What the Hell, Dude? What the hell
To those of you hoping for BeMuse and then smacking your head into a desk with frustration at news of delays or subsequent game-shelving, this blog is for you.
I shelved BeMuse to gain a fresh insight into the game, and to fulfill a small ambition I had to make a creepy, mythos-filled game I'd have loved to see in an arcade back in the '80s (that game was Spellrazor - it's free, so go and download it and see how far down the rabbit hole you can go).
With that past, I took the opportunity to rethink a bunch of things, alter the look, simplify my workflow and so on. I'll quickly run through bits of the process and where they led, and how I got to here. Which is a good place.
Here are the things that went wrong:
- Choosing the wrong technology, with an unclear platform
- A muddle of ideas
- Stubborn insistence on an 'unknowable' magic system.
Tails Wagging Dogs
BeMuse began life as an iPad game. I wanted controls to be simple, but I wanted the game to be in 3D. I really didn't want to create another puzzle-platformer, but I also didn't want it to be top-down, and really didn't want a virtual joystick on screen. As such, I got obsessed with a weird spline-based movement/navigation/rendering system that allowed the player to move in 3D using simple 2D controls.
It led to weird, worm-like landscapes that all looked the same. It led to clunky, unpleasant movement when you moved from one spline to another. It forced interactive elements of the game to be spaced out in order not to interfere with the generated geometry. This meant that it took ages to move from one place to another, which meant speeding up the character, which then made the game feel weirdly hyperactive... which it wasn't.
At the same time, I wasn't totally sure whether the game was primarily going to be on Steam, or the App Store, so I'd solve the problem by adding joystick/keyboard support... and then have to ensure the play experience was the same with a touch screen.
Finally, I lacked any 3D skills. As such, I flip-flopped between platforms, 2D and bits of 3D, making headway in, then hitting a wall, re-routing and then doing the same thing from a different direction. This flip-flopping cost me months. Worse than that, it constantly hid the other issues getting in the way of the gameplay.
Over the last couple of years, I've made about 4 different versions of BeMuse. I made a simple boardgame. I made the weird spline-based PC game. I made a text-based skeleton on an iPad, using the amazing Codea. I made a hybrid of the wormy and iPad-ey game using the same tech I originally created.
They all sucked. In different ways.
The one that sucked least was the text-based iPad game. Although it looked exceedingly primitive, and was brutally hard, it got the idea across enough for people to decide they liked it. At least for a while.
This was mostly due to the fact that the text allowed me to focus on getting the right messages across to my players without having to re-write shaders for the gazillionth time.
I have quite strong thoughts about magic in games. By and large, I hate it. I think it's usually just a convoluted way to introduce guns, or modify movement (Jeff Howard writes about this in his excellent book, here).
George R.R. Martin once said that once magic becomes a force that can be manipulated with any reliability, it becomes science. I feel it's even worse in games, where we're always at pains to make sure people understand *everything* so they can use everything as a tool. For me, this destroys the joy and mystery of magic.
A complex interface for doing something simple isn't magical. It's annoying (see Black and White). A good magic system should give you a basic shape or set of rules, and then allow you to explore them and understand the ramifications. Portal's Portal-guns are better 'magic' than most magic in other games. I can name about 4 games with interesting magic systems; Heavy on the Magick, Hadean Lands, Eternal Darkness, Unreal World. I'm hoping BeMuse becomes a fourth, and I'll go into more detail with more pics in a later post.
BeMuse's magic is a bit different from anything else, because it relies on you understanding the entire world around you. The lighting level, the weather, the time of day, the phase of the moon, the wind-direction, and so on.
You're given a spell-book at the start that tells you how to cast spells. Successfully doing so is another matter entirely, and the Demons in the world add an extra complication.
A New Approach, a New Look
So, this time around, what's going to be different? Well, for starters, I came up with a new look, a new movement system, a new set of shaders and a new attitude. These were the first test pics/palette-tests.
Yup. It's a very 2D looking picture isn't it? But I've not been idle.
I learned to make 3D art. Specifically, I learned to make 3D art that preserves the look of my 2D artwork, without the hamstringing that resulted from mixing 2D and 3D before.
I also rewrote all the shaders from scratch. Previously, when I put an asset in the game the shaders (which were trying to make my 3D stuff look 2D) distorted the colours so much that it became an endless back and forth of pain and misery.
This time around, I got them right first time. And best of all:
It only took me about a month and a bit to get from nothing to where I am now.
Movement is pretty much final (if quite strange). Rituals work. Navigation works. Even my 3D animation works. Here's a couple of little 'slow screenshots' of how the game looks. I hope you like it. There's more to come.
*The Demon's not final, BTW. No complaining just yet.
Fluttermind’s director, Dene Carter, is a games industry veteran of over 25 years, and co-founder of Big Blue Box Studios, creators of the Fable franchise for the XBox and XBox 360.