These have been hard days. After making a build we realized that things weren’t going to the desired path- the gameplay was way too directed, straight and simple- what resulted in a small field of possibilities and a kind of boring experience. We had to assume that this was not right, that Clown’s Secret deserved more- so we started pushing our head against the wall thinking over and over how we were going to change the design of the game. This post talks about this part of the project- the evolution of the gameplay design of Clown’s Secret.
The old minimalist design of Clown’s Secret
When I started thinking about the gameplay of Clown’s Secret I didn’t want it to be that kind of adventure game that the player must click everywhere on the screen multiple times and try every item on everything; I wanted to give the player the notion that he is progressing through the story and having a clear vision on why he is making the actions chosen to make- in other words I didn’t want the player to feel stuck in the game for too much time. To achieve that I thought that a simple and minimalist interface was necessary, like the one found in Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Telltale makes few objects available to interact in the screen and the great majority of them have a “generic icon” with only one pre-determined action, a system that gives the player the feeling that he is making a decision and at the same time keeps a good flow in the story. I was influenced by this system and design many icons indicating determined system, which would be distributed on the screen where actions could be performed. We all thought this was a great design- it was simple, clear and straight; a system that would make the player don’t “waste time” on a too difficult puzzle and because of that make the crafted story be the focus of the game.
We were wrong.
All icons design for Clown’s Secret- most won’t be used anymore
What makes The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us such an incredible experience is not it’s micro choices but it’s macro choices. When the player choose something a small action appears right after the choice is done and also it changes the story in a long term, in fact the story is modded by the way the player plays. And that’s the way those games achieve meaningful play. We have nothing like that in Clown’s Secret- as the story is already written, and the player progress on the game by solving puzzles- much like a “classic” adventure game. Because of this essence of Clown’s Secret a bigger field of possibility was necessary. The moment I realised that I remembered what Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen had written on Rules of Play: “Without complexity, the space of possibility of a game is not large enough to support meaningful play”. This quote came as a blast and as a blessing- it completely changed our minds. It was time for a re-design.
Not having a clear vision in front of me I had to seat down and play some games. In less than a week I had played Curse of Monkey Island, The Whispered World and Day of the Tentacle; and also took the book Rules of Play to study some important points of game design. The result was an idea of a unified interface on all possible point of interaction, which has always three options: Action, Talk and Inventory. A system that is both very similar to others adventure games and the original intended design of Clown’s Secret- all that slightly increasing the complexity of the game, making it a much better one.
The new design at work
Design a game is definitely hard. Imagine a game and play it on our head is something, but play the real thing is another one completely different. One must have good control of feelings to accept failure, and a clear head to see changes in order to make things better. In the end the result is lovely, moving, and pays everything.
Clown’s Secret is much better now than it was before- and we are proud of that.