and I may write up a post-mortem in the near future. As for now, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the game regarding bugs and APIs and whatnot and I should be doing all that and not posting on my blog!
I got off extremely lucky compared to many other North-easterners regarding Hurricane Sandy. In my area there were power outages and the occasional tree falling on some poor sod’s car, but no floodings or fires or what have you. I wasn’t even one of the people who lost power, I just lost internet for several days, and I’m pretty grateful of that.
And not long after my internet returned, my first game is now online!
As my first game’s launch, this is kinda how I feel right now:
The image is taken from this article written by Derek Yu, which mirrors my thoughts and feelings on finishing a game in a myriad of ways. I mean, I had kinda already finished Why Am I Dead a long long time ago, but only sort of finished it. This time, I finished finished it. And it feels good. Oh, here’s another image from the same article that seems appropriate:
Anyway. With all this excitement, it’s pretty much impossible for my standards of success not to be met.
“This game is too short!” == My game left people wanting more. Success!
“This game confused me.” == My game got people thinking. Success!
“This game was impossible to beat.” == My game was ambitious. Success!
“I absolutely hate this game and I want to injure you.” == My game, uh…created an emotional response. SUCCESS!
…On a more serious note, I’m looking forward to getting feedback and growing as a developer/designer from the responses I get. And of course, other projects are in the works, one of which I’m very overdue on talking about!
Good news! My game “Why Am I Dead” looks like it’s going to hit the public internets this Friday, only four days away! When that happens I’ll be sure to post a link. I’m both nervous and excited; I’m eager for people to play my game, but to be honest I’m also nervous with how it will be received. By this point, all of the things in the game that seemed neat and creative when I was planning it out, I’ve now had the time to completely familiarize myself with. Essentially, I’ve lost all real perspective on the game because I’ve been so close to it from start to finish. So we’ll just have to see what happens.
Bad news! I may or may not actually have power for a while, so blog posts in the immediate future are questionable.
As it turns out I live in the direct path of this thing called Hurricane Sandy, which, if you live anywhere in North America, you’re probably very familiar with. Fun stuff!
Today, “Why Am I Dead” is locked in at 100% complete. It isn’t currently online because I’m trying to get a sponsor for the game, and releasing it to the public would totally defeat the point of that; however, it means that I can totally shift my energy onto other projects and endeavors. I can also say that I’ve completed, from start to finish my first real game! Mandate was a far more involved project, but at the end I can’t really say with confidence that it’s a game; at least, not in its current state. So this is an important step for me.
I’ve spent the past month or so polishing the game, fixing things that bugged me or (more often) problems that I heard from player feedback. Even so, I feel that there’s tremendous room for improvement; in the writing, in the gameplay, in the music, and so on. And while part of me is tempted to spend more time fixing all the flaws I can see, the lager part of me is just tired of working on the game, to be honest. Really, some of the issues are simply the result of the fact that on the outset, I wasn’t planning on making a game of this quality; I was doing a quick experimental game, and so I didn’t use a great amount of foresight with the game mechanics and writing. So, if I want to satisfy my impulse to fix these things, I’d rather simply create a more well thought out sequel than endlessly postpone this game.
So, while I can’t put up a link for the game, here’s a trailer that I made mainly for fun!
Some other stuff I’ve been doing. I took part in the 24th Ludum Dare competition! It was my first one, and given that fact I feel that I held up pretty well overall. If you aren’t familiar with it, well first of all, why not, and second of all, it’s a competition to create a game based on a given theme in 48 hours.
For my submission I made the weird and stubborn decision to just go on a clean slate. No frameworks. No old code from WAID. While it definitely hindered my progress overall, I have to say that I actually enjoyed this decision. Surely, I ‘wasted’ a lot of time programming simple things like collision detection, but I got to return to doing these basic tasks with a lot more experience in AS3 than when I first did them, and so in some cases did them more cleanly or efficiently. There’s also something oddly satisfying about knowing that I physically typed out every little thing in the game in only two days.
The end product is admittedly ugly, obtuse, and unforgiving. I literally did not open a single other program outside of FlashDevelop; it’s all just code. No bitmaps, no tilemap editor, no sounds, just code. And no instructions either.
You can play the game HERE, but if you actually want to try and enjoy the experience I would highly recommend looking at my LD page first, which attempts to make what’s going on in the game a bit more clear.
And lastly, about a month ago or so I had mentioned starting up a strategy game. While a lot of my spare time has gone to finishing up WAID, I’ve chipped in here and there and have progressed a little ways.
The first main thing that I want to do is create a map-editor for a polygon-based map. This is something that I’ve seen people suggest for Risk-style web games constantly, but rarely see implemented. And as a feature it holds a ton of promise. So, I decided that I’d make it the first thing that I do.
A boon which I hadn’t actually anticipated for the project was this: I have escaped the TYRANNY OF TILES!
Now that I think about it, the last three games I’ve worked on have been dominated by tiles. In WAID’s case it isn’t quite as visually obvious since I go out of my way to break the grid and use some non-tile collision detection, but it’s still dominated by tiles. With the move to this strategy game, I get to program a whole different set of stuff and challenges. For instance, last week I spent some time coding a triangulation algorithm so that you could draw any shape you wanted and then have a 100% accurate hit-test for clicking and dragging that shape around. The result:
I’m pretty happy with how the editor is coming along. The fundamental concept of drawing provinces, moving them around, and creating links between them is done. My next step is to add other functionality like deleting shapes, selecting multiple ones at once by clicking and dragging, and so on. Then after I’ve gotten the editor to a more satisfactory place, I’ll be working on writing the map into a file stored locally on the player’s computer, and being able to read that map back into the game.
I was planning on making an update earlier, but my laptop unfortunately broke and was out of commission for about a week. I managed to survive this grueling experience but it slowed me down a bit.
It’s been a pretty long time since my last update, and while I really wish I could say that Why Am I Dead is 100% finished, I’m still holding onto it to beta-test and tie up loose ends. Again, my goals for the project have shifted and become more ambitious: I only get to release this game once, and I’d like for it to be as finished and polished as possible.
I don’t think it would be space or time efficient to explain thoroughly everything I’ve done with WAID since the last update, so here’s a list:
Wrote dialogue. Lots of it. There are 9 characters in the game that can be talked to, 8 of which can be possessed, and each character combination results in a different dialogue. 8 x 8 = 64, plus any additional dialogues which are unlocked in the progression of the story. So far I’ve written about 90-95% of the base 64 dialogues, and about 70% of the additional story dialogue.
Finished graphics of the game, which involved making a couple more characters and lots of various props/scenery. A quick look at the completed cast (some of which were in the last demo):
Overhauled how external assets were used; originally I loaded them ingame, but it’s far better for distribution to have them embedded into the .swf file. This occasionally was a bit involved, since embedding can’t really be done procedurally; it’s all copy+paste. In one instance I had to change how I used my tile sets to create maps.
Created a pre-loader and main menu.
Minor fixes with dialogue graphics, such as including word-wrap, making sure options don’t overlap, adding a name-box for the player, prompt to hit ‘E’ when text is done scrolling, etc.
Yet again, tune-ups with collision detection, trying to make things as smooth and precise as I can.
Other miscellaneous stuff, like having NPCs turn to face you when you talk to them.
Now for something completely different.
When I started moving into the final stages of development, I allowed myself to begin considering ideas for my next project(s). Then when my computer was being repaired and I couldn’t get any real work done on WAID, I took the opportunity to develop one of my ideas a bit more. And despite what bad practice it was, I used my iPad to write some code for the framework of the game, even though I couldn’t compile it. I’ve since compiled it and smoothed out any problems, and so I can say that I’ve begun working on my next project.
Since I’ve already got a lot in this update, I won’t talk too much about it. It’s a turn-based strategy game going for a more strategically complicated Risk-style game. Two major reasons I’ve decided to work on this next:
1. I spent a ton of time on Mandate, which has much, much more complicated strategy and simulation components. It would be a nice change of pace to make a strategy game that has a very narrow and understandable game mechanic, but which can still add something new to the genre.
2. Perhaps more importantly, work on something like this is more about programming than it is about writing or art. Not that I dislike the latter two at all, but again, the simplicity of it is refreshing; getting the game mechanics done is really going to be 80-90% of the work. I won’t have to create a cast of characters or write their dialogues, I just have to implement things.
So, that’s what I’ve been up to. The next post will hopefully include me linking to the final version of “Why Am I Dead”!
I’m finally close to wrapping up this game! In the time since my last update on ‘Why Am I Dead’, I’ve mostly been working on creating art assets, polishing movement, adding objects that you can interact with (eg doors, beds), expanding dialogue mechanics (ie triggers that progress the game), and creating new maps. The result is that aside from polishing concerns such as having a pre-loader and muting/unmuting music, I can now say that I am 100% done with the core mechanics of the game. I am also about 90% done with all of the graphics/mapping of the game.
Now I can get to work on what I have been shamefully neglecting all this time: the game’s actual script. Given that the entire game revolves around character dialogue, perhaps I’m not as close to finished as it would at first seem. But it’s still a big step forward from my last update to say the least.
Below is another video of some of the gameplay, with dialogue I wrote just for demo purposes. This’ll probably be the last demo video I put up before the game itself launches.
What I’m going to be doing next falls into three categories:
– Obfuscating the swf file and putting it online for Beta testers
– Obviously, writing the script and testing it out in-game
– Creating a basic pre-loader, finding music/sound effects and programming sound control in
So I’ve finally been able to sit down and work on Why Am I Dead, and I’ve gotten it to the point where I can say that I’ve pretty much finished programming it, and can now focus on writing the script and making the art. There’s a bit of functionality left to code, but it’s very small and very straightforward. Below is a quick demo of the core game mechanics using place-holder graphics:
I’ve made as much of the game mechanics as I can to be very generic, so actually filling in the content will be wonderfully straightforward. For instance when I write the script or change the maps, I won’t have to modify any .as files at all, and I’ll be able to edit the content very quickly and see immediate results. For map editing, I’m using the wonderful free program Tiled to generate the map, and then my game just reads through the resulting file and creates the map. For script writing, I’m just typing directly in a text editor what I want the dialogues to consist of (plus a few keywords here and there), and the game parses through that and creates the dialogue in OOP form.
Okay, so first, I’ve missed the rather arbitrary deadline I set for myself on Why Am I Dead. The reason could be summed up pretty well in this XKCD comic:
Earlier, I just wanted to have something — anything — done in Actionscript. For that, a week was plenty of time. But now that I’ve gotten something (anything) done in Actionscript, the programmer in me wants to make everything general, elegant, and reusable; and that takes more time. For instance, the non-procedural content in Why Am I Dead is 90% dialogue trees; so I thought why not program things so I can simply write all of the dialogue into text files and parse them into Actionscript objects to handle my dialogues? If I get it right that would mean I could create, for the most part, an entirely different game without touching the code. I could hand it off to a non-programmer and have them write their own stuff.
Alright, so it might be a bit overzealous of me to try and use data-driven programming on something this abstract, but I want to try it anyway. A 100% modeling of the data is impossible; I won’t be able to account for everything. But actually, I’m almost done as it is. And that’s a major step in completing this game.
But I’ve been doing other things as well. Part of the delay with WAID is that I’ve also been trying to piece my website together, and tie up a few loose ends on a past project. That past project is “Mandate”, a senior integrative project that I finished last month.
To sum it up really quickly, Mandate is a historical simulation that takes place in ancient China. It’s a multi-agent system, meaning that there are lots of AI-driven characters running around independent of any central rules, making decisions that impact the simulation’s strategy. In addition, it makes use of fuzzy logic to try and emulate the internal politics of the factions at that time.
You can find it available to download here. Be warned, though, this is not an exercise in commercial game design or UI design; it is first and foremost an academic project. So its visuals are quite rough and its interface may not be clear to those who are not already familiar with it.
And that’s what I’ve been up to recently! Now that I’ve tied all of that stuff up, I can concentrate a bit more on Flash.