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“…It’s like… did you ever play Mole Mania on the Game Boy?” I ask Andrew, although I already knew what the answer was going to be.
There we go.
“Oh! I had that on my Lynx!”
“Right!” I agree, relieved that I’ve finally got something familiar to latch onto. “So, imagine basic gameplay like that, except that you’ve got two forms – human and werewolf. In each form you’ve got half the skills needed to solve the puzzle, so you’ll need to swap forms to get the battery to the slot, which unlocks the door.”
“Top-down puzzle game? That sounds easy! I could probably knock that up in a couple of weeks!” (How wrong we were…) “…just one thing…”
“Why a battery and a slot? How does that make any sense?”
I try to think of an amusingly convoluted way to explain away why there are giant batteries and slots in a city. “The city millionaire has the entire city in his pocket. He’s even bought and paid for a city-wide security system that can only be deactivated by pushing each room’s impossibly heavy battery back onto the slot (which no person could possibly do).”
“But why would he DO that?”
“Because he’s a jerk,” I grinned.
It was this conversation that started the development of MacGuffin’s Curse. Even though I knew its groundings were in Mole Mania (great game, play it some time!), it quickly became apparent that no-one knew what the hell I was talking about when I mentioned it, so we began describing it as a mix of the dungeon puzzles from Zelda, and the adventure game elements of Monkey Island. Besides, aiming for two games that gave us both such joy when we played them helped have a positive influence on our own game.
But I Want to Be the Wolf!
Describing Wolf Lucas to an artist:
Let’s say you saw Lucas in his wolf form sitting at a bar. Your ideal reaction would be “Whoa cool, it’s a werewolf at a bar!” not “OH GOD A KILLER WEREWOLF GET ME AWAY!!!”
The problem with making one of your two playable characters particularly cool is that you start to subconsciously giving them more stuff to do. Initially, each character has one base ability: Lucas could swim, while Wolf Lucas could push and pull objects. But during early puzzle design, we started to find that we kept giving Wolf Lucas more abilities. At one point, he had about SIX unique abilities compared to Lucas’ …er, three.
We were focusing on the Wolf and not enough on Lucas – and treating them as separate characters. When Lucas transforms, he’s still the same guy – just a bit hairier, and a bit more eager to use his strength because, hey – it’s pretty awesome. When we remembered that they were the same guy, it became easier to plan Lucas’ moveset: Lucas is stealthy, and Wolf Lucas is smashy.
And once we had our moveset down, planning the puzzles became much less of a headache. As for why there’s water indoors? The city’s prone to flooding. There was actually going to be a level that took place in the city’s underground sewers/catacombs which would have explained that a bit more, but it got cut because it was too boring!
I Just Stopped Looking at Things
Upon making our vertical slice (a one level version of the game that shows what the final game will be like), I had a Molyneuxesque moment where I thought it would be a really good idea to have unique descriptions for all of the objects in the museum. Each object will give you a unique description, and, as someone else put it, “will make you want to examine every park bench!”.
But, for the rest of the game, I had gotten lax and decided to only describe each object type. But what I learned was that because I couldn’t be bothered, people weren’t bothered looking at any objects for the rest of the game, because they just assumed that they’d all spit out the same descriptions.
About two weeks before the code was due to be locked off, a co-writer and generally funny guy, Alastair Craig, said to me “The game would be really good if everything had a unique description – why not do it?”
It was like when Mike Teavee asked Willy Wonka if Wonkavision could be used to transport people. “Hm…I don’t really know…I suppose I could… yes, I’m sure I could…I’m pretty sure I could…”
By this point my metaphorical Mike Teavee had already sent himself whizzing through the air in a million tiny pieces, leaving us with 3am nights describing fifty unique candlesticks. But it was all worth it in the end. I keep telling myself.
MacGuffin’s Curse comes out for Steam and iTunes on August 19.