Author Archives: Bill Chang

Postmortem: Wild Tale

Playtesting during game night.

Playtesting during game night.

Wild Tale is a game that takes place on the movie set of an old west movie. The player controls a traveling cowboy who is looking for a place to settle down. The player will need to make choices that determines the type of cowboy he becomes.

This game is about the construction of identity. The game mechanics reveals to the player they are able to become the person they want to be through their actions. The interactions with the movie set reminds them of the constructed nature of reality. The game pokes fun at the myth of the Wild West subtle commentary on the way media affects the way we act.

My game is a response to escapism media. Many forms of entertainment get praised for the ability to immerse the audience in a new world and become someone else. However, they are often more reinforcing and restrictive instead of empowering. I want to call attention to the reinforcement that media can have on our perception of self and empower people to reexamine their self-perception.

My game subverts the typical idea that the player character has predeveloped personalities. Instead, the player character’s personality is shown only through the player’s actions. Instead of the player becoming a character, he or she inhabits the shell of the character and interacts with the world through that.

There are some games that emphasize on player choices. However, games with narratives like The Walking Dead by Telltale Games rely on analogue choices where the options are clearly presented. In my game, some of the options are not immediately obvious and there are no pop-up dialogue options to choose from. In a silent movie, the characterization is done mostly through actions. This choice reflects my answer to how I think one can express their identity. In real life, I think the thing that people can do to express themselves is through action.
An early sketch for the game.

An early sketch for the game.

I watched some old western movies as research for my game. I think the one that influenced me in term of aesthetics was The Good, Bad, and the Ugly. I think the movie fits very well within the stereotype I wanted to critique. I used the parts I thought were representative of the old west as influence to help me reference the genre.

When I researched western games, I was very surprised to find a game similar to my own. Westerado is also a game also about creating narrative by giving players freedom to express themselves. However, I’d like to note I discovered the game after coming up with the idea so it is not a direct influence.
I used LMMS to create the music for my game.

I used LMMS to create the music for my game.

Since my last update, I’ve fine-tuned the interactions with more efficient codes to prepare for game night. I learned a lot from showing my game at game night. The movie aspect of the game isn’t obvious enough but people responded well to the concept after I explained it in the end. I got helpful suggestions and comments that inspired new features in the future. One important suggestion I got was to add more movie set elements in the game. I think adding cameras, microphones, and wires will be a major step forward for my game. Otherwise, people liked the art style and the humor in my game. I think I will be adding more humorous elements in my game in the future.
A playtester explaining her thought-process as she replayed the level.

A playtester explaining her thought-process as she replayed the level.

The development of this game is, in a way, a reflection of my personal growth. I didn’t come in development with a firm idea of what the story was going to be about. As a result, the story of the game changed a lot. Because I gave myself freedom to alter the story dramatically during development, the game eventually became a manifestation of what’s on my mind. The story is still evolving as I’m developing it. I’m still thinking about the idea of identity and I’m using the development of this game as a tool to help me process it.

The idea that I was going to represent the old west with the twist that the player is going between the movie and the real world stayed true to the original idea. This was the idea that sparked the development of the idea about identity and what it means. The immersion breaking aspect of that idea was interspersing to me and I based my game off that.

I wished I had planned more hitbox interactions within my paper model. I was lucky that people responded well to my digital version. However, it would’ve costed a lot more time if I had to test and iterate the interactions digitally.

It was easier than I had expected to work in Unity. Importing sprites were quick and simple. I found that my experience working with level editors in other games I’ve played helped me understand the workflow of Unity. I thought Unity would’ve been a lot of codes but I learned that a large portion of the coding is actually done visually in the inspector. Understanding this made the development process a lot smoother. Also, I was surprised by my ability to make the music for my game. I plan to continue exploring music making after this project.

It was harder than I had expected to code many of the feature I envisioned for my game. I think I was overly eager with the feature lists. I was not able to realize many of those features within the semester long timeline. I should’ve realize earlier that this process was going to be new to me and decide on a project with a scope that is more achievable.
The auto-slicer for sprite in Unity is amazingly helpful!

The auto-slicer for sprite in Unity is amazingly helpful!

Time management was especially important for this project since my development schedule had to align with the school’s timeline.

I wished I had budgeted more time in the beginning for creating all the assets of the game because creating assets later on I disrupted to my workflow. I noticed that when I spent time creating assets, I wouldn’t have the mental focus to be able to debug efferently. Because of this, I ended up scheduling different days for coding and asset-making. If I had known about this situation earlier, I would’ve used early development time to create a pile of assets and pick from those assets instead.

The scope of my game was too wide for a semester-long development cycle. I should’ve made my game more focused so I could polish my game to a greater extent. I was also too focused on creating the story for the whole game when I haven’t finished the first level.

Wild Tale: Event as Narrative

The hotel, the prop bush/barrel.

The hotel and the prop bush/barrel.

Immersion is an important element in the enjoyment of the game. My radical game attempts to break the immersion of its world without breaking the connection to the game. Deconstructing a medium comes with the risk of damaging the suspension of disbelief that allows the medium to communicate to its audience.

My game is all about deconstruction. I want to deconstruct the idea of “self” by encouraging players to create their own narrative. I want the world to deconstruct itself and the reality it reflects. However, I needed a way to do this without breaking the immersion of the player.

I was inspired by the way Batman Begins adapted its comic source material. A scene in the comic depicts young Bruce going to the movies with his parents. Adapting the scene directly in a movie format would be a problem because the audience is now watching a movie instead of reading. The director decided to change the scene to Bruce going to the opera because they didn’t want to break the immersion by reminding the audience that they’re watching a movie.

The early decision to represent a movie instead of a game was because I knew I was going to breaking the 4th wall in order to communicate my ideas through the medium of a game. My game and its interactions will dance between immersing the player in the narrative and reminding the players that they are in a movie.

Here's your script!

Here’s your script!

In the beginning of the game, the player is given a script that says the cowboy needs to find a place to stay. The act of “finding a place to stay” is a metaphor for the player choosing a role to inhabit for the duration of the game. They meet three different characters that offer solutions. The action they take will determine the character (type of cowboy) they become.

Falling animation.

Falling animation.

In the level, the player will encounter props that fall down when they touch it. This interaction helps further communicates to the players that they are on a live movie set. However, the camera never stops rolling and the game/movie continues. As the main triggered animations, the falling props is my way of communicating to the players that they have the power to deconstruct what they see. In the process of that, they regain the power to reconstruct their own identity.

The props falling down is something left to be discovered by the players.
The bush is fake?

The bush is fake?

They are disguised as backdrops that does not block the main path. It is possible for players to not trigger props falling down on their first playthrough. This is an element I want to be surprising because I want the discovery to be memorable and possibly thought provoking. From playtesting, I’ve noticed that once players discover that props can be fake and fall down, they try to bump into everything. In term of replicability, I think this interaction will encourage a more exploratory playstyle. Though this is something very simple, it communicates to the players that the game might have more to it than meets the eyes.

Since my last post here, I composed a theme music for my game. I tried to compose something that gives the game a sense of adventure. The music makes the game much more enjoyable. I think the music highlights the enjoyable parts of the game. It encourages players to explore the bright areas and interact with the distinct characters. Through this, players experience the freedom to express oneself through actions.

New map: The Saloon (quite empty right now though).

New map: The Saloon (quite empty right now though).

In the middle of the game, the player is given a choice to divert or stay on their story-path. This option is given after they’ve faced the consequences of their first choice of choosing who to trust and where they’re staying for the first night. Their choice will make them realize that their actions will have consequences. It is up to them to decide whether that consequence is desired and if they’d like to change it. This chance to change one’s destiny is central to the theme of my game.

Near the end of the game, many of the options and choices are removed from the players. Instead, they’re faced with singular options that result from the choices they’ve made previously. Perhaps the consequence is undesirable to the player. This last section leaves the player wondering “what if” they had done something different. I think the game is best experienced the second playthrough and this “what if” encourages players to replay the game.

What will you do?

What will you do?

Despite the grueling process of game development, being able to create something meaningful to me is keeping me motivated. I think the idea of being able to watch a movie trailer based on player’s actions at the end of the game is really interesting. It gives players a chance to shift their perspective to that of a passive audience. I won’t be able to implement this idea until the game is fully fleshed out. I’m excited to bring this idea to life.

Through developing my hitbox animations, I know what the ending of my game is going to be. [SPOILER WARNING] Though the narrative ending will vary (3 in total) depend on the decisions the player makes, I need a thematic ending to convey the symbolic aspects of my game. This game is about the construction of identity. Through the script-like narrative progression and the props falling down, the player becomes hyperaware of the construction of the narrative in which they’re creating and experiencing. At the end of the game, I want the player to realize the characters as constructed beings as well. Once the narrative ending finishes, the player character falls forward, revealing the cowboy character as a cardboard prop. Through this, I hope to confuse and surprise the player. This sequence would hopefully make players question not only the game but their own identity as well. Once the player realizes their own identity as a constructed reality, they are empowered to reconstruct their identity. They are free from the “script” of the world and the stereotypical “roles” presented by the media we consume. Outside of the game, the player has control over the actions they take; and through those actions, they create the story they tell the world.

 

Radical Game Design: Wild Tales

The outside of the saloon in the first level.

The outside of the saloon in the first level.

My game is about a cowboy in a movie set of an old west movie. Players progress through shooting various scenes in the movie with freedom of choosing how the scenes play out. Their previous actions they take dictates the actions they can take in future scenes. For example, helping the bandit early on could mean not being able to talk to the sheriff later on. After shooting the scenes, players get to see what kind of movie they’ve made at the end.

The idea came from the development process of the game. At first, I wanted to make a game about the pressure to conform to a role in front of other people. After researching the old west genre, I decided a more interesting theme to explore would be the dissonance in the escape and immersion popular entertainments promise and the stereotypes they actually show.

To bring out this idea, my game puts the player in both the shoes of the producer and the audience of entertainment. After the players decide on the type of movie this is going to be about, they are forced to consume it. Through this, I call attention to the decisions made for us by the producers of the media we consume and the stereotypes they reinforce. I purposely break immersion with the movie sets to call out the lack of immersion breaking that encourages consumers to passively consume media.

The start of the level shows the main character and the director.

The start of the level shows the main character and the director. Note the contrasting colors.

Early on in development, I made a paper prototype to test out some of the ways I could explore this idea within a game environment. My paper prototype was based on an earlier idea of the game where players had no choice but to conform to stereotypes. I learned that the traditional gamey elements like quests and dialogue options were too distracting. By stripping my game of some traditional elements, I was able to bring out the focus of my game.

Testing an early iteration of my first level.

Testing an early iteration of my first level.

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The inside of a building that isn’t in the current game build.

Through that process, I was able to iterate on various ideas that resulted in what I have now. Currently, I have just the first level partially built. The NPC encounters in the first level are the director, bandit, saloon girl, and sheriff. The director sets the scene of a cowboy looking for a place to stay. The rest of the NPCs each represents a “type” of cowboy the player could play. They all offer a solution for the player’s problem. By choosing the align with the bandit, saloon girl, or sheriff, players will have decided on if they want to play the bad, carefree, or good cowboy respectively. Throughout the game, players will be given the options of staying with their alignment or straying away from it.

Currently, I’m working on getting my first level to run with dialogues and traversals smoothly. I’m still establishing some of the base codes of the game. Once that is done, it should be a matter of writing and building out the rest of the game.

Regarding the aesthetic designs, I’m using bright colors to contrast the muted and dark color scheme of the western world. The various movie set objects in the game should stand out with their industrial and bright colors. I’m contemplating on potentially changing the colors of the game to show the player’s current alignment with the type of narrative they’re on the path to create.

The color of the buildings in the town blends in with the orange sky in the background.

The color of the buildings in the town blends in with the orange sky in the background.

One of the design challenges I face is to find a way to convey choice. In a traditional game, a choice is typically presented with a drop-down menu describing the various actions players could take. However, I wanted to reinforce the idea that in real life, our choice and actions aren’t always going to be laid out for us. To do this, I’ll be applying the design strategy of presenting players with options before the choice. For example, in the example of my first level, players naturally encounter with the bandit. The bandit provides the option of stealing a key from the sheriff. However, to choose that option, players will have naturally encounter their two other options before being given the ability to make the decision. Once this pattern is established, I plan to have more obscure options players can take to communicate the idea that our choices about personal identity require exploration and are not always the first option presented.

While I haven’t fleshed out the full story of the game yet, I plan to keep my game fairly short in order to encourage replay attempts. I think the message becomes the clearest when players become more conscious of their actions and consequences. By having two gameplay experiences, they have a different result to compare to. Some may argue that the intended replayability makes the game’s choices less meaningful. However, I think the players’ own curiosity to explore the various options in the narrative is exactly the mindset I want them to have. The curiosity to explore the options is more important to me than living up to the consequences of the actions.

Early on in the game, the impact of the players’ choices is not immediately obvious. It’s not until later in the game when restrictions are placed on the choices they can make are the results of their actions obvious. At this point, some players may feel a bit of frustration or guilt in their lack of freedom. I think this is positive for the game because it encourages people to replay the game. However, they will always end up with a coherent narrative where the cowboy is reinforcing some sort of stereotypical narrative. If the lack of control at the end takes players out of the immersion and gets them to think about how they’ve constructed their narrative, then I will have succeeded in getting my message across.

Sprite art of the director.

– the director.

I didn’t plan for the game to be so reflective of some of the things in life I’m working through right now. The process of creating this game is forcing me to look deeper at some of the influences (both positive and negative) I had growing up. I hope that this experience will not only help me grow personally but also result in a shareable product that inspires introspection for other people as well.