The Boy Who Stole The Sun - Devlog #2 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Boy Who Stole The Sun – Devlog #2

Whew... holidays are crazy. Had a week of slow progress after the 4th. However, when it was time to dive back in, a tools task that had lingered there too long got my attention. There's a dialog in the map editor for hooking up the map terrain textures, and setting some flags for in-game use.

The old, busted terrain dialog. Functional for basic interaction, but buggy. Possibly in part because any changes to this data participate in the editor's Undo/Redo system.

The existing dialog is potentially buggy, and I want to be able to save its data to a separate file for use in other maps. Rather than update this feature in-place, I realized that it would be cleaner and easier to rip it out and make another tool for this purpose.

Originally, I had written this dialog into the map editor because I thought the terrain layers would be something that I would play with a lot and I wanted it to flexible. But that didn't turn out to be a use case at all. Once I setup the terrain layers on a map, I never touch them again. And if I want to make a new map with the same settings, I have to manually enter them all again.

So I managed to get the terrain tool written last week. It currently appears to be free of bugs (fingers crossed) and it adds a visual preview window that the original tool didn't have. So I'm feeling pretty good about that choice. It generates human-readable files, so I could type one of these manually in a pinch. Quick texture changes could also be done manually, if needed, without ripping apart the data embedded in the map file format.

I haven't ripped out the old version from the map editor yet, or done the other integration tasks that will make these files part of the game. But, it'll improve my iteration time and be more flexible in the long run if there are any changes to the terrain format.

The new terrain tool with texture preview!

The other significant bit of progress made was on the game design itself. I watched a ton of GDC 2017 videos in the last two weeks. A couple of my favorites were the Deus Ex postmortem with Warren Specter, as well as the videos on OwlBoy and Slime Rancher, which are all now on my Steam wishlist, just to see some of the cool features discussed in these presentation (or to replay the classic FPS/RPG mashup in the case of Deus Ex, cause I played and beat that back during its original release).

But anyway... the game design. I didn't cover much of the story for The Boy Who Stole The Sun in the first devlog, but I'll give a basic rundown here. It's about a boy who catches a fever. And when he falls asleep, finds himself suddenly arrived (Narnia-style) in snowy world where he has no knowledge of the land or its people. It presents an NES-styled top-down view of an explorable world, looking quite Zelda-like. There are a few constraints on this game's direction, though. No prophecies (thus no chosen one), no swords, and an attempt to provide a language of interaction that doesn't use violence as its base unit. No limits on danger or violence against the player, just that this would not be a journey about wielding or gaining power. There'll be some action and some puzzle solving, but I'm attempting to create an adventure that explores dialog and relationships as gameplay rather than as consumable narrative interlude.

Survival came up as the first basis for environmental player motivation. The protagonist will have to stay warm in a cold world. On the technical side, I wanted to experiment with dynamic light in a true 8bit color software rendering path, so I've designated a lot of room for underground environments that will depend on light sources for navigation. For a narrative motivation, I want to aim the player as a reasonably clear goal from the beginning, and then complicate the means by which the player achieves that goal. The main complication there will be issues of trust in NPCs who attempt to help or enlist your services.

The working narrative premise is as follows:
A talking crow will approach the boy, offer to be his guide, and then ask him to retrieve a powerful object from atop a mountain in order to save the world. A bodiless shadow will lure the boy to a celestial temple and dissuade him from listening to the crow, and that instead the power must be kept away from meddlers. The boy must navigate this merciless, snowy world in his pajamas, finding ways to survive, and determining who to trust for himself.

Another goal was to present a harsh environment where the player cares about the consequences of failure, and yet... to be accessible enough that the bar to entry isn't as high as games with permanent death scenarios. The working solution is to establish a waking/sleeping cycle for our fever-dreaming protagonist. Freezing to death (or other such demise) in snow world will wake the boy up in his room, perhaps shivering, the covers having fallen to the floor. Perhaps having fallen on the floor himself. And he must fall back asleep in order to continue his quest.

I hadn't figured out yet how to make that cycle valuable as gameplay, except that some bit of interaction would be required in order to fall asleep. But last week, my wife did me a favor and played sounding board, listening to my ideas and asking several brilliant questions that helped me sort out what to do with the waking/sleeping cycle, and how to integrate issues of trust through the game mechanics.

Full of Dialog and Mental Clutter. These notes are already out of date. But this was the first shot at describing possible content/effect of mental clutter. More on this next time.

The resulting solution turned out to be an abbreviated model of anxiety, which wasn't what I set out to create, but in hindsight seems a natural thing to have emerged. Dialog and other key events will be setup as emotional triggers for the boy. Triggers will carry an emotional charge and be added to a collection of mental clutter (including references to the triggering line of dialog or event). This collection will build up during play, and when the boy "dies" in the magical world and wakes up in his bed again, he'll have all this mental clutter with him. And before he can fall asleep again, there'll be a mini-game where the player gets to see a stream of these leftover thoughts, and must make value judgements on as many of them as possible before he can sleep. This mini-game will contribute both to the boy's stress level, and will affect dialog and critter behaviors in the other world when he returns.

After I wrap up integrations for the terrain stuff mentioned above, I'll test out the mini-game idea to see if it feels right for the metaphor being presented. Progress on this game has been slow and gradual, but it's heading toward a polished vertical slice- where basic features of the game experience are all present. It already has the basics of exploration supported for running around the snowy-world, and this mini-game will be a significant step in establishing the rhythm of the game. Stopping to fix things like the terrain tool sometimes feel like a distraction since that work doesn't immediately contribute to the vertical slice, but good tools will pay their dividends on every future iteration of content.

Not sure what I'll have done for next time, but I'm starting to think about character concepts and visual design for the critters I haven't sketched out yet. And I think I'll do an in-depth look at the mini-game, explaining the bits and pieces of that as well. Drop a comment if you have questions or feedback- Otherwise, see you next time!

Posted by Seth Gorden

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