Monday, December 10, 2018

The Changes

My development cycle is coming to a close. So this week, I want to talk about one of the biggest changes that I made to Bound based on testing feedback. It was really important to me that players don't think that this is an experience that they can "beat." There is no escaping the the limitations that wearing a chest binder places on an individual. In early iterations of the game, this wasn't clear. Players wanted to go back to see if they could perform "better," which seemed to conflict with what I was trying to say through the game. I think part of this, admittedly, was due to the minigame configuration that overwhelmed and confused players with three meters. To more effectively communicate the controls, I used the genre conventions of a rhythm game. There was still the issue of curbing player expectations. So, I added beginning and end segments to the narrative.

To affirm that the player does end up in a situation that threatens their health, I presented the running minigame as a flashback. This flashback is triggered by the player character talking to a medical professional about what happened to them. To save on assets and time, this conversation happens over a black screen.  I attempted to create the atmosphere of a hospital through audio alone.

Similarly, the game needed closure or some form of an ending scene. I decided to bring the player back to that hospital environment. I took this opportunity to express some of my personal frustration with the healthcare system's lack of transgender education and empathy. It felt right to end the game with the doctor unable to understand the player character's perspective.

This change actually deeply informed the 2D art direction of the game. Because the main portion of the game is now situated as a flashback, I wanted the UI and menus to fit. The "sketchy" art style that I went with, to me, elicited the same energy as journal doodles. I went with white drawings on a black background to make the moments inside the hospital feel like the present.

I'm really proud of how this project has come along. While it isn't perfect, it does feel important.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Sound

In my last post, I talked about my experience revisiting my middle school. Well, I didn't go there just for the sake of nostalgia. I wanted to do some "on location" recording to recreate the atmosphere as accurately as possible. I think more of it went wrong than right.

First of all, I do not have access to professional audio recording equipment. Nor do I have something that is designed for mobile recording. I have a laptop and a decent microphone. Before I actually attempted to do this, I thought that would be enough. In my mind, I thought, "Oh, I'll just bring the microphone onto the track to record footsteps. No big deal."

Hey, you know what's creepy for a grown man to do? Bring ANY kind of recording device to a grade school. (I just want to mention that I went on a weekend - there were no children or teachers.) You know the moment that I realized this? When a woman pulled into the parking lot to go and exercise on the track right after I got there. So, I spent the first forty minutes of my time there just waiting in my car, wondering if I should just go back home. Finally, she left and I was able to feel less self conscious. I bet there's security camera footage that now exists of me just holding a microphone up to the wind.

I couldn't bring my "setup" to the track because it was - you guessed it - raining. The one day I had to go there, it was raining. It was raining and there were violent winds. Each aggressive gust created nasty clipping sections in the tracks I was using to capture atmospheric samples. At least I could run in place next to my car and get half way decent footsteps. The raw footage required some serious remastering to become acceptable to throw into my game.

After the "business" part of my visit was over, I decided to jog a few laps. You know, just to see if it felt the same. It made me feel like I was in the sixth grade, trying to spike my hair with glue sticks again. The older you get, the easier it is to forget the small moments that created you. I urge anyone reading to reflect and see where it takes you... Hopefully it doesn't lead you to bring recording devices to a grade school.