So at the LA indie Meetup, I met a guy who has just started hostong indie game devs night at a bar in Hollywood. And now, Flock of Dogs will be there yipeee!
It's free, it's a bar that's themed after the Star Wars cantina, which is kinda cool, but it's so hard to love something so broken. By which I mean, Star Wars. The bar is cool. There'll be like 3-4 indie games being showcased and then several of the booths at the bar will have old school games set up, like Goldeneye, Mario Kart, Smash Bros. Beware. Parking isn't easy!
Anyway, in anticipation of this, I've gone back to smoothing the opening of Flock of Dogs. When I describe the changes, they sound very minor, but this whole 'teach without telling' approach that I value so much has been challenging to implement and I'm only getting there by bits and pieces. For instance, last night, night before last, I demo'd the game with 4 non-video game players and 1 grown up ex-video game player.
(They also found a new bug that like any of you reading this never did! Which is that if you place an item at the top of the ladder inside the treehouse on the 1st floor of the treehouse, in just the right spot, when you get off that ladder you can be forced out of the treehouse and then you can walk around in the sky! It's funny how excited that makes people and it makes me wonder if it's just like...better to leave that kind of thing in. It was a recoverable situation, all that sky-walker had to do was walk next to the ladder, or sky walk up to the nests and get on a dog.)
They struggled and solved many things, like many groups of players have and that was rewarding, such as "Oh! I can get water from the cloud!" and "Can the whale fly? Oh my god" and with my new mop and hose delivery animation in conjunction with the new environmental hazard: the dirt pile, they figured out the purpose of mopping! Anyway, they struggled a lot with getting out of the treehouse beds and up and down the ladders. It's strange how with more experienced players, I've seen these same struggles, but because they figure out it quickly, I haven't considered changing certain design stuff, but really, I shouldn't ignore what a player's intuitive understanding of how the ladder should work in the treehouse, regardless of how quickly they figure out how it actually does work. For instance, when players are trying to climb up to the dog nests, it seems weird you can walk up the nearly vertical branches of the left and right of the treehouse but not up the trunk on the 2nd floor. So I extended the 2nd floor ladder by a bit and now you can go straight up to the top dog nest. You can see the slight difference below, but I think this will be a significant anti-frustration change for some players.
Also, there's not really much of a purpose in ever getting back into the beds at the start of the game, except for the simple thrill of it (which I do enjoy), but they cause a lot of frustration and confusion when people keep accidentally going back to bed. And most new players are just trying very hard to just do 'the right thing' and not test the limits of the game's rules. So I just simply made the beds' hit boxes waay smaller. I also removed the instruction to 'Press X to Grab' which gets in the way in those first few seconds because then players start grabbing their blankets prematurely. And while I could just disallow all this 'unwated behavior', I would never do that. Discovery and world interactivity are super important to me. It's just a question of matching intentionality to player input, which is hard. Also, I made the tree carvings different colors and the camera now starts zoomed waay in, until at least one player has made it out of the treehouse, then it zooms back. This will help players (a) read those instruction tree carvings and (b) it creates a island reveal moment, which is cool. These design decisions seem clearly like good to me ones and they've been sitting in front of eyeballs for 6 months. Anyway, feels good to make improvements, even if they're slow in the coming. And the results will be tested July 29th at Scum & Villainy!
And I've made other changes too!