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The cake is baked. Who wants a slice?

Windows AND Mac beta is ready!

Anyone want to help test? Please tell me. I'm eager to hear your impressions along with any constructive criticism you might have. Performance is a concern, so please tell me if you experience stuttering or slowdown.

Be forewarned that the game has a learning curve. The first time is likely to feel overwhelming, or at least that's my prediction.

P.S. I won't be writing any more long blog posts since there's clearly no interest in them.

Game Design

More rambling about more games, and the question of presentation

I didn't get any response last time I wrote up one of these but let's try this again.

A dilemma that is on my mind constantly when developing games is the question of, to what degree should a game author invest in presentation? Presentation meaning art, graphics, animations, music and sound, fancy title screens, etc.

While there is no clear-cut answer, the conclusion I usually come to is "probably not as much as we do".

It's not that presentation doesn't enhance a game. I certainly think that it does. There is an opinion I have heard that text can be better than a picture because text forces the readers to use their imagination. Well, I suppose. But other things being equal, I'd rather experience the picture over the text. And I believe most audiences feel the same way. A moving picture can tell a story more efficiently than text can, hence the popularity of cinema over books.

And yet it is my view that game developers invest too much into presentation when story and/or gameplay is what really matters to your audience (in most genres of games at least). They have followed down the same road as Hollywood which churns out visually pleasing movies with crap stories. Marketing has a lot to do with it.

What's worse, I see indie devs and hobbyists doing (or trying to do) the same thing. We hobbyists who ought to be exercising our freedom to make whatever games we want to see made, marketing concerns be damned.

The reason I say it's worse is that while a triple A game company with extensive manpower and resources can get away with having it all, an indie dev or hobbyist probably cannot. Your time and resources are limited. So what will you spend them on? Things that matter a little or things that matter a lot?

While much depends on the type of game in question (a horror game which strives for a specific mood, for instance, will probably require more in the way of presentation), I think we can generally say that a game's story or game system is going to matter more towards making it entertaining and meaningful to an audience than presentation will. And more importantly...

You get a better return on investing in story/gameplay!

Because when it comes to graphics, if you're one person working alone you cannot compete with what a triple-A commercial studio can produce. You simply can't.

But, when it comes to story and game system, one person working alone absolutely CAN make something as worthwhile or even better than what a triple-A commercial studio can produce. It has happened many times. That's why books are never going away.

An excellent example of this is the now famous indie game Dwarf Fortress, which is said to be the most complex game ever created. One person made that. He did it by sacrificing presentation almost entirely. That author didn't spend a single second creating a sprite. Everything on screen is text and ASCII graphics, such as the letter 'a' to represent an axe (or whatever it may be), which allowed him to put 100% of his time into crafting a breathtakingly sophisticated game system.

To stray slightly off-topic, I also like his financial model, in which basically people were paying him in donations to incentivize him to keep making the game better and better. I may try that model myself. I'd rather have people who know they enjoy my game pay me voluntarily than to try to convince people to pay up front for a game they don't know yet if they will enjoy...and then have me walk away from it, which is what studios do after finishing a game they have no further incentive to keep improving. Why isn't this model the norm? Ok, back to the topic...

Dwarf Fortress may not be your type of game. It isn't mine, to be honest. I've barely played any of it. But hardly a week of development goes by that I don't think about Dwarf Fortress at least once. Extra reading: 700,000 lines of code, 20 years, and one developer: How Dwarf Fortress is built.

I can give more examples. Text-based games such as interactive fiction (which I have dabbled in) can be quite immersive despite lacking any presentation to speak of.

Brogue, which is a strategic roguelike with ascii graphics, again made by a single person, which could be compared to a single-player game of chess (you frequently must think many moves ahead). It's one of my favorite games of all time.

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, a free game with tremendous depth and variety, and one of Where One Citizen's influences. There is so much depth and variety that you can play it for years and not have come anywhere close to trying all the builds that are possible. On any random day I'd probably rather be playing DCSS than most commercial games. A team did make that one, and the presentation is one step up above ascii -- static sprites lacking walk animations are used to represent characters on screen.

RPG Maker games, which have four-frame walk animations for each of the four cardinal directions, would be the next step up and are a great compromise. Just those four frames create a nice illusion of a character walking. (I played a particularly good one on itch.io last week called Cohabitation)

And you can keep going up and up of course, to increasing sophistication. Where ought one to draw the line on presentation? That's the question I struggle with.

Where One Citizen takes the one-step-up approach that DCSS did of having static sprites. It wasn't originally going to have animations beyond that, but now has a small few. It also has visual novel style "tachie" (standing character art) which, also, was not in the original plans. I've let "presentation creep" push me more than I intended. Which does make the game more visually appealing, but I wonder if I have sacrificed some sophistication and complexity of the game system for it. Spending time in your sprite editor comes at a cost.

I almost think of it as an urge that needs to be resisted. Instead of tweaking a sprite or animation that doesn't matter much in the scheme of things, you could have been adding elements of gameplay that will actually make the game more fun. You could have spent more time writing more detailed stories with more memorable characters.

Note that when I say presentation should be curbed, I do not mean graphical user interface (menus, buttons, status screens, etc). THAT I am not willing to skimp on, because bad or non-existent gui is a barrier to a player being able to play the game or understand how the rules work.

When I set out to make Where One Citizen I wanted it to be the most complex and replayable life simulation game ever made. I'm doubtful now whether it will ever be that. Complexity for its own sake shouldn't be a serious objective anyway. The form it has taken is more presentation than originally planned, but less presentation than Heartache, which itself had less presentation that most romance sims. Expectations about romance sims tend to push one in the presentation direction. But I'm satisfied with the balance I've struck. It does have (I hope?) good replayability.

The beta is almost ready! I'm working with the Pygame team to resolve one game-crashing issue without which I will have to release with an older and slower version of the library, so hopefully we can get it resolved....

Game Design

Rambling about this game and games that inspired it

Where One Citizen is progressing well. The main story is done. The game system is mostly done.

I think that anyone who has enjoyed any of my previous games will find something to like here. It has elements of all of them; some of the "datesim" mechanics of Heartache 101, procedurally generated content like in A Hint of a Tint, and the walk-around-the-city-and-discover-dynamic-stuff-going-on vibe of Idolcraft.

The latter is the heart of the game system. I really like the mechanic of walking around a familiar map to see what people and events you might stumble upon depending on the date, time, and other parameters. The Shin Megami Tensei Persona series has this. The opening (childhood) sequence of Tokimeki Memorial 2 is another good example of it. Many top-down RPGs going back at least as far as Dragon Quest have this, though typically only in pinches.

Game worlds should be dynamic. They feel more real and alive when characters and events aren't always in the same place and you never know what new thing you might discover if you come along to a certain location at a certain time. That was the feeling I tried to capture in Idolcraft. Now I'm taking it a few steps further (this time turn-based rather than real-time) by making each character have their own schedule.

Which brings me to a realization that only recently dawned on me. Which is...

The series' of games that are closest in spirit to what I'm trying to accomplish are Bethesda's The Elders Scrolls and Fallout.

Yeah, I'm being serious. They are an utterly different genre of games. But the *spirit* of those games I've been trying to emulate without even being conscious of it.

In Bethesda's games NPC have schedules of their own, which makes possible some interesting mechanics. For instance, there might be a quest that involves tracking an NPC to learn where he goes and what he does during the day.

By far most story-driven games (including all the ones I've published to date) do things the easy way. Which is to have characters suddenly appear wherever and whenever the plot requires them to. (Bethesda's games, as well, from time to time)

I have decided not to take the easy route with Where One Citizen. And to be frank, it has been a major headache. Forcing NPCs to adhere to schedules makes everything more difficult both from the story-telling perspective and the implementation perspective. Rather than "teleport" an NPC somewhere that I want him to be I have to go through all the proper steps; make him actually travel there turn by turn, do the pathfinding, coordinate the same with any other NPC that is supposed to be there at the same time. It's no wonder so very few games go through all this trouble. I hope it will be worth it. Really not sure.

Anyway, back to Bethesda. A big thing Elder Scrolls and Fallout are known for is the freedom you as the player have. You can follow the main quest, or ignore it. You can do sub-quests, or ignore them. You can focus simply on making your character stronger. Or come up with your own objective.

I've been trying to make Where One Citizen offer the same freedom to the player. The main quest is optional. Sub-quests are optional. You can focus simply on making your character "stronger" (at conversation).

Also, like in Elder Scrolls, the NPCs all have homes, and there are ways to get inside uninvited.

I'm not sure anyone wants to read these ramblings about a game still in development. (There's a lot more where this came from but I've said enough)
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