Contextual Engagement in Dadliest Catch
You might have read my previous post about IndieCade submission and how we didn’t make it in last year. If you did you know we’ve been working on fixing a lot of the physics issues and the lack of polish that the first Octodad game had to better our chances of making it in this year. One interesting part of this is that we’ve been doing a lot of playtesting and trying to get a set of levels together that we think represent the game in its different flavors/contexts.
So while the game does play a lot better in terms of how Octodad moves and wiggles about we are having issues in the continuity of the play experience during testing. For the next bit I’m going to codename a few levels so that it’s easier to talk about them without giving much away about the game’s story. The story and characters in Octodad generally make up a lot of the game’s humor or at least setup a contextual arena in which players experience their own physical follies. This context frames your movement and, as the definition alludes, frames the player’s experience in our world in such a way that a movement as seen in a blank room then becomes unbearably hilarious in another room simply because someone might be watching you make that move. In Dadliest Catch as of right now there are essentially two slightly different takes on Octodad’s world. One type of level is mostly what you’re used to in that they’re mundane tasks in normal places that you might expect any normal human to occupy. (Maybe politically?) The other type of level is something a bit more grandiose as far as what you’re doing and accomplishing, and yet is still a place that could exist in the real world. The first we’ll call “vanilla-dad” and the latter we’ll humbly call “wild fatherhood.” Now we have plans for levels that will create a gradient between these two, but we wanted to begin testing and creating these other levels due to a few different reasons.
Some of the wild-dad levels are more technically demanding than the first few vanilla-dad levels and so we wanted to dive into those first or at least pretty early on so we could prototype and assess what we might need in order to complete the rest of the game. Tackling the most difficult part of the game first left us with an advantage for later on when we go back to polish and create the other levels. We now have a pretty large set of tools and techniques in building out the rest of the game. I’m actually really happy with what we have as far as the editor goes and we now have a really good idea of about how long it should take to make even the most complex of levels. All of this together is really important and beneficial to the rest of development. We’ve found our skeleton and we just need to flesh it up if that makes any sense at all. No doubt we will run into more problems as they’re always on the horizon, but we’ll be better prepared to face them because of what we’ve already accomplished and explored so far.
The real problem comes in that during our current testing phase and demo builds there is really no good transition between these two types of levels that’s made apparent to the player outside of us describing what’s going on or what has happened to them directly. Right now we’re missing the sort of transitionary levels that gradually move you from the norm to the slightly adventurous. These levels are in our plans as I’ve said before, but we have yet to focus on them. Because of this we’ve been getting a lot of feedback along the lines of, “something feels off or wrong, but i’m not sure what,” or, “I feel like Octodad would never really be here. Why is he in this space and how did he get here?” Not that we don’t have a story planned and fleshed out, but we have yet to get to the stage where we feel comfortable implementing it. If we happen to implement these jokes and plot lines too early there could be changes later that end up causing us to rip them out and re-structure them or completely replace them. Now, realistically this will probably happen anyways, but we want to play damage control and keep it to a minimum when we can. We’ve relied upon the physical humor to bring Octodad to life in testing so far and it has carried us pretty far, but I think we’re realizing we need to at least put in some placeholders at this point to really immerse people in our freakishly charming world.
The sort of vanilla-dad levels are meant to bring about the normal feel of Octodad in a much more polished state and give the returning players a sense of familiarty in the beginning, not without surprises of course, while also introducing the new players to what made the first Octodad so great to many people. Eventually you reach a sort of apex of uncertainty in the game and it’s in this place that we begin to lead players from the mundane to the slightly strange. Uncertainty of what you might ask? Well you’ll have to wait on the game to come out to figure that out. :P This is where the wild fatherhood spreads its wings in juxtaposition of what you’ve previously experienced. I think to some degree we want you to kind of realize how easy you’ve had it so far and present some actual challenge to people who’ve mastered the controls as if they were their own wobbly limbs with which to slather onto the world. The first game had a bit of a straight up difficulty in that you could tackle any area without much previous experience. I think this will still hold true for individual levels for the most part relative to themselves, but we want to give players something to strive for and overcome. Be the octopus, feel the octopus…ok maybe not feel. That would just be sticky and uncomfortable…although that is par tof what we want for you! Yes you! Our wonderful players/fans.
We’ve been looking at our playtests as a couple independent levels which we’re testing separately from one another, but what we’ve found is that players group them all together into one singular experience. We’re currently shifting around some of our priorities to better focus on what will get us into a position where testing makes more sense to players and we can get feedback which isn’t as skewed. This also puts us in a better position for things like festivals and competitions. Having a solid demo that represents how the game will ebb and flow is pretty important in solidifying what we want the game to feel like as a whole as well. All this being said we’ve learned a ton about what to do in the future. We’ve accomplished a lot of what we set out to do with our original plan and have even found some of these other issues in the process. Without trying this all in the first place we may never have noticed what we might have been missing.