When Game Developer Magazine (GDM) was still around, I used to love reading the postmortems that they published for different games by their developers. So with Of Pieces and Memories (the game I’ve been calling Memories here on this blog) finished and available to play on itch.io, I wanted to write one as well, to think back on what went right and what went wrong during the game’s development.
What Went Right:
- The size of the game. I started Of Pieces and Memories at a time when I was getting overwhelmed with making Tears of the King. That game is so much bigger than I imagined it would be, and was taking so much more time to make than I ever would have expected (it’s still not done). Knowing it is important to actually finish projects, I decided to make a game that takes place in a much more limited space: a mansion. While this game itself took far longer to finish than I expected (I started it in March 2017), its small scale meant the maps were built very quickly (and for the most part have remained the same). It has also made playtesting the game far easier because all the locations you have to go to are relatively close together.
- The scale of the story. The story isn’t big either. I liked the idea of giving Memories a fairy-tale like feel. While I don’t know if I succeeded with that, that idea helped me keep the story more tightly focussed. It also made it much easier to write and edit the dialogue (which I appreciated because, as far as I know, you can’t easily pull the dialogue out of RPG Maker VX Ace and put it into a word processor, or put it back into the game without resorting to copying and pasting every individual bit). This also made it easier to playtest the dialogue than it otherwise could have been, as game dialogue can very easily balloon to large sizes (for example, I wrote over 50,000 words while working on Black Chicken Studios‘ unreleased game Bell Book and Candle, Attorneys at Law, which doesn’t count the romance scenes I had to go back and rewrite because I was assigned one of the romances that could go to either the female or male player character; this was only one of six romances that were being written for that game. There were also minor cases being developed as well).
- Not adding combat. When I think of RPG games, I generally think of games like Secret of Mana, or even Pokemon, which involves travelling around and levelling characters up through fights. But I didn’t really want that out of Memories; combat always felt so out of place for this story. Thanks to playing through Oneshot (a game I highly recommend), I realized I could stay true to my vision for Memories and keep it combat free. This decision also helped me finish the game sooner than I otherwise would have, as balancing combat within a game is definitely not one of my strong points.
- Adding different dialogue choices. When I first had the ideas for the game, I thought it would be really neat to have new dialogue choices open up for the player as you unlock new memories and emotions. I abandoned that idea as I did the initial development of the game, thinking it would be really hard to implement. But after I finally figured out an ending to the game, I was worried that Memories was going to be too boring to play, and so decided to put those dialogue choices in. I’m really glad I decided to do this; it makes the game more interesting to play though (my playtesting friend, Darryl, even said he “liked that you kept getting more emotional ways to respond to people as you went on,” so I’m very glad I added this in). 🙂
- Sticking with RPG Maker VX Ace. RPG Maker has a newer version (MV) available. I’ve been tempted to get it because it has some great features (like the ability to release your games to mobile devices). But having purchased VX Ace, I really wanted to finish something with it before I even entertained the idea of upgrading. While I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, I’m really glad I stayed with VX Ace because upgrading would have meant a large learning curve for the new program. That would have delayed me finishing Memories all the more. And having stayed with VX Ace means I’m getting much more comfortable with it, which in my mind is a big plus. It’s getting easier to implement things, and I’m able to implement more complicated things than I originally thought I’d be able to without scripts.
What Went Wrong:
- Lack of story planning. This was, hands down, the biggest problem in developing Memories. Pretty much all of the major issues I had came back to not sitting down and figuring out the story (and have proven to me that I am very much a planner, not a pantser!) I had a vague idea of a story and just sort of went with it, not even stopping to put thought into the people inhabiting this world. And so, once the house was finished and my vague story implemented, I had no idea what anything was leading to. I was further trapped because I liked what I had made so far (and a lot of time had gone into making things like the individual memories with the tinting screens) and I didn’t want to get rid of any of that. So how do you make a half-baked story with cool game mechanics work? It took me years (and a lot of space from the game itself) to finally find an answer to that question.
- Character issues. I remember, after deciding that Memories was going to take place in a giant house, thinking that the house would need staff. So I researched what kinds of staff a large house might have (I don’t honestly know if I would have even thought this far if not for watching Downton Abbey with friends). I narrowed that staff down to a number I felt I could work with, lumped them together into families, and, for the most part, done! I put no real thought into what most of these people were like (not even the main character, Briana) until I had the game built and needed to differentiate their voices. Briana at least was easy because, as the main character, I got to know her just through the process of making the game. Same with Godric, the wizard, and Bella, Briana’s twin sister. But I had big issues with some of the other characters, like Wulfric, the huntsman, who I needed in the game, but had no idea what he was like. I also spent time developing the character of Alexis, who ended up cut from the game literally a few days afterwards because I realized she wasn’t actually needed at all. I hope, in the end, that I did an alright job with the characters. But there was a lot of time wasted because I didn’t put more thought into them earlier in development.
- The ending. Yes, this ultimately stems from failing to plan the story, but it deserves its own point because this single-handedly held up the game for years. My problem with finding a satisfactory ending stemmed from Godric the wizard, and Bella, Briana’s twin sister. When I first started making Memories, I made Godric the evil wizard who was taking hearts because he’s evil (again, my inspiration was from fairy tales). But then I started to wonder why exactly he was taking those hearts. I read Naomi Novik’s Uprooted around that time, which also led me to question Godric’s motives: was he really just evil, plain and simple? Or could there be more going on with him (and if so, what?) I also struggled because Bella gave her heart to Godric. Does saving her negate that choice? I struggled with these issues for a very long time; it wasn’t until I finally came up with an ending that I felt worked for all of these characters that I was finally able to finish the game.
- The title. I’m not very good at naming things. So it’s not surprising that I struggled while trying to come up with one for this game. It also didn’t help that I’ve been calling it Memories forever, so it’s hard to think of it as anything else (note to self – don’t use working titles because you get too attached to them!) I didn’t think that just Memories was a good name for it though (and when I did a bit of research into coming up with titles, people discouraged a one word title because it’ll get lost in definitions for that word when people search online for it). I’ve been agonizing over this for months now (I started actually thinking about this when I finally came up with the ending). All things considered, I managed to decide on one fairly quickly (and I hope Of Pieces and Memories is a fitting title for the game), but this was still super tough for me.