Friday, April 22, 2016

The Sea Eternal

https://www.choiceofgames.com/sea-eternal/#utm_medium=MadeRealStories
Making The Sea Eternal was a monumental undertaking. Its goal was to give players a rounded experience that feels both immersive and player-directed. I wanted to create a world where the players were dealing with realistic characters that had needs that sometimes conflicted, and asked the player how they wanted to sort through those different issues, in a way that felt organic and natural. That took a lot of words (nearly 300,000*) and a whole lot of testing, editing, and polishing. But I'm really proud of the way everything came together.

I've documented the different aspects of design that went into pulling this all together down below, as well as some aspects of the game design that mattered to me:


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Research (The Sea Eternal)

Note: This post deals with my game The Sea Eternal. As such, it will contain spoilers.

This game required pulling a lot of different elements together seamlessly to create a realistic fantasy ocean setting, and ended up requiring a lot of research into oceanography, marine biology, and mythological creatures. I ended up dividing my research up into sections.

My first area of research focused on the very human aspect of enjoying the ocean, specifically SCUBA diving. A lot of people actually do swim around the ocean, and there's a special feel and knowledge to diving that I wanted to make sure I captured since I've been snorkeling a long time ago, but never diving. So I watched diving videos, looked up popular diving spots, and even went through an encyclopedia of diving lingo. A lot came out of that with regards to the creatures, the colors, the snow, the visibility, and the ocean wreck.

Planning (The Sea Eternal)

Note: This post deals with my game The Sea Eternal. As such, it will contain spoilers.   

Planning was a huge part of getting ready for working in ChoiceScript. Because writing in ChoiceScript is just using a text editor, I find that lack of structure can lead to programming issues if I just jump right in.

So I planned the whole game out using Twine first. Here's a screenshot of a very early iteration of the game. You'll see that it's not a functional game, since there aren't really any links between boxes. But it's a representation. It's kind of an outline or even... pseudocode. Documenting a choice game with a flow chart allows the game to be represented like the actual game it's going to be. Thorough documentation like this really helps frame the game: where is everything going, how, and why?

Choice Structure (The Sea Eternal)

Note: This post deals with my game The Sea Eternal. As such, it will contain spoilers.  

Part of what makes a game enjoyable to engage with is a cohesive design approach with occasional variations in structure that interfere with expectations. I'd like to talk about some templates I used to approach gameplay, as well as some of the tricks I used to vary up the gameplay. Reading about these might break some of the magic of the game, but this information should also be useful to other authors looking for interesting was to vary up their game.

Almost all of these design ideas and much more were incorporated into my Interactive ChoiceScript Tutorial. Check that out if you want to take these ideas and run with them!

Variables, Stats and Endings (The Sea Eternal)

Note: This post deals with my game The Sea Eternal. As such, it will contain spoilers.

The Sea Eternal uses a lot of complicated story variables, and a lot of them have effects on the story, but most of those variables aren't stored in the stats page, because the variables are small or complicated, or don't neatly fit into a perfect status. To that end, I kept most of the story elements hidden. Here are some examples of the different variables and how I used them.

Gender Inclusion (The Sea Eternal)

Note: This post deals with my game The Sea Eternal. As such, it will contain spoilers.

I wanted to make sure the game reflected the gender diversity of reality, and I did that by showing people in different roles with different identities and different ways of approaching and broadcasting their gender.

Racial Inclusion (The Sea Eternal)

Note: This post deals with my game The Sea Eternal. As such, it will contain spoilers. 

This game was mostly focused on the interaction between merfolk and humans, but that dynamic was very much based on real-life interactions and concerns between groups of real racial groups in the world. I wanted to make sure to accommodate themes of racial inclusion, anxieties, and prejudice while being respectful of those strategies and issues in real life. I did this by focusing on microaggressions, and by discussing real-life human racism in addition to fantasy racism.