Stuff That Was Cut
One of the most valuable lessons I learned working in AAA is that nothing is above being cut. Developing (and finishing) a game is just as much about removing things as it is adding them. Cutting stuff out that doesn't add to the experience or when the payoff doesn't match up with the cost of implementation is actually something I enjoy. It keeps me constantly thinking about the core of what makes a game fun or interesting.Baggage
From the very beginning I envisioned a simple baggage-inspecting mechanic. Basically just like the body scanner but with randomized contents and a gun or two every once in a while. I kept putting off the implementation until eventually it wasn't needed. The game was already fun without it and adding it would've been a sizable task. Instead, I made it a point that baggage is not allowed so it sorta fit well with the narrative.Booth Shenanigans
The booth screen was supposed to have more going on. The shutter switch is some evidence of that; there were plans to have immigrants pull a gun or otherwise threaten the inspector. When this happened you'd have to close the shutter quickly or pull your own gun or something. Like the baggage though, I held off implementing it long enough to decide that it wasn't necessary. Normally I'd remove any vestiges of a cut feature but in this case I left the shutter switch in. It's a fun little thing to role play and it comes in handy for triggering a hint early in the game. I still get comments about the pointlessness of this switch though. Maybe I should've removed it.UV Seals
I think these are mentioned briefly in the devlog somewhere. The document seals were supposed to grow more involved. As part of the general progression of complexity, I wanted to add a special UV light in the late game that would be needed to verify a new type of document seal. The idea was to have only a small area of the desk lit by UV light. You'd have to move the document into this area to reveal a second "hidden" image in the seal that needed to match the rulebook. It seemed like a cool way to increase the difficulty and would've been a nice technical effect. Unfortunately and once again, this feature got pushed back far enough that it fell off the edge. Unlike some of the other cut stuff, I held out on this one for a bit longer though. I was ready to add it in until the last few weeks, when I'd laid out enough of the story and progression to find there was no room left for it.Search Photo Confiscation
This is the latest major cut I can remember. An early assumption was that the game would have both the search mechanic (which left naked photos on your desk) and a way to sell those photos for money. There's even a devlog post where I'm wink wink hinting at this, as if it's not an obvious extension of the search mechanic. This is basic low hanging fruit when dealing with the concepts of security and privacy wrapped up in body scanning. Surely those security personnel are keeping and/or profitting from naked pictures of people. Now you can too! The mechanic worked like this:
I didn't want (too many) documents crowding your desk so I created the confiscation drawer. Search photos would automatically move to your confiscation drawer and stay there until the end of the day. Unsavory characters would come in and offer you 5 credits per photo, which you could drag out of the drawer and give to them. Easy.
The confiscation drawer was a nice solution to the technical problem of having a full day's worth of unique documents loaded in memory. As soon as the person walks out of the booth, the custom photo is unloaded and the confiscation envelope changes to become a generic "closed envelope" with some descriptive text.
Everything here was completely implemented before I started laying out the final days of the game. That's when I noticed a few problems.
- Why are only passports and search photos confiscatable?
- Passport confiscation is a critical end-game revelation.
- Search photo confiscation is a setup for a few obvious (and superfluous) encounters.
- All the rules about confiscation have to mention both photos and passports.
- Search photos appear very early in the game but passport confiscation only makes sense near the end.
The big problem for me was a softening of the focus on passport confiscation. Taking someone's passport is a clear escalation on the things-are-getting-serious scale. This sets up the scenario of having your own family's passports taken and leads directly into the end game. Selling someone's bodyscan photo is just another notch on the creeper-security-agent-is-selling-my-naked-pics scale. Under the original scenario, the drawer appeared along with the ability to search, near the start of the game. This meant you could confiscate photos for a long time when suddenly you'd have to start taking passports too. There'd be no obvious UI hint for this change (the drawer was almost always there, just now you should put passports in too). From a mechanics and progression perspective, I found there was a lot more impact if the confiscation drawer was introduced for the purpose of taking passports.
Giving up for-sure features like this can be hard, especially after they're implemented. Whenever you have a bunch of issues pile up related to a specific feature though, it's worth taking a step back and asking yourself what you gain or lose by cutting it.
Ultimately, even though I'd already implemented photo confiscation, it was an easy choice to remove it. Taking it out gave me a better game in every way, leaving the concept of confiscation limited to passports. Probably my favorite cut.The Overwatcher
If you go back through the devlog, you can find some discussion of how weird it is to get detailed citations for mistakes. As if someone is watching over your shoulder. Why not have that
guy check the passports? This bothered me for most of the project and I considered a few different ways to handle it. My original plan was to incorporate this "overwatch" theme deeply into the core gameplay and story.
In the beta, you can see the not-yet-functional overwatch light on the stamp bar. It wasn't going to be explained until much later, but the overwatcher worked in shifts. When this light was on, he was watching; if it turned off, he wasn't. If you wanted to approve someone with a mistake on their passport, you could avoid a citation by waiting until the light went out to quickly stamp/return the documents. With the overwatcher part of the core mechanics like this, he was also going to show up in the story. Sergiu was originally supposed to have some kind of connection with the overwatcher. I hadn't worked out any details but figured there was potential for favors to be exchanged. I also wanted one of the EZIC agents work his way into the overwatch position with your help. If you approved a certain agent, a few days later you'd receive a printout letting you know that EZIC is now in control of the overwatch post and all the rules have changed. That would've created an interesting situation where the printed bulletin and rulebook meant nothing and the player had to work against a different set of secret EZIC commands.
So that was all well and good; lots of potential. I really like this kind of subversion of expectations, where the rules change suddenly or the player is faced with something unexpected and has to change their thinking.
After working through a few scenarios though, I was left overall with a worse game than before. The moment the script flips is all well and cool but it's at the cost of everything before and after. If the overwatcher works in obvious shifts then all the sob story immigrants just become a case of waiting a few seconds for the light to go out. It changes the focus from the interesting stuff to watching for a light to turn off.
After that realization, I considered ditching the light mechanic but keeping the tangible overwatcher. There'd be no way to "cheat" the citations but I could keep the EZIC overwatch-takeover concept and have all the rules change in the late game. Maybe that could've worked with a lot of careful thought but in the end I was left feeling that it weakened a central premise of the game that you're a powerless cog in an uncaring machine. If the overwatcher is a guy that can be so easily reached then maybe the system isn't so overbearing. Unaddressed and untouchable though, it becomes an implicit force outside of any influence. I feel this works better for both the gameplay and the story. In the final game there's only a touch of mystery behind the citations but it's (I hope) quickly accepted as an implicit construct.
Even beyond these two (good) reasons, messing with the citation system subverts the right-or-wrong judgement tied to the core mechanic of finding discrepancies. Once that judgement is abandoned, the discrepancy hunt falls apart completely. That was especially decisive for me since I strongly believe in the importance of gameplay systems in effective interactive media. This cut goes all the way to the top.
Also I removed the overwatch light. People were clicking it like a button.
Stuff That Was Added at the Last Second