A Day In The Life

Everything is Different! by Charlie Francis Cassidy

This might be a slight exaggeration but a lot has changed with this game since my original concept and even last post. Hell, I thought I was ready to start prototyping it but nope, it had a lot of design to go and I'm still finishing that off. But I'm getting ahead of myself here, I should start with what's changed and maybe why this has been a dead space for so long.

In June I moved to Melbourne and got full time work at Mighty Games as a programmer, so for months I didn't dedicate any spare time to working on this game. But all that changed after GCAP and PAX where I realised I needed to start working on some of my own stuff again.

The first thing I realised was that I needed a game design document for it. When I sat down to write it, I really struggled. I thought I knew what this game was but really, I just had a couple of mechanics I wanted to use and a vague but cool idea. I needed  to know more about it before I could even think about MAKING it.

It has gone through quite a few iterations since I started this doc. At first I was very set on it being an endless run of days set in an apartment with mood cycles that just get harder and harder to control till the player hits a point where they just want to quit the game and that's how it ends. For a long time I was designing around that idea, and trying to work out why in the world anyone would feel compelled enough to play it to that point, to a point where quitting was a result of understanding how terrible bipolar can be rather than just how terrible the game is.

Eventually I worked out what this game really needed, it needed a story to go along with it. But, I'm not a writer, how do I write something that will make players interested in this. Wait. Hold on. This game is about living with bipolar. I have bipolar. And then it clicked. This game should be about my life. It always kind of was, but more abstract. No, this game needed to tell my story. I don't know what it's like for anyone else living with bipolar, sure I have a decent idea but those aren't my experiences so I can't tell them. I can tell people my life, what I've gone through with this illness. That is what will get people invested. 

At first I tried to work out how to tell this story in this game mold I already had. But that's too tacked on. I want this game to be about the story now. I'm still keeping a bunch of the mechanics I worked out for it, I'm just focusing on telling a story rather than trying to make my players quit.

So I started to look into ways games tell stories and settled on a few things. I want to tell the story in a few ways. Through the environment, the game will still bring you into living out various days of my life, the ones that are important, and each day that you are in the apartment things will be different and will reflect what has been going on in the time that has passed since the last day you have played. Gone Home helped inspire this, I want the player to explore the environment and get story from it.

Another way will be through interaction with friends and other people in the characters life. I can't always see what is going on with me fully when in an episode and other peoples reactions to things can be a big clue as to what has been going on. So things like concern and comments on things you have been doing but also other things where your available responses to them can be very telling of the state you're in. I'll go more into that in another post when I start breaking down specific things I want to do here.

I'm also going to have more than just the apartment as a location. I want to include the experience of being in hospital, which will be tricky but I think I know how to tackle that but I'll talk about that another time.

Now the story, I very handily started a blog around the time I was diagnosed with bipolar to document and talk about all my mental health stuff, in the hopes of helping others accept and talk about this stuff more. So for the story  I am basically going back through all of that and putting together a timeline of events that I'm going to put into the game. That's what I'm doing currently, in Trello of all places.

If you want to see what's in store for the game, feel free to have a read. It's cleverly named charliethebipolargoldfish

That's all for now, I plan on updating this as I go along now because this is all very new and exciting and I love talking about it!

Coming Along by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I've been a bit distracted with studying and my fractured ankle to properly update on what I've been doing with this game, but I am still making progress!

I've finally decided on an art direction and what engine to  use. I've been picturing this game as first-person for awhile so 3d really makes sense. I really like the idea and possible immersion of the player walking around their apartment doing simple things to get by.

I'm imagining the HUD to look a little like this - 

Thoughts will float down on the right side of the screen, the speed  of them will depend on your mood state. When manic the thoughts may even go to fast to actually catch all of them, which is an actual thing that happens to me. While depressed the thoughts might linger around for longer and feel less positive, more defeatist. Thoughts also revolve around whatever objective it is you have, so if you're thinking about food a lot that's a good indication that you should eat. 

The energy meter is the other important part. When depressed you have very little energy and everything seems to take extra effort to do. If you don't have the energy to do something, then you either won't be able to or you won't be able to do it well. For example - say the player needs to go out to get some food but they have very low energy. As long as they have enough to go out they still can but they might come back missing food items, or get there and have to come home immediately without anything and far less energy. This is again, things that happen with me.

While manic however, the energy bar may seem endless. While this sounds great it also impacts what it is the player wants to be doing.  That will change a lot while manic as it's hard to stay focused. So in the space of 5 minutes the thoughts could indicate wanting to eat, play a game, do some cleaning and maybe 5 other things. While manic it's really hard for the player to focus on doing something that they've lost interest in. I haven't entirely worked out how to do that yet, but it's important.

After a good brainstorming session with the lovely Snow (who does some really cool stuff, have a look here) we worked out some other cool things that could help get across different mood states. For starters - playing around with the colour and saturation. While depressed everything could be more dull/subdued but while manic everything would be bright/intense. Something I definitely plan on testing out. Other thoughts are on actual mouse movement/panning - so when depressed movement is much slower because again everything takes extra effort but while manic the mouse could be really sensitive. I also want to really push the lack of focus thing with possibly adding a camera drift, so the player might be looking one way but the camera just starts to drift in a different direction so it takes the player physical effort to stay  focused on what they are doing.

Now I am really set on not making this an easy game to play. Probably because being bipolar isn't exactly easy. I have some worries that maybe how frustrating I want it to be will cause people to give up far earlier than I'd like but at the same time I want the game to  drive you to a point where you just can't do it anymore. Then have some sort of witty thing point out that you don't get to quit life. Well, something like that, it's still kind of not fully decided. I'll see how testing out this stuff goes first.

Now how am I working out the mood states. The plan is behind the scenes there will be a scale of how depressed/manic the player is. I don't ever want to show this directly though, I am hoping I can represent it through other things like the energy meter and playing around with colour and mouse movement. The meter though will serve to calculate how the thought system and energy bar act. But what will determine the mood on the scale? This is going to take a lot of mucking around to get right but my idea on it so far is a combination of random  (random will be a pretty large factor), the environment (a messy house lowers mood, or something), the players health (have they been showering and eating properly) and then a weighting system to allow for long streaks of a certain mood but still allows some rapid cycling. Because mood states can generally last days/weeks but a person can also be rapid cycling and have them last only a couple of days, hours or less depending. I want all of these things to come up through the game.

I still haven't decided exactly how long a game day might be, that will be something to probably test. But I think not too long, that way I can get across how much this affects a person across a large amount of time.

Now the art, I mentioned that in the beginning and got side tracked. I plan on doing all the 3d work and putting  it all together in Unity. The game will be set entirely in an apartment where your aim is to basically take care of yourself. There will be moments where you can leave to say go buy food and possibly go to work (that is still undecided) and in those moments I'll use a nice 2d painting of the scene that is happening eg a picture of a store while the player is at the store.

I think that is about where I am now. It feels like I have a lot of ideas but no  real idea of how well they're going to work. So I think it's time to start  throwing together some things and test  stuff out. I love nothing more than some prototyping. I already have a partially modelled apartment that I plan on using for this, so I might touch that up, throw it in Unity and start messing around.

Game Brainstorming update by Charlie Francis Cassidy

I've still been giving this game a lot of thought in between all the study and uni work I am trying to catch up on. Which I am stupidly behind on, but being in hospital will do that to a person. Especially a person coming off all her medications. But I have a separate blog for just that.

I have decided on a few things and again all roughly drawn up on paper.

I've started thinking about the art now, and I'm like First Person more and more. I want the player to really immerse themselves into the game. I want them to sync up with it to a point that when they can't do something because they've run out of energy they are frustrated as the character, not frustrated at a game mechanic.

Otherwise I think I've gotten myself too attached to the idea of doing it in 3d so I can model all the stuff. I've been wanting to make a house interior. Problem is that I'm not much of an animator. I mean I can do it, but it would just be a lot of work to do for this game. I could maybe get away without it but it would be very obviously missed. I could still get someone else to do it of course.

The other idea getting me excited is that that player has to throughout the game try and maintain their house. So that means doing dishes, washing and cleaning. All of those things. Of course they don't have to, but that will just keep bringing their mood down too. And of course it takes a lot of energy to actually complete these tasks. 

For things like going to work and the grocery store they also need a certain amount of energy otherwise they just won't go or in the case of shopping if they will leave the house they may not come back with all they meant to. It's things like this that I will make up most of the game, finding the energy to do little things. Because when it comes to it, that can be the hardest thing - depression side. Now what it means mania wise well that's some more thought.

The other art option is 2d, so I could again have someone do the art for me or try my hand at some 2d art (which could look cool interesting or just bad). I could also then make it in Game Maker which is kinda what I wanted to have a go at. I haven't made anything in it yet so I'd like to do something sometime. But Unity for 3D is the obvious choice there.

I still have plenty of time to work out more details.

My new game on - Bipolar! by Charlie Francis Cassidy

So I'm sure I've mentioned before that I've been wanting to do a game on depression and I've also been having trouble with inspiration and that sort of thing. Well last night it hit me, I know I'm not just battling depression anymore. Why not make a game based on the whole of what I'm going through. So ideas started flowing last night and I think I have mostly worked out how I want to do it.

I want to blog my whole process as I go along too, hence the early shots of very raw thoughts on paper from a probably manic brainstorming session last night.

It's still very early stages, I'm not even sure on art style, game engine or even how to present this yet. I am very excited though. After months of no game inspiration, to finally get some is pretty great. I'm still planning on doing that medication reminder app and a few others. Not to mention my degree, so everything will move pretty slowly I imagine but it's getting somewhere.

Oh and a name, I already have a name I want to use.

A Day In The Life.