One-on-one Playtesting

I want my game to be as good as it can be. That said, at least for this iteration, I’m making it for an audience of three college professors who sign off on whether or not I graduate. Or is it regraduate?

Last week, I sat down, individually with two members of my committee. I haven’t had a chance to do so with the third because he has to leave campus at 10 and holy crap that’s early when you have a job that keeps you up ’til 1AM, that’s 0100, that’s tomorrow.

The first meeting made me feel great. The professor was digging on the metaphors I was creating with my mechanics and aesthetics, and was primarily interested in those choices. To that end, he gave me a couple books of paintings by Munch and Klee, then we talked about how animation, by virtue of its divorce from representational forms, is so free to challenge and frustrate its viewers. Good stuff.

The next sit-down, and this with my committee chair, was more nuts and bolts. Without getting into details, he told me my mechanics “weren’t working.” I’ve allowed myself some distance and talked with my programmer. We’re going to integrate some of the ideas, change others, reject a couple. It’s scary running a playtest like this, when you know this person has to like what you’re doing.

I need both kinds of feedback, and both are useful. A lot of people think critique is about identifying what isn’t working and hammering at that. That creates art school dropouts. Critique has an element of diagnosis, but also one of celebration. When I was told my mechanics weren’t working, I also heard my ideas were interesting. And that first conversation helped my place myself in a historical context of frustrating art. These things are criticism, and good practice for when I have level one up and running and can do a real playtest.

It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense, Only Meaning

It’s been crazy, guys. A weird month. Let me know if I should set up a Patreon for you to contribute to so I can focus on this and not have to sell insurance or ice cream or whatever I’m ending up with. Thanks.

/wishful thinking

Some people have asked, understandably, why the deeper symbolism, the Judeo-Christian mythology, is in Six Wings if the player doesn’t need it to make sense of the game. They assume I’m worried about making sense. I’m not (I took the Talking Heads’ advice). Rather, I’m worried about making meaning, and putting odd little things in a game is a great way to get players to linger and consider. 

Weird stuff encourages closer reading.

In light of that, here’s a couple of the new models from EB, my friend, collaborator, and accomplished achievement hunter. These are the character Lily’s toys, little plastic or plush animals, and she has an eclectic collection.

Jackal Jackal Jackal Jackal Kite Kite Ostrich smoothjackal

Ritual and the Value of Soda

I guess I’m a creature of habit, though that is generally a video game-playing habit and Japanese cartoon-watching habit, and a gym-going habit. I often combine these for habitual efficiency. And at the gym, I often bump into my developer (to whom I affectionately refer to as) Soda. She’s kicking ass, not skipping leg day, the usual.

I got to thinking about habits and ritual. I try to make a habit of writing and exercising, and have aimed to do both every day for a few years now. Neither is as ritualistic as it is for a lot of people: the novelist going into an office with a thermos of coffee; the weightlifter donning gloves and belt after mixing a protein shake; terrifying combinations of these things in Neal Stephenson’s novel Reamde with a character cranking out fantasy books while on an exercise bike in a trailer in a trailer park he turned into his private prosaic compound. I’m not nearly as dedicated to my habits.

Which is not to say I’m not ritualistic. I’ve gone beyond having a favorite mug. I will drink out of the same water glass, washing it and reusing it time and again, for a week’s stretch. I’ll drink beer out of it then wash it immediately to drink water. I wouldn’t say that’s ritual, per se, but it’s made me realize how important drinks are to ritual, and how arbitrary those tastes can be.

I think these habits, rituals, ruts, whatever you want to call them, speak to how difficult it can be for me to learn a new skill. Part of how I rationalize it to myself is that I’m trying to hone and perfect my craft(s). I try not to realize the hypocrisy when I point out how much different media have to learn from each other. I also like to use it as an excuse to invite collaborators, which is great because that’s worthwhile.

Soda is a fantastic digital painter, graphic designer, modeler, etc. She’s been building all these items you’ve seen on the blog, and was hugely instrumental in building my initial level of Six Wings. I’m working on communicating better with my team by practicing my own drawing, almost exclusively on my 3DS. I’m enjoying understanding what she goes through in making things. It’s not as comforting as the self-congratulations I indulge when I write, but comfort isn’t a virtue.

I want to get to a comfortable point where I can talk to my team better, have them for tea and sketch out some things. It just requires the development of a flexible routine.

Speaking Truth to Power

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I think one of the hardest things about being ASD must be people’s sense that you’re being mean when you’re just stating things the way you see them with no subtextual intent. This especially hurts neurotypical people when they already know some truth about themselves and don’t want to face it. What if, instead of begrudging that truthfulness, we tried to embrace it? Or, at least, engage with it in the spirt it’s said?

Mattie thinks putting coal in a kid’s mouth is a better idea–she confused Santa’s coal with washing a mouth with soap–which arose out of a cultural misunderstanding.

Dialog is Hard You Guys

I’m going to start writing the dialog for the game soon, which is a daunting task. My first go at it, about a year ago and for the demo, isn’t awful. It just reads like video game dialog. Which is often (but not generally) awful.

A communications disorder professor gave me some research recordings of testing kids with ASD, and as I watch more of those they will prove super useful. It’s the same case with reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (at the behest of my committee chair). The two together are going to be so helpful in terms of getting this voice right, to the extent that I’ll probably have a harder time with the neurotypical kids.

The videos are great at showing how these kids interact with adults who are trying to asses what kind of communications skills the kids have, watching them relate to someone else. It’s not so much children interacting, but from my research, there’s not necessarily a lot of difference in how ASD kids interact with other kids versus adults. Of course, there’s a pretty wide range for all of this, and I’m planning on writing on the more functional end. Partly to be able to write it more truthfully.

Curious Incident is a first-person ASD account, and understanding what’s going on in a character’s head (and why) is the single most useful thing in writing a character. Other than, you know, backstories and stuff. Curious presents the character without needing you to relate to sympathize with him as much as empathize, and that’s good as a reminder that while I am not ASD, I can intellectually relate to a character who is.

If my team and I can pull this off, so will the audience.

On Our Marks

I just wanted to let everyone know that, with summer starting, the team and I are diving into production. Thanks to everyone who’s following us and favorited our posts so far. I hope you keep reading and share my posts on your social networks. This game, and the process of making it, is going to be really special.