Le sigh, I suppose it’s about time for a postmortem of sorts, even if it’s for a little flash game. You’ve got to look at the past sometime, right? So, I’m going to break this down into two short-ish posts. This first one is looking back at what ideas we tried to put into Convergence. The second will be on the more practical side of putting the ideas to code.
Convergence was conceived one Saturday afternoon in a Panera with the idea for a game with a chapter for each stage of life. Prior to that, we’d made Pong in flixel to get our bearings in the environment. After arguing about what the deuce the physics is supposed to be like in Pong, we decided that we had ‘succeeded’ and that we were now ‘qualified’ to go ahead and make our own game. We had two goals – make something and make that something meaningful. Barring some quantum physics magic, I’m reasonably confident that we accomplished the first goal. The second one is a question for anyone who played it to answer, but I’d hope we at least got close. At least I know the plays on Kongregate can’t be because our game was ‘fun’ ;P.
From the onset, we planned a game with multiple endings with a coherent game world that brought the individual plots together. We wanted players to be able to make their own choices, but at the same time, we wanted them to be able to reflect on those choices and what could have been if they had chosen differently. The idea was there are paths your life can take – as a baby, make some pretty impactful choices without knowing consequences and then as an adult make some more informed choices – and you should be able to catch glimpses of what your life could have been in the people around you.
We played around with some different ideas of how to illustrate what other paths your life could have taken, but we decided to just tie the endings together. It’s left up to the player to notice that if you play a second time, you can be one of the other characters by making a different choice or two. It’s not clear whether that was the right design decision. The gamers tended to pick up on the endings, but on the other hand, my family had no idea there were multiple endings.
With a Heavy Hand…
That last point brings up another challenge we faced in development: making the game accessible to as many people as possible. Ocassionally, we erred on the side of a super heavy hand…like when we explicitly tell the player in dialogue box that they can either go back to work or stay at the party. In retrospect, we could have solved this nonverbally (as a developer suggested).
Other times, we were at least slightly more subtle. Like the tying together of the game endings or the unlockable trophy room which both basically tell you there’s more that you might have missed. (Though apparently, many members of the Kongregate community love to post how to unlock things, so there was a certain amount of the achievement system itself rewarding players.)
Essentially it’s just difficult to make a game such that your parents can pick it up and your friends can pick it up with neither feeling like the pace is too slow/boring/fast/hard/etc. You just have to pick you audience and accept the consequences.
Babies Crawl, People…Talk?
When we set out brainstorming what each stage of the game would be like, we didn’t give too much dedicated thought to a disconnect between narrative and gameplay. We took it as an assumption that the baby stage would be a very physical puzzle, that the adult stage would be more of a cognitive challenge and that the ending, well, was simply just be an interactive cutscene.
As for the gameplay setting the tone of each stage, I’d argue that it worked. The baby level involves a lot of crawling and climbing over things larger than you (while your bigger brother has more mobility). The work level involves some menial tasks like making copies of reports or buying ice cream, but the challenge isn’t about how do you physically execute those things – it’s about paying attention to what the consequences of those actions are.
There’s some semblance of gameplay and narrative integration, but there is plenty of room to improve. The baby level is pretty much a separate platformer from the rest of the game. We had intended the toy collecting to give the choice at the end of the level more weight, but it may just come across as simply a minigame. The noon level has some gameplay, but most of the story is told with words centered on an interaction or two.
In the end, we committed to an idea, timeframe and skillset that potentially didn’t lend itself as fully to storytelling through gameplay as we might have wanted…regardless, it was an idea that needed to be conveyed in a game rather than another medium. And I, for one, had awesome time making it.