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A Look Backstage Part 1...

These blogs will serve as a form of developer digest as I get back in the saddle again and work towards bringing this ages-old and years stale project to completion, finally. As I haven't used this editor or worked on this game in years and years, I imagine this process will be full of trials and travails.

I only do this blogging thing for your feedback, so please don't be stingy with it, people.

ONE. Playtesting an adventure game is a really tricky process.

Unlike playtesting an RPG, where you can at least eyeball game balance, progress is an adventure game is measured solely by exploration and puzzle solving. Since you as the creator know the location of each puzzle and the route between them, two of the most important benefits of playtesting are lost when you do it yourself:

* It is impossible to gauge how LONG the game is. Right now, the one of the two paths in B2 clocks in at 1-2 hours for the first 80% or so. However, I feel like a player who didn't know exactly where each game objective was and wasn't making a bee-line toward them, i.e. a player actually forced to explore an unknown environment, would take two or three times this long to complete the same chunk of gameplay. This is important for two reasons. I don't want the game to be overly light on gameplay, and I'm looking to set a certain pace in the beginning, subdued, quiet, and creepy, eventually mounting towards full on frantic terror. I don't feel like I have a handle on what either one would seem like to the average player from my own playtesting.

* It's really not possible to tell the difficulty of puzzles, whether trivially easy or practically impossible, that you yourself created.

Interestingly, picking the game up after letting it sit for a long time helped a bit with the second problem--one puzzle might be way too hard, since I managed to stump myself, three years later. Of course maybe I just suck at it. It didn't help with the first problem. I still feel like the game feels much shorter to me than it would to an average player.

I definitely need dedicated playtesters for this game. At least one.

TWO. Footsteps. Ambiance v. Convenience: You Decide

So a feature I recently imported to Backstage 2 from Ruptured Souls--although I use the word 'Feature' very very lightly as this is in fact a default function of the 2k3 editor and I don't know why more people making horror type games don't use it- is footstep sounds. It's a small thing, but I find being able to hear the sound of your footfalls on different surfaces adds a lot to the ambiance, making the game feel more like the kind of game it's trying to be. Can you imagine Resident Evil or Silent Hill without those footsteps sound?

So here's the dilemma. The footsteps sound AWESOME on the walking speed. But when you hit the toggle and start running, the sound effects become way too rapid. Unfortunately, 2k3 is lacking in granularity in terms of movement speeds, and there IS no intermediate movement speed between what I've defined as walking and running. (BTW, if you're not familiar with the battle system in B2, the advantage of walking over running is that it makes defensive (melee) weapons more accurate. So if you're going to fight monsters, you want to be moving at walk speed and moving into them; running is for outmaneuvering monsters and running away from them. You toggle between them with 'Shift'.)

So basically, there are three options.

1) Remove the footsteps entirely. I don't want to do this because on the walk speed they sound really good and add a lot to the ambiance, for such a little thing.
2) Keep the footsteps as is, and just suck up the fact that they sound kind of silly while running.
3) Rebalance the entire combat system (i.e. adjust the speed of every monster) to treat the player's 'walking' and 'running' speeds each as one lower. In addition to it being a huge pain in the ass to alter all those events, I feel like having a walk speed choice between 'slow' and 'slower' would piss players off. I have to say I find this pretty tempting, aesthetically...slow walk speed in certain games (i.e. games with reasonably small maps and a focus on ambiance) has never really bothered me. But the amount of work needed to adjust every monster in the game would be very obnoxious, and it would suck to do all that work just to piss players off about 'slow walk speed'.
4) Design a workaround so that the footstep sound stops when you're running. There's two problems here...one is that I'm not sure how to do this, and two is that it would be weird to have walking be loud and running be total silence. If anything, running should be louder. Ideally, I'd like to have the run speed make the footstep sound every other step, but I can't remotely think of how to accomplish that.

What do you guys think? If you can think of a fifth option, make sure you can explain how to do it. My 2k3 eventing skillz are a pale shadow of what they were in 2006, truth be told.

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This rings true for me a lot. When working on my own horror-y/adventure-come-rpg game I've been at a loss a lot of the time as to how cryptic or straightforward the puzzle aspects are, whether the player will know what to do or where to go or why certain things may happen. As the creator, knowing everything in the game, you really can't emulate that new-player vibe without taking a break and coming back to it. Also yeah, your notion of the length or how long the content will take to chew through is severely distorted seeing as you can go straight for the goods without having to think or really read much of the text in-depth.

As for the footsteps thing. I have no idea how you've evented your current footstep sound system but for some reason I can't imagine it being hard to change up the footstep rate upon running. My idea would be to use a different sound sample for the running footfalls - I'd have to know your eventing to be able to say this with confidence - but I really can't imagine it being difficult to make it change to a different footfall sound when the run is toggled either.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9159
It's not evented. Literally it's just the 'terrain' feature of 2k3. You can set a footstep sound to each terrain type, and then 'paint' the tiles of your tilesets with those terrains. The good news is it was easy, the bad news is it is not event controlled. It just happens automatically whenever you walk anywhere.
Hmm how many terrain types do you use? Actually it doesn't matter, it would just create more work if you use more, that's all.

I have an easy fix for you. You double up your chipsets so there's A and B versions of each chipset (literally just copy them in the tileset menu). Say you only use numbers 1-5 for terrain types currently. Well then use 6-11 for running sound terrains and have the map tileset change to an identical looking (but using terrain types 6-11) when run is toggled.

Edit: Sorry, I felt the need to clarify. A Chipsets will be painted with numbers that correspond to your walking sounds and B Chipsets will have terrain numbers corresponding to your running sounds. Then you have an in-map event parallel process with a conditional branch waiting for the run toggle to be pressed which will change the map tileset to the B version of the tileset and back when toggled again.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9159
That's an interesting workaround and I would almost certainly never have thought of it myself.

The problem, though, is sound frequency. The sounds I have (excellent quality) are a single footstep. You can't get less frequent than that. It sounds perfect when walking, but no matter what I replace the sound with, it will still sound too rapid when running because the engine makes the sound every step you take, and you take steps much more rapidly when running. So making it play a different sound won't help.

I COULD use your workaround to mute the footsteps while running by having the alternative chipsets have NO terrain-based sound effects. I discussed the pros and cons of implementing that above. But it won't enable me to decrease the frequency of the sounds.

Thanks for the idea, though. It's good to have someone to talk this through with, I tend to just spin my wheels whne it's just me figuring out a problem like this.
Hmm, decreasing the frequency might not be necessary if you can replace the sound with something that doesn't sound so wrong. I've heard plenty of rapid step-for-step running in games that haven't sounded hilariously wrong or anything like that.

I'm tempted to say: Just send me the footstep sounds and I'll see what can be done. Also... Have you considered that maybe a double-footfall "one-two" sound might actually sound better when running than having a single-footstep sound rapidly and percussively repeating with the exact same tonality on every step?

Eh, that makes sense in my head at least anyway :)
Playtesters, you say? *raises hand*
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
9159
I feel like if I nominate you as a playtester I lose the one person who might give the game an unbiased review that is not *Fallen-Griver's user title* when the game is actually released. :/ Or did someone tell me the two aren't mutually exclusive? *Shrug* In any case, thanks for the offer. I'll contact you once I've had time to consider my options and (of course) once more of the game is made to test.

@NewBlack:

Here's the thing. The sound repeats EVERY SINGLE TIME you step on a ground tile. So whether the running footstep sounds like 'tap' or 'tapTAP' or 'TAPtap', sadly it will still be much too rapid and percussive while the PC is moving at the running speed. I don't see how changing the sound effect would fix the problem. If anything, making it a two steps sound while running would only make it worse, making running ten steps sound like "tapTAPtapTAPtapTAPtapTAPtapTAPtapTAPtapTAPtapTAPtapTAPtapTAP" instead of just like "taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap". Neither the sound being one footstep nor being two will make running ten steps sound more like 'tap tap tap tap tap'. I need to get the sound to play every OTHER step while running and I just can't think of any way of doing that.

Edit:
I realize now it's possible I completely misunderstood what you were saying. I feel like, even if it would sound more like running than a monotone sound, it would still be much too rapid due to the movement rate.

Thanks again for your suggestions, tho. It's weird that something as small as footsteps winds up being such an obnoxious technical problem, but then again I've been more stumped over smaller things.
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