It's been a little over two years since we started making Prisonscape. Even though some of the main elements have remained, a lot has changed, too. Let's go through some of those changes! First of all, in our early blog posts we wanted to make a game very similar to Chrono Trigger in gameplay. A lot of people argued that the open world mechanics of CT wouldn't go very well with closed prison space and they were right. Me and Tuomas are both big fans of Chris Avellone's games and especially the Fallout series.
Eventually we started getting a lot of inspiration from them, including the tactical combat (more about it here, here, Prisonscape.com and here). Second thing we did pretty early in the development was simplifying the gaming mechanics - we reduced the amount of basic statistics to Strength, Agility and Intelligence (Fitness, Mental Health and Charisma were removed) because including all of these would've been too much work.
In the beginning, we also hadn't hired an artist. That's right, I was doing the art, and it really shows in this screenshot:
After that we hired David and the game looked immediately much better (and got tons of more attention from people, too!). With graphics, we learned the hard way when we used mismatching pixels for the UI - David drew these AMAZING UI's but we ended up scrapping them because they just looked... wrong because of the mismatching pixel size.
Initially we also shunned the idea of experience and levels. But after thorough playtesting of the first area we noticed one very important thing about Prisonscape - it was boring as fuck. It had no sense of progression and it was basically a walk'n'talk simulation. Reputation and items didn't give enough sense of accomplishment while playing, so we decided to add the leveling system. There's a reason why it's used in almost all RPG's. I also changed the storyline a LOT. The first idea was that the game would consist of episodes or levels, so you would start in a minimum security, escape from there (easy) and eventually end up in max and try to do the same thing there. There was a LOT of branching, which would've been way too much work in the end.
Oh, and in the first design document we planned so that the player wouldn't see any of their stats, but just an indication of it ("you are in good shape"). We also reduced the number of gangs from 9 to 6. We also planned several minigames (rewiring the alarm system, playing domino's, etc.).
What have I learned during these short two years:
- Don't use mismatching pixel sizes!
- Even smaller tasks can take a lot of your time
- Working fulltime drains a lot from you and hinders the game development
- Don't be afraid to show your game to people, even the spoiler-y parts
- Start building your audience early on
- Also write some technical blog posts/reports, people are really interested in them
- You can't force writing dialogue. Sometimes you can't get shit done, even if you have all the time in the world
Happy new year, hopefully it is the year when you can finally play Prisonscape! ;-)