I’ve covered a lot of various game design points in my previous article, where I addressed reviewers’ comments. However, there are some issues that the reviewers didn’t bring up, but I still want to cover.
I really wanted the game to be gender balanced and not sexist. I’ve succeeded in some respects. For example, I had the same number of female and male characters, and the main character is a girl. However, there are some things that escaped my notice until it was too late. For example, everyone in position of power/authority (Count and John) is a male. There are also some really gender stereotypical roles: Deena makes jewelry, John is a teacher, the only surface runner is your father, Trent is trying to win Cynthia’s affection (active role), but Cynthia is pining after John (passive role).
One of the easiest ways to fix this is to just swap roles. Let’s say Raven’s father was a jewel maker, Raven’s mother was a surface runner, there was a Countess instead of a Count, Trent would be pining after Cynthia (suits him anyway), and Cynthia would be actively trying to pursue John. (I really like John’s character, so I wouldn’t change this role, nor would it be really necessary after changing other characters’ roles.)
I should have went with one of the two ways. One, just have no combat. I am a huge fan of this approach, because it means less work (see below). Or two: have a lot more combat. With this approach, the combat would be used a lot more often, a lot sooner, and be a much more integral part of the game, and it would have also made it a lot more obvious how much stronger Raven becomes over time. Notice, that the middle path is the worst. I ended up with the cost of both paths, but none of the benefits.
Cut, cut, cut:
You must cut features. Whatever your original design document is, there is probably way too much fluff. For example, originally I had two extra NPC characters: Mr. and Mrs. Blackwoods. He would be working in a bank, and she would be staying at home, taking care of Raven. Now, if you’ve played the game, you’ll immediately notice how unnecessary those characters are. That’s the point! Their roles were easy folded onto other characters: John and Cynthia, respectively.
I’m really glad I cut those characters, but I should have went a lot further. I should have cut the Count. He has a minor role, which is completely unnecessary. Everything he had to communicate could have been done through John.
I should have cut Trent. His story is rather weak, and I would have rather cut him off entirely, and focus more on the love story between Cynthia and John. His role as an imbuing guide could have been folded over onto John.
Notice that with every cut your other characters grow more complex and more interesting. The game and story become more round and tight. That’s the beauty of cutting features. Not only do you save yourself lots of time, you end up with a more polished experience.
And don’t get me started on the library and all the backgrounds…
Some reviewers noted that the dialog was too plain. That was actually on purpose. I wanted the dialog to be easy to read and understand. Because of that, I also tried to not invent a lot of new terminology or names. I think I’ve succeeded, but I went a little bit too far. The “Dark” and “Light” terms became way too overloaded. They refer to dark and light in the physical world, to kingdoms, to people, and to the Great Powers. I should have come up with a different name for the kingdoms, which would also give different names to the people.
You want to minimize the amount of time the player is doing non-interesting things. Walking (aside from initial exploring) is not interesting. This means the map has to be tight, and things that the player will want to visit one after another should be close.
Initially, I didn’t have a shortcut from second city level to fourth, but after working on the game, I had to add it. I only intended it to be for testing purposes, but I realized that if I get tired of walking up and down after a few play tests, then the players will be even more so. I left the shortcut in there, and it was a very good decision.
I implemented the game by implementing each Day sequentially. I think a better approach would have been to implement a very louse overall structure for all six Days, and then fill in more details, starting with the ones that I knew had to happen. I think this would have given me a lot more flexibility, because, in my case, after working on Day 5, and realizing I wanted to change something substantial in Day 1, I often couldn’t, because it would affect Day 2-4, and I couldn’t rewrite them easily.
That about sums it up. There is one more post-mortem article left to be written, and after that it’s on to the new pastures.