The player did not behave as expected.
The playtest did not go as expected. The player elected to resort to violence almost immediately, taking the knife from the house on the first day. They tried to cut down one of the bushes outside their house, an action that I declined, and then went on to murder the convenience store clerk. They then took the gun and used it to murder the only townsperson with the clowns. Because no one but the clowns witnessed these crimes, the player was not immediately arrested. The player then proceeded to kill both clowns and went home. They asked if they could kill themselves, an eventuality I had not anticipated. I declined their request. The police officer arrived at their home, and they murdered the police officer (whom I had neglected to provide with a weapon). As there were no more possible actions, I ended the game at this point.
The player killed every other character in the game on the first day.
The most striking lesson from this playtest was undoubtedly the tendency of players to test the limits of your system. I expected the player to behave within the bounds of normal social behavior, and expected them to resort to violence only in the later stages of the game, if ever. In retrospect this was an unbelievably foolhardy assumption. That being said, although I was taken by surprise and unsure of how the system would respond in a couple of cases (killing the only spectator in front of the clowns, for example; do the clowns call the police? I decided no), overall I was able to extrapolate a response from the rules I had laid down for the world. The fact that an unexpected narrative emerged from the system I had created feels like something of a triumph, and, in my opinion, led to this iteration being feeling much more “alive” than the last where the player’s actions were much more severely limited.
I also realized a short way into the playtest that I had not given ample consideration to the tendency of players to experiment with any interactive game object they are presented with. I expected the player to take an initially non-violent approach, but the only obviously interactive objects I provided them with were implements of violence. If I were to do a third iteration on this game, I would be tempted to hide the weapon objects from the player somewhat and provide them with interactive objects that might encourage them to explore other avenues.
It is also worth noting that the bed object did not give any indications as to its interactivity, and although this issue did not impact the playtest, it would likely have proved to be a stumbling block for any player that did attempt a nonviolent approach.
The beginning of the game.
My first paper prototype was based on the flash fiction piece War of the Clowns. The piece tells the story of two clowns who carry out a mock argument and battle in a public space in a city. Eventually their conflict inspires so much sentiment in the spectators that the community self destructs and they make off with the townspeople’s money. My game allowed the player to take on the role of one of the clowns, choosing from a set of three actions for their character to carry out. By choosing the correct actions, it was possible to gather spectators and eventually cause them to fight each other. More chaos resulted in the spectators dropping more coins, which the player could collect. The game ended when all of the spectators were dead or had fled the scene.
The player throws a pie to gain spectators.
Visually, I wanted to communicate the emotion of the story from the clowns’ perspective. I attempted to visually distinguish in show their importance both through their size and their level of detail compared to the faceless spectators. I opted for a simple, superficially friendly but distorted representation of their facial features in an attempt to communicate their jubilation and appeal from the perspective of the spectators while also indicating the distorted nature of their personalities.
The playtest itself showed the design to be successful in that the player seemed to be able to grasp fairly intuitively how to play the game, although the nuances of how the player’s actions caused a reaction in the spectators could have perhaps been clearer. The player showed a tendency to choose the “bat” option fairly early, causing the spectators to kill each other before they had fully amassed. The player also showed in interesting an unexpected tendency to attack the spectators directly.
The end of the game.
In retrospect I feel as though the options provided to the player were overly limiting. In attempting to remain faithful to the source material I ended up restricting the player to a narrow range of actions and outcomes. Given that the player seemed to express destructive tendencies even beyond what the clowns did in the story, it would be interesting to leave the player with a few more options and a little less guidance, and allow them to stumble upon the destructive outcome of the game naturally. Ultimately, I feel that increased player agency in this game might have functioned to create a more empathetic understanding of the situation from the clowns’ point of view.
Solar Main Menu Screen
Solar is a project that has gone through many changes over the past few months. Initially I wanted the game to be a Metroidvania game with a timed mechanic that encouraged progression rather than backtracking. The initial concept had the player travelling across the galaxy while being chased by a powerful enemy (who would serve as the game’s final boss).
The player would be required to explore multiple planets in order to find items and upgrades that would help make the final encounter with the boss fair. Since being constantly chased was a core mechanic of the game, the player would have to be efficient with the amount of time spent on a planet and with the amount of fuel consumed when travelling from planet to planet. This is where collecting fuel, in addition to the aforementioned items and upgrades became an important task.
The ship serves as a hub from where the player can choose a planet to explore
Over time however, after multiple meetings with my professor Angela Ferraiolo, I was convinced that colonialism should be the main theme of Solar’s story. Incorporating this into the game proved to be a lot more difficult than I thought. Colonialism is the practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country (in this case, planet), occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. So how can this be represented in a 2D platformer like Solar?
The first thing I did was make the collection of fuel the primary objective. The player would have to find blocks of raw minerals spread across multiple planets and combine them to make fuel to power the ship. To ensure that there is never a shortage of minerals, the player can choose to leave one of his crewmates to occupy a planet that holds a particular mineral. This way the player is notified whenever more raw material is available. The consequences of doing so would be made apparent upon returning to a planet the player has “occupied”. For example: Pewhiusium is an element available on Pew-Oria; a quiet and peaceful planet. The residents of Pew-Orian are known to be simple in nature with very little need for conflict as there has never been a shortage of Pewhiusium (which the Pew-Orians consume as their primary source of nourishment). If the player chooses to leave a crewmate on this planet, after enough time passes, and depending on which crewmate is chosen to occupy the planet, the residents of the planet will either become hostile or die out completely.
NPC’s currently are passive; only doing damage upon player contact.As I move forward with the development of Solar, I want the player to realize the repercussions of doing this and have the player’s actions culminate into something significant and of consequence. I have yet to figure out what that will be. I have decided to put a hold on adding more mechanics and focus more on the atmosphere and visual elements of the game as I feel that doing so will help influence the narrative of Solar. I have been hesitant to use blocks of text for exposition and hope to use the visuals and gameplay to tell the story instead.