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A pixelart exploration game where you play a shape-shifting girl whose powers are destroying the world she is trying to save.
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Mable & The Wood - December 2016 Update

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Hi everyone,

It's been a crazy (and crazy busy) month, so I'll skip the usual preamble and jump right in! 

My Spotify is down, so tonight I'm listening to jazz covers of Studio Ghibli songs on YouTube. If that floats your boat then feel free to sail away with me while you read this update :)

I'm also finishing off some wine that's been left over from family visiting at the weekend, so I apologise in advance if the update makes less sense by the time we get towards the end...

Here's what I'm going to be talking about today:

  • Yorkshire Games Festival and what I learned from my first event
  • Development progress over the last month
  • Mable & The Wood at Insomnia Festival (scroll to here for a new playable build)
  • Mable & The Wood on consoles?
  • Development plan for next month
  • Bonus round

So, let's get on with it!

Yorkshire Games Festival

I'd been invited to take the show to the Yorkshire Games Festival in Bradford, so I said yes before my self consciousnesses had the chance to talk me out of it.

Oh boy, I'm glad I did.

But it I didn't start well. It was just over an hour long drive, but I've not been to Bradford since my Grandad (who had lived there) passed away over 2 decades ago. I didn't drive when I was 11 years old, so it was a mini-nightmare getting there. I took a couple of wrong turns and even managed to earn myself a speeding fine on a road that I wasn't even meant to be on.

So, I finally get there and I walk into the venue. I'm stressed out. I'm immediately daunted by the fact that the National Media Museum is a really impressive building (because, it's the National Media Museum, why would I expect otherwise?). 

And then John Romero walks past. He looks really cool, much cooler than me (although, in hindsight, a lot shorter than I had expected he would be). I didn't know that John Romero was going to be there. Clearly, I was out of my depth here.

I think one of the volunteers could see I needed a little help, as she soon wandered over and helped me find my stand. And I'm rambling already aren't I? I hope you're all strapped in for a long in for a long ride...

Anyway, once I'd got over myself, the festival was awesome!

People were queuing to play the game!?
People were queuing to play the game!?

Well, when I say awesome, what I mean is horrible. Soul crushingly horrible. But, soul crushingly horrible in an awesome way!

Let me explain.

I'd seen friends play the game, and I'd seen fellow developers play the game. Usually this was with me explaining how it worked and why things did the things they did.

So, I had decided before the event that I would take the opportunity to observe how normal people (normal as in, not my friends and not fellow developers, none of whom can in any way be considered 'normal') interact with the game. As in, what the conversation is between the player and the way the game feeds back to them - does it communicate things in the way that I think it does?

The short answer was a resounding 'NO!'

I'd hastily put together a 'tutorial' that introduced you to the basics, to understand how the game would be controlled differently to how you were expecting (huh, there's no jump!?). It took me less than a minute to complete. I don't like tutorials, so I was pretty happy with that.

People died. In the tutorial. People were dieing in the tutorial. I mean, that's the third rule of game dev (after 'you don't talk about game dev' and 'you don't talk about game dev'): don't kill players in the tutorial*.

I don't know why people didn't just give up. Maybe they could see the desperate look in my eyes.

To be honest, after 3 hours of watching people die in the tutorial, I realised I had nothing more to learn from watching people die in the tutorial and decided to just quickly explain what the tutorial should be teaching you anyway.

I have half a notebook full of notes that I took from the festival, so here's a little highlight reel of some of the observations I made:

  • Make more destructible things, so that the player has more opportunity to understand the relationship between the sword and the world (and smashing stuff is fun)
  • Slow down the speed of the sword spinning back to Mable so you can actually see/feel it - people don't understand that the sword is even moving...
  • Nobody realises that the shrines heal you. Stop them healing you and just spit out some hearts out when you light it [side note: this had the effect of adding tension as the hearts bounce away from you and you're desparate for the health]

The biggest learning point however, was that you can guide people with sweet and/or shiny things. This is something that I actually learned from something outside of the game. I gave people sweets:

I didn't have much room to fit everything on the table, so I left the cards in front of the sweets. As it turned out, everyone who reached for a sweet also took a card!

End of day 1 - should have got more cards (or less sweets)
End of day 1 - should have got more cards (or less sweets)

I'd also been watching people really struggle with this section of the first vertical mountain level:

You have to go up!
You have to go up!

The problem here is that it's a much harder challenge if you try it from the left, because the moving spike beneath you pulls you away from where you need to be. Whether it's because we're in the West and we read left to right, or if it's because the past few decades of games have taught us that you always go left to right, or something else, I don't know - but everyone tried it from the left. Over and over.

I thought about blocking off the wall. Then I remembered the sweets! So, I did this:

How embarrassing that I still messed it up while recording the GIF...
How embarrassing that I still messed it up while recording the GIF...

And now, everyone tries it from the right hand side! And, most people get it in the first couple of tries (which is just what I want for this far into the game).

Overall, I feel as though taking the game to the festival has been a massive step in the development process. I'd never realised just how much you can learn from watching people sit down with your game and just start playing it. The game is sooooooo much better as a result of this, and I have a huge list of more stuff to make it better!

Speaking of which...

Development in November

The plan for last month changed a little bit following the festival. I hadn't realised just how much work was there to make the game better. I mean, I knew there were bugs and I knew it needed polish, but I didn't realise that there were all of these things I could do to just make the game a much more enjoyable thing to play.

That left me with a bit of a balancing act between making the game better, or getting the game closer to being done.

This is a bit of a weird one to explain. Surely that's the same thing right? 

Well, kinda.

Imagine my to-do-list. If I have one list that is called 'Making The Game Better' and another called 'Making The Game Content Complete', then that 1st list can keep having items added to it forever. You can always make your game better. At the same time, that 2nd list has a definite end. I know how much content I need to explore all of the ideas in there (all killer, no filler).

So, 90% of this observations notebook I have falls into that 'Making The Game Better' list. Of that 90%, I've barely scratched the surface. After I got a chunk of it done, I made a concious decision to move back over to bug fixing and adding in content. The last thing I did was change the animations for Mable herself (as you may have noticed from the GIFs above).

Here are a couple of examples of the new animations:

 

Compare these to the previous Mable animations (can't find a copy of her old walk animation, but trust me when I say that it was a bit rubbish):

She was literally a green rectangle with nice hair and a sword. Now she looks like a little girl, which is what she's supposed to be.

As my pixelart skills have improved and I've begun to develop my own style, this has been something that I've wanted to do more and more. I've tried to resist the urge to graphically overhaul the game entirely, but Mable's animations were the one thing that I couldn't leave as they were.

BONUS FACT: I also broke the collision detection when I updated her animations - the sprites were 1 pixel larger on the fall animations and I didn't update the collision code to reflect this, so she could get stuck in the scenery if you timed it just right:

Not sure I can pass this one off as a 'feature'
Not sure I can pass this one off as a 'feature'

Aside from the wealth of improvements to the game, I've also started working on some of the fundamental level mechanics. These are the things that a lot of the challenges of the game will be built around, so I need to introduce the simplest implementations of them early on to let you get used to how the world works.

When the Sun sets, the Moon will rise
When the Sun sets, the Moon will rise

The are the basic Sun and Moon blocks, which will have many variations and uses throughout the world. 

Here's another example of how they can be implemented in level design, while still following the same rules that they follow in the rest of the world:

Notice the fern getting sliced there too?
Notice the fern getting sliced there too?

...and one more for good luck:

Sloths are not as squishy as you might expect...
Sloths are not as squishy as you might expect...

Now, imagine what kind of challenges you might have to overcome if you have to make one of these platforms go down, but it has spikes on it. Or what if it had a timer on it, so it slowly returned to its original position? Or, we'll leave it there shall we? Otherwise we'll all be here all night ;)

Insomnia Festival

From talking to various people at the Yorkshire Games Festival, I got put in touch with one of the organisers for Insomnia. If you don't know about Insomnia, it's a gaming festival that takes place at the NEC in Birmingham and sees around 60,000 people turn up over a weekend.

Sixty. Thousand. People.

It wasn't really something I couldn't try and get Mable to, especially since I'd made so many changes to it that I wanted to test out!

Fortunately, even though applications were closed, they loved Mable and managed to get me a slot in the Indie Zone. 

It was amazing.Although, it got pretty busy:

For a sense of scale, that green and black thing at the back is a double-decker bus!
For a sense of scale, that green and black thing at the back is a double-decker bus!

 I got myself a nice little booth:

Taking secret photos of people is totally legal, right?
Taking secret photos of people is totally legal, right?

My friend Justin made me a nice poster (for the price of 2 pints):

Click if you want a hi-res download of this
Click if you want a hi-res download of this

And I got some badges (that I really loved and wish I'd got more of):

I got 101 of these, and they ran out half way through Saturday.
I got 101 of these, and they ran out half way through Saturday.

The experience was amazing. 

Some people genuinely LOVED the game. Several people tweeted at me afterwards (and I got a very very nice email) saying how much they loved it, how it was the best game at the show. It was a little bit overwhelming to be honest.

I watched some people give up and walk away, and I felt good about this. It proved to me that I wasn't making a mediocre game. Hey, I mean maybe it's the stale wine talking, but this thing that we're all doing here is going to be amazing (and it's all down to every single one of you wonderful people!)

What I'm trying to say is: if everyone was just like, 'yeah that was pretty good' or 'hmm yeah that's ok I guess' then I'd think everything was just hunky dory. Instead, the game seemed to generally invoke one of the extremes. I'd rather make something that some people love, even if some people also hate it. I guess it tells me that I'm doing something right, which is nice.

I also took the opportunity to set my laptop up on the Sunday and do a little bit of live testing on people. It was actually really cool to keep firing new things over and have people test little tweaks and fixes to things! People were oddly into watching me code too, despite me clearly not having any idea what I was doing.

Here's the most stable build that I had on the show floor. Ignore the level design in the swamp and cave levels, they're slightly tweaked versions of the Kickstarter demo that are only in there for these kind of events (in other words, they're a bit rubbish).

I also had the pleasure of meeting one of my backers in the flesh. The first backer I met who I didn't already know!

Sam, it was great to meet you! Sorry I'd run out of badges :(

Mable & The Wood on Consoles

That would be really cool, wouldn't it?

Rest assured, if this happens, I'll get you keys. Watch this space...

Next Month

It's Christmas!

That means that I have 2 weeks off work, which I will be using to scream through my to-do list and start ticking some of the bigger things off that are left to do before alpha release is ready.

I'll be getting in touch again with all backers at the design levels of the Kickstarter. I can only apologise that I haven't been pestering you all more about your designs. I'm getting to a stage now where I do need to get them in the game so that it can fit naturally around them, rather than being shoehorned in - so expect an email in the next couple of weeks!

I'll also be spending time with my family, but it means that I can do that and work on Mable instead of having to pick between one or the other. I can't wait!

In other news, it also looks like we might be moving house. This could have an impact on plans, but I'll keep you updated on that front.

Bugs and housing situation allowing, I hope to have some pretty solid dates for you in the next update with regards to when you'll be getting your hands on the alpha, beta and final game!

Bonus Round

Here's some of the suggestions that came out of people playing the game, let me know if you like the sound of any of these:

  • Time trial mode: once you've beaten a level, you can replay it with a timer and try to get the best time. "Maybe have a leaderboard?"
  • "Can you buy bombs and stuff?"
  • "A progress bar on screen so I can see how far it is to the next checkpoint so I know how much I need to panic"
  • "Would be cool if the line changed colour when it was lined up with an enemy"
  • "Thought about adding in a horde mode?"

Thank You

There's just over 25 minutes left on the 3 and a half hour long Ghibli Jazz Extravaganza, and I think it's about time we all got to bed.

I just wanted to thank you all again for all of the support through the year. It's been invaluable, and I really couldn't be doing this without you.

I hope you all have a great Christmas and, if I don't speak to you before, make sure you have a fantastic new year!

*Unless you're Derek Yu and you're making Spelunky, in which case you should probably kill the player at every opportunity 

Carmen Marin, sam, and 12 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      @Sector94: everyone loves the Vita! It's been a great console for indie games. Apparently works really well with GameMaker games too!

    2. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      @Ami: thanks Ami :)

      The sweets weren't all that nice either, but they were very shiny!

    3. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      @Daniel Miller: thanks!

    4. Sector94 on

      Very excited about console versions! My gaming PC is busted and I won't be getting a new one for quite some time, so fingers crossed for a Vita port (by far the system I love the most when it comes to indie games)!

    5. Ami
      Superbacker
      on

      Thanks for the update, incredibly well put together! Loved seeing the photos and especially appreciated the breakdown of learning/observing from candy on a table and using it in the level design. Great stuff, thanks for all the hard work!

    6. Daniel Miller
      Superbacker
      on

      great update, really encouraging to see how how much you're evolving the game based on watching people play!

    7. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      @Shawn Heatherly: yeah, to be honest the bombs probably wouldn't fit, but I'll have a play around with the idea.

      The feedback and observations from the events have helped me make the game easier to pick up, and easier for people to get to grips with how it works. That frees me up to introduce more complicated ideas as the game develops.

      It's nice to try stuff and see people get it too. It almost makes me feel like I know what I'm doing ;)

    8. Missing avatar

      Shawn Heatherly on

      Always good seeing how you take feedback.
      As for the questions from the bonus round, I'm not opposed to a time trial or horde mode, but I doubt I'll ever dive into them. As for bombs, do we really need to buy them? If they're vital for finding secrets and we can run out, then sure. I really like the idea of the line changing color when it's lined up with an enemy.

    9. Missing avatar

      sam on

      That'd be cool but I don't think I'm going to the next one, so maybe another time aha

    10. Andrew Stewart Creator on

      Hope you managed to get all the tape off ok!

      Fingers crossed I'll be at the next Insomnia too :)

    11. Missing avatar

      sam on

      Hey Andrew it's fine aha, Brandon gave me the poster anyway and along with all the printouts they are proudly on my wall :3
      It was great meeting you, hopefully it'll happen again but keep up the great work :D