Inspirations and Motivations

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Since the turn of the year, we’ve been beavering away in our spare time with a focus on our first game as Fat Woods: Under the Sun. I thought I’d give a few thoughts as to where the idea came from and what it was intended to convey; I’ll leave it up to you to figure out how much we’ve missed the mark by!

The Tension
There are endless discussions flying around the Internet about narrative in games; about how the interactions of a game can create (or be roughly stuffed into) a story. Some games, like Fallout, attempt to give the player so many options and storylines that they can create their own stories. Others are more linear; in the Uncharted series players must traverse along the conceptual “rails” of the game, taking part in the story that is presented to them. And then in some games everything is wound so tightly together, it is hard to tell where the game starts and the story begins.

Choices in Fallout 3: should I shoot that flaming zombie?

The Inspiration
I had just played Braid again and listened to a few talks by its creator. I think Braid is a great game, with many aspects I love, but what I really liked was how the gameplay mechanics of fiddling with time linked into the parallel themes of confusion, regret, inevitability, etc.
I feel that few games strike a balance between having an interaction with the player, providing an abstraction on that mechanic to deliver a theme or story, and at the same time being fun. I love problem solving so thought I’d have a go at solving this design problem in my own way.
The Idea
After a few rides on the train, I settled on a simple mechanic where every move the player makes advances time, bringing everything in the world closer to death, until eventually things die. It would be a puzzle game, where you would have a limited number of moves, lending to the concept of a having strictly limited amount of time. The goal was to get to the “end”, which would be some arbitrary object.
I felt this really expressed my view that we only get a limited time on this world, and our steps must have a purpose and goal. As a Christian, this for me is closely tied to my beliefs about having something more valuable to me than life itself, and striving throughout life to choose that. I thought that others could relate to it in their own way, thinking about their own goals in life.
The Process
I made a really basic prototype, which involved boxes moving around, and things seemed feasible. The other half of Fat Woods, Tim, jumped on board, and we got started trying to make it into a fun game. We tried to make the key mechanic reinforce the theme as much as possible.
Some box action
The movement was made to be discreet (grid based) which really drove home the limited amount of time to life. It also helped the game to be fun, by allowing a strictly controlled puzzle environment where you couldn’t ‘fudge’ your way through a shortcut; where each level attempt would behave in the same way and the system could be understood.
The grid got a little out of control
As you move through the world, things grow and shift around you. This loosely represents the life that comes with death, and also how we are pushed around by our environment which we fail to control. This also make the game fun, allowing for various objects that you can push, be pushed by, ride, climb, jump off etc.
Time Control
We decided on adding a sun that could be dragged around to change the time of day. The sun represented the amount of life you have left, and its setting behind the horizon was tied to your death. This also made the game a lot more fun; as you move step-by-step, the levels could be quite frustrating if you had to start again from the beginning every time you got stuck. The sun mechanic meant that players could rewind any number of steps and continue from there. It also lets you advance the time at any stage of the level, seeing all the components of the puzzle in action, which we think makes a good puzzle: a comprehensible, predictable system where all the clues are in plain sight, yet it still can fool you!
The start of a day holds so much promise
The Success

“Success” as in, have we achieved this mechanic/theme relationship? Maybe people subconsciously bridge the connection between life and the mechanics, but most people just see it as a fun puzzle game. Perhaps there is one extra step we need to add to help people across the gap. However I’m pretty happy with the game so far as our first attempt at a game with just the two of us.If you want to decide for yourself, you can jump back to our previous post, and have a crack at our alpha!

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