If you want to get into the profession of game development, the first thing folks in the industry will tell you is to start making games. Fortunately, there is an abundance of tools available for artists, designers, writers, and other creators to dive into the process and craft of making games. The first games you create don’t have to be perfect, nor do they even have to be good. The point is to just learn from your successes and failures, and then continue making games.
My journey into making games comes from my passion for storytelling. I’m fascinated by how games can create unique interactive narratives that cannot be experienced in a strictly linear format. When I thought about making my first game, I wanted to draw on my existing skills as a writer and create a text-based game built that allows the player to make choices as they move through the narrative. Hoping it will help other first-timers, here are a few of the lessons I learned on the journey of making my first game, Bluebeard: An Interactive Tale.
Surreal labyrinthine dreamscapes filled with strange, ethereal entities await in Exit Veil, the latest game from Cherrymochi Studio. Recently announced through Kickstarter, the game is said to be a “darkly psychedelic JRPG” with a fully integrated tarot deck.
Cherrymochi is an independent game studio based near Tokyo, Japan. Founded in 2014 by Jon Williams (penname Imazato) and run by an international team of developers, the studio Kickstarter funded its first game, Tokyo Dark, which was launched in 2017. Presented with a 2D anime art style, Tokyo Dark is a mystery horror game that blends visual novel elements with a point-and-click adventure.
With Exit Veil, Cherrymochi is taking on an even more ambitious project, moving from 2D to 3D format and opening up the gameplay with RPG mechanics and turn-based combat.
Sometimes you need to move at a slow and steady pace towards progress, dipping your toes in the pool and inching in little by little until you’re used to the chilly water — and sometimes you need to just launch yourself off a rock, plunging straight into the center of the lake with the hope that you’ll make it back to shore.
Guess which one I’ve been doing over the last month or so.
I’ve realized for a couple of years now that I wanted to write and build narratives for games. And so, I’ve been learning about the art of game narratives, which is beautifully varied and complex — ranging from heavily scripted games like The Last of Us to completely wordless experiences like Journey, with a vast number of other variants along the outskirts and in between.
While I’ve been exploring game narratives, I have also been toying around with making interactive narratives myself. Or rather, I have been noodling on a single interactive text, a Twine* adaptation of the classic French folk tale, “Bluebeard.” Having written a retelling of the story, in which I explored a number of alternative endings, I figured it would be a relatively straightforward process to add gameplay choices that branch off to each of those endings.
Spoiler: It was not that easy.
After a period of struggling — not only over the process, but also due to the frustrations of trying to maintain a creative life amidst daily obligations — I realized I needed an extra push to help me get to done. Fortunately, I stumbled across The “Finish It” Narrative Game Jam** in May. The focus of the jam was to complete an in-progress narrative game or interactive fiction project between May 12-31. This seemed like a perfect way to push myself toward finishing my current project, and I immediately signed up.
A day or so after signing up for the Finish It Jam, I was told about the Greenlight Jam by a game writing friend. The Greenlight Jam featured a unique format, having multiple deadlines over the course of about a month (May 16th to June 19th), focused on the various stages of game design, from ideation to prototyping, production, and final release of the game. Drawn in by this concept, I had an Ah, what the hell moment and signed up before even considering the fact that the two jams overlapped or the incredible amount of work that would be involved.
Bitsy is a super simple game development tool and, as such, has some limitations. Fortunately, a number of folks who love the tool have developed hacks to achieve additional results — one of which is pixsy by ruin. Pixsy is essentially a program that converts any image (a photo or sketch) into pixel art.
Here’s how I’ve been using it in What Lies Underneath.
What Lies Underneath is a small narrative game built using the Bitsy game maker (created by Adam Le Doux), an open source tool designed to be simple enough for just about anyone to make their own games.
I’m sure I would have sat on the idea and pondered it for a much longer time, if not for the Greenlight Jam. The jam is designed to have participants work through each stage of the game development process — from ideation to prototyping, production, and release of the final product.
Thus far, I’ve worked through the first two stages, ideation and prototyping, for the game, which I’ll share a little about here.