Well, admittedly it's been a while. Some money struggles and work struggles have really kept me out of the loop, but things seemed to have calmed down for the time being, so I am sitting back in my comfortable, relaxing old dining room chair so I can write a real journal entry, as opposed to the Spam I inflicted this morning. Wait - did I say the chair was comfortable? Scratch that. The comfy computer chair has been moved to the bedroom, since the new computer desk sits lower than mine, and it's the only computer chair we currently own. I am using a wooden dining room chair, which is fine for a few minutes, but a disaster after 4 hours of Half-Life 2 deathmatch.
But enough complaining! I'll wait until next time to elaborate on why money really should grow on trees, and how waking up at 7AM every day can be considered cruel and unusual. Instead, I will share a bit about one of the enjoyable things that has been taking up my time: the Developer for a Day 3 contest. God bless Adam's soul, he deserves a load of credit for creating the contest and taking us seriously - and for giving us an outlet for our creative ideas, no matter how wild they may be. It was a lot of fun to put my idea on paper; the creative energy for this title has been swirling in my mind for quite some time, and it was great to see it on the page. Even if the handsome Mr. Buchen dismisses it outright as a bad idea, I could not possibly regret a moment I spent writing it.
Turning the notion of a time-traveling action-adventure into an actual, honest-to-God design, however, was not all fun and games. In fact, I have walked away from my 20-page, 7850-word document with a great deal of respect for game development. I am no stranger to the creative process: I majored in violin performance and music composition, so I know that creating art is not as simple as waiting for a muse to inhabit my body and take me over as if I am channeling Mozart. Sure, innate talent and creativity are involved, but there is also a great deal of hard work. The hard work that went into the design of my game wasn't really the writing itself; tapping on my keyboard is just busy work. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once mentioned, sometimes you have to "murder your darlings." I had a lot of fantastic ideas when I sat down to create, and as the process took wing, it became very apparent to me that some of the greatest concepts imaginable don't work when you begin to design around them. Of course, it works that way in music, too; composing a demanding piano sonata is one thing, but requiring your performer to sprout 6 extra fingers is quite another.
Chopping the excess digits from the enterprise was astoundingly difficult, particularly since my game's story revolves around time travel. Any narrative featuring time travel always gets a bit tricky, as it requires the player/viewer to suspend a good deal of his disbelief, but weaving a complex story through travels to 7 different periods of time was a difficult task. In terms of story, my goals were to create a time-hopping, globe-tripping plot without making is seem like an excuse to simply let the player battle it out against a bunch of different enemies in different areas. I didn't want to make another Timesplitters game, where the plot was just an excuse for action; I wanted to create a meaty story that was ultimately based in fantasy, blending anachronism and consistency, that made every chapter seem absolutely plausible in the context of a cohesive whole.
Well, as any Star Trek (or Quantum Leap, or Back to the Future, or Peggy Sue Got Married) fan will tell you, time travel plots do not lend themselves to cohesion, since they open up gaping plot holes. "If you changed the past, you may never existed at all, so how can you have gone back and changed it? If it were changed, then you never existed; if it wasn't changed, then you did exist, but then cannot have possibly changed it!" It all becomes a vicious circle of questions that can never be answered, paradoxes that cannot be reconciled. Because of this, I had to make a lot of sweeping changes to my story. Asking the player to suspend disbelief is one thing; asking him or her to abandon all reason is quite another.
Once I had the story where I wanted it, it came down to fashioning the details of the gameplay mechanics. I already knew how the basic concept would work, but once I put it down to paper, I realized that a lot of my expertise was in the narrative, but that I needed as much cohesion in my gameplay vision as I did in my story thread. Once again, however, a good number of my darling ideas that sounded initially brilliant got murdered, too. At first, I had envisioned the player being able to return to points he had already visited in order to solve puzzles. However, in practice, it created more problems than it solved. How can I create puzzles that require you to backtrack in an action game without making it a chore? How can I add the feature into the game and make the story work around it? How can I let the player visit eras he will be visiting later and still keep them fresh for the forthcoming action sequences? In short, I couldn't do any of those things and still retain many of the basic notions that provided the skeleton for the design. Out went the backtracking, and with it, much of the puzzle solving.
And on it went. How do I take some fairly common mechanics and twist them into something original? I think I made it work. Deflecting projectiles with a sword's been done before; trapping and accumulating multiple bullets as they circle my katana and then releasing them in a flurry hasn't, as far as I know. Shurikens have been done before; throwing them at chariot-riding Romans as they chase you out of the gladiator arena hasn't, as far as I know. In the end, I realized that in some form or another, I got a lot of my ideas from games that already exist. After all, I have been gaming since the advent of the form, so I can't ignore their influence. At first, I resisted the entire notion of comparing my concept to existing titles, and the document itself draws no parallels, keeping its description and details devoid of comparisons. But in the end, I can't pretend that the design doesn't reflect shades of other games. If you look hard enough, you are bound to see the influences of Prince of Persia, Dynasty Warriors, Max Payne, Viewtiful Joe, Half-Life 2, and a few others I haven't thought of -not to mention, the shadows of Quantum Leap and the 80's television show Voyagers.
I think I achieved what I hoped to, in the end. I may have trimmed the fat from a design dripping in excess, but I replaced it with new features that I think made a good action/adventure design a great one. I won't share the details for the time being - but for now, you can feast on my poorly Photoshopped image and dream up your own grand stories to associate with it!