This will be a very quick update because the last couple of months weren't very productive. Our programmer/designer moved to another country, and our artist had to help her family's business. These were exceptional circumstances that are now resolved, and we can continue working on our simulation. With that said, we still have a long road ahead of us and a lot of work to do.
There will be a more substantial update next month, and we'll hopefully have some good news. Until then, happy holidays!
[OOC]For this forum RP we're going to explore the idea of an alternative world where Ghost in a Bottle MegaCorp is a much smaller independent team struggling to make a niche and obscure adventure game after a successful crowdfunding campaign. It's certainly an outlandish concept, but with Octopus City merchandise all around us and the ubiquitous presence of Ghost in a Bottle in our lives, it is fun to consider how different (and terrifying) the world would be in the absence of the Octopus City mythos. Check the stickied rules topic and create your character in the appropriate thread.[/OOC]
Kickstarter Update #31
Hey guys! Our little art project is coming along nicely and it's time for another update. Making games is hard if you don't have your own army or underground corporate bunker, but we're going to keep it real and do our best. In a parallel universe we would own a sweatshop or two, with dozens of artists and designers working on the most exquisite tentacles, but here in the real world the best a little indie dev can hope for is to fix their shack's roof before the rainy season.
In the previous update we mentioned our intention to release another demo. It will be much closer to our vision for the final product. In addition to new quests and places to explore, the demo introduces several changes to gameplay mechanics that will be discussed in the rest of this update. [OOC: In this world they don't know what an OctoSim is, so they talk in 'game' terms]
Changes to Gossip
The Knowledge or Gossip system is the most important mechanic in Octopus City Blues. The original idea was to treat gossip or factoids as items which can be used on NPCs and other objects. Not all gossip is equal, and you have to be careful about the things you share with people.
In the old system, as implemented in the last demo, gossip had a hierarchy with similar facts grouped under a topic such as "Beetles" or "Vagrants Guild". You acquired individual facts by talking to people or interacting with the environment. You could then approach people and use the field menu to share gossip. In particular, the Professor's quest allowed approaching the Professor with various beetle facts, and by selecting the right things to tell him, you could earn his trust or animosity.
There are a number of issues with this system:
Outdated information: most of the beetle gossip wouldn't be applicable after the Professor's quest, but it was still accessible in the menu.
Adventure Game's Bane: such a system encourages players to try every type of gossip on every NPC, and that's not particularly fun. Most NPCs had generic responses for gossip categories (e.g. they will give the same response for all beetle facts), but players might try to exhaust their numerous options just in case there's something worthwhile.
Boring design: the design of the Professor quest was lacking, simply using good or bad beetle gossip to manipulate a hidden trust variable becomes very mechanical after a while, and it's not the type of interesting NPC interaction that we wanted to do.
These concerns led to a small but major change in the system. Instead of having to worry about individual "factoids", interactions with NPCs are now based on gossip topics or categories. For example, instead of opening the menu, selecting "Beetles", then selecting a particular fact such as "Die if flipped over", you now simply select the topic ("Beetles" in this case) to initiate an NPC interaction. Most NPCs will have one response for the topic as a whole, but in other interactions the individual facts come into play as additional dialogue choices. An example is in the redesigned Professor quest, where instead of feeding the Professor one fact a time, he now challenges you to answer a series of questions about beetles. This might seem like a trivial change, but the conversation becomes somewhat more interesting and you don't have to manually go through a list of options.
Changes to NPC Schedules
NPC schedules were intended to make the game's world more dynamic by giving most of the city's inhabitants their own daily schedules. You could follow them around town as they go home or to work, and their schedules could change over time. This sounds cool on paper, but there were several problems with the implementation:
A considerable amount of additional animations are needed to have most NPCs walking around the city in 4 directions.
We had to come up with interesting schedules for each NPC, including having them go home at some point. This requires extra planning, and sometimes it requires extra locations and art as well.
Bugs, a lot of bugs. Perhaps we have a lousy programmer, but while the scheduling system works fine for a few NPCs, it introduces a lot of potential for NPCs getting stuck, poor pathfinding and lower performance. All of that could probably be fixed, but...
The value of these detailed schedules was questionable, especially when you consider the alternative discussed below.
We've decided to simplify this system for most NPCs. Some NPCs still keep detailed schedules, particularly if these schedules are relevant in the main story quests. The rest of the characters will have simplified schedules that work on daily basis. For example, you can find the twins digging for dinosaur fossils in the Plaza on odd days, but they will be pickpocketing passengers in the Centipede Station on even ones.
The schedules don't have to be binary, we also have a 5-day week system in place, and we could have NPCs doing something different every day. The main difference is that you won't see the twins physically moving from point A to point B. When a day ends, you get a screen with the new day's name and date, and all NPC locations and animations change afterwards.
This change saves us time and resources, and will help us focus on more important things. [OOC: excuses and more excuses, just like the real GiaB! :P Just kidding, please don't send the spiderbots after me...] We still want to city to feel dynamic and lively. The random dynamic events we talked about in the initial KS pitch will still be around (e.g. giant tentacle randomly exploding or a politician giving a speech in the plaza), and we are still planning to flesh out every NPC through quests and interactions.
The Abandoned Playground
The playground is a new area that will be introduced in the demo. Both the Rednose gang and the Dreamers cult operate in this old and abandoned theme park.
You can check out a cool video of our artist, Marina, bringing this gloomy place to life:
One of the things we struggle with is coming up with cool locations and scenes. It might take more time to design a location than actually drawing it. Marina has to look up all sorts of references, and we might discuss the location and come up with several mockups and sketches before finalizing it. This is one of the biggest time sinks at the moment, and we want to be more efficient.
Karl Crawford is a talented artist and a longtime friend and supporter of Octopus City Blues. He's already contributed a lot of cool art and designs, and he really "gets" Octopus City's influences and style. Starting from this month we're experimenting with giving Karl a more permanent role where he would come up with concepts for areas before Marina starts her own process. Hopefully this will help us work faster and add some new ideas into the game's world. You can check out some of Karl's art below, and you can follow him on twitter for more. [OOC: They can't hire a proper artist so they're hiring a random hobo to do a job!!]
Saving Your Progress
Saving your progress is something that didn't make it into the last demo, but we've already implemented it for the new one. Octopus City Blues will works with a single save file, and your progress is saved automatically when entering a new location or at certain scripted checkpoints. There is no way to mess up or even die, and we hope that such a system will make your experience more unique and interesting.
Localization and Open Source
One system we implemented since the demo is a way to localize the game's text. It's a simple system based on text files and anyone will be able to easily add new translations. In addition to localization, all our tools will be available to the community, and the game itself is DRM-free. The engine's source code (as of the last demo) is available online, and we will share more tools in the future. [OOC: LOL Imagine if the real Ghost in a Bottle Zaibatsu did that. What would the catch be? xD]
We would like to briefly talk about our rewards and plans for fulfilling them:
#1 OCTOFAN ($1) and CHEATER ($3): No one has claimed these rewards, and Firas remains the undefeated Monopoly champion of the world.
TENTACLE CUTTER ($10): When the game comes out, you'll get access to the DRM-free files. Since we had a successful Greenlight campaign (thanks!), everyone will get a Steam key as well. When is the game coming out? When it's ready, of course...
TESTER ($15): We had people test alpha versions and a beta of the demo on the forums, but aside from a few very helpful people, it understandably didn't get a lot of traction. We will probably have a few more beta versions in the future, and we might consider other options for distribution. (Send them by email? We welcome any ideas)
GROUPIE ($20): Aaron, our composer, is hard at work on the game's soundtrack. This might be available sometime before the game is released.
SR. TENTACLE CUTTER ($25): This is the "Kickstarter Special" version. We are considering having this as a standalone story released after the full version (Remember the Mutant and Conman stretch goal?) It will be available to backers at this level first, and eventually released publicly. There will also be some incidental easter eggs and extra tentacles in the game itself. How does that sound?
OCTOMANIAC ($35): This will be a surprise, and it will be digitally available with the full game.
TENTACLE ARTIST ($50): We have a lot of concept art done by Marina and Karl, and we plan to commission additional artists for a variety of stuff to add to the art book. It might be released with or after the full game.
USELESS NPC ($75): Sabrina, our sprite artist, has finished the base sprites for all the backer NPCS. They'll be used in a specific dream somewhat near the end of the game.
OCTOBLOOD JUNKIE ($100): We have had a lengthy discussion about the physical box, and we want to include all sorts of cool things in there. It will be worth it, but you might have to wait a little after the game is released.
CAPITALIST ($250): We sent out the surveys but haven't started working on this reward yet.
PATRON ($600): Marina already bought some art supplies to create the coolest tentacle sculpture. We hope to have that done in the coming months.
HELPER ($1000): Writing a thank you email takes a lot of time and energy, so this lucky backer will have to wait a little longer.
Someone asked us about Kickstarter updates, and we think it's a good opportunity to discuss some of the reasons for the delay between updates:
We are trying to avoid showing too much content (spoilers).
Most of the updates are similar: we are still working, there is some progress, there are some setbacks, we are doing our best, etc.
It actually takes time to prepare a good update, and that time could be spent on other things.
We’re active on social media and can be reached by email. If anyone has specific questions or concerns then we’d love to answer them.
With that said, we do try to have regular updates. At least one update every couple of months, or more if there’s something noteworthy. We could have monthly updates if people prefer them, but they’d be less interesting.
And that's all for today's lengthy update. Until next time!
OOC: Whew! That was a lot of writing. It's fun though, the naïveté and passion of this random small team making a dumb art game. With that said, I bet they'd still do a better job than the real deal. You can buy artists and coders, but you can't buy a soul! Anyway, feel free to post more made up content and stories in this fictional universe. It would be fun to think about the corporations running this fictional world without GiaB, and what people do for entertainment in a world with no OctoSims
The term "octosim auteur" has never applied to anyone more than to the CEO of Ghost in a Bottle Arts. A visionary dream weaver who graduated from a prestigious business school with one purpose: to be a CEO by the age of 30. We were able to sit down with him in Ghost in a Bottle's luxurious underground bunker to discuss the company's latest entry in the "Octopus City" saga.
The story of your rise from a humble bottled phantasm to one of the most influential CEOs in this galactic quadrant has become something of a legend. What kind of experiences do you think has shaped your path?
Unlike mortal skinbags, there is no limit to what an ambitious young apparition can do. My mission was always to give customers exactly what they want, and if that's an immoral simulation about life in a tentacle-infested metropolis, then I'm more than happy to oblige.
Tell us a little bit about Octopus City Blues. What kind of interactive experiences could we expect from this revolutionary software?
Octopus City Blues is an attempt to go beyond conventional physical simulation and to recreate the very essence of the human experience. It can be described as narrative-driven interactive fiction with a deep web of complex and meaningful interactions and choices. It's also a very visual experience, and we have spared no expense to make every tentacle look as believable as the ones you'd find in your backyard. If I had to describe Octopus City Blues in one word, it would be "abhorrent" or "toxic" (laughs.)
The simulation was originally slated for release by the end of 2014, but was delayed following the release of the demo. What's the project's status at the moment?
Last year showed us that our initial estimates were far off. They were based on pre-Kickstarter work, which did not scale well once we moved to more complex scenes. We had to deal with personal issues, unexpected bugs, and seemingly simple ideas that took a long time to implement. Stretch goals allowed for a larger and more interesting world, but the project's scope grew as well.
When we released the demo and got your feedback, we identified many design problems, so we revamped the design and introduced new scenes. While we'd love to release the project as soon as possible, we also want it to be something we are proud of. Quality will always take priority over time for us, and the final product should be worthy of the Octopus City brand.
With that said, we are still taking measures to improve our process, from hiring additional help to creating simpler editors and tools. We have internal deadlines for everything we work on, and while we might miss them every now and then, we're slowly getting there.
So, can we expect a release some time this year?
It's possible, but quite optimistic. That is to say, if everything goes smoothly then it could happen, but we know by now that things don't always go according to plan. We will try our best and keep you updated. Please look forward to it!
So what are you working on right now? How much of the simulation is completed?
We're finalizing a brand new intro that slowly introduces the systems via a number of optional quests. A couple of scenarios involving a circus and intelligent turkeys are almost done. An editor was created to speed up scene creation. The newest addition to our team, Sabrina, made sprites for all the NPC tier backers and more. We have a new system that allows NPCs to remember your decisions, allowing you to have a reputation that goes beyond good and evil.
Giving estimates for how much is completed can be misleading, because there are so many interlocking parts that need to be taken into account. The systems are all done, more than half the required art is done, music progress is slow, quests and scenarios depend on the art, etc.
What are your priorities for the near future?
Once we're done with the new intro and a few other scenes, we would like to release another, longer demo that is much closer to the final version. It would be limited to backers at the beta tester tier and above, but we might release it publicly in the future. We're also working on several main scenarios and their dream counterparts. Of course, our primary priority will always be hoarding gold and other gems (laughs unconvincingly.)
What personal pursuits do you have beyond octosims?
First of all I want to create even more octosims. I’m almost 500-years-old in ghost years, so I don’t have that much time left before being reincarnated as a freshwater snail. If I were to write a list of things that I want to do before I transmute, it would be a very stuffed list (laughs.)
I was always driven by a burning desire to be number one, and now that I'm a CEO of the world's biggest multinational conglomerate, I can't think of anything bigger than that. Maybe I can come up with a new title such as "His Royal Highness, CEO for Life, Supreme Admiral, Doctor of Medicine, First Salaryman, Baron of the Most Ancient and Most Radical Sewer Brethren, Decadent Uncle of All Beatles of the Earth and Squids of the Seas, Conqueror of the Neo-Roman Empire in the Milky Way in General and planet 1 Sol d in Particular, Uncrowned King of Spades". It has a nice ring to it, ne?
Greetings. As the new CEO of Ghost in a Bottle Interactive I would like to welcome you to a new era in the Octopus City saga. The future of this respectable conglomerate was entrusted to me after defeating my predecessor in a traditional gun duel, and I would like to assure you that the transition will be a smooth and positive experience for everyone involved.
Unlike my predecessor, I will not waste your time with tentacle jokes and empty promises. In fact, tentacle jokes are hereby banned and the number of tentacles in the simulation is effectively reduced by 10%. The workforce was downsized as well and our processes are now 60% more efficient and streamlined. You can expect great things from the new board of directors, and I hope this update will be to your satisfaction.
Thanks to the efforts of Sabrina, our newest artist, almost all the sprites for backers at the USELESS NPC tier are completed. We have already shared the results with these backers and are amending the sprites based on their feedback.
Marina, our main artist, finished all the assets for the new main menu and several other scenes including a few arcade games. The main menu utilizes BUNKER OS, a user-friendly operating system that will act as your own virtual bunker, a friendly space where you can check the time, read journal entries, communicate with other characters and watch TV. To help you navigate the bunker, we are happy to introduce uncle Bunk, your own virtual guide to underground life in the post-apocalypse.
In other news, our resident code monkey spent some time making the editor easier to use, and was also seen working on the new menu and various content for the simulation. Progress is unfortunately a little slower than desired, but is steady.
Lore: Gangs of Octopus City
Organized crime was always a problem in Octopus City. While the Central Administration officially took a hard stance on crime and Octoblood addiction, they had little control over the towers. Corruption was also widespread – tower Magistrates turned a blind eye to gang activity as long as they got their cut. It is important, however, to understand that crime was only one aspect of the whole picture; gangs were unique social institutions with distinctive cultures and an important role in their communities. Many members were born into gang life and knew little else outside it. In this article we briefly introduce some of the prominent gangs of Gold Tower.
To call the Shrimps a gang would probably be considered an insult to real gangs. After all, these rich rebellious punks are more interested in fashion than actual crime. They still commit petty acts of vandalism every now and then, but no one takes them seriously.
The Rat Kings is a very influential organized crime syndicate. Their name is spoken in whispers and even the Administration thinks twice before crossing them. The Rat Kings are very methodical in their dealings. They follow a strict moral code and treat crime as a legitimate business, going as far as mailing sealed letters to threaten their victims.
The slums in the Robot Graveyard are a dangerous place, but all their inhabitants respect the Widows and their role in keeping the peace. These ladies might appear tough and intimidating, but they definitely know how to have a good time. Without their efforts anarchy would reign in the lawless graveyard far below the city.
Whether it's their distinctive tattoos or the deadly silence before they cut your throat, Rednose is a group to be feared. They are arguably the largest gang in Octopus City, operating mainly in drug trafficking, racketeering and the smuggling of illegal goods between towers. There has always been a lot of tension between Rednose and the Rat Kings, but it never escalated to direct confrontation. Recent events might change that, however.
The Augmicians are a club of enthusiasts who are into robotics and cyborg enhancements. Cyborgs were often picked on by other gangs, so they banded together and started their own group. Augmicians are mostly found around the old Robot Graveyard, where they salvage junk and surgically sculpt weird machines on their own bodies. Despite their grizzly appearances, most of them are very shy and geeky.
According to Mr. Bad Knees, the Guild's self-proclaimed president, the prestigious Vagrants Guild is an ancient organization that predates modern Octopus City. The Guild is concerned with the well-being of homeless people in the city, and serves as a union to oversee and protect their noble dumpster diving traditions.
The Samardukjan were the native inhabitants of the ancient Samarduk city-states, a loose alliance that would evolve into the Octopus City we know and love. They are the majority of the city's population, but are largely marginalized by the elite Lascapi minority. At least that's the Duke's version of the story. This colorful ensemble of patriotic old men embrace their traditional culture and reject all outsiders.
They may call themselves fancy names like the "Brethren of Serenity" or the "Enlightened Ones", but to everyone else the Dreamers are nothing but pathetic Octoblood junkies. The members of this cult are those who gave up on the real world to succumb to Octopus Dreams. Over time they grew detached and different, taking refuge in an old circle tent where demonic rituals are rumored to occur.
In today's competitive market, great developments are happening every day at the underground headquarters of Ghost in a Bottle Petroleum. As firm believers in innovation, traditional family values, and the pursuit of gold, Octopus City Blues will be the first of many exciting projects to redefine the stagnant Octopus City Simulation (OCS) genre and bring it to the average consumer. The first step in our master plan is to introduce our product to the masses via Steam. We feel that our presence on a monopolistic marketplace will strengthen our brand, as it echoes our own monopoly in the OCS market. As our dedicated fans and supporters it is therefore your duty to help us achieve our corporate vision and get through the Greenlight process. Usually we tell kids like you to say NO to Octoblood, but today we'll make an exception. Vote YES for Octoblood and help us help you.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, we have put together a new trailer for our simulation. Check it out:
Bonus: The Design of Octopus City Blues
Warning: The following contains many spoilers for the demo. You can download it here if you haven't already.
Hello everyone, this is employee no. 208, one of the many professional Octosim designers working on everyone's favorite fever dream, and today I want to talk about the design of the demo and some of the things you can expect moving forward. One of the main ideas behind Octopus City Blues is to be as implicit and subtle as possible. Unlike some other products, we don't start the simulation by explicitly telling you how "your choices matter" or "Daisy will remember what you said", and we don't expose any of the multitude of hidden variables that shape your experience. Based on that, the very idea of talking about the design of the simulation is at odds with what we set out to do. However, I feel that it's been a while since the demo was released, and we have made a few design mistakes that obscures the true complexity of the demo experience. It's probably a good idea to talk about the demo in the context of the full version, to let you know what to expect and to help you understand why it's taking such a long time.
The diagram above shows the structure of the main scenario in the demo. You can click on it to view a bigger version. The design of OCB is a balancing act between having a lot of (hopefully meaningful) choices while keeping things simple enough and within our budget. There are multiple ways to break into the Professor's mansion for example, but once you're inside the different paths converge. With that said, the entry method you choose can have a big impact on the endings and scenes available later. Your choices matter, but branching is kept to a reasonable limit.
There are two main design problems we perceive with the current demo. The first one is that not all choices are equal. Using tentacle hormone on the sick tentacle outside the mansion is a very obvious and straightforward approach, to the point that most people don't realize there are other ways to get inside. The demo lacks a proper introduction and can be quite confusing for new players. We don't think players should be told what to do or be given too many hints, but in this case many players didn't even realize that gossip could be used like items. Gossip is the most important mechanic in the simulation, and most of the demo endings aren't reachable if you don't utilize it.
The second problem is related to the first one. The impact of your choices should be recognized, and you should feel that picking A over B can change things considerably. Like I said earlier, we wanted to be very implicit. The point isn't to play the demo enough times to get all the endings, but to give each player a somewhat unique experience even if they only tried it once. You shouldn't be told that "this choice will matter later" because it trivializes the other choices and takes you out of the experience, but you should still feel the weight of your choice. Stepping on beetles is certainly fun, but the Professor doesn't appreciate it, and several endings depend on his attitude towards Kaf. I wonder if most people realized the importance of that choice. If they haven't, then we should work harder to warn the player without directly saying "stepping on beetles will change the ending".
Both these problems stem from a difference between our expectations and how players actually behave. We wanted to make a vague and open experience that focuses on exploration and intuition, but we might have gone too far. Instead of demonstrating the complex web of choices and consequences many players only get the easiest ending and may assume that's all there is to it. In the future we will try to do more extensive beta testing and watch players try the simulation. We will also find ways to train the player to recognize alternatives and choices without explicitly stating it in a tutorial.
You can imagine how hard it can be to design branching systems like this, and that's not even accounting for all the dialogue we write for different gossip interactions. But we believe that it's worth it in the end if you could experience all of Octopus City Blues and then talk to a friend about it, only to find out that each of you had a very different experience. The choices made in the demo lead to different endings, but in the full version they will influence future quests and interactions. You can later visit the Professor's beetle fan club if you've convinced him to start one, and see the club growing and becoming more influential. Alternatively, the Professor might be dead and his mansion inaccessible for the rest of the simulation. In another playthrough he lives on and continues his reign of terror.
The moral of this story is to treat your beetles with respect. Suppress your reptilian brain and watch your step, or kill all of them if that's what you really want to do. Will you be a paragon of light or a disruptive renegade? The choice... is yours.