Sometimes it’s a mystery even to me why development of this game has been such a time-consuming process. So I thought I’d take a look back at 2015 and recall what I actually did during the year.
Toward the end of 2014 I thought I was closing in on a finished game, although chapter 5 wasn’t really built yet, so I don’t know what gave me that confidence. In any case, there was a bigger issue; while traveling over the holidays, with the opportunity to reflect on the project from a distance, I decided that the design had gotten fundamentally off track. Chapter 4 as a whole was built on a broken concept. Though it had some beautiful moments, it was confusing and inelegant, and wasn’t working to advance the story. I’d spent most of the second half of 2014 trying to force the chapter to work, iterating though countless different approaches to each puzzle. But at the end of the year I decided to scrap it all and start over.
I spent roughly the first four months of the year remaking Chapter 4 with a totally different structure. I kept a few of the puzzle ideas from the old version, but everything else was reinvented. It took a few more revisions over the course of the year, but in the end the chapter is perhaps the strongest in the game, at least structurally.
The newer version of Chapter 4 has fewer puzzles, but there’s a good reason for that. Every moving part in a Gorogoa puzzle is a separate scene. In a more conventional adventure game, a puzzle might involve several inventory objects, but in Gorogoa your “inventory” consists of tiles, and each tile contains both a location and a part of the story. The story can only generate so many meaningful scenes without feeling over-stretched, so this limits the number of puzzles the game can support.
After reworking chapter 4, I went on to build chapter 5, which took another several months. Chapter 5 will undergo the fewest revisions of any chapter, I think. Presumably that’s because I had the benefit of more experience when designing it. It’s at least based on a sensible concept. It’s probably a bit simpler overall than Chapter 4, but that’s fine with me. Better to avoid trying to shoe-horn in puzzles or sequences that make no narrative sense.
I then doubled back to overhaul much of Chapter 3, which also had major issues with pacing and guidance. The changes weren’t as all-encompassing as they were for Chapter 4, but they were significant. And again I removed more material than I added, resulting in something leaner and more coherent.
By November I had built a rough version of the game’s finale and had something that was playable from beginning to end. Since then I’ve been improving the gameplay in response to play-testing, while working on the story. The end sequence is still rough, but I now have a concept for it that I’m happy with.
Looking back, I do feel like I’ve gotten at least a little smarter and faster. I’ve built or majorly revised about two thirds of the game in the past year. In retrospect, I spent much of 2013 and 2014 in the weeds, unsure of what the game was supposed to be and trying different approaches to no avail. But now my vision has coalesced and momentum is on my side. At least that’s how I feel at the beginning of this year.