Make It Work.

In the ongoing saga of creating the animations (and thus the essential core) of Safety Instructions I’ve hit the usual funny roadblocks you get while making games (or, really, anything). As is so often the case, I find my decisions about how to make the game being influenced by unexpected sources.

Since pixel animation is my current bête noire, that’s what’s been flexing its muscles as I try to make the best game I can manage. It’s been funny watching my choices about how the game ought to be sliding around based on my abilities to animate and otherwise actually represent the situations needed.

And so, for instance, I originally had a sequence in the game in which you’re trying to climb into a flotation raft thing with other passengers, because you’re floating in the sea with your life-jacket. For any given sequence I need a “success story” and a “failure story”. Success was easy – just animate a little guy clambering into a nice orange life raft.

Failure was another story – in failure the little dude needs to die, and I was struggling to come up with how. Originally I’d figured he could just drown, but then I realised he had on a life jacket, so drowning was not likely. Rilla suggested he could puncture his jacket on a sharp object on the boat, but representing something “sharp” in a 50×50 pixel image is basically impossible. Big, blunt pixels. Then we speculated he could get hit over the head by a passenger with an oar – but why would they do that to him, and why only in the failure state, which is meant to be more about “inaction” or screwing up personally.

Eventually I settled on the idea that he would try to climb in, but in doing so would tip the boat up and over. But then, again, what would happen? He wouldn’t drown – lifejacket. So I figured the boat would flip over and hit him on the head, either killing him directly or knocking him unconscious and under the water to drown. Fine, problem solved. A long way from the original idea, really, but something.

Then I realised there was no way in sweet hell I would be able to reasonably animate an entire life raft flipping over, spilling its passengers and so forth into the sea and then hitting someone on the head. I mean, I could have if I wanted to spend days on it, but you have to have limits. So I just cut the whole sequence.

And that’s been the story the whole time. My particular abilities (or lack therein) with pixel animation have had a huge influence on how the game has actually been designed. Game design and development is, after all, like a bunch of questions you end up asking yourself on behalf of the game. What happens when X? If you don’t have an answer, then X can’t really happen. And if you only have a partial answer, or some kind of aesthetic or other hack, then X will have to be different from the way you imagined it. Still, when you’re done, no one really knows about this long process of satisficing, they more or less assume the game just is the way it’s meant to be, unless it has horrible gaping flaws.

As a host said in Masterchef Australia the other day, “no one knows you failed”, they just eat the dish you served because it’s the one that really exists.

18 July 2011
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