I've been spending the last month looking over the entire game in order to determine which parts needed the most work to make the game as enjoyable as possible. The first, and most glaring issue, came to my eyes immediately, the story itself.
For those who have tested the game, this probably comes to little if any surprise. More than 50% of the complaints in my now quite extensive feedback forms are about the story specifically. The likely reason behind this, the tacked on nature. A year ago, when I started working on the project, I set out to create a game which *could* have a story but did not *need* to have a story. In essence, a game in which the story could be ripped right out, and one would not even notice. I had decided to do this, as back when I started this project, it was a prototype for GAM 200, a class at DigiPen Institute of Technology. I wanted the story to be easily removable so should my team for that class want to work with this concept, we would be able to remove a significant amount of over scoped work should it become necessary, without much consequence. I achieved this goal fairly well. Perhaps a little to well. I became stuck with a game, and a story. Two separate entities.
Over the course of the last year I kept telling myself I would "fix it eventually." I managed to continue procrastinating the problem until it became a very, very big problem. As content-wise, the game now has every feature implemented (there is always room for fine-tuning though) I decided that this would be the first thing I would tackle with the luxury of time I now have. Spending quite some time looking at how other games blend their story into the experience I have determined there are pretty much 4 styles:
-Narrative Driven Games: Games in which the story is the point of the game (Gone Home, Life Is Strange, etc)
-Story Sense Games: Games in which there is a story present, but it is not explicit (Gathering Sky, Antechamber, etc)
-Casual Narrative Games: Games in which a simple story drives the plot in order to advance characters through spaces (Mario Games, Kirby Games, etc)
-Games with Story: Games in which a story accompanies distinctive gameplay segments (Fire Emblem Series, Half-Life Series, etc)
Looking at this list, Cybetrix, to me, falls under the "Games with Story" category, so I started my investigation there. The first games I looked at were the Fire Emblem games. I started here due to these games having a similar structure as Cybetrix: Story, Gameplay, Story, Gameplay, etc. While I would like to create something more like the Half-Life or Portal games, in which the story is blended seamlessly into the gameplay, the arcadey style gameplay of Cybetrix does not allow for this easily. Still, the Fire Emblem games use this structure, and do so quite well, yet Cybetrix failed to do so. After reviewing the feedback and looking at similar complaints I determined two things:
-The story is not interesting.
-There are no "payoffs"
Like in Fire Emblem, advancing the story for Cybetrix is the "reward" for completing a level; there is an advancement in the plot, followed by more gameplay. The first problem was that my story was just not interesting. The old story of Cybetrix got repetitive quickly. I have heard this complaint more than once. The reason behind this was directly due to my avoidance of solving the problem initially. I started repeating things in the story just so I could get a flowing prototype, which created a bigger and bigger mess. The old story of Cybetrix also did not have any payoffs.
Payoffs, in the way I am using the term, describe audio, visual, or narrative enhancements to encourage further play. With a dry, repetitive story, having any narrative payoffs can be written off right away. Visual and Audio payoffs can be written off mostly as well. There was nothing stunning or striking, or really memorable to make the player want to see the next bit of the story, or feel compelled to keep playing (which, incidentally, resulted in many players just playing without the story).
Identifying these two problems, I have rewritten the entire story and the way in which it is delivered. Instead of essentially having just one character, I now have a four. I am pleased to say that I am now working with four talented voice actors/actresses in order to bring the life to the game which it was previously missing. Here is a snippet of some of the new opening dialogue for the game:
I am also happy to be working with a talented artist, William Podpechan, who is helping bring some of the narrative screens to life visually with a variety of images made of ascii art - fitting for their use in game.
See you next month