At last count, we’ve been talking about our next project for the last year or so. And while development is under way and things are definitely happening on the new project front (more on that soon), the work has been going on at our usual thoughtful, deliberative pace. But all that changed this last weekend…
We had shown our games at a couple of the terrific Playcrafting events in Boston, and were thrilled when they invited Worthing & Moncrieff to participate in a unique GameJam opportunity. The Playcrafting folks have partnered with audio giant Bose to host a series of GameJam Augmented Reality weekends to develop gaming content for their new Frames platform. And the best part? They were looking for game ideas based primarily on audio mechanics. How could we say no?
So last Friday night the W&M team, along with programming powerhouse Brian Jordan whom we borrowed for the weekend (thanks Brian!), headed in to the Bose facility in Brighton to get our hands on Frames of our own. Which are beautiful, by the way. The finish and feel are really lovely and the sound quality is (as you’d expect) brilliant. We’ll have much more to say about the game we built over the weekend soon.
But I wanted to take this opportunity to note how clarifying a punishingly short deadline can be. We made big decisions at the drop of a hat. Issues were brought up succinctly, discussed by whoever felt connected enough to the issue to look up from their laptop, and a definitive choice got made. Every time. Not that they were all the best choices, or that we won’t go back to fix any of them, but a merciless schedule removed the temptation to dither. The natural tendency to hedge. A lot of decisions were suffixed by the shorthand phrase “...it’s a GameJam” which gave us permission to pick something and move forward.
I loved it. We got so much done. So on this Valentine’s Day let’s raise a glass to the Tyranny of the Ridiculous Timeline and all the freedoms it brings with it.
When we started this blog in 2016, it was expressly to open a window into the development process of Worthing & Moncrieff's second title "Austen Translation," which launched last May. It was a wild ride and some of our most productive ideas and best ah-ha moments came when we sat down to condense our progress into a dev blog post. Nothing clarifies an issue like having to explain it to a third party! Since Austen's launch, the W&M team has been hard at work on a new game (which will be our third). We hope to make an official announcement about the new game very soon. In the meantime, enjoy this teaser photo from a recent paper playthrough of one of the concepts under consideration.
We also wanted to take a moment to announce that this blog will be repurposed to follow the development of the new project, so stay tuned. We're excited to be embarking on a new journey and we hope you'll all come along for the ride.
Austen Translation released on Steam at 3:00PM EST today. Heartfelt thanks to our programming team who knocked themselves out to get us over the finish line. You guys are the best.
Once we had the houseparty multiplayer version of Austen up and running, it prompted us to take another look at the way we were structuring feedback to our players. Originally, after each “chapter” of the game the player was given some information about how they were doing with their bachelor. Which was fine. But the addition of multi-player meant that there were new, more useful and engaging functions for these information rounds. They weren’t working hard enough for us.
Among the changes; a new info round right before chapter four where everyone gets to see who the current first-place couple is. We thought this might allow for more “focused-fire” in the final round and encourage some more energetic leader-focused inter-player interaction (fancy dev talk for ganging up on the person in first place). In a similar vein, the “good listener” round was retooled to be available only to the human player in last place. It was renamed “the last-ditch effort.” Running “good listener" for every player was unworkably repetitive when there were five human players, we found, and this allowed the trailing player a chance to gain a +2 overall bonus, hopefully balancing the playing field a bit and fostering closer competition.
We’re continuing to tinker and polish in advance of Tuesday’s release. Tuesday! We’re so excited! Thanks for joining us.
But in a good way! We were really excited (and a bit relieved) to announce the official launch date for “Austen Translation.” The game will release May 1, 2018 on the Steam platform. We’ll be launching with a celebratory sale, so if you’re interested in picking up a copy, it will be only $5 for the first week.
It’s been a long, passionate and involving eighteen months and we’re really excited to have had you all along with us for this crazy development ride. Now we’re working on the final spit and polish stuff, with a little rebalancing and hunting down of misc. typos and weird programming glitches. Wish us luck over the next two weeks as we button up the last few thousand details in preparation for the official launch!
Sometimes, the solution to a thorny problem is right in front of you. Like, sitting there on the sofa in front of you. Recently, our tech team’s been struggling heroically with the daunting task of getting “Austen Translation” to run as a networked multi-player game. The systemic requirements are arcane and the documentation often less-than-helpful. When the issues were mentioned to a colleague at GDC, we were asked why Austen’s multiplayer wasn’t being built in hotseat mode instead. It was an epiphanous moment.
In hotseat mode (also known as “couch co-op” style) up to five human players can compete in real time. This, of course, is how the original paper versions of the game were play tested early in the process, and it reminded us of the fun of sitting in a room with your friends while everybody scrambled to marry the very few available bachelors. There is laughing and finger-pointing and all sorts of interesting emergent play behaviors -- like the tendency to help rivals who just helped you. The game really does seem to shine a bit brighter when the players are themselves scheming against and competing with those around them, just like their on-screen heroines.
In the end, hotseat turned out to be an all-around more effective and appropriate play style for this particular game. And we just needed a well-timed question to shake up our perspective.
We’ve been playing using a large-screen TV for the display and a Steam controller and the group experience has been pretty seamless. We debuted the new multi-player mode at the MassDigi “Made in Mass” Pax East party last week and the crowd seemed to really get into it. It seemed a much more raucous, much more social experience for the players than the more cerebral, intimate single-player mode. The photo below is courtesy of the MassDigi folks.
We’re especially excited by the success of the new multi-player model because it was our last significant technical pre-release challenge. So watch this space for the announcement of the official “Austen Translation” release date. And a big thank you to our programming team for their brilliant execution of the house-party multi-player idea. You guys rock!
Through the life of this blog, we’ve tried to give readers an unvarnished glimpse behind the scenes, as it were, into our development process. As we edge ever closer to the release date for “Austen Translation” (it’s coming, we promise) we’re being called on more and more to try to see the game experience from a new player’s point of view. We’re having to force ourselves to “forget” what we know about this project we’ve lived with for the last eighteen months. A project we’ve dreamed about and have dreams for. A project we’ve lived with and which has sometimes commandeered our lives. And now we have to look at it through unbiased, blank slate eyes. A truly daunting task!
Now that all the game features are in place, we have to ask ourselves questions like “how will I know where I go to create a custom character?” and “is it obvious that this is the lobby for both single player and multi-player games?” While we’d planned for most of these features in the game, it’s a different animal to look at them with a fresh eye and try to structure them in the most intuitive and player-friendly way possible. And then there’s the issue of the tutorial (the tutorial!) a necessary evil. And another chance to put on our best innocence glasses and try to anticipate questions and issues we haven’t had to grapple with for ages. Yikes.
Of course, our play testers will flag the mistakes we make in this process, but we want to start off with the cleanest prototype we can hand them. Stay tuned as we fine tune details and knock off the roughest of the rough edges. It’s going to get exciting here in a little bit as our deadline approaches. We’re glad to have you along for the ride.
Worthing & Moncrieff, like every other indie developer, lives and dies creatively by maintaining a pipeline of projects. Now that "Austen Translation" is in it’s final stretch (the early 2018 release date is coming! We’re so excited!), we really should be blue-skying and dreaming about our next project. Yes, already. We should already be knee-deep in sifting and planning and sketching and pitching, all those fun, frightening, open-ending idea-generating activities we depend on to grow as game professionals and as a studio.
With two other projects out in the world (or almost), this third project will have things to say about who we think we are as company, what we value, and where we’re going. When we go back to square one with a new project we’ll also have to revisit all the big-picture decisions we’ve already made for our first two games. What are the best ways to foster player connections? What is the best vehicle to tell the story we want to tell? What makes a gameplay mechanic engaging and fresh? And a hundred others. Heady, engaging big-picture stuff that deserves our time and attention.
And that’s the rub, of course. We’re too small a studio to have staff dedicated to new project development exclusively, so we’ll need to carve out brain space and hours to do the development work we need to do on the next game *while* we’re buttoning up and launching this game and supporting our original title, “A Matter of Murder." We’ll have to manage the intellectual dissonance of getting the “Austen” details right while simultaneously dreaming of our next great adventure. A challenge, for sure. But it’s a challenge which brings with it the promise of growth and renewal.
We were very fortunate to get to show “Austen Translation” at this year’s amazing Boston Festival of Independent Games (BFIG). It’s events like FIG that help a developer hone their elevator pitch and to refine and clarify how you talk about your game and how it works. Developers get to see firsthand how players who are brand new to their games approach the play, interact with it, and where they connect to the story.
One of the best aspects of participating in a show like this is the opportunity to have fresh, in-depth conversations with first-time players. Some of our favorite take-aways from showing “Austen Translation” are summarized below:
NOT EVEN SKIN-DEEP
AT uses a system of matching three numerical characteristics to determine who each bachelor wants to marry. At FIG these were listed as Beauty, Ruthlessness and Wit. We had a really interesting conversation with a player who looked confused after they finished the character customization phase. When we asked, we were told that they expected their avatar’s appearance to change when the Beauty score was increased or decreased. Which made us realize that we were thinking of Beauty in the larger sense, encompassing appearance, but also grace and generosity and a lot of other intangibles. The label of Beauty seemed too specific and it seemed to be getting in the way of players understanding the design intent. Moving forward, we’ll be calling that attribute Charm, which is both a more flexible and a more truthful label.
THE PLOT THINS
There is a certain sub-group of Austen players who aren’t as interested in the strategic aspects and are more focused on the story parts (I’m one of them). So their decisions may not be the soundest tactically, but they feel right for their character in that moment, and winning in the traditional sense isn’t always at the top of their list. After one of these players finished their round they asked me, “So what happened to my character?” “Well,” I replied, parroting the intro text “She died in poverty because you didn’t marry your bachelor.” We had made the design decision early on that the more successful you were in the game the more in-depth your ending would go, and that if you didn’t even manage to get a proposal, you were basically dropped from the story entirely. This was not a good answer for this player and seems a little dismissive in hindsight. “But I wanted to see it,” they replied (reasonably enough). “I want to know what happened to this character I created and rooted for." With this in mind, we went back to draft a set of endings for every player. Not only does this give us a sense of completeness for everyone, it allowed us to layer in a whole set of messages questioning what it means to “win” a game like AT.
READING IS TRULY FUNDAMENTAL
With it’s conspicuously literary theming, it seemed impossible to envision “Austen” as a game without text. Of some sort. Of some amount. But we’ve been concerned about where that right balance between text and game flow might be. Watching people play at FIG showed us that folks actually read the text, which was a tremendous relief. They read, they laughed, they followed the story and felt something for their heroines. So the balance may not be exactly right yet, it’s at least working on some level.
We want to thank everyone who came out and played AT and especially the folks who stayed to talk with us about the game in more depth. Our thanks also go out to the BFIG organizers and their volunteers who always do an amazing job. We’re already looking forward to next year’s event!
Worthing & Moncrieff's first publication was a rogue-like puzzle game called “A Matter of Murder.” MoM is a game which doesn’t really lend itself to a multi-player experience — though some YouTube live streamers have made unexpected and excellent use of the suspect naming feature to populate their single-player streams with all the folks watching online. Melissa at Cocktails & Consoles does this particularly well.
So we were excited, when we started prototyping “Austen Translation,” to find we had an opportunity to create a robust multi-player mode with up to five humans in the mix. Not only was plotting and scheming against your friends in real time great fun, but it gave players the chance to do the same things their character were doing in the game — which fosters immersion and connection with a game world. And, and, if we want to get all meta about it, by having players compete ruthlessly against their friends, we were getting them to engage in the very social norms and behaviors we were satirizing. Plus it was fun. Did I mention how fun it was to slip bacon into your best friend’s skirt so the hunting dogs won’t leave her alone?
Planning for a multi-player mode posed some interesting design challenges. For example, “Austen” boasts a pretty robust heroine customization system, but who wants to wait while someone searches for just the right hairstyle or the oh-so-perfect character name? We think we solved that by moving the customization/character selection options to the beginning, before players enter the multi-player lobby. And speaking of waiting, what about pausing play to consider options or re-read text? The current prototype disables pausing in multi-player in the interest of keeping the story-telling pace moving. And then, of course, there were all the considerations of how the player lobby is graphically displayed and how those features re-purpose the UI vocabulary from the single-player version of the game.
We haven’t even touched on the technical challenges with getting multi-player games to run. Eric tells me that’s an entirely separate blog post. When I tried to draw him out on the subject, he started talking about things like “high level API" and "remote procedural calls” — to which I had no follow-up. So that’s a topic for another post.
It’s been tremendous fun sharing the development process with you over this last year. Thanks for coming along for the ride. We’re not done yet, but we are gearing up to a projected release date of November 2017 for “Austen Translation.” We’ll keep you posted as the big launch date approaches. We’re also excited to announce that AT will be featured in the digital showcase at the Boston Festival of Independent Games on September 23, 2017 in Cambridge, MA. We hope you’ll come out to say hello, play the game and compliment us on our swanky new Worthing & Moncrieff polo shirts.
Worthing and Moncrieff, LLC is an independent developer of video game stories founded in 2015.