System Crash, Taking Stock

21 Jan
January 21, 2014

So that System Crash card game I heard you were working on, Gareth, what’s happening with that?

I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader. It gives me an opportunity to run through where development is, status-wise, what remains to do, what the current release date estimate is.

As I said in a previous post, I’ve had the sense for a while that the story campaign doesn’t quite work. The shape of it is there, the player progression and core activities, but it doesn’t exactly gel in how it’s presented to the player. I added dialogue trees to help deal with the problem, but, after a conversation I had with my good friend Vince D. Weller about his experiences trying the SC beta, I became convinced that, by themselves, dialogue trees weren’t enough to fix the issue.

The big problem is that the game currently isn’t doing enough to introduce the setting, to ground you, the player, in the world and its characters. There needs to be a better sense of who and where you are. And the culprit, I believe, is this menu screen.

image10

The idea I’d originally had was to make the whole game feel like you, the player, are looking at an old computer terminal. So things are presented to you via slide-out menu bars and pop-up windows and so on. Not just the main menu options, the whole game.

I don’t think it was a terrible idea, but I also don’t think it worked out so great (live and learn). Maybe it was just my execution, but it just feels like more boring UI, disconnected from any sense of place.

So! Solutions!

Firstly, I’m introducing a “Hacker Hideout” screen. Functionally, nearly identical to that other menu, serving as the core hub of the various  options the player can take, like accessing their messages, editing their decks etc. But the visual, along with some other touches I’m adding, do more to make it seem like a real place that you’re living in, represented in 2D, rather than just a menu screen.

This is a mockup of it. Note, the background art is temporary. I don’t own that, I just found something that fits what I’m looking for to help me create my mockup.

HideoutMockup

The “CommLink” will be replacing the old system of emails, a sort of pseudo-Skype. Now, instead of just sending you long text emails which immediately unlock missions, characters in the game with missions to give you will send you a “Yo, call me bro” type message. You, the player, will need to initiate a dialogue with them, where they’ll spell out what their problem is, how you can help them, and you’ll be able to ask them questions, dig a bit into the background. It will be more interactive and dynamic, feel more player-driven, I think.
Comms

The new Goals UI, which I got working this past weekend, ties into that. Once a contact has offered you a job, this screen will present a succinct summary of what you’re doing and why, and where the missions can be found.

Strictly speaking, this screen isn’t hugely necessary. If you’ve played the SC beta, you’ll know that it’s fairly hard to be confused about what to do, mission wise. You just go to the map, click a mission, play it. You can’t really “go wrong”.

But I thought it a nice way to push the story context to the fore, to remind the player and reinforce the narrative with a little bit of unobtrusive description and character, grounding the player in a sense that they’re doing more than just clicking “next mission”.

GoalsGUI

There’s also going to be some adjustments to the map screen, and a bit more narrative added to missions, again with the goal of giving the player a better sense of the world in mind, but I’ll talk about those when I’ve finished them.

Once these features are done, hopefully within a month and a half, I’ll commission new background art for the new screens while I go over the campaign, fitting it into the new structure and finishing it. I hope for that to take no more than another month and a half.

Which means, and bear in mind this is best case scenario, 3 months until the official release of System Crash! Yes, I know, it’s another delay. Trust me, no one wants this game done and out more than I do. But I have to trust that my intuition here is correct. I’m not drastically overhauling the mechanics of the game, just trying to ensure it’s presented better. It’s just another layer of polish, albeit one involving redoing UIs for the umpteenth time (GUIs, bah!).

The finish line is in sight, it’s all about just keeping up that momentum now.

2 replies
  1. Kris says:

    ‘You can’t really “go wrong”.’ That is, until my skills are tested. I really like the new “Hacker Hideout” concept, and look forward to seeing the final result. Will it be a static screen, or are you able to add small flavor animations? I’ve always thought that they (moving eyes/heads, billowing jackets, etc.) were a nice touch, and seemed a good return on assets.

    Reply
  2. gareth says:

    Small animations would be cool, but I’ll have to see about costs/time to implement etc. Might be something I save for an expansion.

    Reply

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