It’s now over halfway, and already the team desk is scattered with empty cake boxes, flasks and packs of Ibuprofen. The imposing line of Post-Its on the wall to my right is thankfully matched by the growing pile of crumpled, defeated ones in front of me as features are slotted into what is rapidly becoming a fully functional game prototype. But there’s still a lot of work to do.
We had the basics of our game running on an iPad with simple touch input and placeholder sprites about five days after the competition began. The importance of this cannot be overstated: getting the code working on the final hardware means we can find problems in every part of our game earlier, and fix them quicker. For the past few weeks getting to the point where we can start gameplay testing has been our priority.
Our game concept is simple: Aida, our lead character, is trapped in a cycle going through the same world, forced by the changing of the seasons along different paths but ultimately unable to escape. She moves on her own and no matter what she will keep moving, but she will also always follow certain rules: small things in her path will see her skipping over them, and larger objects will have her climbing up them. It’s down to the player to use the interactive objects in her world, and these rules, to steer her into gaining collectables that lie around her that will eventually allow her to break the cycle.
Something as simple as not having control of the main character causes all sorts of issues with our design, since we have to ensure Aida will behave in a way that players can anticipate in a world that they understand how to manipulate. Luckily our level designer Olympia is hard at work developing levels that will gradually introduce the concepts of the game to the player without hitting them in the face with pages of instructions.
The first tutorial stage is beginning to slot into the Unity-powered engine Robbie and I are constructing, bringing Holly’s environment art and Donna’s animations together with Olympia’s pseudo-2D platforms. Everything is tested on the iPad and checked for performance as quickly as possible, something the visiting mentors from Codemasters encouraged us to do a few weeks ago. Now we know, for example, that we can get away with using uncompressed textures (to make Holly’s art look good) without compromising the frame rate (which would make Donna’s animation look clunky) by using one of the mobile-device particle shaders for our sprites.
With our workflow down, our engine holding together, and level design underway, we were left with a good month to build our game, and make it fun along the way. Last week we got to test out our title on the most uncompromising, brutal and dedicated gamers there are:
God help us.
Team information and videos can be found on the Dare to be Digital team profile.
Also, we have a team Twitter account: @Faraway_Games