Itch.io Refinery, Design Club

itch.io refinery

itchio refinery

Itch.io has just announced the itch.io refinery, a customizable system of tools for developers to distribute beta versions of games and get useful feedback.

I’m proud to say that Manifold Garden will be one of the first games to be using this.

I’ll be starting beta testing of the game soon, and refinery came at just the right time.

I think itch.io is doing a really great work in the game distribution space, very much like bandcamp is for music. It’s still a very small audience compared to Steam, but they’re really putting control back into the hands of developers, and I think that’s awesome.

Design Klub

desing klub

(photo courtesy of Rob Lockhart)

This past Saturday, I had another session of the Design Club (or rather, Design Klub, as the slack group is called). If you’re unfamiliar with what this is, it’s a day long session where a bunch of game designers in the Chicago area get together to work through various design problems in their respective games. I organized the first one in January of 2015, and you wrote about the experience here: https://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=37314.msg1101273#msg1101273

The games presented this time were:

Codemancer
Tumbleseed
Aerobat
Sausage Sports Club
Manifold Garden

I presented 2 primary problems for Manifold Garden, based on my observations from Indiecade East

1. How can I establish engagement for the player beyond the puzzles within the first hour? Namely, the puzzles and architecture are engaging for an hour, but then players are starting to question “why” they are playing the game. This is where a narrative or sense of mystery needs to be set. How can I do that within the first hour?

2. When players enter the area for the double gravity cubes, it feels like a let down, especially after coming from the infinite stepwell level, which for many people is the highlight of the first hour of the game. How can I make the double gravity area not feel like a let down?

Regarding the answer to the first question, I’m going to withhold that for now, as it would spoil the game ;)

However, regarding the second question, Thew Yeager, the dev of Aerobat, pointed out how the intro to the double gravity section is just a simple room. You come from the infinite stepwell level, which feels incredible and open, and are then presented with a small enclosed room with a button.

ManifoldGarden_2016-05-20_02-43-09

As you can see, it doesn’t exactly scream “exciting!”

I decided to move the portal outside of the room, so the player has to do a bit of searching around to get to the entrance, but I think visually it is much stronger, and feel like the game is scaling up rather than down:

ManifoldGarden_2016-05-19_17-12-39

More Volumetric Light Experiments / Giant Interlockables

Did some more tweaks with the volumetric lights. They’ll definitely need some custom work with the code in order for it to fit well with Manifold Garden’s art style. I think the key here is that it needs to be used sparingly. If it is over used, it will ruin the art style that I’ve so carefully cultivated.

Here are some screenshots captured this weekend.

ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_001 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_002 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_003 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_004 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_005 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_006 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_007 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_008 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_009 ManifoldGarden_Screenshot_010

I think the voluemtric light needs to only come in in very special moments. Moments where players stop and go “Wow…” and nowhere else. Right now I’m just experimenting with the style.

Also started working on giant interlockables. Or rather I should say, started re-working on them.

ManifoldGarden_Interlockable ManifoldGarden_Interlockable2 ManifoldGarden_Interlockable3

Indiecade East Feedback, Programmer Search, and Next Steps

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Indiecade East Feedback

I just got back from New York City. Manifold Garden was showing at Indiecade East, as part of the Sony PlayStation 4 section.

MG_indiecade_east

I received some really great feedback from this last showing, both in terms of how to refine world 001 and how to set up the pacing for the entire game.

There were two playtest sessions that really stood out to me.

(SPOILER ALERT)

In the first, the playtester had found her way outside in world 001 after solving the initial indoor puzzles. She had lit up one the first laser beam, and had more or less figured out that she needed to get to the other islands and light up the laser beams there.

However, even though she knew where they were, once she got to them, she wasn’t able to orient herself correctly to access the entrance. This was because she wasn’t approaching the island from the center tower, so she would land on the “side” of the island. Because she kept landing on the exit door, which didn’t have a surrounding ledge, there wasn’t a surface for her to orient herself correctly. As such, she kept falling off and getting frustrated.

entrance_exit_room_circled

ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-22-28

This was unnecessary frustration. She had already solved the basics of the outside puzzle, in that she knew what she needed to do. The problem she was facing was an execution one, which is not in line with the goals of the game.

The solution is to simply add a ledge around the exit room. This provides a surface for the player to rotate onto to correctly orient themselves with the entrance room.

ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-33-55ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-34-09ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-35-48

In the second playtest session, I had gone out to lunch, and had come back to see the playtester had made it to about the 4th world (which means he had been playing for about 1 hour). I asked if he had started from the beginning, and he said, yes, and then I asked him what he thought of the game. At this point, he didn’t know I was the developer. The gist of his feedback was: the puzzles were good (he was obviously engaged having played the game for about 1 hour), thought the architecture was cool, but was starting to wonder why he was solving the puzzles. What was the purpose?

He explained that he wasn’t a puzzle game player normally (he had played Portal only), so for a puzzle game to really grab his attention, it needs something more than puzzles.

This was very helpful information for me. While Manifold Garden doesn’t have an explicit narrative with characters or voiceover or text, there is an implied one. There is mystery to be discovered. What this playtest session informed me, is that I need to introduce this mystery within the first hour.

The puzzles and architecture are clearly engaging enough that even a non-puzzle game player will play for an hour. However, at that point, they are starting to wonder why they are spending their time doing this when they could be playing something else. The prospect of more puzzles as a reward is not enough. There needs to be a sense of purpose.

I had the beat where the mystery is introduced, but not until 1.5 or 2 hours in. Now I know I need to move it up and introduce it earlier.

Personnel Change

An update on the situation, since some people have been asking questions.

David Laskey is no longer working on Manifold Garden.

In the end, things just didn’t work out, and I decided to look for a new programmer.

New Programmer Search

The search for the new programmer is going well. It’s been very busy. So far, I’ve gotten about 60 applicants. This was quite surprising to me, as I only posted about the job on twitter for a few times, and didn’t put it on any job boards.

It has been incredibly time consuming going through all the emails and resumes, scheduling interviews, checking references, etc. Last week I got very little done in the way of actual work.

I hope to finalize everything within either this week or next week.

I’ve also learned a tremendous amount about the hiring and job application process. One day I will write a more detailed blog post about.

Moving Forward

This week I’ll be adding in the feedback I received from Indiecade East. I’m now at a point in the development of the game where I need to start thinking about launch. I need to start looking into logistics of releasing the game – setting up infrastructure for beta testing, setting up a steam page, etc.

To be honest, things have been quite difficult without a programmer. My estimate is that I’ve lost about 6 months of work-time (taking time away to do interviews, working with inefficient tools, legal overhead, the new programmer having to catch up on codebase, etc). It’s very possible this will push back my original planned release date, but I just have to make the best out of my situation.

I am still able to work with existing tools to create new levels and test out pacing in the game, so that is what I will be doing in the next few weeks. I’ll be meeting up with the design club here in Chicago soon to go over what I have planned.

This summer is going to be a super busy one, but I’m looking forward to getting into a cycle of iterating and playtesting.

 

 

GDC Talk and Day of the Devs

manifold garden GDC

GDC is going to be really busy for me this year. I’ll be giving a talk for the first time, as part of the Level Design workshop, and also, I found out last week that Manifold Garden will be on exhibit as part of “Day of the Devs’!

GDC Talk

My talk is going to be part of the Level Design Workshop, and will be on Tuesday, March 15th, at 3:00pm, in Room 130 in North Hall. This is the day before the main conference starts.

[url+http://schedule.gdconf.com/session/level-design-workshop-level-design-in-impossible-geometry]Here’s the official page on the GDC website[/url], if you’re using the scheduler and want to add it to that.

level design workshop

I’m really looking forward to this, as GDC talks, and especially the level design talks, have been very helpful for me as a designer.

It’s cool to finally have an opportunity to give back.

I’ll be talking a lot about what it’s like to work with weird geometry in Manifold Garden, different problems I’ve faced, and various techniques I’ve discovered which have been helpful.

Day of the Devs

dayofthedevs

Also, super pleased to announce that Manifold Garden will be playable at GDC as part of Double Fine and iam8bit’s ‘Day of the Devs’ exhibition.

I still find it pretty hard to believe that Manifold Garden will be a part of this. The list of games they’re showing is fantastic:

  • Below by Capy Games
  • David OReilly Game 2 by David OReilly
  • Headlander from Double Fine Productions
  • Day of the Tentacle Remastered by Double Fine Productions
  • SUPERHYPERCUBE by Kokoromi
  • Return of the Obra Dinn by Lucas Pope
  • Dreams by Media Molecule
  • Bound from Plastic
  • Hob by Runic Games
  • ARENA GODS by Supertype
  • Manifold Garden by William Chyr
  • Severed by DrinkBox Studios
  • Line Wobbler by Robin Baumgarten
  • Rez Infinite by Monstars + Resonair

GDC is going to be pretty crazy this year. If you’re going, definitely let me know. It would be great to meet up!

Tree Band Problem

David fixed the issue with the floating branches when you merge the tree. Mostly it had to do with getting quaternions right to handle the correct rotation.

We had another problem though, with the bands on the tree:

treebandproblem

These are only supposed to appear at the base of the tree to indicate how many fruit cubes grow from it. I think Chris wrote the script so that it should only go on the trunk part, which should be separate from the rest of the tree.

Anyway, right now it is getting applied to the entire tree.