[As part of our project, mindful xp is committed to documenting our progress – part of that is creating post-mortems for our games. Post-mortems are very candid about game details, so if you don’t want a game’s experience spoiled before you play, reading these might not be in your best interest.]
Collect was the end result of a long process developing my own individual round game. Initially I had hoped to develop an entirely different game based on an experience that was very personal to me. In the end though I was not prepared to develop that experience into a game that I felt could clearly communicate everything that I had hoped. Instead of releasing something that I felt was substandard I instead changed tracks and released something less personal and could be realistically achieved within the time constraints of our project.
Originally for the individual round I had hoped to create a game called The Shape of Me. It was a game about modifying your shape to navigate an environment and fit in with groups of other shapes. Over the course of the game you would need to continually change yourself (sometimes due to external forces, sometimes due to your own choosing) in order to complete the game. This was meant to convey an experience I went through in my youth about engaging in the act of bullying someone else, an experience that was pretty shameful and something I regret to this day.
However in the act of developing the game I never felt completely satisfied with the direction of the game. I felt while the mechanics of the game were good enough, they never completely gelled with the type of experience I was hoping to convey. In the end I felt although I was trying to get the game to talk about one thing while instead it communicated something entirely different. In my mind I couldn’t capture the experience quite right.
So I switched gears and tried to do something else. I worked on a prototype called Discovery which was built around conveying how creatively frustrated I was with my inability to convey what I wanted to in my previous game. This itself was a bit therapeutic, but didn’t exactly lead to any progress in terms of a viable game. Instead I started throwing out mechanics that had little to no relation to what I was trying to convey in hopes of seeing something that stuck.
Near the end of this process I finally realized that the simplest path here might be looking at the mechanics I had created and running with what they communicated best. It was here that ultimately I ran with using the idea of collecting and the futility of amassing a bunch of things (in this case trinkets). Unfortunately the end game wasn’t very strong by itself since the message had to be communicated in a very direct, obvious way.
What Went Right:
1. Not Settling
The best decision in this entire process was deciding to stop work on building The Shape of Me. The experience I wanted to craft was very specific and very personal to me and I feel that attempting to force that would have been incredibly detrimental. Instead by deciding to back away from it and built that experience in a way that I could be personally satisfied was more important than trying to release something I would be unhappy with. More importantly, I felt like if I had attempted to do this now it would not be a project I would have the energy or enthusiasm to return to in the future. It was a story and message that had to be conveyed once and once properly in my mind for better or for worse.
2. Going With What Worked
After my various struggles in finding something that worked after The Shape of Me, the advice I heard from a few friends was to go with what was working with my various other mechanics. Or rather, instead of trying to force a message out of a set of mechanics instead to look at what they represented and use that to my advantage. This turned out to be great advice in terms of getting something to completion. I had already built the set of mechanics with blocks disappearing after stepping on them, collecting trinkets, and the platforming mechanics. By looking at what that could represent and structuring a game around that I definitely found the path towards completing Collect.
What Went Wrong:
1. Jumping In Before Designing
The biggest mistake I made was not really thinking all the way through the design of The Shape of Me before jumping into development. Instead of thinking through each element on how holistic the design for The Shape of Me was, instead I let some of my rapid prototyping instincts get the better of me. I had thought of the basic general mechanic of changing shape to fit in (i.e. changing yourself to fit with others) and the idea of forcing other people to give up blocks for your own usage. However the design was hardly fleshed out.
So when I encountered design issues later on after a few days of development, I panicked and didn’t feel like I had enough time or was capable of going back and reexamining the original design. Since I had no real design document to fall back on it there was little I could do to reestablish any footing. This basically left me in a position where I had to continue forward with no real roadmap or try a different design idea entirely. By having a more solid design before starting development I feel I would have been better prepared when an issue would occur in development.
Collect as it was released was in my opinion one of the weaker games in terms of overall design. Again the message was very blunt and obvious and there wasn’t a complete journey for the player to experience. However the process of getting to Collect was highly informative for me personally and taught me some real lessons on preparing yourself for the scope of whatever tasks you set and how to avoid falling into some pitfalls with development.