After weeks of hard work, we present to you the new and shinier version of Epistory with Mod & Profiles (multiple saves) support and more... You spoke and we listened. We understand it would have been better for most of you to receive the update in chunks over the weeks but given the amount of changes it was a lot easier for us to handle one big transition to the new version instead of several small incremental versions. We even had to stop planning for a workshop beta. Without further ado, here’s the changelist.
As always, we welcome your feedback and bug reports.
Update: We didn’t make it but we’d like to thanks all the people who voted for Epistory. Next year you’ll do it!
It’s the 6th Annual Indie of the Year Awards, a celebration of this year finest indie games chosen by indies fans. If you could give us a hand and vote for Epistory on IndieDB it would be great. The top 100 will be announced on the 11th of December. Let’s do our best!
Epistory needs to establish a subtle, layered narrative voice within its opening moments. Join the game’s writer in a deep exploration of why this story is harder to begin than most.
Wether you’re writing a game, or a movie, or a novel: it’s always difficult to start a story. There’s just so much riding on those opening moments. This difficulty is basically the premise for Epistory’s plot, in which a struggling writer is trying to start a novel. The player assumes the role of the muse, helping the story come to life.
Epistory adds an additional complication: as well as attracting the player’s interest immediately, it must also establish the narrative voice. In this article, I’ll be explaining more about what this means and how I’ve tried to solve the problem.
What’s In A Voice? By ‘narrative voice’, I simply mean the voice of the narrator: who is telling the story? Why? And in what context? Are they speaking to the audience directly? Are they writing a letter? Is the audience an active party in the story, or are it given a camera’s eye view into someone else’s world? Ultimately, narrative voice defines the relationship between the storyteller and the audience.
Most narrative voice is established by its medium and a few quickly-gleaned implications. When a written story starts with a line like “Call me Ishmael” (a laMoby Dick), we instantly understand that there is a person telling the story to the reader. We understand that the narrator has their old world view, and agenda, and feelings. But when we watch a film and a camera sweeps across the Earth – like no human can do – we understand that a picture of the world is being presented to us impartially. We are invited to watch through a window.
Whose Voice Is It Anyway? In Epistory, the narrative voice comes from a writer who we never see. All the words of narration – from the introductory sequence to the writing stretched over the levels – are the words this writer has written in their novel. The player’s goal is to help the writer create the story: typing words and discovering things to encourage the author’s inspiration. This is a very hard thing to explain in-game: not least because we don’t meet the writer. We have to inferher presence. Originally, the game’s script did this the obvious way: it begins with a writer saying “I hate writer’s block! How am I ever going to write this story?”, and quickly settles down into the story itself, “She looked like a lost little girl”. This establishes the narration as the writer’s voice and ensures it makes sense within the context of the game. This works – but it’s messy because it creates two distinct narrative voices. The author’s (“I hate writer’s block!”) and the story’s (“She looked like a lost little girl”). Because we don’t really know which is which, we have to infer every time – and so there’s a constant dissonance. It’s hard to know who is telling the story. Also, writers tend not to ask themselves questions in their own prose, so the voice may not sound authentic to player.
A New Voice I wanted to try and do something a bit more subtle and seamless: using a single voice that represents all the narration. I’ve tried to do this by presenting the story as a work-in-progress and showing the writer’s edits. The theory runs like this: The game begins on a black, foggy screen. A blank canvas. Then some text appears: “Once upon a time”. This is how all fairy stories start, right? The player knows that a story is beginning. But the text is quickly erased character-by-character. The story has changed, the writer’s hand is revealed by implication. The writer tries again, and this time she writes: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. This is how Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities - the best-selling novel of all time – begins. Even if the player doesn’t follow the reference (and most won’t!), they should understand that the story has been restarted. But this beginning is rejected too, and so it is also erased. The pattern has been established now: the author doesn’t know how to start the story. So, third time lucky, the narrative begins in earnest: “There was a girl. And she rode on the back of a great fox.”. And hey presto – the fog clears to reveal the player-character.
Voice of Reason Because there is only one narrative voice, the player can trust that it represents the words of a story being written around their actions. We build on this start by adding more interactions which make the player aware of the author – and vice versa – by changing text as the player interacts with the world. It’s a subtle idea, and maybe not everyone will get it. I expect most people won’t be able to articulate it. But subconsciously, I believe people will understand that a story is being written around them by an unseen author.
Successful execution relies on two things: using recognisable (or cliched) opening lines, so that the player understands what the writer is trying to achieve (ie, the beginning of a story); and a character deletion effect, so that the player is aware that the writer is deliberately erasing and rewriting text. Sound effects can help reinforce the idea of writing and erasing, too.
This, however, is not the whole story. While we work hard to establish and contextualise the narrator’s voice early in the game – we later sow in a few seeds of dissonance. Because in Epistory, not all is what it seems…
For the next few days we will focuson ironing out the bugs and quirks that were reported. Most notably any save bug that you or we encounter. The game is currently playable in several settings but the save is sometimes a bit dodgy so that is our top priority.
Then, in the coming weeks, we will continue to produce the next chapter of the game. We should be able to deliver it in a month. A month and a half, maximum.
We will of course do minor content release in between chapters with stuff like improved UI and feedback, bug fixes & general polish. We want to avoid players going through a new chapter while it’s only half done because it will ruin part of the joy of discovery.
We are also going to create an unstable branch for the game so you can try our latest advancements before we make it available for everyone. We may also add a separate branch for people wanting to try the new areas before they are finished if you ask for it.
Hi folks! We are so glad to announce the release of Epistory on Early Access. See you the 30thofSeptember on Steam. Meanwhile, you can visit the Steam page of Epistory and put it in your wish list: http://store.steampowered.com/app/398850
Most games can be reduced to a series of actions and reactions. Today I would like to share with you a way to facilitate iteration and expansion of these interactions. It will sound obvious to a lot of people but I would have loved to see this kind of example 6 months ago. When I was not yet used to component based mechanics.
It all started with a simple request a few months ago, we had just designed & implemented the scoring system and we needed items in the game world to be able to give points when activated. Easy, I wrote a small script which would be attached to objects that had to add points when activated. Controlled by our item’s base class, it would be called automatically.
As time went on, that simple “points giver” script was updated to include various behaviors like prefab spawning, door unlocking and so on. It worked well but it was not very flexible. So I changed the structure to include a parent class to have a common entry point and place each behavior in a child class.
It’s not standard notation but you can see the rewards and the items have a base class, and only these base classes interact with each other. The same kind of effect could be achieved with interfaces but I prefer to have a default implementation.
The true power of this structure lies in the modularity. Every trigger or actionable item in the game works with any reward and you can place any number of reward in a game object. The most basic action/reaction you can do is simply “collider – trigger – reward”. The player walks in the scene and something happens (tutorial message, cinematic, …).The possibilities are exponential and a new reward behavior is very easy to add.
Polish & additional features
Over time, features were added. Like the possibility to set a delay between the action and the reward. Camera travelling firing rewards at event points… What started as a joke -“reward” as in skinner boxes- is becoming a running gag: we’ll call this one “reward_kill_player”.
I recently did the same kind of structure for visual effects. A few key points (creation, destruction, hit, …) are exposed via a base class. You just have to derive from it and you get all the hooks that an artist would need to handle animations or particle effects.
The system is currently powerful enough to allow our designer to create our whole in-game introduction & tutorial with only the reward system. Looking back my only regret is that this system was not put in place earlier to have more of the game relying on it. Also, calling it “reward” when it’s in fact a “reaction” was a bit shortsighted.
I can share some sample code if some of you are interested. I leave you with one of the more complex interaction that we can produce.
P.S.: As a very tangible reward after a long wait between news here’s a few free gifs. Both features were added this week:
- One of the first iteration. Nothing special…
- One of the last iteration. Circular pattern, grows from the middle and not all of them at once.
- Black mist that will block your path (first iteration, polish will come later)
Join two young pirates on their quest to make the ultimate friendship smoothy through this bright, lively and wild monkey world. Monkeys Ahoy! is a match 3 game with a twist where players can connect pirate treasures by drawing the longest line possible through the same shapes and colors. The game allows for unique combos and chaining as you jump between shape and color to continue the chain. Easy to play and learn with the added fun of trying to make the longest chain through all the pirate goodies!
Monkeys Ahoy! is available for $1.99 on The App Store in English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Polish, Dutch and Russian.
Bite sized news for small stuff. Today: Adding critters.
After our world building, level crafting & dungeon inaugurating, we were left with a grim realization. For all the beauty in display, we were missing something crucial. We had a beautiful but empty painting. A canvas ready for: Life! *crackling thunder*
So, here they are presented with their idle animation. Minding their own business until you come along:
They’ll spawn in small groups where it’s relevant and flee when you come close. Now that the system is in place we could add more variety if we find the time. It’s not completely done but I can already tell you it adds a lot to the look & feel of the game.