This is an old article that was written as a dev blog post for Epistory, a typing adventure game and the first project I worked on at Fishing Cactus.
It all starts with (good) intentions
When you start creating a game. When you think you have a great idea to turn into a great game. When that idea has just been tested and when your team thinks it may very well become that great game you have in mind. There is something you know you must do. You may have already done it during the early design process but the original vision has changed now that you made different rough gameplay tests and added new members to the team. That thing – the title already spoiled it – is defining your intentions.
Whether you call them guidelines, pillars, objectives or mantra, it is the long term vision, the global idea of what you want to do with your project. You should keep it to the essential, as it will serve as a reference to drive the whole production.
Epistory is a keyboard driven game. So that is obviously one of our intentions. But there is another one we have, not so obvious, and which came from its genre. Define the genre was needed to better define the game and communicate about it, and that is exactly why it was a problem.
The Typing Game Problem
Our core feature is the full keyboard control. So I already hear you say that we could just call it a typing game and move on. The problem is that, when I think of a typing game, I have two things in mind – and I am not alone, as a quick google search will show you. First, it is most likely a mini-game or an edu-game. In other words, something I do not plan to play for a long time, or that will give a compelling experience. Secondly, I expect to only type words. No deeper gameplay, no choices, and eventually I will remember that I am not a very good typer!
Do not get me wrong, those games are not all bad – some are even really fun for a while, and wihtout them, Epistory would not exist. But what they are is not comparable to what we are trying to acheive with Epistory. Therefore, the term typing game gives the wrong idea. In fact, it is probably harder to explain what we try to do with Epistory using this comparison than starting from scratch – but now that we are here, let’s do the comparison anyway.
Playing a game means making choices
What we absolutely want in Epistory is to make it really feel like a game and not just a typing application. For that, we believe that it requires a non-linear experience and meaningful choices. And when I say meaningful choices, I am not talking about a big decision which follows you for the rest of the game – well, not only that – but constant small choices. A few examples in games would be taking the short risky path or the long safer one, exploring the east or the west of the magic forest first, upgrading one skill instead of another… Even positioning your car in the fastest racing game implies constant quick choices. You made them depending on the track, your opponents’ position, your current speed, the ideal trajectory, and so on.
To make those choices meaningful, I try to remember that as a Past – Present – Future rule. The player needs to understand that he has a choice (Present). He has to know what it means from past experiences (Past, in this game but not only). And he has to expect something in the future from his action (Future). If it is not a meaningful choice, the player is not an actor but just obeys the game as there is no other possibility of action.
We made that one of our intentions – even if it is important in every game – to make sure it was applied to Epistory’s design. I am not going to describe Epistory’s gameplay deeper on this article – there are more to come, but we will not fall into the trap of your ordinary typing game.
A keyboard controlled adventure
So Epistory is an exploration / adventure game, and we like to call it that. It gives the player the opportunity to explore an imaginary world and use upgradable magical powers to interact and fight enemies.
We present the typing element as an opportunity, not a constraint, because that is what we viewed it: using a keyboard as the unique game controller to create new gameplay experiences. Not only to type words, and not only to earn points. We like to say that you will type the story – but that is for another article.