Well its done, "Shooty and the Catfish Episode 2: The Spoopies" is finally out in the wild for people to play, why you can even play it yourself for free if you head on over here: https://visitorsfromdreams.itch.io/shootycatfish-episode2
Truth be told the game has been out for 3 days now and has only been downloaded a grand total of 4 times. It might seem like a discouraging number for sure but its important to remember that this is the second episode of a series, and with the first episode itself only being downloaded a total of 124 times to date (my previous project Hazmat is sitting at 525 downloads and Flatwoods at 849 downloads) its not that surprising. In all honesty im not really expecting the series to really gain any sort of momentum until its fully finished and released as a stand alone product on Steam, and I think thats fair enough. The idea behind the episodic releases was largely so I could get the feedback to improve each episode as the project went along, and I think I have achieved that so far. So I guess you could consider this to be a post mortem. Where did things go right with Episode 2 and where did they go wrong? Well, for where things went right, development started in March and was finished in September so you could say the game had a 7 month development cycle. Looking back at it now due to the length of the episode that actually feels really excessive considering the amount of content in the actual game (which I will come back too) but compared to the first episodes 2 year development cycle it was a huge improvement. I am also pretty happy with how the games set up worked. Episode 1 played it very strait with its single town and non linear dungeon set up taken right from the standard JRPG guidebook. Episode 2 on the other hand was a little more experimental. The opening town was more about establishing a tone then a solid narrative with the Episodes dungeon being where all of the real story telling happens. While im sure this isnt a new idea, its something I havent personally experienced in any turn based RPGs. Sure, its not uncommon to find environmental story telling packed into the game world, but to have every combat encounter also be an NPC that pushes the narrative forward? I think the results were perhaps a little wordy and at times a bit on the nose, but for the most part I think it works. Episode 1 had a very non linear dungeon which worked well but it was nice working on something a little more directed as well which Episode 2's layout definitely was.
Im really happy without how the quality of life improvements in the game turned out, introducing new elements like coded doors for different kinds of keys and giving you the option of finishing the game without fighting the optional boss which, you know, actually made that optional boss optional. In fact I was so happy with those changes I went back and patched them into Episode 1 only a couple weeks back.
So where did things go wrong?
Well, to be honest, the only thing I wasnt happy with was how long it took me to get this game out. Like I said, 7 months is a big improvement compared to 2 years, but its still a lot longer than it should have been. Some of this was definitely my fault... as mentioned above there was a big push to have all the narrative put into the dungeon, but the down side of that was that it meant there was a lot more meaningful dialogue in this Episode than there was in Episode 1. The previous Episodes dialogue was mostly made up of silly gags from goofy NPCs in town, but for this Episode I had to create that ALONG with the more serious and narrative driven dialogue found in the dungeon itself. There were several weeks where I didnt touch the game at all because it all seemed so daunting. Ironically when I finally forced myself to write those sections it ended up only taking me 2 nights, so really I spent weeks if not months putting the project off out of fear of something that ended up taking collectively 6 hours tops.
So yeah... that explains some of the delay, but not all of it. The second issue that struck me during the development of this Episode was my own insecurity. The first 5 months this games development were during a time when I didnt know what was happening with my job, I was very nervous, and with my fiance being processed through the notoriously awful Australian immigration system I was also pretty damn scared. The last few weeks of those 5 months was a massive period of crunch at work for a huge project and then immediately it was over... and I was out of a job. If I had known for sure that this was how the gig would have turned out I would have spent more of my free time trying to develop a following. I might have even been able to get my Patreon into a state that could have helped me out financially a little, or atleast thats what I liked to think I would have done, but at the time I didnt have the confidence or energy to do so. This was followed with me taking up a freelance project (well quite a few actually but most were great) which while it has definitely paid my bills over the last couple of months, it has also left me exhausted, emotionally and physically. All of this slowed down the development of the game, and perhaps even more importantly had a large impact on the writing of it.
"Shooty and the Catfish: Episode 2 - The Spoopies" deals with some pretty heavy themes, with suicide and the treatment of suicide victims being chief amoung them. Then on top of that I realised half way through development that while the idea of an office building full of ghosts of asshole business people who commited suicide after a stock market crash does have some comedic value (poor taste as it may be), the gameplay loop of systematically killing every single one of those ghosts has absolutely no comedic value and is quite possibly the most morbid thing I had ever created... Ironically not even on purpose... I found myself in a situation where I accidently created a "suicide victims ghost murder simulator". While im no stranger to creating offensive or disturbing content, for once this wasnt my intention but rather the result of the games story concept clashing with the established gameplay mechanics... and realising too late. What do you do when you set out to make a dumb comedy about 2 wise cracking idiots that kill monsters for money and instead... well here we are. What a mess... Im not going to pretend that the game handles the subject of suicide well and I also dont think I ever could approach the subject in a satisfying way. If its treatment upsets or offends anyone I think thats completely understandable and any critism I receive because of it is completely justified. Something I do think that is a positive to come out of all this however is this is the first game project I have worked on that I feel, to me personally, is a piece of "art". Well I mean... I think all games are art, but playing through this game now I can see the struggle I was going through developing it reflected through the characters and through the writing. Its almost like playing through 5 months of my own loose streamed consciousness. My stress, my depression, my insecurity, my fear, my defeatism, its all there. The game has tonal whiplash of morbid nihilism and stupid dumb goofy comedy in a way I havent been able to pull of since my 2014 film Spilt Coffee (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp2HSx_f9WE)
which ironically serves as a prequel to this game and was created at a time of my life when again, I felt quite trapped. Episode 2 might be the worst game I have made to a lot of people and thats totally fair, but I think its also my most personal and sincere for what thats worth. Thats it for this update, I have gone on long enough as it is. So where do we go from here? Well... I made myself and my players a promise at the end of Episode 2, and thats that Episode 3 will be a fun light hearted adventure. I think after this games development I really need it, and hopefully the contents of this depressing Episode doesnt stop those players from coming with me on that adventure too.