About Multiple Endings

I’ve been trying to put together a post focusing on the time where I was less active on the blog/online, and as a bit of an overview for the past year…but writing it out in a way that fits the nature of this blog has been difficult.  It’s a lot of material, so it’s a bit hard to decide how to organize it, and it’s a bit of a departure from game development.  Meanwhile, the days keep ticking away, so I thought I’d give an update on the game just to get a post out.

I’ve been more active than ever in development, and things are moving along quite well.  After taking a lot of time over the past several months to update visuals, add support for game options/configurations, and work on Rebirth, I’ve returned to filling out the game’s story.  Over the past month I’ve added in all of the art, dialogue, and scripting for the game’s story, all the way up to the ending.

The ending is done?!

Well.  One of them.  As I’ve opted to have multiple endings for Why Am I Dead At Sea, I’ll have to finish the “ending” to the game several times before I can say that it’s actually been completed.  However, what I have finished is the basic framework that the separate endings switch off from, which means that the remaining work is a bit simpler than what I’ve already done.

Given that all of this progress takes place at the game’s finale, it’s hard to show things I’ve worked on without immediately and blatantly giving away important details about the ending.  Like its original, there are some revelations and plot twists at the final hour – and they can vary, depending on the ending you get.

But I can speak in generalities and talk about the structure of the endings without giving away details.

An object used in one of the epilogues.

I can be a very compulsive person.  As a result, I am all too familiar with player paranoia: when a player feels anxious about if they’re missing some content.  If you’re walking through a maze and find the exit, only to turn around and check every last dead end so you know you didn’t miss anything – that’s player paranoia.  When a game overwhelms the player with choices and gives them a clear right/wrong answer, it can be an unpleasant amount of pressure.  I recall playing the acclaimed Metroid Prime for the first time.  I was having a lot of fun with the game, until I learned from somewhere that there were multiple endings, and that they were determined in large by the amount of hidden upgrades you collected throughout the game.

…I never played it again.  That knowledge turned the game, for me, from fun exploration into obsessive item-hunting.  It’s exactly the kind of system I don’t want in my game – I don’t want to burden the player with the worry that they made the wrong choice or missed things early on and unwittingly doomed themselves.

Admittedly, there is a lot of story-telling potential to having the game remember the things that you do.  And I plan for that to be an element in the game.  However, the factors that influence the game’s ending will follow this pattern:

1) The more drastic a factor changes the story, the later in the story it occurs

2) Conversely, the earlier a factor occurs in the story, the less significant it is to the overall direction of the story

Some more objects used in the latter parts of the game
Some more objects used in the latter parts of the game

What this means is, essentially, there will be two types of variables that change the ending/epilogue that you see.  Conversations that occurred in the early/middle parts of the game could change additional, flavor dialogue at the end.  It would give a nod to some of the choices you made earlier on, but does not itself decide the direction of the story or the resolution of the mystery.  On the other hand, there are larger revelations and clues you can find, which will be available all the way up to the end of the game, which will decide the ending you get.

To reference what has to be probably my (and many other peoples’) favorite alternate ending design to date, the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2 has lots of smaller factors that decide who amongst your crew lives or dies – but ultimately, that isn’t what decides the climax of the story.  At the end, there is still a big choice you can make at the end regardless of what you’ve done beforehand, which means you don’t feel shoehorned.  It’s a good blend between acknowledging the player’s previous choices and allowing them to make new ones, and the ending of Why Am I Dead At Sea attempts to achieve that effect.

All’s well that ends well

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!

I’m done with tiles for now

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:

Not tiles!

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.