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A Glorious Prologue -- An Average Game

  • Isrieri
  • 02/20/2019 05:50 PM
  • 360 views
Caveat: It may well be that the content of this review is more suitable for an article, but I don't think anyone's written a damn article on this site for 4 years and I want this game to have a review so here we go~~~


~~WHEN YOU START - START AT THE START~~


When You Were Young is a game made for the Swap In The Middle With You event from ages ago. This was an event where one person would begin a game and work on it as much as they could, and then hand it off to a second person who would finish it. Each person had complete creative control during their time with the game.

I downloaded a bunch of games from that event and tried them out last night, but this one charmed me. I had enough to say that it spurred me to write a quick review. I love the first half, but it really diminishes upon the second as its clear they were running out of time. The nature of the swap event created something very interesting here I think worth discussing.

What I want to talk about (inarticulately gush about) is an aspect of game making (and RPGs in particular) that although does not go unappreciated, it is often overlooked in regard to the amount of effort it takes to polish it: The writing.

….Well yes and no. Its not only the script or plot I'm talking about, it's that script's implementation into the game to make it palatable. The tedious hours whiled away by a developer to get the text boxes just right, the agonizing event scripting that makes a world come to life and it's NPCs more than just walking signs. Though this aspect of game making is important in any game, it's crucial to story-oriented RPGs. The first half is an excellent example of how to do this well, and the second half how to do it less well. Thus this game is a good case study for aspiring developers to download and examine.

Lets get out of the way right now – this game was made under a strict time-constraint and deadline. No ill will is meant to either developer here! I'm well aware of the nature of the swap event, and I know from experience how hard it is to make a game when you've got all the time in the world, never-mind in a couple of weeks! My aim here is point out the interesting juxtaposition between the halves of the game created by the event's unique premise.


~~TELLING A TALE WITH BOXES~~


It's hard enough writing goddamn dialogue with just pen and paper, but writing dialogue in a game? Constructing a world box by box? You have a few more things to worry about.

The trap of most amateur writing is that dialogue is written according to how they feel the characters should act in relation to the plot. You know what I mean by this:

“We've got to go to Smirbibir and get the Crymurgur from the thing!”

"Insolent FOOOOOLS! I cannot be DEFEAATEEEEEEEED?!"

"We will do it. Because the power of being heroes...makes us true heroes!"


This makes the dialogue between characters feel like a formality. As though there were pieces to be moved around the board and spout the lines they need to spout to propel the story forward. With good writing, you can accomplish the same needs of plot, not by exposition or empty phrases but by character development. This is pretty much why I like the game: I like the writing of these characters (or rather the shadow of what could become great characters) and where the story seemed to be headed.

Ralph loves his father and still attached to the memory of his mother, isn't afraid to leap to the defense of those he cares about, has an adventurous spirit, quick to lead and is basically the embodiment of a scrappy underdog.




Ulrika is kind and innocent but not foolish, and is stronger than she seems due to the great power that sleeps within her. She's the least developed of the lot and feels like she's just along for the ride. Also she has a dog she loves very much which is totes adorbs.



Elmer is a rough and tumble pick-pocket who has seen the rougher side of life and is more street-wise than the other children. He's been kicked around his whole life literally and figuratively.




And Caroline is simply the embodiment of sarcasm - perhaps the Goddess of Sarcasm herself. Maybe a bit cliché for an evil witch but its fun so I dig it.



These characters may feel a bit stock but its less about the bios, and more about how they interact with one another. They're a launchpad to leap off from and the beginning does a great job fleshing them out and giving them their own voices. The writing can indeed be a bit heavy-handed and use strong language at times (needs a bit less f's and mf'ers and more t's and a's imo), but there's subtlety there and hints at what's come. All in all there's a lot going on in the first half that's accomplished not with pure dialogue but with the little touches that add some mise-en-scene (look it up). Basically the developer took the time to put effort into the scenes to make them cute and fun despite the time limit and that's always a good thing to encourage.


World-building-fisherman-y'all


~~GIVING A LOCATION LIFE~~


Lots of games just plop down NPCs and the stores and the temples and all of the gameplay things that you need in towns or in the wilderness: All the mapping is there, but sometimes it lacks a soul. This game uses almost entirely RTP assets and (I believe) all sample maps. Normally frowned upon for obvious reasons, it isn't as much of a liability here because that's not the focus. Building a narrative is the focus of the first half.

Everything in a game, from the items, the skills, the battles, the towns, the world. It's all an opportunity; to expand on the characters and flesh out the world. Say you've got an Inn. Who's inside the inn? Where did they come from? Have they tales to tell from the outside? Are they there on assignment? Treasure hunting? Would they rather be elsewhere?


Probably wish they were kicking little boys' teeth in.


Such small time side-characters are merely extras in books or film but in games they're opportunities, for jokes, world-building, a reward, a funny scene or interaction. WYWY takes several moments in the game to have a bit of fun with the NPCs and their dialogue, and to make the world feel like a lived in place with moments like these:



What would normally be a brick wall or closed door becomes exposition, characterization for Ralph's father Alex. This is good stuff people. The game is chockful of little moments that made me smile and their charming quality that the best of games know how to capitalize on.

In the second half there are things like this too: The tree dungeon has adventurers lying around that ask for items that they need to either stave off death or get out of the dungeon. It's a nifty concept to base a dungeon around but it serves a further purpose of giving that dungeon a memorable aspect to it and to give the world some more color.


~~TYING CHARACTERS TOGETHER~~


Interactions are the golden rule of game stories. It isn't the story of the heroes' quest. No no! It's the story of the heroes' meetings and dealings. It's the story of the journey not the destination. The relationships they form and the bonds they forge or break. That's the heart of drama and tragedy alike, and its just as true for games as it is for anything else you could ever deem 'art.'

Let me try to make that paragraph make sense by telling you about Ulrika's mother:

The inciting incident that gets the adventure going is Ulrika's mother catching a sweating sickness that cannot be cured with herbs because the town's entire stock had been appropriated for the incoming war effort. The children, distraught, head into the woods to see if they can procure some from the weird witch that lives in the forest. After trials and tribulations they do indeed get the herb and Ulrika's mother recovers from the illness. The adults later say that they wouldn't have allowed Ulrika's mom to kick the bucket but it's kind of implied that things may have gone differently if not for the children's intervention. Because of their dealings with the witch, who was under investigation by the crown for sarcasm in the first degree, the children are arrested by the soldiers and thrown into the castle dungeon, some way a-ways north of their hometown, for later interrogation.

In the second half of the game, 15 years later, you can meet Ulrika's mom.



Whiplash ain't it? But why? Why is it so?!

Wouldn't Ulrika's mom have been concerned? This feels like a pretty normal response., Maybe the two hadn't met in all that time. Or maybe they had met(its never established though). Either way logic warrants at least a small scene, a moment where a mother can be relieved at her daughter's well-being. Maybe catching up on each other, parent and child, on each other's doings in the interim years. This would be good for the story and for the players: We can see that the risks of the earlier game have borne some fruit, and get more characterization from Ulrika. It isn't as though an attempt wasn't made here it just doesn't feel like enough.

Now, there's a few lines you can get walking around the town that serve as throwbacks to the earlier half of the game, so effort was spent in that department...it just isn't quite as good. The first half takes the time to think of these interactions being more narrative focused, but as a result it takes things at a very slow pace and leads players on a small set path. The second half is more focused on gameplay and plot, trying to give the player a bit more freedom to go here and there and have more agency now that they're adults. Ulrika's mother never has to actually be visited, so players could miss her entirely. But taking the time to include a short optional scene with her is in fact a reward of sorts, for the players who look for it.

Opportunities!

~~SWEPT AWAY BY STORY~~


The first half stumbles a bit with basic gameplay issues that weren't quite addressed like balancing or healing (I looked everywhere for a way to recover the party but the Inn was shut to me and the circles didn't heal you before the caves! I had to use Stimulants! STIMULANTS!!) but it serves as the setup to an adventure and future tragedy. Its implied through the beginning that in the upcoming war Ralph and the gang have undergone vicious hardships as they reminisce now on their childhood. Its sets up a wide cast of side characters that could appear later on and establishes motivations. Then off they go, into the wilderness to continue their adventure. Then the game swaps over.

Allow me to offer my condolences: The second person had an immensely tough act to follow. What was essentially a completely realized prologue chapter to an epic 8+ hour game, now needed to be concluded. In like a week. WHAT DO.

Quick! Lets make a world map! Lets start from where we left off, and venture against the empire! They were at Noah's place for the last 15 years training for this moment! Only now do we set off at last to take on the enemy! The capital city got burned or whatever I guess.

The second half tries its best to take you on a full RPG adventure in record time; sprawling deserts, foreboding haunts, evil villains, and the iron hand of an evil empire. Its so quick to get the ball rolling it kind of subverts and cancels out the expectations laid out by the first half. Its much more gameplay focused. Combat is a bit trickier, more skills open up by this time, and the party gets switched up to create a different dynamic. Dialogue is swift and terse, not laden with the beats and flavor that made it more fun to read in the first half, and the adventure is a bit more raw.

While the beginning is all about the writing and setup, the second feels like the onus was on it to provide the actual game. In the rush to create a traditional RPG setup, it loses some of what the characters had going for them, and the mystery of the 15 years that had passed is glossed over.

~~LOST IN THE SANDS OF AMBIVALENCE~~


After the tree dungeon I went over to the desert to get the two macguffins needed to open the sand dungeon when, suddenly, a madness took me. I got it in my head to sail around the south of the continent, head north through the window-dressing areas that had not been completed, and enter the imperial city before triggering the last couple of event flags. Thus, I managed to reach the credits without having picked Caroline or Elmer back up, ending the game. I thought that was hilarious so I figured that was a good time to pick up the pen.

Perhaps this review doesn't feel like a thoughtful and measured analysis to you.
Perhaps it just seems like I'm ranting about what I thought was cool and what wasn't as cool.
Perhaps you feel "Its just a stupid Swap game Isrieri they made in like two weeks."
Well to you I say:

~~IF THE GAME DOES NOT FIT - YOU MUST'VE QUIT~~


When You Were Young is not a glowing paragon of a video game that you should prostrate yourself before and emulate -- I'm not saying that. HELL NO. Its just been a while since I've played a game with a setup that clicked with me like this (sans the random drug references). I personally shy away from anything modern or sci-fi. History and fantasy are my bag, especially when it teeters between cute and serious sides. I think that this is the perfect game to play and study if you are new to making games. If you want to make that big RPG one day, but you have no clue where to start. When you don't yet have the capacity to make outstanding graphics or custom battle systems, then look no further than here. Sift through what works, and what doesn't work, and draw your own judgement from it. Yet it is unarguably good at one thing:

This game teaches you how to do a lot with a little. Its not a perfect game, but its the good and happy feelings it delivers amid those imperfections that make it so endearing to me. I really wish it was a fully realized game, with all the talents of both developers brought to bear.

Posts

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halibabica
RMN's Official Reviewmonger
11399
However infrequent articles may be, they do have the benefit of being searched for in regard to topic. You address some interesting stuff in this review, but ultimately, it will fall into obscurity, if only because this is the 6500th review of the 10,750th game on this site.

What I'm saying is you should write an article if you think it's worthwhile.

I approved this anyway since it seemed like a fair review regardless.
A review!!
Thank you so much for taking your time to play and writing a review for it!

My deepest apologize for both the community and specially stormcrow, for I must admit, I am terrible at writing and clearly I disappointed her in that section. As you have stated, fear and time made me went "I'm so nub, what can I do for this in a week?!" when I received the half. Thus, I wish to apologize(again) as I decided to choose the traditional path, which made the story and dialogue bland and cheesy, especially from a noob.

Ulrika's mom was...exactly as you stated, ran out of time xc
The original plan was to at least do a simple cutscene to explain how she and the town changed during the years passed. However, that time went for Elmer's mother, as I felt a need to tell the players how or why is Elmer an orphan as the players have already known a bit about Ulrika and her mother on the first part.

author=Isrieri
suddenly, a madness took me. I got it in my head to sail around the south of the continent, head north through the window-dressing areas that had not been completed, and enter the imperial city before triggering the last couple of event flags.


This is a huge oversight by me, I like your madness, I will fix it when I'm free, thank you :<
Again, thank you so much for taking your time to play and writing a review for the game!
Thank you for this wonderful review, which I am still in the process of reading, I really appreciate how in depth you've gone and well, to be frank, I really kind of thought the game deserved this much attention and thought from SOMEONE since back when we released it and I'm really happy it's finally getting it.

That said, before I even finished reading the review, I had to jump in and say this:

Besides the time constraints and other challenges, in terms of the writing in the second half, the crucial fact is that English is not Doge's first language. So yes, while the ENGLISH WRITING in the first half is indeed dramatically better...if I had tried to write half a game in Spanish (which is MY second language), it would have come out so, so, so, SO much worse than Doge's output that...idk I've been a professional writer most of my life and even I LITERALLY cannot think of analogy hyperbolic enough to represent how much better Doge did at writing in a non-native language than I could EVER possibly do.

So actually, adjusting for that, I think the more impressive feat of writing, overall, was Doge's, even if that is the half you're using as an example of how to do writing less well.

Oh, let me clarify, on the internet where tone is invisible, I'm not yelling at you/being defensive/jumping in to defend Doge in anger. I am just somewhat in awe of bilingual and multilingual people, since the only other language I have is Spanish and I'm so ashamed of how poor my Spanish is I never use it around native Spanish speakers for fear of embarrassing myself. I am (perhaps overly!) proud of my writing in the first half and I am also quite IMPRESSED with Doge's writing, in English, in the second half.

Now to read the rest of this lovely review. I wish I had a cup of tea.

author=Isrieri
This makes the dialogue between characters feel like a formality. As though there were pieces to be moved around the board and spout the lines they need to spout to propel the story forward. With good writing, you can accomplish the same needs of plot, not by exposition or empty phrases but by character development.

That reminds me, speaking of articles, this one on the topic is pretty good, tho short.

Okay, whew, done, great review! Thank you!

author=Isrieri
These characters may feel a bit stock

FWIW that was absolutely my intention. They are stock characters in the most literal sense as they're taken straight out of the RTP Database, sometimes names and all. My concept starting out was essentially DEFAULTIA: The Game: The Prologue. I wanted to take barely-one-dimensional stock JRPG characters and then treat them with a certain degree of sentiment and gravitas.

author=Isrieri
The writing can indeed be a bit heavy-handed and use strong language at times (needs a bit less f's and mf'ers and more t's and a's imo), but there's subtlety there and hints at what's come.

As far as the swearing, the two instances of hard profanity I remember writing best were both inserted for effect and meant to be shocking. The first is Elmer's cluster f-bomb when he first meets the party at Port Wistful. This was to hammer home the point that Elmer's childhood has him coming figuratively and literally from a VERY DIFFERENT PLACE than Ralph and Ulrika. Ralph immediately lampshades the cluster f-bomb after it's delivered (with a Simpsons reference no less). The second is Caroline saying 'motherfucker' in the woods when the kids pester her and pester her and pester her until she's frustrated into blurting out the truth. That one was particularly meant to be shocking. This is an adorable little girl and she's saying motherfucker? There's an incongruity there. It's meant to hammer home the point that Caroline is seriously, seriously bad news and clearly (even to the not-exactly-Holmesian party) not at all what she seems on the outside. As a final thought on swearing, if I were to have written the teenagers the way real teenagers talk (which I did in some ways but not others), there would be like eighteen times as much pointless swearing. Teenagers love to curse. : )

Its just been a while since I've played a game with a setup that clicked with me like this (sans the random drug references)

Okay, yeah, they're pretty random lol. But I mean, they're not new to medieval fantasy literature. What did you think Gandalf was putting in his pipe? XD

author=Doge
However, that time went for Elmer's mother, as I felt a need to tell the players how or why is Elmer an orphan as the players have already known a bit about Ulrika and her mother on the first part.

Wait, Elmer's mother? I don't remember encountering Elmer's mother when I beat the second half. Is it content it's possible to miss or did I just forget? It has been since October since I played When You Were Young.

author=Isrieri
This game teaches you how to do a lot with a little. Its not a perfect game, but its the good and happy feelings it delivers amid those imperfections that make it so endearing to me. I really wish it was a fully realized game, with all the talents of both developers brought to bear.

Once again, thank you. In many ways, Doge's talents did cover many of my failings. My dungeon/level design was horseshit and he really improved that aspect in the second half. Likewise, my town's streets were completely empty of wandering NPCs making them feel like ghost towns and he went in and added the little touches that made those places feel alive, even covering for me back in my half. I am glad that When You Were Young gave you good and happy feelings. It was a pleasure to make, if a frantic pleasure (I think I probably put in over a hundred hours on my half in the two weeks I had), especially writing Caroline which was just a JOY. But yes, it would have been nice if we'd had more than two weeks and had been allowed to communicate with each other lol.
I really wish it was a fully realized game, with all the talents of both developers brought to bear.

For the purposes of last year's Swap In The Middle With Too (Two?) event, the intentions I had for the second half of When You Were Young upon handing it off were...there weren't any intentions. I specifically wrote out in my notes that if the second creator really wanted to, they could go as far as just ditching the entire party I'd created and making up their own. I was definitely not expecting such a direct follow-on to my content. My assumption was the second creator would use the "15 Years Later..." break to dump whatever characters they didn't like and move on with the ones they did, putting them wherever they wanted to in terms of setting, doing whatever they wanted with them in terms of plot, and making up anything that happened in between. I was definitely not expecting such a literal and faithful continuation picking right up from the moment I'd left off!

For the purpose of my creative ambitions, the first half of When You Were Young is indeed a prologue to an experimental RPG called AfterSaga. The 'experiment' here was to take an archetypical JRPG and create just the prologue and the finale/epilogue, leaving out the 60 hours of gameplay in the middle and letting that entire section be merely inferred. AfterSaga is still in development and will revisit Ralph and friends, the ones that are still alive, anyway, two hundred and twelve years after the events of When You Were Young (1st Half). So, for what it's worth, there is an alternative canon ending (no middle, just an ending) to the prologue in the works as a full fledged game. It will be rather dark. I fully intend to enlist Doge to help me with level design (among other things), if he's willing.
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