6 Games in 6 Weeks: A second in space
So ends the second week of No Moss Studios’ 6 games 6 weeks challenge, a.k.a weeklies. The two games we released last week was Groupwork, a game about THAT one university group assignment, and Cosmos, a love story in the form of an orbital ballet. I worked with Daum to make Cosmos. It’s a little puzzler which loosely uses planetary physics as a metaphor for relationships. This week reminded us about how sorely we lacked diversity in both skills and perspectives, made apparent in everything from the product to the process. I will be reflecting on the narrative process in this article so to avoid any spoilers you can try the game here, it’s a 5 minute experience.
The idea for Cosmos came from a want to share the personal experiences we all had, at varying degrees, with relationships. We could all relate to how equally difficult but important communicating in a relationship was. As well, one of us is currently in a long distance relationship. So the idea of two individuals being a universe away and communicating only by letters passed through space came naturally. We liked how romantic yet melancholic the concept of a relationship separated in by space felt. Even more so, we loved how fitting the metaphor of outer space, with all its moving parts, emptiness and vast beauty, was for two people building something as deep as an intimate relationship.
With this in mind, the intention was to create a matching narrative which explored the natural ups and downs of relationships. The ending was going to be kept ambiguous to capture how sometimes it’s okay if the future can seem uncertain.
Struggle with narrative
The narrative was definitely where we struggled the most. Daum and I are mainly programmers and we could have paid more attention during English in high school. We started with a rough skeleton of the narrative, touching on the tones and topics that we wanted to cover. But when it came to actually writing the words, everything kind of came falling apart.
The pacing was patchy, the language cliche and at times people just found the whole thing cringe-y. There were messages which went from “How are you?” to “I love you” in the next message. And our great, ambiguous, kicker ending line was “I’m still going to fight for us”, which just felt empty without the substance from the game to support it.
Inspect writing as much as mechanics
In hindsight, one of the biggest mistakes we made was not working closer with the writer on our team. Steven joined us at the beginning of the project to lay out the flow and structure of the game. He’s got many years of experience as a SF writer so he confidently navigated the narrative space of the game. By the end of the first day we established the three acts and the tone we want for the game. After the first day we left the narrative as it was until we got to implementing it into the game. But by then it was too late to make purposeful changes. That was the main reason why our narrative was the weaker element of Cosmos. Taking too long to inspect the narrative created a feedback loop what was too slow to make meaningful iterations.
On the other hand, if we revisited the writing on the second day, for example, we would have found possible improvements early enough to do a second pass with Steven and have an overall stronger narrative. Even something as simple as doing a mock up of how the narrative would fit in a paper prototype of the game. Knowing the importance of story in the game was one thing, but taking actions to live up to this was what we missed. We needed to inspect the narrative as much as the mechanics.
We created three levels and roughly 5 minutes of gameplay for Cosmos by the end of the week. It was a joy to find the mechanics come through and act as a fitting metaphor for communicating in relationships. Players expressed how the mechanics resonated for them the sometimes trickiness of getting your message across to another person. The art style and narrative were the weaker parts of the game. The former lacking consistency and polish and the latter lacking subtlety and proper pacing. These will be recorded down as elements to return to should we revisit Cosmos (actually we’ve been sneaking in some art passes since the week’s end). Personally, I’m quite fond of Cosmos and I feel like it has the potential to share a particularly poetic experience.
Join us next week for the half way point of our 6 games 6 week challenge! Energy levels are getting dangerously low as we try to make this process as sustainable as possible. But nonetheless, we’re all still as excited as ever to be exploring new games and bringing ideas to life in a week. You can follow us on Twitter to get behind the scene peeks at the works in progress and play all our existing games from our website. Also you can find us on Facebook to learn more about No Moss and our studios. A bonus for locals living in Sydney, we’ll be posting about public events we host on Facebook. We always love meeting players, readers or fellow creators, so do drop by and say hi!