A new year is here, may it be a powerful, healing and transformative one for all of us.
Here comes the extensive followup to the update sent earlier this week, with private access to the beta version of Shrug Island Chapter 1.
If you supported this project in 2014 at third tier or higher,read/play that first! Yes, you should finally be able to play the game ( of course for best release conditions, please keep it private) We'd love to hear your thoughts as we test and polish in gradual leadup to launch.
In closing the last year, I wanted to finally share what's happened with the Shrugs in 2017, what didn't work until we changed it, how we got here. Plus a few nice things to look at. If you'd rather avoid the rambling backstory, just skim the pictures:)
- The first one, was emotions. In a game about relationships and a duo of characters whose fates intertwine, it just didn't work for Li and Shri to stick to their idle animations the few times they saw eachother. So I made these.
Their animations are designed as responses from a character you control, to another that's inactive (with the possibility to switch at almost any time) So we needed a complex logic for individual animations to be triggered together. One that would NOT overly interrupt your in-game movements, yet still feed you a storyworld coming to life at just the right time. Another adjustment was the behaviour of the game camera, changed from a static scene view to one that follows as you move, if backgrounds are large enough. Sometimes however, it will focus on things you need to see, to solve, or see what you've solved. Conundrums of 2D design, half cinematic, half interactive choices. Game details that in turn give and take control from you, design contradictions that need to exist, yet each time added an extra game requirement to build without a roadmap. Some adjustments could take a few days to make. Others, written into the foundation of player/character movement, might take weeks.
Yes, this goes on for a while. Here, have a first set of Shrug desktop wallpaper. (These sketches are also hidden throughout the game if you know where to look)
- Then there was that Li puzzle with kids and seeds and drums, that we never got feedback on until we realized no one was finding it. The only direction to access it in the previous scene was placed exaxctly where one fails to check; right in front of you.... Even with a map, people stuck to left and right and never went forward. Yet too many pre-built puzzle elements, animations and hookups rested on that background to change its design radically. After umpteen versions, I finally dropped a wall with a hole in it, and a game obstacle in the form of a cluster of turtle-crabs. Apparently, this now draws enough attention for people to go there and eventually pass through.
- Locks and blocks. For months I tiptoed around an existencial problem I'd barely share with my team. I couldn't design the last scene of the chapter. Too many loose ends at all levels were meant to finish there. Not to speak of joining characters that literally move on 2 different perspectives... I attacked it from all angles, let it breath, brought in external input. It was simply, too much. A mess of failed attempts stayed in the game for a good half year before the breakthrough dropped sometime in June, scribbled on a post-it at 3AM one night. Maybe it needed to be scrutinized away from the screen. I think it was shy. In any case here's a detail I called " the lizard in the doorway" from watercolor to in-game background and puzzle animation, enough of a close-up to avoid much spoiling.
This takes us to the last feature we put in quickly and rather successfully, combining new art and the existing gamestate/feedback system. The Watcher's Thread and it's beads, from concept to animation to in-game integration.
A symbol of Shrug Time moving along, the Watcher's thread will only show when you're ready, having done all there is to do in a given space. We've placed all kinds of more of less subtle hint systems throughout the game. We were missing that one last repetitive element that might tie the map, game, and story together, connecting the Watcher's initial message and your advancement in solving the puzzles of Chapter 1. We hope it works.
- Important to note; to sustain this project through constant improvement, all three of us had to keep it on varying degrees of part-time since the autumn of 2016. Milos as a part of Borg Interactive worked on other commissioned game projects. Michael's continued teaching Sound and Game Prototyping at the Computer Science department of DTU, as he's done for years before I got to know and work with him .
As for myself... Just this past year I relocated 6 times, in 3 different countries wherever I have family, friends and the odd work, to keep living costs low and as much availability to the Shrugs as possible. There was life aboard a wooden ship for a while, and an educational shipping game that came out of it, a story in and of itself. There was the bike tourist guide job, the game catering job, the months after GDC with grieving relatives on the West Coast , the danish cabin without running water, or the return to that clay house I built but isn't mine... Finally this December with Shrug game assets almost complete, I accepted my first full-time job and conventional living situation in 4 years as background artist on prehistoric animation films for a museum in Southern France for a few months.
If this all seems way more personal than necessary, its one of the reasons for the lack of news, as well as a core part of making this unusual kind of game a reality. The puzzle of finding, losing, and rebuilding one's balance in changing environments to bring back little pieces of magic and keep them alive. To go from a personal to shared experience and hopefully give you a special journey of your own.
Two last side notes to a long and winding road of a newsletter; Shrug recognition, and backer rewards.
- Beyond impromptu showings in bars at GDC - San Francisco or tents at A.MAZE - Berlin, Shrug Island was officially selected to Boston Festival of Indie Games (FIG for short) in September. Held in MIT's Athletic Center in Michael's home town, the Boston FIG was a great occasion to gather feedback on our progress and reconnect with another vibrant indie scene. In addition to incredibly useful juror critique, we were honored to be awarded the prize for Digital Innovation in Art and Narration !
- Meanwhile, after months of patching and restitching old Shrug assets, I committed some of the autumn evenings to make side art and check if the flame was still alive. The results were a shrug series of painted beach stones, and inked drawings, the basis for rewards that WILL eventually make it to you, once I'm no longer concerned about release...
It was a healthy reminder of the past and future of Shrug Island, a world I've been channeling for over a decade now that's much more than a game, and keeps changing with the people in it...
More examples and highlights of ALL the above were posted on social media throughout the year. I'm clearly overwhelmed by communication platforms. The ones I've managed to update regularly are Shrug Island Facebook and my twitter, and will keep doing so. If you're ever curious or doubtful, please check there first. The rest gets attention sporadically, whenever we can get to it.
If you've made it all the way down here, kudos to you! I'm incredibly thankful for your patience, and for your renewed interest in a process that's taken years. I'm aware that the wait has costs you did not sign up for, but ones I had to take, to create a game that lives up to its origins. If getting here has been full of questions, I hope you understand that giving up was never an option for me. It takes as long as it takes...
Most of all, wether you play Shrug Island now or later, I hope it is good to you, and that it gives you some of the undescribable things your support has given us.
Warmth and gratitude,
Alina and the Shrugs