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She Wore White

I thought it might be time to get something down about my personal game project. This will be a brief overview of the project as a whole, and not a detailed description of the tech, design, or story of it. I have no idea if I will ever finish it, I would love to, but as might become obvious through the remainder of this post, I put many hurdles in my own way. I technically "started" on this game over a decade ago, although for the majority of the time I have not made any progress one way or another.

I like story in games. It doesn't have to be particularly long story - I don't have time to play through Final Fantasy games any more. It also doesn't have to be deep and meaningful story - I play games to relax, and having my brain driven to insanity by disecting nuance is not what I always want. The sweet spot for me comes in the form of Point and Click adventure games. They tend to only take about 2-4 hours to complete, the story is enough to keep me clicking through, and the puzzles are not too difficult, but still leave you with a sense of achievement when you figure it out. Of course some games, I think are practically impossible to complete without a walkthrough because of having to think sideways and upside down to figure out the puzzles.

I am also quite keen on Film Noir, and especially the hardboiled detective trope.

Photo by cottonbro studio
These two things came together, and I decided: I want to make a Film Noir inspired point and click adventure game. Of course those already exist. But just because some stories exist, doesn't mean others can't also.

My first attempt at writing the game started with me thinking, maybe I'd make a "modern" one. Maybe it would be 3D. Maybe I could create a new dialogue system. I wrote prototypes for a bunch of different systems, including the dialgue system. I started bringing it all together into a game prototype. There were two issues with this though. The first is that I had, and still have, a tendency to want to write everything from scratch. I didn't use Unity, Unreal, or any existing engine (actually, for a short time, I did fork and hack on an open source engine but I didn't keep using that for long) which meant that progress was slow. The second point makes the first one irrelevant though. I am not an artist. I cannot art. Not at all. Not one bit. I would have to rely on other people to provide art for me. Asking for free art, I discovered gets you nowhere. While plenty of people will offer, it's difficult to get what you want, when you want it. People end up ghosting you etc. This is expected, it's not their project. But still meant that I was left with a game I couldn't make. I could pay for assets, but at the time, it wasn't really an option.

My second attempt was then to address this problem sideways. I figure that my strength is that I can code, and I'm also pretty good and making systems and tools. I could write a system by which I don't need assets until much later in development. I thought I could even make this into a general purpose solution for others in a similar position. The idea was to make a game system, initially to create a text adventure/interactive fiction. This sort of game should be easy to make with suitable tools, just having an idea of the story. The designer could then iterate on the story at this stage, without the need for any art assets at all. The game could be tested, or even released like this. Then I remembered a game I had on my Atari ST, The Pawn by Magnetic Scrolls. This was a text adventure game, but had "pull down" images of the current location. I thought that this would be the ideal next step, a single static image for each location would be fairly cheap to commission to prove out the feel of the game. From there, you could convert the game, or scenes in the game at least, into a visual novel by adding character art, and finally into a point and click adventure. The idea behind this being that it is easy to create and iterate on the important part, like the story flow, without spending development time, effort, or money, on assets which may become redundant if part of the story was chopped or changed, plus it would give a way to get confirmation, and even get funding, as you could demonstrate a solid concept at each stage, and the next had clear requirements. Of course one of the driving factors for me is that it gave me a lot of programming to do. I still honestly think that this would be a great idea for a project. There are people who are good at writing stories, but have no technical ability, nor want it, who would be able to use a system like this to get their ideas into games. Maybe I'll try again at making this.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier
My last (proper) attempt was not because of a failure of the previous one, but rather because I got hit by a wave of nostalgia. As I mentioned The Pawn previously, I got hooked back at looking at Atari ST, which was my first computer when I was younger. So I decided to try to write the game for the ST. As I didn't have access to any high level features, this would require a lot of programming on my part, so it ticked that box, the nostalgia also kept me motivated for a long time. Unfortunately I relied on an ancient spinning rust drive and that failed. I don't think I lost all of my work, but that did (for the time being) dampen my enthusiasm. This iteration however got considerably further than others, as by now I had far more experience, had a bit of extra money to throw at comissions, and had trodden the first steps of setting this game up enough times that I could redo it quickly enough. As the Atari ST provides almost nothing though, I had to write it all, from animation systems, through to even writing a custom dynamic linker.

She Wore White is not dead. It's just sleeping. I am not frustrated that it doesn't get finished, I would love to do so, but every time I pull the game out and start working on it, I learn new things, and that is really what I want in a project.

I expect to write some more posts on the game. Which iteration, and on what specifically will depend on whether I get tempted to restart the game, or the story system, if I pull out the Atari ST, or decide to write it for a modern computer. Only time will tell!