Multiple Ending Game Jam 2018
A “comedy“ game by Christian Graham
Over 150+ downloads!
Initial Dev. and goal setting
I started this project with the goal to make a narrative game that had voice acting. Nothing more, nothing less. During the initial development I ran across a GDC talk by William Pugh that heavily influenced the design of the game moving forward. In the talk William explains a theory for creating comedy games that relies on the player making choices and the jokes that the game throws at you reflecting the choices the player made. At the time I had been studying what made video games a unique medium, and this theory immediately struck me as interesting. Comedy in movies (and standup most of the time) is one sided. The actors/comedians perform in some way that makes the audience laugh. The audience is receptive to the joke/performance, but generally has not influenced it in any way. This GDC talk in combination with my studies into “games as a medium” led to my first revelation of this project. The goal then became to create a voice acted first person narrative comedy game with the central focus being reacting to player choices.
In games we can utilize the idea that the player is an active pawn in our world in order to make jokes that relate to a players unique experience.
The Two Door Joke
Supposedly by Tim Schafer, presented by William Pugh
A Design Choice about Choice
One of the most interesting design choices that was made was to give the player a choice (that matters) as soon as the game starts. This design decision was made fairly early in development. The thought process was that if the game was meant to be played several times over then giving the player a choice at the very beginning that had lasting impact would allow them to experience endings they were already familiar with in new and interesting ways. The most pressing question then became: “What could I impose on the player that would have that kind of lasting impact?”. I ended up on the narrative that you are a spy being asked to kill yourself so that sensitive information isn’t compromised, and the choice being to put a gun to your head. I was quit happy with the outcome for multiple reasons. One, the subject matter isn’t initially funny. This allows a deconstruction of the situation on a meta level that ends up being one of the games best jokes. Reason two, it allows the game to offer a quick ending (actually shooting yourself) that initially catches the player off guard. And reason three, it accomplishes the goal of giving the player a choice that has a lasting impact for the rest of that “reset”. The player can then complete the rest of the game with a gun pointed at their head. This triggers a cascading effect of new dialogue and choices for the remainder of the game.
I knew from the beginning that the level will need to be designed in such a way that non obvious choices occur to the player organically. It wouldn’t feel right to constantly shove choices in the players face, but if the player was to discover choices of their own accord then natural reactions would follow. Classic stand up comedy is all about predicting what the audience is thinking and subverting those ideas. Jokes with punchlines are built on the premise of “timing” which at its core is simply predicting what the audience is thinking at any given time and choosing the best time to deliver. One of the major design struggles of the game was to anticipate what the player was thinking / would do. For example, in nearly all playtest sessions when the game would boot up the player would cut the beginning monologue short by grabbing the gun. This meant that from the very beginning the player had no idea what the premise of the game was and became very confused. They felt like they had broken the game, and not in a good way. This led to the introduction of dialogue that occurs if you break the beginning monologue to pick up the gun. Interestingly enough, because the game reacted to their decision they did not feel as if they had skipped important dialogue. The player never wants to feel as though they missed out on something. Adding reactions to their choices minimizes this emotional reaction greatly. This was an important lesson to learn that would change the rest of the development of the game.
If the game reacts to player choices the player will feel as though they are on the right track regardless of what content they missed.
In retrospect another design struggle I faced was inevitable: getting the player from dialogue A to dialogue B without moments of long silence and without cutting the dialogue short. This problem was amplified when I added small dialogue options between A and B to reflect choices. Then the problem grew exponentially once dialogue A became A1, A2, A3, A4. At this point in the development I decided to break up the monotony of multiple runs by introducing different “through lines” that would play out during different runs. This meant all possible dialogue options needed to be timed perfectly from different trigger points. The issue at hand kept growing. I wish I could tell you that I found a “magic bullet” solution, but in reality it came down to well placed triggers and well timed dialogue. I’ve learned a lot about level design and pacing during my time with this game. For example, silence is important. When I first started working on the game I tried to fill every moment with dialogue of some kind. I tried to always “entertain” the player, but I was accomplishing the opposite of that goal. Well paced dialogue is just as important as the dialogue itself. The player needs room to breathe.