Update time! So we just reached a pretty big milestone (well, we’re very nearly there at the time of this writing) and I wanted to give some updates and take a step back and look at the project as whole. So we’ve wrapped up development on our build for the Independent Games Festival. We’ve been working on it heavily for about two months now, trying to focus on the strongest parts of the game and put our best foot forward for the competition. And I’m pretty pleased with the results. I think the build is a good representation of what makes our game fun, challenging and interesting.
We had a lot of goals when we first started mapping this build out, most of which were accomplished, and even some we didn’t plan for. A lot of the major ideas came from the feedback we received at E3, the biggest of which being the need for a proper tutorial. Player after player at the show was confused on how to play the game and what their goal was, so our primary goal was a tutorial broke down each gameplay element in a clear way to the player. We want our head scratching moments to come from the puzzles, not the base abilities.
Another biggie was better level progression and difficulty curve. Our rotation concepts were kind of all over the place in our IndieCade build. And the difficulty was all over the place. The third level in that demo was one of the hardest in the build, and we ended up just asking most players to skip over it. We didn’t want that to happen again.
The last major goal was to keep exploring the rotation mechanic, particularly three axis puzzles and late game content. We needed to see just how far we could push our systems before we ran into performance issues or the gameplay became too frustrating and unwieldy.
What We Accomplished
So after cutting a few levels and building some new ones we ended up with a build that’s about the same size of the IndieCade demo, except that it’s much more polished, fun to play, and a better representation of what the final gameplay will be…will most likely be…probably.
I think the tutorial is a great introduction to the game, because it breaks up the elements in a way that’s much easier to grasp. Each element gets it time to show the player its purpose, and I feel it gives the player the tools needed to attack the puzzles intelligently from the get go, which is good because this build does ask more of the player. I feel we succeeded in creating new puzzles that challenge a player’s knowledge of the game’s systems. The new puzzles don’t feel like they’re full of obscure elements or random solutions. You feel like you’re in control as you navigate through a complex and abstract environment, like you’re bending the environment to your will, which is exactly what we want. And the rate at which the levels become more complex and difficult feels much better, which was just a result of good planning. We sat down and created flowcharts and excel sheets so that we could plan out in detail which gameplay elements and concepts would be introduced and when, which helped our difficulty curve immensely.
One thing that was unexpected was the amount of art development that went into this build. It wasn’t something that we set out to change because it was something we received a lot of praise for at E3. But the more we looked at it the more the little problems and inconsistencies started to show. There were a lot of small changes but the biggest things we addressed were the colors and the backgrounds. There were way too many color transitions in the old build. We went from environments that were black and white, to white and blue, to blue and red, to green and red, and eventually to green and gold. So we really honed that down to a spectrum shift from blue to green over the course of the build, which really helped tie everything together. The reduction in color also helped the background to fade away, meaning all the gameplay elements stand out. We also created a bunch of effects to push the clarity of the gameplay elements even more, especially the rotation cubes. And the more these elements stand out the easier they are to follow and find in an abstract environment. It ended up being a refinement and evolution of the art style that made the game look much better and also helped the gameplay.
What We’re Lacking
In my mind, there are two aspects of the build that not very strong, which a sense of the overall world and story. There are hints at these things but they’re not strong enough to actually pull the player through the experience. There are voice-overs that introduce two of the characters, but they’re mostly just for tutorial purposes or to provide some humor. There’s little to no sense of the overall story, or the purpose of the player, or the motivations of the cube. And there’s no real conflict to provide motivation for the player to keep moving forward. There’s also no real set pieces or content between the puzzle rooms to provide context for the overall world, which hurts our pacing and atmosphere. Both of these aspects of Anomaly 1729 are still in the planning phases and there are still a lot of things to flesh out and problems to solve before we can put these things into the game.
Moving forward, the plan is pretty simple. We’re just going to continue what we’ve been doing, basically. I’m feeling good about the direction for the gameplay and puzzle design. I think we’re honing in on a puzzle platformer that’s unique to us, which used to be a concern, that we weren’t original enough. And there’s still plenty of cool gameplay to mine from the rotation mechanic. Story, set pieces, major events, and the overall world design is going to be a big focus in the future, which is exciting. I’m ready to see our plans built and into the game for all that stuff. So…yeah. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, a lot of challenges to overcome, but we’re at a pretty exciting time with the project right now.
Thanks for reading