Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Little Less Fog, a Little More Detail

So What's it All About?
It's been a while since I posted anything on the strange game I'm developing. It has grown quite a bit since the last time I posted. It now looks just like the screenshot - and better. I'm aware that I've not yet stated what the game actually is. I'll rectify that shortly, but first I should lay out what my aims were when I started.

1) Produce the best game on the iPhone... for geeks like me
I've grown rather dissatisfied over the last few months. The iPhone is such an excellent machine, but seems to be used to create nothing but 5-second twitch games (Flaboo! included). It can do so much more. So, rather than whining I decided to do something about it. I'm hoping that Incoboto will be something people can play in short spurts, but which also rewards a long afternoon of play.

I'm also bored with games that offer only a single, repetitive mechanic, or with so little content that there's nothing to discuss with friends between play-sessions. Nethack and Angband provide countless hours of content and fodder for water-cooler discussions despite their primitive appearance. Why doesn't this happen more?

I very much hope Incoboto brings this sense of depth and immersion onto the little machine.

I also want to make a game that doesn't involve killing - or at least not as a casual mechanic. This isn't some hippy vegan doctrine I'm following here. I just feel it's a bit trite and not in keeping with the childlike sense of wonder I want to evoke. More on that later.

2) Provide emotive content without resorting to (too much) dialogue
Since watching countless small animated films and seeing the efforts made by others such as Jason Rohrer (who have done marvellous things with lesser technology at their disposal) I've become increasingly interested in the emotional power of simple images and animation.

Incoboto's story is about wishes, loss, and understanding what's really important in life. Hopefully, with clearly designed characters and appropriate pieces of music, I should be able to wrench the odd tear from the audience.

As ever, David Lynch is on my mind, so along with pathos, I'm hoping to bring a sense of quiet unease into the world of Incoboto. As an example, Helios (the great, grinning sun-thing you saw in the last blog) should appear insane and menacing without ever having to say: "Hey! I'm insane and menacing!" or - god forbid - play a dialogue sample. Bleach.

Less is more. In Incoboto's case -hopefully a lot more.

3) Construct a Mythos
It's been a while since I left Lionhead now, and Fable along with it. I'm very proud that we managed to give players the sense that Albion was a real place. By the end of my time there, my job mostly consisted of being a filter for what was or was not Albiony or Fabley. I also experienced a great deal of frustration when others disagreed, or decided 'nobody would care' if we chose to do something out of character.

Incoboto is all mine. That's an enormous privilege. As such I have an opportunity to craft an entire universe of strange inhabitants, colossal machines, odd devices and mysterious planets.

It is unlikely that someone is going to say, "Helios should, you know, fart. It'll be funny."
Even then, if they do, I can ignore them rather than wishing I had a bottle of Draino to swig from.

What's in a Name?
I've had several people tell me that they don't understand the name 'Incoboto'. Others offer me the advice that nobody will remember it: "What is that... Japanese?".

Both are fair comments. At this precise point in time I don't care. The name is... what the game is. Perhaps that'll change in the next few months, but right now I can't imagine the game being called anything else. I'd be interested to hear how others feel about it - presuming anyone reads these.

Zoom and Rotate
One of the biggest things I'm battling against at the moment is the complexity of building a game with no fixed axis of movement or rotation. The whole universe can spin around you, planets rotate, satellites rotate around those, and you can stand on all of them and jump from one to the other. It's bonkers.

However - with all this fun comes potential nausea and a great deal of difficulty in maintaining a meaningful view of what's going on.

If I don't auto-rotate the camera, jumping on the leaves of a crystal-tree while upside-down feels quite... unnerving.

If I do auto-rotate the camera there's a strange sense of vertigo and a constant feeling that there's no 'up'. That's because there isn't one.

I'm thinking of allowing players to choose their own axis of movement at any time, but also leery of the fact that this adds yet another level of complexity into the controls of an already complex game.

I added zooming out/in today, and it looks fantastic. With any luck it'll go part-way toward fixing the issue.

Next Up...
The next task is to get AIs into the game. Like everything else in this game, there are no off-the-shelf solutions to navigation, and the fact that there's no clear axis of movement will make everything more difficult. So - by next blog, my aim is to have AIs wandering around and able to interact with the player-character. Then it's time for catacombs.

Never Neverland
As a final note, I'm also aware that what I'm trying to do is stupidly ambitious, and that most people fail miserably when they attempt something this big on their own. But then, if people didn't have a go the world would be so dull.