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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsA Case of Distrust
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nathy after dark
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« Reply #60 on: September 11, 2016, 05:56:49 PM »

Quote from: TheWanderingBen
You're still in school right? Balancing that with gamedev must be challenging -- and your solutions are probably helpful to others in the same boat (or for me, who might want to start freelancing at some point!). You're also working with an artist and a translator? How do you set their tasks -- is it rigid, or more whenever they can get whatever done?

Yes I am! Just starting college now. I've been meaning to get to your other questions--I'll try and do a dev log during the first half of this week!

On another note, I just listened to this podcast episode and it immediately made me think of your game. You should give it a listen. An unbelievably bizarre/grotesque real-life mystery: Futility Closet

Futility Closet is generally awesome for weird historical stories like that. Since you're making a historical game, maybe it would be worth subscribing, for random inspiration. Smiley I also loved "The Road to En-dor" which might not be as relevant to your work, but still fantastic.
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #61 on: November 02, 2016, 01:44:27 PM »

FOR REFERENCE

TheWanderingBen has stopped wandering! Well, for now anyway. I took the long route home, so I've been quiet the last month, but I'm back in the frozen Canadian tundra and ready to update you on game progress (What? I was traveling? Yep! Read about it on my website's blog!). Throughout this year’s travels, I’ve had a few people ask how I research historical fiction. My San Franciscan Detour was the perfect time to chronicle the process. I mean, the internet can get you far, but it’s still hard to beat the old methods:


SF’s Public Library has an unscalable mountain of archives — everything from daily newspapers to fashion magazines to local advertisements. Some of those they’ve scanned for online use, while others line the shelves of their large History Center on the sixth floor. But my favourite publications are on microform — which means using an old machine that clicks-and-clacks with the satisfying feedback of bulky 80s technology. Still, the best resources are the Reference Librarians themselves. Ask about any topic and they're instantly darting through the archives, plucking the ideal sources from the shelves, as you scurry alongside, catching the books in an ever more cumbersome pile. They’re like Siri, only with a better search algorithm, and less personality. I love them!

For this particular trip, I wanted to explore the architecture of my setting. The internet is filled with San Francisco landmarks, but even staples like the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower hadn’t been built by the 20s. What was there before? What survived the 1906 earthquake? What would a stroll through SF in March 1924 look like? I set to work to find out. Old maps and chronology books got me started, but the best reference was a book on the history of San Francisco architecture, with photos and locations of buildings that still exist today. I knew my next move:


I created a Google Map with all of the buildings listed, including their names and a broad categorization. I then spent my Tuesday hiking through the city and snapping as many photos as I could. No, I didn’t get to all the pins on the map, but I ensured I had at least a few pictures from every category. Now, with hundreds of photos of my own reference, I have a much better idea of SF’s 1920s flavour:


What will I do with this reference? I’d be lying if I said I was certain — I might make game assets with them, I might not. But the important part of the exercise was to better understand my game’s world. I’m happy to just extended my knowledge. The hard part will be communicating it to my players. Wish me luck!
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nathy after dark
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« Reply #62 on: November 03, 2016, 04:32:59 PM »

Awesome post. I love that I'm not the only dev with a nerdy propensity for background research—in fact, you seem to have taken it further than me, even. Smiley
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #63 on: November 16, 2016, 01:02:22 PM »

TECHNICAL TEXT

The Ben Wander Murder Collection (yes, still a tentative title) has a lot of text. Though the game has visuals — locations, characters, travel screens — the majority of a player’s time involves staring at words. My text-system was okay, but had some issues. Alleviating those issues was paramount! Here’s a breakdown of how I did that — any questions welcome!

NEXT BUTTON
Pacing text in games is important — an entire screen of words can be daunting! I want to make sure my players never feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I had large amounts of text without any choice for the player to make — I could tell I needed to divide those. But if the player doesn’t have an action, how does she continue her journey? I give you my glorious “Next Button”:


UNDERSTANDABLE LINKS
Beyond the “Next Button”, players have two ways of interacting with text. Main Links are text-buttons representing choices or actions that the player can take — e.g.: TALK, CONTRADICT, etc; if a player clicks these links, she progresses the story. Descriptive Links are text-buttons that only display more detail of the game’s world — historical facts, character backstory, etc.; those links don’t move the story forward. In the old text system, the two links were hard to differentiate. I believe the new system more clearly distinguishes between link types:


CLEAR FONTS
Unity’s UI text system uses bitmap fonts — which, glossing over some details, display letters clearly at a target resolution, but the letters become more blocky and blurry the further your screen deviates from that target. Enter Text Mesh Pro, a solution Dino Ignacio recommended while I crashed at his place last month. TMP uses signed distance functions (a technique first pioneered by Valve). You can nerd out on the implementation details (I may have O_o) but the basic result is that, at all resolutions, the font looks perfect. Good news — no extra draw calls or memory!


ANIMATION
The old text animations were slow — grating my players’ patience when displaying large blocks of text. And, for a game claiming inspiration from Saul Bass, the animations seemed pretty tame. But a consequence of Text Mesh Pro’s font implementation is that I now have a rectangular mesh object per letter — i.e.: I can manipulate each letter’s position, rotation, scale, and how skewed it is. That’s powerful! As an example, I created a “roll out” animation of my text, where I rotate each line into view one at a time. Here’s that visual, with animated examples of the rest of the added features as well — and a sneak-peak at a(n in-progress) part of the story:




THE FUTURE
Now my text, and my players’ actions around that text, are more intelligible. Next up, making it fun. TMP gives me the ability to animate text in a variety of ways, and I plan to use that power to create entertaining transitions appropriate to the mood of every scene. But that’s just the text. Much more polish is required for every part of this game.

Wish me luck!
« Last Edit: November 16, 2016, 01:51:18 PM by TheWanderingBen » Logged

TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #64 on: November 16, 2016, 01:04:58 PM »

I spotted this game for the first time today.

Must say that I really like the visual style! The art direction seem to be both good and very consistent. In addition the time period and setting are of course about as cool as you can find. I have not tried the demo yet, but after seeing all the nice screenshots here I think I will have to!  Smiley

Awesome post. I love that I'm not the only dev with a nerdy propensity for background research—in fact, you seem to have taken it further than me, even. Smiley

Thanks for the love guys! Development is still going strong (if a bit slowly)!
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nathy after dark
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« Reply #65 on: November 16, 2016, 01:29:03 PM »

Quote from: TheWanderingBen
Enter Text Mesh Pro, a solution Dino Ignacio recommended while I crashed at his place last month. TMP uses signed distance functions (a technique first pioneered by Valve). You can nerd out on the implementation details (I may have O_o) but the basic result is that, at all resolutions, the font looks perfect. Good news — no extra draw calls or memory!

Can you link any good places to read about this? Smiley

I love the system for controlling the display/animation of each letter individually. I played around a bit with revealing text in unconventional patterns for my game.
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #66 on: November 16, 2016, 01:57:02 PM »

Can you link any good places to read about this? Smiley

I love the system for controlling the display/animation of each letter individually. I played around a bit with revealing text in unconventional patterns for my game.

Whoops! Copy/pasted from my own blog and forgot to re-link the hyperlinks!


Thanks for the heads-up, man. Added the links to the post, too.
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #67 on: November 30, 2016, 08:19:29 AM »

Been a couple weeks since my last update, but, as always, that doesn't mean I'm not working!

Here's a screenshot of Twine, showing about a tenth of my first story. As you can see, Twine quickly transforms into a giant spaghetti monster, with all the options I have to consider for players:


More story writing coming up! Wish me luck!
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #68 on: December 13, 2016, 07:56:53 AM »

Here's an in-progress version of one of the new travel screens:


That whole map view? Gone Smiley I'll write more about why next week.
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #69 on: December 16, 2016, 01:39:29 PM »

CRAFTING KILLING THE MAP SCREEN (PART 4)

I'd designed, implemented, and blogged about creating the map screen and its directory panel. But, the more I played with it, the more I realized: it needed the axe.

WHY IT DIDN'T FIT
Look I'd spent significant time on this thing already. And part of me liked it too! But I knew it had issues. I laid out my pros and cons:

PROS
CONS
  • Gives a sense of place and travel
  • Allows the player to visually explore the city
  • Makes the entire game feel empty
  • Doesn't allow the player to interact with the city, its people, or its issues
  • Directory look-up not as "fun" as I'd previously thought
  • Requires much more work to finish, optimize, and maintain

For ages I'd tried to fix its problems -- including adding random animations on the map, and random buildings for the player to click. But I started to realize that the feature was beginning to shape the game, rather than the game shaping the feature, and I didn't like where either was going.

I needed a better travel solution. It was time to chop!

A BETTER TRAVEL SOLUTION
I grabbed scrap paper and hurriedly sketched a solution that would fix my problems:


After some rework, I realized the new system needed two screens:
  • A "city overview", to keep the sense of place
  • A taxicab screen, to keep the sense of travel

The new travel mechanic solved my issues with the map, while keeping its positive qualities. Further, it gave me another place to bring up the themes I want to address: taxicab drivers are talkative, and they'll give you their opinion on social issues if you ask it.

ALL OF IT TOGETHER



THE FUTURE
Now that I'm done the travel mechanic, the first half of the first mystery (what I hope to demo at shows and to press) is almost complete. I still have some polish before I can call it complete -- including a new title card, an actual name, and some more animations -- but I'm ready for small amounts playtesting and story feedback while I do that. The next couple months are gonna be big!

Wish me luck!



EDIT: I kinda rushed through a very hard decision to redo an entire feature. If anyone has questions (or hell, wants to make me feel better by sharing their own experiences from the chopping block!) please do so Smiley
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wizered67
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« Reply #70 on: December 16, 2016, 02:19:07 PM »

Just found this and it looks really good! The research you did into 1920s San Francisco is really impressive. Keep up the good work!
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #71 on: December 17, 2016, 09:24:40 AM »

Just found this and it looks really good! The research you did into 1920s San Francisco is really impressive. Keep up the good work!

I actually spent a lot of time researching -- in libraries, taking online courses, reading fiction from the era, reading newspapers from the era, etc. It was a lot of work, but it's great to have the ideas in my head, and I can go back to the reference to make sure I get things correct.

I'm glad it shows! Thanks for the love Beer!
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nathy after dark
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« Reply #72 on: December 24, 2016, 12:13:40 PM »

I think you made the right call with the map screen. Thanks for writing about the decision.

I like the taxi screen. Conversations with cab drivers and the animation of the car bouncing up and down remind me of 80 Days--is that an inspiration? Smiley
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« Reply #73 on: December 25, 2016, 03:19:37 AM »

I haven't been keeping up with the devlog for some time but I was wondering if you're just prototyping in Twine or will you use it as a backbone later on? I spent a few nights once writing my own Twine adventure and it quickly became unwieldy, as you yourself seem to experience. Will you change tool later or do you have some master plan to combat the spaghetti?
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #74 on: December 25, 2016, 09:57:30 AM »

I think you made the right call with the map screen. Thanks for writing about the decision.

I like the taxi screen. Conversations with cab drivers and the animation of the car bouncing up and down remind me of 80 Days--is that an inspiration? Smiley

Thanks man! 80 Days is a fantastic game and unquestionably an inspiration! I can see what you mean about the travel screen similarities, but actually my original travel solution was more inspired by 80 Days -- that game's world map is a good connective tissue that I feel games like Phoenix Wright lack, which got me to try creating the San Francisco map. I'm glad I could still keep some of their flavour in the game, though! Thanks for the love!

I haven't been keeping up with the devlog for some time but I was wondering if you're just prototyping in Twine or will you use it as a backbone later on? I spent a few nights once writing my own Twine adventure and it quickly became unwieldy, as you yourself seem to experience. Will you change tool later or do you have some master plan to combat the spaghetti?

Twine, especially Twine 1.4 that I'm using, can get to be a mess. But when I started building my conversation system (October 2015?) it seemed like the most robust, customizable, and Unity-friendly solution. And, if you're careful about keeping your logic consistent and separating your files reasonably (via a barely documented Twine 1.4 feature called story includes), it can be manageable. I've written most of the first story, and so far the spaghetti hasn't gotten too bad (which maybe I can attribute to years of Blueprint experience?).

However, were I to start again, I'd take a long look at a new solution: ink. The folks at inkle (the guys who made that 80 Days game Nathy mentioned) have released their internal tool for free, and made it open-source. It has many features that I could only dream of in Twine (local variables, logic, functions (with reference and value parameters!), tunnels, threads, etc). And Twine's visual tree-view isn't quite as useful as I'd maybe thought initially. ink also integrates with Unity, so it'd be a no-brainer to at least test for whatever I make next.

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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #75 on: January 12, 2017, 08:58:58 AM »

I wrote a blog post on Gamasutra on why using history in games could create thoughtful experiences.

It's not a game update, so I didn't think posting the full text here was worth it. But it does describe a lot of the reasons I chose to create a historical fiction. So if you're interested, enjoy! Smiley
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« Reply #76 on: January 12, 2017, 09:04:32 AM »

Just wanted to say that the project looks more than amazing!

I had a hard time believing that it was being developed in twine!

Also, congratulations on your publication on gamasutra, it's a different perspective on something that we often disregard when writing a game script.
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nathy after dark
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« Reply #77 on: January 13, 2017, 10:59:39 AM »

Quote
Let me give you an example from my own upcoming game — set in America’s Roaring ’20s. The national prohibition of alcohol was a big deal in that decade, and led to many social problems, including police overreach and an unprecedented rise in organized crime. But a lot of smart people favoured the law, citing everything from alcohol’s affect on the youth to the horrors of addiction. Having my players explore this debate — to question both sides of the argument — leaves them with an innate understanding of the problems of the time. But it also dovetails perfectly into North America’s current prohibition of marijuana and opioids. My players will have more context for the new debate, informed by our common memory as a society.

I'm down. Will the player be able to visit one of Warren G. Harding's ragers in the White House? Well, hello there!
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TheWanderingBen
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« Reply #78 on: January 17, 2017, 08:36:42 AM »

Will the player be able to visit one of Warren G. Harding's ragers in the White House? Well, hello there!

Hahaha! Well, the game's in the Coolidge years, but there are plenty of ragers to go around Beer!
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« Reply #79 on: January 17, 2017, 09:31:57 AM »

Hey I just checked out the demo, very cool! Here's my feedback, I hope hidden within it is a gem.  Wizard

* Very beginning black screened before the title screen for a long time, I was about to close it thinking it was broken, maybe add a small animation throbber there or static text that says "Loading...".
* I found the text continuation a little jarring as instead of going to the next word it looks like you show the beginning of the sentence of the last word you used. Maybe just always end a page on the same sentence.
* I wish the text when hovering over spatial objects in the apartment appeared somewhat relative to the objects position. This would keep my eye close to the object I'm inspecting and keep me 'in' the world a bit. The text statically in the top left corner made me feel like I was reading more than finding clues.
* Grammar & spelling problem? I read this in the demo. "What has you convinced sombody gave him the big one"
* I was confused a bit about the HOME category in the notes/evidence. I thought for a bit maybe it was the home of the butler or Stable, I eventually got it. I just needed a little more clarity, one way would be if I had discovered these clues myself at home before going to Stables house, but this might be overkill. Maybe just change the text from "HOME" to "MY HOME".

I was unsettled for a bit not knowing the mechanic of the game early. Once I realized the 'game' was to contradict the butlers statement with evidence it became fun, before I just started clicking and reading things and my interest started to wane. HOWEVER, it was super satisfying once I organically figured that out. Also, it might be nice to not always know exactly what the mechanic is per level, as you could decide to design levels to be solved multiple ways. So what I'm trying to say is the difficulty of this level may be to high for a first play session, or it may be just right. It will be important to test the game out and see if people get too frustrated or just frustrated enough to not quit and figure it out. Once they figure out the first level I imagine there confidence will be high enough to take on the next.

Thanks for the demo! Good luck have fun!  Beer!
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