39 Days to Mars is a co-operative steampunk survival-adventure game. You play as Sir Albert Wickes and The Right Honourable Clarence Baxter, two 19th century explorers who have been chosen to pilot the HMS Fearful on its maiden voyage to Mars. You must keep the two explorers alive through the trip by attending to their needs, while at the same time keeping the ship from falling apart and solving the problems that arise.
I spent most of the month designing, implementing, and testing part of the game's ending. Up until this point I've been concentrating on puzzles and gameplay, and the game just stopped cold when you'd solved all of the puzzles. My aim for the month was to create a denouement that left players feeling like the game was complete.
Because I was busy with the ending, I didn't have many improvements to other puzzles that I wanted to test. There were only two puzzles I was focused on:
This puzzle has been through at least four different iterations, and I was both exited and worried going into the playtest. Excited to see if the new version worked well, but also worried that if it didn't work, maybe there was no easy way to make this straight-forward single-player logic puzzle into a multiplayer activity.
Luckily, it worked very well. My aim for puzzles is for them to have two "ah-ha!" moments. The first is after playing around with the things on the screen, discovering the rules for interacting with it, and finally understanding what the goal is. The second "ah-ha!" moment comes after actually solving the puzzle and reaching the goal that you discovered. This was the first playtest where the tea chest puzzle hit both of these moments.
After the playtests, I drew the final art for the puzzle, and with a few tweaks and a number of bug fixes, I'll be able to call this one complete.
I'd been delaying work on the end of the game for months, partially because I needed to finish the core puzzles, but also because I wasn't sure what I was going to do! After sitting down and sketching out ideas for a while, I finally came up with a mini-game and ending sequence that I was happy with and I felt was both short and satisfying.
I had hoped to playtest this in depth, but because of sequential nature of the game, it's hard to do. For the latest playtest session, I had only half of the minigames included in the build, giving it a 30-40 minute play time. From the 7 pairs of players who started, 5 made it to the ending, and none succeeded at it.
This month, I'll be working to balance the difficulty a bit better!
As well as working on the game ending, I spent some time re-visiting parts of puzzles that I'd drawn artwork for but hadn't animated or worked on the layout. These small tweaks are a mixture of polish - to make it look better, and gameplay - subtle animations that can draw your eye to important details you may have missed.
Here's an example of a warning sign that used to fade in and out. The quick animation is much more noticeable, but doesn't keep distracting once you've seen it.
This month, I'll be concentrating on getting the last minigame designed and integrated. I'll also continue working on feedback from the play sessions, and if I have time, start finalising the dialogues. With the (mostly-successful) implementation of the game ending, there's only one new puzzle to finish up the whole story arc! I can't wait to get it implemented and to be able to play 39 Days to Mars from start to finish.
Don't forget you can follow @philipbuchanan on Twitter for more regular updates and development pictures!
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