Hi y’all. I’m back for this thread’s third year. I made 9 games last year. We’ll see how I do this year! I’ve got several things in development, but I’m not working dedicatedly on anything right now–the scope for my average project is getting a lot bigger.
I find it intimidating to write real devlogs or postmortems on my actual website or anything. I prefer the more casual feel of this forum, so this is where I work out my thoughts. I don’t know if people like to read them, but… I enjoy it. Anyway, on to my first game of 2019:
ORBITAL PALADIN MELCHIORY
A little less than two weeks ago, I saw a retweet from John Harness mentioning the “Emotional Mecha Jam” for tabletop RPGs and other analog games that he was hosting with Takuma Okada. That jam was wildly successful, with hundreds of participants! I love my Gundams and my Evas and my Ideons so very much. I don’t do TTRPGs, though (haven’t really played one even, and I know I’m missing out), so I replied to the tweet saying something to the effect of “Man, if this was digital games, this’d so be my jam.” And then Harness and Okada launched a concurrent digital jam–much less popular than the physical game jam, but it still garnered 12 entries! (the hashtag for the jam was #sadmechjam)
So, beginning on February 1, I started feverishly working on a game. I started designing the mechs and a combat system before I got a really firm sense of who the characters would be or what story I was going to tell. Soon I had an idea for an end point for the story and I started sketching out core character roles to get there with simple descriptions, which evolved into the team of four young pilots, a slightly older team leader who was the title mecha’s previous pilot, with a couple other supporting characters.
Initially I was going to have the characters be 14-17, but that age range got bumped up to 18-22 when I began considering exploring romance paths for the characters. Younger felt icky. So by the time I started designing and writing the characters, I’d settled on the pilots being post-high school age.
Some specific giant robot anime things I thought about while making this game:
- Smith Toren’s fate and relationship with Noriko in Gunbuster
- That part at the end of Gundam 00’s first season where the ship is destroyed and one bridge crew staff allows another staff to think they’ve saved their life with their dying action, when in fact they’re still mortally wounded
- The invocation of Ideon
- That bit in that one episode of Gundam: The Origin about the two young people in the colony used in Operation British
- How sad Amuro is when we meet him in Wyoming in Zeta
- The part in Gundam 0079 where Amuro can sense the colony laser
- When Amuro lies to Bright about what he can sense as a Newtype to make Bright feel better about the battle at A Baoa Qu
- Fucking everything with Lalah
- All the Newtype goodness in Gundam, really
These aren’t all directly referenced, but they formed a kind of emotional grounding on which I attempted to stage my story. Readers of this thread may not know that I wrote a 100-page master’s thesis on techniques for exploring emotional interiority used in the first Gundam series. So I think about emotional/sad mech content a whole fuck of a lot.
When I was writing the story, I tried to think of the scope a little bit like a short 6-episode OVA, though of course the content is much smaller scale ultimately. Thinking of it that way helped me understand what I was trying to accomplish though.
It’s been a while since I wrote anything that had real characters I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and fleshing out and writing (to the extent that my games have characters, they’re traditionally sketched very thinly, and I haven’t written any fiction or screenplays longer than a couple pages in years), and, well, I came to care about my characters a whole lot by the time I was through writing what became a 40-page script. I loved them all. So much so that it was really painful to write certain scenes that I’d committed myself to writing.
So, yeah, the game’s format is alternating story/dialog/narrative choice sequences with fast-paced space combat. The title mech, the Melchior, piloted by the protagonist Wick is the only suit that has both a bullets and a sword. Of course it has a sword. Mechs with swords fucking rule.
It was really fun to write the behavior of both enemy and friendly mechs. It was really hard. I’m not sure it’s as good as it could be, and the performance of your team in any given individual fight ends up seeming a little random ultimately, but that actually added something thematically to the game that I really like.
As I’ve been making more and more games and as my design philosophy is evolving and my programming and design skills are getting more sophisticated (or I hope they are), I’m thinking more and more of game creation as critical praxis. For example, a game I thought a whole lot while making it was Persona 5, and I consider certain choices I made in this game to be a critique of Persona 5 (a game I have a lot of fucking thoughts about). Another game I thought about was Princess Debut, a game that I love for its fusion of rhythm game mechanics in a visual novel/dating sim story.
For a while, I’ve been thinking about learning Ren’Py so I have an outlet for some ideas that are more story-oriented. Thanks to this game, I’ve now basically built a visual novel engine in GameMaker Studio 1.4, and even worked it out so it interacts with other kinds of gameplay. So I may never get around to learning Ren’py now. Oh well. GameMaker 4 lyfe.
It’s kind of wild how if I’d thought this thing reeeeeaallly through, I almost certainly wouldn’t have attempted something of this scope. All told, I probably put 60-80 hours of work in this thing over 11 days (I’m so fucking sleep-deprived, y’all, and I spent more than half the day I took off from work to celebrate my birthday seated in front of my computer furiously coding). But I did manage to make it in at the last second.
Like, yo, if I had thought all this up independently outside of the scope of a game jam, I probably would have either found the prospect of trying to integrate and build the systems either too daunting to really try, or I might have spent 3 or 4 months on it. Instead, I banged it out so damn fast.
There was actually a two-day extension on the time frame of the jam. I actually could’ve had something finished-ish by the deadline, but those extra two days allowed me to polish it up, fix some errors and bugs, add a few things, refine the soundscape of the project, and just make it the best I could. There’s a handful of things I’d considered adding (including the beloved mid-series mech ability upgrades) that I might’ve if I’d had unlimited time (and I also wanted to add another small story element I couldn’t get written in time, and if I was going to expand the scope, I probably would’ve added a couple other characters and added some more story stuff to the middle section of the game). That said, even though I’m experiencing a bit of that after-the-fact I-hate-everything-I-make feeling, I’m pretty happy with where it all ended up. I made what I set out to make.
I’d be remiss not to talk about how all the awesome folks at opengameart.org making so many music assets CC0 or CC-BY-3.0 licensed allows people like me to make (solo hobbyist developers who have moderate skills/talents in several areas, but none whatsoever in music) the kind of full game experiences I want to. I need to tip everyone’s ko-fis and patreons in the coming days.
I’m conflicted about how much to promote mention aspects of the game when I’m posting about it or whatever. I designed it with the hopes that the things that happen in the game that might be surprising would be surprising. Choices matter. Time is limited. I intentionally made it so the player cannot hope to see all the story content in a single playthrough (the game aggressively autosaves to make you stick to every choice).
I did put a cat who lives in the spaceship in the game at any rate. This was literally the last thing I added to the game and it almost made the game late.
Phew! There it is! ORBITAL PALADIN MELCHIOR Y
EDIT: I wish I knew of a place where I could swap translation services with, like, Japanese devs or something. I would totally translate a short visual novel or RPG from, like Freem if a person or two would produce a translation of my script. (I’ve translated two of my games into Japanese, but for something this dialog-intensive, I’d want a proper translator.)