Well, 2021 is finally here, meaning that our demo release looms ever closer! Originally, we planned to release that demo today, on January 1st. However, after last month's round of closed playtests, we discovered some issues that led to tweaking previous systems and adding entirely new ones. This first ever Developer's Log (or Devlog, for short) will go into one of those systems, while explaining some of the reasons that playtesting is so crucial to the process of video game design.
As you may know, the theme at the heart of Project Paradise is the gradual progression towards paradise. At the outset of the game, the area you're assigned to is overrun with weeds, automobile wrecks, abandoned buildings, and of course, lots and lots of trash. As you explore the buildings and meet other Witnesses (some of whom arrive specifically to help you, others of whom are merely passing by), you obtain new tools and gain entrance to previously inaccessible areas.
Typing that description in a paragraph makes it all seem simple, but the reality is that months and months of work went into bringing these ideas to life.
Aside from the huge amount of computer code required to make these things work, video games are very unlike other forms of storytelling media in that the audience (the player) can often access parts of the story out of sequence. Therefore, it's vital to account for every possible scenario when writing dialog and then programming it all into the game. In other words, we need a way to track exactly what the player has done (and what he or she hasn't done) so that conversations and other in-game elements make sense.
If, for example, the player doesn't yet possess a tool to accomplish a certain task, an NPC (a non-player, computer-controlled character) cannot simply casually mention that tool in the dialogue. Such a conversation would prove frustrating to the player. In this case, we need a separate version of this dialogue which omits any mention of the tool.
This is part of what makes playtesting so important to the process. In spite of our best efforts, we often fail to take into consideration various combinations of player choices. (As an example, the other night one of our playtesters waited an extra day to engage one of our NPCs in dialogue. The next day, in order to allow for this NPC to begin work on its pre-programmed task while also engaging the player in conversation, the game cloned the NPC, resulting in a hilarious moment where the playtester assumed that our NPC had a twin brother!)
Other times, playtests help us determine where the game simply isn't much fun for the player. One of our earliest playtesters explained that he didn't feel motivated to do much work cleaning things up because there was no clear use for the materials he was collecting. While we've planned out various uses for every resource in the game, we hadn't intended to include many of these in the demo version. When later playtesters raised the same issue however, we realized that we needed to rethink the design.
One idea that we came up with was a machine that allowed the player to use his garbage. We call it a "recycling machine". Here's a picture:
Right from the start of testing out this new "interactable", we knew it was the right move. Suddenly the garbage meant something to the player, and it was always exciting to run past the recycling machine on our way to some other chore and discover that new resources had been salvaged from previously useless bags of trash.
Aside from this addition, there were a couple of other major systems implemented last month, but we'll hold off mentioning them here so that you can experience them firsthand when the demo releases soon.
Stay tuned, and thanks so much for joining us on this exciting journey!