Hey there, everyone!
I know it has been way too long since our last update; hopefully you have stuck with us since then! Despite our radio (internet?) silence for a few months, we have made a ton of exciting progress. From festival and competition submissions to a new general direction and new game mechanics, we have a lot to share in the coming updates. You can bet your tofu on it!
First off, we have been working diligently on top of the day jobs to pack as much as we could into the various builds submitted to IndieCade, Boston Festival of Indie Games, and Intel’s Level Up 2014 – as well as the upcoming Fantastic Arcade. Trying to build a demo that showcases all of the features, art, and music of the game has proven quite challenging, without just implementing everything as fast as possible to include more content, to then throw away later as things are rebuilt properly rather than hacked together. We feel confident, however, with the changes we have been making and the content that we were able to efficiently include in the submission builds, that we have a fighting chance here! 🙂
There have been several changes to the design, game mechanics, and gameplay, as well as the underlying structure and systems of the program itself. All of which we believe were necessary and well worth the extra effort, allowing us to not only build a better game for all of you, but also prepare ourselves and learn for future projects. Most were of small consequence compared to what was gained, others were more strenuous and time-consuming; namely, the move from java to Unity.
We have been looking into Unity for a while now, knowing that we wanted to use some game-building software, with ease of distribution to various platforms, for our next project. Unity and GameMaker were close competitors; Havok’s Project Anarchy was also in the mix. We eventually settled on Unity, figuring it was the best fit for us and where we wanted to be as a development team in the future: we want to be an effective team that has the tools and knowhow to produce a product properly and efficiently. Our decision to start in Unity now, rather than on the next project, was borne from this idea. When better to learn and make mistakes than a time and project that has already been put aside for learning and mistakes? Especially when we have no official deadlines or pressure to produce outside of our capabilities?
Up to this point, we believe that this was the right decision. Given the redesign of the story mode and game mechanics, this was a good opportunity to (re)start fresh, leave out those obsolete functions, and prevent some of the bugs from the older version from popping up in the first place.
Last year at IndieCade 2013, we were able to show off A Tofu Tail to some of the other developers and people in the game community, and received much input. All the feedback was good – said in the sense that it was all insightful, critical, and necessary commentary on the game itself, and the experience that players had. The general sentiment was what we at alchemedium had been begrudgingly feeling for a couple months up to that point: that the game was fun and even pretty addictive, but it was just missing something – some essential piece that was preventing it from feeling whole.
Our pivotal team meeting came a couple weeks after returning from California. We discussed Unity, the feedback and experiences from IndieCade, and began our hunt for this missing link in our gameplay. What was it that was keeping A Tofu Tail from being whole? We believe that the heart of our problem lay in the purely procedurally-generated approach that we had been taking. It was missing a bit of soul and that human touch – a crafted and designed component.
The new direction of the story mode leaves us with some work. We knew that the old gameplay mods did not feel like they added enough to the experience; we now had an opportunity to rethink them. The procedural levels added game mechanics that were more focused on hindering the player and required attentiveness, but never altered the path that would be taken to complete a level. If we were going to design levels, we needed to invent and introduce new challenges along the way that change the way that a player approaches the levels.
Ultimately, we wished to add more character to the experience. This required that we push procedurally-generated levels away a little bit and take a more hands-on approach. This is not to say that procedural levels are completely removed – just repurposed. This is still a part of the overall experience and adds a good deal of replayability.
At this point in our Unity rebuild, most of the core gameplay has been rebuilt (improved and built upon); menus and presentation are cleaner; controls are better and player feedback is more apparent; the list continues. Many critical bugs that were in the java build are now non-existent in the Unity build, and the functionality is more efficient, clean, and optimized.
As for the design, we plan to go over each new and repurposed game mechanic in detail, showing where we were and where we want to be – but while still keeping that core mechanic: the tofu color-changing constraint. Next post we will look at this color-changing mechanic, and how the gameplay has been altered for the new approach.
Until then, keep on ploppin’!
The alchemedium team