Hello everyone! My name is Maxim and I’m the author of the game named “the StoryTale”. I’m here to tell you why did the inhabitants of the world of “the StoryTale” quit bad habits and stopped smoking.
I’ll start from the very beginning, namely from the story about the game itself and how “the StoryTale” was born. “The StoryTale” is a fairy-tale platformer with booms, explodes and shatters, immortal prince uses cursed weapons and the princess, who went down to the dungeon, always forget her magic spells.
“The StoryTale” was released on Steam last summer, however its development started back in 2015. I didn’t have any large completed projects behind me back then, so I tried my hand at jams, simultaneously learning Game Maker Studio. The theme of one of the jams was called “useless super-abilities”. I immediately decided to move away from the idea of superheroes to not to get lost in countless parodies of Superman and Spider-Man. My nine-year-old daughter Arina helped me in finding another idea. She came up with a concept about the princess who was trying to save the prince. She had an arsenal of very peculiar spells, and moreover, unable to choose the right one in the right moment. It was the day when basic mechanics came out. Also then appeared one of the features: my daughter took the role of the storyteller. She voiced all the text of our tale. But actually I’m not an artist – that’s why the appearance of the game on the same jam was very minimalistic:
This version of the game did not take any prizes, but actually it did much more – this prototype laid the foundation for the four-year period of development of a larger project. Participating in jams has become my habit, and even while I was working on such a big project as “the StoryTale”, I was distracted by the development of small games. Oddly enough, in terms of time and possibilities, it is easier to generate ideas, and many of the mechanics invented on these jams were successfully transferred to the game. One of the mechanics that has firmly entrenched in the StoryTale's final build is a mechanic that introduces pseudo-step-by-step gameplay. Enemies and traps moving only when the princess moving, as if it were the 2nd version of SuperHot.
The advantage of this mechanic was a greater freedom in creating levels - sometimes the level of difficulty on the locations I created exceeded all conceivable standards, because I wanted to put goblins and traps everywhere. Now, when the princess could stop time, I could calmly create locations that an ordinary player would hardly pass without this superpower.
The first builds of the game were made using some random free assets from stocks, but, of course, I wasn’t able to create the whole game using only them: I always had a very limited number of animations. Backgrounds were also lame and boring and I was forced to hide everything in the darkness. Because of this, the characters did not seem alive and the world felt cardboard.
Several artists participated in the project, but they always quickly left the project. For an indie game dev this order of things is typical. Constant changing of artists lasted for two years.
In 2017, the animation artist Sergey joined my team, and the game bloomed with new colors. A couple of other artists provided the newly made animations with a couple of wonderful backgrounds, which also had a beneficial effect on the appearance of “the StoryTale”. The prince and the princess have become more mobile and the goblins, who are the main inhabitants of the world of The StoryTale, have become much more “alive”.
We also began to show our fairy tale platformer at exhibitions and festivals. It was a fascinating and indispensable experience to communicate with players and other developers. Here goes a small advice for the developers: if you have the possibility to use a large TV you should definitely use it. At one of the exhibitions, I met the game developer Slava Gris, and back then I had no idea that he would be my publisher.
My goal was to bring the game as close as possible to the sensations as if the players were reading a good fairy tale. Perhaps, it was the presence of lovely animations of the enemies that played a very important role and radically changed the gameplay. Initially the prince and princess could kill the goblins by using some powerful spell against them. Possibility to kill goblins fit into the concept until the goblins became so cute as they are right now. Thanks to animations made by Sergey.
His little niece asked us that these charming creatures no longer perish, and we listened. Her request emphasized how inappropriate the goblin genocide is when you make a fairy tale.
So, by the summer of 2019, “the StoryTale” overgrew with a bunch of mechanics. I polished them, put them all together and released the game on steam. During the development period, the characters learned to stop time, fly above the ground, pass through walls, become giants, sweeping everything in their path, freeze enemies, conjure stair clouds, breathe under water and much more.
With daughter Arina, we prescribed mini-quests with the participation of goblins and added some tips. She voiced monologues on behalf of the Little Princess. Most of the dialogs where written in verses – which caused so many troubles during the localization process.
But the story of creation of “the StoryTale” did not end back then, because the opportunity to release the game on the Nintendo Switch loomed ahead. I did not want to lose my “independence” by working with a major publisher, and the release of the game on Switch was carried out in the same “indie” way as its development. It is very difficult to get Devkit from Nintedo to Russia on your own, but one of my friends - Slava Gris - nevertheless did it in a magical way (like it always happens in fairy tales) and it was he who became my publisher.
I have already learned from my own experience the procedure for publishing a game on Steam – developer should design a page, make a build, go through a very modest test and then publish his game. In this process, of course, there are difficulties and pitfalls, but Steam can not be compared with the thoroughness of viewing games released on Switch. Work on the port began in January 2020, and the release took place today - June 30, 2020. Why did it take so long?
The first launch of The StoryTale on devkit took place very quickly. The game immediately launched at the required 60 frames / second. But on some large levels closer to the end, performance could be reduced by half, and the code had to be further optimized.
Next, during a series of checks, Nintendo revealed a number of nuances. Nintendo employees carefully study the games that the developer wants to publish in their store, and deploy the proposed builds for a big variety of reasons. Also the situation with COVID19 made this procedure damn slow too and it’s not Nintendo fault.
For example, the education at The StoryTale was initially represented by such Gif images:
But an Nintendo employee suggested that the buttons on the screen show some other console (game boy advance?) and ordered that the training be redone in strict order. Slava suggested overwriting 40 GIF images with a new interface. But I spent a few more days and wrote a workaround that placed separate buttons on top of these gif images.
It is also worth keeping in mind that Nintendo is very scrupulous about the names of Nintendo Switch’s buttons. So, for example, it turned out that there are no “triggers” on Switch. The word trigger cannot be used. Also, you cannot use Press Any Key - there should be a clear indication of the button, for example “Press A to Play”. When the game had already been translated into a bunch of languages, such a change in wording can cause a real headache. It is still possible to intuitively guess what word order I should use in European languages, but this method didn’t work for Japanese and Chinese. Fortunately, Nintendo has a certain vocabulary of their terms in several languages, which, perhaps, will help someone.
Nintendo employees also doing an insane amount of experimentation on your game. I can’t imagine what else they tried to do with the game before deploying the next build due to the fact that the game is not displayed on the full screen if you connect it to a TV with a resolution of ... 480p. I had no idea where to get such a TV to check it by myself, so it decided to fix this bug almost blindly. I ran the game on the PC and changed the screen resolution to 480p.
Nintendo’s requirements also have clearly state about how many times a game can write saves per minute. During testing, it turned out that sometimes the game was saved more then 40 times in 60 seconds. In the PC version, to simplify testing and control the process, any saved parameter immediately opens the file, writes there and closes the file. It turned out that this way of saving isn’t very good for Nintendo Switch.
There was a general solution from a third-party developer, but it required some changes in the architecture. As a result, it turned out to be easier for me to pre-write all saved parameters to an intermediate data structure and then write everything all at once to a file.
Now let us come back to smoking. When I get rejections from the Nintendo testing department so many times, I thought about relaxing in a very destructive way too.
Some animations were added to diversify the behavior of goblins when they are idle and to give their image of a negative character. I grew up watching a soviet cartoons and almost all negative characters where smoking in there, so I never thought that this could be a problem. But with the release on Nintendo, this became a problem.
The fact is that Steam does not require obtaining and specifying age ratings, while for the release on Nintendo this procedure is required. An age rating is assigned to the digital product in the following order: after registering the product name in the Nintendo store, the publisher gets a “ticket” to the IARC rating system. There, the publisher is provided with a hefty questionnaire, with questions like "Does your game show sexual acts?" If the publisher chooses “yes”, new questions will appear in the questionnaire. They will be like “what parts of the character’s body are shown and how close the camera is to them?”. Depending on publisher’s answers, the game is assigned a rating in most countries - Pegi, ESRB, ACB, Russian (in my country nobody did not really think about the name of rating system, yes) and so on.
A bit of interesting information: to get CERO (rating in Asian countries) publisher needs to pay two thousand euros, record the game walkthrough in Japanese and send them to China ... DVD with this recording.
In addition to obvious questions about sex and violence, the questionnaire has a bunch of questions about alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. Without the cigarettes we were forced to answer “yes” only on question “does your game contain cartoon violence?”. Only with one positive answer we received 3+ in some countries and ESRB marked us “for all the ages”. But it was worth mentioning that there are cigarettes in the game and the age rating in almost all countries soared to 18+, which is unacceptable when you are going to release a kind fairy tale in the e-shop.
The choice in this difficult situation was simple - goblins quit smoking once and for all. If they want to smoke, then let them run into the version for Steam, but here we have a family friendly console. With no cigarettes.
If you liked “The StoryTale” - welcome to Steam (Summer Sale now) or e-shop, where the result of five years of my work is already available.
As you can see, smoking is harmful not only for health, but also for rating. So quit this bad habbit or don’t even start! Thanks for reading!