A Few Words About INITIATE
PART 1 - Personal
INITIATE was an important step in my progress as a game creator.
Many times I find myself staring at a blank screen trying to come up with interesting ideas, or I start working on an idea only to throw it away shortly after. Most of my previous games have been created for game jams. Jams have direction. There's a theme, a clear beginning, and a clear end.
INITIATE was an important step specifically because there was no direction other than my own will to create. I've worked on plenty of personal projects in the past - music, art, storytelling, programming - but there's something about the task of putting all of those pieces together into one "thing" that always makes me hesitate. There are too many parts to wrap my head around in one little planning session. I like things to be neat and efficient... games tend to be anything but neat and efficient.
When I set out to create INITIATE, I tried something that was unusual for me; I just started spit-balling ideas. Usually I won't touch any code or art - I won't even open my game engine of choice - until I've thoroughly planned every aspect of the game in some sort of text document. This time was different. I opened up Bitsy and just went for it. I started sketching rooms. I started just playing with ideas. I let creativity drive, and I think it helped. This process led me to a clear goal for art, sound, and storytelling that I probably wouldn't have reached otherwise.
PART 2 - Development
Going in to this project I knew what I wanted. I had a clear, non-specific goal. I wanted to create a game that used a lot of the neat Bitsy tricks I had learned from my previous games and from games I had played in the Bitsy community. I didn't know the specifics, I just wanted to create an interesting, memorable experience.
I started off by sketching a few rooms. This, along with my limited patience for drawing pixel-art, led me to the simplistic art style for the game. I had used a similar style in "A Walk In A Field" and felt that I could use it again without trouble. I landed on the color scheme almost immediately after that. The way I had drawn the sketch rooms reminded me of 70's/80's vector graphics, which reminded me of Tron, and BOOM. I had my "look".
I worked on the puzzles next. I knew I wanted to create puzzles that revolved around Bitsy's dialogue system. I really enjoy creating interesting interactions with the conditional dialogue feature, so I started there. I had done a little of this in "You Arrive At A Party" but I wanted to go deeper. I liked the idea of having some sort of object help with the puzzles, so I came up with the themed terminals that would only give proper instructions for the puzzles if the player was in possession of the proper items.
The first two puzzles were a pretty straight-forward use of exits to create paths. The first puzzle used exits to outline the proper path, teleporting the player back to the beginning if they made an improper move. The second puzzle used exits to create the proper path, with all of the remaining movement options sending the player back to the beginning. I had seen several other creators use these techniques and they seemed to work pretty well. I'm happy with the way these puzzles turned out, though I worry players won't understand that the intent is to get them to jot down the proper paths given to them by the terminals.
The third puzzle uses a mixture of an exit-lined path and item dialogue to guide the player through to the end. I used the ole blank-item-to-prompt-dialogue trick. It's a bit tedious for the player, but I like the way it works. I may try to tackle this mixture again in a future game to see if I can streamline the player experience a bit.
I began development of INITIATE fresh off the heels of "It's Pretty Dark..." and I really wanted to incorporate some of the things I had learned about multi-room rooms (rooms that look like a single room but are actually a whole darn bunch of rooms connected with exits). I came up with the bubble bridges that I used in a few of the transitions. I liked the way the bubble bridge animation looked, and I felt that it gave the game a sense of being something more than "just a Bitsy game". Not that there's anything wrong with Bitsy games, I just wanted to push the boundaries while still staying true to the un-modded engine.
Speaking of pushing boundaries, I saw this doodle by JWHolly and was inspired to go back through several of the rooms and add multi-frame animation. I think it really helped to give these areas a bit more life. I ended up creating the computer in the game's very first room as a multi-sprite multi-frame animation to "wow" the player right off the bat. I knew the graphics themselves weren't that spectacular, so I added the animation to help offset that blandness a little.
I came up with the story while I was working on the puzzles. At first the story was big... like... BIG. But then after a little hacking and some chopping and the idea to release the game as a multi-part series, I managed to cut it down to a reasonable size. I've always loved the idea of connected games and episodic games, so it worked out anyway.
As I was play testing I kept thinking that it would be cool if the sections of the game map felt more connected. I had already made sure that the exits aligned vertically and horizontally with the next room, but it just felt like it could use more. I played around with a few (bad) ideas before landing on the idea of "panning" to the next room. I wanted it to feel like there was a camera hovering over the player, moving with them to the next space. I had tried something similar in "A Walk In A Field", so I knew it worked, I knew how to do it, and I knew how much time it was going to take. I decided that instead of just putting in the hours to stitch together several sets of rooms, I would go put in those same hours to write a little program to do it for me. The result looks pretty neat, I think.
Finally, as I was play testing the new pans, I still felt like it needed a little something. It needed sound. I was going for the early 80's computer vibe, so I basically had to write a Tron-/Outrun-inspired synth piece for the soundtrack. I popped open FL Studio and a few hours later had the soundtrack you hear in game. I had to go back over the piece once or twice to even out some issues in the mix, but the music was more-or-less finalized in a matter of hours.
PART 3 - Conclusion
Overall I'm happy with INITIATE. I have learned quite a bit during this development cycle. There are definitely some things I could improve. I may still update the game with a few minor tweaks here and there, but I'm going to leave the game mostly as it is now.
I'm looking forward to creating the next game in the series. And I look forward to getting feedback from the Bitsy community and the Itch.io community as a whole.
Thank you for playing INITIATE and thank you for taking the time to read this devlog.
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