About Manic Depressive (Postmortem)

December 19th, 2014 6:36 pm

Introduction:

So here’s a postmortem about Manic Depressive; here’s also the Ludum Compo submission page if you want to check it out (http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-31/?action=preview&uid=4704) and here’s the GameJolt page (http://gamejolt.com/games/other/manic-depressive/41038/).

I have no idea how well my game is doing in general, but I, as many others, was not a fan of this Ludum Dare’s theme, and the reason is – as many have explained far better than I am capable of – in a simple sentence: it wasn’t a theme at all, it was just a mechanic.

The thing is, I actually tried to make it work as a theme nonetheless; I interpreted it the more figuratively I could, and I did a game about zooming in and out of a planet – the center of the game, I also figured out very early in the design phase of the development, should be the protagonist – so zooming in and out of the protagonist on a galactic scale.

Then I started putting things together.

I love psychological themes, and I’ve always wanted to interpret bipolar disorder mechanically; to me, bipolar disorder feels like a sinusoidal function, with other variables that increase or decrease the wavelength – this is variability is sadly not part of the game, but in the beginning I thought about making depression-periods and mania-periods vary according to the players actions – all in all, the conceptual center of the mechanic was always a sinusoidal function. “How should I represent that?” – I’ve always wondered – “Through a oscilloscope-type sine wave?”.

When I was designing Manic Depressive I put those two ideas together: making a planet rotate around the sun would be visually boring pretty quick, something had to change, and I remembered the sine wave idea. Therefore, this would be a game about bipolar disorder.

I don’t suffer from chronic neither depression or bipolar disorder, but I know a few people who suffer from all kinds of mental illnesses, and I myself, as any human being, have already experienced episodes of depression. Depression feels incapacitating and slow.

In English, feeling depressed is sometimes called “feeling blue”. Red and blue are not complementary colors, but the are classic opposite colors. Hipomanic episodes would be represented in red, depressive episodes would be represented in blue.

I had everything I needed, conceptually, to make this game; I started experimenting. “Manic Depressive” wasn’t the title originally; there was no title; then, I though of a way to tell the player what color is what: through the main title – “Manic” is written in red, “Depressive” is written in blue.

Not only that, but “Manic Depressive” sounds more elegant than “Bipolar”, as a title.

I started developing the game.

Depressive episodes would be slower than manic episodes, so I needed to express the passage of time to the player. I recorded my kitchen clock, cleaned the noise, and added some effects using Audacity.

I downloaded some public domain church organ songs, and remixed them myself, and so the space part would feel somewhat more inspiring/cosmic.

The protagonist should be escalating a mountain. But he couldn’t be escalating forever; that’s not how life works; bipolar people have to know themselves; know how their condition works, to they can do workarounds; you cannot be too manic, nor too depressed; if you fall into depression, you’re screwed, your work-life stops, your romantic life stops, your life collapses. You need to climb the mountain very strategically, always afraid that you might fall.

It seemed simple: as you’d be rising, you’d be falling; the first half of yourself to reach it’s destiny (either success or failure) would win. The player, or the protagonist in this case, would be escalating the mountain while falling. But the definitive imagine the player would get would be this: “I am stuck; days pass, and I am stuck; I will die eventually; I try to hold on; I can’t fall, and I can’t climb; I want to, but I can’t. The world around me keeps moving, the planet keeps spinning, but I can’t move; I am alone, lost in a desert, trying to achieve something that is maybe beyond my reach.”

About Me:

My name is Isaque Sanches, I’m 22 years old and I currently live in Portugal; it’s a great country, there’s a lot of Sun, Lisbon (the capital) is being invaded by artists from all around the globe, and the indie dev scene is booming. Gaming will be the definitive art-form in a decade or two, and I thinl Portugal will be culturally ahead of the curve by then.

I was born in Switzerland, I have a diploma in game-design, I’m finishing university and doing a degree in computer science, and I’m working on a few game projects at the moment; I’ve always love fringe and avantgarde arts, and media – and I think good game-design is one of the most impactful ways to tell a story; I’m not a fan of escapism for escapism’s sake, and I’m not a fan of narrative gaming that consists of pressing QTEs; I think gameplay and narrative can merge very easily – it’s inevitable that they do so.

Portuguese-speakers can also follow me at Rubber Chicken (http://rubberchickengames.com/author/isaquepicaosanches), a digital magazine I occasionally write for.

I love games and game-development, and I try my best to give intellectual meaning to my own creations.

The Process:

It’s very frustrating when you’re developing in Unity and it looks perfectly fine on your computer, but it looks terrible when you run a build from the same source-code – that’s what happened with Manic Depressive; I’m not satisfied with the way light behaves in the web-player version. The main planet becomes all-red when it’s close to the sun, and I honestly have no idea why.

There’s a lot I need to fix in this game that I still haven’t because of the voting. The way the colors restrict movement is not intuitive (some pinks are too reddish and confuse the players), but overall, there’s a feeling I’ve noticed in testers of ‘not knowing what to do’.

That also needs to be addressed, maybe with more text.

I hate hand-holding and tutorials. I think that intuitive game-design is a better way to make the player absorb the game. That’s why when I made a (temporary) section for stuck players in the game description I included the word “spoilers”; discovering how a game works (again, if its design is good enough) is part of the fun.

I didn’t have much time to test how people would react to the mechanics, so that part is not well-designed at all.

I’m also planning on doing a version with more levels in the future; the ending is a bit anti-climatic.

A lot of people have asked me how I did the light effects on Unity. The coloring is done by updating the assets colors in real-time, and as for the lens flare, it’s included in Unity Free; using lens flare properly is very tricky; it will not look as good the first time you try it (there’s distance and field-of-view you need to figure out by trial-and-error); luckily, I tried using lens flare on a project a few years ago, so this time I was more prepared. Some of the light beams you see are also not actually light in the engine, but 2D sprites with gradient alphas.

One of my main concerns was how to animate the climber (protagonist); I had this idea, of showing a sequence of still pictures of him, jumping higher and gabbing another rock. I made these assets from bits of other assets (like all the pictures I used) using Paint.net – recoloring, resizing, changing some of the texture, etc – after some tests I realized I needed sound, or it wouldn’t look as a climber.

I mixed two new sound assets: the heartbeat and the breathing, and made their volume and speed vary according to the zoom level the player was in. It wouldn’t make sense for the heartbeat to be heard while watching the solar system; it would have no impact when the player would see the climber himself – but if you’d hear the heartbeat in the outer layer, you’d have a connection between the opposite levels of zoom, making the whole game more emotionally cohesive.

I added I jumping sound I made with my own voice.

Making the bigger zoom levels faster would justify their existence, since this is a game about waiting for depression to fade out. A closer zoom is slower, a “galactic” zoom is faster.

That way, a bit of the “avoidant”/numb/escapist part of depression would be also symbolized.

I tried different time-limits for failure, and different steps for success; the current ones seemed to work better than all the other experiments I did.

And that’s basically it; I polished some edges, and then submitted the game.

Next:

I’m planning two more levels for the game, with the same input/gameplay.

After the climber gets to the top, he then runs to jump a big abyss.

That way I create a thematic loop, and the game doesn’t end so abruptly.

I can also experiment with new ideas in those two levels.

The last game jam I participated in was the Asylum Jam; I did a psychological-horror game I named LQN-21 (http://gamejolt.com/games/other/lqn-21/37097); after the voting, I expanded the game, added a few more chapters, to flesh out the initial idea, and double the game’s size. I’m thinking of also doing this in this case.

 

I hope you found this interesting to read, and good luck to all participants.


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