Good evening, my duckies. Welcome to another developer log. Hoping to entice you into throwing money at my beautiful face when the time is right.
This week was a weird one. In terms of production, not much has been done. Shocker, I know. Instead, this week’s focus was all about documents, design and all the boring hoo-hah that comes with it.
You know how it is — writing pitches, strengthening GDDs, torturing innocent bystanders, everything needed to help me lose my sanity.
Fret not, however, for even though on paper it sounds like a dull week — we got a lot of important stuff out of the way for AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE. So let’s go over everything!
So we have to start putting pen to paper or in terms of modern day standards, input data into Google Docs as the most immediate goal at this point. Now that we have a bare bones proof of “Yeah, this could be cool” — it’s time to start laying down the foundations, pillars and whatnot. Without them, the house would come tumbling down and all that — you know the drill.
As AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE is quite heavy on character interaction, I wanted to use a design tool that worked with such data. There is no point having to go the extra mile if there is a solution that exists that fulfil my needs (and possibly can go even further).
I have been eyeing up Articy Draft for quite a while now. Well, I say eyeing up but in actuality, I purchased a license before they went subscription-based. I never gave it a serious go though because going through their tutorial documentation felt like trying to get blood out of an inanimate object.
On paper, it sounded ideal for what we need in terms of design for this project so I went ahead and gave it a cheeky install and fired up the tutorial documentation.
At first glance, it turned out not to be the solution we were after. It had a lot of bells and whistles but it just felt so clunky, mismatched. The best way I can put it is that it feels like there were a handful of modules made by different people working on different programs when one of them turned around and joked about sticking them all together in an unattractive, Flash-esque designed application that has a UX experience that borderlines Blender bad.
It did feel like the ideals of the program were on the right track though. So off to Google I flew and slammed in “Alternatives to Articy Draft” — you know, the sane thing to do. Sure enough, one kept popping up. “Chat Mapper”.
Don’t get me wrong, at first glance, the UI of Chat Mapper looks like it hasn’t been updated in a longer time than even Perforce. However, even though the UI looks “Retro”, “Nostalgic” or whatever excuse you want to use, you could see from screenshots alone that this program has a much stronger, simpler and more understandable UX.
So I took the dive, get the trial downloaded and take it for a spin. Hey presto the screenshots were right — much nicer experience. Mind you — it is definitely a different tool completely when compared to Articy Draft. I wouldn’t technically say they are rival programs, even though when you break it down they’re quite similar.
Chat Mapper is very “what you see is what you get”, which ironically, is “what I want”. When hard at work (especially in design), I do not wish to get “in the zone” and then have to hunt in menus after menus for the option I seek. I want it to be right there ready for me to click whatever setting or option I need to allow my creative juices to continue flowing with minimal interruptions.
It definitely has fewer features when compared to Articy Draft and is focused more on character conversations but it has plenty of templates built-in and you can fill in the usual world building “Who this person is, what they’re doing, what are they thinking, where are they” and all that.
I could rabbit on all darn day about Chat Mapper but the long story is, we tried Articy Draft for our design work and didn’t enjoy the experience, we then moved over to Chat Mapper and thus far we’ve had fun and it has been a nice experience.
But that is not where this story ends. In the original developer update, this was how far I had written up to. Something clicked within me writing the final statement and I decided to get Articy Draft the benefit of the doubt.
It may have a cancerous amount of features we’d never use and it may have a UI / UX experience reminiscent of an encyclopedia parser from the 1990’s but it does feature some pieces that will be essential to AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE, such as being able to draft out locations and more dynamic flow tweaking.
The way Chat Mapper works is each “conversation” is separate. For most games, that’s going to be absolutely fine. However, in a game that is a dialogue heavy as AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE and how much dialogue affects the outcome of the player journey in the game, having an integrated system between conversation to conversation that can also handle basic variables is essential.
That was the main tipping point that brought us back to Articy Draft, the simple scripting system. To be able to easily say “if Player.IsTalkingToPers then fire this conversation, else fire this other one” is a convenience I eventually discovered couldn’t be ignored. At least for this project.
Another convincing point was the price. Always the price. If Chat Mapper was just a little more defined in the areas we needed it for, it would’ve been our go-to application and this area of doubt would have never even occurred. However, due to the price of Chat Mapper compared to the fact that the company already owns Articy Draft — It made sense from multiple business angles to give Articy Draft the benefit of the doubt.
It might not be the most polished solution out of bunch, hell it might not even be my personal choice, but it has the features we need (ignoring the bloat), we already own it and for now, it is the solution we have settled on.
I can’t say I’m happy with the decision but there are obviously times like these where you have to take your personal feelings out of the equation and go with the solution that makes most logical sense. Who knows, maybe Articy Draft version 4.01010 will fix every gripe I have and we can live happily ever after. Maybe Chat Mapper adds features to compliment the asking price, who knows.
That covers the dialogue / character design aspect of the update but how about the actual Game Design Document? For AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE, we’re doing things a little differently.
Game Design Documents are living, breathing documents. These live from the birth of the project until sometimes even post-release of the project. They will be edited, added to, content will be removed as scope .etc is altered, GDDs constantly change. Because of this, I wanted to create a dynamic document. Something that does not feel as static as a normal word processed document does.
Another reason I wanted to do things a little different is some valuable advice I learned years ago from Scott Roger’s book “Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design”. Paraphrasing, he reminds the reader that people HAVE to read a Game Design Document. Most don’t want to write one but almost everyone on the team will usually have to read it at one point or another. If they’re forced into doing something, you want to keep it as entertaining as possible (whilst remaining professional) to make it feel less like a chore to do.
I know some of you might be thinking “So what? They get paid to read it so they should read it and stop moaning”. However, we here at Avant Garde Homunculus prefer our employees to be motivated so their work productivity is at maximum capacity as much as possible.
In all seriousness though, it is much easier to convince people to do things if they enjoy themselves and feel passionate about what they have to do. If we can create a GDD that doesn’t emulate the aesthetics and length of a dictionary and make it feel more like a mini-game then hopefully the people who have to follow the Game Design Document will have a more enjoyable time and thus feel more passionate about the work they have to perform. Hopefully.
So yes, the Game Design Document is being created within Unreal Engine 4 as a standalone application (using the SlateApp remnants from the source). This allows us to create a less static experience and put in more user interaction, fancy animations as well as analytics. We can see who has looked at what, how long for and how they interacted.
Naturally, this is a risky move. We can mitigate some of the risk by “converting down” the information contained into a standard style GGD for people who prefer things that way but other risks such as increased development time are issues that we’re going to have to evaluate. AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATE provides a perfect testing ground for situations like this. If it works great this time, we can employ it into all future projects. If it doesn’t work, we know to look for a more optimal solution in the future.
And that’s all for this development log. It’s been a long one, re-written at least three times but I hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse into AVANT GARDE INVESTIGATIONS and Avant Garde Homunculus HQ. As always, if you have questions, queries, feedback or disgusting amounts of praise — feel free to let us know!
Peace out for now,
— Pigface Jackpots.